ResolutionarYeaRedux

“For I know the plans I have for you,” declares the LORD, “plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you a hope and a future.”

– Jeremiah 29:11

A new year full of golden opportunities

Once again, the new year is upon us and it’s time to assess how we did on our resolutions for 2010 and to develop our goals for 2011. Let’s see how I did last year:

–          Staying in one place: Partial – I spent a lot of time in Maryland, and I ended up moving out of my apartment into another one. At least it was an apartment in the same complex.
–          Bad habits: Failed – only lasted about a month.
–          Dentist and Doctor: Failed – still pending on actually visiting the dentist, and haven’t really looked for a doctor either.
–          Working out & constant weight: Accomplished – only had a 1% gain, but considering the circumstances, that’s pretty good. Plus, it’s probably muscle weight anyways . . . from working out.
–          Cooking: Success – plus many other social benefits.
–          Reading: Accomplished – a book a week is pretty good, but there’s still some left to read.
–          Movies: Accomplished – still have a few more to watch from my collection, but I did manage to finish watching all the Best Pictures.
–          NaNoWriMo: Success – not only did I complete the challenge, I took a little extra effort to complete the novel.
–          Prayer: Accomplished – although not as much in my personal life as I would have liked, I have found myself in more opportunities in which to participate in prayer than in years past.

So, on average, a successful year. Despite some emotional turmoil at the beginning of last year, I managed to work through it and pull myself up to a new high. 2010 was really about finding myself. It was trying to figure out who I was, what I believed, and what I could do. The time up in Maryland was kind of like going into the wilderness for a vision quest (or some similar activity). I spent a lot of time alone, thinking and diving deep into my inner self.

But that was last year. Last year was laying a foundation for this year. Now that I’ve figured out what I’m about, it’s time to take this year and really reinforce the new life. It’s time to develop roots, but also to still take time to grow. I think that one of the best results of the resolutions I had last year was that they gave me goals to strive for. I’m a very goal-oriented person, so once I set my mind to something, I’ll usually finish what I start. The resolutions for 2010 were a good balance of tasks to develop many aspects of my life; to remain well rounded. Also, the resolutions were attainable and realistic. It always feels better when you can accomplish a goal, but also know that there was a challenge to it.

Now, on to 2011. I turn 26 this year, and I think that 26 is a good number to use for many of the following goals. It’s a week in, but here are the 11 resolutions I’ve come up with to work on for this year:

1.       Bad habits – same deal as last year. They’ll continue to make the list until I stop. A lot of them are ingrained on my subconscious, so it’ll be a challenge to break them. However, I have heard that it usually takes about 28 days to break (or gain) habits, so February may be the month I really sit down and work at breaking them.
2.       Health – Now that I’m not travelling so much, I will probably take some time to finally visit a dentist and to find a doctor. As usual, I will continue to work out at least twice a week, in the hopes that I might be able to lose the 1% of my weight that I gained last year. I think that my 2010 baseline was a good spot to be (even if it is a little heavy), so I’m going to aim for that baseline.
3.       Softball – Once again, my lack of extended travel means that I can get involved in activities like recreational softball. I really enjoyed playing in the one game that I had the chance to participate in last summer, so I hope that the team starts up again this year so that I can join its ranks and really get in shape.
4.       ‘Splorin’ – There’s a few places in Alabama that I just haven’t gotten around to visiting yet, and this year I’d like to do so. One of the places I’d like to visit is Cathedral Caverns state park. I passed by the sign for this so many times that my interest has been piqued. I’d also like to visit the high-point of Alabama (such as it is) so that I can claim another state’s highest altitude. I might even make it down to the Gulf of Mexico if I can put forth enough planning.
5.       Cooking – Now that I am well versed in the culinary world, it’s time to expand the repertoire. I’m not going to go quite as crazy as I did last year and demand 52 different recipes, but I am still going to hold myself to something. I figure that I can cook 26 new recipes this year. Now these will be recipes that I have not had before, so that’s where the challenge will come in. I already know that I can cook what I’m familiar with, so it’s time to branch out. Also, I’ll probably still have the dinner parties from time to time, as they were excellent ways to socialize on my turf.
6.       Reading – Once again, I don’t think I’m going to read 52 books this year, but 26 is still a good place to start. Now that I’ve stopped buying new books, this goal will definitely get me close to having read every book I own.
7.       Movies – I definitely know I can finish watching the DVDs (and Blu-Rays) from my collection that I have not seen yet, so that will be my goal. Right now, that’s about 26 movies. Depending on what wins Best Picture this year, I may or may not have to watch that film as well. However, I do not have any particular list that I am looking to complete this year.
8.       Videos – I no longer have an excuse. Now that I own a HD camcorder, and now that I have an upgraded computer, it’s time to get back into making videos. I’ve been on about a two to three year hiatus, and I’m really looking forward to getting back into this. Expect new videos to start appearing by the end of January.
9.       Writing – As it stands right now, I will not participate in National Novel Writing Month this year. However, the novel that I wrote last year will go through the editing and revising process starting in March. I’ve already got some of my friends working on notes for the first draft, and I have many areas that I know need work. At the very least, I want it passable by the middle of the summer, so that I can get my free proof copy published through CreateSpace (an Amazon subsidiary).
10.   Music – I started teaching myself how to play the piano last year, and so far it’s gone pretty well. I now can read sheet music, albeit somewhat slow. By the end of the year, I would like to know how to play 26 more songs on top of the 20 or so that I already know. I still enjoy the learning process, so I hope that trend continues. Also, having participated in the choir at my church for a full year now, I feel that it is time to step up into a role of more responsibility and leadership. Starting this year, I will be singing on the front line, and I look forward to developing my ministry.
11.   Relationships – Partly due to my constant travel last year, I did not actively pursue the search for a girlfriend. I was somewhat passively looking, but I didn’t go out of my way to try and find new venues for opportunities to meet single women. Also, from the soul searching of last year, I now have a better understanding of myself, and what I am looking for in a potential wife. This year I will provide myself with these opportunities. One of the best words of advice that I was given last year was, “Draw nearer to God, so that when she’s looking for you, she’ll have to look to Him first in order to find you.” I know this resolution is a little vague, but the point here is that now I’ll actually put some effort forth. And yet, such as it is,  I am definitely open to any local suggestions.

All said and done, a lot of the same resolutions, but also some new ones to start branching out my skill set. I hope to do a better job of updating this blog this year, and hopefully these resolutions and adventures will help me to post something more than just once a month.

Lastly, for the Christmas musical last year, Jeremiah 29:11 was the only solo line that I had. I don’t know if the director purposely gave me that verse, or if it was merely by chance, but it’s definitely a word that has gotten me through 2010. Now that 2011 has started, I’m going to declare the LORD’s plan over my life. I know that He wants me to prosper and I know that He knows my future, so I’m just going to have to put my trust in Him to make it happen.

AeronautiChagrin

“Flying is a privilege, not a right.”

After my trip home for the Christmas break, I really question this privilege. If it were a privilege, you’d think the service would be better. Not only did I encounter problems flying out to Colorado, I encountered even more problems flying back. But I’m getting ahead of myself.

This tragic tale starts, as many do, in the early morning hours of a Friday. I was racing to the airport after realizing that I did not accurately plan the time in which I was to wake up, and was therefore running a little late. I was fortunate that I did not have a bag to check and that I had printed out my tickets ahead of time. I also figured that I was flying out at an odd time, so the TSA line would be short. Unfortunately, I was wrong on that last part.

I got in line and nervously waited for it to slowly move along. Apparently there were about 4 other flights that were departing the same time mine was, which would explain the large amount of people in line. What I can’t figure out is why they only had two lanes open, when there was obviously equipment for at least one more x-ray / metal detector line. After having one or two panic attacks, I finally made it through security and ran to my gate. I got to the plane, found my seat and finally began to relax.

Of course, my relaxation would only be temporary. The minutes ticked away and we still hadn’t left the gate. It turns out that there was a serious mechanical failure on the plane, which meant that everyone had to get off and start planning for alternate flights. Now I’m not an expert in airport affairs, but I would think that the first flight out for the day would be checked well in advance, instead of right before departure. I mean, the plane has been there all night, at which point someone could have checked to see if it was working so that if anything was broken, it could be fixed in time for a timely flight. Right?

Needless to say, I automatically missed my connecting flight. As I was at the gate with the airline representative, I motioned across the terminal to a flight that was going directly to Denver, and leaving in about 15 minutes. I inquired whether there were any spare seats on it. There weren’t. Figures. At any rate, I managed to get booked on the next direct flight to Denver so that I wouldn’t have to deal with any connections or layovers. Unfortunately, that flight left 7 hours later.

After informing my family of the delay, I set in for the long haul. I was fortunate to have some cookies I had baked a few days before, as well as my iPod, free Wi-fi, and a charging cable for said iPod. For compensation, I received two $6 vouchers for the meals that I would be eating in the airport (breakfast and lunch). These vouchers seemed terribly inadequate, considering the inflated prices in the terminal. I ended up using both (that’s $12) on 2 slices of pizza and a drink. Outrageous.

So, after panicking that I would miss my flight, I ended up spending my morning in the terminal of an airport. Just goes to show you that panic and stress sometimes do little to change the outcome of a situation. And yet, this was not the end of my airport problems. Not by a long shot. On top of the 7 hours that I had stolen from me while flying to Colorado, I would eventually add at least 13 more on the flight back.

One of the aspects I do not like about flying is the ticket prices. In order to get tickets at a reasonable price, you’ve got to buy them well in advance. I ended up buying my tickets for Christmas a little before Thanksgiving. As such, one can not anticipate what the weather will do when it is actually time to fly. If I had known, I would have flown back to Huntsville a day earlier. Or even a day later. Instead I flew on a day marked by the only snowfall I would see during my two weeks in Colorado.

Having learned my lesson, I gave myself plenty of time to get to the airport and get through security. This was a much more relaxed procedure than I had experienced on my trip out to Colorado. I ended up sitting in front of the gate for about an hour before I was to depart. Unfortunately, I would sit for another hour while in the airplane, sitting on the tarmac, waiting to be de-iced. Of course, this was after the plane finally arrived at the gate around the time that we were supposed to depart. I understand that the delay was weather based, but that’s not where my frustration sets in.

When I finally landed, my connecting flight had already been gone by 10 minutes. The next flight to Huntsville was at 9:30 in the morning. Fan-freakin’-tastic. Considering that the connecting flight was probably the last one for the night, I really wished they had delayed it by 15 minutes so that I could have gotten back that night. I mean, Huntsville is not a connection airport. There were probably no connections after that flight anyways, so why not delay it a little bit to make sure that everyone can be happy? Do these people not communicate with each other?

So now I was stuck in a closed airport at 8pm with a ticket for a morning flight and a discount for a hotel room. Not a free hotel room. A discount. Considering that the extra day I would be gone added to the fee I’d have to pay to get my car out of the parking lot, I couldn’t justify the expense. Plus, I had checked a bag with the stuff I would need for an overnight stay (all that Christmas swag justified the checked bag). I really wished they had given me one of those $6 vouchers for breakfast, for all the trouble I had suffered at their hands. This would be the second year in a row that I would be spending the early morning hours in an airport on my way back to Huntsville. At least last year was due to a red-eye flight and not a delay.

In order to avoid having to go through security again, I hunkered down for the night. I was fortunate on a few aspects of my non-ideal circumstances. Firstly, I found a blanket and pillow that I used to make myself comfortable underneath one of the benches of chairs. Also, the lights were controlled by motion sensors, so if I kept still, it would become slightly darker. I ended up getting about 30 minutes of on-and-off sleep by the time that the bicycle security guard caught me.

Apparently the terminal closed down at night and everyone had to congregate outside the security screening area. I’m just amazed that I went undetected as long as I did, considering how many times I heard them pass by. This must have been a procedure that this airport had adopted, because I have been in a few other airports essentially overnight (both before and after 9/11) where this was not the case. Oh, the troubles I go through to avoid going through security again. So now I was out in the main concourse, failing at trying to sleep once again.

I am amazed that anyone can get any sleep in an airport at all. Not with that PA system constantly blaring announcements at regular intervals. It’s almost like an annoying grandfather clock, but instead of chiming every 15 minutes, it seemed to occur every 10. As a result, I didn’t sleep, but I did get a lot of reading done (no free Wi-fi in this airport). I knew I wanted to get some reading done during the break, but not like that. Finally, the security checkpoint opened up again and I was able to get back into the terminal.

And yet, now I know why they wanted me to not sleep in the terminal. On my return trip through security, I was passed through one of the body scanners. First time that’s happened to me, so I guess the real reason for not allowing anyone to sleep in the terminals is so that privacy can be invaded (or something). After a quick gate change, I was finally able to get some sleep. Once again, the lights were motion activated, but this time some of the seats did not have arm-rests, which made for a very comfortable place to lie down and sleep. I think I may have gotten an hour’s worth of sleep before other people started arriving at the gate. Hours later, I was finally on the plane for the last leg of my journey back to Huntsville. All said and done, from the time that I boarded the shuttle to the airport to the time I walked in my apartment, 23 hours had elapsed. A whole day wasted on travel.

Now the real irony of both of these situations, and the combined 20 hours of wasted time I was forced to endure, was that when I travel for business (and not pleasure, as was the case for this trip), I never have these kinds of issues. It’s only when it’s my own free time that’s at stake that I get put in these trying situations. This frustrates me to no end, considering how much more often I travel for work than I do for pleasure.

Of course, I’m sure that there were many alternatives that I could have taken in both the trip out and the trip back. For instance, I could have taken my car, drove it to the connecting airport and flew out to Colorado so that when I was stuck at the connecting airport on the flight back, I could have taken my car and drove back to Huntsville. That’s how ridiculously close it was. I ended up waiting 13 hours for a 30 minute flight. Ridiculous. However, since my checked baggage was essentially being held hostage, I would have had to make my way to the airport to pick it up once I had gotten back to Huntsville. I could have even rented a car and drove back to Huntsville, if it weren’t for the extra expense. Once again, that cheapskate in me comes to the surface in these types of situations, even if it would have saved me 10 hours of waiting.

However, I wonder sometimes if I choose the more stressing and difficult options so that afterwards I can have a great story to tell. Do I purposely put myself through tortures so that I can tell my story to others? Do I seek out the “adventure”, even when simpler options exist? Perhaps. And yet, I felt that the time that I was just sitting in an airport was time that was in essence stolen from me. On the flight out, it was time that I had planned to spend with my family, which is why I chose the early flight out. On the flight back, it was the time that I wanted to spend getting back into my routine and relaxing before heading back to work on Monday. Either way, I’d like that time back, but I don’t think the stingy airlines have a voucher for that.

CooKing

Week 39 - Monkey Brains

For those of you who have been keeping up with the Cooking Goal I set for myself this year, last week marked the end of the journey. I set out at the beginning of this year to wean myself off of the convenience of frozen, pre-packaged and “just add boiling water” foods. College was behind me, and it was time to grow into a mature culinary expert. I figured that with 52 weeks in a year, I could find time each week to make a new recipe and add to my repertoire. After adjusting the goal to make 52 recipes this year, I pushed onward to the finish line.

When I started cooking, I quickly realized that I was under-equipped for the task. And yet, it was a little bit fun trying to “MacGuyver” together solutions in the middle of preparing a recipe. Needless to say, the bi-weekly “20% off one item” coupon from Bed, Bath & Beyond that arrived in the mail was used almost immediately each time it arrived. But as I progressed, I found that I reached a point where I was anticipating what I would need. Or, in the case of the KitchenAid standing mixer, something that I thought would be really cool to have.

An unintended benefit of cooking ended up being the dinner parties. When I found that most recipes made 8 servings, and I really didn’t want to eat something for 8 straight days, the solution became obvious. I’ve always felt that food is the great uniting medium. There’s nothing better than gathering around the kitchen table with some home cooked meal and just talking. Talking without our mouths full of food, that is. Through inviting people over to my apartment for dinner, I really got a chance to know them better than I already did. I’m OK at large social functions, but I find that the intimate, small group get-togethers are far more meaningful when everyone isn’t trying to socialize with everyone else.

New York Cheesecake

Week 13 - New York Cheesecake

Then it happened. I started getting really ambitious. About 13 weeks in, I found a spring-form pan at a local thrift store. I thought to myself, “Hey, a spring-form pan! I know what I can make with that!” And that’s when the New York Cheesecake appeared. By that time, I had figured out that cooking wasn’t anything more difficult than civil engineering. I mean, you start with your raw building materials; process them through cutting, heating and mixing; form the materials together; and bake for 30 minutes at 350°. Voila! Instant building . . . I mean dinner. I figured that with some of the recipes, I wouldn’t know how difficult they were until I tried making them for myself. Surprisingly enough, I think every complicated recipe I made ended up turning out. The irony is that some of the simplest recipes (like cookies and Jell-O) were complete failures. Now that I have found myself capable of these complex culinary creations, they’ve lost some of their mysticism. I always thought, “Oh, that’s such a difficult recipe, I could never make something like that.” And then I did. Of course, one wonders if the difficult recipes are worth it, but when you take the first bite and your only reaction is to sigh in ecstasy, you know it was all worth it.

Of the 52 things that I made this year (well . . . 53, but those chocolate chip cookies were after I made the final recipe), I found that they fell into two distinct categories: main dishes and desserts. There were a few that didn’t fit in those categories, but they were in the minority. I think the reason for this dichotomy of recipes was due to the fact that I usually had small groups of people eating the finished product. If I was cooking for a bigger crowd, or making more elaborate, multi-course meals, I probably would have delved into the side dishes and vegetables, but as it was, I stuck to the important stuff. I also found that I ended up making more recipes from the family cookbook, than from the America’s Test Kitchen cookbook. I figured that if I had eaten it before, I knew how it should turn out, and thus would be able to tell if I succeeded or failed with a recipe. And yet, the America’s Test Kitchen cookbook was useful to learn some of the tricks and techniques to make recipes better.

Week 33 - Baked Italian

Probably my proudest moments of the year, with the exceptions of successfully pulling off recipes like New York Cheesecake, Harvest Pie, and Chicken Cordon Bleu, was the fact that I started making my own recipes. Well, more accurately, my own variations on recipes. About 2/3 of my way through the goal, I realized something. Some of the recipes I made ended up being very similar to each other. These ended up contributing to the two “fusion recipes” which were recipes that I had combined from two similar recipes. The greatest success of the fusion recipes was my Baked Italian. It took the greatest attributes of both recipes and fused them together in one ultimate dish. Now, Pork Chops and Texas Potatoes still needs a little work, but I think that I have a good baseline to develop from.

OK, now it’s time for the mushy, gooey part. No, not the undercooked chocolate cake. With as much time as I spent in the kitchen this year, and the chances I had to create social gatherings, as well as participate in them with my food, I began to do some thinking. What makes a meal “home cooked”? Is it merely a meal that isn’t store-bought? Is it a meal that could be classified as “comfort food”? Is it a warm meal? I felt that none of those questions gave a good sense of what “home cooked” really meant. I think this is one of those transitions that silently take place as we grow older.

When you’re growing up, you’ve always got mom’s cooking, and it’s that cooking that you would classify as “home cooking”. And yet, when does your own cooking become “home cooking”? Does it reach that stage when you’re married? When you have kids of your own? When they deem your cooking as “home cooking?” After much thought on the subject, I think I may have arrived at an answer: “home cooking” is food that is lovingly prepared that you share with those whom you love. With the rushed society that we live in today, wouldn’t an occasional home cooked meal help relieve the stress of our lives? How often do we go about the process of living, without letting those who we really care about know how we feel about them? The dinner may be burnt, or the dessert a sloppy mess, but with love, the true meaning of the meal gets across.

Week 52 - Chicken Cordon Bleu

All right, that’s enough philosophizing for now. Below is a list of the recipes that I made this year. After the name of each recipe, there are two markings. Within the brackets [], is which cookbook I made the recipe from: W = The Weilert Family Cookbook, 2nd Edition / A = The America’s Test Kitchen Family Cookbook / F= Fusion recipe / X = No cookbook was used. In parentheses () is the type of the recipe that I cooked: M = Main Dish / D = Dessert / B= Breakfast / O = Other (these are the side dishes, and other recipes I couldn’t easily categorize).

1.       Quick Tomato Sauce [A] (M)
2.       Bavarian Potato Chowder [W] (M)
3.       Zucchini Garden Chowder [W] (M)
4.       Creamy Stovetop Mac ‘n’ Cheese [A] (M)
5.       Cheese Omelet [A] (B)
6.       Italian Sausage Soup [W] (M)
7.       Chicken Pizzaiola [A] (M)
8.       Banana Bread [A] (O)
9.       Scrambled Eggs [A] (B)
10.   Chocolate Dream Dessert [W] (D)
11.   Sugar Cookies [A] (D)
12.   Casserole Italian [W] (M)
13.   New York Cheesecake [A] (D)
14.   Crispy Chicken Parmesan [A] (M)
15.   Bavarian Apple Torte [W] (D)
16.   Pork Chops & Potatoes [W] (M)
17.   Kuchen [W] (B)
18.   Chicken Enchiladas [W] (M)
19.   Potluck Pan Rolls [W] (O)
20.   Lasagna Casserole [W] (M)
21.   Texas Potatoes [W] (O)
22.   Hungarian Goulash [W] (M)
23.   Emergency Chocolate Cake [A] (D)
24.   Lemonade Drop Cookies [W] (D)
25.   Fiesta Casserole [A] (M)
26.   Fried Eggs [A] (B)
27.   Baked Ziti with Tomatoes and Mozzarella [A] (M)
28.   Cherry Cheese Packet [W] (B)
29.   Deviled Steak Cubes [X] (M)
30.   Country Apple Cranberry Dessert [W] (D)
31.   Chocolate Sheet Cake [W] (D)
32.   Strawberry and Cream Squares [W] (D)
33.   Baked Italian [F] (M)
34.   Baked Macaroni and Cheese [A] (M)
35.   French Toast Casserole [W] (B)
36.   Lemon Bars [W] (D)
37.   Beef Tortilla Casserole [A] (M)
38.   Chicken and Rice Casserole [X] (M)
39.   Monkey Brains [W] (D)
40.   All American Meatloaf [A] (M)
41.   One Dish Breakfast [W] (B)
42.   Pork Chops & Texas Potatoes [F] (M)
43.   Rhubarb Cobbler [W] (D)
44.   Chili [X] (M)
45.   Tenderloin Parmigana [W] (M)
46.   Easy Day Casserole [X] (M)
47.   Taco Soup [X] (M)
48.   Cranberry Cake [W] (D)
49.   Harvest Pie [W] (D)
50.   “Great Pumpkin” Cookies [W] (D)
51.   Cinnamon Apple Salad [W] (O)
52.   Chicken Cordon Bleu [A] (M)

So, after a year’s worth of cooking, I’ve met my goal. A reasonable goal with a reasonable challenge. I’ve learned a lot, not only about cooking and baking, but about myself as well. I’ve found a few recipes that I’ve already come to love and have made multiple times (Fiesta Casserole, Taco Soup, Easy Day Casserole, etc.). There’s nothing more to say at this point but, Bon Apetit!

WritinGauntlet

I realize that this blog has been quiet for the last month, so here’s an explanation as to why. This November, I participated in National Novel Writing Month (or NaNoWriMo for short). During the course of the year, I pulled out my previous works of writing, dusted them off, touched them up a bit and put them up on this blog. Some of them were terrible, but others had some merit that I started to work into my outline for the novel I would write. When I started outlining in February, I never knew that by November I would have 35 pages of notes to go by. This made the challenge of writing 50,000 words a little less daunting. However, even with all the preparation, it takes a certain level of dedication to actually sit down every day and write. I came across multiple distractions, not the least of which was the Thanksgiving holiday. And yet, I powered through and made it to the 50,000 words, and then some.

When the month started, I had a lot of things to deal with. I had just moved into my new apartment a few days before, and to top everything off, my computer pretty much up and died on me. So on top of writing nearly 2,000 words a day, I had to get unpacked and settled, buy a new computer (which is pretty great, by the way), plus go to work and complete any other daily tasks that I needed to do. As the month progressed, I noticed that a lot of my routine did not change, and that writing took up a lot of the free time that I was doing other, non-essential activities. Still, I did have to give up a few things in order to keep focused.

The end of the month was a bittersweet time, because I had risen to the occasion, but also because the work was still unfinished. This novel, First Name Basis, met the challenge of the word-count and the time restriction, but it is far from complete. By December 1st, I still had two chapters of plot left to complete, not to mention that a lot of the writing was rushed and of poor quality. I’m keeping the momentum I had at the end of November to finish writing out the plot of the novel, but even with the completion of the story, the novel will need many edits to get it to my liking.

During the month, I kept track of a lot of what I was feeling while writing the novel. I had never done anything like this before, so I wanted to chart how I would progress through the 30 days. The following section is a compilation of all the thoughts I had while writing. Looking back through them, I could see the endless optimism of the first week, the wall and distractions of the second week, the second wind of the third week and the final push of the fourth week. So, for your reading pleasure, I present you with my NaNoWriMo experience:

Stats of my writing

 

Day 1 ‎(1,765) – Midnight. I opened up a blank Word document, put the title in the header and immediately came across the first problem. Blank page. 50,000 words to go. Now what?

Day 2 (3,444) – A little ahead of the pace, but was glad to have found a natural stopping place between scenes. Almost done with the first chapter and is finally getting into the groove of giving birth to this baby.

Day 3 (5,307) – Finding that re-burning my music is giving me something to listen to while I write. Classical Masterpieces of the Millennium was definitely a good place to start. Now I’m 3 days in and done with Chapter 1. On to Chapter 2 tomorrow!

Day 4 ‎(7,062) – Glad for a three day weekend to make some serious headway on the novel, finish unpacking, and take care of all the stuff that goes with settling into a new apartment. At least it’ll be easier than my character’s adventure on the moon.

Day 5 (9,152) – A very productive day today. Almost entirely unpacked and re-organized. Also loving how natural it is to write this novel. It’s almost as if I’ve known the characters for years and am merely watching in on their adventure. Chapter 2 almost complete.

Day 6 ‎(11,337) – I’m certainly glad for an extra hour of sleep, considering I put off my writing all day. At least now I have salvaged the files I needed from the old computer, arrived at a mere 5 recipes left until my cooking goal is reached, finished organizing my apartment and started on the arduous task of re-ripping all my music.

Day 7 ‎(13,497) – Encountered my first day of “distractions”. I meant to do a lot more writing today than I did. Or at least earlier in the day than I did. I think I should have stayed up and finished Chapter 2 last night, because that transition to a new chapter after having to wrap one up is a killer. Chapter 2 is now finished, and Chapter 3 is well on its merry little way.

Day 8 (15,212) – I should really write my quota for the day before going to the Monday write-ins. I end up spending more time socializing than writing, and the writing I do happen to accomplish is lacking in quality.

Day 9 ‎(17,180) – An excellent night of writing. Killed off a minor character in a very emotional scene. Didn’t know I could write like that. Writing the novel is still fun, because it’s like I’m reading it for the first time . . . which is true, I guess. I just hope it keeps my interest like it has.

Day 10 ‎(19,012) – Definitely glad that I get Veteran’s Day off tomorrow. Time to buckle down and crank out another chapter . . . after I finish the current one that is. The parallel storylines yesterday definitely turned out well, but it turned my characters deeply emotional and serious, which was appropriate for the events that transpired, but I need to pull it up into a happy ending soon before it gets too gloomy.

Day 11 ‎(20,705) – Ugh. Thursday was like a teaser trailer for the weekend. Now it’s time for a Monday, Wednesday and Friday all rolled into one.

Day 12 ‎(22,753) – At first I thought I wouldn’t have enough material to fill the 50,000 words, but now seeing that it took 6 days to finish chapter 3 (that’s about 12,000 words – almost a quarter of the novel) and that chapter 4 has even more plot involved, I may be looking at two 50,000 word novels by the end of November. Luckily, I have the perfect spot to split the book into two novels, so I just hope I get to 50,000 words by that splitting point. I have about 9 months worth of thoughts for this novel, the question now is whether or not I can stay un-distracted for the rest of the month and actually pull off the 100,000 words.

Day 13 (24,290) – Started chapter 4 today, but the distractions are worse than ever. Time to embrace them for the afternoon and go out hiking with friends.

Day 14 (26,074) – Somehow made it past the half-way point, but am still struggling with writing this thing. I know what needs to happen, and I know how I want it to happen, but I still have that editor in the back of my head telling me that it’s tripe. I just need to power through long enough to finish, because it’s all downhill from here.

Day 15 ‎(27,833) – The problem with being a little bit ahead of the writing curve is that I have the temptation to slack off for a night. I know that if I do that, I am doomed to never finish the novel. Better to stay ahead than to ever get behind. At the very least, I have figured out a very clever way to name some important items . . . which unfortunately meant that I inadvertently made a reference to the University of Alabama . . .

Day 16 ‎(29,779) – I found that I was easily able to hit my word-count goal today due to the fact that I had large sections of description, instead of that pesky dialogue that has been constantly cropping up from time to time. Or maybe I was just more inspired today . . .

Day 17 ‎(32,300) – My best writing day to date. Most words written and a very obvious chain of events to flesh out in the next few days. All that and I managed to make enough food so that the leftovers might actually last me until I leave for Thanksgiving. I’m really pushing to complete the entirety of my plot by the end of November, which at this point is going to be well over 50,000 words. Thank goodness I’ve got a three day weekend coming up.

Day 18 ‎(34,423) – I delight in the irony that one of the distractions I have recently picked up is reading through PHD Comics from the very beginning. Ironic because not only is it about procrastination, but because this novel will be the longest piece of literature I have ever written, comparable in size to a Doctoral Thesis (currently at 67 pages). At the very least, I have managed to work in the following words into my novel, all in correct context: “surreptitiously”, “accoutrement”, “triumvirate” and “Pythagorean”. Another web comic that I picked up recently and read through in its entirety was Cyanide and Happiness. Just one more distraction.

Day 19 (38,070) – Powered through and finished Chapter 4. Was pleased to find some humorous bits find their way into the chapter. The day is still young, time to start Chapter 5.

Day 20 ‎(41,629) – Wrote the entirety of Chapter 5 today. I knew from the start that it was going to be one of the shorter chapters. Actually, I was kind of thinking that it would be the split between the two books, but now it looks like it’s merely the gateway to the final chapters and the epic climax. Next up, Chapter 6.

Day 21 (41,986) – I really want to finish this story and not just hit the (now) easily attainable 50K word-count.

Day 22 ‎(42,769) – Whoever thought it would be a great idea to write a novel during November obviously did not have any family or friends to celebrate Thanksgiving with. After the day with no writing done because I was at church almost the entire day, I just hope that I can find some brief respites to get in some words before the end of the month arrives. Won’t finish the plot, but will finish the wordcount. I mean, come on! October would have been much better . . .

Day 23 ‎(43,156) – So it seems that OpenOffice is a lot more generous on its wordcount than Microsoft Word is. On the order of about 1,000 words. *sigh* I’d probably better go with the lower value just to be safe.

Day 24 ‎(45,003) – No longer ahead of schedule, just -on- schedule. At any rate, [Thanksgiving] was worth it.

Day 27 ‎(47,407) – Finally finished Chapter 6 which was the most serious of all the chapters. Now it’s time for bed. Chapter 7 will just have to wait until tomorrow.

Day 29 (50,018) – Done! Complete! Finished! Well . . . with the required wordcount that is. About half-way through the plot for Chapter 7. Another week or so of writing and I might actually be finished with my first draft of First Name Basis. At the very least, I can enjoy writing the novel again, now that the deadline / goal of 50,000 words has been accomplished.

Day 30 (54,000) – Weighing in at an impressive 89 pages and 7 complete chapters, I am now officially done with NaNoWriMo 2010. The purple champagne definitely tasted like victory.

BeneatHatred

Over the last four years, I have had the misfortune of living in many different apartments underneath many different people who do not understand that there are people living directly beneath them. I’ve hated being beneath these people, but now the hatred is beneath me. Now that I have finally moved to an apartment with nobody above me, I have some serious lifestyle changes that I need to make in order to comply with the unwritten laws of upstairs apartment leasing.

First of all, now that I live upstairs I will be literally and figuratively above everyone else in the building. This means that I need to realize that I am the only person who matters and that whatever I do should be accepted by those around me. If my actions are somehow jarring to others, I will merely tell them that they are intolerant, and that they need to keep their minds open to new ideas (i.e. mine). Rules no longer apply to someone who lives upstairs. Not the rules of the lease, not the rules of man, not even the rules of God. It is truly a life of freedom.

I am already a pretty big collector, but it seems to me that I now need to collect one more thing: bowling balls. Now, these are some very special items that I can’t just leave on a shelf to collect dust. No, I need to make sure that I take each and every one of them off of their pedestal and polish them regularly. Of course, with such polished bowling balls, I’m sure that I will frequently drop them on the floor. As long as they don’t go all the way through the floor, I think it should be OK. If the floor does get damaged, I’ll just get some sledgehammers and pound away at it until it’s magically remodeled into something much more stylish, like hardwood floor or tile. You know, those flooring styles that make the whole building echo with each step you make.

Of course, there are some aspects of upstairs living l am already prepared for. Being a bachelor means that my entire apartment can be my “man cave”. As such, I have already acquired some items that seem to be critical to life one story up. I’ve already bought a great stereo sound system, replete with an adequately sized subwoofer. If you can’t feel the action sequences of your movie at any location in your apartment, what’s the point of having a subwoofer? Similarly, I occasionally need to rock out, and I have all the equipment for the full band on Rockband 2. Nothing melts those daily stresses away like playing a kick-drum heavy drum solo on expert mode. But why stop at playing video games about music, when I can also play my vast music collection on the “11” setting during all hours of the day and night.

And yet, even though I have the equipment to rock out and enjoy movies, I’m still missing some important possessions for upstairs living. Most people would consider beer pong a basement sport. One of those things you play in someone’s garage or basement. But who wrote the rules on where it should be played? If it can be played in those locations, why not an upstairs apartment? All I really need is a long table, a bunch of cups, beer, 20 or 30 friends, and I’m ready to go. With the new hardwood or tile floors I’ve sledgehammered out, we should be able to catch the missed shots on at least the 14th bounce.

Even though I’m ready to embrace the upstairs lifestyle, there are some behaviors that I am unable to fulfill. Due to my allergy to pet dander, I can’t have a dog in my apartment. However, I may be able to find a hairless breed to take care of this requirement. Not that there’s much else I’d need to do after I got the dog. According to the unwritten laws, I’d need to lock it in the apartment all day, every day and never feed it. If you hear a constant whining from your dog: you’re doing it right.

Similarly, because of my choices in regards to the bedroom, I won’t be able to accomplish another one of those vital upstairs tasks. I may have a way around this issue as well. All I’d need to do would be to invite someone over to my apartment once every few days to jump on my bed and yell really loud. Of course, most people are so busy these days so I’ll have to schedule it for the early morning hours. Hey, I didn’t unwrite the unwritten laws, but I’m going to have to abide by them if I want to live upstairs. In fact, now that I think about it, the point about scheduling reminds me of another lifestyle change I’m going to need to make.

It seems to me that in order to live upstairs, one must be a nocturnal creature. This means that the times that the lease says everyone else should be asleep are the times that I am required to be awake. But what does one do in those night-time hours? Well, party, of course! I’ll get all the other upstairs people together nightly, or at the very least every Friday, Saturday and Sunday and we’ll party until we are required to go to bed (usually around 7am). We’ll play beer pong, Rockband 2, jump around on my bed, do some strategic bowling ball drops and make sure to not feed my dog.

And yet, continuous partying is not the only way to stay in shape while living upstairs. Since I would never want to leave the wonderful world of the second floor, I would need to take up the ancient upstairs art of “pacing.” Who needs to spend hours on a treadmill going nowhere or hiking out in the dangerous and uncomfortable outdoors? Why do these things when you can use the happy medium of continuously pacing around the apartment! It doesn’t even need to be a big apartment. One bedroom is more than enough.
Lastly, I may have to make a physiological change to my routine. I usually tend to walk on the balls of my feet; since I’ve had years of ninja training to make sneaking up on people an easy task to accomplish. However, from what I’ve gathered about living upstairs, I’m going to need to change my gait so that I take every step with my heels. There’s no balance on the balls of your feet, so I’m assuming that the direct energy transfer from foot to floor of every step gives a greater stability. That’s not to say that I can’t get some heavy shoes to help with the transition process. If the pictures on my walls aren’t shaking every time I take a step, I think I may be doing it wrong.

In conclusion, these seem to be the attributes of someone who lives with their head in the clouds, one whole story above the ground. It must be nice to be able to get away with such a selfish, discourteous and inconsiderate lifestyle, and I’m certainly looking forward to it.

StresSyzygy

Have you ever had a week where everything went according to plan? When things just seemed to go right? When the planets appeared to align in order to make life just a little easier? I’ve just had the opposite of that.

Let’s rewind for a second to Wednesday evening. After a long day at work, I was ready to sit back and relax. And I did just that, to a point. With little warning or preface, my computer was flooded with programs trying to access the internet. Windows were popping up all over my screen telling me that my computer was inadequately protected. The real kicker? These windows were the attack. I find it frustrating how trojans, malware and viruses will disguise themselves as diagnostic software and try to get you to install them on your system. It’s like they’re saying, “Don’t blame us! You’re the one who let us in.” At any rate, I recognized that this was a program I did not install on my system. After a bit, my computer shut down and I tried to start it back up. Nothing.

Here’s where the panic attack set in. I realize after years of being somewhat dependent on my computer to provide me with information and my link to the outside world that I’ve become somewhat addicted to it. We all have. When that connection to the world was severed, I was mortified. Not necessarily because of the link that was lost, but because of the information that was stored on my computer that I had no back-up for. Fortunately, I was not completely out of options. Luckily, I had somewhat recently purchased both my iPod touch and a wireless router. With these, I could get online and inform others of my peril and ask for assistance. Another stroke of fortune was my cousin who lives in town and had an Ubuntu boot disc.

All fortune aside, there was a span of time where I was completely powerless to change the situation, and it really got to me. I realize that I do like to have things under control, and this loss of control bothered me. But see, this was only stage one. It’s now Thursday and I come home from work and get my mail. What do I find there? I find that I have received a letter returning my check and renewal card for my car’s liscense tags. The only explanation I was given was a check mark next to one item on a long list of issues. Apparently I couldn’t renew my tags because they had been suspended by the state. Fan-freakin’-tastic. I needed to fix this problem and quickly, because if my tags were not updated by the end of the month, I could inadvertently be in more trouble. But again, I was powerless. I received the letter late in the day and could not fix it until the next day. So now my stress had built from a non-functioning computer to a non-functioning computer and a possible issue with my car. Still, in hindsight there was some fortune to the incident, not that this decreased my panic attack by any measure.

The fortunate aspects of the suspended tags were that 1. The letter gave me an address and a phone number to call and 2. Friday was my day off. I got up on Friday morning and set out to the address to figure out why my tags had been suspended. When I arrived at the address, it became evident that my problem was with the Alabama Department of Revenue. Not an encouraging development. So, I go inside and I hand the employee the letter about the suspended tag. She pulls up my account and says, “Yup, that account’s suspended. Tell me: what’s your apartment number?” As it just so happened they had tried to send a letter to me requesting some proof of insurance on my vehicle. Since they had everything right with the exception of the omission of the apartment number, I did not get this letter. Here’s the kicker: the letter was sent out in March. That means that for about 7 months I had been driving around with suspended tags. Great.

Luckily, the fix for the suspension was to call my insurance and get them to fax a form that said I had insurance. After doing this twice (the first time didn’t cover the date in question), I had fixed part of the problem. I also made sure that the Department of Revenue had my new apartment number so that this wouldn’t happen again. Now I had to get the new tags. There were two ways I could do this: 1. Re-mail in the check and the renewal card and hope that I would get the sticker in time or 2. Go downtown to the courthouse and get it that day. Since the end of the month was quickly approaching, I decided to be direct and take door number 2. It was in this part of the process that I had a positive syzygy. Having gone through the rigmarole at the courthouse to initially get my license plates, I knew what I needed to do. I was fortunate that 1. The parking garage I went to had an open spot on the ground floor 2. The line for the tag renewal was moderate and quick-moving 3. I had everything I needed to rectify the situation and 4. I was done so quickly that I only owed $0.25 at the parking garage. As I put the little “11” sticker on my license plate, I thought back over the last day and how a little 1 inch square sticker could put me through so much stress and trouble.

Now I was back to stress level 1: the computer. While I was out that morning getting my tag issue fixed, I went window shopping for new computers. I have been meaning to upgrade my computer since I’ve been in salaried employ for a while now, but I figured, “If it’s not broke, don’t fix it.” Well, now it needed to be fixed. I’ve been upgrading my computer for years, so I hope to be able to use some parts from it to immediately make whatever new computer I choose better than the standard issue. Also, since I only need a CPU, that will cut down on costs, but not by much. Still, I was not about to go out and spend hundreds of dollars on a new computer just quite yet. This was merely a fact-finding mission, but I can see the need for a new computer in the near future.

Back at my apartment, my cousin came over and I was able to get my computer to successfully boot up again with his Ubuntu boot disc. Now it was time to start nursing it back to health. After a few reboots, I was finally able to get Windows running again and I started performing the diagnostic tasks I needed to do to get rid of this problem. I think the most frustrating aspect of what ended up being a trojan virus was that I didn’t know what caused it. I wasn’t using my computer any differently than I had been, so the attack was an anathema to me. Now I’ve got the trojan taken care of, and my computer is back to normal. Well, almost normal. It seems that throughout this whole ordeal, my 1TB external hard drive has been erased and is no longer recognized by my system. I’m somewhat glad that the erasure didn’t happen on my other drives, since the external hard drive was merely a backup, but I’m sure that there were probably some important files on it that are now lost.

I think that if either issue had happened separately, I would have been able to handle it better, but since both happened so close to each other, and so close to the stress of moving to a new apartment, that it really unraveled me for a moment. Perhaps the most accurate parallel to what I was feeling would be taken from the first episode of LOST. There is a scene where Jack is describing an error he made in surgery where the solution he had was to let all the panic rush in and consume him. But only for 5 seconds. After that, he buckled down and managed to fix everything. I can now say I’ve had my 5 seconds.

MoviExamination

As many of you may remember, I am a statistics nut. More specifically, I am interested in statistics of collections that I own. Recall for a moment my post on my music catalog. It can come to no surprise from the data presented there that I am a fan of movies. I mean, for someone who has motion picture scores comprising 50% of his 500+ CD collection, it stands to reason that he would have an equally large movie collection. I have been keeping track of the films I own along with other DVDs of TV shows and anime for almost a year now. Recently, however, I have expanded some of the data that was included in the spreadsheet and have found some interesting information about my collection.

 

Decade Distribution

 

The one difference between my DVD collection when compared with my CD collection is that I have listened to everything in my CD collection. When video rental stores like Movie Gallery and Hollywood Video were going out of business, I managed to expand my DVD collection from the meager selection of a college student to a library of many hundreds of films. Now I am merely waiting for Blockbuster to follow suit so that I can take advantage of extremely inexpensive DVDs. However, one interesting quirk I have found about myself is that I have certain impulse levels. When I find a movie that’s $2 to own, I will buy it so that I can watch it, instead of taking the rental route. As such, there are about 20 movies that I own but have not yet seen. I am remedying this situation and hope to have a completely watched collection by the end of the year.

Of course, part of the reason that I own so many movies is that I have a goal in mind. During my Junior year in college, I became interested in the American Film Institute’s (AFI) “100 movies, 100 years” list. I figured that I had already seen about 1/3 of the list, and had enjoyed the films that I had seen; therefore, the rest of the list must be equally as good. As I watched, AFI came out with an updated list that included movies from the 10 years since the first list appeared. Consequently, by the time I was done with the first list, I was extremely close to finishing the second. By the end of my Senior year, I had watched the entirety of both top 100 lists. I had found a lot of movies that I really enjoyed. I had also gained an understanding of many movie references that were made in TV shows like “The Simpsons” and “Family Guy”.

Now that I have a job with an adequate income, I felt that I owe it to myself to own these 100+ films and started to expand my collection to include them. For the most recent top 100 list, there was a list of 400 nominees that was used to narrow down the tens of thousands of films that have been made since the beginning of cinema. As of this post, I have seen 54% of that list. That list may be my final movie watching accomplishment, but for the time being, I have set my sights on a much more attainable goal: Best Picture Oscar winners. There was a lot of crossover between the Oscar list and the top 100 lists, so I had already seen more than half of the Best Pictures by the start of this year. Now that I am 10 films away from reaching the goal of having seen all the Best Pictures, I have found even more films that are worthy of my collection and have added them accordingly.

The one unfortunate conundrum that I have run into after obtaining so many DVDs is the issue of Blu-Rays. As of a few months ago, I have purchased a PS3 and have been using it as a Blu-Ray / DVD player. I had tired of using my computer for my DVD watching and was looking to advance my movie watching experience. I agree that if you have the right equipment, Blu-Rays are definitely worth the investment due to their superior picture sharpness and audio quality. However, the selection of Blu-Rays that you can actually purchase is somewhat lacking at this point in time. What is even more unfortunate is that a lot of the Blu-Rays that are affordable and I would want to buy are of movies that I already own on DVD. Right now the only reason that I could see to buy a Blu-Ray of an already owned DVD is if that DVD happened to be a Full Screen version, to which I would like to upgrade to Widescreen. Who knows, maybe I might be generous and donate the DVDs to those who would want them so that I can upgrade.

But enough of my rambling, lets get on to the statistics!

Total Movies: 395
Total Time: 46,874 minutes / 781.23 hours / 32.55 days / 4.65 weeks

Stats . . .
Averages: Year = 1987 / Running Time = 119.3 minutes
Mode: Year = 2006 / Running Time = 110 minutes
Median: Year = 1997 / Running Time = 116 minutes
Minimum: Year = 1927 / Running Time = 27 minutes [Thumb Wars]
Maximum: Year = 2010 / Running Time = 251 minutes [Lawrence of Arabia]

Percentages . . .
Blu-Rays: 5.31%
Animated: 6%
Color: 85% / Black & White: 15%
Best Picture Winners: 17% [66 of possible 82]
AFI List 1: 20.5% [81 of possible 100]
AFI List 2: 20.3% [80 of possible 100]
AFI 400 Nominees: 39% [154 of possible 400]

Some interesting findings from this sample set:

  • The distribution of Running Times was a normal distribution, which I had kind of figured that it would be. However, I did learn that each studio puts the Running Time in a different spot on the case, which makes this data often very difficult to find.
  • Also of note is the distribution of the ratings. I’m curious if the reason that films become acclaimed is due to their content. I base this on the observation that many films that win awards tend to be a lot grittier than movies that were made purely for entertainment’s sake. However, we must also consider that the films which are “Not Rated” could very well fill in some of the gaps, due to their being produced early in the 20th century when most of the films that are being produced today would probably be rated NC-17 or above by their standards.
  • One also wonders if supply and demand are the contributing factors to the distribution of decades in which these films were made. Movies are sometimes like books in that they will no longer be “in print” and require back-ordering in order to acquire them. This has made the task of purchasing some of the films from the 1920’s and 1930’s quite the ordeal. And yet, the distribution could be due to the fact that I really got into watching movies in the 2000’s; and as such, felt that many of those were worthy of my ownership.

Keep in mind that these statistics are only for the movies that I own, and not the TV shows and anime that I have on DVD and Blu-Ray. These categories would skew the results of the analysis by increasing Running Time and heavily weighting the production years to the 2000’s (or at least more so than is already shown). Never-the-less, with these categories added, my total DVD collection would be near 500 . . . which is what my CD collection used to be at long ago (it’s larger now).