Feb 8, 2016

Monkey Monday

monkey ~ haplorhine primates, a paraphyletic group generally possessing tails and consisting of approximately 260 known living species.

Kung hei fat choy!

Happy New Year! Today marks the beginning of the Chinese Year of the Red Fire Monkey. It runs from February 8, 2016 to January 27, 2017.

People born in the Year of the Monkey don't usually have the best of luck during their natal year, however there are a few things you can try to change this:
Wearing red can drive away bad luck and evil spirits.
Wearing jade jewelry will also ward off bad luck.
Adjust your furniture so it faces the northeast.
Also face the northeast when conducting business.
Eating fish for the New Year is believed to bring a surplus of money and luck.

As with the other signs in the Chinese Zodiac, people born under the sign of the monkey tend to take on the characteristics of their birth animal. They're lively and curious, often mischievous and innovative. As well they tend to be both clever and intelligent, especially when it comes to their careers and money. The downside is, they tend to be temperamental.

If you're born in January or February, finding your animal sign for the Chinese zodiac can be a bit tricky. Because the traditional Chinese calendar is based on the movements of both the moon and the sun, the exact date of the new year will vary, usually falling between some time between January 21 and February 20.

While the more familiar Western zodiac is divided into 12 months, the Chinese zodiac is divided into 12 years. Each year is represented by an animal: rat, ox, tiger, rabbit, dragon, snake, horse, sheep, monkey, rooster, dog, and boar. There are several different legends of how these animals were assigned to each year, but my favourite is the Great Race.

In ages past, the Jade Emperor held a race for all the animals. The first twelve to cross a swiftly flowing river would each guard the heavenly gates for a year in rotation to prevent deities from sneaking down to the earth. The cat and the rat, being poor swimmers, asked the ox if he would carry them. The ox agreed, but when they were halfway across the rat pushed the cat off, leaving him to struggle, which is why cats and rats are enemies to this day. As the ox was about to win, the rat jumped on his head then onto the bank, stealing first place. Third place went to the tiger, who was nearly exhausted from the swim. Fourth went to the rabbit, who cheated by hopping across some stepping stones and then a floating log. The dragon, having stopped to create some rain for people in need and help the rabbit with a puff of air, came in fifth. The snake scared the horse into jumping backwards, so he came in sixth and the horse seventh. The goat, monkey, and rooster worked together to take a raft across the river, and became the eighth, ninth, and tenth animals of the zodiac. The dog, having stopped to take a bath, was the eleventh to cross. The boar, having stopped for a bite to eat and then a nap, came in last.

Find your Chinese Zodiac sign HERE

Feb 1, 2016

Morne Monday

morne ~ dismal; gloomy; sombre

Can you believe it's February already? Of course normally February is considered one of the coldest months of the year. Normally. This winter has been far from normal however. The temperature at midnight last night was +8 Celsius, which is +46 for those of you using Fahrenheit. Hardly weather to bundle up in.

No snow, just gloomy weather - overcast skies and plenty of rain. Both December and January had a disproportionate number of days without sun, and if the long range forecast is to be believed, February is going to be much the same. I don't think we need a groundhog to predict an early spring.

But speaking of groundhogs . . . there was a sad piece of news on the weather network when I was checking the forecast earlier. Winnipeg Willow, Winnipeg's resident groundhog, passed away suddenly a couple of days ago. There's no word of a replacement, but Manitoba Merv and Brandon Bob will carry on as usual.

Have you ever wondered how we came to depend on a groundhog to predict when spring will arrive? I did, so I did some research. ;-)

Of course you're familiar with the tradition: on February 2, the groundhog emerges from his burrow. If he sees his shadow then we'll have six more weeks of winter. If he doesn't see his shadow then we'll only have four more weeks of winter.

The actual prediction had nothing to do with rodents. Early Christians had the tradition of Candlemas on February 2, where the clergy blessed candles and distributed them to the people. There was a rhyme that went:
If Candlemas be fair and bright,
Come, Winter, have another flight;
If Candlemas brings clouds and rain,
Go Winter, and come not again.

It was the Germans who came up with the idea that if a hedgehog cast a shadow on Candlemas there would be six more weeks of winter. When some of these Germans settled in Pennsylvania, they brought the tradition with them, replacing the hedgehog with the native to America groundhog.

By far the most famous groundhog is Punxsutawney Phil, who started making his appearance in 1886. Yes, that would make him 130 years old, but his website claims he has a magic elixir that keeps him young. But let's not forget the likes of Dunkirk Dave, Balzac Billy, Chattanooga Chuck, Manitoba Merv, Shubenacadie Sam, Susquehanna Sherman, and my personal favorite, Wiarton Willie.

But further research shows that a few of these groundhogs have a dark side. Punxsutawney Phil, for instance, threatened 60 more weeks of winter during Prohibition if he wasn't given some booze. General Beauregard Lee, the Atlanta based groundhog, has had an ongoing feud with Phil over accuracy. Staten Island Chuck bit former mayor Michael Bloomberg right through the glove he was wearing. And Wiarton Willie was the victim of a fake funeral.

Apparently, in 1999 Willie was found dead in his burrow just before groundhog day. There was a funeral with Willie lying on display face up with pennies over his eyes, clutching a carrot. But it turns out the funeral was for a fake. The real Willie was found too badly decomposed for public display and a taxidermied groundhog was used instead. Oh, the humanity!

So . . . do you believe in the groundhog's prediction? And if so, which groundhog do you listen to?

Jan 25, 2016

Merism Monday

merism ~ rhetorical device of contrasting two parts of a whole

Once upon a time I had two printers. I had one of those three in one deals that was capable of printing photos (provided you could afford the special ink and photopaper) and a huge, heavy duty colour laser printer for printing up big jobs. I honestly can't remember what happened with the three in one printer, other than the ink drying up in it, but the toner for the laser printer was super expensive.

I ended up replacing the pair of them with a Canon Pixma printer whose selling point was that I could print labels directly onto CDs or DVDs with it. My hubby records his own music and also downloads a lot of music from iTunes that he burns onto CDs.

Now I also have a Lightscribe drive, which is a CD/DVD burner that will etch a label right onto the disc, but it takes forever and it doesn't do colour. And quite honestly, the Lightscribe CDs are getting near impossible to find.

So I'm in my office on Saturday, finally taking care of the massive pile of paper that needed shredding, and I had about ten CDs that needed labels. My shredder will only do about three bucketfuls of paper before it needs to cool down, and I figured I could make good use of the waiting time by running the CDs through the printer.

Now despite the fact that I can (and have in the past) print labels with pictures as well as text on them, the hubby only wanted the band name and the CD title on them. No problem. The problem was that the program that comes with the printer does not allow you to change the size/shape of the boxes the text goes in. I wanted to make the text bigger so you could read it easier. There had to be a way to do it.

The manual built into the program was no help whatsoever. Google wasn't any help either because it mostly referred back to the manual. By this time I was finished the shredding, but not ready to give up on the printing.

One of the other drawbacks to the printer's program is that when you're selecting the font for your label all you see is the name, you don't see what the actual font looks like. So when I was still thinking I could get the program to do what I wanted it to, I had a Word document open so I could see what the different fonts looked like.

It occurred to me at this point that it would almost be easier to download the CD cover image to use as the label. All I'd have to do is import the image into the printer program and do a label that was all image without any text.

That's when I got the brilliant idea of using Word to make my labels. I typed out the band's name and the CD title, then made the font size, shape, and colour the way I wanted it, and positioned it approximately where I wanted it to appear on the CD. Then I used the Windows snipping tool to crop it to CD size and save it as an image file. Easy peasy!

From there it was a simple matter of loading the image into the printer program and creating my label. I was even able to match the fonts from the covers onto the CDs.

Carol - 1; Canon - 0

Next time I'm going to learn how to print pictures using the pre-cut photo paper I have way too much of. :-)

Jan 18, 2016

Munting Monday

munting ~ vertical framing piece between door panels

Last week I pretty much focused on finishing the final read-through of Lucky Dog. However, while I may not have settled back into a routine, I did remain aware of certain patterns of how my day goes and what kinds of blocks of time I have to work with.

I did manage to get to the gym a couple of times, but I'm finding with the cold and (finally!) snowy weather out there I'm lacking incentive to do so. It's not just a matter of getting out of bed, it's having to get dressed and leave the house before the sun is even up. But I think I've found the solution.

I've always said I prefer to start my day with a work out, just to get it out of the way, and that's still true. However, when you think about it, I'm not just working out once a day, I'm working out twice a day - once at the gym and once riding the bike. But who says I have to do them in that order?

Doesn't it make more sense to get up and ride the bike to start my day? It's a little more strenuous and theoretically it'll do a better job of waking me up. It'll also take the pressure off if I need a little extra sleep - I don't have as far to go to get to the bike, so it's no big deal if I want to steal an extra fifteen minutes.

But what about the gym, you ask?

Ah. That's the other good thing about this plan.

The way things work out right now: I go to the gym, come home for breakfast, have anywhere between 1 and 1 1/2 hours before I have to drop the hubby off to work, have another 45 minutes to an hour before I go babysitting, come home, have between 1 and two hours to recuperate/work before riding the bike, then it's time to make supper. My day is so chopped up it just doesn't have any flow to it.

However, if I ride the bike when I get up, I don't have to leave the house right away and I'll get a little earlier start to getting down to business. I can take my workout clothes with me when I go to the daughter's to babysit and change while I'm there, stopping at the gym on the way home.

The bonus here is that once I change back into my work clothes I'll be more inclined to "work" instead of "recuperate from babysitting".

It all sounds good in theory, and it's easy to see the flow to my day on paper, but the proof will be in the pudding, as they say. I'll give it a try this week and see how it goes. I figure at the very least it solves the problem getting enough sleep.

Before Christmas I was having an issue with not getting enough sleep, so during my holiday I tried to acquire better sleeping habits. This meant trying to get to bed a little earlier, and sleeping in a little later.

The problem is, the sleeping thing worked okay during the holidays but now I'm finding it really hard to get myself motivated into getting up in time to go to the gym. I end up being short on time and I either shorten the length of my workout or skip it altogether, and then I feel guilty, which just adds an extra layer of stress to my day. And who needs that?

So this week I'll give the morning and afternoon workouts a switch and we'll see what happens. I've nothing to lose but more weight, right? ;-)

Jan 11, 2016

Mogadore Monday

mogadore ~ ribbed silk used in making neckties

So ... with the first week of the new year under my belt, I have to admit I'm not off to an auspicious start. I had a sinus cold hit me around Christmas time and it dragged on through the holidays. The amount of cold medication I was taking made me tired and muzzy-headed and I was unable to focus on pretty much anything. No reading, no writing, no editing ...

Partly because of this, and partly because I was just so busy with other stuff, I completely fell off the healthy lifestyle band wagon. No time to go to the gym, no time (or energy) to ride the bike, too many tempting treats around, portion control went right out the window. Last week was supposed to be my week to get back on track, but my cold sucked all the ambition right out of me.

At the end of last week I finally asked a pharmacist to recommend something, and he sold me a powerful decongestant that seems to be helping. But the new drug brings with it a new set of side effects, one of which insomnia. One extreme to the other. *sigh*

So, which is worse? Being so tired you doze off without warning and when you're awake you're unable to focus, or being unable to sleep which leaves you feeling tired and unable to focus? The jury's still out on that.

But I'm getting fed up with my life being so far off track, so this week I've vowed to fix it. Now as I type this it's Sunday night. The plan was to go to the gym tomorrow and start the ball rolling again. However, after an extremely mild, rainy weekend, we got a flash freeze and the rain turned to ice and snow. So we'll have to see what the morning brings to see whether I get back on track on Monday or Tuesday. :-)

Needless to say, I have not yet started to work towards any of my goals thus far.

Oh, wait! That's not true. I've read one book towards my pledge of 52. So at least that's something, right?

Jan 4, 2016

Mascaron Monday

mascaron ~ grotesque face on a door-knocker

Another new year, another chance to start over. Does anyone else feel like that, that the new year is a chance for new opportunities?

I have to admit, I'm not sorry to see the last of 2015. In so many ways it was not a good year for me, December in particular. However, I don't want start my new year trashing the old one, so instead I'll focus on the good things that happened.

First is the birth of my granddaughter, my little Ellie Beans. Not so little any more, she's growing like a weed.

I lost some weight, and I got a big contract for transcribing audio interviews to text (which is turning out to be a mixed blessing).

As far as the goals I set at the beginning of last year, well ... To refresh your (and my) memory, these goals were:
30 minutes a day reading
500 words a day writing
10 pages a day editing
continue to de-clutter
work on and submit one short story/flash story a month
make better use of social media
spend 30 minutes a day on self promotion
journal on a regular basis
write more letters
give yoga a try
spend 1 hour a day on crafts
organize my books

Thirty minutes of reading a day was pretty easy. I started riding the stationary bike for at least half an hour a day and what better to entertain myself than to ride while I ride? According to Goodreads where I do the reading challenge each year, I read 59 books. It was probably more than that, but that was how many I actually kept track of.

I managed five hundred words a day writing every day, most days, some days. This was due in part to my good buddy Jamie. We started sending each other a daily writing nag to motivate each other, and we gave each other a time limit for when we had to reply with our daily word count. It worked for a while, but unfortunately, after a while it started having an adverse affect. For my part, I found myself padding my writing, sort of like NaNo where you take the long way around to say something just to get the words in. This resulted in some really bad writing on my part. And let's face it, no one likes to be nagged to do something. It's the surest way to make me not want to do it. So now we just send inspirational emails.

As for the rest . . . the editing was pretty sporadic, as was the de-cluttering. The story submitting, social media, and self promotion was pretty much non-existent. I did write a few more letters, especially if you count the long, letter-like emails my bestie and I exchange a couple of times a week, but my journaling was pretty pathetic.

But enough about that. As I said at the top of this post, this is a new year, so it calls for a new list of goals. And after much soul searching (while I was watching Rizzoli and Isles last night) here are my goals for this year:

1. Blog more often. I blog here once a week, but I also have another blog called My Writing Journal which I started in March and blogged to exactly 14 times. Let's try for at least once a week over there as well.

2. Write every day. This isn't changing. Still plan on 500 words, preferably on the final Elemental book and the next in the Moonstone Chronicles. For some reason, my ideas have started coming in batches, as in a series not just a single title. And I think having two series on the go at the same time is plenty.

3. Read every day. Nothing's really changed with this either, except I pledged 52 books (a book a week) on Goodreads instead of 50.

4. Spend more time on crafts. I dabbled in watercolour and acrylic painting last year, just enough to remind me why I became a writer instead of an artist. :-) Other than that I didn't really do any crafts last year, not even any Christmas crafts. The thing is, needlework especially can be very relaxing, which is why I want to find more time for needlework this year. It certainly beats playing mindless games when I'm watching TV at night. In fact, perhaps the last Friday of each month I could post a picture of whatever I'm working on.

5. Lose more weight. The twenty pounds I lost last year was good, although I got a late start to it. It was just enough that people started noticing but unfortunately not enough to bring down the A1C in my blood. This year I'm going for thirty pounds - by hook or by crook I'm going to bring that blood sugar down.

And there you have it. My goals for 2016. A short but significant list. I could add things like getting organized, or submitting my work, or even making better use of social media, but these are things that seem to make my list year after year and goals I never seem to accomplish. It's almost like I'm setting myself up for failure adding them. That's not to say I won't keep them in mind, but if they happen they happen. No pressure. I put enough pressure on myself as it is without adding to it.

Maybe that should be my motto for the year: No pressure.

Dec 25, 2015

Merry Christmas

As usual, when it comes to Christmas music I saved the best for last. One of the best Christmas presents I ever received was tickets to see these guys when they played in Toronto. I hope you enjoy them as much as I do.

A Mad Russian's Christmas

Wizards In Winter

Christmas Canon

TSO – Christmas Eve in Sarajevo

Hope you have a wonderful Christmas and I'll be back in the New Year.