Monday, November 29, 2010

What To Read?

My To-Do List today is piled 16 items deep. Some of them are fairly simple and will be crossed off easily today (barring catastrophe or shiny distractions, and let's face it, there are a lot of shiny distractions). Others, like moving things into storage so we can set up the extra small bedroom for Christmas, will take all week.

The list at work is a fairly heavy one as well. I have three features to chase down this week in addition to covering the Clifton Forge and Covington Christmas parades. I also have a task at City Hall to complete, though that shouldn't take all that long to do.

And in the true spirit of Christmas the weatherman is calling for the first bit of snow to fall here this weekend. Since it's coupled with rain I doubt that it's going to amount to much, but I'm all happy about the return of winter weather (even if I have to cover a parade in it). It's just going to be a matter of time before I break out the soundtrack to Merry Christmas, Charlie Brown, which just happens to be one of the bestselling jazz albums of all time.

Christmas is always a magical time for me. When I was a kid it was filled with toys and as I grew older the toys were gradually replaced by books. If I'm being honest, I still receive a few toys every year, but, then again, who doesn't? It was Christmas when I was first introduced to Harry Potter and The Lord of the Rings. It was a snowy Christmas a long time ago when I first read The Return of Sherlock Holmes after checking out a 1942 illustrated hardcover edition from the Clifton Forge Public Library.

This year I'm debating, just a bit, about what to read over the holidays and I'm giving serious consideration to returning to some of my favorites. Seeing the amazing adaptation of Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows last weekend in the theater has me hankering a little bit of that series, but then again both Star Wars and Star Trek hold the promise of new and old goodness for me reading pleasure. Of course I can't forget about Sherlock Holmes. Those stories never get old, even if I've read them all about three times.

Any suggestions, anyone?

Sunday, November 28, 2010

A Successful Day

We finally finished processing the last of our October weddings. It was a chore to get it polished off today, but after a long session of both of us processing we've managed to get it knocked down. Bethany has a couple of sessions left to put through Photoshop but they're most definitely a lighter task than the weddings.

Saturday morning at work I finished reading The Lost Hero, the new Percy Jackson novel, and I have to say that I really enjoyed it. By the end of the novel I had pieced together enough of the foreshadowing to be able to guess at what the big secret was, so I can't say that I was surprised at the conclusion. However, I can say I'm pretty happy with it and I can't wait to read the rest of the series (which hasn't been written yet). I was fortunate to not start the first series, Percy Jackson and the Olympians until after they were all published. It only took me about two weeks to plow through those five novels. Yes, they're written for a younger audience but they're also really well written and highly addicting.

There are two novels coming out Tuesday that I plan to purchase, Star Wars: Fate of the Jedi: Vortex and the newest Star Trek: Typhon Pact novel. They'll both be released at midnight and will happily download to my Kindle while I'm sleeping. I really am surprised at how much I'm enjoying reading on my Kindle. True, it's not the same as having a book in my hands, but I really appreciate the ease and freedom that a Kindle brings to my life. I live in a semi-remote area and the closest book store is an hour away from my front door. We once had a local bookstore that I absolutely loved (I was officially named their best customer) but, sadly, it went under. wasn't a bad replacement, but there was the interminable delay caused by my books being shipped from their warehouse. The Kindle allows my to shop from my library, in my pajamas, and have the book downloaded in my hands within a minute. Pre-ordered books are delivered as I sleep. It just doesn't get any better than that.

Since it was Sunday I did a little light cooking this afternoon. It wasn't great, but it wasn't bad either. All I did was marinate some sliced chicken breast in white wine and a little olive oil. I seasoned with basil, parsley, minced garlic with a touch of salt and pepper. I boiled some instant rice and a few broccoli sprouts (it takes about four minutes in boiling water to get broccoli tender with just enough crunch to be satisfying) and then mixed it all together. It was flavorful but it needed just a little more flair. At any rate, it's something to experiment with in the future.

Saturday, November 27, 2010

It's Beginning To Look A Lot Like Christmas

The Christmas season has officially arrived. Sure, it's still November, but it's also two days after Thanksgiving. Our Christmas tree is up, there are lights on are house and there are even presents already wrapped under the tree.

At least I waited until the day after Thanksgiving instead of decorating in October like all the stores do.

Every year our outdoor light show expands just a bit. The first year I think we only had icicle lights on the house. Then we added lights to the porch and the maple out front (we had to wait for it to get tall enough). This year, since we had some spiffy new icicle lights that were slightly longer than we needed, we ran lights down the gutter and into the butterfly bush. There's some debate about running them from the bush into the two other trees on the far side of the yard, but that would require the purchase of more lights.

When I left the house this morning the interior still needed some work. There were boxes to put away and garland and other things to hang. We just ran out of time last night since the tradition is to not start hanging lights until after dark. It's just more fun if you can't see what you're doing.

The weather here is finally cooperating and dipping into the colder winter temperatures we all know and love. In fact, looking at the forecast here on my desk, the temperatures barely hit 50 degrees at all next week. It's cold and dark by the time that I get home and that's just fine with me. I have The Last Airbender to watch, John Adams to watch and a deep pile of books to get me through the winter.

Ah, if only it would snow...

Thursday, November 25, 2010

'Tis The Night Before Thanksgiving

'Tis the night before Thanksgiving and all through the house, the smell of fresh bread pervades the night air.

Thanksgiving is at our house this year and right now things are looking like fun. The turkey's been thawing in the refrigerator today. The two loaves of bread that Bethany and I made are in the oven. All the ingredients for the other dishes are laid out on the counter, all ready to be sliced, diced, chopped, stirred and cooked for the Thanksgiving feast.

Yes, life is good.

To top it off I've even collected a my second paycheck in nine months and this one was my first full one. I celebrated by taking Bethany to dinner, buying her flowers and then myself John Adams and The Last Airbender. I missed The Last Airbender when it was out in theaters and it looks like the kind of fantasy action movie that's right up my alley. John Adams is the seven part HBO miniseries that garnered 13 Emmys when it aired last year. I've been hankering to own it for a while and I'm looking forward to settling in to watching it next week. The Revolutionary War is probably one of my favorite periods of history and this docudrama looks to be entertaining.

In the meantime I'm reading The Lost Hero, the first book in the newest Percy Jackson series. It's true that Percy Jackson's adventures are intended for a younger audience, but they sure are a lot of fun. I'm enjoying the fun twists on the Greek myths that I was taught in elementary school and it's been something of an education reading the series. I don't know where my readings will take me next, but I do have quite a to-read pile to keep me happy.

The writing is going well this week. Tuesday evening I covered the Covington City Council meeting and then had the house to myself as Bethany was in Lewisburg practicing for the upcoming chorale concert. They're performing selections from Handel's Messiah on Dec. 12 and I'm looking forward to that concert. It's been a great part of my early Christmas season since she joined the Greenbrier Valley Chorale a couple years ago. But I digress. I spent the better part of two hours on the second draft of Blood and Steel Tuesday evening and added something in the neighborhood of 3,000 words. I'm about to really delve into the meat of the plot and I'm pleased so far with both my first draft and the smoothing over that's occurring in the second draft.

Since the bread now requires some attention, I believe I'm going to wrap this post up. I'd write a little more after dealing with the baking, but I just can't seem to put The Lost Hero down.

Monday, November 22, 2010

A Better Photograph

Since the last photograph I uploaded wasn't my best work I thought I'd offer up this one tonight. After all, I couldn't let you think that the last photo was the best of my football work. If you're looking for the story in the photography, you'll have to know Covington football to understand it.

Covington doesn't throw the ball unless they're behind, and with a 6-6 final record, that happens more than the Cougars would like it to. When they do throw it, they tend to put in another quarterback, who you can see scrambling to get the ball out of his hand before he's sacked. There's not a lot of drama in the photo, but if you've watched enough Covington High School football you know what's going on.

It is the week of Thanksgiving and we're slowly getting ready for it. The turkey (all 22 pounds of it) is in the refrigerator happily thawing out for the big day. I went to Kroger today and bought the last of the things we need to have on hand when Thursday rolls around. I think we'll have a grand total of eight people, which should make for a nice dinner. It's a shame that the only football that's going to be on television is the Patriots at the Lions, which should be a complete massacre.

Saturday, November 20, 2010

The Photo That Almost Happened

This is the photo that almost happened.

You see, sports photography is about 5% knowledge of the camera and photo techniques, 5% knowledge of the game your game, 5% willingness to grit your teeth and hope that the guy doesn't hit you while you're shooting and about 85% luck. Anyone that tells you any different is just flat lying to you. You might be able to shave some of that percentage of luck with a little advance preparation, but there's only so much wiggle room to be had in that formula.

Friday night I was prowling the Covington sidelines as they traveled to East Montgomery High School on the other side of Salem. For their troubles Covington received an old fashioned butt-whooping by a team that's likely to be the state champions of the Single A division. I've shot plenty of high school football before, so I'm familiar with what I'm doing, even if I'm just a little rusty after a four year sabbatical from the work.

During half time, I set my camera to Automatic to take a couple of shots of a CHS helmet. I figured it would be a nice graphic to have somewhere down the line at the newspaper. When the second half started, I forgot to switch my camera back to the Manual setting where, combined with the flash, I had a high enough shutter speed to stop the motion of the game.

Covington was trailing by three scores by the time they had their first possession of the half, so it was time to air it out (note the knowledge of the game). I went down the sideline and set up, waiting for the deep pass that I knew was coming. My powers of prognostication didn't let me down and the quarterback uncorked a deep through to the sideline.

I saw the receiver and the cornerback coming closer and closer, but I stood still (note the willingness to grit my teeth and hope I didn't get hit) because the play was unfolding directly in front of me (note the healthy dose of luck that was actually in my favor for once). Sadly, the pass was incomplete and so was my photo because I had failed to switch back to the Manual setting. When the image popped up on my screen I knew what I'd done and why I'd blown the shot, so I was able to reset and move on with the shooting.

This photo was nowhere near good enough to make the paper, but I like it for some reason. The motion blur speaks a little to how I see the game of football: as a very fast paced game that has a great deal of violent and sudden stops. This would never show up in a black and white photo on the newsprint we use at The Virginian Review so I'm just going to add this one to my collection.

Wednesday, November 17, 2010

Back In The Saddle

So having regained the ranks of the gainfully employed I find myself working on a daily basis. I'm making a living writing again, which is kind of cool. The duties are a little different this time around. I don't have so much of the jack of all trades label, but I am getting a crack at a high school football playoff game Friday night.

I'll be prowling the sidelines, bundled up against the cold with my camera in hand trying to catch the kind of stunning football photographs that Sports Illustrated would be lucky to have a shot at purchasing. Mostly I'll just be freezing my butt off.

Saturday will also be my new debut as Local News Editor with a front page story about neighborhood watch programs. It's a magnificent piece of journalism that will never win me a Pulitzer, but who keeps track of those things anyway?

In the meantime I'm continuing work on the second draft of Blood & Steel. I'm almost 10,000 words in, which is a pretty significant chunk of writing, actually. There are all the little rewrites happening along the way that usually accompany the creation of a second draft and I can happily report that progress is good.

On the photography front Bethany and I are still wading through some wedding photos and other sittings from October. We're pushing to have it all done by the first of December, an entirely feasible goal.

I have to say that it feels good to be employed again. Now if I could just get Bethany's car fixed...

Sunday, November 14, 2010

Back From Vacation

Life might actually be returning to some semblance of normal.

(Even as I type that I kind of duck and hunch over my keyboard, looking cautiously over my shoulders to see from what direction I'm going to be thrown the next curve.)

Tuesday morning I'll report to work at The Virginian Review and collect my first actual paycheck in nearly nine months. It won't be a full week's pay since Bethany and I went to Pigeon Forge for most of last week, but even still, it will be a paycheck.

Part one of Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows hits theaters Friday and I can't wait to see it. Well, I can, since obviously I'm going to have to, but I'm looking forward to it. This will be the first time I've seen a movie adaptation of a book actually go to the effort of splitting the film into two parts to cover it all. I hope they do a better job than they did with Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince. I can't think of another time that I left a movie theater that angry.

Before I left last week I spent some time on the second draft of Blood & Steel. I made it through a good chunk of typing and I'm still getting into the opening act of the novel, but it felt good to be writing again. And it feels good to be earning a living with my pen again.

To make it even better, the holidays are coming up. Bethany and I did the first bit of Christmas shopping while we were on vacation and we even have the gifts wrapped and waiting to go under a tree the day after Thanksgiving. Since we're speaking of Thanksgiving, we also made it out to Kroger this morning where we purchased a handsome 21 pound turkey for the holiday feast. I'm figuring on having about eight people total at dinner for Thanksgiving and that works out to almost three pounds of turkey per person. It just doesn't get any better than that.

Oh, and I now have plenty to read. So much so that I doubt I'll be purchasing much in the way of fine literature until next year. I have one or two titles that I plan to add to the Kindle when they're released because I'm closely following those series, but I think I'm pretty well set for a while.

Yes, life is good.

Saturday, November 6, 2010

It's Good To Be Me

There are some days that are just meant for not doing anything.

Today's been one of those days. I wish I could regale you with an exciting tale of adventure and narrow escapes, but it's just not that kind of day.

No, today is the kind of day where it looks warmer than it really is. Even the thermometer deceives. It makes you think it's about 60 degrees outside, but what it doesn't take into account is the wind. This wind holds more than the whisper of winter that comes in early fall. This is a full blown promise of the bitter cold that's coming.

The answer to that promise is soup. And hot homemade bread and a cold glass of Pepsi. And falling asleep on the couch watching reruns of Castle. And a good book, which I haven't yet made it to, but I will. I have plenty to read.

You're also reading the words of a man who's two days away from a nice little vacation in Pigeon Forge that will celebrate our second anniversary. Before that, I have two days of fill in work at The Virginian Review. Apparently the person who took my job after I left three years ago left yesterday and the editor asked if I'd come in and lend a hand to get them through. Which is cool. It'll be neat to get back in the newsroom after taking some time off from it for a few years.

But before that is a Sunday of football.

Yes, it's good to be me.

Wednesday, November 3, 2010

Cold Pizza & Engine Grease

I like it when things are going my way. Who doesn't? And it's a good week here on the hill. On Tuesday evening and it's nice and cold out (great sleeping weather). It's the first of the month and the bills are paid without any major financial legerdemain, I have a couple of shiny new books to read (including two new Robert Jordan novels I've been saving) and next week Bethany and I are going to Tennessee for a little three day get away. Everything is going nice and smoothly.

So where's the catch, you ask? I found it last night.

Bryan's been working for two weeks in the evenings to replace the motor in his '05 Explorer. It gave up the ghost after a little more than 70,000 miles. The project isn't simple, but it is possible. But it gets more complicated as it goes. We found sand all over the interior, especially in some places where the presence of sand is most definitely Not A Good Thing. In a moment of frustration last week, Bryan busted the radiator as he pried on something with a crow bar. (I've seen Bryan stick a crow bar in a motor twice now and neither time has been good. The last time he attempted to use a crow bar to take the tension off the belt on the Volvo we spent twenty minutes with a hammer trying to get it out.) That was a $200 moment of frustration that was fixable.

The catch in my week that's going just a little too smoothly is that we spent three hours trying to get the new motor mounted in place last night. We started at 5:30, called a pizza in with intentions of going up and grabbing it before we were heavy in the middle of it. But Bryan's friend Dave (who has done this before and was there to be extra muscle to get the motor in place) convinced him to start while there was daylight since it wouldn't take long.

Wouldn't take long. Famous last words.

At 8:30 we still haven't wrangled the beast in place, though we have two bolts in and have managed to lock the harmonic stabilizer in a bind so that we can't turn it, which means there's a good chance that we have to back up and start over. We took a break, shed the coveralls and went for the pizza, flashlights and some batteries.

It was Pizza Hut's new Big Italy pizza, which is too big to fit in their warmer, so they just set it aside 'till we made it there. The pizza was only slightly warmer than the night air we were working in, which was solidly in the 40s.

But by the time made it back to Dave's he had fixed the problem and all we had to do was add the bolts.

Fortunately I like cold pizza. It even tastes better with a touch of engine grease.

Monday, November 1, 2010

If It Wasn't For The Turkey

If it wasn't for the turkey I'd almost skip Thanksgiving and move straight on to Christmas.

And why not? Christmas is a magical time of snow and trees and decorations and Christmas cookies and...well, this list could go on for pages.

It's the first day of November and I'm already looking forward to the 26th. You see, the day after Thanksgiving is the day that we invite people up to decorate our house celebrate the day after Thanksgiving. There are usually cookies, leftovers and much laughter coupled with frustration as we try to figure out how to get all the lights connected and shining.

After running a couple errands today in Covington I was in the mood to walk through Wal-Mart. I wasn't necessarily looking to purchase anything, but I did walk away with a pair of much needed rip-stop cargo pants that look incredibly comfortable. Anyway, I noticed that Wal-Mart was gearing up for Christmas on the day after Halloween. So I drifted over the the Lawn & Garden/Christmas section. It smelled like cinnamon and candle wax. There were Christmas trees up and lit and three empty aisles in the process of being filled with Christmas paraphernalia (I really just wanted to use a bigger word there instead of stuff). And they had Christmas lights on sale. I picked up two boxes of icicle lights for $6 that I needed to replace what the blizzard ruined last year.

Since I was feeling the spirit and had some more time on my hands I meandered over to Hallmark to peruse the ornaments. They have some really cool new ornaments that light up, but they were on the expensive end of the price range. So I settled for a nice, carved-looking Santa and one A Christmas Story ornament for Bethany.

So, yea, if it wasn't for the turkey I'd be ready to put up a Christmas tree. I really love Christmas. But then again, I also like to eat...