Friday Fast Five: My Favorite Things About Conferences

Friday Fast Five: My Favorite Things About Conferences

Soon I will be taking my first trip to New York City when I head to the national conference for Romance Writers of America.  This will be my third time attending the conference, and to get pumped up I thought I’d share five things I love about conferences…some of which really don’t have *that* much to do with writing.

1. Well-Filling

Attending workshops, listening to panels, chatting with other writers, DOING ALL THE THINGS. There is something wild and utterly exhilarating about conference time. Fresh ideas, tips and tricks, industry news – I absorb it all like a sponge until I’m ready to burst with excitement and feel like I can take on the world (or at the very least, finish my next manuscript). It’s also thrilling to applaud and celebrate the success of friends. When a fellow writer buddy achieves a milestone or scores an award, it is so inspiring and makes everything seem just a little more possible.

Dear friend and fellow Chicago-North member Erica O'Rourke was a 2013 RITA finalist.

Dear friend and fellow Chicago-North member Erica O’Rourke was a 2013 RITA finalist.

This year I am thrilled to cheer on my two friends Clara Kensie and Sonali Dev, both RITA finalists for Best First Book. And bonus – Clara is a double finalist, her book Run To You is up for the YA category as well!!!

2. Networking/Friend-Making

I am currently serving my second term as President of the Chicago-North Romance Writers (a chapter of RWA). So I’ll spend a decent  amount of my conference time wearing that hat. There is a leadership event, where chapter board members from across the country get together to share experiences, discuss current issues, and brainstorm solutions for challenges. There is the Annual General Meeting, which I will attend and take notes to pass on to my chapter when I get back home. There’s a chapter reception I am hosting with Savannah Reynard, President of “sister” chapter Windy City.  And there will be general networking as I spread the word and encourage people to attend our upcoming regional conference, Spring Fling 2016. It’s not all fun and games, people! 😉

With my sister Pres, at the 2014 RITA/GH Award ceremony. We didn't plan the red thing.

With my sister Pres at the 2014 RITA/GH Award ceremony. We didn’t plan the red thing.

Well, it is mostly fun and games, because I enjoy meeting new people and connecting over our love of writing romance. I have been lucky enough to make some fabulous friends at the two conferences I’ve attended so far.

Chicago-North 2012 President Ryann and our new bestie Kari.

From Left to Right: Chicago-North 2012 President Ryann, me, and our new bestie Kari from Cali. Kari is wicked funny. I wanted to pack her in my suitcase and take her home with me.

Melanie from Texas. I met this fellow Mel at my 1st conference in 2013.  C-N sort of adopted her during the conference in Atlanta, and she returned the favor when she and her chapter adopted me at the 2014 conference in San Antonio.

Melanie from Texas. I met this fellow Mel at my 1st conference in 2013. C-N sort of adopted her during the conference in Atlanta, and she returned the favor when she and her chapter-mates adopted me at the 2014 conference in San Antonio.

Mel Jolly of Author's Atlas at the '14 award ceremony. Isn't that dress adorable?

Mel Jolly of Author’s Atlas at the RWA14 award ceremony. Isn’t that dress adorable? I got to know Mel via Spring Fling and since she’s just so cool (all us Mel J’s are) we’ve kept in touch via social media.

3. Partying

Socializing + booze. An important part of any conference experience.

Staches with SB Sarah at the bash she hosted. She is 100% Grade A awesomesauce.

Silly staches with SB Sarah at the bash she hosted  in Atlanta. She is 100% Grade A awesomesauce.

More mustache mischief with Windy City President Savannah. It has been a blast being sister-prezzies with Sav!

More mustache mischief with Windy City President Savannah. It has been a blast being sister-prezzies with Sav!

Yes. Those are ritas in the hotel bathtub.

Yes. Those are ritas in the hotel bathtub. Texas girls know how to throw a party.

 

4. Fan-Girling

There are hundreds of writers at these conferences. When I spot a fav author, it is so much fun to say hi and let her know how much I love her work. I’m totally professional about it, of course. Ahem. I do my squeeing on the inside.

With Susanna Kearsley. I love her time-slip novels and was thrilled when she won the RITA in 2014 for The Firebird.

With Susanna Kearsley. I love her time-slip novels and was thrilled when she won the RITA in 2014 for The Firebird.

With Kristan Higgins. I first met Kristan when she headlined Spring Fling the year I was a coordinator, and just love her to pieces.

With Kristan Higgins. I first met Kristan when she headlined Spring Fling the year I was a coordinator, and just love her to pieces. She is genuinely as wonderful and sweet as she seems.

5. Sightseeing

Traveling to conference is like a mini-vacation. Cities I’ve never been to before, and the chance to explore, even for a few hours, is such a treat.

View of Atlanta from my hotel room.

View of Atlanta from my hotel room.

Mandatory stop at the official Coke HQ in Atlanta for my daughter.  I already know exactly what store in NYC is a must for me to shop at this year!

Mandatory stop at the official Coke HQ in Atlanta for my daughter. I already know exactly what store in NYC is a must for me to shop at this year!

Sunset in San Antonio (view from hotel room).

Sunset in San Antonio (view from hotel room).

The Alamo at night. I took a walking ghost tour...scariest part of the evening was how damn hot San Antonio still is at 11 o'clock at night.

The Alamo. I took a walking ghost tour…scariest part of the evening was how damn hot San Antonio still is at 11 o’clock at night.

 

So there you go. Five things I love about conference time!

Are you heading to Nationals? If you are, and you happen to see someone with a cloud of red curls, I hope you stop me and say hi. Safe travels!

 

 

 

1995 – My Soundtrack Sweet Spot

1995 – My Soundtrack Sweet Spot

So, the husband, I may have mentioned, is an epic nerd (it’s ok, I love this about him). His passion is video games, namely of the “old-school” variety. One way he indulges in this passion is as the co-host of a weekly podcast called The Retro League, where they review and discuss all things video games from the 70’s, 80’s, and 90’s. Kind of sounds like a radio station, right? I thought so too. Especially this week, when the topic of favorite movies and soundtracks of 1995 came up.

Yes, 1995 was 20 years ago…shed a few tears and move on.

On a recent car ride, in between bouts of shouting from our two redheads in the backseat (“You’re breathing my air!”), the husband and I discussed our favorites from 1995 and I realized 3 things: 1) while our taste in music rarely intersects, 1995 had several soundtracks the husband and I both enjoy, 2) looking back at the awesome and horrible (uh, Showgirls, anyone?) movies that came out in 1995, it was a really good AND bad year for film, and 3) it was an even better year for soundtracks – in fact, I am going to go ahead and say 1995 may be THE YEAR of movie soundtracks (for me, personally).

Of course, you know this means I’m going to list them for you. When can I ever resist a Top 10 List? Here we go:

Top 10 FAVORITE SOUNDTRACKS (or at least songs) FROM THE MOVIES OF 1995

Well…it turns out I couldn’t come up with 10 soundtracks total, so instead here are 5 movies and 5 soundtracks/songs:

FAVORITE MOVIES FROM 1995

5. 12 MONKEYS – When you realize Brad Pitt is more than just a pretty face. Holy hell, the man can act. This movie is equal parts effed up and brilliant and a wild ride.

4. TOY STORY – I actually like Toy Story 2 better than the first, but this tale of Woody and Buzz is still wonderful and heartwarming with plenty of hilarious moments that make it a keeper.

3. BABE – the little pig who could. I adore this darling story of non-conformity, trusting your instincts, and going for it.

2. SENSE & SENSIBILTY – the clothes, the setting, the romance. *sigh* I girl crushed hard on Emma Thompson and Kate Winslet, and good lord, who in their right mind would say no to Alan Rickman as Colonel Brandon?

1. USUAL SUSPECTS –  a puzzle that envelops you, the characters, the plot, the subtle details. An amazing film. If you have not seen it, go watch it now. I’ll wait.

FAVORITE SOUNDTRACKS/SONGS FROM 1995 MOVIES

5.  POCAHONTAS – Yes, it’s Disney, and yes Disney “disney-fied” history. See this article from the Smithsonian for a more factual version. But I admit it, yes, Vanessa Williams, former Miss USA,  I want to paint with all The Colors of the Wind. I confess I like that song, I even cop to the fact I like the movie, and even though I know it’s completely bogus, I like the love story between pre-creep Mel Gibson, er, John Smith and Pocahontas. Did you know Disney had to turn down the heat on these two, and cut a scene? (Actually, they claimed kids in test audiences were bored by the song, which I can totally see, it does go on for a while). The song, If I Ever Knew You, is actually not so bad (when NOT being sung by Mel). Another fun fact, for Pocahontas 2, the character of John Smith was voiced by Mel’s brother.

4. BRAVEHEART – Yes, there was a time when some of us were not aware Mel Gibson was an asshat. Like Disney’s Pocahontas, this movie blatantly ignores fact for the sake of fiction. And I still don’t care. I love this movie. And I love the soundtrack. It’s great for background music when I’m writing. Usually, I am totally fine listening to music with lyrics while writing, but sometimes my brain needs a pinch more focus and this soundtrack fits the bill (Last of the Mohicans works too, but that movie came out in ’92).

3. TANK GIRL – full disclosure, I never saw this movie. The soundtrack, however, is a roll call of alterna-cool including L7, Portishead, Bush, Belly, and Veruca Salt. I enjoy most of the songs, from the instrumental Ripper’s Sole by Stomp, to the moody Roads by Portishead. My unexpected favorite is Mockingbird Girl by The Magnificent Bastards. Though not too surprising, when you realize the lead singer is Scott Weiland of Stone Temple Pilots fame – train wreck he unfortunately might be, I love this guy’s voice.

Tank Girl cd

2. MORTAL KOMBAT – very early in our relationship, I spent hours upon hours hanging out in smoky arcades (you could still smoke in a building back then) while my husband-then-boyfriend kicked virtual ass and took names playing Mortal Kombat. He was awesome as any character, but his weapon of choice tended to be Scorpion or Sub-Zero. (Which is why, when I recently heard “Get over here!” in a commercial I knew INSTANTLY who it was.) Kind of inevitable I would play the game a few times, and the character I preferred was Raiden. Yes it was because he could be a weenie and teleport behind someone to uppercut the crap out of them, or fly across the room, knock an opponent over and fry ’em with electricity…Raiden had all the cool easy tricks. I won a decent number of rounds, though that was probably just dudes being nice to the one chick in the room.

Anyway, the 1995 movie was comically bad, but I love many of the songs off the soundtrack. The intro track, A Taste of Things to Come, is an instrumental song and a great mood booster while going for a run (the same can be said for Control by Traci Lords). I love Juke-Joint Jezebel by KMFDM, and if you enjoy techy-tunes of the 90s from the likes of NIN, The Chemical Brothers, and Crystal Method, you’ll love it too. But my absolute favorite song on the album is Halcyon + On + On by Orbital. Love this song so much it’s going to appear twice on this list. Watch for it.

1.  HACKERS – #1 on this list because I LOVE the movie AND the soundtrack. I love almost every song on the album. I can listen to it while working out, cleaning the house, writing…doing other, er, stuff. So, so good. Some of my favorites: Voodoo People and One Love, both by Prodigy, The Joker by Josh G Abrahams, Communicate by Plastico, Cowgirl by Underworld… basically I could keep going and list every song, I adore pretty much all of them. Especially Halcyon + On + On by Orbital, I told you you’d see this song again. Here it is. I LOVE this song. And the husband does too. Which is why we chose this song to be the track played at our wedding reception when the doors bust open and the wedding party makes their entrance. Sound awesome? It totally was. :)

Hackers cd

So there they are, my favorite soundtracks/songs from movies of 1995. Do you have any to share? Tweet @RetroLeague and let them know.

Weight vs. Worth: A Study in Inverse Proportions

Weight vs. Worth: A Study in Inverse Proportions

The concept of ideal beauty as perpetuated and promoted by our society is full of infuriating contradictions from “natural beauty” as created via artfully applied make-up, plastic surgery, and masterful photo manipulation to models and actresses who are praised for the “healthy” lifestyle that grants them their svelte physique–a lifestyle that often involves smoking, starvation, crash diets, and dangerous “supplements.” But worst among the contradictions is the closely held belief I see reinforced time and time again with heart-breaking, spirit-crushing regularity: the higher the number on your scale, the lower your value to society.  In other words, the more you weigh, the less you are worth.

Plenty of people might clamor to say, “No! That’s not true at all!” But even if the naysayers have never thought this way about themselves or others (and I’m pessimistic about that possibility), I would bet they’ve witnessed this mindset in action. Why does that number on the scale have so much power? Why do so many of us let that number control our lives?

Personally, I know this contradiction runs even deeper. My own thoughts about myself as compared to the way I view others is a study in contradiction. I have never looked at another woman and thought her size made her less of a person. But any time – every time – I look in the mirror the rude comments, negative thoughts, and insults fill my brain in an endless litany of shame and disgust. Sometimes, I avoid the mirror altogether. My soul just isn’t up for the beating that day.

Which brings me back to the why. Why do I do this to myself? Why can’t I stop? I have a husband who tells me every single day that he loves me – that he finds me beautiful, attractive, and yes, even sexy. But all I can ever think is that someday he’s going to look at me and see what I see…someday he’s going to finally realize I’m revolting. I try and hide these thoughts and feelings from him but occasionally they surface, and I become even more ashamed – not only do I feel bad about my body, but I feel bad about the fact that I feel bad.

I love the recent trend of women fighting back, of females taking back their right to feel good about themselves and not let the scale – or society – dictate their worth. Moms who go to the beach in their swimsuit and spend the day laughing with their kids, not obsessing about the dimples on their thighs. I admire them, but I can’t seem to be one of them. Instead, it becomes one more thing I feel bad about – one more layer added to my guilt cake (and yes, I see the irony of using a cake metaphor in a discussion about weight). I go to the pool with my daughters and feel double the insecurity: I envy the skinny moms confidently displaying their taut tummies and I envy the smiling chubby moms refusing to hide their less taut ones. I feel like a failure on both sides.

Weight vs. Worth: A Study in Inverse Proportions | MelonieJohnson.com

Why? Despite the picture above, the scale didn’t take control of my self-confidence until years later. I can remember it clearly, it was sixth grade…f*cking sixth grade. Gym class. We all had to line up in front of a scale to – you guessed it – get weighed…in front of everyone. I remember the number on that scale when it was my turn. I remember the name and face of the boy who commented on it later, snickering. His snickering stabbed me, his mocking smile made my insides curdle. Looking back, I realize if I hadn’t let his comments affect me so deeply, if I had ignored him, then what happened next may have never happened at all. I wasn’t the heaviest kid in my class, and I definitely  was not obese. But tweens are vampires who feed on the insecurities of others, and I gave my fellow students a feast that day. Soon others joined him, adding their giggles and comments and insults. It wrecked me…in ways I am still trying to deal with. I own that. I own that I let this affect me. But it sure would have been nice if the school hadn’t made this opportunity for public humiliation so conveniently available.

The pain of that day came rushing back when I read the recent HuffPost article about a girl who refused to let her school weigh her. Sure, one may argue that we should all be more confident and not let others’ opinions of us affect our opinions of ourselves. And while that’s an optimistic goal, it’s hardly realistic. If students were to all take an IQ test, would that number be posted publicly for all the class to see? No. That kind of information is considered private and zealously guarded by  administration…why not a student’s weight?

It goes back to that contradiction. No one ever argues that individual student IQs should be public knowledge. No one ever stands up and says it is acceptable to ridicule someone’s intelligence…but weight? As evidenced by some of the comments on the article mentioned above, and on the Facebook post where I first saw this article linked, there are those who feel it is the school’s right – even their duty –  to weigh students. And if other kids see that number and mock a student for it? Well then maybe it will force a chubby kid to lose some damn weight, right? Right?

The woman who looks in the mirror and still sees that embarrassed and ashamed 6th grade girl says NO.

I hope I figure out how to work through my issues. I’m trying. For the sake of my own daughters (one who is currently in sixth grade herself), I hope not just to preach body acceptance but to one day truly believe it about myself too…after all, as long as this contradiction lives inside me, inside any of us, how can we hope to correct the contradictions of our society?

It was very difficult to hit “publish” on this post. Talking about my weight/mental issues makes me squirmy and scared – the conversation is one that usually takes place only in the privacy of my own mind but I decided that letting those thoughts out of my head might be the first step in keeping them out.

 

The Story of Grandma Vs Pancake House

The Story of Grandma Vs Pancake House

Both Art Linkletter and Bill Cosby knew a very simple truth: kids are a goldmine of unintentional hilarity.

Raising my two red heads is often frustrating and almost always exhausting, but it’s also entertaining. More times than I can remember, they have done or said something that was so funny it was spit-take worthy… a few times, like with the “Pump Up the Party Incident” it actually did cause a spit-take; but that’s a story for another day.

Life flies by so fast these funny little moments often get lost in the shuffle of mundane everyday stuff like homework, bedtime, shoe finding, meal managing, and so on. Sometimes, though – they stick. The moment becomes an inside joke, something to be memorialized as a family legend, a story to retell whenever we are in need of a giggle.

Such is the case with the Grandma V’s Pancake House story.

I was driving down the road one afternoon, my mind on the schedule for the day, when from the backseat Miss A made a comment to the effect of, “Grandma versus Pancake House, cool.” We were passing through an intersection we travel through often, and with my mind still on my to-do list, I didn’t think much of it. I mm-hmmed a reply and kept driving. A mile or two down the road my brain caught up with her comment and as I realized the source of her observation, I began to chuckle.

You see, at that intersection was a breakfast place, a restaurant called Grandma V’s.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Miss A, however, read this sign a little differently. I blame Super Smash Brothers.

“So,” I asked Miss A, “What do you think Grandma Versus Pancake House is like?”

She met my gaze in the rear-view mirror and shrugged. “I dunno, I guess a grandma chases pancakes and tries to hit them with her frying pan.” She paused to consider for a moment, “And then the boss is like a giant pancake house.”

Later that evening I shared the story with my husband, who – being a video game junkie (hence my daughter’s familiarity with the concept of a “boss”) – was fascinated with the idea and worked with Miss A to create an elaborate back story for Grandma, and why she had to fight a giant pancake house. Other options were considered, like perhaps it was more like Tapper, and Grandma had to race to serve her customers as many  pancakes as she could before the time ran out.

You can bet  from then on we couldn’t pass that intersection without thinking of Grandma and her epic battle.

Finally, over winter break, we went there for breakfast. It was a bit of a let down, no avenging grandmothers in sight, but pancakes were served and we snapped some pics of Miss A in front of the iconic sign. (Scoring only a few odd looks from other patrons).

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The odd stares were worth it because not long after that, Grandma V’s closed up and the place is now called something completely different. I can’t remember the new name, but it’s not nearly as entertaining.

I don’t know who Grandma V was, or where she went, but I tell you this: I still giggle when I pass that intersection.

The Real Reason the Lucas Museum is Coming to Chicago

The Real Reason the Lucas Museum is Coming to Chicago

In December of 2012 I took a trip with my family to Disney World. (Seeing the Magic Kingdom during Christmastime, check, I can knock that off the bucket list!)

It was magical, yes… and the magic started before we even arrived at our hotel. (I’m not talking about the Magical Express, but that’s pretty great too).  For some reason we had decided to book a late afternoon flight to Orlando which meant we were riding the aforementioned Magical Express to our hotel pretty late in the evening. Really late, actually. But our timing turned out to be perfect for one thing. Just as we passed the arches for the Magic Kingdom, Wishes (the nightly fireworks display) burst to life. As the bus wove its way toward our hotel, the dazzling explosions of light and color seemed to follow us. And  Lil’ G (who was 4 years old at the time), pressed her face to the glass and said, her voice full of awed certainty, “They knew I was coming!”

Minutes after arriving at the hotel, Lil' G made herself at home in the lounge area near the check-in desk.

Minutes after we arrived at the hotel, Lil’ G made herself at home in the lounge area near the check-in desk.

There was no doubt in my daughter’s mind that those fireworks were meant to welcome her, and timed to celebrate her arrival.

That’s kind of how I feel about the recent announcement that George Lucas has decided Chicago will be the home for his Star Wars Museum (well, technically it’s going to be called the Lucas Museum of Narrative Art, but c’mon you know we’re all going to call it the Star Wars Museum). The possibility has been buzzing for months, and there are plenty of stories covering the reasons Chicago came out the winner... such as the fact Lucas’s wife is a Chicagoan.

But, just as Lil’ G knew the fireworks bursting over the turrets of Cinderella’s castle were just for her, I know Lucas picked Chicago to be the home of his Star Wars Museum just for me. After all, I am the Star Wars Girl – the one who converted her dining room into a tribute to all things Star Wars. The one who celebrates each Christmas with an entire tree full of ornaments from a galaxy far, far away.  So yes, why wouldn’t the universe reward such devotion?

OK, fine. It might not be about me…but I asked Master Yoda and he agrees.

For you, this museum is.

For you, this museum is. In Chicago, it will be.

 

What Gets You Through

What Gets You Through

“The only way out is through.” I don’t remember where or when I first heard this saying, but I’ve been cognizant of it for some time. This year I’ve become more aware than ever of the truth behind the sentiment, and the strength required to make the journey of “through”.

A few months ago I talked about why Friday – a day I used to look forward to and enjoy – has become a day I just need to get through. It’s been almost four months since that blog post, and nearly seven months since my dad died, and some Fridays have found me waking up without the heavy weight of grief tugging on every muscle and making me tired even before I get out of bed to start the day. But there are other Fridays, and other days that are not Fridays, that for one reason or another – for lots of reasons or what feels like no reason at all – are still very hard. Today was one of them.

Last night I had a dream about my dad. I was helping my mom move when the phone in the new house rang. It was an old-school cordless phone with a giant retractable antenna – beige – just like the kind we had when I was a kid. I can still see myself in the dream picking up that tank of a receiver and saying hello… and hearing my dad’s voice on the other end of the line. My heart gets stuck in my throat just typing that, but while I was in the dream, nothing about the phone call seemed odd or strange or off or anything. My dad and I talked about all kinds of things; very pleasant and matter of fact. Almost as if he was away on a long trip and I was filling him in on everything he had missed. I remember after talking to him for quite some time I asked if he wanted to speak to mom, and he said sure – but when I handed her the phone all she heard was static – and that’s when I woke up.

Those first few moments you wake up from a dream and come back to reality and remember? Yeah, they suck. That dream felt so real that at first I felt relieved; I had talked to my dad and he was doing ok. He sounded relaxed – happy even… I hate to use the phrase but he sounded like he felt “at peace”. It felt good to just talk to him and tell him about the girls and their activities, how Lil’ G just lost her first baby tooth, and how Miss A is really enjoying basketball. But then I remembered I didn’t actually talk to him at all – he is out of reach, and will never get to see Lil G’s gap toothed smile or cheer proudly at Miss A’s first b-ball game. And remembering sucks. How do I get through that?

A writer and a bookworm, a combination of these things have helped me work on the “getting through” part of this journey.

The first is a book a sweet friend gave to me when she heard the news about my dad.

She had lost her mother, and said the book had helped her cope. It is a wonderful book, simple and loving. And it was a perfect story to share with my daughters. If you have a friend who loses a loved one and you are not sure what to do to help or what to say; I highly recommend the gift of this book.

The second is a journal; created by a mother and daughter who struggled with the sudden loss of their son/brother.

This journal is honest and frank; with questions and prompts that have helped me shape my thoughts into words so I could get them on paper and purge not just the grief, but some of the bitterness, anger, fear, and host of other emotions that spiral through you when you lose someone very close to you. A children’s version of the journal is also available, and I gave one to my 10 year old daughter, who celebrated her birthday with her Papa barely a week before he passed. She and my dad were very close, and this journal has given her the time and space to work through her own feelings at her own pace, in her own way.  Sometimes we talk about what she writes, and sometimes we don’t. But I know that while I have sometimes caught her crying as she scribbles in her journal, she too is working on the “through,” and tears are part of the process.

Sharing my thoughts here is also, in my own weird way, part of my process of getting through.  So thanks for that. If you are reading this and trying to find your own way through… or know someone who is, maybe something here will help you along the way. Even if it’s just the knowledge someone else is going through the “through” too.

 

 

 

 

Vintage Fruity Monsters to the Rescue!

Vintage Fruity Monsters to the Rescue!

Vintage Fruity Monsters? Now, that ‘s a movie I want to see! If you are like me, your mind may have concocted an image of Bella Lugosi, Lon Chaney, and Boris Karloff starring in some bizarre Rocky Horror meets Avengers mash-up.

But no, I’m not talking about those kind vintage fruity monsters. (and if you’re not like me, than I apologize for putting that image in your brain). To make up for it, check out this Tumblr page full of cool vintage monster images.

I’m talking about these guys.

So how, you may be wondering, are a hot pink Frankenstein, chocolate-sucking vampire, and boo-tylicious ghost going to come to your rescue? Well, let’s say it’s less than a week before Halloween, and let’s say you somehow ended up getting nominated to bring treats to a school/office/whatever function. You’ve already blown a month’s salary on candy and costumes, you need something cheap and fast. Enter, the monsters.

Like the Halloween Mood Table, I blame my husband and his love for the website Dinosaur Dracula for the birth of the Monster Krispy. Throughout the month of October I’ve been experimenting in my lab kitchen, creating a new breed of marshmallow+sugary cereal treat.

Count Chocula’s turn came first…

CountChoculaTreats

Then Frankie had a turn in the lab…

Frankenberry Treats 2

Boo Berry, get ready, your turn is coming…

To make your own monster treats, simply gather the following ingredients:

1 bag mini-marshmallows (10 – 11 ozs)

1 9.6 oz box of Monster cereal, any variety (aside from the Unholy Trinity, Fruit Brute and Yummy Mummy are also haunting supermarket aisles right now)

4 tablespoons butter

Like a traditional cereal bar recipe, grab your cauldron pot, melt the butter, then add the marshmallows and stir until it looks like The Stay Puft-Man after the Ghostbusters blasted him.  Turn off the heat, mix in the cereal until it’s all a sticky glorious glob, drop it into a pan (I prefer a 13x9x2 lined with parchment paper) spread the glob out evenly using wax paper, parchment, or your hands (please wash them first). Let it set, then cut into bars.

And you’re done! Time to party. Need some Monster Music to munch to? I’m a sucker for the traditional favorites like Monster Mash and Thriller, but the following tune is a current favorite of the 2 mini-redheads in my house:

 

Need Help Setting the Mood?

Need Help Setting the Mood?

With temperatures dropping into the 30’s and snow predicted for tonight, I can almost understand stores who deck their halls and aisles with Hallowmas – aka that bizarre trend where Halloween rubs elbows with Christmas…

Wait, no I can’t.  October is for Halloween. All Hallow’s Eve is less than 10 days away now, and if you haven’t gotten into the spooky spirit of the season, I may have something to help.

You see, at the start of October, I had no desire to to bust out the orange storage boxes and decorate our house with witches, ghosts and all things pumpkin. I just wasn’t in the mood. The husband has always been fond of my usual fondness for holiday decorating, and he kept nudging me about it – finally going so far as to request we create a Halloween Mood Table; an idea he got from Dinosaur Dracula, a website he’s followed for years.

“You want a what?” I asked.  And he directed me to DD’s blog post about this design phenomena.

Basically,  the concept is to make it look like Halloween puked all over the table of your choice. Now, my preference for Halloween decorating is to stay away from the gory gross stuff. I strive for more of a cute creepy vs. psychotic. This is what we ended up with:

HalloweenMoodTable2013

At first I grumbled about it, but as we kept adding things to the table, like Halloween books and seasonal movies (and video games courtesy of the husband); I found that the table was doing its job – I was getting into the Halloween spirit!

Halloween Mood Table dark 2013

We’ve continued to add some more stuff here and there (mostly crafts by Miss A and Lil’ G), and I have to say, it has been nice to have this big ol’ pile of Halloween greet me at the door. I’ve definitely gotten in the mood.

If you created a Halloween Mood Table, what would be on it?

 

Halloween Crafts That Aren’t Too Tricky

Halloween Crafts That Aren’t Too Tricky

Today is 10/10, make a wish!

Did you wish for fun ideas to add plenty of thrills to your child’s Halloween party? You did!? Well you’re in for a treat because October is the month I put my witch hat on and get all crafty. (I try not to ride the broom and cackle too much, it bothers the neighbors).

I admit I’m one of THOSE moms. You know, the kind of mom who just loves planning class parties and gets goosebumps of anticipation while browsing Pinterest boards for spooky crafts, games and treats. At the same time, however, I’m also the kind of mom who likes to KISS (keep it simple, silly!). Kids don’t need too much to have fun. And fun is the name of the game.

One of my easiest Halloween treats is a healthy version of the Owl Smore, a fall dessert created by Amy Locurto. I first blogged about adapting her recipe HERE. My version is super simple: graham crackers, sliced bananas, raisins or craisins, and candy corn (or even better – almonds if nut allergies aren’t an issue). Put out the ingredients in bowls, and let kids assemble their own owls!

healthy owl smore

To make them look even more “owl-like” you can add a circle of fruit on top of the bananas before the raisin. Circles of mango or pineapple work best…but it does add to the mess!

Because my girls go to a charter school with a strong focus on healthy eating and green living, I find many of the traditional party games and foods just don’t fly. Hence, I end up tweaking things – like the owl treat above. Another tweak came about when I was trying to plan crafts and games. One of my favorite Halloween party games is the “Mummy Race” – where teams of kids are given a roll of toilet paper and race to see who can wrap a member of the team up as a mummy the fastest. However, I couldn’t justify using all that toilet paper and then just tossing it away! And while I am all for re-using, I doubt anyone would want to use toilet paper for its intended purpose after a bunch of kids have been handling it. So I decided to use it as stuffing in a craft. The idea came about when I saw a post about a Halloween puppet craft that called for turning an old sock into a bat puppet. I had a light bulb moment and decided I could do something similar. I put out a request for parents to donate lonely old socks (clean, of course) as well as buttons, ribbons, and fabric scraps. On party day, after the mummy game, the kids took all that unrolled TP flying around the classroom and used it to stuff the socks until they were nice and full and fluffy.  Then using the donated notions, markers and fabric paint, students decorated the socks and turned them into whatever Halloween-y creature their little heart desired.  Parent volunteers helped complete the creations with glue guns, and TA DA! Boo Buddies were born.

The Boo Buddy Bat.

The Boo Buddy Bat

 

Mr. Bat joined by his fellow boo buddies, a mummy and a ghost.

Mr. Bat joined by more Boo Buddies: a mummy and a ghost.

I loved how they turned out out! I think this ended up being a fun little craft that lets kids use their imagination. And  Boo Buddies make sweet take home keepsakes!

I’ll try to showcase a few more crafts and ideas before Halloween flies by, I hope you’ll stop by for a spell.

It’s the First Day of Fall and I’m Feeling Lucky (and Thankful)

It’s the First Day of Fall and I’m Feeling Lucky (and Thankful)

Today we cross the border from summer to fall; a season so short and so sweet, but so wonderful. Sunny windy days that make me feel like anything is possible. The unique-to-autumn earthy smell of leaves that makes me happy deep down inside. On this, the first day of my favorite time of the year, I am moved to count my blessings and recognize the fact that while September has rushed by in a blur of to-do lists, I need to slow down and savor my favorite season before it’s gone. And while I’m at it, September has brought me some luck I need to take note of and be thankful for, because lord knows I’ve needed a bit of luck in what has easily been the most horrible year of my life. So, here are a few bits of recent luck I’m thankful for:

1. Not too long ago I stumbled across a shared FB post about an article on Mamalode that led me to the blog of Alison Li. When I read something on-line that really strikes me, I track down the writer’s website to see what else they might have written that speaks to me, and Alison’s honest yet beautiful blog posts about being a writer, a mother, a woman… Well, it was a home run.  So in August when she posted about her upcoming 37th b-day, I totally could relate, as I will be saying hello to that same number in a few months. She was running a giveaway, and of course I entered, and was delighted and excited to learn I had won one of the prizes – a handmade knit purse in gorgeous fall shades crafted by Alma Boheme. Alma is also a blogger, and I soon discovered, another kindred spirit. Just from following that one shared blog post, I discovered two incredible women I can relate to, and won a lovely gift too. Now that’s lucky.

gift from alma

My prize from Alma and Alison, all wrapped up in a pretty package!

Alma has graciously allowed me to extend a special offer to readers if they’d like a purse like mine or another handmade treasure available on her Etsy shop (she has some gorgeous knit pieces up right now, perfect for fall walks) – you can use this code at checkout to save 10% on your order: THANKS10

2. I was so excited for the start of this school year, because with both girls in school (Lil’ G started Kindergarten), I was finally going to have time to write! So far, that time has been spent mostly on other responsibilities, and it’s so easy for the writing to get lost in the shuffle. Add to that the paralysis at the keyboard that seems to set in some times. It’s hard to describe, I suppose I could call it the fear to move forward, because to do so would mean risking rejection. But sometimes a little boost comes along to help urge me back on the path, and such a boost came when I was recently notified that I was a finalist in the Indiana Golden Opportunity writing contest. Earlier this year I had decided to stay away from entering writing contests, but the fact that the IGO is set up much like the RWA Golden Heart (which is pretty much the biggest writing contest for unpublished romance writers, for those of you not in the know) – well,  I couldn’t resist entering;  if nothing else, to indulge my sense of  “what if…” And I’m well aware luck as well as talent plays in to these contests. I know so many factors outside of my control can influence the outcome. I’m just glad luck was on my side this time around, and I’ll get back to work using my talent to do what I can about the rest.

3. I’m not just a writer, but a reader – an avid one at that. But like my writing, there never seems to be enough time in the day to fit much reading in. One way I’ve managed to indulge my reading habit while keeping up with the to-do list  is through audiobooks. An audiobook review site I like, AudioGals, asked followers of their website to share their reasons for why they love listening to audiobooks. A few weeks ago my list of reasons was featured, and as a reward for contributing, the lovely ladies at AudioGals treated me to a Tantor Romance Novel audiobook of my choice. I felt lucky to share my love of audiobooks, and extra lucky to pick out a new one! For my prize, I chose the second book in the MacGregor trilogy by Grace Burrowes. And if listening to a romance narrated by a man with a Scots brogue sounds appealing, well, check out the first book in this trilogy: The Bridegroom Wore Plaid,  on sale right now for $3.49 (which is a great price for an audiobook).

So yes, I’ve had some recent luck, and I’m thankful for it. There have been many dark, horrible days this year but life goes on, and I have to move past the darkness and embrace my life as I have it. Because I am lucky to be alive, now, in this moment as the seasons change.

I wish you an autumn full of sunny, windy, leaf-strewn days…the kind of days that make you feel thankful to be alive.