Saturday, December 5, 2015

Monthly Update: Aliens, Pies, and Way Too Many Words

In my last weekly update, I believe I hinted that I was feeling overwhelmed and if I had to cut one thing out of my schedule, sadly, the blog would be first to go. It proved to be prophetic, for during the month of November, I got no blog entries written at all.

What do you mean it's December? Where did November go?
Now it's December, and most of my Thanksgiving stress has been replaced with Christmas stress. (For stress, as we know, does not disappear, simply changes its coat to suit the season. It's festive that way.) However, I feel obliged to at least attempt to get back in the blogging spirit, so here I go again, with my long-winded, verbose, and just plain chatty update.


Let's talk about the big, hungry, time-sucking monster in the room: National Novel Writing Month, or Nanowrimo. If you were at all angry my lack of blog entries this month (the three of you who actually read them), you can narrow your eyes and shake your fist at Nanowrimo. (That's right, Mom, get all your fury out.)

30 days. 50,000 words.
What Nanowrimo feels like
Actually, at the risk of sounding braggy, reaching 50,000 words wasn't the hard part. Don't get me wrong, it's not easy, but I'd done it before--3 times in November, at least 3 times in other months of the year. What I had not done before was lead a group of people to Nanowrimo victory. This meant writing (almost) daily emails and meeting at Panera, Sunday from 12:00-6:00 and Wednesday from 7:00-9:00.

The best part was watching the other writers grow beyond what they thought possible. While I don't think anyone hit 50,000 words, they did reel in some massive word counts--15,000 words, 25,000 words, 40,000 words, and more. The hardest part was finding time to recharge. I'm an introvert. I love to be around my friends, but it does tire me out at times.
One of the many inspirational quotes I sent out in my emails
Still, I ended with approximately 56,000 and finished a second draft of The Originals, my sequel to The Changelings. So I call that a successful month.

Huntington Beach Trip (Saturday, November 7th)

Inspired by a Meet-up my friend brought me to (see Weekly Update: 9-15-15), I decided to throw a beach bonfire bash for my brother Tyler, before the army shipped him off to Korea for a year. I'd had this idea in my mind for a month, so of course, I decided to throw the whole thing together four days before the planned day. It's amazing it worked out as well as it did.

Last time I'd been to a Huntington Beach bonfire, I'd heard that people had gotten there at 6:00 AM to ensure they got a fire pit. At 7:00 AM, I was rushing my ride out the door to ensure we got a good spot. Well, apparently, that bit of wisdom doesn't apply to November, even if it's a Saturday and the weather is perfectly sunny. We arrived at 8:00 and no one was there. By noon, one other group parked about three fire pits over. 

Yes, it was actually that empty.
If nothing else, I thought I'd get writing done, but that didn't really happen. I ended up looking for seashells by the ocean and then falling asleep on the sand.

The rest of the party began arriving around 2:00. We set up camp and all went down to look at the ocean. It was my two-year-old nephew Tyson's first time seeing the ocean. He liked the water a lot, but ended up getting soaked and running around the beach naked. My brother went to the car to get him a diaper and came back with dire news.

"Sea gulls are attacking the camp."

Never trust a seagull!
 They were eating our hot dog buns, pecking through the plastic. We all ran back to camp and scared them away. But the hot dog buns were ruined.

Mitchell had borrowed his cousin's sun canopy, determined he could set it up for himself. Six people later, no one could get the tent poles to stand. Then Shantel walked over and snap, snap, snap, had the tent up in minutes.

We set a campfire using kindling wood, lighter fluid, and a cardboard pizza box. The boys all competed in a game of ultimate frisbee, while most of the girls tried hooping, courtesy of my friend Ashley. We put Tyson in a hoop and spun him around and around, until he got dizzy. He squealed with delight.

Finally, we get down to the good stuff.
Pizza, bunless hotdogs, spam musubi, chips, a veggie tray, vegan pumpkin bread. And for dessert, s'mores and fire roasted marshmallows. I was just about to suggest ghost stories around the campfire, when I noticed everyone staring transfixed at the sky.

"What's going on?" they said.

"What's in the sky?"

It looked like there was fog over the night sky, except that it was only in one section, an all-too perfectly spherical section. An green light flashed through it.

This is the best photo I could find, but it doesn't do it justice.
"Aliens," someone said.

And I swear it did look like the cloud of smoke hiding the UFO in Independence Day.

 (For my cousin's blurry video of it, click here.)

Of course, none of us believed it, and muttered to ourselves about comets or something like that. But we didn't quite buy that it was a comet. And we couldn't stop staring. I swear, I half-believed it was aliens, and suddenly had a great deal more respect for ancient people going crazy at the sight of a comet. When something weird happens in the sky and you don't know why, it's damn scary. It makes you feel about eight, small and helpless. It was enough to send the party-goers near us packing for home.

Suddenly, this makes a lot more sense

The cloud eventually dissipated and our smart phones eventually told us it was some sort of military rocket test, although we didn't half-buy that either. "Aliens," we concluded. "Definitely, aliens." It made a better story, a bit of a legend for our family's annals.

As the fire died down, the younger adults tossed in whatever food we had left to keep it burning, including the seagull-pecked buns. Incredibly, they hardly burned. It seemed potato chips were the best fuel and kept the fire burning a few minutes more.

Disneyland (Sunday, November 15th)

My cousin Kevin and my cousin Mitchell's wife Krystal both work at Disneyland, and I guess they cashed in on all their free guest passes to get us in to the park. To wit, there was Kevin; Mitchell; Krystal; Mitchell and Krystal's two-month-old baby girl Leilani; Krystal's mom who we wheeled around in a wheelchair; Tyler; Shantel; little Tyson in his stroller; my cousin Alyson; my cousin Nathan; Nathan's girlfriend Cindy; my uncle   Norm; my aunt Sonia; my mom; my dad; me, of course; and, because we'd somehow gotten an extra ticket, my friend Ashley, whom I knew since I was five and who was practically part of the family.

The whole crew.
I was obsessed with snacks. That's just my thing. When I was a kid and we'd go hiking, I'd stuff my pockets with granola bars in case I ended up lost in the woods: at least I wouldn't starve. Same thing here, except, instead of starving, I was more likely to be price gouged. So I stuffed my backpack with pretzels, popcorn, clementine oranges (the small ones that peel easily), almond poppy seed muffins, and vegan banana muffins (for Ashley). I also brought sandwich bags to divide the spoils.

I never go on an expedition without proper food supplies.

In the old days, we had to sneak food in clandestinely, like a secret ops mission. Nowadays, no one cared. Security opened my backpack, saw all the food, and waved me through. It turned out to be good I brought so much snacks, because it was all we had to eat until dinner. Tyson survived on a steady diet of popcorn and pretzels.

I thought we'd all split up, but as it turned out, we mostly conquered the amusement park together. We were a slow, amorphous mass rolling through the park. Ashley had never been to California Adventures, so first we hit up Flying Over California. While we waited for The Tower of Terror, a group of five of us hit up Star Tours and got a special preview of the new Star Wars themed Hyper-Space Mountain. Maybe I'm getting old, but that ride seemed fast. My glasses nearly whipped off my face.

Space Mountain + Star Wars Holograms
We reconvened at the Tower of Terror. Ashley was terrified of drop rides, but we peer-pressured her into it. Her leg was shaking uncontrollably as soon as the ride began. She screamed, I screamed, we all screamed. But we survived, and Ashley was glad she'd gone through with it.

Back in Tomorrow land, we hit the Buzz Lightyear ride Galaxy Blasters. Of course, we had to go on Pirates of the Caribbean and the Haunted Mansion, which had been decked out in Nightmare Before Christmas decor. Ashley and I wanted to hit up the Indian Jones ride, but it was having technical difficulties, so we had to skip it. In the end, we might not have hit the most rides, but we got on a lot of the good ones. 

And this was where the Haunted Mansion broke down mid-ride. Sigh. Good times.

And we did it all as a family.

Thanksgiving (Thursday, November 26th)

One full week of no school. You'd have thought I'd get much writing done. But you'd have thought wrong. Chores had taken a backseat for Nanowrimo, and the house looked like a typhoon of papers had blown through. Not to mention 3 week old grease griming the sink and that gray ring around my bathtub. Ick! I had to clean. And with the Christmas holidays looming, it was now or never.

This was me, but with a brown braid.
 Monday: cleaning. Tuesday: cleaning. Wednesday: cleaning. Dusting, mopping, vacuuming, scrubbing toilets. 6 rooms! Tons of laundry! Grocery shopping! Paying bills! And when I finished that, it was time to make dessert: 4 pies (custard, pumpkin, apple, and s'more) and 2 batches of tapioca pudding.

Not really my pies, but I was too tired to take a picture.
I just wanted to eat turkey and zone out. But Shantel, my sister-in-law (who's living with my parents since my brother's been deployed to Korea), wanted to do black Thursday shopping. So we huddled in a line outside Target, freezing, as we waited for the store to open. My 2-year-old nephew Tyson played on a bench with a girl his age sporting a blond ponytail and a pink bow.

Sadly, I took part in this.
The line began to move. In we went. It was actually pretty organized and civil and not at all the feeding frenzy sensational news coverage would have you believe. But it was still as jam-packed crowded as a Disneyland ride, and I had no desire to shop. I hadn't made a list or a budget. So while Shantel and my mom maneuvered the crowds, I baby-sat. I pulled Tyson into the children's book section (amazingly, no one was there) and read him all the books I could find. Then I amused him for a half an hour with nothing but the pens from my case.

On Friday, I took advantage of Black Friday sales to pick up some much needed clothes. (Work pants for $15 at JC Penny's. Great deal.) We watched The Good Dinosaur, and Tyson howled with the cave boy. Saturday it was down the hill for a Peruvian food "Thanksgiving" with my cousins and dessert featuring a massive bowl of shaved ice.

Notice how Tyson is the first to reach for the dessert...
...and the last to scrape the bowl clean.

To conclude, Thanksgiving passed and I got nothing done.

Odds and Ends

I had multiple substitute assignments throughout the month. Apparently, the Placentia-Yorba Linda School District has a lack of subs and an abundance of sick teachers. A few years ago, my November tally was a sad 3 jobs the whole month. I got more than that the first week of the month. And it didn't slow down.

You're welcome.

NAMI (National Alliance on Mental Illness) ended their Family-to-Family classes mid-November with a potluck (I made apple crisp) and an award's ceremony (I got perfect attendance). It was not always easy dealing with the topic of mental illness. In fact, the first four weeks were excruciating. (See: Weekly Update: 9-30-15) But at the very end, I did feel connected with the group, bound together by a common cause. As much as I rejoice having my Tuesday evenings free again, I will miss the classes.

I finally paid off the $23,000 school loans I took out for my Bachelor's Degree! Woo hoo! Now that I'm free of my University of Redlands student loans, I can take out new student loans for Cal-State Fullerton in order to get my credential. Sigh. Oh well, that's life, I guess.

Do you have any idea how much it cost to get enough education to educate students?
By the way, just applying to Cal-State Fullerton has been stupidly expensive. I applied to Cal-State Fullerton, learned I applied for the wrong semester, and had to apply again, in the process incurring two $55 fees. Fingers crossed it goes right this time and I actually get in to the prerequisite fall classes. I applied for CPR classes in December (another $50) and the CSET in January ($297). So if anyone wonders why their Christmas presents are crappy this year, blame Fullerton.

I've been trying to study for the CSET exam, by brushing up on my rhetoric. I found a lovely book by Sam Leith called Words Like Loaded Pistols. It's definitely liberally-biased, but it does a good job of breaking down the study of persuasion and making it accessible for a modern audience. I also read Tartuffe by Moliere and Shatter Me by Tahereh Mafi, which, I think, are on opposite ends of the genre spectrum, but kept me amused nonetheless. Reviews pending.

Reading now. Don't bug me!

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