December 30, 2016

2016: A Review of the Year and Look Ahead


2016 is coming to a close. I don't know about the rest of the world, but here in the US it hasn't been the best year. One of my favorite memes describing it is this one.



Okay, maybe it wasn't that bad, but it definitely wasn't my favorite year of all time. However, it was the year I started this blog. I can't describe how much I like doing this. I love being able to make myself heard, which can be hard for an introvert like myself.

That being said, let's take a look back at this year. If you don't want to hear about me and my past and future goals, come back Monday, January 2.

2016 Review

Blog-

Like I've said before, I've wanted to blog for a long time. In January of 2016 I started R's Loft and I've enjoyed every minute of it. 2016 was my year to experiment with blogging, to see what I liked and didn't like, to get my feet wet in the blogosphere. I am definitely going to continue this blog, as I think it's fun and a good creative outlet.

Personal-

2016 was my first year as an adult. I graduated in spring of 2015, so this year was a scary time. The adult world is confusing and difficult. But with lots of prayer and encouragement from my family, I got through it.

I also started to exercise more frequently in the past year. While I haven't seen a lot of changes outwardly, I know I am getting stronger. I can do poses and difficult exercises now that I couldn't do earlier this year. I feel better and I haven't gotten sick as much. Stretching was another thing I started as well. I was finally able to do a bridge and I'm getting more flexible, which is awesome. Splits, here I come.

2017 Look Ahead

Blog-

I've been working out what I want to do with my blog in the next year. I'm going to keep my Monday and Thursday posting schedule. I'm going to try doing a book a review the first post of every month, and a look at what I've read for the last post of every month. Creative Corner will stick around for a few more months to see how I like it. Classic of the month is going to be dropped.

Personal-

If I were to pick one word to describe my attitude towards 2017, it would "fearless". I have problems with letting fears and worries hold me back from trying. And I've decided I'm done with that in 2017. Will it be easy? No. But living and trying things without fear is my goal. I plan on actually start selling from my Etsy shop and building my author platform.

What was 2016 like for you? What are your goals for 2017? Let me know in the comments.

December 19, 2016

3 Holiday Outfits for the Christmas Season


It's Christmas time, and that means lots of parties and gatherings with family and friends. And you need to wear something pretty and festive to each of those events. In this post I'll give you three ideas for outfits that would be easy to put together and look great.

Silent Night Outfit


Black works for every season. It can be great for a holiday party if you use the right accessories. Start by putting together a black base outfit. This can be a dress, pants and shirt, or skirt and shirt. Wear whatever you like best for your base.

And no, you're never too old for a bow

Now comes the fun part. Accessorize! Choose an accent color first. Gold, silver, and red are excellent choices. Since you're only wearing black, go big with accessories. Have a festive statement necklace or some jingle bell jewelry? Wear it. Wear a bold scarf or a belt if you want. Lastly, put your hair up and add your holiday makeup.

Winter Wonderland Outfit


For the complete opposite of the first outfit, this one is white and wintry. Pick a denim bottom and a white top. Or, if you have them, you could go with a white or light blue dress as well. Add a pair sparkly earrings and a necklace. White shoes are a must. Put your hair in a braid to channel your inner Elsa, and you're done.

Merry and Bright Outfit


This is an especially festive outfit, perfect for a family holiday party. Pick a sweater dress or tunic, and pair it with a long skirt or pants that are a complimentary color. Leave your hair down and add some boots or flats. Big earrings and a dash of lipstick will make a beautiful star at your party.

I hope this gives you some ideas on what to wear this holiday season. (Also, wasn't it clever of me to name each outfit after a phrase from a Christmas song?)

*   *   *

As an aside, I'll be taking a blogging break from now through the 28th. It's a Christmas and planning for the New Year break. On the 29th I'll return with a post about what I'm thinking of doing next year. Until then, merry Christmas!

Which is your favorite outfit? Do you have any holiday parties coming up? Let me know in the comments.

December 15, 2016

A Writer's Guide to Violinists


I'm a violin player, and I love reading books with violinists in them, though in my opinion there aren't nearly enough. I decided to put together this post on violins and their players for other writers out there possibly wanting to write about them. I'll start with some facts, then debunk some myths about them. Since I've been playing for thirteen years, I hope I can help other writers out there. (This is also my first guide, so it may not be the best. Bear with me.)

Facts

If you're going to write about violinists, first be sure to do your research. There are many parts to a violin and you should know them all. Below I've included a diagram for you to study.


There are four strings on a violin called, from left to right, G, D, A, and E. The violin is held in your left hand and the bow in the right. You put the fingers of your left hand on the fingerboard and there are different positions for your hand to be in.

Most kids start violin around six, with a 1/8th or 1/6th size violin. As their arms get longer, they grown in violin size until they reach full size.

There are many techniques violinists need to learn. Bowing alone has many ways to do it- staccato, legato, martele, and more. For the left hand, vibrato is the most important thing to learn. My teacher says that vibrato is one of the things that makes professional violinists stand out from the average performer. While it may look like a simple wiggling motion, it takes lots of time and practice to get it right.

Many violin students use the Suzuki method of teaching. There are ten books that get progressively difficult. The Suzuki method focuses on playing well, practicing with purpose, and lots of listening. You also learn to play in a group setting and how to memorize music, even if it's four pages long. You also do lots of review, even when you're in book 5, like I am.

As kids get older, many join orchestras for the learning experience. It's different to play with an orchestra than even playing with a group. You have to learn to play with many other instruments, and often learn to audition. (Probably the single worst part of playing in an orchestra.) Plus there's the rush of performing in front of an audience.

Playing the violin doesn't come without pain. Try holding out your arm, twisting it so it's face up, bend it a little, and imagine holding an instrument like that for long periods of time. It's exhausting. After orchestra camps, my back aches from so much sitting straight. When you first begin to play, your fingers hurt so much. Later you build up calluses on them that help protect them.

The violin is a difficult instrument to learn, but a great skill to have. You have the ability to perform or play whatever you want.

Myths About Violinists

Myth: All violinists are extremely talented.
Truth: We are on all levels. I know violinists who are very good at the violin, and others that do it for the school credits. Like anything else, there are many levels of players, and you can't judge us all by a few.

That's one of my pet peeves with books about violinists. They all seem to be first chair sort of people, and I'd like to see more books about the average player. (First chair in the first section of an orchestra means you're the concert master, or mistress, and is the most prestigious place in the orchestra.)

Myth: You can pick up an instrument and just play it.
Truth: Not even close. I've had friends pick up my violin and out come the worst scratching noises. They just can't understand how I can make such beautiful sounds. Playing the violin takes practice and dedication to make it sound good. It takes years to become a good player.

It seems in books that people can pick up a violin and play it like they've had lessons for years. Not true. One book that portrayed it correctly was one of the Young Sherlock Holmes books, where Sherlock starts lessons on a voyage to America.

Myth: All violinists are completely dedicated only to the violin.
Truth: We're actually interesting in many things. I know players who also do sports, art, and other activities. I personally love to do many things. But that doesn't mean we don't love our instrument.

Myth: Violinists practice hours every day.
Truth: Practice length depends on age and dedication. When kids first start playing, they may practice around fifteen minutes. As you get older the time increases to half an hour, then to an hour. How much and how long you practice will also change depending on what you want to do. If you want to be a soloist, you may practice longer times. If you just play for the fun, a half an hour is fine.

There you go. If you have any other questions about violins or playing them, ask me in the comments.

Do you play an instrument? Do you enjoy classical music? Let me know in the comments.

December 12, 2016

Book of the Month: The Legend of Holly Claus


The Legend of Holly Claus
by Brittany Ryan

Cover Review: Simply gorgeous. The ornate letters and beautiful artwork imply all the magic held in this book. It's nicely balanced, and if you look at the cover again after you read the book, you'll realize there are a lot of hints about the story on the cover.

The Blurb: Santa Claus is the King of Forever, Land of the Immortals. When one special boy writes to Santa asking what no other child has ever asked- what he wants for Christmas- a miracle occurs: Santa and his wife are blessed with a daughter. But the birth of Holly Claus also brings about a terrible curse- from an evil soul named Herrikhan. Holly's heart is frozen, and the gates to Forever are locked, barring exit or entry.

Now grown into a beautiful and selfless young woman, Holly becomes consumed with the desire to break the spell that holds her people hostage. Accompanied by four faithful and magical animal friends, she escapes to the wondrous world of Victorian New York and embarks on a series of dangerous and life-changing adventures.

With fanciful characters, rich language, and evocative imagery, The Legend of Holly Claus pays tribute to the great fairy-tales and myths of our time This epic novel filled with mystery, magic, and wonder is destined to take its place as a Christmas classic.

My Thoughts

I don't remember when I first found this book, but I haven't forgotten it since. It's the type of story that sticks in your mind. It's definitely a character driven novel, and the villain is creepy.  It contains many elements that work well together. One of the best parts are the wonderful illustrations in it. They're magical.

First off, I love the world this is set in. A land where people who do good deeds can live as immortals. It's full of magic and wonder. The author even manages to make New York, while realistic, wonderful.

Then there's Holly. A Disney princess type of girl if ever there was one. When she realizes that her presence is endangering the other citizens, she takes it upon herself to go out in the world and find a way to earn her place in the Land of Immortals, as well as break the curse upon it. She's brave, selfless, and beautiful, inside and out. That's one of the reasons I keep being drawn back to this book.

This is the perfect book for girls who love princess, fairy tales, and stories about magic and true love.

Have you ever read The Legend of Holly Claus? Do you like stories with many fairytales mixed together? Let me know in the comments.

December 8, 2016

My Top 14 Christmas Movies


Christmas movies are some of the best. They have messages of hope, joy, and belief. Here I've compiled a list of some of my favorites, in no particular order, and why you should watch them. (You can see my list of Christmas Carol movies here.) Yeah, I know 14 is a weird number, but that was how many I picked.


1. Arthur Christmas

What It's About: In this movie, Christmas is a giant operation with thousands of soldier-like elves. But when a little girl named Gwen is missed on Christmas Eve deliveries, Santa's youngest son, Arthur, sets off to take her her gift, along with his grandfather and a wrapping elf. But will he be able to do it before Christmas dawns?
Who's In It: James McAvoy as Arthur, Hugh Laurie as his brother Steve, Jim Broadbent as Santa, and Bill Nighy as Grandsanta.
Why You Should Watch It: It's quite humorous, with plenty of funny lines and moments. It's also a great story with excellent character arcs. It's theme is belief.


2 & 3: Prep and Landing & Prep and Landing: Naught Vs. Nice

What They're About: Prep and Landing are the elf teams that prepare houses for Santa. In these two Disney shorts, you meet Wayne and Lanny, who work in Prep and Landing. The first story is about Wayne relearning the spirit of Christmas, even though he got passed over for the job promotion he wanted. The second one is about a naughty child who stole an important piece of equipment, and has a theme of love between siblings.
Who's In Them: Dave Foley as Wayne, Derek Richardson as Lanny, and Sarah Chalke as Magee, the head of Christmas operations.
Why You Should Watch Them: In two half hour shorts Disney manages to deliver funny stories with great themes to them. Wayne and Lanny are hilarious, as is Magee and Tiny, her assistant. They're great for anyone, young or old.


4: The Santa Clause

What It's About: When Scott Calvin accidentally kills Santa on Christmas eve, and puts on his suit, he becomes the next Santa Claus. Over the next year he has to come to terms with that, as well as raise his son, Charlie. (The most adorable kid on the planet.)
Who's In It: Tim Allen as Scott, Judge Reinhold as Neil, Charlie's stepfather, Wendy Crewson as Laura, Scott's ex-wife, Eric Lloyd as Charlie, and David Krumholtz as Bernard, the head elf at the North Pole.
Why You Should Watch It: Tim Allen. Need I say more? The comedy is spot on, as is the depth to the story. Despite the fact that Scott is divorced, he's still close to Charlie, which I appreciate. Sure to be a family favorite.


5. The Santa Clause 2

What It's About: Santa returns in this second movie. It's been eight years since the first one, but now Charlie's on the naughty list and he has to find a wife, or he stops being Santa. Scott returns home to try and accomplish both before time runs out, while leaving a toy Santa in his place to run things at the North Pole. As you may guess, things don't turn out so great.
Who's In It: The same actors as before, with the addition of Elizabeth Mitchell as Carol, the woman Scott woos, Spencer Breslin as Curtis, another elf, and Liliana Mumy as Lucy, Charlie's sister.
Why You Should Watch It: More humor, more adventure, more Bernard (my favorite elf), and the addition of Lucy. Unlike some films, the second movie in this series is just as good as the first one. I really enjoy that Charlie gets more character development.


6. The Santa Clause 3

What It's About: In the final installment of the Santa Clause movies, Mrs. Claus is pregnant and invited her family for Christmas. At the same time, Santa agrees to watch Jack Frost, who has his own nasty plan in mind. Scott has to juggle too much and makes a horrible mistake which he then has to correct.
Who's In It: The cast from the previous two with the additions of Martin Short as Jack Frost, Anne-Margaret as Sylvia, Carol's mom, and Alan Arkin as Bud, her dad.
Why You Should Watch It: Tim Allen and Martin Short in the same movie. The laughs are awesome. Jack Frost is one of my favorite characters in the whole series. All of his costumes look like they're frosted. Then, as I said, these movies almost got better as they went. This is a great series to binge watch.


7. A Charlie Brown Christmas

What It's About: Charlie Brown, like normal, is feeling depressed. Lucy suggests he direct the school Christmas play. Things go wrong when he goes to get a tree, but in the end everyone remembers what Christmas is really about.
Who's In It: The whole Peanut gang: Charlie Brown, Lucy, Linus, Sally, Snoopy, and Woodstock.
Why You Should Watch It: This is a Christmas classic. With a story about the true meaning of Christmas, plus the fun of the Peanut gang, this is a great one for old and young alike.


8. Home Alone

What It's About: The whole family leaves for Christmas vacation, but accidentally forgets Kevin at home. At first, he doesn't mind. But when crooks mark his house for a Christmas robbery, it's up to him to defend it.
Who's In It: Macaulay Culkin as Kevin, and Joe Pesci and Daniel Stern as the crooks, Harry and Marv.
Why You Should Watch It: While some of the characters can be foul mouthed at times, most Kevin's brother Buzz, it's a great comedy film, full of good old-fashioned slap-stick. Kevin's traps are awesome. A must watch if you love to laugh.


9. The Tangerine Bear

What It's About: After a bear named Tangie accidentally gets his smile sewed on upside-down, he won't sell. He gets taken to Winkle's Emporium. There he makes friends with a jack-in-the-box, a cuckoo clock, and a dog as he continues to try to be bought. Over the course of the story he learns about family and belonging.
Who's In It: Jonathan Taylor Thomas as Tangie, Howie Mandel as Jack, the jack-in-the-box, David Hyde Pierce as Bird, the cuckoo clock, Jon Polito as Virgil the dog, and Tom Bosley as Mr. Winkle.
Why You Should Watch It: Because it's a story about friendship and family. The other toys understand Tangie's longing to be bought and belong to someone. And even though none of them are, it doesn't matter, because they have each other. It's super sweet.


10. How the Grinch Stole Christmas*
*and yes, I mean the animated one from 1966, not the Jim Carrey version

What It's About: The Grinch is a grouchy creature who hates Christmas, because his heart is three times too small. Down below him live the Whos. One Christmas, he's had enough and so decides to steal Christmas from them. But things don't turn out quite as he planned.
Who's In It: The Grinch, and Cindy Lou Who, with Boris Karloff narrating.
Why You Should Watch It: Because it's a classic, and you can listen to "You're a Mean One, Mr. Grinch" (which I've linked for your listening purposes). Okay, there are other reasons. It's also a story about how Christmas isn't about the trimmings. It's about what's inside us.


11. White Christmas

What It's About: Bob and Phil, a song and dance duo, meet Betty and Judy, a girl song and dance duo, and quickly fall in love. They end up going to Vermont together to find the lodge they're staying in is run by Bob and Phil's old army commander. Romantic comedy ensues as the men try to help their commander stay afloat.
Who's In It: Bing Crosby as Bob, Danny Kaye as Phil, Rosemary Clooney as Betty, and Vera-Ellen as Judy.
Why You Should Watch It: Romantic comedy+musical. It's amazing and funny. And of course, you can't forget Bing Crosby. This has been one of my Christmas favorites ever since I first saw it.


12. The Polar Express

What It's About: A little boy who doubts that Santa is real gets invited on the Polar Express, a train that takes children to the North Pole. He, along with Billy and a little girl, have many adventures as they learn to believe in the things they doubt most.
Who's In It: Tom Hanks as almost all the male adult characters, Nona Gaye as the little girl, Eddie Deezen as the know-it-all, Jimmy Bennet as Billy, and Daryl Sabara as the main character.
Why You Should Watch It: This is an amazing movie. Although most of the characters don't have names, you still feel a real connection to them. Each of the children doubt something, whether it be Santa or themselves. As they journey to the North Pole, they learn about belief. And the conductor Tom Hanks plays is awesome. He even looks like him. If you've never watched this, you must do so immediately.


13. Santa and Pete

What It's About: In this movie, a grandpa tells his grandson about Saint Nicholas and his little heard of helper, Pete. They travel around Europe, and eventually make their way to the New World, spreading hope and happiness where ever they go, despite all opposition.
Who's In It: James Earl Jones as Grandpa, Hume Cronyn as Saint Nick, Flex Alexander as Pete, and Emily Mae Young as Marlene, a young girl Nick helps in the New World.
Why You Should Watch It: Anything narrated by James Earl Jones should be watched. Plus, the story is great. Action, humor, and loads of feelings. It also gets Nick all set up to become Santa Claus. There's a touch of magic as well.


14. The Nightmare Before Christmas

What It's About: Jack Skellington is the king of Halloween, but he's tired of doing the same thing year after year. He stumbles across a place called Christmas Town and decides to take over Christmas. Chaos ensues as the monsters from Halloween Town try to make a merry Christmas.
Who's In It: Chris Sarandon as Jack, Catherine O'Hara as Sally, the patchwork doll, Ken Page as Oogie Boogie, the villain, and Edward Ivory as Santa.
Why You Should Watch It: There are many debates on when you should watch this movie. Christmas or Halloween? My answer? Both, and any other time at all. It's another awesomely creepy Tim Burton stop-motion movie. It's really fun with plenty of music and adventure. If you like other Tim Burton films, this one should certainly be added to your list.

What movies are on your Christmas watch list? Do you have a favorite? Let me know in the comments.

December 5, 2016

Using Art as Writing Inspiration


I've always been a big art lover. My grandmother started teaching an art class for me, my siblings, and our cousins a long time ago. She can't do it any more, but that got me hooked on art from age 5.

It was my mom's idea to have us start writing stories using art as a prompt. I wrote many stories in my grade school days based on pieces of art. In this post, we're going to look at how you can use art as inspiration for your own stories.

Using Art

Art, especially pictures, have always inspired people. That's why writers have whole Pinterest boards just for the pictures that relate to the story. Art can be just as good a writing prompt as words.

The next time you're looking for a story idea, try this. Choose something, like genre or a person, to define your choice, or just go with your gut.

Start by selecting a piece of art that inspires you. And by inspire, I mean it makes you wonder about the people or place, or makes you think of a story. Have it in front of you, and just let your mind wander. Consider everything in the picture and how they could relate to a story. You could also try asking what if or what's going on.

Finding Art

But where to find the art? Almost anywhere. I suggest starting with traditional art, the type you can find in art galleries. Wander through, and look for pieces that catch your eye. Write down their name so you don't forget which one it was.

Another suggestion is to look on Pinterest or Google for images relating to the genre you want to write in. The digital art people can create astonishes me. And if you want to go even more abstract, start looking at more modern art.

For an example, once I was looking for a sci-fi writing prompt, and came across the picture below of a robot holding a baby. It immediately sparked my creativity, making me wonder why a robot cared about a human. I started writing, and came up with a sort of sci-fi Sleeping Beauty story. I haven't gotten to writing it yet, but that feeling of your brain firing up is what you want for your inspiration.


I hope this gives you some ideas for the next time you need them. It may not work for you, but it's always nice to have something new to try.

Have you ever used art of any type as inspiration for a story? What's your favorite way to find inspiration? Let me know in the comments.

December 1, 2016

Classic of the Month: A Christmas Carol


A Christmas Carol is a book often pulled out this time of year, so why not make it my classic of the month? This has always been my favorite Dickens' book, mostly because it's short and easy to read. But there are other reasons this a classic, which we'll see in a minute.

A Christmas Carol

Ebeneezer Scrooge is a grouchy, hording man who only cares about himself. On the night of Christmas Eve, he is visited by the ghost of his dead business partner, Marley. He says he is sending three ghosts to Scrooge, so he doesn't end up tormented like Marley. One by one, Scrooge is visited by the ghosts of Christmas past, present, and future. Scrooge learns to change his heart and become a better person because of it.

What I Like About It

As I said, I find this one of Dickens easy books to read. You can get it done if a few days without too much trouble. Many of Dickens works are difficult to get through, so it can be refreshing to have something simpler.

Then, of course, there's the message, the thing A Christmas Carol is known for. How we should always have the Christmas spirit in our hearts, and care for other people. Dickens wrote books that opened people's eyes to the realities around them. Child labor, horrible working conditions, and that sort of thing. People being blind is still a problem today, which is why this book is a classic.

The story is excellent too. Dickens food descriptions are enough to make anyone salivate. He neatly weaves the story of Scrooge and the world around him in a way that everyone remembers.

Adaptations

A Christmas Carol has been made into many movies, plays, and other media. I'll just list some of the ones I'm familiar with.


Scrooge (1970)- This version is a musical and stars Albert Finney as Scrooge. He gives a great performance, and the musical numbers are quite catchy. I'd definitely suggest it if you're a fan of musicals.


Mickey's Christmas Carol (1983)- A classic Disney movie, starring none other than Scrooge McDuck as Scrooge. It's hilarious, and is a great film to introduce kids to the story. The best part, though, has to be Goofy as Marley.


The Muppet Christmas Carol (1992)- I haven't actually seen this one yet, but Muppets and A Christmas Carol? It's got to be good. I think it's on the list of movies to watch this year. Plus it has Michael Caine as Scrooge.


A Christmas Carol (2009)- This is a CG movie made using motion capture as well as animation. It stars Jim Carrey as Scrooge. I've never been a fan of Carrey, but as Scrooge, he's wonderful. (He made a great Count Olaf too.) Although this movie takes some liberties, it is pretty well done. Besides, it has Colin Firth as Fred.

A Christmas Carol (Focus on the Family)- Another marvelous audio drama by Focus on the Family. A great one for kids to listen to in the car or at home.

A Christmas Carol and other Favorites (Jim Weiss)- Jim Weiss is one of our favorite readers. He makes simplified versions of stories, and narrates them to you with voices and sound effects. This CD has A Christmas Carol, The Gift of the Magi, and Dick Spindler's Family Christmas.


And, for the geek, be sure to watch the Doctor Who episode, The Unquiet Dead. It has the 9th doctor and Rose, who help Charles Dickens get rid of some aliens that inspire his book.

I think I've covered them all. I suggest any and all of these for your Christmas season.

What do you like about A Christmas Carol? What adaptations do you like? Let me know in the comments.