First Backyard Ruby-crowned Kinglet

Despite the blizzard conditions up north this year, we had not had a flake of snow until today. We are having a few flakes now. Cold weather and snow bring the birds out to our feeders. Among our many visitors today, of 21 species, we saw our first backyard Ruby-crowned Kinglet!

Not the sharpest picture, but the one that shows the ruby crown best:


Eastern Bluebirds:


A Carolina Chickadee, a Brown-headed Nuthatch, and the Ruby-crowned Kinglet:


The Nuthatch and the Kinglet:


A Downy Woodpecker:


From the top down, an Eastern Bluebird, a Dark-eyed Junco, a Pine Warbler, and a Carolina Wren:


Great bird-time at our house today! 😀

No resolutions for 2015

For some reason I am not motivated to even think about a New Year’s resolution for 2015. Sure, I could set some easy goals, like to improve my diet and exercise, or to write and draw more, but I don’t want to. I don’t want to feel obligated to any of that. If I have a special goal at all, it is to do a triathlon with my son, Kevin, sometime after my 60th birthday in May. But I can prepare myself for that without any particular resolution.

Usually I like New Year’s resolutions. There’s something about starting things fresh on January first. But I tend to set New Year’s goals that I don’t quite accomplish. I lose interest, or I lose my motivation and energy, or unexpected things get in the way. Then it feels a bit like a failure, even if I tell myself that I had made progress in one way or another.

So this year I will not set specific goals. I do want to eat right, exercise more, etc. But I will do that day in / day out, week in / week out anyway. Instead, I will go with the flow, wherever my energy takes me.

See, the thing is, I have a lot of interests, and there is never enough time in the day to do them all. I tend to go in spurts, too. I’ll focus on this for a while, and then on that. And that’s okay. So I’m just going to accept that.

I have to admit that my looming 60th birthday is working on my mind a bit. Not in a depressing sort of way, but acknowledging that time flies and is running out. I only have so many good, energetic years in me. I don’t want to waste any time at all. I even hate that I have to sleep and eat. I really think that this pressure to live life now, while I can, replaces any need for New Year’s resolutions. I am motivated by the ticking clock, and I am motivated to stay healthy and strong for as long as I can. There are a lot of things I want to do!

So, resolutions or not, here’s to a happy, healthy, prosperous, and productive 2015! May all your dreams come true! 🙂

National Novel Writing Month

NaNoWriMo crest

Today marks the end of NaNoWriMo, National Novel Writing Month. It is the first time I participated, and it definitely won’t be my last!

The point of NaNoWriMo is a challenge to write 50,000 words towards a novel, during the month of November. That boils down to 1,667 words per day.

Well, I didn’t even come close to the goal. I will finish the NaNoWriMo today with 15,780 words, and I am actually quite happy with that!

I wish I could have written more, but work, a trip to visit family, and a visit by family, took precedence. We all have priorities. I’m not a full-time writer.

But wow, did I ever learn a lot! NaNoWriMo forced me to do several things:

  • To decide on a specific genre, topic and title for a novel.
  • To make a good guess at the eventual length of the novel.
  • To define characters, their internal and external conflicts, and their story arcs.
  • To write dialogue.
  • To choose pivotal scenes through which to tell the story.
  • To determine point of view and voice.
  • To establish my work flow, which for me was to first outline the story before I felt ready to start writing.
  • To find the right physical space, ambiance, and frame of mind for writing.
  • To set specific goals for each writing session.
  • To write in an interesting, story-telling fashion, as opposed to the precise, non-fiction writing that is burned into me as a result of my medical education and career.

15,000 words gets me a long way toward my novel, which I have estimated to be in the 120,000-150,000 word range typical of science fiction stories. Theoretically, at this pace I could finish it in 10 months. Presumably I would get better at it, and faster, so I could possibly finish it in less than 10 months. Then again there is the matter of editing, second and thirds drafts, etc., which could delay the novel’s completion by an unknown amount of time. In any event, I now have a road map for the novel, a growing toolbox of writing knowledge and skills, and a good start!

As a side benefit, I am again more interested in reading. That seems to come and go in my life. But now I will read with a better appreciation of the writers’ styles, and will hopefully learn even more about writing in the process.

If you have ever thought about writing a book, I strongly encourage you to consider NaNoWriMo next year! Start early by deciding on a genre, topic and title. Think about characters, settings, etc. Set up an outline if you like to work that way. There is a lot of prep work you can do before the NaNoWriMo actually starts.

Oh, and BTW, get Scrivener and learn how to use it! (This is not a paid advertisement. I just believe there is no better tool for writers than this outstanding software.)


Baltimore Oriole

The Baltimore Oriole is an uncommon visitor to Forsyth County, NC. So we are always excited to see one. This is our first sighting of this beautiful bird in our neighborhood. I spotted the flash of orange early this morning while going out to get the morning newspaper. I had to wake Gail up to share the experience! The Oriole was perched at the very top of a majestic White Oak. He posed long enough for a few pictures, somewhat blurry because of the distance, but clear enough for confirmation. How fun! 🙂

Baltimore Oriole 1

Baltimore Oriole 2

Favorite SD Comic-Con 2014 moments!

A year’s worth of planning and anticipation culminated in our recent experience of the 2014 San Diego Comic-Con! It was everything we had hoped and so much MORE! I can’t begin to describe the energy that lit the place up for the five glorious days of the convention. The extensive programming was way beyond impressive! How in the world can so many artists and celebrities be herded into one place at the same time!? There was SO much going on that I wanted my clones to be in about 5 places simultaneously throughout the entire convention! Though with an approximately 130,000 attendance, all competing for seats in the rooms, we had to carefully pick and choose which panels and events  we really wanted to see. Even so, we did manage to see and do many memorable things while at the Con. Here are a few of my favorites:

1. I had a mission to meet one of the Special Guests that had been invited to this year’s Comic- Con.  Jane Espenson is a gifted writer who has contributed to many of the TV shows Gail and I love. These include Buffy the Vampire Slayer, Angel, Dollhouse, Battlestar Galactica/Caprica, Firefly/Serenity, Once Upon a Time, and Game of Thrones. She has written for many more. She has also contributed to certain comics. Obviously, she has a direct line to Joss Whedon‘s creative mind, and how cool is that! She has had a writing career that any writer would envy, and she is still going strong, including the current production of her own web series, Husbands (Get a load of the cast!)

Fortunately for me, she was very active at the Comic-Con. She was on several panels, and she offered several signing opportunities. We got to see her at two of her panels and I managed to find her at one of the artist’s signing tables! She was very gracious, and I will remember these moments always! Thank you, Jane!


2. Anne Rice is a writer without equal! Interview with the Vampire redefined the original literary concept of the vampire, and I was hooked on her after that classic novel. Her rich and luscious descriptions of characters and locations bring her imaginary worlds to life. She is an extraordinary story teller. Countless authors have taken their cues from her work. And her work is voluminous, making vampires, witches, angels and wolf people seem real. She has also written erotica, and about Jesus! It is difficult to place her in any one genre!

Ms Rice is now 72 years young. You would be shocked by the peaceful beauty of her warm and patient smile. She looked at me and Gail in the eyes in a way that made me feel that that moment, and probably every moment, are important to her. I thanked her for the many hours of reading pleasure her books had brought me, and for the delicious memories that remain. She said, “And that’s why I will keep writing them.”

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3. Game of Thrones is one of the most popular shows currently on TV. It is an adaptation of A Song of Ice and Fire, a series of novels written by George R.R. Martin. He is therefore one of the most successful and influential writers on today’s fantasy scene. It was fun seeing his gregarious self up close, and getting his autograph!

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4. Cosplay (costumed role play) or at least “dressing up” is a tradition at comic conventions. I really enjoyed seeing so many people in costume at the #SDCC. Here is a YouTube video with a  sampling:

I had a surprisingly great time participating in this. I never intended to have an elaborate costume like in the video. That is not my thing. But since I am such a Breaking Bad fan, am just a little older than Walter White/Heisenberg, and his outfit was easy to replicate, I decided to play along. It was interesting sort of slipping into a (W)alter ego!

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5. Evangeline Lilly is famous for her role as Kate Austen in the TV series Lost. We saw her most recently as the woodland elf Tauriel in The Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug, a role she will reprise in the upcoming The Hobbit: The Battle of the Five Armies. Evangeline has written a children’s book, and she was at the #SDCC in part to promote it. We purchased one of the 1,000 numbered copies of a special Comic-Con edition of The Squickerwonkers. We were fortunate to have Evangeline herself sign the book for us!


6. We saw previews of several upcoming TV shows, and there are two that we are now really looking forward to: iZombie and Scorpion. Keep an eye out for these shows this fall!

These were among my favorite moments at the 2014 San Diego Comic-Con. And there were many other moments I will long remember. Now it’s time to start thinking about #SDCC2015! 😀

(If you want to see our Facebook photos of the San Diego Comic-Con 2014, here they are.)