Wednesday, December 30, 2015

2015: A Year in Review

This has been an eventful year. I graduated. I performed a senior recital. I got a job. I drove part way to Minnesota. I went on a cruise with my extended family. And, I finished a 60-chapter fantasy novel.

Here were the goals I made for myself at the beginning of 2015 and their degree of completion:

1. Read the entire Bible.
I think I got into Isaiah and then stopped.

2. Graduate with good grades.
I did graduate! And I did have pretty good grades. I'm not a straight A student and probably never will be, but I don't think I've ever gotten worse than a C, so I'm content.

3. Extensively plan and plot the fantasy story I wrote in 2014.
While I didn't "extensively plan and plot" my fantasy story, I did re-plot the story and re-write it this year. I finished the second draft in November and have been taking a much-needed break from the story. I let my dad read it and he enjoyed it. Now, I'm waiting for my mom to read it so that she can give me some feedback. Hurry up, Mom! I'm getting antsy to start working on this book again!

4. Write the final two Daniel and Varina novels.
After finishing my fantasy novel during NaNoWriMo last month, I still had about 15,000 words to get to the prescribed 50,000. I decided to finish writing the fourth Daniel and Varina book which I had started (and abandoned) in April.
In November, though I had only 5,000 words left to get to 50,000, and I only needed to write one more scene for Daniel and Varina's story to be complete, I couldn't goad myself to finishing NaNoWriMo this year. Yesterday, however, I sat down with the intention of writing the final scene in Daniel and Varina's novel, and I did!
So, the goal to finish their series was half completed. I've realized that I need to step back from Daniel and Varina's story for a bit and re-think the premise and the villain before I can continue to write about them.

5. Read 100 books.
Haha, no. I read 66 books this year. 50 were new to me, while 13 were rereads. 1984 by George Orwell had the least amount of stars with 4/10. Most of my 10/10 star ratings were for favorites that I revisited. I did give ten stars to one new book: Star Trek: Where No Man Has Gone Before. A Visual History. This book commemorated Star Trek's 30th anniversary in the 1990s. I hope they come out with a similar book to celebrate Star Trek's 50th anniversary next year!

6. Implement my Book Challenge.
I think I had too many reading challenges this year. One was to read the entire Bible. Another was to re-read and review every self-published book on my shelf. I failed miserably at this. Someday I will review them all, but, as Aragorn says, "Today is not that day!"
The biggest challenge I gave myself this past year was my 2015 reading challenge, where I tried to read a classic and a modern book in six different genres and then review each book. I did very well with the reading part, excepting last three books. I didn't get The Book Thief by Markus Zuzak, Dracula by Bram Stoker, or Something Wicked This Way Comes by Ray Bradbury read. Let's not even discuss how awful my reviewing schedule was. I have a few reviews/notes in my drafts folder, so I will most likely publish those at some point in the future.
Even though I failed at my challenge, I read several books that I normally would not have read and discovered several new authors whose books I enjoy!

7. Get a job, join a non-highschool choir, research colleges, and generally keep busy and not become a hermit once I graduate.
I have not become a hermit, you may be pleased to know. I did get a job, but I did not join a choir or research colleges.

8. Continue with my music. Take a music theory class. Have a FANTASTIC senior recital in May.
Although I didn't take a music theory class, I have continued with my piano and voice lessons. My senior recital in May was FANTASTIC, and you can watch it on Youtube HERE.

9. Exercise more.
Sporadically throughout the year, I did exercise more than usual.

10. Read one nonfiction a month.
I read seven nonfiction books this year.

11. Write every day of the year.
Haha, this definitely did NOT happen.

Here are my goals for 2016:

1. Perform in a musical.

2. Get a piano student.

3. Write one nonfiction piece of writing a week in January.

4. Spend 40 minutes a day reading instructional nonfiction.

5. Rewrite my fantasy story for the second time.

6. Host a Dutch-themed dinner party for my friends (and cook the entire meal myself).

7. Figure out college and LIFE.

8. Practice voice at least five out of seven days a week.

9. Memorize and perform Sinding's Rustle of Spring on the piano.

10. Read the books on my 2016 book-themed calendar and take part it THIS reading challenge sent to me by my aunt.

11. Grow closer to God through daily devotions. Put more emphasis on persistent prayer.

12. Eat less sugar because it makes me feel sick.

13. Exercise more.

14. Implement and stick to my new schedule in order to spend less time on irrelevant activities.

What are you goals for 2016?

Live long and prosper!

Monday, December 21, 2015

A Christmasy Poem by Abbey

I don't know about you, but I've already attended two white elephant gift exchanges this December. To the first one I brought a monkey hat that sang the theme tune to the Monkees TV show ("Hey hey we're the Monkees! And people say we monkey around. But we're too busy singing to put anybody down..."), but to the second one I decided to be more creative. My mom and I went to the thrift store and bought three gray elephant stuffed animals of varying sizes (and a bag of mini chocolate bars) and I wrote the following poem to accompany the plushies:

A time of lights and snow
Of parties and go go go.
One specific gathering cannot be escaped
Though it is rather half-baked:
A white elephant gift exchange
Harder to avoid than mange.
It started with the king of Siam.
No, he didn't give his courtiers lambs.
He burdened them with white elephants—
But that is quite irrelevant.
My point is about discrimination.
Hopefully we are not in stagnation.
White elephants are well and good,
But gray are left out of the brotherhood.
It say: take your Twix and Milky Way
But don't forget your ashen friends from Family Elephantidae.
African, Asian, gray, or albino,
All elephants have floppy ears, trunks, and tusks not unlike a rhino.
So stop being exclusive;
It's rather abusive.
Include all elephants
In your gift exchange presents.

I wanted that last line to say "You ungrateful peasants!" but I thought that wasn't really compatible with the holiday spirit. :P

Merry Christmas everybody!

Thursday, December 17, 2015

The Eleven Books of Christmas

As I was telling a friend earlier, Autumn started and I hit a reading slump. I lost interest in everything I was reading. I've only managed to finish three books since September. My family and I have been preparing to visit the grandparents, though, and what better place to read than the back seat of the car on a twenty-four hour road trip?
Here are the books I am taking along:

The top four are audiobooks and the bottom seven are actual books.

On the first day of Christmas, my true love gave to me...
A Long Way From Chicago by Richard Peck. Every time we drive more than four hours away from home, we take this audiobook and its sequel (see the Second Book of Christmas) with us. A Long Way From Chicago is one of the best books I have ever read. It's a collection of connected short stories set during the Great Depression. Each story takes place in a successive summer where two Chicago children go to visit their grandma in small-town America. As a reader, we get to watch Joey and Mary-Alice grow up and grow to adore their quirky, trigger-happy Grama Dowdel. These stories are expertly written with great characters and hilarious storylines (for instance: what happens when Grama Dowdel decides to hold a wake in her living room for a criminal? Or, what happens when she steals the sheriff's boat to go illegal catfish hunting?). I highly recommend this book (and it's sequels) to any fan or student of good writing. Everyone should read this collection at least once in their life.

On the second day of Christmas, my true love gave to me...
A Year Down Yonder by Richard Peck. This is the sequel to A Long Way From Chicago. Like it's predecessor, this book takes place in episodic chapters. Instead of each story taking place in a different summer, however, these stories follow Mary-Alice as she moves in with Grama Dowdel for a year.

On the third day of Christmas, my true love gave to me...
A Season of Gifts by Richard Peck. This book takes place about ten years after A Year Down Yonder and follows a young preacher's kid and his family as they move in next door to Grama Dowdel. I'm really looking forwards to listening to this one again because—unlike the first two books, which we have listening to and read countless times—we've only listening to it once before!

On the fourth day of Christmas, my true love gave to me...
I Am Lavina Cumming by Susan Lowell. This is one of my favorite childhood books. Once upon a time, we used to get it out on cassette tape (what are those?) from the library all the time. We ended up buying the tapes from the library when the library was incorporated into a bigger branch. Fast forward many years and we finally had them converted to CD. I can't wait to listen to this story again! In this book, a young girl named Lavina moves away from her father's ranch in Arizona Territory to live with her aunt in San Francisco, shortly before the San Francisco earthquake.

On the fifth day of Christmas, my true love gave to me...
Station Eleven by Emily St. John Mandel. I first heard of this book last year when it came out. All the "Booktubers" were including it in their book hauls. Since the description says that the book is about a nomadic group of Shakespearean actors, I was obviously interested. Some friends read this book over the summer and enjoyed it. I finally picked it up the other day when I saw it at the library. Sadly, I don't think I'll get to this one before it has to be returned.

On the sixth day of Christmas, my true love gave to me...
The Martian by Andy Weir. I have heard only good things about this book and the movie based off of it. If you didn't know, it's about a man who is trapped on Mars after his team leaves, thinking that he's dead. The book is written in a series of log entries, which is epic! I love stories that are told through unconventional means such as diary entries, letters, or code. Also, the author has made the book very scientifically accurate, which is pretty impressive! I hope to start this book as soon as I finish two or three of the books I'm currently reading.

On the seventh day of Christmas, my true love gave to me...
Murder for Christmas, an anthology of Christmas-related crime stories. I picked up this book at a thrift store a few years ago and decided to read it this Christmas. So far, I'm really enjoying it! This anthology includes Christmas themed mystery stories from Arthur Conan Doyle, Agatha Christie, G.K. Chesterton, and Baroness Orczy, among others. I'm taking notes as I read, so expect a review before the end of the year! I hope to finish this in the car on the way to Minnesota.

On the eighth day of Christmas, my true love gave to me...
Winter by Marissa Meyer. My friends and I went to the launch party of this final book in the Lunar Chronicles by Marissa Meyer. It was so much fun! Our books are even signed by the author! This young adult series is basically Star Wars mixed with fairytales. If you're looking for something light, fun, creative, and romantic, then you might want to pick up the Lunar Chronicles! After the launch party, I avidly started to read Winter, but then hit my reading slump and lost interest halfway through. I'm hoping to pick this one up again when I'm in Minnesota. Maybe after I finish Murder for Christmas.

On the ninth day of Christmas, my true love gave to me...
A Prince Without a Kingdom by Timothee de Fombelle. This is the sequel to a book called Vango, which I read last month. This story is like Tintin in novel form. The main character, Vango, has a mysterious backstory like Tintin, and the story jumps from place to place like Tintin. Poor Vango is being chased all over the pre-World War II world by several different groups of people, and he doesn't even know why. This is a very enjoyable story filled with lovely characters and exciting destinations and zeppelins. My only complaint is that the author tends to tell instead of show, and he does jump around from place to place and from time to time very quickly. Although, that might be the fault of the translator, as this book was originally published in French.

On the tenth day of Christmas, my true love gave to me...
Mansfield Park by Jane Austen. This is my favorite Jane Austen book. I decided to re-read it after re-reading Sense and Sensibility in September. You can read my previous review HERE. I'm hoping to finish this one in the car, as I do not have much left to read.

On the eleventh day of Christmas, my true love gave to me...
Symphony for the City of the Dead: Dmitri Shostakovich and the Siege of Leningrad by M.T. Anderson. This is a nonfictional biography of the composer Shostakovich, who is one of my favorites. This book is marketed as young adult nonfiction, which is interesting to me as I wouldn't say that Shostakovich is incredible popular with today's teens. I'm hoping that, since this book is young adult, it won't be dry, but will hold my attention to the end (something, unfortunately, many nonfiction books don't do). It has pictures, so that should help! If a book has pictures, I will automatically enjoy it more than a book that has no pictures. I'm hoping to start this one on the trip home from Minnesota, after I (hopefully) finish Murder for Christmas, A Prince Without a Kingdom, and Mansfield Park.

What are YOU reading this Christmas? Have you read any of the books I mentioned above? Do you think you'll check any of them out because of this post?

Live long and prosper.

Tuesday, December 15, 2015

Seven Facts

Jenelle Leanne Schmidt tagged me with the One Lovely Blog award (thanks, Jenelle!)! Basically, I have to share seven random facts and then tag fifteen people. If you're so inclined, then please do this tag!
Because it's December, I'm going to share seven Christmasy facts about myself:

1. Last year, I made a Star Trek themed Christmas jumper.

2. My two favorite Christmas movies are Eloise at Christmastime and White Christmas.

3. Here's a Christmas confession... I am secretly very fond of the Christmas songs that everyone loves to hate. You know... Rockin' Around the Christmas Tree, Santa Baby, Rudolph the Red Nosed Reindeer, Frosty the Snowman, Blue Christmas, Last Christmas (I gave you my heart, but the very next day, you gave it away...)... Here's one of my favorites:

4. One of my least favorite Christmas songs is Do You Hear What I Hear? because I hear it EVERYWHERE ALL THE TIME.

5. I'm also not that fond of Josh Groban's version of O Holy Night because our local radio station plays it about ten times a day.

6. It's been four years since Michael Buble's Christmas CD first debuted, which is so hard to believe! I remember being SO excited for it to come out and listening to it on repeat that Christmas and next. It's still one of my favorites.

7. In our house, everything bought after November 1st is liable to get wrapped and put under the tree, whether it's a present or not. I just like seeing presents under the tree. It's so festive!

What are some of YOUR favorite things about Christmas?

Live long and prosper.

Saturday, December 5, 2015

What's Next?

December is often a time for reflection. The year is ending, so it is time to take stock of the last twelve month's inventory of activities. It is also a time to look ahead. What's the next adventure? This is something I have been asking myself for the past year, but before I can delve into "what's next," I have to look back. Waaaay back.

1996: I am born.

Okay, not that far back.

Forget normal careers like ballerina, veterinarian, or president. When I was a child, I wanted to be a paleontologist. That is, until I started learning about the Egyptians in history. After that, I wanted nothing more than to be an Archaeologist. I'm not sure if watching Indiana Jones fueled this passion or destroyed it (I'm not too keen on being run over by giant rocks, having my heart pulled from my chest, falling into train cars full of snakes, or meeting weird crystalline aliens).
As a child, I dictated stories to my parents. When I learned to write myself, I started writing "books," which consisted of paper stapled together. When I was about twelve, I decided that the only viable career option would be an author.
I started singing on our church worship team when I was fifteen and quickly decided that I was meant to be a worship leader. This was followed by the urge to become a youth leader so that I could reach out to the shy kids (like myself at the time) and make them feel like they belong and were loved.
The dream of becoming a youth leader lived for several years: up until August of 2014. That's when the hardest year-and-a-half of my life so far started.
Our only female youth leader in our mostly-female youth group left with her husband to pastor a church in Hawaii and no one stepped up to fill the void. Myself and one of the other girls in youth group decided to lead a girl's Bible study. I quickly discovered that I was not meant to be the friend-to-all, secret-keeper, shoulder-to-cry-on type of youth leader that I had dreamed of being. Some women are capable of being a mentor to many emotional teenagers at once. I am not. I probably could be if I dedicated my entire being to youth ministry; but if I did that, what would happen to my music and writing? That's the question I faced last August. After much thinking, I realized that I'm not meant to go into full-time ministry. At least, not in the foreseeable future.
This realization has been very hard to come to terms with.
After all, since I was fifteen, I had been planning on going into full-time ministry in some capacity. Also, I had to realize that "writer" isn't a less righteous career than "youth leader." God doesn't care whether I'm picking up trash for a living (*cough cough* what I'm doing now *cough cough*) or if I'm entering seminary to become the next Billy Graham. God only cares that I'm doing everything to the best of my ability for His glory (see Ecclesiastes 12:13 and 1 Corinthians 10:31).

I'm still reeling from the realization that I'm not meant to go into full-time ministry. If you'd asked me last September what the next year-and-a-half of my life would look like, I would have said: Get great grades in my AP classes, have a fantastic senior recital, have a fantastic graduation, and go to college in the Fall. Eventually, this would lead to having many great friends, amazing grades, a husband, some amazingly well-behaved and homeschooled children, and a house with a white picket fence (okay, maybe not... but it was quite utopian in my brain).

Without the goal of becoming a youth leader, my whole future fell apart. What was I supposed to do with my life? Write, perhaps, but I wasn't getting much of that done at the beginning of 2015. My two AP (Advanced Placement) courses and preparation for my senior recital were so exhausting that every spare moment was spent on either Netflix or Youtube. On Fridays, I had choir, and on Sundays, I had church, but other than that, I didn't really go out of the house. This fueled a feeling that has been a persistent fiend since I became a teenager: the feeling of aloneness. The feeling that I will never have a Frodo to my Sam, a Geordi to my Data, a Sherlock to my John; that I will never have someone who shares my interests, encourages my passions; someone that I can share intimate struggles with and who will have deep discussions with me; someone who will let me into their life as deeply as I want to let someone into mine.
This has been my secret dream since I was thirteen. After six years, I've still not made that deep, cerebral connection that I seek. I don't even know if that kind of closeness is possible. Maybe it's manufactured and exaggerated for entertainment purposes in movies, TV, books, and Youtube personalities.

An unclear direction in life, loneliness, and being swamped with studies led to some depression earlier this year. It still returns sometimes when I start thinking too closely about my life. I suppose it has reappeared a bit in the last few weeks. I finished my fantasy story, which left a void in my life. I've been filling that void with unproductive things. Every few hours I return to the same question: "What's next? Where can I go from here? What should I do?"

I have a list of options ranging from quitting my job to becoming a full-time writer/hermit to going on a mission trip. The most logical answer, however, would be to go to college. In college, I can learn more about God through Biblical studies (something I feel I need), learn more about subjects that interest me (music, music history, writing, literature), and maybe make those deep friendships that I've been longing for.
Only one problem: FEAR.
Most of the reason I didn't attend college this Fall was because I was scared. Scared to leave the protection of my family and friends. Scared to meet new people. Scared of bad grades. Scared of being an adult.
Most of the reason I am still shying away from college is because I am scared of all the above, and also researching colleges, visiting colleges, figuring out applications and scholarships, and retaking the SAT to see if I can get a higher math score. That's a lot of work and a lot of research that I have no clue how to even start doing!

So, what's next?

I don't know.

But I do know that the Bible says such things as:

"For I know the plans I have for you," declares the LORD. (Jeremiah 29:11)

But seek first his kingdom and his righteousness, and all these things will be given to you as well. Therefore do not worry about tomorrow, for tomorrow will worry about itself. Each day has enough trouble of its own. (Matthew 6:33-34)

For you created my inmost being; you knit me together in my mother's womb. (Psalm 139:13)

Surely someone who created my inmost being has a plan for me. I find comfort in that.

Here's an applicable Newsboys song to end this post: