Tuesday, December 26, 2006

A Holly Jolly Rice-And-Gravy Christmas

(Yeah, so I'm a little behind in getting this finished and posted... but I finished and it's posted, miracle of miracles, and I hope to update very soon with news from the start of the new semester. Wheeeee.... it's crazy, it's crazy, this place makes me crazy...)

Fear not, dear reader, both the rice AND the gravy shall be explained in due time. But for now...

December 24th, 10pm Central Standard Time. I can't believe a year went by so fast...

*stops typing, turns off her RENT playlist, and continues typing*

Right then. As you may or may not know, my family is quite keen on keeping holiday traditions, though not to the point of keeping a tradition for a tradition's sake. Most often, our Christmas traditions were started when Mom and Dad sat down and said, "All right, how can we see your family and my family before New Year's without going completely insane?", and thus what we have done for as long as I can remember --switching back and forth between the two families so that we are not with one side of the family on Christmas Day two years in a row-- is for the sake of keeping our lives simple and keeping all the relatives happy.

First in the tradition process? The preparations. As I stated in my post about Milton Thanksgiving traditions, our Christmas decorating starts Thanksgiving Night after all the extended family members have gone home. Mom and Dad first figured out back when my sister and I were but wee kiddies that bringing out the Christmas tree on Thanksgiving Night kept the family from getting the post-holiday blues; again, a tradition begun to keep our lives simple and keep everyone happy... besides, it gives us something to look forward to after the headache-generating chaos of Thanksgiving. I have so many fond memories of the annual tree decoration, many of which revolve around the humorous process of annually forgetting which tree branches get installed first (often accompanied by Dad shoving a branch at me or my sister and asking, "Does that look like red or orange to you?"), the painstaking task of keeping the cats out of the tree once it's set up, and endless hours of playing The Find-The-One-Bad-Bulb-In-The-String-Of-Five-Thousand-That-Makes-All-The-Others-Go-Out Game. Truth be told, we have even been known to play The Oh-You-Mean-THAT-Giant-Hairy-Spider-In-The-Tree-Bin! Game, but only on very rare occasion. And, after the tree is up, whether or not the garlands go up in the Dining Room is often dependent on how many giant hairy spiders we've found throughout the evening. :)

The events leading up to Christmas are almost as exciting as celebrating the holiday itself. There is a semi-annual caroling party with the members of our church, which always starts the downhill snowball of anticipation for Christmas. Every year we bundle up and gather together at our church, load up in car caravans and the church van with kids, our pastor, our choir director, the youth group, and any brave souls who don't mind riding in the van with the youth group; we have a box of candles, a box of carol songbooks (since no one seriously knows anything past the first stanza of a Christmas carol, as far as I've observed), and more gusto than we have actual ability to sing. However, this year's party was a bit of a bummer. There were no candles, hardly anyone from my youth group, and worst of all, it was sixty-five degrees outside. I've never seen so many carolers in tee-shirts and shorts in my life. ...it was a tad depressing, to say the least, but there's always next year to make up for it.

Another fine tradition we Miltons look forward to is the annual Office party, in which all six of the office workers, including Mom and Dad, gather together for fellowship over the dining room table... okay, so it's not as snazzy as a full-blown office party -- we pretty much just sit around and eat ribs. Lots of ribs. There's a place here in town that makes the most amazing, mouth-watering, fall-off-the-bone ribs this side of Birmingham, so if the promise of a good time is not enough to get everyone together, the dangling carrot of Fat Man's ribs certainly is. My sister and I are not workers in the Office, but seeing as how Dad's business is stationed in the house and Kate and I kind of live here, we are fortunate enough to not be left out of the festivities. ...plus, we like the ribs, too.

But I digress...

Family! Ah, family. I can't understand why folks my age say they hate visiting relatives. Every other year we spend Christmas with my mom's side in Huntsville, and that's where all the fun begins. Whenever we all get together, it's known that someone will inevitably begin yet another family running joke; this is where the "rice and gravy" comes in, as it is one such joke. At my cousin's graduation in May 2005, the night my family arrived Aunt Kim had prepared a huge pot of rice to go with our KFC dinner, but she thought the rest of the family was coming that night and fixed far too much rice (it was enough to feed a small army, but not quite enough to feed my church's youth group). And, considering KFC gave us twice as much gravy as we'd asked, we had (easily, IMO) a gallon of gravy and more rice than anyone should want to eat in a lifetime. Needless to say, we ate rice and gravy with everything that weekend, and nowadays we still grin and rib each other at the mention of the rice and the gravy. Another joke of which my mother is fond of reminding me has to do with my rather accident-prone nature. Growing up, I thought it would go away as I entered adolescence, but it only got worse as I entered Jr. High. So, when I was fourteen, we spent Christmas Eve in the Huntsville emergency room because I had mysteriously gotten poison ivy around my eye. Ever since then, when we drive past the emergency room, Mom says, "Elizabeth, let's go visit everyone at the hospital, just for old times' sake!"

Every year at my grandparents' house, we endeavor to cram as many people into a house that, as it has been noted, could crumble at the foundation if my grandfather's snoring boston terrier decided to sleep in just the right place. In fact, for many years there was so much snoring between my uncles, my dad, and BeeJay (the dog) that I'm surprised no one came to investigate the unexplained seismic activity in my grandparents' neighborhood. But the house has survived; that three-bedroom/two-bathroom house has been the cozy lodging for all thirteen of us (fifteen if you count the two dogs; sixteen if you count my cousin Britany's boyfriend) for as many Christmases as I can remember, but we're all so noisy and having so much fun that we never think twice about how tight a squeeze it really is. As a matter of fact, we seem to run out of room for presents once we fill up the house with humans and dogs, and one year Dad the Engineer came up with a solution that we came to call The Tower of Presents, built in the corner of Koo Koo and Papa's dining room. It was an elaborate and delicate operation that, since then, has become a bit of a tradition... mainly because it's so entertaining to watch Dad, Uncle Jim, and Michael get so involved with the Tower construction. These three are also the amigos who must, must, must have a game of Risk whenever the opportunity arises. Ah, yes, nothing quite brings a family together like a friendly game that will ultimately determine world domination.

Oh, and as a point of interest, Aunt Kim was in charge of the prep for Christmas dinner. We had ham, casseroles, carrots, deviled eggs, rolls... and, of course, rice and gravy.

Monday, December 11, 2006

An Exerpt From Myrran

Shameless plug #2? Naaah... Of course not...
An excerpt from a chapter of the story I'm working on (I say "THE story" because it's the only long-term project I've had for the past three years...), supposedly --if you take Suzanne's opinion of things-- the best one so far. It's also the most recent, and I've only barely started on the next chapter. The rest of the story can be found by clicking on that little link on the right side of your screen that looks like it might be connected to the stuff I've written
With that said, I must confess that the story itself is not so good. My writing keeps maturing as I get older (so by the time I'm 30 I'll have something written that a publisher won't laugh at, methinks), and since I've been working on this for so long, I'm to the point where the beginning frustrates me but I'm mostly satisfied with everything from about chapter seventeen on.
It's two in the morning. I'm rambling, I'm about to fall asleep here in the commons, and I should really be in bed, but Jack won't leave me alone. Aargh... stupid Aussie! >_<

"Yeah, "don't get yourself killed"," Jack muttered to himself. "Great advice..." He tugged off his sneakers and socks, took one last look at the lake, and left his shoes with his shirt and vest at the place where the lake's rocky beach ended and the canyon's rock began. After making slow progress on the slippery wet rock behind the waterfall, Jack peered carefully past the edge of the cave's entrance. When nothing moved or jumped out to eat his face, he slid around the corner into the dim cavern.

It was, at best, a cavern. After careful examination of his nearest surroundings, Jack felt a little disappointed at the plainness of it all; he had at least expected a booby trap of poisoned darts, maybe a giant rolling boulder... but this was just a cave. It was wet, it was cold, and (seeing as how Jack had not slept in the past twenty-four hours) it was irritating.

But something had to be here. The magic of the necklaces never lied, and everyone's had pointed him in this direction. So, with one last look around, Jack pressed on farther into the cavern passageways.

His necklace glowed bright, but the faintest candle could have been a lighthouse in that inky darkness; however, it was all he had, so he slipped it from around his neck and held it like a crystalline torch as he went on. He let his fingertips run along the damp wall, though he was unsure why. There was no way he could lose his path, since the passage he was following did not fork right or left, nor did it present any challenge at all. To him, it just seemed like the thing to do.

Something up ahead glinted in the light: a reflection on a pool of water. Jack approached it slowly, watching all the while how the glow from his necklace seemed to grow brighter as he moved towards the water. The water was clearer than any he had ever seen; he could see all the way to the bottom of the pool, and he followed the steep underwater slope with his eyes until it disappeared under a wall some twenty feet from him that turned the passage into a dead-end. Jack searched for anything to serve as handholds or footholds so that he might climb over the wall, but all he could find was a single hole; a hole through which he could see another cavern on the other side. The wall only seemed twelve or eighteen feet thick... it was a moment before Jack resigned himself to his fate and, after wrapping his necklace around his wrist for its safety, jumped into the water. It was freezing! The coldness constricted his chest and choked out the air from his lungs; Jack resurfaced gasping for breath, then gritted his teeth, dove back under, and pushed off as hard as he could from the rock behind him.

He swam with his eyes open, even though the cold water stung painfully at them. With one arm he swam as best he could; the other held his necklace outstretched, bathing the underwater tunnel in blue light that danced along the walls. Jack was only swimming for thirty seconds or so, but he was already feeling a little faint by the time he saw the darkness of the opening ahead of him. He swam hard and burst from the water with a loud gasp. For a moment he floated tiredly on his back and listened to the sounds of his hard panting echo against the cavern walls.

When Jack felt he could move again, he crawled unsteadily out onto the rocky ground and began to wave his necklace around in random directions to find another lead. But something caught his eye: a gleam just past the edge of the darkness. He stood, albeit a little shakily, and started towards it; his necklace glowed brighter, and Jack felt a jolt of excitement that made him walk faster. Thirty feet from the tunnel, embedded in the wall and reflecting blue light onto the rocks, was the shard.

The sight rejuvenated him. Jack dashed over to the wall and reached to pull the shard from its rocky home. To his surprise, the wall began to dissolve when his necklace brushed against it. The shard fell easily into his hand. It felt strangely warm against his cold, wet skin, and its clear luminescent glow on his hand was a more than welcome sight.

Jack grinned. Strewth, I'm good, he thought and easily tossed the shard to himself.

But as he turned to go back to the tunnel, the ground started to tremble. Jack stopped. What was that? He looked around warily and waved his crystal to ward off the darkness, but he could only see the disturbances in the water from the tremors. He grimaced; why couldn't something go smooth, just once?

A loud roar echoed through the cavern that sent Jack sprinting for the tunnel. He jumped in with a running dive, keeping a firm grasp on both the shard and his necklace. An ominous booming vibrated the water around him; it sounded like a large boulder was being used in some titanic pinball game. What could be making so much noise?

Jack emerged on the other side and scurried up onto dry land. He barely had time to shake the water from his eyes before something heavily rammed into the wall behind him, and the shockwave through the floor knocked him off his feet. The shard flew from his hand and fell back into the water behind him, and Jack scrambled to try and catch it before it sank to the bottom, but his fingers merely brushed against it on its way down. No! He shoved himself back under the cold water, groping around on the rocky floor of the pool before he felt the warmth of the crystal shard against his fingers; he grabbed the shard, pulled himself out of the water, and made a mad dash back through the passageway.

As he skidded around the corner, another deafening roar filled the cavern of the waterfall. It was louder than the thunder from the most terrifying storm imaginable, and it shook the stone walls of the cavern even through the floor. Jack was closing fast on the entrance to the cave and he tried to slow down to turn the corner, but he slipped on the wet rocks and hit the ground hard before falling heavily into the water below. His body was throbbing painfully from his collision with the ground, but he managed to hold firmly onto the shard this time.

He surfaced coughing up water and opened his eyes as something flew overhead; by the light of the setting moon, Jack could see that it was long and sleek; it looked like a prodigious winged serpent, but it had a whiplike tail and ice blue scales that shimmered in the moonlight. It threw back its head and let out the roar of a dragon, and the other Saviors on the shore jumped in surprise and started shouting in panic. From where he was, Jack could see that Anne was running towards the waterclimb cavern with her fists engulfed in her magic fire. He called to her, but she couldn't hear him. The great serpent turned around, spotted the running girl, and growled low in its throat as it flew towards her. Anne froze halfway up the path, staring at the oncoming dragon and unable to move.

Jack's mind was racing. He put two fingers to his mouth and whistled loudly; the dragon stopped and turned its freezing blue eyes on him. A wicked grin spread across the boy's face. "Hey! You're trying to eat me, remember? Come and get me!"

The dragon glared and growled at him, and Jack felt a surge of adrenaline that pushed him into action. He shoved the shard into his pocket and dove under, swimming hard against the current of the waterclimb in an attempt to draw the dragon away from the others. Behind him, he heard the great beast break the surface of the water, and Jack panicked. He hadn't thought the dragon could swim...

It didn't swim; it flew through the water, furious and undeterred. Jack opened his eyes to see the dragon as it shot effortlessly past him, but he couldn't move to avoid being hit by its tail and he was sent tumbling aimlessly through the water. His lungs burned, weary from and unaccustomed to this sort of abuse; his limbs ached and felt hot regardless of the cold water around him, then he felt the familiar cooling sensation that spread through him from the inside out. His body was healing.

Jack righted himself in the water by swimming towards the brightest blur he could see. When he surfaced, he saw that the dragon was already ahead of him and was turning around in midair to dive at him again. The other Saviors were trying to help; Kitt was firing at it with her blaster and Soren and Shawn were using their energy attacks, while Erin kept one hand on each of their shoulders to heal them if they grew weary. Though the attacks made direct hits on the dragon, in its rage it could only see that Jack was the one with its precious shard. The Saviors were only fueling its anger.

He started swimming towards the shore opposite his friends, all the while knowing he could not out-swim a flying dragon. It made no splash when it dove underwater twenty yards behind him. Jack clenched his jaw and pushed every muscle in his body to swim just a little faster... if he could make it to shore, he could run--

The dragon's head came up underneath him and violently threw him into the air. Jack cried out, scrambling to grab at a handhold that wasn't there; he fell helplessly back into the water closer to shore than before, and his back hit the rocky bottom hard and knocked the wind out of him. Jack painfully fought to swim to the surface and burst from the water gasping for air. His hand flew to his pocket, and he inwardly sighed in relief. The shard was still there. Above him, the dragon was readying itself for another pass. The water around him was only up to his shoulders now, so Jack started once again to swim for the shore despite the protests from every part of his body. He saw Anne running along the shoreline to meet him, but he was too out of breath to call to her and tell her to run; couldn't she see the dragon behind him?

Just when Jack's feet could finally touch the bottom, he heard the dragon's roar pierce the cool morning air once more as it circled menacingly above him. He tried to run, but his legs could no longer support his own weight and they gave way underneath him. The dragon was diving for him again, its cold eyes fixed on him in a fearsome glare...

A blast of white fire came from behind Jack's head, so hot that he cowered in surprise and watched it fade slowly back to yellow before he moved again. He turned his head to see Anne, or what should've been Anne, standing behind him on the shore and giving that dragon everything she had. She no longer looked like her normal self: her entire body was engulfed in flame. Her skin was blazing in the twilight shadows, her hands had become flames themselves, and her eyes were glowing even brighter than the white fire had been. The boy shivered at the sight of her. She was almost as frightening as the dragon!

Jack took the opportunity to scramble for the shore, where Shawn and Soren were the first to meet him. They briefly exchanged glances, then Shawn started to fire upon the dragon while Soren helped Jack to his feet. The healing within him turned unbearably cold and he hissed his indrawn breath, finding himself too proud to even groan at the pain. It was only for a moment; the pain died away and Jack drew his sword just as Anne's fire flickered out and she fell to the ground. Jack glared fiercely at the dragon and, with a cry of rage, hurled his sword like a spear at its head. The sword had all his strength behind it; in a remarkable stroke of luck, its blade hit the dragon in the eye with a sickening squelch, and all but the hilt disappeared into the head of the beast.

The dragon shrieked and writhed in pain, but it had no arms to reach or remove the sword. Navy blood fountained from the wound and spilled into the water below. Shawn took aim and fired one last shot; it hit the wounded eye and exploded like a bolt of lightning through the dragon's brain. There was one final roar of suffering as the dragon fell into the water with a great splash, and then there was nothing at all. It was dead.

Jack ignored the pangs of cold within him and fell to his knees beside Anne. She was lifeless; her skin was pale and unusually cold, blood was trickling from her nose, and her hands were red and shiny from the burns left by her own fire. Jack felt her forehead and face with his wet hand, and put his ear close to her nose and listened. She was still breathing! "Erin, get over here!" He shouted hoarsely.

Erin skidded to a stop beside him and knelt to put her hands on Anne. She closed her eyes in concentration and, in a moment that seemed to last an eternity, the burns on Anne's hands slowly disappeared. Erin let out a gasp and cradled her head in her hands. "I can't do anything else," she moaned. "I'm almost out of energy! I must've used it up on Soren and Shawn." Off of Jack's harsh look, she glared right back at him. "I did as much as I could!"

"You're sure about that?" Jack growled. When he received no reply, He forced himself to stare angrily at the lake. The water was slowly turning navy from the blood of the dragon, and the light of the rising sun reflected dully off the surface of the lake. It would've been a calming sight if his mind was not clouded with worry. Why didn't Anne stop just before she ran out of energy, like Erin did? Why did she have to be so reckless...?

Behind him, he heard someone's footfalls on the rocky beach and he was almost surprised to see Kitt kneel down next to him. She put a hand on his shoulder and said, "I know you want to help her, but healing others isn't your power. You have to let Erin rest. In a few minutes she'll try to revive Anne again."

"I wonder if you could actually try not to read my mind," he said tersely.

Kitt frowned. "I don't have to. I could feel your emotions from across the lake if I wanted to!" She stood and started to walk away, but turned around and gave the boy one last look over her shoulder. "Oh, and because you were wondering... she didn't stop because she didn't want to."

"She didn't... what?"

"Exactly that," Kitt said. "When I got into her mind and asked her to stop, she claimed she couldn't; but really, I think she just didn't want to."

Thursday, December 07, 2006

Anything Is Funny In Retrospect

I suppose that all I'm really looking forward to next year are the stories.

You know the kind of stories I mean. They're different from the stories you try to tell people from back home. They're the ones that upperclassmen tell to lowly freshmen in their first semester; the one that rekindles a running joke, or perhaps starts a new one all together. Now, I've been watching for these stories all semester, and while I'm a little sad that I don't have anything to top The Gallery Couch/Window Story (to which the moral is "Make sure the RD is off the mountain before you try to throw an old disgusting couch out the window"), I have been assured that nothing could top that.

Currently in the lead:
*Our biggest running joke on Gallery, I think, is Tuesday. Tuesday is the crazy day, so if you do something completely insane that could become a story later in the year, just blame it on the fact that it's Tuesday -- the fact that everyone acts crazy on Tuesdays has to do with a conspiracy theory that the administration dumps their supply of liquid crack into the waterworks, specifically the pipes that go to the water fountains. And if you're caught acting crazy on a day other than Tuesday on Gallery, we have the perfect solution: "Every day is Tuesday on Gallery!"

*During Orientation Week, we kept finding new ways to meet people within our O-Team. In fact, our own dear Annie met Wes when he stepped on her foot during a violent game of "I Have Never..." and made her toe bleed.

*In this semester alone I have gotten used to being introduced to people as "Caroline's Twin", which is, in itself, a long story.

*The Psych Animal Lab suffered the loss of three rats, one seemingly right after the other, in the middle of the rat training process. One of the rats starved, we think; as for the others, no one is completely sure as to their COD (not like they're going to get Dr. Robbins to do a rat autopsy or anything...), but there was a scare that there might be a "sickness" going around the rat lab. Funnily enough, at the same time, my Psych class seemed to be sharing a cold from student to student :) ...okay, funny in a kind of sadistic way, I guess, but irony is fun.

*Kilter at the Tennessee Aquarium was cut abruptly short when the aquarium staff discovered that "someone" had tampered with the exhibits and threatened the once-protected aquatic animals' lives. There was also a turtle in the girls' bathroom, but he was unrelated to the exhibit vandalism. I don't know if the culprits ever came forward, especially when they saw the way the entire student body reacted (let's just say the posession of large amounts of dangerously hot tar does not go against contract...).

*Thirty minutes into Around Founders, the boys on Blackwatch accidentally set off the fire alarms with their fog machine. But all was not a completely horrible experience. Even though we got to stand out in the cold, foggy night for much longer than it should have taken to switch off the alarm, I got to watch the firemen try to get into Founders without an ID card. (Oh, I'm SO reassured that we will all be safe if we have an actual emergency -- especially if the police, the fire department, or the paramedics can't figure out how to get the gorram doors to open...) So please, if you're visiting Covenant, we ask very kindly that you not set off the fire alarms. I have a five-pound key in my room; it, like the tar, is not against Contract, and I'm not afraid to use it.

*On a trip into "the city" around midnight, Kate, Anne, and I were asked for drugs from a guy who claimed to be a runaway-from-home. We calmed ourselves down afterwards by hypothesizing that the guy could have been an undercover cop, since he really looked too old to still be living at home... (note: we also learned from this experience to NEVER GO ANYWHERE AFTER MIDNIGHT)

*In 23-degree weather, a trip from Founders to Carter with wet hair will most likely result in frozen hair. Yes, I admit, it's possible that I got a little too excited about it when it happened.... but it was wicked awesome, and it crunched, which made it all the more awesome. (Anne's reaction was the best -- she said "Oh my goodness..." all worried-like, only to follow with, "Wow, can I touch it?" ^^ I love my roommate...)

I'm actually rather fond of the latter two stories and hope they are eventually promoted into the story category. Though, if you keep watching the comment conversations at the end of the blog posts, they are quite amusing and, most of the time, somehow inevitably end with the realization that "this is just a HUGE misunderstanding!"

Your website of the day is yet another random bit of fun. Enjoy! ^^