Summer’s here, and the drive-ins are open.

Summer has finally arrived in Minnesota. After suffering through too many chilly, gray, damp months I am ridiculously, insanely grateful for this forecast:

TUE
mostly sunny
78 
57 
WED
mostly sunny
81 
60 
THU
possible thunderstorms
84 
64 
FRI
possible thunderstorms
87 
68 
SAT
possible thunderstorms
88 
69 

Though we continue to have at least a little rain almost every day, the weather has been good for the last week or so. I’ve been spending every possible moment outside – driving with the windows down, writing on whatever patio or deck I can find,  playing Zombies, Run! with my dog – all in an effort to thaw my perma-frozen bones. It wasn’t until Ogre took me to the drive-in, however, that I really began to believe the never-ending winter was done.

20130614 drivein vali-hi screen

We saw Man of Steel. It’s a good thing that the whole drive-in experience is a blast in its own right, because the movie sucked. (Well, that’s a little harsh – I thought the actual plot was fairly interesting. The action scenes were just too damn action-y for my taste. In the final third of the movie – all of which was devoted to the “epic-battle” this genre requires – I found myself wishing for a fast forward button … I wanted to see the resolution, but I was bored of all the over-the-top bashing and smashing and zipping and whizzing.)

Luckily, the film wasn’t bad enough to ruin an otherwise awesome night. (I’m not sure ANY movie is bad enough to spoil the drive-in.) The inherent romance and nostalgia of the environment is irresistible. After we found our spot, we abandoned the car and strolled. It was a little like looking through a scrapbook. We saw a handful of couples that were our age – as we passed them, nods of recognition and acknowledgement were exchanged. We saw families with teenagers, school-age kids, toddlers – and each family reminded us of our children, and of a particular stage of our life together. We saw groups of adolescents that made us think about friends we haven’t seen in years. We saw young couples – who brought back memories better not detailed here.

I kept looking for a really old couple. When I finally spotted a white-haired pair – sitting in two luxurious-looking stadium chairs, all wrapped up in snuggies and holding hands – it was as if they were making me a promise.

Or, maybe, they were just the catalyst that inspired the Ogre and I to make a promise to each other – we will never again let a summer pass without at least one trip to the drive-in.

As for this summer, we have agreed to go as often as possible. Since we’ve moved to civilization, the Vali-Hi is an easy twenty minute drive from home, so we have no excuse not to. Next time, though, we’ll be better prepared. We’d forgotten how to maximize the fun (and value) of the drive-in, but it all started coming back to us as soon as we pulled up to the gate.

Later this week I’ll share our list of tips AND a round-up of this summer’s most promising upcoming horror / thriller movies.  (I’ll also tell you about the fantastic, horror, triple-bill that ignited our love affair with the drive-in.)

Wouldn’t now be a good time to google the location of the drive-in nearest you?

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June WriMoProg 22 + 20 = 42/98

[X + Y = Z / total-hours goal, where X = writing/editing time, Y= other writerly tasks.]

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9 organizational tools to improve your productivity and support your resolutions.

I’m writing this on the first of January. Visions of self-improvement and positive change are dancing in my head. Right now, it seems we’re all setting new goals, making new promises to ourselves, devising new plans of action – in short making New Year’s Resolutions, though some of us avoid using that term. Even if we reject the cultural zeitgeist, January’s dark and closed-in nature lends itself to consideration of entirely new ideas, and recommitment to ideals we’ve held for decades.

I prefer to set goals at other times – around my birthday, for example, or when the seasons change. Still, I am not immune to the vibes of this wildly optimistic month. I’ve been busy fussing over my projects and planning my upcoming year.

Instead of writing about what I intend to do this year, I thought I’d round up a collection of tools suited to supporting resolutions. I’ve tried them all, and I still use some regularly. A couple of them are my own design, but most are winnowed from years of searching through dozens of self-improvement resources. 

The truth is, I’ve never been good at sticking to a schedule or coping with repetitive tasks. I accept the fact that consistency will always be a challenge for me, thanks to my paranormal nature and choices. I’ve made peace with that.

proud to be paranormal badge

NAVIGATING MY PARANORMAL LIFE:
FINESSING BIPOLARITY. WRITING HORROR. CHASING GHOSTS.

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If you read my blog, it’s likely you’re paranormal too. (Some of you have a more than average appetite for the macabre. Some of you do battle with mood and/or health issues. Some of you are deliberately forging a unique path toward an unusual lifestyle. Almost all of you are writers. ‘Nough said?)

If these tools worked for me, they are probably well suited to you. May you find something here that helps you create your best year yet.

General organization – especially routine & accountability:

FlyLady.com:

An involved but effective system for putting your home and domestic life in order. It has a charming, gentle start path that you should follow religiously. Lots of solid organizational info. Concentrates on making repetitive tasks (cooking, cleaning, organizing) easier to handle. Use this to figure out all the stuff your parents should have taught you.

franny in the pink sweatpantsFrom the creator: “Are YOU living in CHAOS (Can’t Have Anyone Over Syndrome) like Franny in the pink sweats? Do you feel overwhelmed, overextended, and overdrawn? Hopeless and you don’t know where to start? Don’t worry friend, we’ve been there, too.”

Joe’s Goals:

I prefer a paper to-do list, but this program is a wonderfully customizable way to stay on track with daily tasks. It would work well in conjunction with the FlyLady principles. There is something very satisfying about seeing a column of green dots when you come to the end of a long day. I’d be interested to know what the interface looks and feels like on an Android phone.

Joe's Goals Banner

From the developer: “Joe’s Goals is a simple yet powerful tool to make tracking your goals the easiest part of accomplishing them. Use the simple single page interface to setup daily goals and track them with just a click. Watch your daily score to gage your success and use negative goals (or vices) to confront and overcome bad habits that finally need to get the boot. Share your success with your friends and family or post your personal score badge to your blog or MySpace page. Add as many Goals as you want and update them all from a single interface.”

Keeping Score:

This is a project I created a long time ago, which I am now dragging back into the light. It’s mostly about the process of figuring out what you could be, and should be, doing on a daily basis. In the end it becomes a daily to-do list with a twist … something that could be tracked on a program like Joe’s Goals. In it’s original (and, I think, most effective) form it is done on paper.

Oh. Go to the office supplystore and buy yourself a spindle.

Paper & a spindle.

From the author: “A Keeping Score tally is a paper list of potential tasks that you need — or like — to do. This list is first carefully designed to suit your life, then duplicated in bulk so that you may use a fresh tally to track your accomplishments every day. Creating a personalized tally requires some time and effort. Keeping a tally once it has been designed, on the other hand, is easily accomplished in just a couple of minutes each day.”

Project management – especially organization and productivity:

Getting Things Done by David Allen:

If you feel like your projects are out of control, and you haven’t yet read this classic, then get to it. Plunging into the program is a bit intimidating, but David Allen’s methods work. If you have read it, and experienced some success but then got lazy, read it again. It’s less overwhelming the second time through, once you realize this is a project management system and not a way to keep track of simple life tasks.

getting thigs done

From the author: “This groundbreaking work-life management system transforms personal overwhelm and overload into an integrated system of stress-free productivity.”

Todoist:

Todoist is great for managing projects that have multiple concrete steps which can be definatively finished. (Joe’s Goals is better for ongoing, repetitive tasks.) I believe it plays nicely with google products like Google Calendar and Gmail. I used the free version of Todoist, but considered upgrading to enjoy the fancier bells and whistles that a paid account provides. I’ve since converted to a simple 101 things in 1001 days list, and WriMoProg … because almost all my projects are about writing these days.

todoist

From the developers: “Conquer complexity. Manage projects of any complexity by creating nested-tasks, adding deadlines, assigning priorities, and using color-coding. Todoist features everything you need and nothing you don’t.”

Especially for writers:

WriMoProg:

This is my own writing progress management system. Even if you don’t actively participate in the challenge, I encourage you to read the section called ‘Setting Your Monthly Goals’ before you plan another chunk of your writing schedule. The information there may help you better decide how much of your time you want to dedicate to developing a writing career.

wrimoprog 600 X 325

In the wake of National Novel Writer’s Month in November, I revised some of the information at WriMoProg so that it more closely aligns with what I experienced as I fought to get through 50,000 words.

From the developer: “The Writer’s Monthly Progress Challenge is about feeling accountable AND receiving encouragement & credit for all of our work. (Much of which, let’s face it, is invisible to our non-writer loved ones.) It is not about giving us one more thing to do that gets in the way of the actual writing. After the initial set-up, WriMoProg should take a few minutes a week.”

Write or Die:

I’m not sure I would have beaten NaNoWriMo if it hadn’t been for this app. I purchased the desktop version a few months ago and I love it. It does have some glitches, but I quickly learned how to avoid stressing the program. I guess I work better under pressure. Try it out HERE, with the free web app version.

write or die screen shot

From the developer: “Write or Die is a web application that encourages writing by punishing the tendency to avoid writing. Start typing in the box. As long as you keep typing, you’re fine, but once you stop typing, you have a grace period of a certain number of seconds and then there are consequences.” READ MORE HERE.

Critique Circle Online Writing Workshop:

Critique Circle is a wonderful resource for writers who are ready to submit their fiction to review by other writers. In order to participate in the group, you must sign up for a free account. The free account works very well if you are working primarily with short stories. Effective management of a novel, as it goes through the review process, is much easier with a paid membership. I am not currently active there, because I spent too much time critiquing and not enough time writing.

critique circle

From the developers: “Membership to the Critique Circle is free and we welcome everyone interested in using an online forum to improve their writing skills while helping others improve theirs. Critique Circle is open to all genres, including science-fiction, fantasy, romance, children’s novels, horror and suspense. Members submit their stories to the story queue, and pay credits to do so. Only a certain number of stories will be displayed each week (more on this later), so you may have to wait a week or two for yours to come up, depending on how much queue activity there is. When a story comes up for critique, other members can read it and submit their critiques to the author, thus earning credits.”

And, finally, get your free wordcount meter. It looks like this:

To get this no-membership-required manuscript meter from Critique Circle, just go HERE. After you install the meter, simply clicking on it will lead you to the place where you update your word count.

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Courting Creepy: 13 not-too-spooky movies – for girls’ night in (or a solo spa night) – at Halloween (or anytime.)

Let me be clear, some of the most hard-core fans of gruesome horror movies that I know are women. Some of those women can, and do, happily watch movies like The Texas Chainsaw Massacre while enjoying their morning corn flakes. There is nothing intrinsic to being female that bars one from enjoying a gory decapitation or a high-intensity chase through a zombie filled graveyard.

My own taste runs to minimally graphic films, with lots of slow-builiding tension – preferably those with plots centered on witches and/or ghosts. Consequently, most of the themed recommendations at Courting Creepy lean toward “the Gothic, the darkly beautiful, the subtle and the not-too-gory.” When I’m on my own, or cuddling with my husband, those are the films I seek out.

Still, there are certain, traditionally female-only occasions that call for something even lighter, something a little closer to a chick-flick. The following list features some films that pair well with mani-pedi parties, stitch and bitch sessions, and cookie baking marathons. Others are geared toward an evening alone with a pot of tea, a box of fancy chocolates, and a few hours to devote to a hobby, like knitting, or some self-indulgence, like a hot oil treatment.

‘josie giving morgan a little spa treatment’ by Jeff Sandquist
http://www.flickr.com/photos/jeffsand/

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The standard fare on such occasions is usually pulled from the rom-com genre, which really doesn’t lend itself to the season of Halloween. (Or to any season, for certain women, who can’t stand the romantic comedies made after 1949 … at least not the mainstream ones.)

In self-defense, and to bring a little creepiness to girls’ night, I’ve curated a collection of movies that are unlikely to freak anyone out, but which will still provide a bit of a thrill, set a slightly eerie tone, or at least bring a touch of the paranormal to the evening.

NOTE: When I finished reading synopses and composed the list, I realized there’s another theme running through the collection – for the most part, these movies showcase strong female characters, many of whom are not teenagers.

As always, please let me know if I’m hitting my target squarely, and feel free (even compelled) to share your suggestions for substitutions. (Remember – a list can run no longer than 13 movies. If a new one appears, another must be banished,)

click for more lists

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13 not-too-spooky movies – for girls’ night in (or a solo spa night) – at Halloween (or anytime.)

The Ghost and Mrs. Muir (1947)
– Romantic, old-fashioned, and surprisingly creepy.
Harold & Maude (USA, 1971)
– Not even remotely a horror movie, but its themes are tailor-made for horror fans. This is also the movie I’d recommend to anyone who can’t tolerate chick-flicks. Great dialog:
Psychiatrist: Tell me, Harold, how many of these, eh, *suicides* have you performed?
Harold: An accurate number would be difficult to gauge.
Psychiatrist: Well, just give me a rough estimate.
Harold: A rough estimate? I’d say
[savoring the thought]
Harold: fifteen.
Psychiatrist: Fifteen?
Harold: That’s a rough estimate.
Psychiatrist: Were they all done for your mother’s benefit?
Harold: No. No, I would not say “benefit.”
Little Shop of Horrors (1986)
– What’s girls’ night without a musical?
The Witches of Eastwick (1987)
– The first half of this film is an unapologetic celebration of women and the friendships they have with each other.
Sleeping With the Enemy (1991)
– Special acknowledgement for most perfectly beautiful town: Cedar Falls, Iowa.
Single White Female (1992)
– Special acknowlewdgement for best shoes: black stilettos with silver heels.
Buffy the Vampire Slayer (USA, 1992)
– I dismissed this movie when it came out, because I thought it would be a disrespectful parody of my favorite genre. Years later, when I caught part of it on cable, I was surprised by how funny and sharp it was. I sought out an uncut copy. Now I understand why Buffy was developed into the popular TV series … which I haven’t seen, because I fear it will devolve into a disrespectful parody of one of my favorite movies. Hmmm.
Hocus Pocus (1993)
– Special acknowledgement for the most memorable mini-scene: every person I’ve talked to about this movie immediately chants, “Amok, amok, amok, amok!”
Delores Claiborne (1995)
– There’s some beautifully subtle work done in this film to clearly differentiate between scenes set in the present and flashbacks.
The Craft (1996)
– Probably best if you are under 20 … or if you happened to have seen it, at an appropriate age, when it came out. Otherwise, it’s a little angsty. Some lovely depictions of magick early on though.
Midnight in the Garden of Good and Evil (1997)
– This movie is about immersing yourself (for 2 1/2 hours) in a southern gothic. Kevin Spacey, by all accounts, does a devestatingly effective portrayal of Jim Williams – the man upon whom this story centers. If you’ve read the book, be prepared for deviations from the story. FYI: I want to be Lady Chablis, as she is in the film.
Practical Magic (1998)
– When I am an old woman, I want to live in that house, and indulge in midnight margaritas every Wednesday.
– Special acknowledgement for most beautiful woman in any of these films: TIE Sandra Bullock, Stockard Channing, Nicole Kidman and Diane Wiest.
Chocolat (2000)
– It is absolutely essential that you equip yourself with the finest chocolates you can afford before you settle in to watch this film.

Best bet for Halloween night: Hocus Pocus