10 Things I Love About Spring

April 17, 2017 – After a cruel winter, it is a pleasure to welcome spring. Here are 10 things I adore about the season:

10. Longer days – What a joy it is to drive home from work and still experience daylight.

9. Warmer temperatures – Spring is perfect “no utility” weather. There is no need for heat or air-conditioning.

8. Taking photos – Everywhere you go looks like a picture postcard. Fresh blooms are enough to make any amateur photographer look like a pro.

7. Birds singing – Even the sound of birds chirping in the morning is a true pleasure.

6. Dining alfresco – I love sitting at outdoor restaurants and cafes in the city on spring days. It is great for the soul and for people watching.

5. Spring cleaning – Is it crazy that I love to clean in the spring? It makes me feel lighter to get rid of stuff we do not use.

4. Shopping at the farmer’s market – We have our pick of plenty of options in southeastern Pennsylvania, which gives us access to the best fresh produce around.

3. Cherry blossoms and azaleas – I like flowers, but never have I gone completely bonkers over them. I do enjoy spring blooms like cherry blossoms and azaleas, though. They are short-lived and much appreciated.

2. Sandals and open toe shoes – To get my feet in shape for the sandal season, I used a Pure Pedi foot peel. I was skeptical, but it worked wonders. Like a snake, I shed a lot of skin on my feet (and that was a little gross). However, I love the baby soft skin underneath.

1. Open windows – Yes, open windows are my most favorite thing about the season. There is nothing better than letting the fresh air in and watching the curtains flutter in the breeze.

The Happiest Place on Earth

March 27, 2017 – If Disneyland is the happiest place on earth, shouldn’t the U.S. rank higher than #14 in the latest survey of the happiest people on earth.

Perhaps more people need to visit Disneyland, or Disney executives have been deceiving us for decades. Either way, the survey suggests Americans aren’t making the grade.

Before we start with the political slant that people were happier under President Obama, we ranked 13th for the past few years, we’ve been unhappy for years.

The survey released last week stated that this year’s happiest place on earth is Norway, leaving me to wonder if Nordic people have a monopoly on happiness. Denmark was last year’s champion, falling to #2 on the list, followed by Iceland, Switzerland, and Finland rounding out the top five.

The survey ranked 155 countries based on gross domestic product per person, healthy life expectancy and a few other necessities. While money did play a role in the survey, it was more about having enough to live a decent life. Having abundance didn’t figure into the results.

Americans may not be the happiest, but we’re far from the saddest. That misfortune belongs to the Central African Republic, followed by Burundi, Tanzania, Syria and Rwanda slightly ahead.

I guess ranking 14th out of 155 isn’t so bad after all.

Welcome Spring

March 20, 2017 – Today we celebrate the arrival of springtime in the western hemisphere.

The first day of spring is also called the vernal equinox, where days are close to 12 hours long, and increase as the season progresses.

Extra daylight is celebration worthy, so in honor of spring’s arrival, take a moment to listen to Vivaldi’s Spring…

… while glancing at a few photos from last week’s Philadelphia Flower Show:

 

The History of Black Friday

imagesNovember 25, 2016 – If you’re someone who pays homage to the day after Thanksgiving by shopping, you probably familiar with the term “Black Friday” as the day of the year that retailers “go into the black” and make a profit. What you might not know is that you’re only half-right.

The term is also used to describe the crash of the U.S. gold market on Friday, September 24, 1869. The crash sent the stock market into free-fall, bankrupting everyone in the country from Wall Street tycoons to farmers.

Black Friday’s ties to the retail industry are more commonly known, but the “black” part of Black Friday wasn’t always associated with profits. Back in the 1950s, Philadelphia police coined the phrase “Black Friday” to describe the chaos that occurred on the Friday after Thanksgiving when suburban crowds would come into the city to watch the annual Army-Navy game, traditionally played the Saturday after Thanksgiving. Large crowds would arrive the day before for holiday shopping, with some taking advantage of the masses to shoplift, which often caused riots.

Philly’s Finest referred to that day as “Black Friday” because of the extra manpower needed to control the crowds. The term didn’t spread to the rest of the country, or take on a positive spin of retailers going from red to black, until several years later when it became a common holiday shopping day nationwide.

It seems that many firsts have roots in Philadelphia.

I Get By With a Little Help from My Friends

pink-pantherNovember 11, 2016 – On November 10, 2010, an unemployed writer started a blog to share her opinion and commiserate with other unemployed job seekers. Six years, one day and 1,118 blog posts later, janemcmaster.wordpress.com is still online.

Looking back, I am impressed that I blogged every day that first year, but I couldn’t keep up the pace once I went back to work. Still, I averaged 3.6 posts per week since the blog’s inception and finally settled into the comfortable pace of publishing one photo blog and one written post each week, combining my newly discovered passion for photography with my love of writing.

On occasion, I also rely on friends from the blogosphere and highlight posts I find helpful and well done, such as the one below:

7 Simple Edits That Make Your Writing 100% More Powerful

I’ve been working in the communications field for 20 years, and this exceptional piece taught me something new. I enjoyed every word—including all 261 comments—and now want to re-edit the 1,118 blog posts that came before. However, I think my time would be better spent moving ahead.
Here’s to the next six years!

Ready, set … well maybe not

nanowrimo-2012-buttonsNovember 4, 2016 – National Novel Writing Month (NaNoWriMo) began this week.

This year, I’m not even going to kid myself and say I’ll participate as I have in past years since I’ve never hit my goal. While I greatly admire the thousands who have accepted the challenge, and are writing furiously as I complete this post, I need to set smaller goals for myself.

In case you don’t already know, NaNoWriMo is a unique way to approach writing a novel. Authors sign up on the website and agree to write 50,000 word novel by 11:59:59 on November 30. The challenge is in its 18th year, and more than 200,000 writers participate each November, with nearly 30,000 achieving the ultimate goal. That’s quite impressive.

The exercise isn’t about finishing an edited masterpiece in a month. For most of us that would be impossible. It’s about pushing the limits and achieving quantity over quality. It’s supposed to help you lower your expectations, take risks, write whatever pops into your head, and ultimately make you a better writer.

However, each writer approaches the craft differently, and I tried but found I don’t benefit from writing that way. I commit the mortal sin of drafting and editing as I go along. It works best for me.

Last month, I finished drafting a novel and hope to have the first 50 pages polished by November 22 since that would be a good day to submit a manuscript to a publisher, according to my Astrology Zone horoscope. How can I argue with logic like that?

 

Celebrate the Season with a Scary Good Time

__3259762_origOctober 28, 2016 – It’s the last weekend in October, and you know what that means. It’s time to get your fright on.

If you’re not heading to a party this weekend and live in the southeastern Pennsylvania area, stop by one of the many haunts that promise to scare you silly.

Perhaps the most popular seasonal event in the Philadelphia area is Terror Behind the Walls, a haunted house that takes place in a real prison, Eastern State Penitentiary. The prison opened in 1829 and was abandoned in 1971 after housing the worst criminals in history for 142 years. You can tour the prison any time of year, which is frightening enough, but during the Halloween season, it turns into one of the craziest experiences ever.

Alfred Hitchcock’s “Psycho” is arguably the scariest movie in his collection. It introduced the world to Norman Bates and his beloved mother, who run the Bates Motel. You can experience Norman’s crazy world for yourself with a trip to The Bates Motel, a haunted spot in Glen Mills, Pa. There are two exhibits on the site, so you can double your terror. The Haunted Hayride and the Bates Motel are sure to scare the bejesus out of you.

If you’re looking for a dose of reality with your Halloween fun, try one of these famous attractions:

Not only is historical Laurel Hill Cemetery the hippest and most photographed cemetery in Philadelphia, it’s also home to the Gravediggers Ball, and the special attractions for 2016, True Tales from the Tomb and the Halloween Picnic and Parade. Check the website for details and times.

Year round Ghost Tours of Philadelphia’s historic regions are super eerie during the Halloween season. The tour guides take you on a candlelit walk through historic cobblestone streets where you will discover the fascinating tales of America’s most haunted city. Walking tours depart from 5th & Chestnut Streets and finish at 2nd & Walnut Streets. Year round tours depart on Friday and Saturday nights; during the Halloween season, tours depart nightly.

Follow a lantern-lit walking ghost walk through historic New Hope, situated in Bucks County, right outside of Philadelphia. The streets are quaint and may look calm to the naked eye, but they are haunted by ghosts from the past. You’ll hear tales of the haunted hitchhiker, and see the historic Logan Inn where Aaron Burr and a Revolutionary War soldier have been known to haunt. During September and October, tours meet each Friday and Saturday night, including Halloween.

The Mutter Museum, Philadelphia’s own medical oddities showcase, is frightful enough on a normal day, but during Halloween, it goes to extremes. During the season, the museum features eerie events, such as the 2nd Annual Mischief Night at the Mutter and the Day of Dead Festivities. Check out the site for dates and times. Only the Mutter can serve up Halloween like this.

Happy Halloween!