A Lot of Work for A Lot of Play

Memoir Mondays

This post is courtesy of a 642 Things to Write About prompt: “Your favorite piece of playground equipment”

I don’t like to sound like the cranky old person who says things like, “Back in my day…”, but the truth is that when I was a kid there were fewer high-tech distractions for children. We had television and video games of course, but we didn’t have cell-phones or tablets; we didn’t even really have computers until I was 8 or so. And so we tended to spend a heck of a lot more time outside than the current generation. Summers in particular were filled with days of bike riding, hiking, swimming, and of course, playing on whichever playground equipment was available.

There were several playgrounds near enough for me to walk to from my parents or grandparents’ houses. I had a swing set with a see-saw in my own backyard, and the elementary school – which was right down the road from my grandparents’ house – had a set of monkey bars and later a bigger playground with slides and lots of things to climb. When I got a little older the town erected a larger public playground down next to the ball field; it was the kind of huge structure that dozens of kids could be playing on at once, with rope bridges and bars to swing on, and lots of climbing areas that would give you a little thrill of feeling like you could fall to your doom at any moment.

My favorites were always the bars for swinging on. I was never the most terribly graceful person, but I loved to jump up on top of the bars and swing around them, hang upside-down from them, and act like I was some amazingly-talented gymnast. I always had a ton of fun if there were bars to swing around, and I’d often come home with hands polished raw from all the twisting and flipping.

My daughter, on the other hand, seems to have a strong propensity for all things playground. She loves the swings, the slides, the rock walls, the rope ladders…pretty much anything is game to her. Last summer she was ecstatic when some neighbors who were moving offered to leave their swing set with us. It was an old set that had been passed along from two or three different families over the years, but she didn’t see the age, only the fun. She got tons of use out of the swing itself, and was super-proud to climb the little ladders by herself. She practically beamed with pride when her father taught her how to climb to the top of the rope ladder without any help.

This summer, with her kindergarten “graduation” as an excuse, I decided that I wanted to replace the old swing set, which had definitely served its purpose but was getting old and starting to split in several places. To say that I went overboard is a bit of an understatement, but my daughter loves playing outside so much that I couldn’t quite help myself…I ended up getting a swing/playhouse/slide set. The one I picked up was deeply discounted because it was a discontinued model, so I felt I was getting a great deal. But my husband and I soon found out why this particular model was discontinued.

Two parents have scarcely worked so diligently, with so much biting frustration, to construct something for their child, I swear. The front page of the instructions claimed that it would take between 10 and 14 hours for two people to build the playground. Being tradespeople, both, I figured we could easily fall within that estimate, but I didn’t count on road blocks at every turn. My husband and I are the kinds of people who are perfectly capable of following instructions to completion, but the instructions for this kit mocked us from the very first step. The kit came in three boxes stuffed with cuts of wood, and while the instructions showed pictures with labels and measurements for each piece, none of the pieces of wood themselves were actually labeled. Aside from a very few pieces that had some kind of manufacturing number stamped on them, the only way to find the pieces needed for each step was to actually take out a measuring tape and painstakingly move through the pile until you found the piece with the proper dimensions. That was frustrating enough on its own, but when we came to actually bolting the first two pieces of wood together we came across the second problem. The instructions called for two “H8” bolts, but in the bag marked “H8” there was only one bolt. We searched through the mountainous pile of marked bags of screws, nuts, bolts, and washers, but couldn’t find another bolt of that particular size. So before even being able to complete the first step, I had to run to the store for parts.

This trend continued over the course of the next two days. A couple of steps later I was screwing two pieces of wood together and flabbergasted by the fact that the screws were going right through the other side of the wood. It was then that we discovered that many of the bags of screws and bolts were labeled wrong, so we had to actually start measuring everything to confirm which ones to use. Later we were certain that there were pieces of wood missing, but it turned out that the pieces in question were slightly longer than what the instructions claimed. Another scream-worthy moment came when we ran out of a certain length of bolt and found out that neither of the nearby stores carried a bolt that size, so we had to use ones that were almost an inch too long. By the time we found that one of the rungs of the ladder had only been machined on one side, we almost just had to laugh.

It was a painful ordeal that spiked our tempers more than once, but what really spurred us on was when the little missy finally realized what we were building. We hadn’t told her, but around the time that we were screwing the floorboards into the little playhouse area, she happened to pick up the instructions and flipped to the picture on the front page. She came running over to us then, with a cry of, “Mommy! Make it look like this!”

In the end, we spent about 18 hours (a few of them in the rain) trying to build this monstrosity. We weren’t able to complete the ladder, since the lumber store in town didn’t have the proper machine to fix that one rung, and we ended up having to purchase a couple of pieces of 2×4 to create a stable base for the swing set side, which kept wanting to sink into our mossy backyard. It was frustrating, and cost more than it should have, and technically it’s still not quite done, but in the end it was worth it because my little missy loves it to pieces, and watching her and her cousin play on it was like looking back into the past, to another little girl who used to love to climb and jump and slide and swing.

And what kid doesn't love "death-defying" rescues? XD
And what kid doesn’t love “death-defying” rescues? XD

What was your favorite piece of playground equipment?

Big Things in Small Packages

Here’s a confession: I love presents. That may sound a little selfish, but it’s not as bad as it sounds. I love getting presents, yes, but I love giving presents just as much. Since I was first old enough to go out to the store with my own money and buy my parents little tokens of my affection, I’ve loved the feeling of seeing someone open a gift that I picked out for them. It’s half of the reason that I love Christmas so much, and to me it’s just as fun as opening my own presents.

But not all presents are the kind that you wrap up in pretty paper and stick a bow to. Four years ago today my husband and I received a very special early Christmas present, which, incidentally, was also kind of a present from us to our families. My little princess has grown a lot since that day, but she’s still the best present in the world to me, and she’s made Christmas an infinitely more wonderful holiday in our household.

Happy Birthday, baby girl! And thanks for being my Christmas present again this year! ❤


Trimmings and Trappings

Some people don’t get into the Christmas mood until the holiday is right upon us, but I’m not one of those. By the time November hits I’m really starting to think about Christmas, and by the end of the month I’m itching to have the tree up and the house all decorated. These days I get even more excited because how can you not when there’s a toddler bouncing around your feet just vibrating to put her special ornaments on the tree?

We’re big decorators in my household, with new items being added to the house every year. We’ve got garland on the stairs, cute little Christmas stuffed toys going up the steps, a musical skating rink on one of the shelves, a variety of festive penguins and polar bears on the others. We’ve got candles and burners pumping Christmasy scents throughout the house, wreaths and hangers on all the doors, and personalized family decorations on the walls. We’ve got candle lights in the windows and lighted reindeer in the yard, and we’ve got two trees…the family tree and a special little one for the little missy, all full of ornaments of her favorite cartoon characters.

And those are my favorite, for sure. The big tree is a pain-in-the-butt every year – this year one of the strands of prelit lights died so we had to surgically remove it from the tree and replace it with another – but it always looks so nice when it’s done that all the frustration kinda washes away. And there’s nothing more adorable than watching the little missy decorate her little tree, so excited, so funny (“Pinkie Pie has to go by the pink light and the Turtles have to go by the green lights!”).

Of course, the little missy also helps decorate the big tree because that’s, like, the most exciting thing in the world for a kid her age.


Unfortunately I now don’t get to enjoy the fruits of our labor for another 15 days, but when I get home again it’ll be all the better to be returning to a festively decorated house full of Christmas joy. 🙂

Do you decorate for the holidays? What are your favorite decorations? Do you have any decoration-related traditions? Please share!

The Objects of Childhood


Note: Today’s post is courtesy of a prompt from “642 Things to Write About“. Today’s prompt is: “Three objects in your childhood bedroom.”

There are a great many objects that I could choose for this post, but these are three that immediately came to mind when I read the prompt:

1. My Jumping Bunny

Quick quiz: how many of you had the jumping bunny toy as kids? It looked like a little stuffed bunny, but when you flipped the switch on his belly he would jump forward a few steps, sit back, wiggle his nose, and then do a backward flip. They were the height of a technological toy back in the day, you know. And I had one (still have, in fact, although he doesn’t work anymore) that has stayed with me my entire life. My father bought him for me literally the day I was born, and I kept him with me always. I’ve always had a thing for stuffed toys, but as different stuffies came and went, this one always stayed. I considered him to be my special bunny, because he’d been with me since the beginning, and he still holds a special place in my book room amongst a few other special stuffed friends.

2. My Super Nintendo

I’m old enough to have had an original Nintendo Entertainment System, but most of my memories of playing NES are of playing it with my cousin at his house. But the SNES? That’s all about my bedroom. By the time I got an SNES my parents had put a small TV in my bedroom, so I could actually snuggle up on my own bed and play my games, and that was the greatest thing ever. Don’t get me wrong, I was a fairly active, outdoorsy kid too, but it was just so awesome to be able to throw my pillow at the end of the bed, snuggle under the blankets, and play Chrono Trigger until I literally passed out.

3. Babysitter’s Club book collection

I’ve always been a reader, since I was old enough to start recognizing words. Over the course of my childhood my parents spent an ungodly amount of money on books for me, not only because it was a good habit to reinforce, but because I read so quickly that it was hard to keep up. Every time we took a drive over to Sydney to do some shopping (a half-hour drive) they would get me a Babysitter’s Club book, and many times I had the book most of the way read by the time we got home. Mind you I was (and still am) known to re-read books over and over again, so I did get their money’s worth, but let’s just say that in the end I wound up with quite the collosal collection packed onto my bedroom shelves. 😀

This prompt was fun…why don’t you take part? What are three items you remember from your childhood room?

Macabre Movies

It doesn’t always work out so well (especially when I’m working out West), but my husband and I have a bit of a Halloween tradition. We try – to the best of our ability – to watch a horror movie every night for the entire month of October. Sometimes it can be very difficult to work one in at the end of a busy day, but it’s never difficult to find a movie to watch, because we own well over 400 of them.

What's REALLY scary is that this is an old picture, and we've had six years since to add to it.
What’s REALLY scary is that this is an old picture, and we’ve had six years since to add to it.

Yes, we’ve seen our share of scary movies, so today I’m going to share a few of my favorites.

Depending on your personal disposition you might not think of the original Evil Dead as being a particularly scary movie, especially since it’s a little older and doesn’t exactly scream “realism!” But it’s one of my favorites because once you know the story behind it’s production you realize that the cost and crew did an amazing job with very limited resources. Evil Dead tells the story of a group of young people who drive out into an old cabin in the woods, where they unknowingly release an ancient evil that will never let them go. All of the special effects are done the old fashioned (*cough*fun*cough*) way, and the way that the “evil” is portrayed is both extremely simplistic and totally creepy. It may not scare you half to death, but if you’re a fan of horror movies and you haven’t seen this one, you really should.

Come on…doesn’t that just look like something you gotta watch?

I’m a big believer that Americans should pretty much stay away from the impulse to redo Asian horror films, and the reason is that Asians are way better at the genre (when they’re actually, genuinely trying to be scary). An excellent example of this is a spine-tingling ghost story called Shutter. It’s the tale of a photographer and his girlfriend who get into a car accident and thereafter begin seeing strange shadows and faces in all their photographs. But of course, it doesn’t end there. It is creepy as hell, and there were more than a few moments that made me literally yelp out loud. It’s the kind of movie that, once it’s over, you’re scared to get out of bed because you’re imagining all the things that are going to reach out and grab your feet. But if you’re going to watch, make sure you’re looking for the 2004 original, because the 2008 American remake does not do justice to the ghostly eerieness.

Sh*t like this never ends well.
Sh*t like this never ends well.

Okay, I have to admit right off the bat that this one isn’t exactly scary, but I have to mention it in this post because it’s been one of my favorites since I was about ten years old. Hocus Pocus tells the story of three evil witches who are accidentally brought back to life by an idiotic teenage boy in an attempt to impress a girl. The witches have been brought into the future by the spell and must drink the life from a child before sunrise in order to stay alive and young. Honestly, it’s more of a comedy than a horror, but it has crazy evil witches, a zombie, and a talking cat, and that is plenty enough for me. I watched this movie dozens of times as a kid and continue to watch it every Halloween as an adult. It’s a great one to share as a family!

No, really, they're evil...honest.
No, really, they’re evil…honest.

Now if you want something that’s Halloween-y and can give you a couple of chills, I definitely suggest Trick ‘r Treat. This film is a kind of anthology that moves from story to story as it reveals the Halloween hyjinx of a variety of characters. Each of the stories is delightfully creepy, and the movie has one of the straight-up freakiest little characters of all time. ‘Sam’ looks like a trick-or-treater with a dirty sac over his head as a mask…but oh, he is so much more. I’m not that easily frightened these days, but I’d be lying if I said that I’d never had a creepy dream or two about Sam. Want to experience the wiggins (or, alternatively, let me know that I’m a total wuss)? Check it out! It’s a great Halloween flick to watch during the holiday.

Tell me you wouldn't run the other way if you saw that coming up the street.
Tell me you wouldn’t run the other way if you saw that coming up the street.

Do you enjoy super-scary movies, or do you prefer the tamer ones? What are your favorite horror movies? Have you ever had a horror scare you so badly that you couldn’t sleep afterward, and how old were you when that happened? 😉 Please share!

Visceral Video Games

You all know that I’m a bit of a gamer, but depending on your own personal experience with them you might be surprised to see me bring up video games in relation to Halloween. After all, the Mario Bros. aren’t exactly terrifying. Well I’m here to tell you that there are plenty of spine-tingling video games out there to give you a rush. Some of my favs? So glad you asked!

The franchise has gone downhill in recent years, but when I was a kid it was all about Resident Evil. This classic originally took place in a zombie-wracked Racoon City, and employed a strategic system of gameplay that involved a lot of sneaking around, conserving limited ammo and items, and, of course, shooting undead monsters in the head. By today’s standards the graphics are quite less realistic, but back in the day they were plenty good enough to scare the pants off me. I can still remember the night my best friend and I were playing the second game in the series and a Licker jumped through a window at us. The game controller went flying across the room as two squealing little wusses went scrambling for safety. There were a few nervous, embarrassed chuckles that night, let me tell you.

Tell me that wouldn't have made you soil yourself a little when you were a kid.
Tell me that wouldn’t have made you soil yourself a little when you were a kid.

Time went on, games came and went, and the next game to genuinely scare the bejeezus out of me was a gem called Fatal Frame. This interesting little series had a very different kind of gameplay wherein your character’s only “weapon” was a mysterious camera that could view and photograph ghosts. Your only means of fighting back against violent ghosts was to take pictures of them – the better the picture (according the game’s criteria), the more damage you did to the ghost. This could make for some tense moments as you struggled to get the perfect shot while ghosts swooped down on top of you with dead eyes and shrieking mouths. I have to admit that I never actually played this one myself. Instead I used to snuggle up beside my husband (boyfriend at the time) and watch him play. And that was enough. Every time a ghost popped out I nearly jumped through the ceiling, so goodness knows what would have happened if I’d actually been the one in control.

Nope nope nope nope nope.
Nope nope nope nope nope.

Several years past the days of Fatal Frame, my husband put together a funny ‘Zombie Box’ present for me for Christmas, and part of that present was a game called Dead Nation. It’s a post-apocalyptic world in which your character traverses the zombie-infested landscape while searching for the ‘safe zone’. It’s a top-down-view shooter, which isn’t usually the scariest of views to play a game in, but let me tell you…this game can be tense. There are lots of moments during the game in which you are absolutely surrounded by zombies on all sides, with no way out, and it really gets the blood pumping. Humorously, I actually found this game to be even more tense when I eventually downloaded it on my Vita. You wouldn’t think that you could get too jumpy playing on a handheld device, but if you’ve got a good pair of headphones on and are holding the screen right up to your face? Yeah…things can get pretty real.


But the game that gave me the most jump-scares and straight-up wiggins in the past decade or so? Well that honor goes to a game that isn’t even really, technically, a game. It’s a free download on the Playstation Store that is simply called “P.T.” and it came very close to giving me a heart attack more than once. I don’t want to say too much because it’s a hell of a lot creepier if you don’t understand what’s happening when you’re going in, but believe me when I say that if you want to have a creepy evening, download this game, draw the shades, and crank the volume.

Look for this image in the PS store, and then consider getting yourself a diaper to wear while you play.
Look for this image in the PS store, and then consider getting yourself a diaper to wear while you play.

Do you enjoy spooky and scary video games? What is your favorite? What’s your most memorable video game scare? Please share!

Terrifying Television

The time of spooks and specters is almost upon us. Halloween was always a favorite of mine, not only because I always loved dressing up and going Trick-or-Treating, but because even during the time of my life when I was a godawful wuss, it was always a little bit fun to be scared.

In honor of our favorite frightful holiday, this week I’m going to be talking about my favorite moments of horror…in the form of various kinds of media.

To start off, today I’m going to talk about TV shows of the spooky variety.

Let’s start off with some shows of the past. When I was a kid I was a lot easier to frighten, but even considering that, some of the shows I used to watch late on Friday nights were pretty creepy, in my opinion. Are You Afraid of the Dark? was one of my very favorites, something I watched every weekend without fail. It’s pretty damn tame by today’s standards, and the special effects leave something to be desired when compared with what television can do these days, but at the time it was an amazing show that gave me no end of shivers.

Oh yeah. Spooky as hell. >.>
Oh yeah. Spooky as hell. >.>

The show centered around a group of youngsters who called themselves the “Midnight Society” and would take turns telling each other scary stories around a campfire. Each episode was one scary story brought to life. Most of the stories were based on common folk tales and urban legends, with the majority of them designed specifically to be frightening to children. I recall the episode that freaked me out the most was one in which a girl gets sucked into a mystical dollhouse and begins to turn into a doll herself. There was just something about watching the girl’s limbs become porcelain that creeped me right the hell out!

As I got a little older, I began to get into the “reality” ghost shows. I couldn’t name one in particular, but you know the type: a group of people with cameras and really crappy flashlights venture into a haunted house, or an old asylum, or a creepy abandoned graveyard, and records the results. The funny thing is that I never really believed in ghosts myself, but when one of these shows was actually done well…yeah, it could really give me a spook! Even to this day, if the show is well-done (which is asking a little much, apparently) I can still get a chill from the antics that are experienced in the world’s creepiest places.

These days I don’t find there are a lot of TV shows out there that are able to genuinely frighten me. Maybe it’s because there aren’t many TV shows that have the budgets of big Hollywood horrors, or maybe there’s just not a lot of genuinely scary stuff out there on TV right now. Or maybe it’s just me. I don’t know. But that doesn’t stop me from loving shows that are meant to be scary. Supernatural has been one of my favorite shows for ages (even though recent seasons haven’t been that great) because I love all the different monsters, creatures, and beings that regularly popped up on the show. It was never really all that scary of a show, because that’s just not the kind of show it is, but all the paranormal stuff, monsters eating people, and super-strange occurrences gave me that good tingly feeling; the kind you get when snuggled up in bed with a good ghost story.

There, uh...may be a few other reasons I enjoy the show too.
There, uh…may be a few other reasons I enjoy the show too.

American Horror Story (the first season) raised the bar a bit, throwing all manner of weird, crazy, and creepy at you all at once. The show about a family living in a(n extremely) haunted house focused mostly on the mental insanity and anguish, but there were definitely moments when I got the shivers because of a creepy side-plot or two.

But I can’t finish this post off without giving a shout-out to some of the classics. Not your weekly kind of TV show, but the TV specials that are made specifically for Halloween. Some are old, some are newer, and lots of them are tons of fun. Every year my family and I are sure to watch Garfield’s Halloween special, and my daughter is a big fan of the spooky Spongebob episodes. Want to bump up your enjoyment of the holiday? You should totally go on the hunt for some Halloween specials. They’re fun for the whole family and a great way to get into the Halloween-y mood. ^_~

And that mood is "Eep!"
And that mood is “Eep!”

Blogging 101, Day Nineteen: Try a New Posting Style


It’s important to try new things so that we don’t become stagnant. Many people think of a blog as just walls of written text, but they can really be so much more. That’s why today’s assignment is to build your storyteller’s toolbox by publishing a post in another format or a style that you’ve never used before.

Michelle W. tells us that trying new things is important because it keeps our readers interested, and also helps us to learn the best ways to effectively share a story. You should always be learning, after all.

For example, a post doesn’t have to be a written wall of text. You could post an interesting quote, a funny video, or the link to a cause you care about. You could share a photo album, write out a favorite recipe, or scan in some of your artwork. You could take a break from the written word and record a vlog instead. Have some fun!

Personally, I stick mostly to written stories and thoughts from my own mind because it’s what I enjoy the most, but every now and then I’ll share a video I enjoyed, or a recipe, or something else a little different, mostly to take a break from writing endless walls of text. So in the spirit of the assignment, I’m going to do something a little different from my usual. I’m going to share one of my favorite writer quotes and let you think about it yourselves (hint: feel free to share those thoughts in the comments).

“Writing a book is a horrible, exhausting struggle, like a long bout of some painful illness. One would never undertake such a thing if one were not driven on by some demon whom one can neither resist nor understand.” – George Orwell

Blogging 101, Day Eight: Make Your “About” Page Irresistable

Day eight’s assignment blends in nicely with something that I’ve already said for several of these topics, which is that people care more about you if they feel like they know you. That’s why having a good “About” page is an important asset. Your “About” page is a place where you can talk a little about yourself, show the world who you are, and hopefully make prospective readers feel like they’ve become familiar enough with you to be interested in what you have to say on a day-to-day basis.

That’s why day eight’s assignment is create and publish your About page, and adapt it for a widget on your home page.

You might not think that having an “About” page is really all that important, but let me tell you this: I’ve been posting on this blog for over two years now, and of all the posts I’ve written, my “About” page is the most visited page on this blog. That means that on a regular basis, people wander past my blog, stop for a second, and then click on the “About” page to see – duh – what I’m all about. Whether or not they decide to stick around after that point is their own call, but without that “About” page, many prospective readers may have simply wandered back to wherever they came from, uninterested in someone who isn’t even willing to give a little bit of personal info.

I’ll admit now that before I came across this particular assignment, my “About” page was not thrilling. I hadn’t thought about it in a while and when I went to take a look I found this:

No Page Left Blank is a blog by Tracey Lynn Tobin, pre-published writer.

I am a 29-year-old Instrumentation Tech by trade, a writer by choice, happily married, and I have a three-year-old daughter. My aspirations are to publish some of the many novels and short stories I have in the works. My favorite genres are fantasy and horror, and I have a particular fondness for zombies.

Not an overwhelmingly interesting little blurb, is it? There are a couple of important bits of information in there, such as the pre-published writer bit, and perhaps people might be a little bit interested when they see that I’m a tradeswoman, and that I like zombies. But there is so much more to know about me, so many more things that I could mention that would possibly help convince people to stick around on my blog. So, in light of this assignment and that realization, I decided to do a little rewrite. My “About” page now reads:

Well hello there! Thanks for dropping by! My name is Tracey Lynn Tobin, and you’ve stumbled onto my blog!

I’m a pre-published author of various genres of fiction, who moonlights as an industrial instrumentation technician (tradeswoman, for short). I’m happily married to the man who turned me into a zombie-maniac, and we have a three-year-old daughter who is already more into superheroes than I could ever hope to be. When I’m not working on my blog, I’m writing mainly in the horror and fantasy genres, but I’ve also been known to dabble in supernatural, sci-fi, and even a little bit of romance. On the blog I discuss everything from my writing process, to the wonderful world of parenting, to my goals and aspirations, and whatever happens to spark my interest at any given time. My ultimate desire? To become a published author and spend my life writing awesome books.

Want to know a little more? Here you go!


See how that’s a lot more informative, a lot more personal, and a lot more fun? Now, if given the chance, which of the “About” pages would inspire you to stick around, hmm?

The second part of the assignment is, of course, to adapt your “About” info for a widget for your home page, and while I understand the importance for such a thing, I’m going to skip it. Why? Well, as a writer who plans to be published sometime in the future, I’ve already taken the leap of sharing a personal photo on my blog, and while a blurb from my “About” info would be nice as well, I feel that the photo itself is enough. Lots of bloggers aren’t going to want to share something like a photo because it puts you out there to the world in a way that not everyone wants, and in such a case an “About” widget would be an excellent compromise. Myself, I think that when people see my photo it’s enough of a jump-start toward convincing them to stick around for a moment, and hopefully that moment leads them to the “About” page. If I’m wrong, please let me know. I’ve been wrong before, and I’ll be wrong again.

So go ahead, have some fun! Make your “About” page one that gets people interested!