Wednesday, December 28, 2005

Buffy and Unique Characterization

Andi's doing quizzes again. This one was the superheroine quiz. I ended up as:







You Are Buffy the Vampire Slayer


"We saved the world. I say we have to party."

What Superheroine Are You?



I wasn't surprised. If you know the heroine, you can answer the questions so you get that heroine. I've been watching Buffy lately. I borrowed the DVDs from my son and I started making him give me two seasons so when I finished one, I'd have the other one ready to go. I just started season six. I'm seeing why people liked it so much.

As a writer, I intend to watch it again, this time to study how the characters develop and change and how the uniqueness of each person is portrayed. It's rare to see a show or read a book, or watch a film where only the character who says a line or bit of dialogue could have said it. If someone not in the cast read the script aloud, I'd know who was supposed to say each line. The lines for Buffy don't sound like Willow's lines. Even if they're expressing the same idea, Willow doesn't use the same words as Buffy. Even though they're both teens in the same era, Xander doesn't sound like Oz. Showing characters as being themselves, and not interchangeable with other characters, is a tricky thing to do. It's something I've been working on in my writing, lately.

Just for fun, I did the quiz again as if I didn't know what the answers would lead to. I ended up with:







You Are Trinity


"Touch me and that hand will never touch anything again."

What Superheroine Are You?



I can live with that. Trinity's pretty cool. lol

Friday, December 23, 2005

Merry Christmas & Happy New Year

That about says it all. I'll post when I post. My life is going to be crazy for the next few days. Here's wishing you and yours the best Christmas ever. A Happy New Year, too. (And the musician in me unconsciously paraphrases Christmas songs.)

Wednesday, December 21, 2005

A Couple of Christmas Quizzes

I got these from my friend Andi's "friends and family" only blog. At her request, I'm not posting a link. But I had fun doing them. I admit, I'm a Christmas junkie. I love the holidays and don't hate the commercialization as much as the "What Carol Are You? blurb indicates. I also don't hate the secularization of Christmas. I don't expect everyone else to believe what I believe or to celebrate the way I do. I wish people would take the time to decide what matters to them about the holidays and do that, instead of doing what they think they're supposed to do, even if they don't enjoy it. And that's my Christmas wish for everyone. A happy Christmas, or whatever holiday you celebrate, because you did it your way.

What Christmas Ornament Are You?

christmas garland
You are the Christmas Garland.


What Christmas Ornament are you?
brought to you by Quizilla

What Christmas Carol Are You?

Hark! The Herald Angels Sing
You are 'Hark! The Herald Angels Sing'. You take
Christmas very seriously. For you, it is a
religious festival, celebrating the birth of
the Saviour, and its current secularisation
really irritates you. You enjoy the period of
Advent leading up to Christmas, and attend any
local carol services you can find, as well as
the more contemplative Advent church services
each Sunday. You may be involved in Christmas
food collections or similar charity work. The
midnight service at your church, with candles
and carols, is one you look forward to all
year, and you also look forward to the family
get together on Christmas Day.


What Christmas Carol are you?
brought to you by Quizilla

Monday, December 19, 2005

What's Happening

Today is a bit of a letdown, as the end of the Christmas concert season usually is. The concerts were great. They went well and we had a good time doing them. It's so wonderful to be doing music again. We'll still be singing on Christmas Eve. And Paul and I are going to be in town for Christmas, so we're going to be part of a small group to sing at the service on Christmas Day. Then we get a break until January, when our church gears up to celebrate its 50th anniversary. We have a break from Ladyesong, while our director is out of town celebrating the holidays with her family. Then we start working on the repertoire for the Spring concerts.

It's going to be a quiet week around here. Paul's off working and he expects to be doing 10-12 hour days. I have mixed feelings about that. I like the overtime pay, but I miss having him around. It's nice to feel that way after 27 years of marriage, too.

We have a holiday tradition in our family not to have traditions. We look at our resources, our living situation, and everyone's schedules and plan what will work best this year. Then we do that and we don't have the hassles, stress, fights, etc. that plague so many people who try to do the "picture perfect" holiday thing every year, no matter what else is going on. It looks like this year my family will celebrate Christmas the day after, as long as our youngest son doesn't have to work. The plan is to go out to breakfast and exchange gifts in the restaurant. If Chris has to work earlier than usual, we'll change the plan to accommodate his work schedule. All we need now is one evening where Paul gets home early enough to zip to Target for treats and cards to fill the stockings Tammy made for us last year and we'll be ready to go.

I hope you all have a great Christmas and that next year is a wonderful one. If you celebrate some other holiday, enjoy what makes it special for you. If you don't celebrate one of the "official" holidays, make one up because everyone needs to celebrate and have a good time to offset the gloomy weather of winter. (Can you tell it's gray and rainy these days out here?)

Wednesday, December 14, 2005

Mixed News & Recipes

Mixed News

Paul's been hired for a three-month contract job, working through a temp agency. It could become permanent at the company where he's actually working, but we're not counting on it. We've been burned by that before. We've learned that until you've signed the paperwork for the actual company, instead of the temp agency, you have to plan for the possibility of not having a job. So, we'll continue the job hunt and save what we can toward either moving back out on our own or another period of unemployment. However, it will be a miracle if we can find a place we can afford on his salary because the places that take cats are more expensive than those that don't and rents have gone up a couple hundred dollars a month in the past eight months. The state turned me down for their training program. So, I'm going to have to update my skills on my own dime, if I'm going to try to make up the difference between what he's making and what it really costs to live here. Can't afford that right now, so it's on hold.

I'm catching up with stuff we didn't get done the past few days, since we haven't been home very much. Mostly we've been off doing errands. I've been at my older son's house helping him with his English portfolio. He needed that fresh set of eyes that can catch the spots where you didn't actually say what you thought you said, the typos, punctuation glitches, etc. that you miss when you've read it yourself for the umpteenth time.

I suspect it's going to be tomorrow before I can get to catching up with typing in the handwritten stuff. That's been on hold because I can't type if I'm not here and I've not been here so much lately. So, the handwritten stuff's been piling up. Maybe by the end of the week, I'll have an updated word count and can change my progress bar.

And we went to see Chronicles of Narnia. It was exactly what it should be. I loved it.

Recipes

Andi asked me for my Cranberry Sauce recipe. The recipe originally was from Cooking Light Magazine. I combined two different recipes, changed the amount of spices, and added a touch of my own. I can't remember whether the original had apples or pears, but it was my idea to do both.

Wen and Lisa asked me for the pot roast recipe that's the easiest I've ever made. It's an unusual recipe because pot roasts are usually braised in a bit of liquid over fairly low heat for several hours. This recipe is done at a high heat and you don't put any liquid in the pan. The high heat eliminates the need to sear the meat before you cook it, so prep time is really short. The onions have a lot of liquid in them, which forms the base for the braise. The fat from the chuck roast combines with the onion juices to caramelize the onions so they're sweet and golden brown. This recipe originally came from Gourmet Magazine. I changed some of the instructions to fit my "pinch of this and pinch of that" cooking style.

Cranberry Sauce

Ingredients:

1 package fresh cranberries
1 Granny Smith apple
1 Bosc (red) pear
1 cup sugar
1 cup water
1/2 teaspoon cinnamon
1/4 teaspoon ground ginger
1 dash of ground nutmeg

Instructions:


Seed, then dice the apple and the pear into pieces about the same size as the cranberries. Put everything in a medium saucepan. Bring to a boil over medium-high heat. Turn the heat down and let simmer until the apple and pear are tender and the cranberries start to pop. Cover the pot with plastic wrap and chill before serving.

Notes:

1. You can peel the apple and pear, if you want. It doesn't matter to the recipe, so do what you prefer.

2. The cranberries may start to pop before the pear and apple are tender. It's Ok. Just keep cooking until the pear and apple are done. Tender, however, doesn't mean mushy. A toothpick should go easily through a piece, but the piece shouldn't fall apart when you stab it. There should still be some firmness to it.

3. Adjust the spices to your taste. The original recipe had so little spice that you couldn't tell there was any. I figured why waste the spices if you can't taste them? So my ingredient list has double the spices of the original.

4. You can put the sauce in a bowl before you chill it. I serve my food from the kitchen, so I serve it from the pan and save myself some washing up. The sauce will thicken as it chills. It's not going to jell, like jelly or gelatin, but it won't be soupy, either.

Braised Beef and Onions

Serves 8

Ingredients:

1-1/2 pounds onions, halved and thinly sliced
6 garlic cloves, minced
Chuck roast (See Notes for specific information)
Salt
Pepper
Ground allspice
2 tablespoons chopped Italian parsley

Instructions:

1. Preheat oven to 400º .

2. Pat meat dry. Sprinkle top with salt and pepper. Lightly sprinkle allspice over the meat and rub it in.

3. Put half the onions and garlic in the bottom of a 13x9-inch pan or a Dutch oven. Place the meat, spice-coated side down, on the onions.

4. Sprinkle the meat with salt and pepper. Lightly sprinkle allspice over the meat and rub it in.

5. Put the rest of the onions and garlic on top of the meat.

6. Cover the pan tightly with heavy-duty aluminum foil.

7. Roast for an hour. Turn the meat over, scraping the onions and garlic off the top of the meat into the pan. Pick the meat up to spread the vegetables evenly underneath. Roast until the meat is very tender. (See notes for timing.)

8. Take the meat out and carve it against the grain.

9. Use a slotted spoon to put the onions and garlic into a sieve to drain off the fat. Mix the parsley in with the onions.

10. To serve: Put the meat on the plate and spoon some of the onion mixture on the top.

Notes:

1. The recipe calls for 2 2-lb. boneless roasts, 1-1/2-inch thick. I never found any that size. I used a 4-pound, bone-in roast and a 3 pound boneless roast. It took about an hour per pound, plus an extra half hour for the bone.

2. I usually use a Dutch oven that has a lid. I put the lid on top of the foil, which gives it a better seal. That's optional, though. The recipe will work fine if you just use the foil.

3. The onions won't caramelize properly if you leave them on top of the meat the whole time. That's why I suggest scraping them off when you turn the meat.

4. The parsley is optional, but it adds a nice color to an otherwise drab, brown dish. And it has a fresh flavor. Be sure you get the Italian parsley, not the regular kind.

5. The meat can be braised 2 days ahead and reheated. This makes it a good dish for company and the flavors will blend and intensify when it sits. Be sure to remove the fat before you store it for serving later. Because the liquid doesn't cover the whole dish, the trick you use for soups and chilis of taking the congealed fat off after it's chilled dosen't work for this recipe.

Mangia!

Friday, December 09, 2005

So Much for Writing Every Weekday

Condolences

I learned some bad news this morning. Frank O'Brien Andrew and his wife drowned in a boating accident over the weekend. He was a buddy on Forward Motion. I will miss him. I send my condolences to their families and friends.

The Regular Stuff

I can't believe it's been over a week since I posted. Then I look at how the past week has gone and I can see why. I haven't been home much. Errands, rehearsals, concerts--both those I'm performing in and those friends are performing in, holiday parties, Christmas caroling, lunch with friends, pot luck dinners, car repairs and keeping up with the everyday stuff, helping out my kids with rides and stuff, and it goes on. That's what's been going on for the past week and what's happening during the upcoming week. I love being busy. I love getting a chance to sing for people, to watch my friend's performances, to spend time with people I don't see as often as I'd like to. But it wreaks havoc with my writing and blogging and keeping in touch with my online friends, who are important to me, too. So, I'm going to post when I can and after December 18, my life gets slower again because I only have Christmas Eve stuff to worry about and we're not having rehearsals that week.

Upcoming local concerts you might enjoy, if you're in the area:

Tonight, December 9 at 8 PM--San Jose Chamber Orchestra at Mission Santa Clara, on the Santa Clara University campus. You can check their website for contact info to find out if tickets are still available.

Sunday, December 11--Christmas Concert at First United Methodist Church in Campbell at 4 pm. The address is 1675 Winchester Blvd, Campbell, CA

Sunday, December 18--The Prince of Peace choir, Ladyesong, and soloist Layna Chianakas will present their Christmas Concert at 7 PM at Prince Of Peace Lutheran church in Saratoga. Info is on the web site.

Thursday, December 01, 2005

Quizzes

Tambo got it from Bob. And several other people whose blogs I read have picked it up. I thought it was funny, so here's my Generic Smut Novel Character:


Which generic smut novel character are you? (With somewhat relevant pictures!)

The Well-Endowed Kitchen Wench

Look, if you’re going to keep slipping in the rain, at least stop wearing those revealing cotton gowns.

Personality Test Results

Click Here to Take This Quiz
Brought to you by YouThink.com quizzes and personality tests.



Jean found this one via Monica Jackson's Message Board. This one was fun and I came out as my favorite superhero.

Your results:
You are Superman
Superman
80%
Spider-Man
75%
Green Lantern
70%
Robin
62%
Iron Man
60%
Batman
55%
Supergirl
53%
Hulk
45%
Wonder Woman
43%
Catwoman
30%
The Flash
25%
You are mild-mannered, good,
strong and you love to help others.
Click here to take the "Which Superhero are you?" quiz...

Tuesday, November 29, 2005

The Requisite Post

I started an essay yesterday. But it was my birthday. My husband took me out to lunch and we had the usual errands and I had Ladyesong rehearsal and so on and so on. So I didn't get it finished. I looked at it. It's not going to be ready to post today, either. It's one of those things where you know what you want to say, but the words aren't coming out right. That's all in a day's work, though, when you're a writer.

My husband also bought me a really cool coffee mug. It's this year's holiday mug from Peet's, a local coffee house chain. The sentiment seems especially appropriate for a writer. It says, "One cup is worth a thousand words." Do you think if I drink enough Peet's coffee in my Thousand-Word mug, I'll write thousands of words? It does seem to tug at me to write words.

Oh, and lunch was wonderful. We went to Max's. I had a baked potato stuffed with veggies and garlic shrimp. It comes with a Caesar salad. Paul got a Philly Cheesesteak sandwich. I traded him some salad for a few fries. Perfect.

Both of the choirs I'm in sang "Happy Birthday" to me. It was way cool to be serenaded in multi-part harmony. And they were in tune, of course. What a concept! I wish corporations that own chain restaurants would ditch the idea that waiters have to sing unless they're going to give one of them a pitch pipe, so they start on the same note, and teach them how to sing a melody on key. I guess that's a common musician's rant. The off-key singing hurts our ears.

My mom's gift will go to celebrate the holidays with my family. We haven't had everyone together since last summer. So, I'm using my birthday money to take the whole family out to dinner sometime soon. We just have to coordinate schedules, which becomes extremely difficult after they're grownups and have lives.

Tomorrow is the end of the line for all of you NaNoers. Congratulations to all who have completed the required 50K. I'm cheering on all of you who are close. You can finish! And a great big cheer to all who started and got words. Any words you got means you succeeded. So, if you didn't finish, there's always next year. You get more words next year. And more the next. And eventually, you finish. That's what happened to me, anyway.

Thursday, November 24, 2005

Happy Thanksgiving!

I'm glad you all decided not to ask me food questions after all. I've had so many errands the past two days I haven't had time to post. I need to get lunch in a few minutes, then start some cooking. I'm looking forward to this. I love cooking Thanksgiving dinner. So, you all enjoy your Thanksgiving celebrations. I think we're going to make this a good one, despite the difficult times we're facing. We still have a lot of blessings in our lives. Like--family and friends. Our good health. Being able to participate in music again. My book's going pretty well. I have a lot to type in, then you'll see how well it's going because I can move the progress bar. We've been blessed with generous friends who have given us tickets to concerts this year. A friend is sending me a laptop and then I can type in the stuff I write away from home while I'm away from home and it won't pile up. These simple things that make life special are what I'm grateful for this year. What are you all grateful for?

Happy Thanksgiving!

Monday, November 21, 2005

Thanksgiving Week--Food Seems Appropriate

Here in America, Thanksgiving week makes us all go nuts about food. How do you cook a turkey again? After all, it's been a year since you last cooked one. Maybe longer, if you rotate the cooking among various relatives. People make themselves crazy worrying about whether the food is absolutely perfect. Of course, the Thanksgivings that get talked about are the ones where it isn't perfect.

My grandmother used to go all out. She made her ravioli dinner and a full turkey dinner. And along with three kinds of pie, we got cake and ice cream because the family celebrated my November 28 birthday whenever Thanksgiving was every year. We got overstuffed and one lucky family got to take the ravioli leftovers home. We didn't care about the turkey leftovers. We'd get more turkey at Christmas. It was the ravioli that were special.

I look forward to Thanksgiving because I love turkey, and so does my family. I got in the habit of cooking it several times a year, especially since it's always one of the cheapest meats you can buy. I discovered that it's super easy to roast a good turkey. The cooking magazines keep adding steps--brining or dry brining, sticking herbs under the skin, putting stuff in the cavity, trussing--or not, high heat roasting, grilling, and now, (shudder) deep-frying. I guess it gives them things to write about. But now they're writing about the simplest way to roast a turkey and have it turn out well. I can see how it can be confusing to someone who hasn't done it before. What makes Thanksgiving harder than a normal dinner isn't the turkey. It's that you're cooking for more people than normal and making more courses and different types of dishes than you usually do.

So, in addition to the turkey, there's gravy and pie crust to obsess over. And yeast rolls or biscuits, if you've never made them from scratch before. And doing the salads and veggies fancier than usual. And cranberry sauce and yams and nontraditional recipes that are family favorites. And appetizers and first courses, if you're doing a super formal meal. It can seem overwhelming.

There are ways to make it all much easier, so you can focus more on what you're thankful for and less on worrying about what needs to be done next to get dinner on the table. The first thing to do is to look at the menu. If you're not having a huge crowd, maybe you don't need so many different dishes. People get too stuffed if you put out too many appetizers, so keep them to a minimum or skip them, if there's not much time between when they get there and when you serve dinner. You don't have to serve a soup course, either. If only one person likes a particular dish, maybe you can skip that dish or have the one person who waits all year just for that dish make it. You can save yourself a lot of work by cooking the turkey, stuffing, and gravy and having everyone pot luck the rest of the meal.

Another thing is to do as much ahead of time as possible. You can make rolls in advance and freeze them. You can do the same with pies. Cranberry sauce is really simple to make and it's better if you make it 1-2 days ahead of time and keep it in the fridge. You can caramelize thawed pearl onions a day ahead to add to a green veggie. You can toast sliced or slivered almonds a day ahead to put on a veggie dish. Tosted pecans are great for sweet potato dishes. You can cook bacon bits in advance and use them to liven up rolls, potatoes, or veggies. Grated cheese is another simple ingredient that you can add to rolls. Fresh herbs can be used in any dish.

The last trick is to buy some things preprepared. Rolls and desserts can be purchased at a bakery and they're just as good as what you can spend a lot of time making yourself. You can buy a complete meal from many grocery stores and some restaurants, but we were disappointed in the food when we were invited to dinner at someone's house who did that. The food was bland and way over-salted. The turkey was dry.

My plan for this year, because I'm in my mom's kitchen, is to get the rolls and dessert premade. I'm doing the cranberry sauce on Wednesday. I'm not doing giblet stock for the gravy. I'm using canned, no-fat, low-sodium chicken stock, which I'll use to baste the turkey. That will give it more of a turkey flavor in the gravy. I'd love to cut one more course and just do stuffing, because we don't have that many people to feed. But my family insists on potatoes and I only get stuffing once a year.

So, does anyone have any Thanksgiving cooking questions they'd like answered? Or recipes you'd like me to post? Write me a note in the comments and if I get any, I'll post them as my posts for the next two days.

Thursday, November 17, 2005

Serious About Writing

First, I'm feeling much better, thanks! Second, Paul didn't get the job. He got a very nice rejection email, though. That's unusual in today's business world and we appreciate that he took the time to write. On to a topic I've been thinking about for a couple of days.

Serious about Writing

A bunch of us writers were chatting about writing. (What else?) We were observing how much we'd all grown in our writing during the past couple of years. One woman said that she noticed how much faster she'd improved after she "got serious about writing." I don't remember who it was that said that, but we all agreed. Then we started discussing what it means to be "serious about writing". It's different for each person, I think.

Up until a few years ago, I mostly wrote when I felt like it. When an idea hit or I wanted to play with stories for my own pleasure. I got better, but not very much better. I don't think it was just because I wasn't writing a lot that kept me from growing, either. I think it was that "serious" vs. "hobby" thing.

When writing was a hobby, I'd get a story idea in my head. Then I'd write whatever came to me that seemed to fit the story. I wasn't trying to accomplish anything other than amusing myself. That attitude reflected itself in my writing. For example, I didn't try to make sure I'd put everything on the page because no one else was going to read it.

I also didn't try to discipline myself to write at any particular time. I just made sure my writing stuff was available and wrote when I felt like it. Writing had the same place in my life as my needlework projects, cooking a new recipe, learning a new flute piece, or any other of my many hobbies and interests.

There's nothing wrong with that. I think writing stories for your own amusement is fun. I still do it, especially when I want to play with a concept and see if there's really a story there. Or it's something I know isn't going to sell--like sticky, sweet "fluffy bunny" fantasy. I love writing that when I'm feeling down. There's something about writing colorful, sparkly stuff that brings my mood back up.

But in the back of my mind, that ten-year-old girl who loved Nancy Drew kept nagging at me. She always wanted to write stories for other people to read. I researched the business of publishing. I asked myself some important questions about what I wanted my writing to be. If I managed to sell my work, there would have to be major changes in how I approached my writing. Writing would be a job, not just a personal source of amusement. My friend, Wen, talks about noticing how hard her husband worked, how many hours he put in. And she decided she could do that, too. All of the writers I know, and the ones whose blogs I read, work very hard. I knew I'd have to do that, too. I'd have to face deadlines. I'd have to be a business, with all that boring record-keeping. I'd have to be the main publicity for my stories. I wondered, "Do I want all of that or do I just want to play with stories?" I dithered around, doing the "what if thing" writers do. Eventually, I asked myself the question that answered all the other questions. "If I live to be 90, what would I regret the most?" My biggest regret concerning my writing would be not giving writing for publication my best shot. If I gave it my best shot, but never sold, I'd be OK with that. I wouldn't be OK with not even trying.

By this time, we were online and I started searching for things about writing. I discovered Holly Lisle's Forward Motion and for the first time in my life connected with other people who wrote stories. I took classes and tried to apply what I learned to my writing. I bored Holly, Sheila, and all of the more advanced writers in chat with endless questions, which they were gracious enough to answer. I still bug all the writers who know more than I do with endless questions and they're still gracious enough to answer. Other published authors who deserve lots of thanks from me are Zette, Wen, Tambo, and Catie. (Note: For links to the blogs of some of the generous, but not yet published writers, who have been so very helpful, see my sidebar of links. There are too many to post in this essay.)

One thing all the pros agree on is that you read regularly. That's no problem. I've been a bookworm since I was three and kept asking my mom what all the words in my books were. I've been reading in many different genres and lots of nonfiction ever since. That's the easiest requirement for me, as a writer, to do. I don't read the same way I used to. I still read for enjoyment, but I also reread and take apart books I think are especially well-written to see what the authors did. Looking at books in that way has improved my writing.

Writing regularly, the "butt in chair" thing, is the one thing absolutely every successful writer says you must do. It's the very first advice you'll get if you ask a published writer how to do what they do. I figured that if every pro said it, I ought to do it. So I did. Some people insist you must write every single day, not even skipping holidays and birthdays and other things that make life worth living. I'm not in that camp, in case you couldn't tell. I've noticed that what's important for my muse isn't writing the same number of words absolutely every day without fail. I always see my muse as a 4-year-old girl with brown pigtails tied with red ribbons. She wears red overalls, a white T-shirt with red trim, white socks and red tennies. Luckily, she has a grownup brain, because I deal with grownup subjects in my books. And like any child, what's important to her is that I write when I say I'm going to write. It's as if she's waiting for me and if I don't show up, she gets disappointed and won't come out to play the next time. Although learning to do the "butt in chair thing" regularly, rather than whenever I felt like writing, was important to my development as a writer, it wasn't the main thing.

The main thing that made a difference was a distinct shift in my attitude toward my writing after I "got serious". To me, getting serious was more about that attitude shift than anything else. I changed my writing goal. Instead of my goal being "having fun", it became "becoming the best writer I can." Surprised? I bet you were expecting my goal to be "getting published". Getting published is a dream. Writing the best I can is a goal. So, that became my focus. And I think that focus is why when I "got serious" about my writing it began to improve faster. That's what getting serious about my writing means to me. What does it mean to you?

Monday, November 14, 2005

A Very Short Post

Someone writing a list of things bloggers should and shouldn't do said you shouldn't write posts telling people you're not posting today. He exempted people writing blogs mainly for family and friends. Since I fit in that category, at least for now, I'm going to happily assume you all care about why I'm not posting as regularly as I usually do. Today, it's because I've got what Paul had. I feel lousy. I'm crawling back to bed as soon as I can take NyQuill without overdosing the meds. See you all when I'm better.

Sunday, November 13, 2005

West Side Story & Writing List

West Side Story

West Side Story was wonderful. Barbara did a superb job, as I expected she would. I wonder if the cast loses 10 pounds during the show's run. It's a very physical show with about half of it dance numbers. They hired one of the runnerups from one of the American Idol contests to be the lead. Bernstein's music was so over her head. She had awful pitch problems and was obviously hired more for her publicity value than for her ability. The demanding score is really not suited to a pop vocalist. It's very, very sad when the understudy has the best voice in the whole show. She sang "Somewhere" from offstage and she rocks. My other complaint is more that I'd forgotten that it had a very 50s "forced to be not quite so tragic" ending. They wimped out and Maria didn't shoot herself. She should have. Her suicide would have meant they could have made their point without the long, moralistic speech at the end. Which brings me to my writer's list.

The Writer's List

The writer's list is from Sheila's blog--PBW's "How Not To" post about good writing. In honor of Sheila's fondness for "tens", I've come up with a list of ten.

1. Wimp out at every opportunity. Back off from the emotional scenes because you don't want to feel bad when you write.

2. Use every dialogue tag you can think of, except "said", and modify them all with appropriate adverbs..

3. Add tons of description, using at least two Thesauruses* to find better words than the ones you normally use.

4. Make sure every sentence is grammatically perfect, especially in the dialogue.

5. Do not use contractions or slang.

6. Make sure your main characters are as sweet as pie and your villains completely evil. That way your readers know which is which.

7. Be sure the murderer is the minor character you introduced in chapter one and never showed or talked about again until the climax where that character is pointing a gun at your detective and everything gets explained and the detective brilliantly avoids being shot.

8. Be sure you put your character through every torture you can think of, without regard to whether they fit the story or not. Just pile in tons of action and fights because you need conflict.

9. While you're at it, be sure to include lots of graphic sex. It sells books.

10. Don't give your characters anything to do while they're talking. The dialogue is too important to have other stuff get in the way.

*Note: Please don't correct my Latin. I have no idea what the plural of Thesaurus is and I doubt I'll use it often enough to make looking it up worth the time.

Other Stuff

We should hear about the job tomorrow or Tuesday. Continued prayers, lit candles, good vibes, etc. are appreciated. It would be a great birthday gift if he gets a job before then. I have a meeting about getting some training to help me be more hireable. I haven't worked since 1999 due to health issues. I hope to be able to get that taken care of by the time I finish whatever training I end up doing. That will depend, of course, on whether Paul finds a job with benefits before then. Everything in life is like a line of dominoes. One thing can topple the whole thing and until you get all those dominoes back in place, you can't put your life back together.

I notice I haven't been posting as regularly as I like to. We haven't been home and my computer time is a bit more limited these days, what with my son and husband using it for Civ IV and Roller Coaster Tycoon 3, now that we discovered that Chris can only play that one on our computer, too.

Tuesday, November 08, 2005

What's Going On These Days

My life always seems packed and busy, but mostly with the minutiae we all have to deal with every day. I think one reason we like fiction so much is that fictional characters lives don't have the boring stuff in them. I'm in "too many errands" mode, again. We have a lot of things to do and can't do them all in one place. We got some of it done this morning, but the rest will have to wait until Thursday.

Paul has a meeting this afternoon. I'm going to have him drop me off at the bookstore so I can write. Tomorrow morning he has his three-hour networking session. I'm going to go to the bookstore and write then, too. In the afternoon, he has an interview. Woohoo!! I'm going to stay home and type in the writing I did in the bookstore.

Back to the interview--I'd appreciate you all sending any good vibes, lit candles, prayers, whatever you do to send good luck and stuff our way tomorrow. I don't know what benefits come with this job, should he get it, but if I can get to a doctor, I'm probably going to have to take some classes in MS Office software and try to find some sort of office job. I don't think this job will pay enough for us to live on just his income because apartment rents haven't come down. Drive down any street and every apartment complex has for rent signs. Many have "move-in" specials. Or the weirdly phrased "Free rent" sign. I don't get landlords. Apparently, they'd rather have empty buildings than lower the rent to what people can really afford on the wages companies these days are willing to pay.

We were given tickets to see the local American Musical Theater production of West Side Story on Thursday night. I don't know if tickets are still available for the last performances. The run ends on Sunday. If you're local and are interested, here's the info on all of their performances: American Musical Theater of San Jose. Barbara Day Turner, our church choir director, is the music director for this play. They're doing Gypsy in March. It's one of our favorite shows. Paul played Mr. Goldstone in a community production before I met him. Maybe we'll be able to go to that one, too.

She also is the founder and music director of the San Jose Chamber Orchestra. We're going to their Winter's Gifts concert in December. For more information: San Jose Chamber Orchestra. One of the pieces listed in the program was composed by our church organist, Michael Touchi. Personally, I don't know how Barbara and Michael manage to fit the very active church music program in their busy professional schedules. But I'm very glad they do because it's such a pleasure to work with them.

Monday, November 07, 2005

Enchiladas Suizas Casserole

This is one of my favorite ways to use up those bits of leftover roasted chicken meat that are too small for sandwiches.

Enchiladas Suizas

Serves: 8

Ingredients:

Chicken filling:
1 pound boneless, skinless chicken thighs or breasts or
12 ounces leftover chicken meat--shredded
1 can black beans--drained and rinsed
2 medium scallions--sliced
2 medium limes--juiced
1/2 bunch cilantro leaves, chopped
Salt and pepper, to taste

Tortilla layer:
10 medium flour tortillas

Sauce:
1 large onion
2 tablespoons olive oil
1 tablespoon chili powder
2 garlic cloves, minced
2 teaspoons ground cumin
1 teaspoon dried oregano, crushed
1 chipotle peppers--minced, with 1 teaspoon adobo sauce
12 ounces canned diced green chiles
1/2 cup flour
1 cup any kind of milk or
1 cup whipping cream or
3/4 cup 1% milk and 1/4 cup creme fraiche or
3/4 cup evaporated skim milk and 1/4 cup whipping cream
2 cups chicken stock

Cheese layer:
4 ounces cheddar cheese--shredded
4 ounces Monterey jack cheese--shredded

Instructions:

1. Preheat oven: 400º F. Lightly oil a 13x9x2-inch pan with olive oil.

2. If you're using raw chicken, poach, cool, and shred chicken breast. Combine shredded chicken with the beans, scallions, lime juice, chopped cilantro, salt and pepper to taste.

3. Stack tortillas and cut into quarters.

4. Combine shredded cheeses in a small bowl.

5. Combine chili powder, minced garlic, cumin, oregano, and minced chipotles in a small bowl.

4. Heat olive oil in 5-quart saucepan. Add onion and saute until soft. Add chili powder mixture. Cook about a minute. Add diced chiles. Add flour, mix well, and cook until you don't smell that raw flour smell. Whisk in chicken stock. When there are no lumps of flour, add the milk or cream or milk & creme fraiche. Bring to a simmer and cook, whisking constantly, until thickened.

5. Spoon 1/2 cup sauce into the bottom of the casserole. Then layer the ingredients as follows:
  • Layer 1: 1/3 of the tortilla pieces; 1/2 of the chicken; 1/3 of the cheese; 1/3 of the sauce
  • Layer 2: 1/3 of the tortilla pieces; 1/2 of the chicken; 1/3 of the cheese; 1/3 of the sauce
  • Layer 3: 1/3 of the tortilla pieces; 1/3 of the sauce; 1/3 of the cheese
6. Bake 20 minutes or until filling is hot and cheese has melted.

Notes:

1. This is best with fresh cilantro, but if all you have is dried, use 1 tablespoon. If you don't like cilantro, leave it out.

2. Chipotles are dried, smoked jalapeno peppers. You can buy them in cans with adobo sauce. I chop one pepper extremely fine and add 1 tsp. adobo sauce. You can adjust it for your personal taste.

3. I use whole wheat tortillas in this recipe, but you can use regular flour tortillas. I haven't tried using corn tortillas. They might be good, too. If anyone tries corn tortillas, let me know how it worked for you.

4. Diced chiles come in 4-ounce and 7-ounce cans. I buy either 3 small ones or 2 large ones, whichever is cheaper. They're not spicy enough to make a difference, so I just toss in the extra 2 ounces when I use large cans.

5. If you're using raw chicken, poach and cool it before you preheat the oven and make the rest of the recipe.

6. The sauce--there will be lumps from the onions, so don't look for a perfectly smooth sauce. What you're aiming for is to have no dry flour left before you add the dairy because the flour blends more easily into the stock than into milk.

7. The Dairy: This recipe works with any combination of milk/cream. The difference is that it's richer with whipping cream than with nonfat milk. If you can find or make creme fraiche, the 1% milk/creme fraiche blend makes a sauce as rich as using all whipping cream, but with 1/4 the fat. The evaporated skim milk blend is almost as good as the creme fraiche option.

8. Making your own creme fraiche costs about half what it costs to buy it, but requires that you plan ahead. Here's how: Take 1 cup whipping cream and mix in 2 tablespoons of buttermilk. Make sure the buttermilk has active cultures. It should say so on the carton. A glass jar is a good container, but any nonreactive bowl will work. Cover it and let it sit on the kitchen counter until thickened. This usually takes 24-48 hours. It's done when it's a bit thinner than sour cream. It also will be slightly sour, but not as much as sour cream. Then refrigerate. The food safety folks, who are overly conservative, IMO, say it keeps for about three days. I've kept mine for as long as two weeks without any problems. You can tell when it needs to be thrown out because it gets moldy. Or it gets yellow and thick, which means it's soured beyond being edible.

I love to use this stuff in a mixture with 1% milk in cream sauces, custards and quiches, cream soups, etc. It gives that texture you miss when you substitute milk for cream without as much fat. I use a 3:1 ratio when substituting. Then adjust it the next time I make it, if I need to.

9. The other low-fat alternative: You can substitute plain, nonfat or lowfat yogurt for the milk. I don't like to because it curdles so easily. What you have to do is bring the yogurt to room temperature. Then temper it by putting some of the hot sauce into the yogurt and warming it up before you put it in the sauce. Cook it on very low heat until the sauce is thickened. Use a lower oven temperature--no more than 350º F. Check after 30 minutes and then check every ten minutes until it's done. I'm not sure of the exact time because I haven't done it this way for years. The trick is to catch it as close as you can to when the cheese melts and not let it cook too long. I think that's a pain, so I go with the slightly higher fat variations mentioneded above.

10. You can do everything in advance and just pop it in the oven before you serve it. It will take about 45 minutes from the refrigerator and maybe 30 minutes if you let it sit out for an hour before you put it in the oven. Those are approximate times. Every oven is a bit different, so you have to adjust the time to how your oven works.

Mangia!

© 2000 by Linda Sprinkle

Thursday, November 03, 2005

Grit

Psychology Today has an interesting article this month about what makes a person successful. The summary of the article says: " We're primed to think that talent is the key to success. But what counts even more is a fusion of passion and perseverance. In a world of instant gratification, grit may yield the biggest payoff of all." They define grit as: "the determination to accomplish an ambitious, long-term goal despite the inevitable obstacles.-"

The article discusses these qualities considered important to success:

  • Talent
  • Ability
  • Ambition
  • Optimism
  • Focus
  • Persistence
  • Passion
  • Motivation
  • Ability to accept criticism

One thing the article doesn't discuss is what they used as a definition of success. However, their examples imply that success is measured by the person pursuing it. Achieving the goal they set out to reach equals being successful. And it's important that the goal be set by the person pursuing it. Grit is a quality they say comes from being passionate about the goal, and few people have that kind of passion for a externally-imposed goal. I've seen that in action with my kids wanting to do only the homework that interested them.

I've seen the theory proposed in this article work in the stories my writer friends tell me about how they went from unpublished to published writers. They wrote a novel. Took their rejections and kept writing more. They didn't stop writing and didn't stop sending out the work. They believed they would be published if they worked at it long enough and worked hard enough. The one piece of advice every pro writer gives is this: put your butt in the chair and write. And that's really what it comes down to in the end. No matter what else happens, you have to put your butt in the chair and write. Then believe in your work enough to send it out.

The beauty of what the article is saying is that you can build the qualities that bring the most success by practicing them. You can't build talent and ability, but they're the least important. Passion is something you can find by trying things until you discover it. Sometimes you have to do a lot of something to find what area you're passionate about. I love reading a lot of different things and I've written pieces in all of the genres I enjoy reading. But I realized they had one thing in common--all of them had some sort of crime. I had one of those aha! moments. I started focusing on the mystery/suspense/thriller genre. I became more consistent without really trying because I'd found my passion. Once I found that passion, developing persistence seemed easier. The passion became my motivation.

I think discovering your passion fuels optimism and ambition, too. Because when you're doing something you love, you expect to be successful at it. And you want a bigger measure of success than when you don't really care about what you're doing. You push yourself harder and challenge yourself more. You reach higher because it matters to you in a way other things don't. I think ambition is where being able to accept criticism comes in. If you're aiming high, you have to be the best at what you do. That means you need input from others because you don't see your work the way they do. By being able to accept and learn from criticism, you grow and get closer to your goal. But I think that along with accepting criticism, you have to develop a sense of when it's useful and when it isn't, so you don't waste time trying to please everyone or lose track of your own vision. Passion also fuels your focus. If you're passionate about something you focus your attention on it.

So, are you focusing your attention on your passion? If not, then the question is whether it's really your passion. I suppose the answer to that depends on what you're doing instead of pursuing your passion. I know that helping my husband find a job, which eats into my writing time, is both temporary and necessary. Spending some of my writing time that way doesn't mean I'm not passionate about writing. But if I were watching a lot of TV, playing a lot of video games, or doing other entertainment things and whining that I don't have time to write, I'd be questioning whether writing really is my passion.

Wednesday, November 02, 2005

Fun Stuff from Andi

Andi's been finding random fun stuff on the internet. Like:

Take the quiz: "Which Random Irish Gaelic Phrase Are You? "


Is maith liom bananai

Is maith liom bananai - 'I like bananas.' You're laid-back and you enjoy the simple things in life. Some might say you're a little too laid-back. Just what is it you're smoking, anyway?

Actually, nothing. You don't have to smoke weird things to be a laid-back Californian. You just have to have been raised in the 60s and 70s. Which I was. But I never smoked anything in my life.

And: The Monster Name Decoder is kind of a belated Halloween fun thing. Click on the picture, if you want to get a monster of your very own. I used an alternate spelling of my name for the first one because I liked it better than the one with an "i".


Lethal Yokel-Nabbing Demon of Anger


And for "Rose", my handle, I get:


Ravenous Ogre from the Sunless Earth

Tuesday, November 01, 2005

NaNoWriMo

I did NaNo in 2003. I finished with 52K. Yay, me! And I wish that everyone who's typing away, trying to get that 1667 minimum daily word count, reaches the finish line. For information about National Novel Writing Month, go here: NaNoWriMo.org. It's not too late to join the madness and the fun.

But in the past few years, I've seen way too much seriousness attached to NaNo. It was originally almost a prank. It was a silly game. It was a fun challenge some college kids thought up. Now it's become a way for solitary writers to get together with a community of other solitary writers and do a story at the same time. A bad story. A good story. A mediocre story. It doesn't matter what kind of story. Most of the fun is in writing with other people and in the satisfaction of seeing the words pile up. It's much easier to get those words if the story itself isn't the most important thing.

That's why I don't think doing NaNo is the best way for serious authors to write a novel they intend to sell, unless writing fast is your natural writing style. I admit that I get frustrated, though, when people who do write fast naturally promote it as "the best way for everyone to write". I've read lots of interviews with authors, books about how various authors write, author's blogs, etc. and have talked with many writers, both published and unpublished. They have shown me that there are as many ways to write a book as there are people writing one. I have friends who start at the beginning and write straight through to the end. I have other friends who write a chunk, then go back and edit that chunk. I have friends who work back and forth, adding setups to earlier sections of the book or revising as the experience of creating sends them off in unexpected directions.

In my case, fast writing doesn't work. And so, I don't do NaNo every year, as many of my friends do. OTOH, my friend Jean's completed books all began as NaNo novels. The year I hit the finish line with 52K, I learned two things from the experience. One--I can write regularly and get a lot of words. The flip side of that is that when I write fast, I tend to leave out important stuff and then get stuck. When I get stuck, I have to go back and add the stuff I left out before I can move on. I've discovered that I make more steady progress if I do the "adding stuff" as I go along, which precludes the NaNo approach of starting at the beginning and write to the end without looking back.

Two--I was reminded that writing is fun. It's way too easy to get hung up on how writing is hard work. It is. But without the fun to balance out the work, it becomes just one more chore to do, one that becomes an easy target for procrastination. So, I might do NaNo again, when I'm not living with my mother and have more control over how I spend my days. But if I do, I will be writing just a fun thing. No pressure to write something for publication. A busman's holiday. A time for my muse to play.

Good luck to those of you NaNoing this month. And for those who aren't, good luck with completing whatever your plan is. Oh, and in case you're actually paying attention to such things--my progress bar made some progress. I finally added more words to this chapter than I cut.

Monday, October 31, 2005

Busy Day

I almost forgot to post beacuse I wasn't home most of the day. And when I was home, my husband and son were playing Civ IV. I need my own computer. So does Paul. The battle is--when he gets a job again, do we buy a notebook I can take with me to write elsewhere? Or does he indulge his current desire to build another computer? If he does the latter, where will we put it and who gets it? Well, that's a decision for farther down the road, when that job offer actually comes.

I'm really enjoying Ladyesong, as I suspected I would. It's the most challenging music group I've ever sung in. I love challenges. If you're not challenged, you don't get better. I think I'm going to get better.

I'm in FM chat, cheering on those who are starting NaNoWriMo at midnight, whatever their local time zone is. The Central Time Zone folks just started. I'm on the west coast, so my contingent won't be starting for another 2 hours. Well, 1 hour and 48 minutes, to be exact. But I'm not doing NaNo this year. I successfully completed 52K in 2003. I've been planning to post about NaNo, but haven't had the time to write the post. So, tomorrow.

And Happy Halloween!! No spooks, goblins, princesses, or action figures in my neighborhood. We're going to end up eating the candy ourselves. Tough job, but someone's gotta do it.

See you then.

Friday, October 28, 2005

Civ IV

Chris bought Civ IV. Until he can afford to upgrade, he's playing it on my computer. This version looks good. I just may have to try it and see if they've come up with one I think is fun. Up 'til now, with Civ I-III, it's not my type of game, even though I've enjoyed other simulation games. Short post today. I must give up my computer to the other Civ fanatic. It's about the only game Paul plays.

Have a great weekend. See you on Monday!

Wednesday, October 26, 2005

Recently Published Books

Yesterday two books came out that you should check out. One, Threads of Malice by Tamara Siler Jones, I recommended recently. It's available now. Go, buy it.

The other I haven't read yet. It's on my "to buy" list. I haven't seen it in the local stores yet, though, and I don't have a big enough order to get free shipping, so I'm not buying it online.

It's an anthology. My friend, C.E. Murphy, wrote Banshee Cries one of three novellas for the book, titled Winter Moon. The other two novellas are Moontide by Mercedes Lackey and The Heart of the Moon by Tanith Lee. Banshee Cries features Catie's main character from Urban Shaman, Jo Walker. That's enough of a recommendation for me, because I really like Jo and enjoyed Urban Shaman. I'm looking forward to the sequel.

Enjoy!!

Tuesday, October 25, 2005

It's Official and Something Fun

Ladyesong

Last night was my final audition night for Ladyesong. I'm officially in and I love it. My singing is going to get much better, too, because Mel is always giving us vocal technique tips and reminders. The hardest thing for me is singing in German because I have so little experience with the language. I'm getting it into my ear and some practice should cement it into my brain.

Something Fun


I haven't posted a silly thing for a while. Since Ladyesong is something I do for fun, it seems appropriate to do another fun thing today, too.

A while back, my friend, Bob, posted a fun thing about Funky Hair Color on his live journal. Here's how mine turned out:

Your Hair Should Be Purple

Intense, thoughtful, and unconventional.
You're always philosophizing and inspiring others with your insights.


I laughed when I saw this one because purple is my absolute favorite color. And I do philosophize a lot. I don't know about "inspiring others with my insights". They seem to drive a lot of people nuts, rather than inspiring them. They go,"Do you have to analyze EVERYTHING?" Well, yeah. Otherwise, how will I write about it?

Monday, October 24, 2005

Double Shot

Double Shot by Diane Mott Davidson is one of the books on my list to write a recommendation of. The back blurb says:

Caterer supreme Goldy Schulz has more on her plate than she can handle. Her ultra-charming, ultra-wealthy, and seriously psychopathic ex-husband, Dr. John Richard Korman (aka "the Jerk"), is free now that the governor of Colorado has commuted his prison sentence. And someone--the Jerk, perhaps--has taken great pains to sabotage Goldy's latest culinary endeavor, a post-funeral reception for a friend at a local lodge.

But even more than the anonymous threats, rumors, and violence that have lately been directed Goldy's way, it's her discovery of a fresh corpse that really spoils the stew--a murder that could tear her family to pieces, a murder that virtually everyone believes Goldy committed.

True, she's been efficiently framed, but at least she's still breathing, which may not be the case for long, if she doesn't track down a killer who's cooked up a very nasty repast for Goldy and the people she loves.

This is the 13th in the series starring Goldy the caterer. I've been an avid reader since the first book, Catering to Nobody. One of the most difficult things for a series writer to do is to keep it fresh. Too many writers make the mistake of trying to "catch the reader up" with everything in the series, a mistake Ms. Davidson, thankfully, doesn't make. Coming back to each book is like revisiting old friends and catching up on what's happening in their lives. We get the new stuff, not a rehash of the stuff we learned in our last visit. Add a good mystery to the mix of interesting characters, with interesting lives and you have me hooked.

As an additional bonus, recipes from the catering jobs that get wrecked by murder are included. I'm glad they decided to put the recipes in a block at the end, rather than scattering them through the book, as they have in the past. Then the recipes are easier to try out and they don't disrupt my immersion in the story.

You don't have to read the whole series to enjoy this book. I like it that she writes that way. But I recommend that you do read the whole series because it's delightful.

Friday, October 21, 2005

Distracted This Week

Update
I just noticed I didn't post yesterday. I've been distracted this week by things happening around here. It looks like the job's a no go. That's the way it happens, sometimes.

Please keep the people in the way of Hurricane Wilma in your thoughts and prayers. I know a bunch of folks who live in Florida or who have friends or family there.

A "homework" assignment
Way back in September, Carter Nipper, posted a homework assignment which interested me, but I haven't had time to write before today.

Here's his assignment:
  • Do you post your first draft or edit?
  • Why?
  • How much time do you spend thinking about and preparing a post before it goes online?
  • Anything else you'd like to add?
  1. I always edit.
  2. I don't think in an orderly manner. If I posted my unedited first draft, you'd all be wondering what in the heck I'm talking about because I write in a mixed-up order. Now, I'm not saying I'm always clear when I'm done editing, but at least you get a reasonable shot at understanding me. I'm also a lousy typist. It's a paradox. I'm a great speller, but I hit the wrong keys. If I didn't fix it, you'd think a first-grader could spell better than I do. And, I'm a writer. Saying what I mean as clearly as I know how to say it and writing clean are important to me. I don't lower my standards because it's "just a blog post".
  3. It depends on the post. I don't think a lot about the fun quizzes and silly stuff. They're fillers for days when I'm extra busy or am working on an essay to post another day. I spend a little more time on the recipes because they require formatting. And I hope to teach a little about cooking to people who maybe haven't cooked much from scratch, so I spend time making the instructions clear and adding helpful notes. I spend a lot of time on essays and recommendations and such. It takes me a while to hone in on what I want to say, same as it does in my fiction. I change the order of things and cut the rambles that are really interesting, but not pertinent to that essay. Some of them become topics for other essays.
  4. I'm really enjoying blogging. I was afraid one of two things would happen if I started a blog. One--I'd blog so much I'd neglect my novel. Or, two, I'd run out of things to blog about. Neither has happened so far. I limit myself to one post a day, which keeps number one under control. I pay attention to things going on around me, which gives me things to write about, so number two hasn't been an issue, either. I plan to keep doing this until it's not fun anymore. I hope whoever's reading it enjoys it, but that's a bonus. I like that people are reading my blog, but getting a bazillion readers isn't my reason for writing it, nor is it a particular goal of mine. I want that audience for my books. (grin)

Wednesday, October 19, 2005

Soup

Paul got a phone call tonight for an interview tomorrow. Fingers crossed, prayers said. Please send good vibes. Details will come if he gets the job.

The season's changing. I'm rethinking what we'll be having for dinner as we approach colder days and darker evenings. The grill will have to be put away for the winter soon. Soup comes to mind as something I like to make. So, here's my Mix-and-Match soup recipe.

Mix-and Match Soup

Makes about 5 quarts.

Ingredients:

1 large can low-salt, no-fat chicken broth
or
3 small cans beef broth or vegetable broth
or
6 cups homemade stock

4 oz. orzo pasta, cooked
or
1 cup rice, cooked
or
2 cups potatoes, diced into about a half-inch dice

1 can cooked beans
or
2 cups cooked dried beans

1 package frozen vegetables
or
3-4 cups fresh vegetables

(optional) 1-2 cups chopped cooked chicken, beef, pork, ham

Salt and pepper, to taste

Any spices, herbs, seasonings that appeal to you

Instructions:

Put everything in the pot except the cooked pasta or rice and any fresh herbs you might be using. Bring to a boil. Reduce the heat and simmer until the vegetables are cooked. Add the pasta or rice and fresh herbs just before serving.

Notes:

1. This is the simplest soup you'll ever make. Just combine the ingredients in any way that pleases you.

2. I often use themes. If I've got Italian green beans, I'll throw in a can of diced tomatoes. For seasoning, I'll use basil, oregano, nutmeg and maybe marjoram. If I've got a southwestern veggie blend, I'll put in chili powder, oregano, cumin and cilantro. Look at other recipes you like and see if you can adapt the seasoning to your taste.

3. You can substitute any small pasta for the orzo. Alphabet pasta is a hit with kids. And, if you have kids, you can leave out things they don't like.

4. If you don't want 5 quarts of soup hanging around, make less. The amount of each ingredient is not crucial to this recipe. That's why it's a good one to use to experiment with.

5. If you have an immersion blender, you can use it to make the soup thicker by blending it slightly. The beans or potatoes will thicken it a bit.

Mangia!

Tuesday, October 18, 2005

How the Writing's Going

Getting Time to Write

Today Paul had a mandatory meeting at the unemployment office. I had him drop me, a printout of chapter 2, and my journal at one of the local coffee shops. I got words. A little over 4 pages worth. I'll be cutting a whole section of the chapter and replacing it with these much better words. Yay, me!!

So, it looks like I have another time when I can get writing done--anytime I can get away from my mom's house and work elsewhere. It would be easier if I had a notebook computer so I can have my files handy. Paul said when he finds work, I can buy one, if we're not out of money, or save for one if we're starting from scratch. Yay, Paul! He has another meeting on Friday afternoon and I'm planning another writing session then. I hope to be able to get out at least one more time between now and then.

My attempt to rediscover my night owl tendencies is going slow. It takes time to change your internal clock, so I'm being patient with myself about that. It's especially hard because I've been too busy to take a nap, so I start to fall asleep by ten pm. Maybe I'll try staying awake ten minutes longer a night, adding ten minutes every week or so. It seems like it would be easier to get used to a change like that gradually. But Daylight Savings Time is coming to an end. I can use that time change to my advantage by going to bed the same time I do now, but the clock will say eleven and I'll have an extra hour to write.

Sharing My Progress

Just in case anyone is paying attention to the progress of my WIP, I wanted to explain about my progress bar. I put the progress bar on the blog because it stares at me. It makes me think about the story and what words I want recorded on it. And it nudges me to work on the story, not the blog. But I don't change it very often. There are two reasons for that.

One reason is that I do some editing and revising as I go. Sometimes that results in a lower word count than when I started. I just leave it the same when that happens because I know I'll be making up the difference as I get more of the draft written. I tend to write lean and add.

The other reason is that I do most of my draft writing by hand. Until I type it into the computer and look at the count in Word, I have no idea how many words to add. I handwrite about 250 words per page, if the draft is clean. But usually my drafts are messy. Lots of crossed out words. Circles with numbers in them to indicate that the passage with that number goes in that spot, not in the spot where I originally wrote it. Arrows indicating I should reverse two paragraphs. That mess alters the word count. I learned that I have to type in my handwritten draft before I write the next section. That's when I check the word count and update the progress bar if it's bigger.

And How It's Going

At the moment, chapter one is as good as it's going to get until the whole book's done. Chapter two is much closer to being done. I'm going to have to revise part of the end of the chapter because changes have repercussions. One of the changes I made makes it impossible for something I wrote earlier to happen the way I wrote it. It's not a major change, though. Chapter three is barely started. I may need a session with Inspiration before I can finish it, just to make sure I don't leave out important details.

And that's how the writing's going today.

Monday, October 17, 2005

Tagged--Twice

Tag # One:

Tammy and Jean both tagged me for this one a while back and I haven't gotten it done due to shamelessly promoting Tammy and Sheila's new books.

Here's the meme:
1. Delve into your blog archive.

2. Find your 23rd post (or closest to).

3. Find the fifth sentence (or closest to).

4. Post the text of the sentence in your blog along with these instructions. Ponder it for meaning, subtext or hidden agendas…

5. Tag five people to do the same.

I've had this blog long enough to have done 23 posts. So, here's my 23rd post, fifth sentence:
And that's all I'm saying about the story.
This sentence was from my recommendation of Afterburn by S. L. Viehl. The book is a stand-alone novel in her Star Doc universe and I still recommend it.

The sentence itself refers to my absolute hatred of spoilers. I like to come to a story completely fresh, knowing nothing about it. You see, when people tell me what happens, or read me bits they liked, or talk about characters, my somewhat photographic memory won't let go of it. Then I can't immerse myself as deeply in the story as I usually do because part of my brain is "waiting" for the stuff I've been told about a story. I think back cover blurbs are a necessary evil because I need at least a modicum of knowledge or I won't know if I'm interested enough to give a story a shot. I prefer to get a TV Guide-style one-liner from a friend when I'm deciding about movies because the trailers always give away way too much. This sentence refers to my preference to try to avoid doing that to anyone else and to why my entertainment recommendations don't include a lot of details about the story.

Five people to tag:

This meme went around the circle of blogs I read and almost everyone I thought of has been tagged for it already. So, instead of naming specific people, I'll toss it out to anyone who reads my blog, but hasn't been tagged for this meme yet. It's an interesting one. Feel free to let me know in the comments if you take up the challenge, with a link to the entry. I'd love to read them.

Tag #2

Andi, on her personal blog, tagged me for Holly's meme. Here's how it goes:
THE SEARCH FOR JOY

Search your blog for the word “joy” used in the context of “happiness.” If you cannot find the word in your weblog, you may use any of the select list of synonyms below.

joy — amusement, bliss, cheer, comfort, delectation, delight, ecstasy, elation, exaltation, exultation, exulting, felicity, gaiety, gladness, glee, good humor, gratification, happiness, hilarity, humor, jubilance, liveliness, merriment, mirth, pleasure, rapture, regalement, rejoicing, revelry, satisfaction, wonder

If you’ve found the word and it was not used facetiously or sarcastically, good for you. All you need to do is link to your earlier entry, and write a few words about that joyous moment. If, however, you have no joy (whole words only) in your weblog, you must dig deep in your soul and find something wonderful in your life right now. One little thing that fills you with warmth, that bubbles you over with quiet happiness, or tickles you with its good-hearted hilarity, or makes you glad you just took a breath, and are getting ready to take another. It doesn’t have to be anything big. A smile someone gave you; your cat on your shoulder; the way the light angles through your window and casts rainbows on your floor. All it has to be is something genuine, something real, something that matters to you.

Because we all need joy in our lives, and need to take the time — from time to time — to recognize it. And sometimes, we need to pass it on.

Even if we’re a big pain in the ass when we do.

When you’ve dealt with your own joy, pass the quest on to five other bloggers.
I'm an optimistic person, for the most part, and was surprised to find that I didn't have very many posts with those words. "Joy" showed up once, in my recommendation of Serenity, talking about the range of emotions in the film. I glanced through my blog. I came to the conclusion that Holly and I use different words. I use "cool" and "jazzed" and plain old "happy". I also write positive things without ever using a word naming the emotion.

My first recipe was a chicken recipe you could take on a picnic. I said, "Mangia!", which is the Italian word for "eat". Implicit in it is happiness--good food, fun people, a good time. A lot of my posts are silly fun, which always boost my mood. I share them to give other people a little mood boost, too. Or I talk about enjoyable things in my life like playing chess with my son, seeing films or reading books I like--everyday good things. But I don't use Holly's list of words to talk about them, so they didn't pop up in my search.

I chose this post--maybe because I'm still so jazzed about it or maybe because it's Monday and I have rehearsal tonight. My most joyous blog entry. You'll understand why when you read it. Ladyesong.

Tagging:

Catie
June
Wen
Krista
Kellie--who may not see this for a while, if at all. She's busy with Drew, who was born on October 4, 2005. Congratulations, again, Kellie and Mark!

I'm not sure all of these folks read my blog, but I know they haven't been tagged by someone else yet. And I know people who know them read my blog. Maybe they'll pass the word along. I think spreading joy is a worthy endeavor, in this time when all too many people seem to do nothing but whine and complain.

Tuesday, October 11, 2005

Private Demon--Part 2



From the back cover:

Night after night, Thierry slips into Jema's dreams, fulfilling her deepest, darkest desires. In the arms of her private demon lover, Jema finds that her fantasy is becoming more important to her than anything in reality. But Thierry's sensual visits have placed her in the crossfire between two ancient enemies: a religious order known as the Brethren and a cadre of immortals known as the Darkyn....


Private Demon by Lynn Viehl is the sequel to If Angels Burn, which I reviewed back at the end of August. Although you don't have to read If Angels Burn to follow the story in Private Demon, I recommend that you do so. The stories do connect and the experience will be richer if you read both.

In a recommendation, it's common to discuss the characters, the plot, the setting, the theme, all the different parts of a novel. But Sheila's books are so complex and the parts so entwined with each other that I find it difficult to pull out pieces and dissect them. She's created a dark, but compelling world that I want to keep visiting. She's created an ongoing character ensemble that I want to learn more about. And she makes you think. Yes, it's romance, but it's more than just two people getting an HEA ending. I don't think Sheila knows how to write "fluff". In the interest of not revealing too much about the story, since I absolutely hate spoilers, I'll let you discover the richness of Sheila's work by reading her books for yourself.

I know that after the next book, Dark Need, comes out, I'm going to revisit all of the Darkyn books and read them again, in order. That's not something I do often because my TBR shelves are so full that I don't have as much time to reread books as I have books I want to reread. But these, I will. And I can anticipate repeating myself after Dark Need comes out next June.

Oh--I'm leaving this up top the rest of the week. See you with a new post on Monday.

Monday, October 10, 2005

Ladyesong

Something cool happened to me yesterday. Something I never thought could happen, not in a bazillion years.

I've been singing my whole life. I've always loved to sing. I tried out for choir in the 4th grade. I didn't get in until the 6th grade, when the teacher let everyone in who wanted to sing. I sang in the kids' choir when a friend invited me to her church. I sang in every choir in ever church I ever attended. I sang in the choir in junior high school. I sang in high school for a year. I sang in choir in college. I met my husband in a community choir I'd joined. All of the choirs I've sung in have been, "you show up, you're in." I've never been accepted in any choir that required a serious audition or required you to be able to sight sing or have a super trained voice.

I've taken voice classes and some private lessons. But I've never quite gotten over the critique and grade I had in a class in college where the teacher essentially said I was tone deaf and should stop singing. I cried. I ignored his advice. I got different teachers and listened carefully to the tips my choir directors gave us. I didn't want to be an opera singer. I just wanted to have a nice, warm tone and know that the notes I sang were the right ones. It would be nice to feel comfortable doing a solo, once in a while, too. Eventually, I learned that the teacher who said I was tone deaf was wrong. There were some technique errors I was making. Once someone who knew more than he did pointed out the problems and I practiced singing correctly, I started singing on key.

Over the years I got used to Paul, with his somewhat rare high tenor voice, getting invited to sing all sorts of places. He dragged me along whenever he could by simply telling them, "My wife sings, too." They often got the hint and realized they get me, if they want him. I also got used to people telling Paul what a wonderful voice he had, ignoring me completely. He does have a wonderful voice. Mine's a solid, "blends in with the crowd" choir voice. And I'd pretty much resigned myself to singing in community and church choirs. I figured I'd never get the chance to do a lot of the really good, hard choral repertoire.

A couple of weeks ago Paul and I went to a concert Ladyesong held in our church. I was impressed and I loved their songs. I wanted to be up there singing. But these women are really good. I didn't think I was anywhere near their league. Yesterday, their conductor invited me, the lady who'd once been told to stop singing, to sing in the group. If you're local to the Bay Area, check out their website for the performance schedule. I'm so jazzed. My first rehearsal is tonight.

The moral of the story--practice and persistence does pay off. You might need a modicum of talent. You might not reach the pinnacle of whatever you want to do. You might have to wait 30 years for the payoff. But if you love doing something, don't give up.

That goes for all you writers who worry you'll never get published, too. Remember--Laura Ingalls Wilder was 65 when the first Little House book was published. I read that Tony Hillerman was in his 70s. Helen Hoover Santmeyer was 96 when . . .And the Ladies of the Club was published. If they can do it, so can you, or I, if we don't get too impatient and give up too soon.

Friday, October 07, 2005

Last of the "You Know You're From . . ." Memes

I'm still reading Private Demon, so no recommendation on that yet. I spent way too much time doing errands, the bane of my existence. And tomorrow's grocery shopping day. (sigh) Anyway, here's the Silicon Valley meme, the fourth in my series of California memes that apply to where I've lived.

Silicon Valley--If you go back and look at the other three memes, you'll see that as the area covered by the meme got closer to the exact place where I live, the number of bolded entries increased. I have almost all of these bolded because in some way or other, they do apply or impact my life.





You Know You're From the Silicon Valley When...


Your combined household income is $140,000 and you can't afford shoes for the kids. (I wish my income were this, but the idea fits my life.)

You think anything slower than DSL is barbaric, but can't get it in your neighborhood. (This is true. I'd much rather have DSL than cable, but my choices are cable or dialup, and NO ONE uses dialup in Silicon Valley.)

You know what DSL stands for

You and your spouse almost come to blows deciding to hit Peet's or Starbucks
(Actually, we do both, but I prefer Peet's. I don't think he cares as much.)
You think that American food includes sushi, naan, pho, pesto and pad thai

You met your neighbors once

When asked about your commute you answer in time, not distance (Or did when we were actually working.)

Even though you work 80 hours per week on a computer, for relaxation you read your email and peruse eBay (I suspect this was written before the advent of blogs. Most people I know read blogs, not peruse eBay.)

You have worked at the same job for a year and people call you an 'old-timer'


The T-shirts you value most were for products that never made it to market

You can name four different programming languages and you are not a programmer


You remember the names of the three closest cheap sushi joints, the location of all the Fry's in the area and which companies your friends work for that are going public in the next year, but don't know the name of the mayor

Standing in line at Starbucks you wonder why the employees don't call a head hunter


You work 6 miles from your home and spend two hours a day commuting and $40 a week on gas
(Or did when we were working. The gas bill would be higher now, of course.)

Winter is when your lawn grows too fast and summer is when it dies

The median price of a house is $500,000...for 1200 sq. ft. with no yard because it's a town house (This is behind the times, too. The median price for a house has now passed $700,000. I have no idea who these people are that can afford that kind of money for a house. It certainly isn't me. lol)

You live on some of the richest farm land in the world but most of what you eat comes from South America on a boat (Or the Central Valley or maybe over in Santa Cruz/Watsonville, where they actually still growe stuff other than Silicon Chips.)

Your best friend lives across town but you hardly ever see each other because after your commute you're too pooped to spend another hour driving to their home


You have a master's degree in engineering but half the people in your department either didn't go to college or have history degrees, except if you have a master's from Stanford, in which case everyone in your department has a master's degree from Stanford
(No degrees, but I so get this joke.)

You cringe when you see people in suits at your office, wondering if someone in management will make you stop wearing bunny slippers (Actually, the bosses only wear suits if they're meeting with venture capitalists to get more money before the IPO.)

You plan your vacation so that you don't have to drive back from the airport in commute hours

You don't go to sporting events unless you are given tickets by your employer

You could sell your home and live like a king in 99% of the rest of the world, but don't because it would be difficult to move back.
(If I had a home, this would be true.)

You have at least three computers at home. (We would, if we could afford another one. The real joke is that computer folks here have more spare parts than the car nuts. Most people I know could build a computer out of their spare parts, if the parts were actually compatible with each other and all of them worked.)

You own at least one domain on the Internet, probably several. (Not yet, but wait until we have real income again.)

You think it's normal to see chip-design software or relational databases advertised on freeway billboards.

You know that California isn't just one big beach.


You know that not everyone in California surfs.


You know there's lots of skiing in California.

You know your rotating outage block number at home and at work, and listen for them whenever there are rolling blackouts. (I did when Enron and their ilk were ripping off Californians and we had rolling blackouts.)

If someone refers to "SunnytogaDeAnzavale Road", you laugh and know what they're talking about.
(If they call it "Highway 9", you know they were around in the 60s.)
You take your out-of-town friends to see the techie gadgets at Fry's. But you don't let them buy anything.

You know how to recognize re-sealed returned electronics at Fry's.
(Doesn't everyone?)
You don't ask the staff any questions at Fry's. You know they hire idiots and pass the savings on to you.

You watch dot-com boomers go back to the states they came from, and the traffic gets better by the month. But you are home so you're not moving.

You own a Sport Utility Vehicle and have never taken it off-road. You wouldn't know what to do if you tried. Same with all your friends.

You don't know how to drive in snow. You're a road hazard when you visit the mountains.

You think the horn and middle finger are essential driving tools.

You think bicycles don't belong on the road.

You think any car ahead of you doesn't belong on the road.

Your out-of-state friends are impressed at how much money you make... until you tell them how much you pay for housing.

You know that a "fixer-upper" home could cost a half-million dollars.

You do a "California stop" at stop signs. And you think it's only Californians who call them that.

You aren't bothered much by earthquakes because you're ready for them. But the thought of tornadoes and hurricanes terrifies you.

You clearly remember where you were when the Loma Prieta quake hit.


You know several funny stories about swimming pools in the quake.

You can't recognize a thunderstorm without seeing lightning first.

You cringe when a Southern Californian refers to highways like "the 101". It's just "101". No "the".

You call low clouds "fog" even if they're hundreds of feet off the ground.

At least once you have gone to San Francisco for the day wearing shorts and a t-shirt because it was a warm clear day in San Jose. And you froze your little *@#!% off in the fog, drizzle and wind. (Actually, I usually bring the SJ warmth with me when I go to the City, as the natives call it. It's a talent of mine, but I expect that someday, it won't work.)

You say you're from Silicon Valley because no one knows where San Jose is.

You actually get these jokes and pass them on to other friends from Silicon Valley.

Thursday, October 06, 2005

Private Demon


Private Demon is out. Lynn (PBW) is one of my favorite writers, so I want to recommend it based on reading half of it and not wanting to have to put it down. More later.