Tuesday, February 28, 2006

Not much going on these days

So, I'm not blogging much and I realized that part of the reason is that nothing much is happening in my life. It's the midwinter blahs. Christmas concerts are over. Lent starts tomorrow and Lent is not the most cheery season of the church calendar. Luckily, my church doesn't ask you to "give something up for Lent". I have a buddy who's Russian Orthodox and they go vegan for six weeks. I'd have to take iron supplements if I did that.

Here's something that's really fun:
Hidden passageways for your home. I found the link on on Neil Gaiman's blog.

I'm a mystery writer. If I had the funds to build the house of my dreams, I can guarantee you I'd put in at least one secret room or passageway. If my kids were planning on having kids, I'd put a fireman's pole and/or a slide, too, from the loft to the family room below. I have the house designed from top to bottom, except for the secret room/passage part. It's based on a house we used to live in that I really loved.

So, now you all know one of the secret wishes not very many people knew about me before. But, since my muse is 4 years old, it makes sense to have play areas hidden in my house. And what writer doesn't want a place she can sneak off to and be sure no one can interrupt her?

Tuesday, February 21, 2006

Tuesday, February 21

My life is in a more quiet place right now. There's not as much going on for a week or so. Then Lent starts and we have church on Wednesday nights. But no concerts or special events until after Easter. Which gives me time to breathe, focus, and learn the music for the concert at the end of April. It's nice because I learn so much easier if I'm not feeling too pressured and nervous.

Some friends gave us tickets to see the West Bay Opera's Manon Lescaut, the Puccini version, on Sunday. It was really well done. I enjoyed myself thoroughly. I don't get to go to the opera very often. Afterward, they had the main cast out to answer questions from the audience. It was interesting. Then we went to dinner at a pasta place we'd never been to before. It was really good. And the waiter was amazing. He always was there with exactly what we needed without being intrusive. You don't get that much anymore. We were generous with the tip, as much as we could be on our budget.

So, we're planning to treat ourselves to the AMT's Gypsy. We both really like that show. I've never seen it live, just the films. Paul was in it once. He played the clueless Mr. Goldstone. He said it was fun.

So, a lot of my friends have been putting interesting quizzes on their blogs. I never seem to be able to catch up. I know they're silly, but sill's fun and I like them.

Which Serenity Character are you?

This one comes to me via Krista's blog.

Your results:

You are Zoe Washburne (Second-in-command)

Zoe Washburne (Second-in-command)
85%
Dr. Simon Tam (Ship Medic)
70%
Kaylee Frye (Ship Mechanic)
65%
Wash (Ship Pilot)
65%
Malcolm Reynolds (Captain)
50%
Derrial Book (Shepherd)
50%
River (Stowaway)
45%
Inara Serra (Companion)
25%
Alliance
25%
Jayne Cobb (Mercenary)
20%
A Reaver (Cannibal)
5%
Dependable and trustworthy.
You love your significant other and
you are a tough cookie when in a conflict.


Click here to take the "Which Serenity character are you?" quiz...

Thursday, February 16, 2006

Bad Blogger

I've been a bad blogger this week. I've been in a funk lately and didn't want to subject you all to that. I hate when people whine on their blogs--unless they make it funny. I'm not funny. So I try not to whine on the blog.

We had a superb concert on Sunday. I haven't heard any numbers, but I hope InnVision, a local charity that helps the homeless find jobs and places to live, made a bundle. I sing in two choirs, Prince of Peace Lutheran Sanctuary Choir and Ladyesong. Both did a superb job. And the mass choir doing Down By the Riverside absolutely rocked the place. I'll try to post about it ahead of time next year, so any locals who might want to come and support this wonderful organization can do so.

I've been reading a ton of Valentine's Day posts on the web this week. It seems everyone has something to say. My opinion is that if you're happy with how you and your SO celebrated it, then it was romantic. I think romance, like beauty, is in the eye of the beholder. In my case, if I were to be so foolish as to expect traditional romance from my hubby, I'd be in for a lifetime of disappointment. That's just not on his radar. But he manages to come up with untraditional romantic things that surprise me and delight me. I'd have to be a very dumb woman to wish to trade one for the other. I'm many things, but dumb isn't one of them. lol We went to a favorite restaurant for dinner. Then we went for a walk. The rest is none of your business. But it was wonderful.

Not much going on with the Uber Challenge at the moment. A friend suggested that I deliberately take a break. I'm journaling about that idea and trying it on to see if it feels like I'm using the funk as an excuse to be lazy or if I should go easier on myself, take a deliberate break, and deal with the funk in a different way than I have been. Not sure what that would be, but I do need to consider it.

Tuesday, February 07, 2006

Tools--Gravy, Whisks, and Writing

I started this post on my birthday, which is why Thanksgiving was on my mind when I wrote it. But I'm just now getting around to finishing it up and posting it.

Tools

Paul is always complaining about tools. He gets annoyed if he doesn't have exactly the right tool for the job. So, it's and Thanksgiving I'm making gravy. Lump city. I never have lumps in my gravy. I used a slotted spoon to take out the flour lumps and made a cornstarch slurry. As I fixed the gravy, I got to wondering why the lumps? I remembered that had lumps in my gravy twice. Both times I was in someone else's kitchen and they didn't have a whisk. I was stuck using a wooden spoon. I realized the reason you don't get lumps when you use a whisk is that the wires break up the flour/fat roux so it blends into the gravy. Having the right tool can mean the difference between success and failure.

What's that got to do with writing? Well, writers need proper tools, too. I don't mean a fancy computer and printer. They make it easier, but writers have been writing with pen and paper for centuries. The physical tools are the easiest for a writer to acquire and use. What I got to thinking about was the tools that make the story happen. I think writing would be a lot more difficult if I had to struggle with the basics of written communication--grammar, punctuation, and spelling. Or with sentence and paragraph structure. Or vocabulary. Those are like my pots, pans, knives, and, yes, whisks.

Just as there are cooks who specialize in general cooking vs. pastry-making, there are writers who specialize in fiction or nonfiction. They have other sets of tools, specific to their specialty. That's where the craft of the writer comes into play. I write mainly fiction, so the tools I'd be using the most are things like plotting, developing characters, theme, description and story structure.

I've been cooking for over 40 years. A lot of what I do in the kitchen feels like instinct. But I remember when I didn't have that instinct. It was acquiring the best tools, then practicing with them that honed my cooking instincts. I had to learn things like which tool is the best for which job, and I'm still learning. After all, I now know that whisks make the difference in the gravy.

The same is true of writing. I started ahead of the game by having an English teacher in the eighth grade who pounded those basic communication tools into my brain. I also had a head start gained from being an early, and constant, reader. Reading fiction helped me to see the difference between written down stories and stories told verbally or on film. But it seems like the more I talk with other writers, the more tools I learn there are to use. Acquiring and practicing with new tools is improving my writing. It's one reason the draft of my current novel is going so slowly. I'm learning how to use new tools that will get the story that's in my head onto the page, a bit closer to how I imagined it.

Just as a cook never stops learning new tricks to improve process and the result, writers never stop learning, either. There are always new things to discover. The rules of grammar have changed somewhat since that eighth grade teacher pounded them into my head. There are always more advanced techniques for getting all those wonderful layers from my head onto the page. Every story is different, so I can't just "do what I did last time". That's one of the challenging things about writing, figuring out which tools you need for this story, and acquiring the ones you may not have used before.

Uber Challenge

I haven't given up on this. I've been working through the rest of the reading from the mystery class. I'm doing the assignments that pose a challenge or are new for me, but I'm not bothering to write down answers to questions that basically parrot what was in the reading. My friend, June, is doing an invitation only class on critiquing. It's a cool class because it's not just about critiquing other people's manuscripts. She extends the information beyond that to how to apply the principles to your own work. I have to finish up the reading and the assignment for this week. We have a concert this weekend, so I have extra rehearsals and have to spend extra time working on the rough spots in the music. That's mostly what I need to do today. I'm realizing that I need to work on general discipline, as well as writing discipline. So, that's becoming my true goal. Not letting my living situation and the depression I'm always fighting off keep me from getting things done.

Saturday, February 04, 2006

Best Blonde Joke Ever

Got this from Bob (Beard5). The best blonde joke ever. Be sure to read all the way to the end.

Thursday, February 02, 2006

Skinny Fried Chicken & Gravy

Finally managing to post this recipe. Sorry it took so long to get to it.

Ingredients:

Chicken:
2 whole chickens, cut up and skinned
1 tablespoon olive oil
Enough flour to coat the chicken pieces
2 teaspoons paprika
1/2 teaspoon dried sage
1 teaspoon onion powder
1 teaspoon garlic powder
1 teaspoon sea salt
1/8 teaspoon black pepper
1/8 teaspoon cayenne pepper
1/2 cup chicken stock

Gravy:
1 tablespoon cornstarch
2 tablespoons dry sherry
1 cup chicken stock
1/4 teaspoon salt
1/8 teaspoon black pepper
1 teaspoon fresh sage leaves

For Chicken:
1. Mix flour and spices in a plastic bag. Shake 1 piece of chicken at a time in the bag. Place each piece on wax paper or a wire rack while you finish the rest. Do not stack the floured chicken pieces on top of each other.

2. Heat the olive oil to medium-high in a nonstick skillet. Put chicken in a single layer in pan. Brown thoroughly (about 10 - 15 minutes per side).

3. Add the 1/2 cup chicken stock. Cover the pan and turn the heat down to medium.

4. Cook for 15 minutes, turn chicken over, and cook an additional 15 minutes, until cooked through.

5. Take chicken out of the pan and pour the drippings into a gravy separator. Put the chicken back in the pan and turn the heat back up to medium-high. Cook about 2 - 3 minutes per side, until chicken is crispy and a reddish-brown color. Put chicken on a rack that's been placed on a cookie sheet and keep warm in the oven while you cook the gravy.

For gravy:
1. Mix the cornstarch and sherry to make a slurry. Pour the chicken drippings back into the pan, without the fat, and add the remaining 1 cup of stock. Bring to a boil. Add slurry. Boil about 1 minute, until thickened. Add salt, pepper, and sage, to taste.

Notes:
1. All spices, herbs, salt, and peppers are to taste. My measurements are approximate. You can substitute any herb blend you like or make up your own. You can just use salt and pepper. If you can find hot paprika, you can substitute it for the regular paprika, but be sure to omit the cayenne pepper.

2. If you're using a nonstick electric skillet, brown the chicken at about 320º F. Turn it down to about 220º F when you cover it. And turn it up to 350º F to crisp it up at the end. Regardless of whether you use an electric skillet or nonstick skillet on the stove, you'll have to experiment with the temperatures to see which ones on your equipment give you the results you want. Temperature calibration on equipment for home cooks is a rant I'll spare you all.

Mangia!