Wednesday, December 28, 2011

Fiscal responsibility

So, as we approach the financial straitjacket of my unemployment running out, and we put on our game faces to buckle down, I tell my husband (with some righteous martyrdom in my tone), that instead of buying a new book, (or four), I will instead pay off my library card fine, and go to the library from now on.

He gives me a skeptical look.  "You mean paying off your library card fines so you can rack up a new set of late fees instead of just buying the books you want?"

Normally I would have a stinging rebuttal that would still be sizzling the hair off his ears two hours later, but unfortunately, he does have a point. 

I'm a weak person when it comes to fidelity in my library relationships.  It's not that I don't love the library.  I do.   But it's the same pattern, every time.  The relationship will be all shiny and new, and it's all great.  They'll give me all the books I can handle, and I'll faithfully return them on time.  The first few times.  Then maybe I'll lose one of the books, or it migrates under the bed.  And then I start with the excuses.  "Oh no, I know where it is, I just forgot to grab it on the way out."  But the fine keeps ticking over, until the library won't accept my lame mutterings, and won't let me have any more books.  And when that line's been drawn by the righteously indignant library, I skulk off, muttering something about how it'll miss me when I'm gone, because I'm a REAL reader, and I LOVE books, and libraries NEED people like me.

Months go by.  Sometimes years.  And I come crawling back, with quiet dignity. I pay off the max fine.  And we start the cycle over again.  In some ways, it's not cheaper than buying the books I like enough to read more than once.

But it IS cheaper than buying books I'd like to read just to see if I like an author or not.  So I'm crawling back to the library tomorrow, because I'm wanting to get current with the current mystery crop, and it's a professional expense dammit.

Monday, October 10, 2011

I may never pay for pizza again.

In keeping with my currently unemployed status, ordering pizza is not in the budget.  However there are some cravings which WILL NOT BE DENIED.

So I figured what the hell, I'll give it a shot.  I used the pizza dough recipe from Betty Crocker with a couple modifications.

If you want to make your own, I can recommend it. :)

2-1/2 to 3 cups all purpose flour,
1 Tablespoon sugar
1 teaspoon salt
1 package quick active dry yeast
3 Tablespoons virgin olive oil
1 Cup very warm water (120 - 130 degrees)

Mix 1 cup of the flour, the sugar, salt, and yeast into a large bowl.  Add the 3 T olive oil and warm water, and beat with electric mixer on medium speed for 3 minutes, scraping frequently. (I used my kitchen-aid beater attachment for 3 minutes on 4.)  Stir in enough remaining flour until dough is soft and leaves the side of the bowl. (I swapped to the paddle attachment, and added flour in a 1/2 cup at a time.  So far, I've always ended up using the full 3 cups of flour, when I use this recipe, so I wouldn't worry too much about measuring exactly.

Now here, the recipe book says to move the dough to a lightly floured surface and knead 5-8 minutes.  What I do instead is flour my hands, lift the dough out of the bowl, dust the bowl inside, and knead the dough inside the bowl. (Just lift it up, punch into the dough, then fold the far side back over the hole, turn 90 degrees, repeat, flouring whenever the dough gets sticky again.) Saves having to clean flour off the counter.  You can also use the dough hook attachment, which works just as well, but I felt like punching something. :)

Cover loosely with plastic wrap and let rest 30 minutes.  The one shown above is a thin crust, (which isn't a true cracker-thin thin crust but is very close to Papa John's hand-tossed crust.).  I greased a cookie sheet with olive oil, and then took half the dough. I pulled the dough out into a wide roughly circular shape, until the whole thing was 1/8" to 1/4" thick.  Use your fingers to push the dough around, and it works marvelously.

Instead of baking the pizza at 425, I baked it for 8 minutes at 450, (it started turning light brown in the center.)  Higher heat makes it crispier.  Then I smeared a thin coat of Bertolli spaghetti sauce, sprinkled dried garlic and parsley, Italian herb blend, and dried basil on top.  Next went the cheese (pre-shredded 5-cheese Italian), black olives (from a can), mushrooms (fresh sliced), and the pepperoni. 

I put it back in the oven at 425 for 10 minutes or so. (Look at it.  The crust should be light brown all over, the cheese maybe brown on the edges)

And I have satisfied my pizza craving.  If you want thick crust pizza, use the same recipe, but grease and cornmeal-flour your pans.  Pat the dough into the pans, and let rise for 30 -45 minutes.  Bake at 375 for 20 minutes or until the crust starts turning brown.
599 words tonight.  It's amazing how sticky spots can get me bogged down for a week while I think about how to get around them without excessive deux ex machina.  My dad once told me that he worked a project over in his head until he could sit down and build whatever it was once.  He'd sit there at his desk at work, smoking and thinking, and he'd sit in his chair at home in front of the t.v., thinking. (Not smoking, because my mother made him swear to not smoke at home or in front of the kids.  She was concerned that we would pick the habit up.  Strangely, the boys knew he smoked and they have both struggled off and on with nicotine addiction.  I didn't know he smoked until I went to college, and I never picked up a cigarette.  Go figure.)

I realize now what that's like, because I do that with my writing.  I'll get to a point where I get stuck, and I'll stop writing, and instead I'll think. I'll run through all the different scenarios I can think of, playing them out to see if they run me into a wall I can't get around.  I'll be washing dishes and thinking about times and alibis.  I'll go a week without writing anything at all, because I can't progress until I know where I'm going.  If it's a really bad break, one that seems irreconcilable, sometimes it'll be a month.  And then, something will click, and I'll know where I'm going again, and I can pick up and go. 

This one was a bad one.  I'm so glad to be past it.

Friday, September 23, 2011

The Friday Letter for my daughter

Dear Baby girl,

Well, little bean, you are three and a half months old today.  No, I haven't written you other letters before now.  Mostly because I'm just now rediscovering the meaning of the words "regular sleep cycle" and "quiet."  Since I'm mentioning it my darling, would you mind not waking up an hour after I go to bed, every single night?  I don't know how you do it, as I go to bed anywhere between one and four a.m., but it never, EVER fails that you will wake up ten minutes after I've fallen asleep. Frankly, you've done it far too many times for it to be mere coincidence.  Mommy loves you a lot more when she gets sleep. 

Also, you're a little more interesting now than you were when you were born.  You smile and you giggle now. You're working on learning how to use your vocal chords for something besides screaming your head off, though if I'm honest, I can't wait until you progress past squawking.

You've got a strawberry mark at the base of your skull where it meets the spinal chord.  I like kissing you there.  It's my secret spot, so don't tell Daddy.

You were a bit horrible today.  Everything was fine right up until we left the Teeter.  You see, I figured you would be getting hungry and we should go home before I hit Sam's Club for a brief break.  This is normally a wise plan. You ate, got changed, and seemed happy to sit in your little chair. Then for some reason, one of your brain switches got flipped, and you went ballistic.  Full-on Baby Rage with the red face, ear-piercing decibels, and heart-breakingly adorable baby tears.  Rocking, walking, sitting, soothie, breast-feeding, diaper, - all failed.  You refused to be soothed.  After thirty minutes, I gave up and put you in the car seat to head to Sam's, hoping the car ride would put you to sleep.

You went to sleep one minute before I pulled into the parking space.  You did not appreciate my having to wake you up and put you in the Maya wrap.  Though, I will admit your talent for comedic timing is already well-developed.  You'd paused to rest a few seconds as I went in the door.  I'd hoped you were done expressing your rage at whatever was making you so furious. The greeter leaned over to peek at you, and got a full face of screaming angry baby as you picked right up again.  I managed not to laugh, though I wanted to, even as I apologized.  On the other hand, I've never gotten passed through line so fast in my life.

You fell asleep in the car again, and I turned the radio off so I could see if the ringing in my ears had stopped.  It hadn't, but I still considered it an improvement.  When we got home, I begged your father to take you for an hour, so I could go make oatmeal raisin cookies, and not dwell on the evils my uterus had brought upon the world for a few minutes.  In retrospect, I should have realized that you would not be so easily thwarted, as you blew up in Baby Rage at Daddy.  For thirty minutes.  Eventually, you tired yourself out and went to sleep in the pillow nest on the couch.  We all rejoiced.  The cats came out of hiding.  Your father and I had cookies, and carefully avoided looking over at you in case the weight of our gaze woke you up.

When you did wake up, it was all Jekyll.  Super sweet baby with smiles for everyone, willing to cuddle quietly, laughing during your bath, and smiling at your reflection while you were wrapped up in your pink dolphin towel.  You really are an adorable baby, but don't expect me to enter you in any beautiful baby competitions.  Those things creep me right out.  Tonight we read Dr. Seuss's "You don't know how lucky you are!", and you even went right to sleep after I put you in the crib with your music and mobile going.

Just so you know, I'm not falling for it. 


(Also, I'm still getting used to the idea that *I* am the one responsible for raising a baby human.  Hopefully you'll turn into a moral person with a sense of joy, and the ability to pursue your happiness.  Everything else is negotiable.)

Monday, September 19, 2011

Keep on Truckin'

Perking right along.

Gym time today, with less muscle-ache afterwards.  An excellent nap.  And I've gotten 7,451 words added to the story.  Granted I'd written most of them already, but I'm now at the point where tomorrow night, I can start adding in the new material.

And the baby is still healthy and acting like a baby, though she's discovered that she has vocal chords to make noises aside from primal screaming for food or diapers.  She's turned into a duck. 


"Yes sweetie, Mommy still loves you."


"You've been squawking for the last forty-five minutes.  Aren't you getting tired?"


"No, you say.  Do you know how hard it is for mommy to concentrate while you're making irregular squawking noises at unpredictable intervals?"


"I just can't wait until you're a teenager."

*Big spit-bubble smile, with giggles and a flung pacifier.*

"Yes, you're adorable."


Thursday, September 15, 2011

It's working so far!

The new routine of writing at night is working out fairly well.  I've been able to regularly get some writing done at night, after Husband of Doom and Babygirl have gone to bed.  I am cautiously optimistic.

I went to the gym on Monday to lift weights for the first time in three months.  I may have been a little over-optimistic as regards my capacity, because I have been limping around the house the last two days whimpering every time something requiring me to use either my quadriceps, shoulders, arms, or calves.

Babygirl seemed to know Mommy was hurting because she all of a sudden decided she needed cuddling.  And walking. ALL DAY. 

This does not bode well for her teenage years if she can already zero in on my weaknesses.  She's lucky she's cute and that baby tears with a pouty lower lip of utter sadness is heartbreaking. 

Sunday, September 11, 2011

Staying motivated.

It is really difficult for me to stay motivated on a long term goal.  I opened my novel this afternoon during a blessed few hours while the baby slept, and I could not write a single word.  I managed eventually to throw in a few notes about what I wanted to accomplish with the scene, but my brain was completely blank.

My biggest problem is that I have yet to manage to establish a routine, something that has always in the past been my route to productivity. The baby is particularly unhelpful in allowing me to carry out my plan for the day, which is driving me up the wall.  I may plan to spend the day writing, going to the store for vital groceries, hit the gym for some weight time, rake the yard, and finish spackling the cracks in the wall, but if the baby is clingy or having a temperamental day where she is not willing to let Mommy out of her sight, that entire plan gets shafted.  I might manage to get the groceries, but the rest is just not happening.  By the time SuperHusb gets home, after a 12 hour day saving lives and burning adrenaline, we're both exhausted, and just want to either vegetate or spend time together. And thus my day is shot, and I get mad at myself for failing at the "butt in chair time."

My other problem is that I can't decide on an approach to my writing.  Do I finish the fantasy story I'm tempted to test the self-pub waters with, or do I finish polishing and re-polishing and oh-god-I'm-still-polishing the first novel?   Have I polished it into oblivion?  I've never gotten it to the point where I was happy with it as a novel, and I feel deep in my gut that I should at least try to get it there, before I allow myself to move on to the next one.

I suppose all writers feel this way.  The bitter slog of writing, the frustration when the words won't come in those fifteen free minutes you have between feeding and the diaper, the anger when they finally show up just in time for the kid to have a blowout requiring a bath and complete change of clothing, and they flitter off, unwilling to wait.  I've just got to figure out how to adapt.  Right now, I'm thinking my prime writing time is going to be after 9 p.m., when the baby's gone to bed, and the husband and I have had two hours to spend time together, and I'm going to save the days for all the house chores / baby stuff, and not spend all day stewing in hopeful frustration.  I'm just going to make myself crazier that way.

I will be published some day, I will be published some day.. I think I can, I think I can..

Wednesday, September 7, 2011

Revision hell

So I rewrote a chapter of the mystery novel upon the suggestion of my writer's group.  I'd glossed over a prison interview scene, and they nailed me for it.  I've also never been happy with the opening.  Never.

My first opening had been in media res, and it was too abrupt a drop into the action without the introduction of the characters or scene.  I tried changing the moment it was in the middle of the action before I realized that it just didn't work. (Reading over multiple mystery novel openings has convinced me of the error of my ways.)  So I wrote another opening this afternoon out of nowhere, and I think it works a little better, but I'm really interested to see what my WG buds think.

1612 words today, despite spending an hour or two reading blogs about self-publishing and opening a twitter account.

Tuesday, September 6, 2011

Cooking experiment! Lemongrass Curry London Broil

Given:  London Broil, artichokes, lemongrass curry powder, chopped spinach

What would you make?

I made a marinade of lemongrass curry, thyme, lemon pepper, rice vinegar, and a little bit of soy sauce, and soaked the london broil in it for thirty minutes in a glass pie dish.  Popped the pie dish in the oven at broil for 5 minutes on one side, and five on the other, before pulling it out to let it rest before I sliced it against the grain.

Served over whole grain brown rice (I mixed a spoonful of Better than Beef bouillon into the water it was cooking in) with chopped spinach mixed with canned artichoke hearts.  It came out surprisingly good.  The beef took on the lemony flavor and was tangy and delicious, the curry marinade poured over the rice and spinach was delicious.

I win!

Tuesday, August 9, 2011

Went to Zumba at 9:30 this morning for the ass-kicking. (I swear I'm burning at least 500 calories in that hour.)

Got 2115 words today on novel #1.   (Major rewrites suck.  At least I've finally figured out what I'm doing.)

Ate 6 Grasshopper cookies  (Damn you Keebler elves!)

Sent section of novel #2 to writing group for discussion on Wednesday.  (Love my group.)

And now.. it is nap time.  I don't expect nap time to last very long, as the baby has been asleep for 2 straight hours, (allowing for the writing time - yay!), and she's only good in 3 hours stretches most of the time.  But naps are healthy, and I have earned it.

So there.

Saturday, August 6, 2011

So far, so good.

Last night I got a thousand words down on my second novel in progress.  I've about decided that I'm going to experiment with self e-publishing with this piece, because it's not the main genre I want to write in, so if it goes badly, then hopefully I won't screw up my chances at traditional publishing.

A lot of literary agents / editors / publishers are blogging about the changing publishing environment, and the possibility that someday soon, all books will be e-books.  I don't believe this will be the case, (though in fairness, I am about two steps from a Luddite and hate reading books electronically, so my opinion could be catastrophically wrong.)

I think e-books are here to stay, and that they will be extremely popular in the future.  However, they are a different enough format from traditional tree-flavor books that I don't think they are in a Highlander situation here.   When movies and television started up, people stated that it would be an end to reading.  Who would spend 3 hours reading a 300 page book on WWII when there was a snazzy movie with hot-bodied celebs to display pertinent information in a handy 150 minutes?  As it turns out, a lot of people.  The people who were prone to watching the movies instead of reading the book were, in a lot of cases, not the sort of people who were going to read the book anyways.

However, I think e-publishing in certain genres will be the way to go.  Young Adult of course, and the cheap romance / fantasy / sci-fi novels.  Those genres are full of people buying in bulk and volume, without expecting much in the way of emotional depth or re-readability.  (As an aside, I like all four of those categories, but I rarely buy any books in them, because I buy those books I would want to re-read.  Urges to read those categories are satisfied by my library card.)

I don't think mystery fiction will go that route as wholeheartedly, because mystery-lovers strike me as traditional readers.  They find something they like, and stick with it.  They're also typically looking for a little more from their books than a cheap thrill.  They want to be intellectually stimulated, and it's rare to see sloppily-written mystery fiction churned out with the same frequency as the other categories mentioned above.

We'll see, I suppose.  In the meantime, back to writing.  

Tuesday, August 2, 2011

Spider's back!

And this time, the poor bastard lost his lunch.  He had a full spiral web, about a foot across between the side mirror and the door.  I again, didn't check for a spider before getting in the van, but as I was pulling out of the driveway, I noticed he was asleep (all hunched together, legs tucked in, not moving) in the upper middle of the web, and there was a bug in the dead center, all wrapped up.

Well, he woke up pretty quickly once the van started moving, (though I didn't get above 20 mph, to give him a chance to duck back into the mirror.   It took him about three blocks to decide this wasn't going away, and he abandoned the web, and dove into the mirror.  Unfortunately most of the web, including the part with the fly in it, blew off. 

Poor guy.   I'll try to get a good picture of him to post.

I hit the 9:30 Zumba class at the gym and it was an excellent workout.  I was sweating from crown to toes.  I had sweat beading the entire length of my arms.  She does a "toning" regimen after the hour of Zumba for another 15-30 minutes, but I'd told the MIL / babysitter that it was an hour class, and I didn't want to worry her by being late.

Now it is time to paint.  I had a scroll request from the Baron & Baroness of the local SCA group for an extra special piece of court business, and I've been fiddle-farting about on it for the last month or so.  (Painting bits here and there.  There's not THAT much left to do, but none of the calligraphy is done, and the illumination still has a few hours to go.)  My normal style of illumination is to sit down for long 6-8 hour chunks at a time, but the New Addition in my life makes that impossible.  If I get two hours straight, it's a bloody miracle.  Especially if someone keeps dropping her Soothie, and waking up because of it.

Later this afternoon, I'm going to finish the pell I've been working on for two years.  (I have the post in the concrete bucket.  But I need to sink the bucket in the yard, and pad the pole with the pipe insulation and ducktape so I can practice whacking without blowing out my wrist and shoulder.
I've also realized that unless I want permanent standing water, I'd better drill some holes right at the concrete line so it will drain.

Monday, July 25, 2011

Today was a good day!

It started with the poor spider in the side mirror.  A friend needed a ride to her mechanic to pick up her car. (They were willing to shuttle her to her house, but as she's getting out of the shuttle, the driver says, "By the way, you're too far away, so I can't come back to pick you up."  What the hell, really guys?)  I pack the baby in the car seat, grab the diaper bag, and boogie on out of the driveway.

At the very first light, I notice a desperate spider (dark grey, with zebra striped legs, a big fat orb body and little tiny head, about 2.5 cm across.) bouncing frantically in what was left of the web he'd built between the side mirror and the window on the driver's side.  (Yes, I am completely oblivious sometimes.)  I felt bad for the poor spider as he clung to the web which was shredding around him, and started driving more slowly so as not to bounce the spider completely off the line.

Unfortunately for the spider, red lights were few and far between.  I kept telling him to duck back in the side mirror, but he kept taking the few pauses available to run up and down the web instead.  I realized that he was dismantling his web, rolling up a little white ball of silk in between bounces.  The next light, he made it into the side mirror, tucking his head and legs in tightly, with his big round butt hanging out.  I felt like cheering.

I guess the economy is so bad even the spiders are saving their silk.  It's silly but I felt uplifted by the spider triumphant.

I also got to the gym for the first time since giving birth and took a Zumba class.  I managed to make it through the entire class without gassing out - a huge relief given my fears about completely losing any muscle tone or stamina over the pregnancy - and didn't trip or fall into anyone. 

Last time I was at the gym about 5 months ago, the Zumba class was fairly well attended by maybe 20-30 people.  Today, I was handed a ticket with the number 52 on it.  Upon inquiring, it turns out that the class is now so popular that they cut off attendance at 60, and if you don't get a ticket, you don't get in.  People line up to get in 30 minutes before the class starts in order to make sure they get a ticket. I am going to have to start going a bit earlier.

So the spider survived, my ass is not as flabby as first feared, and the baby has been sleeping for the last 3 hours straight.   It's the little things. 

Saturday, July 23, 2011

Inspiration hits like a MACK truck sometimes.

So I had written my mystery novel.  I'm bad at outlining.  I'm more of a write as the mood and whim takes me sort of author, which is something I've had to work on quite a bit.  It's a terrible struggle for me to impose discipline on my writing.

I had a sort of mini-problem in the beginning, which I dwelt on for 20 pages, before getting deep into the actual heart of my mystery.  And I never came back to that mini-problem.  And every reader I had, said they enjoyed it, but they kept waiting for that mini-problem to come back and be important.  And it never did.

And deep down, I knew that was a problem.  But I couldn't figure out how to weave it in, or make it more relevant than as a backdrop to introduce my main characters and provide some action.

Last night, I had a dream about the book, and I realized that my main villain needed to be the one character I mentioned the least.  I saw instantly how to re-write and re-weave the book so that both plots were related and relevant.  And unfortunately, it's going to involve a huge ginormous rewrite.  But it will work, I think.

I'm having to start entirely over (though granted, I do have the large chunks of text written that I can use and paste where possible.)  but I think the book will be better and stronger for it.  And now that I can see my way forward to that better book, I'm feeling inspired all over again.

I'd been so tempted just to fling it out into the agentsphere, but the other day I read a fantastic post on a great agent blog about how you shouldn't submit hoping that the agent will fix the problems with your book, and it hit me square between the eyes.  So.. Here goes.  Again.

Saturday, July 16, 2011

It's been a crazy six months

I've given my novel to my writer's group and gotten it back with their critiques.

I've given birth to my daughter, who is now five weeks old.

My mother-in-law has for all intents and purposes moved in with us.  (The idea was that she would move in to provide childcare since me and the husb both were working at the time.)

I got laid off (RIF'd really.) from my job. (Along with the entire accounting & administrative staff, bar one poor soul who has taken on all the admin / accounting functions that had to remain on site.)

The animal count in my house went up by two (admittedly fairly well behaved) chihuahuas.

And I'm trying to decide where I want the priorities for my time to be, because I'm rapidly discovering that item number two on this list is eating time like a mad thing.

Work on the novel?  Get the yard / house projects that have been pending for "when I have time".  Go gung-ho on SCA heavy combat and hope to turn into a decent fighter someday?  Work on the other writing projects I have pottering around?  Get my scribal backlog of calligraphy & illumination pieces caught up?  Fill my house with Baby Einstein stuff and start trying to teach my daughter to read Chinese by age 1?  (This would be quite a trick, as I can't read Chinese either.)

I am still job searching, but the last time I was in this position, I was seriously angry with myself for all the hours I wasted being depressed and moping around the house.  (I did write most of the novel while I wasn't working but I still wasted a great deal of time.)

I've got to be more effective this time around, since my time is allocated in two hour increments between diapers and feedings.  So I'm going to carefully figure out what's important to me this time, and set aside blocks of time for each thing I want to do.  Hopefully it will work.

Friday, May 13, 2011

Wow.. - Rudyard Kipling writing about Mark Twain

I read it the first time for the story.  And now I'm re-reading it again to savor Kipling's twists and turns of phrase, the words he chooses to use. 

"slow surge of the drawl"

"Then the chase began—in a hired hack, up an awful hill, where sunflowers blossomed by the roadside, and crops waved, and Harper’s Magazine cows stood in eligible and commanding attitudes knee-deep in clover, all ready to be transferred to photogravure. The great man must have been persecuted by out-siders aforetime, and fled up the hill for refuge."


Wednesday, January 5, 2011

Just Lovely.

Short story, worth a read.  The words are still dancing in my brain.  Lovely.