A blog about writing . . . and a lot of other things

Saturday, June 30, 2012

Where's the plot twist?

Last night I was watching Sherlock with the family, and I was thinking about how sublimely perfect the show is.  I really think they've done a marvelous job both in the writing and the casting of that show.  I mean, how can someone as pasty and odd-looking as Benedict Cumberbatch be so utterly compelling?

(Yes, I know there's some pot-kettle action in me calling anyone pasty.)

Oh, have you not seen Sherlock?  Then by all means hit the couch and watch it.  The first season, three 90-minute episodes, is available on Netflix, and the second season I was able to check out from the library.  They are relatively clean.  I felt okay with Isaac watching them, and Mindy just ignores it or runs away in protest of television in general.

The third season of Sherlock starts filming in January.  It's going to be a long wait.  I may have to start watching Dr. Who.

One of the strengths of Sherlock - of any mystery - is the plot twists.  How I wish I could write mysteries or at least throw some decent plot twists into my novels.  Even as I fell asleep last night I was wracking my brain, hunting for a plot twist for Ravenswood.  Nope.  Nothing there.

Then this morning at breakfast we were discussing the novel Divergent by Veronica Roth.  We've all read the novel.  Jacob had anticipated the first major plot twist, while Isaac and I had both been appropriately surprised.  We discussed the clues the author had given that Jacob had caught.

(Yes, our family does discuss novels over breakfast.  Don't you?)

As we were cleaning the kitchen Jacob brought up Ravenswood.  "I know you want me to give you some specific advice, but I don't have any ideas.  There is something that's missing, though.  You need a good plot twist."

Yep.  There it was.  Even though I didn't anticipate what Caleb was going to do at the beginning of Divergent, I did totally see Jacob's comment coming.  I bet you did, too.

"You're just too honest," Jacob went on.  "You don't lie enough and your characters don't, either."

Who knew that being such an open person would rub off on my characters?  So now I've got to figure out how to be more devious and deceitful.  I'm assuming sneaking three Oreos and then admitting it on my blog a few minutes later doesn't count.

If only I could just throw in some ninja pirates.

So if you find that I'm being sneaky and dishonest, you'll know that I'm just trying to come up with ideas for how to strengthen my novel.  It's nothing personal.

Now go watch some Sherlock.  It's way more interesting than me.

Tuesday, June 26, 2012

Give it a second!

I wanted to share this video clip with you.  It's Louis C.K. from an interview with Conan O'Brien.

He's got a great point that we live in this amazing time and nobody seems to appreciate it.  We expect so much out of everything.  We feel like life owes us.  It's absurd.

So, your homework for today is to think about what is deeply awesome about the world we live in and spend a little time being amazed.

I'll start:

  • Sliced bread.  Seriously.  I hate slicing bread.
  • Microwaves.  I don't need to explain, right?
  • Internet.  There are so many people I have contact with that I wouldn't were it not for the Internet.  I may not have any direct contact with them, but through Facebook I can at least spy on them.
  • Antibiotics.  Because it's really neat that we don't all easily get sick and die.
  • Electricity.  Because it's very dark in Oregon in the winter time.
  • Telecommuting.  Oh, yeah.  I work in slippers.  I listen to my own music and eat in my own kitchen and take breaks in my own home.  I can move laundry over when I need to.  
  • Modern Plumbing.  Because pit toilets are disgusting and life's too long to live without hot showers.
  • Public School.  I am so glad that I'm not expected to try to teach my kids everything myself.  I'm one smart cookie, but I can't remember any history to save my life.
  • Olive oil, crusty loaves of bread, butter, red wine, chocolate, etc.  Another thing I really don't need to explain.
How about you?  What is deeply awesome about modern life?

Monday, June 25, 2012

In pursuit of washboard abs

I've mentioned several times that I'm participating in a Biggest Loser competition.  There are about thirty of us - friends and acquaintances - and if the competition goes anything like it has in the past, there will be a range of results.  There will also be a few outliers who manage to lose twenty to thirty pounds and start running marathons twice a week. I will try very hard not to hate these people.

My goal this time is to lose ten pounds.  This will not allow me to win the competition.  It takes more than that.

So why do I keep participating when I won't win?  Because it doesn't matter if I don't win the competition.  If I lose a couple of pounds, I have won.  If I simply manage not to gain, I have won.

Fat Amy.  I am not fond of this picture.
I used to weigh about seventy pounds more than I do now.  If you've ever been really heavy and lost the weight, you know how much work - physical and emotional - losing that kind of weight requires, and how horrifying the thought of putting it back on is.  I still need to lose about thirty pounds, but even more important is keeping the weight off.

Before I had kids I always assumed I was just doomed to be a fat person.  I wasn't one of those people that hits adulthood, eats too many pans of brownies, and has it catch up with their metabolism.  No, I always ate more than my metabolism could handle and was heavy from the time I was six years old.  There was no "getting back to my high school weight."  I'm thinner now than I was in high school.

Still fat, but much better now.
After my daughter was born I was so horrified by the condition of my body that I joined Weight Watchers.  Okay, I'll be honest, I didn't officially join Weight Watchers (at that time).  I just got the materials from my sister-in-law and did it by myself (I'm cheap that way).

Having kids has this effect on you sometimes.  Suddenly you realize that your health is important to more than just you.  There are people depending on you and kicking the bucket early would be a big disappointment for them.

So I tried to lose weight and it worked.   I was able to lose sixty-five pounds over the course of nine months.  Don't I make it sound so easy?  It wasn't easy, but it was possible, and I was so happy.  It's an amazing thing to learn after several decades of obesity that the trick to weight loss really is to eat less and exercise, that you really do control your own weight.

I'd be lying if I pretended that my only motivation to lose weight was my health.  I'm a woman and I live in the modern age of advertising when the media portrays women (compliments of Photoshop) sans anything resembling a realistic womanly shape.  I'm as vain as the next girl.

However, at this point it has a whole lot more to do with my health.  I've had the joy of having my body develop lots of problems at a pretty young age and also watching my father's health fail pretty spectacularly.  Thankfully none of my health issues are life-threatening, but keeping my body in the best condition possible has become a lot more important to me.  I still have many years left ("Good Lord willing and the creeks don't rise," as my dad used to say), and I don't want to spend them on a motorized scooter before I have to, even if Medicare will pay for it.

This blog post was not as much fun as I like them to be, but if it can be an encouragement to somebody then it's worth writing.  I'm as big a fan of food as the the next person, but it's not worth eating your way into an early grave.  You only get one body.  Take care of it.

Now, if you'll excuse me, I have more crunches to do.  If I'm ever going to get those washboard abs, I'd better get to it.

Sunday, June 24, 2012

Knowing yourself

Years ago a teen girl in a small group that I was leading asked if there was anything good about becoming an adult.  "Aside from the sex, of course," she said.

I'll be honest.  It took me a moment.  At the time I had two toddlers, was back in college, and had a husband who worked a lot of overtime, so I wasn't feeling happy about adulthood myself.

I did eventually figure it out, however, and I still believe it.  The nice thing about getting older (yes, I know I'm not old - work with me here) is that you finally get to know yourself.

You would think that knowing yourself wouldn't take that long.  I mean, you've been there all the time!  But you have hidden depths you never suspected.  Frankly, once you figure yourself out it makes life a LOT easier.  Living with someone else can be a challenge, but living with yourself can be worse and is completely unavoidable.

Over the years there are several things I've learned about myself, and it's helped me to change my lifestyle so that I get along better with myself (and, consequently, with others):

  1. I have an uncontrollable addiction to Oreos.  This is not something to mess around with.  When I was first married we would blithely buy a bag of Oreos from the grocery store.  Then the next day Jacob would go to grab an Oreo and be unable to find the bag.  "Amy, where are the Oreos?"  Hmmm?  Suddenly I no longer habla'd the ingles.  We stopped buying Oreos after that.
  2. I must have clean kitchen counters.  Messy kitchen counters = irrational psychotic Amy.  I know it's stupid, but there it is.  So now I compulsively wipe down the counters and it's not a problem.
  3. Nothing must be on my bed.  Stuff on bed = irrational psychotic Amy.  I don't know why it bothers me.  I think I just need to know that at any moment I could go to bed and there would be nothing in my way.  I really love sleeping.
  4. I need a lot of attention.  And I will act out accordingly.  Jacob does a pretty good job of paying attention to me so that I don't have to resort to naughty behavior.  Every once in a while he gets busy, though, and then I have to write a blog post and pretend I have fans.
We do play with these quirks from time to time.  For example, every once in a while Jacob decides to live dangerously and will leave a notebook and a backpack or a load of clothes or something on the bed in the evening.  I think he wants to see if I'll come completely unhinged like last time.  (I do!)

We got stupid this last week and bought a bag of Oreos.  I started a new Biggest Loser competition yesterday, and there's a bag of Oreos in my kitchen!  How insane is that?  Yesterday I was jumping up and down with my arm in the cabinet above the fridge, desperately trying to reach the bag that Jacob had stashed behind the pancake griddle.  I wasn't able to get to the Oreos. 

However, this afternoon I reached up there and they had moved forward a good six inches.  I managed to toss three cookies back before the kids came into the kitchen and I was forced to pop a bag of popcorn in self-defense.

How about you?  What have you learned about yourself and what steps have you taken to make peace between the two of you?

Saturday, June 23, 2012

And in this corner . . .

Everybody knows that married people fight sometimes.  Let's be real.  Anytime you are living with another human being there will be occasional fights unless you don't pay any attention to each other at all.

The crazy thing about fighting with my husband, though, is that it's so stupid.  We don't fight about important things like money or the kids.  No, we usually fight about really awesome things like fighting.

Here is an excerpt from an imaginary fight:

"I don't want to go and leave you alone."
"No, you should go."
"And you won't feel bad?"
"No, not at all."
"Okay, then I'll go."
"Are you mad?"
"Of course I'm not mad.  I told you to go."
"You sound mad."
"Well, now I'm mad at you because you won't stop telling me I'm mad."
"I'm only saying you're mad because you're acting mad."
"Stop yelling at me."
"I'm not yelling!"
"Yes, you are!  Stop yelling.  You are so unfair.  I haven't done anything to deserve being yelled at!"
"Now you're yelling!"
"You yelled first!"
"I did not!"
"I'm not talking to you if you're going to yell like this!"

The fights are even more fun if one of us is hungry.  We've learned from experience that it's important to keep regular mealtimes because I, for one, am completely unreasonable if my tummy is empty.  Indeed, sometimes our best fights are because we take too long to figure out what to have for dinner.  That's why it's important to have something in the house that you can easily throw together into a meal while you're still muttering under your breath and slamming things.

In an ideal world, I suppose that there would never be any fighting at all, but that's just not possible.  We're people and people are emotional and often (if hungry) unreasonable.  The thing to remember is that fighting does not mean that you don't love each other.  Let it burn out fast, laugh about how stupid it is, and get on to the forgiving and forgetting part.

Now let's hope Jacob isn't mad at me for this blog post.

"Perhaps I did not always love him so well as I do now.  But in such cases as these, a good memory is unpardonable.  This is the last time I shall ever remember it myself."  
- Elizabeth Bennet, Pride and Prejudice

Friday, June 22, 2012

Taking a break from torture

Some of you are probably wondering how the torture of Piper is going in Ravenswood.
What?  Is this a food blog?  No, but isn't that
 the prettiest breakfast you've seen in a while?

Well . . .

Um . . .

I haven't been working on Ravenswood!

>ducks as virtual rotten tomatoes are thrown at her<

See, I was torturing her, and doing a great job of it.  Then I rescued her from the worst of it and now she's sitting in a motel room, freshly showered and looking forward to a nap.  I think she deserves the rest, so I'm letting her have it.

Mindy watering the geraniums.
Okay, that's only half of the truth.  The other half is that I don't know how to end the book.  I emailed my latest draft to Isaac and Jacob and begged them to help me.  Isaac the Speed-Reading Demon finished it in a few minutes and his main input was that I didn't torture Piper enough.

I've raised a very bloodthirsty boy.

So what have I been doing with my time if I'm not working on Ravenswood?  I obviously haven't been posting to my blog for a few days (sorry about that).  I haven't returned to work since I still have healing to do.
Mindy showing off the kale in her secret garden.

What I am doing is having fun with my family.   Mindy and I sewed together a quilt top out of old jeans and together we built a lattice for our Cinderella pumpkins.  She and Isaac both have helped me make at least twenty pints of strawberry jam. Today the whole family sat around and tied the jean quilt together.

So no great novel is being written at the moment.  However, I'm taking long walks with my family on sunny days and listening to the rain on dark days.  We're having french toast for breakfast and home-grown kale chips at dinner.  Bread is being baked, quilts are being assembled, pumpkins are growing, and hopefully my kids are building some memories and learning a little bit from mom while she's home with too much time on her hands.

So Piper can have a break from being tortured.  I'll eventually figure out what to do with her.  In the meantime, I don't feel the least bit guilty for taking some time to focus on my family because I think my kids are the best novels I could write.

The family gathered around to tie Mindy's new quilt.

Tuesday, June 19, 2012

The ice cream diet!

From a juicing website - I think she's been
juicing a little too much.
Next week I kick off another round of Biggest Loser with some friends, acquaintances, and a few complete strangers.  I've been doing this for years, but I've never won.  Not even when I had part of my stomach wrapped around my esophagus and couldn't eat for weeks.  However, other people lose lots of weight, and I'm very happy for them, so I keep putting in my $12 of support.

It would be fun to win, though, or at least lose some weight.  So, I was thinking about doing a juice fast.  A couple of months ago I watched "Fat, Sick, and Nearly Dead" at the recommendation of a friend who did an extended juice fast and lost thirty-five pounds.

With all the glowing testimonials, it's hard not to want to try it.  One website said that if I did a juice fast that I would lose weight, my skin would tighten and be clear, my hair would be shiny, my eyes would be brighter, my mind would be clearer, my vision would be better, and I would have more energy.  In addition, it would heal my internal organs, eliminate my chronic illnesses, and boost my immune system.

Wow!  I mean, wow!  It'll fix all that?  And all I have to do is buy a juicer and a lot of produce and not chew anything at all for a while.  It's like magic.  Or not.

Do I think that doing a 30-day juice fast like my friend did can have health benefits?  Yes.

Will I be doing a juice fast?  No.

First of all, a juice fast is a bad idea for anyone with kidney disease.  My kidney disease is fairly mild, but I do have one, and I make it a point not to mess with it.

Most scientists and medical professionals agree that the health benefits from a juice fast are from eating so many fruits and vegetables, and you can do that without fasting.  The weight loss is from not consuming enough calories.  Chances are that if you restrict your calories sufficiently and consume plenty of fruits and vegetables you can get the health benefits without the risks.

There are so many health claims out there for various things, and the Internet is a veritable font of misinformation.  You can find someone who advocates nearly anything and says it will cure all your ills.  I mean, look at me!  I'm writing about health claims on a blog and I have no medical training whatsoever.  I could be making it all up.  I'm not even documenting my research.  Feel free to disbelieve everything I say.

Most health claims are for weight loss, of course.  We all want to be thin and svelte, or at least get the cash prize in Biggest Loser.  I'll tell you right now that I lost 20 pounds one summer in high school eating pretty much nothing but Haagen-Dazs Chocolate Chocolate Chip ice cream.  I should start a Haagen-Dazs diet! Granted, the weight loss might have been due to the four hours a day I was swimming rather than the Haagen-Dazs.

Want to have some fun?   Faddiet.com (motto: 30 Ways to Lose the Same 5 Pounds) lists information on many fad diets, some more serious than others.  For example, one of the fad diets it lists is the Amputation Diet.  By amputating your leg, you could lose between 15 and 45 pounds.  Frankly, I would want to lose at least 50 pounds before trying something this drastic.  (Please note: This website has some potty humor and the ads can be quite dodgy.  You can take this as a warning or a recommendation.)

Want to know what really works to lose weight?  Okay, here goes:  if you want to lose weight, you should eat fewer calories than you burn.  It works every time.  You can lose weight safely if you make sure you eat quality, wholesome foods, lots of fruits and veggies, and exercise regularly.

Oh, is that no fun?  Sorry, reality is annoying sometimes.  Feel free to try the Cookie Diet instead.

Sunday, June 17, 2012

Getting old before my time

I know that I'm not that old.  I do.  But sometimes I feel old.  It might have something to do with having four surgeries in eighteen months, but it goes deeper than that. I will present the evidence and you can tell me what you think.

Twelve Reasons I Think I'm Old

  1. Classic Rock stations play music from my childhood.
  2. I care deeply about retirement. (Although this could be because I'm an accountant.)
  3. When dining out I spend half an hour evaluating different options based on whether they will work with my specific physical, dietary, and financial requirements.  99% of the time I decide it's easier to eat at home.  Besides, then I don't have to put on real pants.
  4. The "hottest bachelors" in People Magazine look like they aren't old enough to vote, let alone get married.
  5. I've paid less than a dollar per gallon for gas, and it doesn't feel like it was that long ago.  Except it was nearly 20 years ago, and this is why I'm old.
  6. I'm not too cool to do that stupid dance.  I'm just pretty sure my knees aren't up to it.
  7. Similarly, I now take glucosamine for my joint health.
  8. Children I once taught are married with school-age children of their own.  These are not the kids that got knocked up in high school.
  9. Movies and television shows from my childhood now look really old.  Have you tried watching an episode of MacGyver?  It's grainier than Perry Mason was when I was a kid.
  10. Speaking of Perry Mason, it started in 1957, which means that it was about as old when I was watching it as MacGyver would be to my kids today.
  11. Buildings my age have dry rot.
  12. It has been thirty-five years since the Blazers won the NBA Championship.  I'm getting old here, people!
So, since I'm officially old, here's some fun nostalgia from my childhood.  A lot of it is very local, so it may only work for kids who grew up in Portland watching too much TV.

The Pop Shoppe.  When I was a kid we always had a red crate from the Pop Shoppe full of bottles of soda.  We'd take the crate of empty bottles back to the Pop Shoppe and exchange them for full bottles of all different kinds of soda.  It was like magic!  I miss it.  This is silly of me since I can't drink soda any more (because I'm old) and if I did I could always get it at Cosmic Soda Pop and Candy Shop.

The Kite Man.  Just watch the commercial.  Either you saw it as a kid or you didn't.  Either way it is WEIRD.  The 'stache is awesome, though, isn't it?

Ramblin' Rod.  I told you I watched too much TV.  When I was a kid the coolest thing in the world was being on Ramblin' Rod and getting to smile into the camera and cheer for the cartoons.  Now the whole thing seems creepy to me, but much of my childhood does.  This clip on YouTube is especially awesome because it mentions The Pop Shoppe.  (I am not receiving any endorsements from The Pop Shoppe.  I promise.)

He-Man.  Yet more TV.  Is that all I ever did?  Yes.  Back then excessive TV-watching was considered a sign of intelligence.  I'm not going to provide a link to this one because it still gets some syndication, which I find especially impressive considering how absolutely dreadful the show is.  

Hostess Choco-Bliss.  I spent my childhood consuming a lot of Hostess treats.  However, by the time I reached adolescence the pathetic Ding-Dongs and Cupcakes of my childhood were replaced by the wonder of the Choco-Bliss.  Two layers of devils food with a whipped chocolaty filling and chocolate frosting.  Mmmmm.  I was walking to 7-Eleven to buy one of these tasty treats in high school when I was picked up by the cops for violating curfew.  That's why they discontinued them.  They were contributing to the delinquency of a minor.  X-Entertainment has a nice discussion of the demise of this particular snack cake and a really awesome TV commercial.

Is there anything you are particularly nostalgic about?

Friday, June 15, 2012

A Lesson in Humility

Isaac watching the aliens land . . . or something.
Anyone who has children knows that they are one big, long lesson in humility.  No matter how much we know about children in general - from training or practice - our knowledge is useless with our own.

The main reason for this is because kids are not like a souffle or even like a puppy.  They are all completely different.  No matter how skilled you are at dealing with one child, you are guaranteed to be thoroughly inept at dealing with the next one.

My son is a blond, blue-eyed, corn-fed Nebraska boy who slept through the night at two weeks of age (because he had a stomach the size of a two-year-old).  As a baby, he was cheerful and fun and a little kooky.  He loved to make noise and bang his head against things.

It's not a coincidence that Jacob looks exhausted.
So my husband and I thought, this is easy!  Let's have another!  I still looked six months pregnant, anyway.  Why not go ahead and get the second child over with?

What we didn't realize was that Isaac had been born to give us a false sense of security.  As soon as my morning sickness returned, my son became a different boy.  He learned to throw tantrums, and that strong, solid boy had strong, solid lungs.  He screamed like he was being disemboweled, and I was frankly too tired to care.  My second pregnancy had made me the size of a small RV.

Then my daughter finally arrived.  She was beautiful, with luminous dark eyes and shiny, dark curls.  The first night I was so amazed at her perfection that I didn't sleep at all.

I still wish I'd slept that night.

Isn't she gorgeous?  So cute, and yet so evil.
Because I certainly didn't sleep after that.  She screamed nearly non-stop for the next twelve months.  She refused to take a bottle, so I couldn't be separated from her for more than an hour or so.  It didn't matter.  No one wanted to babysit her because she'd scream the entire time.   

She refused to eat any food until one day we were having dinner at a nice restaurant, at which point she became famished.  She refused to take a single step (or let her feet touch the ground) until she was about seventeen months old, and then we found that she was a wanderer that required constant supervision or she'd just leave the premises.

Nothing that had worked with her brother worked with her.  Telling her no made her laugh.  There was no use in pushing her or punishing her.  To this day she has the strongest personality of anyone I have ever met.

My kids are nine and ten now, and they're great.  I love my kids.  Other people even love my kids (Mindy stopped screaming).  They get good grades and are thoughtful and diligent.  Okay, so Mindy gets sent to the principal's office a lot, but she reminds me that it's definitely less often than it used to be.

However, this is just the calm before the storm.  How do I know that?  Because I used to teach high school and I have worked with teenagers for years.  I feel pretty confident in my ability to relate to young people.

And if there's one thing I've learned from parenting, it's that pride comes before a fall.

Thursday, June 14, 2012

The Guilt of Economizing

One of the most consistent parts of my personality, second only to my love of talking, is that I am cheap.

I have generations of economical German housewives in my heritage - solid women built like linebackers who could feed a family of ten for nearly nothing and saved all sorts of things for future use: aluminum foil, tape dispensers, etc.  In fact, my grandma died nearly a decade ago and I still have some gift wrap that I inherited from her that she bought on sale in the 1970s that I'm slowly working my way through.  It's hideous, but, by golly, it wraps gifts!

Mindy's garden of lettuce and kale.  I'm so proud!
My cheapness gets a good, regular workout at the grocery store.  I do most of my grocery shopping at WinCo.  The company began in Boise, has stores all over the western United States, and is a marvelous place where everything is a great deal.  It's not like a Grocery Outlet or a Save-a-Lot where you never know what you'll find.  WinCo is a full-service grocery store.  Does it have the best produce?  No.  Does it have a classy deli?  No.  It doesn't have much organic food, either.  In fact, it doesn't even take credit cards or bag your groceries.  However, it is cheap, and I find I spend between 20% and 40% less by shopping there.

Sometimes I do feel a little awkward being the only person there not using food stamps, though.

Unfortunately, there isn't a WinCo in my town.  I force myself to shop locally for smaller shopping trips because the cost of gas and the time expended to drive up to the closest WinCo really takes a lot of the fun out of shopping there.  However, it causes me physical pain to put things into my cart at normal grocery stores knowing I'm spending too much on them.  I find myself thinking, "$5.98!!!  This is $3.29 at WinCo!  AUGH!"  And then I get to the checkout line and my one bag of groceries is $65.00, and I have to bite my tongue to keep from sounding like a 90-year-old man who remembers the depression.

My tomato bins.  Very classy, huh?
Recently my cheapness has come head-to-head with my desire to pursue a healthier, more socially-conscious lifestyle, and this is a problem.  I watched Food Inc., which I recommend wholeheartedly if you want to feel guilty about what you eat and never be able to go into a McDonalds again.  I cried through the entire movie.  I am not joking.  After watching it I was determined to eat only local, organic food.

But do you realize how expensive local, organic food is?  It's insane!  And right after watching it Safeway had a deal on extra lean ground beef for $1.99 a pound and even though I knew that those cows and the men butchering them must have been soundly abused to get me meat at that price, I bought eighteen pounds of it and most of it is still in my freezer today.  Every time I pull some out I'm torn between glee at getting such a deal and shame at caving in to big agriculture.

Nothing says nutrition like
food growing in a Home Depot bucket.
The issue is just not that simple.  (Nothing ever is.)  Many of the practices of big agriculture, much like big banks, are absolutely appalling if you do any research.  Between poor labor and business practices, environmental abuses, and dirty political lobbying, hardly anyone who is not on the payroll of one of these companies would really want to have anything to do with them.  However, big agriculture sells really cheap food, and most Americans don't have the luxury of buying local and organic.  They're just trying to put food on the table and don't much care what it is.

So what's the solution?  Honestly, I have no idea.  I couldn't choose a political party, either.  That's why I'm baking my own bread and raising my own produce and going to my farmer's market even though sometimes the cost gives me heart palpitations.  But I'm also still shopping at WinCo because those prices are really, really good.

Wednesday, June 13, 2012

Dreams do come true!

A friend at work who read (what is now an out-of-date version of) Ravenswood commented that my writing style reminded her of Dave Barry.  Perhaps I should have been offended.  Ravenswood is not a weekly humor column.  It is quality young adult fiction!

(I need to learn to say this with a straight face.)

However, the truth is that I spent many of my formative years reading Dave Barry's books and columns, and I love his work.  A fair amount of my goofiness can be traced to those hours spent burrowing through a stack of Dave Barry books.

I like to think my Dave Barry addiction was an improvement over my previous love of Garfield comics.

Another humorist that I adore is Bill Bryson. He gets bonus points from me because he lived in England for 20 years, thereby also satisfying my love of all things British. He's written some fabulous books, and I have a copy of I'm a Stranger Here Myself in the library of my guest bathroom right now.  It's a collection of observations on living in the United States after spending so long in England.  You are welcome to come sit a spell if you'd like to sample it.

One of my favorite Bill Bryson books is The Mother Tongue (not in my bathroom, unfortunately).  My college roommate introduced me to this book, and therefore to Bill Bryson, when we were both English majors.  That was before I became a CPA and she became a Theology professor, both infinitely superior to that other career option for English majors: working as a receptionist.  (I did that, too.)

What is my point, you ask?  My point is that although I've always dreamed of being a bestselling novelist (and never, oddly enough, of being a CPA), I must admit that I've also dreamed of being a humor columnist.  Unfortunately, with newspaper subscriptions down, there's not a big demand for them any more.  I never really understood how you got into that kind of gig, anyway.

The good news is that with the miracle of the Internet, I don't have wait for someone to be willing to pay me before I can write my own column!  I can make my writing instantly available to the whole world.  Okay, so only a couple dozen people read it so far, and I'm "working" for absolutely nothing, but it was never about the money, anyway (she blithely says because she has a day job).  It's about the satisfaction of amusing people.

So I hope you have enjoyed my "column," and that I have made you laugh or at least given you an excuse to procrastinate.  Now, if you'll excuse me, I think it's time for me to go read a bit more Bill Bryson.

Tuesday, June 12, 2012

Crazy World of Pinterest

If you haven't been on Pinterest, you should have a visit, just to see how strange our society really is.  It's a website that allows you to "pin" a picture and web link to a virtual board.  It can be addictive, but I've found that, due to the repetitive nature of what gets pinned, the novelty wears off fairly quickly.

Repetitive?  Oh, yes.  According to Pinterest, our society is obsessed with the following: food, dresses, food, decorating, food, braiding hair, food, alcohol, food, eye shadow, food, jokes, food, exercise, and food.

If you look up my boards on Pinterest (there are no Facebook-like privacy settings, so feel free), you'll see that I mostly pin recipes, which isn't terribly shocking considering my obsession with cooking.  Look up anybody you like and you'll see what makes them hit that "Pin It" button.  For instance, a few months ago I came across the Pinterest profile for the wife of a friend of mine.  She'd pinned a bazillion pictures of children and child-rearing tips, even though she has no children of her own.  I hope he knows he has fatherhood in his future.  

In fact, most of the people on Pinterest are women, so I'm a little concerned by all the pictures of nearly naked women on there.  They all have a comment under them like "Great diet tips!" or "How to lose weight in a healthy way!"  Really?  Is seeing a woman in a bikini with hips like an adolescent boy and no body hair an incentive to exercise?  Frankly, it makes me want to sit and have another cookie (according to the Pinterest picture at right, cookies should be pink!).

One of the most consistent trends I've noticed on Pinterest is that you can serve anything in a canning jar.  What?  You didn't know that canning jars were vital to a well-laid party spread?  Oh, ho ho!  Yes, indeed.  Canning jars are not just for jam and pickles any more.

Why, just look at the following:
I've never liked oatmeal, but perhaps that's because
I never ate it cold out of a canning jar!

A wash tub filled with bottles of beer or cans of soda is not enough.
You must serve a variety of mixed beverages in canning jars! 

Salad in a mason jar.  Why?  Because bowls are so 2010!
A few weeks ago I gave you a link to a website featuring Weight Watcher recipe cards from the 1960s.  The site makes fun of the absurdity of the recipes and the absolutely appalling way that food was staged for photography back then.  A few minutes on Pinterest, however, and I've come to the conclusion that nothing has changed.  We're still making crazy recipes and serving them as weirdly as possible.

So have fun on Pinterest, and may all your cookies be pink and all your oatmeal come in a Mason jar.

Monday, June 11, 2012

Jane, Jane

I'm an Anglophile.  I've read lots of British literature and have been working on the quality of my faux-British accent for decades (it's way better than Madonna's).  I love fish and chips and British ale and tea and digestives and the absolutely adorable way that British people are so inappropriately polite.  Most of all I love British humor and British accents.

When I'm sick or recovering from surgery as I have been recently, I tend to get all the BBC versions of Jane Austen's novels on DVD and watch them.  Jacob came out of his office the other day and asked me if I had been watching an Austen movie.  

"Yes.  How did you know?" I asked.

"You're speaking with a British accent."

Oh.  Right.

My favorite book of all time is Jane Eyre.  I've loved it ever since I read it when I was a kid, and it amazes me how completely different it is every time I read it.  My long-suffering husband even read it aloud with me a few months ago, and we had a fabulous time with the vocabulary.  I'm positive that Charlotte Bronte made some of those words up.  

The latest film adaptation, although a very simplified version, is really lovely.  Michael Fassbender is far too attractive to be playing the role of Mr. Rochester, but I didn't mind at all.

I should probably stop watching that movie.

I also love Jane Austen novels and read them over and over again.   Pride and Prejudice is my favorite, but I love the silliness of Northanger Abbey, too.   Although not all the film adaptations are very good - the camera work in the 2007 BBC version of Persuasion kind of gave me the creeps - I'm always up for watching one.  

My love of British culture is not limited to Victorian novels, either.  I recently started watching the new show Sherlock on Netflix and can recommend it without reservation.

I have been to England.  I was there for six weeks back in the mid-90s.  The experience taught me several important things:
  • There is not enough ice
  • British food, by and large, is pretty awful
  • Line-dried jeans are crunchy and not okay with me
  • You have to be utterly mad to drive in England
That doesn't mean I'm not desperate to go back for another visit.  For one thing, I've heard the food has improved considerably.  For another, I need to make it up to Scotland this time.  Those accents are even better!

Saturday, June 9, 2012

A day of Norman Rockwell & torture

As you know, yesterday I posted sweet pictures of my children and the childhood memories we shared over the breakfast table.  It was all very Norman Rockwell.  We ate scrambled eggs and homemade banana bread.

Then I spent the rest of the morning torturing Piper in Ravenswood, since the novel is suddenly no longer complete and I have to try to write a new climax and ending for it . . . again.

As I was telling my kids over lunch (yes, we talk a lot at meals), the way you make fictional characters do things is to torture them.  If you don't torture them, then they act a lot like real people do.  They read books and watch TV and surreptitiously pick their noses - none of which makes for great literature or even a fun read.

You know how when you read a good book you get to the end and kind of wake up and think, "Whoa!  Where am I?" because you've been so sucked into that world?  Well, the same thing happens when I'm writing, which means I really felt like I'd spent the morning, to some extent, torturing Piper in my selfish attempt to get a full-length novel out of her.  The poor girl took it all quite well, I must say.

The most heartbreaking thing about yesterday's efforts, for me, is that I again have all this first-draft stuff that will need several revisions before it rises above crap, let alone blends seamlessly into the rest of the novel.  For one thing, I managed to drop ninjas in there.  I've mentioned in my blog before that Meagan saved me during last year's NaNoWriMo by suggesting ninja pirates to me, thus freeing my novel Blue from a heroine who was content to wander in a blissful meadow all day (I wish I were kidding).  The ninja pirates were awesome, and I got a new favorite character, Sebastian, out of the deal.

However, I can't have ninjas in all my books.  If I ever do become a bestselling author or even (fingers-crossed) a respected one, I don't want someone writing their dissertation on the meaning of ninjas in Amy Moran's novels.  I want them instead to write about my use of food as a reflection of family dysfunction.  It's a consistent theme, and would make a great thesis.  

Friday, June 8, 2012

Childhood adventures

This morning at breakfast we were talking about our earliest memories.  The kids were completely unimpressed with mine.  I was standing next to a bed, and there was a baby on the bed.  That's it.  So, yeah, they were right to be unimpressed.  I think I'm only about two years old, though, based on the height of the bed and such.

Jacob's earliest memories are awesome.  He remembers sitting in a high chair obliterating a peanut butter and jelly sandwich while his dad played guitar a few feet away.  I was teasing him about his parents keeping him in a high chair until he was six, but he also remembers being handed off into his grandmother's arms, so I think Jacob wins for having the earliest memories.  My memories of being carried are all me begging and being told, "No, Amy, you're too big to pick up."  I was a rather sturdy child, but more on that later.

Mindy's earliest memories are from preschool, also at three or four years old.  She remembers having to take naps and being bored out of her mind.  She remembers playing quietly in the corner while the other kids learned words she already knew.  She also remembers having to remind the teacher that a universe is bigger than a galaxy.  Ah, nerd memories!

Isaac remembers his first night sleeping in a big bed instead of a toddler bed.  He was probably three or four years old.  He says he woke up when he rolled out and hit his head.  "There was some blood, but only a little bit."  I have no recollection of this at all, so here's yet more evidence of my lousy mothering skills.

Speaking of mothers not knowing what their kids are up to . . .

I've always been a fan of eating, and when I was a kid I sneaked a lot of food.  I'm assuming my mom is well aware of this since every bag of cookies always had just one left in it.  (I couldn't finish the whole bag.  Then people would KNOW.)

When I was eight years old I tried to make a cupcake.  I put a reduced amount of the ingredients from the Betty Crocker cookbook into a cupcake liner and mixed it up as best I could.  There was still a lot of egg yolk and such, but it's hard to mix well in a paper liner.  Then I stuck it into the microwave.  It didn't work well, and the smell was awful.  I threw away the "cupcake" in the garbage outside and sprayed the house liberally with Lysol, but when mom came home a few minutes later I had to 'fess up.

However, one time when I was home alone I decided I wanted to make donuts and pulled out the trusty Betty Crocker cookbook.  I managed to heat up a pan full of oil and make up some dough, but they didn't turn out right and the oil popped like crazy.  Somehow I managed to clean up all the evidence, or so I thought.  The next day my mom asked what the burns were from on my arms.  I, of course, feigned ignorance, so to this day she probably thinks one of my friends' parents was putting out cigarettes on my arms.  No, Mom, I'd just gotten marginally smarter since the cupcake incident.

Thursday, June 7, 2012

I love it when a plan comes together

I mentioned in my blog post yesterday that I was considering deleting chapter seventeen of Ravenswood.  While reading through the novel again I get to that chapter and it is so boring and stupid that I can't even make myself read it, so pointless that I think I can delete it and have the rest of the book make perfect sense.  It's kind of like when you watch the deleted scenes on a DVD and think, "Well, duh.  Why did you shoot that scene in the first place?"

Unfortunately, if I remove that chapter then the novel, which was already on the short side, officially becomes a novella.  I don't want a novella.  I want a novel.

So I've been taking advantage of the insomnia due to oxycodone withdrawal (fun times!) to try to come up with some way to fill out the novel without just stuffing it full of rice like a cheap burrito.  I can't get around the fact that I'm going to have to make more happen.

Some of you have read a draft of the whole novel.  Although there have been lots of positive comments,  everyone has also made it clear that I do not end the novel well.  I improved it some, but it still leaves you hanging (sorry).  Some of you also know that I already started a sequel to Ravenswood.  It seemed like a priority since I ended the first one so unsatisfactorily.

This morning I came up with the solution to my dilemma, which suddenly seemed so obvious that I can't believe it took me this long.  I'm going to tighten the remaining chapters of the first book (except chapter seventeen which is going into the garbage because I never want to see it again) and continue into what I've written on the sequel, which is pretty exciting, if I do say so myself.  If I can get the conflict in the sequel to blend well into what was the end of the first novel, it will actually do a better job of completing the story arc.  I even have a spreadsheet of the major conflicts and their resolutions so I can check that I'm following each through every act of the novel.  (I am, after all, an accountant.  I know how to make things tie out.)

What's funny to me (and probably only to me) is that the original climax to the novel is currently in the middle, and now what was, to me, the new climax of the novel is going to be in the middle, as well.  This sucker just keeps growing.

What is less funny is that I now have another 25,000 to 30,000 words to write and a lot of reorganizing to do.  It's kind of like thinking you finished building the shed and deciding instead to make it the entry of a nice vacation cabin.

Another thing I've realized is that after Piper cuts her own bangs in chapter two that she really looks pretty emo.  This was unintentional, but now that she looks like that I can't get her to change back.  So annoying.

Incorporating the sequel is also going to bring in a guy who wears vintage clothes and skinny pants and probably a scarf.  Believe it or not, I really don't have anything to do with these decisions.

I'd better get back to writing.  I have a LOT of work to do.

Wednesday, June 6, 2012

It would be smarter not to write

When I was eight years old I wrote what was probably my first complete story.  My mom worked at my school, and in the afternoons I'd hang out in her room, waiting for a ride home.  Her room was full of fun things like two doves in a cage, lots of computers, and a binding machine.

I think it was the binding machine that really did it for me.  I wrote "Lindsey of Asia," cut pictures out of magazines to illustrate it, and bound it neatly.  I probably still have that thing in a box in the garage somewhere.

My mom was torn between delight and horror, since the incorrigible Miss Lindsey ended up in Asia when she ran away from home because her father (the president of the United States) was mean and neglectful.  I don't think I even gave my heroine a mother.  After reading it, my mom wondered where she'd gone wrong.

We had a poetry contest in third grade.  The theme was careers, and I wrote about being an inventor (more a mad scientist, really) and having my toes blown off.  I won the contest, and my teacher carefully copied the somewhat gruesome poem out in calligraphy.

I won more writing competitions over the years, including one for a short story in college, and one about ten years ago for compiling the worst paragraph possible.  Looking back, I think that awful paragraph I wrote was some of my best work.

Which brings me to my thought for the day: do I write simply because I was encouraged at a young age?  If I hadn't had that silly inventor poem copied into calligraphy, if I hadn't been stuck in a classroom for hours with a binding machine, if I hadn't been forced, like all children my age, to keep a journal in class, would I have this unfortunate writing addiction?

Yes, I do mean unfortunate.

Because writing sucks up time and attention.

Because writing reveals too much of what's inside my head (and even when it doesn't, my mother assumes it does).

Because writing exposes me to rejection and generous quantities of self-doubt.

This week I've been revising Ravenswood for the bazillionth time, and it rips me apart.  On one hand, I love the thing.  I get sucked into that world and want to stay and wander around.  On the other hand, there are parts of it I hate. For instance, some of the characters are flat as flounders (I despise them), and I think I might need to delete chapter 17 entirely.

I doubt there will ever be a point at which I can say, "I'm done.  This is my best work."

Which is why on days like this I think it would be smarter not to write.

Saturday, June 2, 2012

Making Compromises

Mindy is upstairs weeping right now, and it's my fault.

Today is the Bible Challenge.  This is Isaac's second year competing, and it's his first year having put any real effort into preparing for it. I know he's going to do a wonderful job, and I really, really want to be there to see it.  However, I am kidding myself if I think my body can handle not only an hour round-trip in the car to get there, but hours of waiting while the competition is going on.  I'm hoping to take my last oxycodone this weekend, not start popping them every three hours again.

So I came up with a compromise.  Isaac will hitch a ride with his cousin, then we'll go this afternoon to watch the individual competition and see the awards ceremony.  What a great solution, right?  It'll still be rough on my body, but hopefully not too much to handle.  It's also better for Jacob, who has several commitments all afternoon and evening.

But Mindy is heartbroken.  She wants to go and hang out with the older kids like she did last year.  She wants to watch all the games and questions and pretend she's a part of it.

I made my daughter cry, just like I've had to so many other times.  They should tell you that before you have kids.  They should say, "You're about to have a little person that looks exactly like you.  You will love them in a way you've never imagined, and you are going to have to disappoint them and watch them cry, knowing it's your fault."

It is in this mood I share with you a link to a song off of Brandi Carlile's new album Bear Creek (via Paste Magazine).  The song is "That Wasn't Me," and it's beautiful and heart-wrenching, like most of her music.

Maybe that's what I can tell Mindy: when I make you cry, that wasn't me.

It's going to be okay, anyway.  I can hear her giggling in her room upstairs with her dad.