Posted in Writing

My Plans for NaNoWriMo 2018

On November 1st for the past 11 years, I’ve opened a new Word document on my computer, named it NaNoWriMo and the year, and set out to write 50,000 of a novel over the next 30 days. And I’ve failed every year except for one. I usually manage 5,000 or 10,000 words before school or work takes over the hours earmarked for writing.

(The only time I won NaNoWriMo was my senior year of high school. I remember only two things about that novel: it was 5,000 words short of 50,000, so I included a couple short stories at the end; and I modeled a character after Jesse James from West Coast Choppers.)

NaNoWriMo sparks anxiety in me and makes me set expectations really, really, really high.

I convince myself that this November is when I’ll finally write the story that’s been loitering in the periphery forever. And I’ll make the time to write, carving out a couple hours before bed and scribbling during my lunch. And eventually, I convince myself that this is my ONE CHANCE to write this particular story. If I don’t, then it’ll never get written.

Here’s the thing, though: that’s not true. There are still 24-hours in a day during November, and some of those hours are earmarked for things like working and homework and sleeping and showering and doing laundry. NaNoWriMo doesn’t magically add an extra hour for writing to my day (no matter how much I wish it did). I’m working with the same number of hours that I have the other eleven months of the year.

And that whole thing about having ONE CHANCE to write THIS story? Also crap. Stories don’t have expiration dates. My zombie apocalypse novella is still waiting patiently; the treasure hunt/ghost story I’m trying to work on now will be there next week and next year; even the trilogy of paranormal romance novellas is still going to be there when I get around to writing it.

So rather than stressing out about not joining the millions of other writers across the world as they draft their stories, I’ve decided that I’m going to focus on the long-term this November. That means figuring out a writing routine that works, whether that means sitting down at my laptop for an hour Saturday and Sunday mornings or taking a half hour after dinner to get words written.

Getting that routine down and consistently turning out words will be far more beneficial for me than trying to slam out 50,000 words in November. NaNo works for some writers, and that’s great. But it doesn’t work for all writers, and that’s okay.

Posted in Doing the Thing

Candy Corn Cupcakes

What happens when I start searching for Halloween-themed recipes on Pinterest? I find lots of cute ideas for desserts and start making elaborate plans for baking cupcakes and brownies and a cake and Rice Krispy Treats.
Then I dialed back on the whole “sugar up my partner and coworkers” endeavor. I decided to bake a cupcake a week, and that has since been dialed even farther back to just one cupcake because of time and trying to eat healthier.

I was still planning on four different cupcakes when I bought the ingredients for the first (and only) ones I made, so it just happened that the design turned out to be Candy Corn. The cupcakes weren’t Candy Corn flavored, just colored. I used this recipe for the vanilla cupcakes and this one for the vanilla buttercream. Then I divided the batter in half before adding food coloring. I was relatively proud of myself because I avoided mixing the colors too much when I poured them.

The orange ended up being a pale after baking; the yellow didn’t seem to show up at all. And the powdered sugar for the buttercream made a mess of my stand-mixer and counter. Plus the only cupcake liners in my cabinet had white and blue stripes.

But my Candy Cane cupcakes were still cute. And they tasted A-MAZ-ING. Like, that cake recipe is going in the recipe box amazing. The buttercream ended up being super sweet, which tasted best when I hadn’t gone too buttercream-crazy on a cupcake.

I’m really, really happy with how these cupcakes turned out. Especially since they’re probably going to be the only Halloween-themed desserts that I’ll make this year.

Posted in Making It Up As I Go

The One with the Exploding Dog Bed

Grace has settled into life in Myrtle Beach, South Carolina. How do I know? Dog beds have started exploding.

At least “it exploded” was the excuse Grace gave for the tufts of brown stuffing all over the floor and her dog bed in tatters. She said that I had to believe her because she was the only witness (Sam was hanging with my dad at the time). Besides, she would never, ever, ever chew her bed. Lady Grace of Louisiana is much too good of a dog for that.

Posted in Books, Making It Up As I Go

The Pros & Cons of Reading on My Phone

There’s an old school Nook tucked between paperbacks my bookshelf; I can’t remember the last time I used it, and I’m pretty sure the battery is dead. I like it … though it’s not exactly the most convenient. Especially since the battery doesn’t hold a charge for long anymore. I’ve given thought to replacing it with a tablet of some kind, but that’s not in the budget right now.

So I decided to download the Kindle and Nook apps on my phone. After reading a handful of books on them, I’ve come to the conclusion that reading on my phone has both pros and cons.

Pro ~ It’s Convenient as Hell
My phone goes wherever I go. At the store? It’s in my pocket. Work? In my purse. At home? Probably within arm’s reach. That means instead of popping on Facebook or Twitter while I’m waiting for something or need to fill a bit of time, I can read. And there’s no need to make sure that I’ve packed a book or worry that said book hasn’t been bent and crushed by whatever else is in my bag. I just grab my phone, click on the app, and I can pick up right where I left off.

Con ~ I Can’t Hold the Book
Paperbacks and hardcovers have a certain feel to them. There’s the weight of all three hundred or four hundred pages; there’s the smooth feel of the cover and sometimes even the raised lettering; there are the lines of black text dimpled with the imperfections in the page; there’s even accidentally catching a glimpse of the last page and trying to figure out what those lines mean. That’s all missing with a reading app.

Pro & Con ~ So Many Books
I’ll admit that I haven’t read half of the books on my bookshelves. I happen across interesting-looking books for relatively cheap and bring them home. The difference with eBooks is that I don’t have to leave my couch to find a good deal. The positive side is that I can amass a plethora of books for a reasonable price. On the downside, I’m buying books faster than I can read them and now have a dozen books on my phone that I haven’t touched yet.

Ultimately, the convenience factor trumps all. I can read while lying in bed or while at my partner’s place or on my lunch break or while in a waiting room. All without needing to pack a book. I just need to remember my phone.

Posted in Doing the Thing, Making It Up As I Go

EXPLORE

Myrtle Beach never hit my list of places to visit, despite being bustling tourist destination four hours from my apartment. Come to think of it, that may be exactly why it was never on that list. Touristy can be fun. But I’d rather get my touristy-fix with a mouse in Florida.

Then my parents relocated this summer. To Myrtle Beach.

With two visits under my belt so far, I can say that I’m familiar with the traffic in Conway and Ollie’s Bargain Outlet. I still haven’t hit the beach or the touristy destinations like the Hollywood Wax Museum and the Ripley’s Believe It Or Not Museum. I’m sure that I’ll check out those places (and document the visits extensively) on a future trip.

Here’s the thing about wanderlust: it hits me when I least expect it and doesn’t require venturing off to an exotic venue.

During my most recent visit to Myrtle Beach, I satisfied my wanderlust by exploring the Tangier Outlets. Seriously. I took a quick trip to Ollie’s and scoured the book section, finding nothing. I couldn’t just go back to my parents’ place, so I searched for nearby bookstores on my phone and found the Book Warehouse at the Tangier Outlets.

It took several minutes of wandering through the pathways lined with the Nike store, Justice, Dress Barn, As Seen On TV, and others before I spotted the bookstore. I ended up not finding anything. So I decided to keep exploring. I spotted (and managed to stay out of) a fudge store. I also found a kitchen store packed to the gills with more kitchen gadgets than I’d ever seen. I managed to leave the Outlets without buying anything. Somehow.

This isn’t the first time that I’ve quelled the desire to EXPLORE by simply wandering around stores. It’s a good reminder, though, that I don’t have to spend a lot of money to get my wanderlust fix. All it takes is to find somewhere that I’ve never been and simply explore.

Posted in Uncategorized

A Brief Pause

The world is demanding sometimes, wanting more of me than I can spare. But I oblige because that’s how it works for me.

I put one foot in front of the other because that’s how problems get solved and bills get paid.

Contrary to popular thought, memorable stories don’t come from starving writers. So this writer is putting a pause on things this week and giving myself permission to sort life out.

Magenta flower

Posted in Writing

Baking & Writing

I’ve mentioned that baking has become my newest hobby, and I recently decided to venture from cupcakes and cookies to full-on cakes thanks to a Pinterest recipe. (It’s this cake for those wondering.) The experience was… an experience. Full of I’m just going to wing it and well shit, that didn’t work.

Turning out a freaking tasty lemon cake and too sweet frosting gave me surprising insight into another process: my writing process.

It sounds like a leap—I know, I know—but let me unpack it.

The cake on Pinterest is called a Raspberry Lemon Cake. Mine was a Strawberry Lemon Cake because the grocery store didn’t have fresh raspberries. The recipe is supposed to produce enough batter for three 6-inch cakes. I barely fit all my batter in a single 9 ½ inch cakepan. The cake should’ve had a meringue frosting. I said f-it because it was 8pm and there was no way I was going to make f-ing meringue at that time of the night, so I bought a tub of frosting from Food Lion.

Whenever I start a new piece of writing, I always have a plan in my head. It may not be complete or very detailed, but I have a rough outline. A has to happen before B happens and B has to happen before C happens.

But stories and characters like to go awry. Maybe A needs to be cut entirely and E should really happen between B and C rather than after D. Or maybe a certain character decides that he or she would rather go chasing a story on zombies than finding their best friend at the hospital. (No… I’m not talking from personal experience here. What would give you that idea?)

Baking and writing require flexibility. The ability to say well that’s not going to happen and then finding a way to make the bigger picture still work. Odds are that it’s not going to look exactly how I expected or planned. It may be better. Or it may need some tweaking in the next go-around.

I’m okay with either outcome. Especially when it means I get to eat cake.

Posted in Doing the Thing

Confessions of a Yarn Addict

I’ve discovered a fundamental truth: when I step into a bookstore or a craft store, I’m going to walk out with a full shopping bag.

This used to only be the case with bookstores (and is the biggest reason I avoid them whenever possible). But I’ve developed a hardcore yarn addiction this pas year. That combined with my inability to pass up a good clearance deal adds up to T-R-O-U-B-L-E whenever I’m within eyesight of a Michaels or AC Moore.

Let me put it in perspective: I have a yarn trunk. Not a yarn bag or a yarn box. I have an old-used-for-traveling-pre-suitcases trunk filled from bottom to top with yarn pretty much all bought on clearance.

What sparked this yarn addiction? I began knitting baby blankets.

There are no babies in the near future for me, and I don’t know anyone currently pregnant. The best I can figure is that I decided knitting a blanket for a baby was a good jumping off point for figuring out how to knit a full-sized blanket. And since blanket patterns typically require several hundred feet or more of yarn… well, that’s how I ended up with a yarn trunk.

I’ve branched out in terms of knitting patterns on Pinterest and Ravelry. I’ve made a stuffed polar bear, fingerless gloves, coffee cup sleeves, and even a poncho in addition to blankets.

One particular hat pattern has been my go-to of late. It’s a winter hat that’s just a simple garter stitch. Translation: I mindlessly knit while watching Netflix and not f-up the pattern. Plus even if I pick up the project for five minutes here and there, I can usually finish a hat per week. (Double plus: each hat uses up half a big skein of yarn, making room for new yarn faster.)

The hats are pretty thick and will hold up in a good chill. So my first thought was to gift them to friends back in Massachusetts, but they already own more winter hats than they know what to do with. I know I sure did.

North Carolina doesn’t get as cold as Massachusetts and gets only a small fraction of the snow. Yet people still need winter hats. So why not give them to charity?

I set myself a goal: knit five hats by December to donate to a local shelter. That goal is getting revised to ten since it’s August and I’m already on hat number four. I may decide to revise that goal again in the fall depending on how much time I spend mindlessly knitting.

Whether I produce more than ten hats or not, I know two things for certain: people who need warm hats will get them this winter, and I’m going to have so much room for clearance yarn.

 

Posted in Making It Up As I Go

The One with the Mama Deer

“Look at the mama and baby deer!” I said. “I’m going to get a picture after we park.”

My partner was driving us up the windy driveway to his place. He took his foot off the gas as he glanced over into the clearing.

“That’ll be tricky,” he said.

“Have some faith in me.”

He parked in front of the garage. “It’s not that I don’t have faith. It’s just that those deer are going to run as soon as you head down the driveway.”

“We’ll see about that.”

In retrospect, I was absurdly confident as I hiked down the driveway. Like I was a Disney princess headed off to meet my long-lost animal sidekicks, when the reality was that I’d never come face-to-face with wildlife bigger than a squirrel in my life.

The gravel driveway made it impossible to walk quietly, and Mama Deer had her sights on me before I even stepped off the path. Her twins stared as well.

“Hey there, sweetie.”

“Who are you?” Mama Deer flicked her ears to dislodge a bug before aiming them straight back at me.

“I only want to take a couple pictures.”

“Well, okay. But please don’t get any closer.”

“That’s fair,” I said.

I zoomed in as much as the phone camera would allow, snapping a couple pictures from between the trees.

“Mama, look at how high I can leap!” One of the twins vaulted towards the back of the clearing.

“Hey, I can leap high too!” The other twin bounced behind her brother.

“Don’t you two run away from me.”

Mama Deer bolted behind her babies and corralled them at the far end of the clearing. Her attention returned to me briefly before she began scolding her twins. I took the opportunity to head back to the driveway.

“I don’t care what your brother was doing. If he decided to jump out at Mr. Skunk and get sprayed, would you do it too?”

“Well, no. I don’t like the smell of Mr. Skunk’s spray.”

“Wait, Mr. Skunk is here? I want to see him.”

The fawn ran for the woods. His twin and mother took off in hot pursuit, leaving me alone on the driveway with my phone.

Posted in Doing the Thing

I Baked Macaroons for the First Time

My baking experience is confined to boxed brownies and bagged cookie mix. So deciding to bake macaroons after seeing a cool-looking recipe on Pinterest was ambitious–to say the least–and it would probably end in disaster. Let me explain a little: macaroons are a bitch to make. They’re super easy to under-mix, and the cookies are notorious for cracking while baking. The internet is awash with macaroon-baking horror stories.

I decided to make Nutella Macaroons anyway.

Because I’m following through on my goal of doing the thing; because I’m inexplicably overconfident in my baking skills;  and because Nutella Macaroons sound really freaking tasty.

I bought the ingredients, only for them to sit in my pantry for the two weeks it took for me find a day with spare hours to embark on the project. Then came a Wednesday with a bit of time not earmarked for anything in particular, and I started going through the recipe and gathering all the spoons and bowls and such when I realized that I need a new mixer. Why? I pulled the beaters for my hand-mixer out of the drawer and found rust where the finish had worn away. So I ventured to Walmart, found a cheap stand,  and headed home, ready to get to work.

I laid out my ingredients on the counter before scrolling through Pinterest for a particular pin that converted weight in grams into things like tablespoons and teaspoons. It wasn’t there. I went through my pins several times and searched every string of words even tangentially connected to “macaroon gram conversions.” Nothing. The pin had disappeared into a blackhole.

The irony of the situation was that I’d passed on a food scale at Target because it seemed unnecessary with that fore-mentioned pin. Plus I’d already gotten home from the Walmart shopping excursion, and I really did not want to go out again. But I’d gotten too far into the process to turn back. So I cursed under my breath the entire trip to Target and back.

It was late afternoon by the time that I finished setting out all of the ingredients and got to work. Then came more hiccups. Whisking the dry ingredients together isn’t a substitute for putting them through a food processor because the almond flour isn’t small enough to fit through a sifter. And it takes forever in the mixer for egg whites and granulated sugar to turn into meringue the consistency of soft serve ice cream. It’s also possible to DIY a pastry bag for putting the shell/cookie mixture on the baking sheets out of a Ziploc bag (and for the filling so long as the bag is CLOSED before being squeezed).

By some miracle, the cookies looked okay when I pulled them out of the oven. I assembled them on my counter before stepping back to look at them.

The macaroons were misshapen in general and refused to sit up straight on my counter-top; but they still kinda looked like macaroons if you squinted.

Yet they tasted delicious. There was just the right amount of airiness in the cookie along with a satisfying crunch. The chocolate of the Nutella filling balanced out the slightly bitter taste of the coco powder in the shell.

Baking macaroons is just as much of a pain in the ass and time-consuming as everyone says it is. But–and I’m probably going to regret saying it–I enjoyed it. I liked piping the cookie mix onto the baking sheets and making bigger macaroons than normal. I stared in wonder at the shells when they came out of the oven actually looking edible. And I halfheartedly cursed while trying to keep the Nutella-filling from flowing all over my hands because I hadn’t closed the Ziploc bag completely. (Who’s going to complain about having delicious Nutella on their hands? Not me.)

Baking macaroons was a success.  They’re not super pretty, and I made them the week that my dishwasher was on the fritz. But they came out tasting good, not just edible.

It’s going to be a while before I bake macaroons again. I’ve got to psyche myself up and find a free afternoon to get it done. But I’ve already found a couple flavors (S’mores! Blueberry! Raspberry! Chocolate Mint!) that I want to try. I like the challenge of it. Though I can’t promise that I’ll say the same thing next time I’m elbow-deep in meringue.