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.

 

 

Posted in Doing the Thing

Another Garden Update

Last year’s garden gave me unrealistic expectations about this year’s garden. No, scratch that. The only things growing in my garden last year were flowers, and the flowers are currently doing fantastic.

The vegetable garden is a different beast. Watering, or accidental lack thereof, plays a huge role in their growth with the brutal summer heat. And so do pests. F-ing pests.

It would be fair to say that the vegetable side of my garden has kept life interesting.

Productive Survivors

Tomatoes ~ My eight tomato plants–stuffed into two planters– are faring better than expected. I didn’t realize how sensitive they are to heat, but they bounce back well when I finally remember to water them. The first harvest produced in the neighborhood of 15 tomatoes, and the second harvest is looking to be just as fruitful.

Carrots ~ The full-size carrots I harvested a few weeks ago are in the neighborhood of two and three inches, and I must’ve ended up with ten. They taste… okay. I’m convinced that I haven’t scrubbed all of the dirt off them yet or just need to cook . Once I picked that first batch, I planted a second one.

Parsley ~ These suckers are so easy-going. When I forget to water them for a day or two, it doesn’t seem to do lasting damage. They shrug it off. They also bounce back quick from when I harvest the leaves. Now I just need to find more recipes that require parsley.

Basil ~ The two basil plants in my garden refuse to die. One of them was literally knocked off its shelf during the storm, came out of its pot and was put back in a day later, and the asshole is still alive. And no matter how many times I forget to water them and the leaves shrivel up, they still go right back to normal after I get the watering can out.

Unproductive Survivor

Cucumbers ~ I pretty much considered the cucumbers on their way out when every single leaf started turning brown. Yet the vines stayed healthy, so I kept watering them. The leaves at the tops of the plants seem to be holding their own. Plus it’s been producing bright yellow flowers for a couple months now; but the cucumbers that start growing just look… weird. Like one end is far fatter than the other. Or the skin has turned an ashy green. I’m not holding my breath.

Casualties

Pumpkins ~ Losing these plants bummed me out. They were doing so well, the vines hanging over the edge of the pots and off the side of the shelf. But then some f-ing pest decided to burrow into the vine. And not just a little bit either; they turned the insides into pulp. I got wise to them after the first pumpkin died and bought powder that’s supposed to repel insects. It did just that… where I put the powder. The f-ing pests started burrowing farther down on the vine and ultimately killed it.

Peas & Peppers ~ I take about half the blame for these guys not surviving. The rest of the blame I place on whoever designed the decks in my apartment complex. Rainwater streams straight down through the boards on my upstairs neighbor’s deck and directly onto the vegetable shelves. Since there’s no drainage in the pots, the plants ultimately ended up with about an inch of water atop the soil after each storm. I ultimately gave up on draining the pots by hand.

I’m glad that I took that leap of faith in the spring and started a veggie garden on my patio. And I’m absolutely going to do another one next year; I’m just going to learn from this year’s mistakes and maybe scale back my expectations a hair.

Posted in 5 Things, Making It Up As I Go, Writing

Five Things I Learned Writing “Scales”

I issued myself a challenge at the beginning of May: turn out a polished final draft of a short story by June 1st for an anthology call for submissions. And because I’m an overachiever when it comes to making things difficult for myself, I decided to write a cozy-type story, meaning limited blood and violence. So no car chases, no shootouts, and no zombies. (Note to self, figure out how to write a cozy mystery with zombies.)

The challenge taught me a lot about writing, and I wanted to share the five biggest lessons that I learned from trying to write and submit a short story in a month.

1. Find Conflict Outside Your (Writing) Comfort Zone

Because I decided early on that I didn’t want to write my typical A-team/Jack Reacher-type story where lives are on the line. I wanted something with a different kind of drama, the kind that could be happening next door and you’d be none the wiser until news crews show up on the front lawn. That isn’t the kind of drama I’m used to manufacturing for my characters and weaving into the plot.

I had to take a step back and ask myself what kind of conflict would compel the main character to act? She’s an expert in reptiles. What if she found and had to protect a reptile that’d been thought extinct for centuries? It took a bit longer to figure out how to make the tension and conflict something that would keep me on the edge of my seat. But I did it. And honestly, I liked how it turned out.

2. Pinterest is Worse than Quicksand, and You’re Better off Avoiding It while Writing

Hi there. I’m S.E., and I’m mildly addicted to Pinterest. It’s my go-to for recipes that may or may not work, the place where I can see hundreds of cute puppy pictures, and a knitting resource if I’m looking for a how-to or a knitting pattern. Occasionally, I’ll use it to give myself a visual reference for whatever character or place I’m creating.

I’ve yet to break myself of the habit of popping onto Pinterest while I’m working, and I usually justify the trip over to the website by telling myself that I need to know what something looks like. That’s exactly what happened when I was working on “Scales.” I was working on the scene where the formerly-extinct reptile shows up and decided that I need a visual. Simple enough, right? Well, I ended up knee-deep in knitting patterns for cryptozoological creatures like the Loch Ness Monster and dragons for a couple hours. It was time that should’ve been spent writing.

3. Worldbuilding is Tough; Stopping is Tougher

Most of my stories take place in the present day or in a world that’s pretty darn close to it. That’s because worldbuilding is not my strong suite. It’s a process that requires knowing things like how magic works, how the culture looks, and the general history of the civilization. You know. little things.

Building the universe in Scales was rough, and it still challenges me when I dive back into the story. The world itself is based upon a modern-day United States but with the addition of magic and cryptids. That didn’t strike me as being too difficult when I first started. Make the gargoyle doorknocker an enchanted sentry? Cute and great show of what’s normal. Have the roommate be a psychic? Hello opportunity for foreshadowing. But the problem arose with another question: where do I stop? Or better yet, how much magic is too much magic? Maybe there are Pegasuses and people carry umbrellas to avoid droppings. Or maybe witches and wizards run supermarkets and there’s been a rash of scandals involving magicked fruit. My head still spins thinking about the possibilities.

4. You May Fail (and that’s Okay)

Deadlines are my best friends as a writer. They compel me to sit down and write until the thing is done. Otherwise I’m likely to write a hundred words here and there, stretching what should be a month-long first draft process into three months (for short stories). Like I said before, I knew that turning out a finished story in a month was a tall order. But I felt confident.

A series of unexpected–but not unwelcome–circumstances meant that I’d finished the first draft and had gotten about 25% of the way through the first revision by the time June 1st rolled around. A small part of me was disappointed. But a far larger part understood that life has a habit of happening, and writing sometimes has to take a backseat. Like when I have to put in extra time at work because I’m taking time off for a convention. And when I meet and start dating my now significant other. I failed, yes. But sometimes such is life.

5. At the End of the Day, Keep Plugging

I’ve hit a point with Scales where I’m spinning my tires, not getting any traction with revisions. The biggest reason is that I don’t know what the story needs. Does it need to start somewhere different? Do I need to weave in a subplot that’ll ratchet up the tension? Or do I need to find a way to amplify the tension in the existing story arc?

I’m not sending Scales to the folder on my desktop that I’ve named “Graveyard.” There’s something about it and its main character that keep me circling back to it. The story just isn’t ready to be told yet. So I’m going to be patient and let the kinks work themselves out in the back of my mind until everything falls into place.

Posted in Making It Up As I Go

I Live-Tweeted “The Bridgewater Triangle” Documentary

I happened upon a documentary called “The Bridgewater Triangle” on Amazon Prime a few weeks ago. The description –especially that the location was a stone’s throw from where I grew up–convinced me to hit play and start live-tweeting. Here are those tweets, occasional spelling mistakes and all.