Thursday, September 15, 2011

Just a little book world vent

No this isn't about agents.  Or publishers.  Or editors.  Or even bookstores.  This little vent is brought to you today by people.  Yep. People.  Specifically people who don't get it.  Perhaps you need a little background.  This past summer I acquired a job as a bookseller at Barnes and Noble (or as they like to say we are nooksellers).  I love my job. I love the people I work with.  I love the company I work for.  I love exciting people about books and seeing them smile when I hand them a book they've been looking for.  I even love helping people figure out how to operate their Nooks or helping them with a problem with their Nooks.  I leave work smiling.  I haven't had a job like this in ages.

I don't work because I have to.  I have this job so we have extra spending, play and vacation money.  It's our fun account.  So I don't need the job, but I enjoy the joy and I am enjoying the fact that because I've been working our family is getting to go to Disney World in 31 days (yes I have an app for that on my phone).  The store has been very slow since school started back.  We are down to bare bones.  People's shifts are being slashed left and right in order to try to make payroll.  There are others at the store who do rely on this job to make ends meet.  My hours have been cut in half.  I went from having a lovely 24 hour work week to a 12 hour work week. 

I'm sure you are thinking to yourself, "But you said this wasn't about bookstores."  It isn't.  It's still about people. You see, people come in and they need a book today for school or work or church or whatever.  We don't have it in stock.  It's either a more rare book that we don't normally carry in our stores or it is a popular book that we have run out of.  I explain that we don't have it, but we can order it.  Almost 75% of the time the answer I get is, "That's OK.  I'll order it on Amazon.  It's cheaper."  Except it isn't.  People forget about the shipping and handling charges that can make it as expensive if not more than ordering it from us.  And every book they buy online is one less book they are purchasing from a brick and mortar store which brings us one step closer to closing our doors and going the way of Borders. 

What is it worth to you to have a brick and mortar store?  Do you like going there and having the ability to sit in the cafe and read a book or browse a magazine?  Do you like the immediacy of going home with a book?  Do you like the atmosphere and the friendly helpful employees?  Do you like the music and DVD collection that has music and movies that you can't get anywhere else in town?  If the answer to that is yes, then is it worth it to pay a few more dollars to keep that resource open to you? 

Every time someone says they are going to purchase a book from Amazon (which I really find quite bold as I would never say to a store worker's face that I was going to go to another place to purchase something - I might go somewhere else, but I would never just say that one store is cheaper than another unless I knew they did price matching) that's one less hour that our store can afford to pay an employee.  That's one more employee who is going to have their hours cut again. 

See, it's more than just a book.  It's about people.  People are behind those books.  Not just the people who write and edit and publish them, but the people who also sell them. They rely on individuals supporting local bookstores to keep them in business.  While a company may be doing well at the corporate level, if a single store is floundering and not doing well, it's draining the company and will be closed.  And I would hate to lose my local Barnes and Noble.  There is nowhere else around for me to go.  I would lose my community and that's important to me.  I don't just go to the bookstore to work, I go there also to meet friends, browse books, find music and soak up words to put on paper. 

So the next time you go into your bookstore to purchase a book, buy it there.  Commit to your local bookstore.  Keep the books in your community and keep your booksellers (and nooksellers) employed.  You will be met with a smile and a thanks. 

Tuesday, September 6, 2011

10 on Tuesday: Knitting Schedule!

Carole's list for this week is to list the ten things on your knitting list this fall and winter.  Woo hoo! Knitting gets me back to blogging.  (That and a semi-sane work schedule.)  So here they are:

1. Finish the green summer sweater so I can wear it next spring.
2. Finish the six, oops, I mean seven, pair of socks that are all mate-less or still OTN (I figured it was less annoying to lump them together than to list them individually)
3. Finish the Pea Vines shawl
4. Make a pair of magnificent socks by Anna Zilboorg now that I know how
5. Knit a pink ruffly bra for the Making Strides Against Breast Cancer walk in October (link is how you can support me)
6. Knit up the lovely pumpkin wool and silk I bought at Stitches into some sort of cardigan
7. Knit hats, scarves and mittens for Sylvia's Place
8. Knit on super secret project for super secret friend who is going through a very difficult time
9. Knit Something Wicked with the acid green lace weight yarn
10. Knit the grandlet a new winter sweater

Thursday, July 21, 2011

Book Review: Knife of Never Letting Go by Patrick Ness

I was so excited the morning I woke up and found that Patrick Ness had won the Carnegie for his young adult book Monsters of Men.  It was the final book in his Chaos Walking series.  The coolest thing (at least to me) is that all three of the books, including the middle book The Ask and the Answer, in this series has been nominated and made the short list for the Carnegie.  It was almost like a Peter-Jackson-Lord-of-the-Rings-at-the-Oscars kind of moment.  Because of his win, I felt it necessary to read the trilogy again and so started with the first book Knife of Never Letter Go

In this first book, Ness introduces us to a new world along with his two main characters, although the book is told in first person by Todd Hewitt.  Todd and his dog, Manchee, are out for a stroll in the swamps to collect apples when they come across a void in the Noise.  Noise is the thoughts of all living creatures, except for female humans.  Every animal and male human can hear the thoughts of every other animal and male human.  It is a huge cacophony that is surely maddening. 

Todd is the last boy of his town.  His town has no women, no girls and now no other children.  He is just a few weeks shy of becoming a man and he is counting the days down when he will be Mr. Hewitt and not just Todd.  He's excited, but finding this silence has caused Todd a problem.  There shouldn't be a silence in the swamp or anywhere.  Suddenly Todd is having his bags packed by his surrogate parents and thrust out the door with the instructions to read his mother's diary and get to the next settlement.  Armed with just a hunting knife, Todd sets out to find something he didn't even know existed.  As he travels he realizes that so many things he had been told are lies and that becoming a man means joining in on those lies. 

And then he meets Viola, who can't possibly exist and the lies start unravelling to expose the truths behind them.  And now Todd and Manchee have Viola join their escape. Together the three face horrors that neither could imagine existed.  Todd learns what it means to love someone and at the same time becomes a man in his own fashion, facing the realities that have plagued his childhood village and understand the corruption that can come when selfishness and greed are the building blocks of your society.

The only thing that bothered me in this book was the spelling and grammar.  Because this books is narrated by Todd and he has been given limited education, his grammar and spelling reflect that.  Words are spelled phonetically and in dialect.  This normally drives me up the wall and makes me want to scream, "What happens to grammar and spelling in post-apocalyptic societies?" For some reason this book didn't cause this immediate knee-jerk reaction.  (I had to quit reading The Road by Cormac McCarthy due to lack of sentence structure.)  I actually found the grammar more endearing than annoying.  It is well worth the read and I encourage everyone to read this fabulous young adult book written from a young man's perspective in a language that both male and female readers can comprehend.

Currently Reading:  The Invention of Hugo Cabret by Brian Selznick and Neverwhere by Neil Gaiman

Tuesday, July 19, 2011

Ten on Tuesday: Beach Songs

Let me preface this by saying that, despite living in a beach town, I don't go to the beach often.  And very rarely in the summer.  I love the beach.  It is fascinating to me.  I've always lived within an hour's drive of a large body of water and I have yet to meet a beach I didn't love.  Whether it was the tan sands of Southern California, the rocky coast of Oregon or Japan, or the gorgeous sugar-white sands of Pensacola, I have found a connection with each beach I have visited.  But I loathe summers at the beach.  The beach is crowded and smelly and hot and even with SPF 937+ sunscreen I burn like a wayward potato chip.  So here is my 10 on Tuesday, the beach song edition (in no particular order):

1. Under the Boardwalk (The Drifters, although I like Bette Midler's version as well)
2. Have I Told You Lately that I Love You (preferably the Van Morrison version, although Rod isn't bad - don't ask me why I think this is a beach song, but it is for me ever since I was a teen)
3. Sittin' on the Dock of the Bay (Otis Redding only!)
4. My Girl (The Temptations)
5. Margaritaville (Jimmie Buffet)
6. Fun, Fun, Fun (Beachboys version)
7. Sailing (Kris Kristofferson)
8. Anything by Meshugga Beach Party
9. Shout!
10. Summer Nights from the Grease soundtrack

Monday, July 18, 2011

A weekend of wonderful movies

This weekend was the opening of Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows Pt. 2.  It was "the end" of an epic story.  It was fabulous and I cried and laughed and smiled and cheered and then cried some more.  I loved it and will be going to see it again on Tuesday.  Competing against this summer block buster (that broke tons of weekend opening records) was a quaint little film called Winnie the Pooh.  My children asked to go.  I obliged.  I was not disappointed.  I cheered, I laughed, I smiled, and I even got a bit weepy a time or two.  It was fabulous and reminded me of the Pooh that I had grown up, even with John Cleese doing the narration.  I felt like I was eight years old again sitting in my pajamas watching Winnie the Pooh and the Honey Pot.  Christopher Robin was perfect, Pooh (still voiced by Jim Cummings who has done the voice since Sterling Halloway passed away in 1992 and in all honestly I can't tell the difference).  Eeyore was lovable and Tigger was bounceable as always. 

But the big movie this weekend was Harry Potter.  I can't believe how blown away I was by the movie.  I was on the edge of my seat the entire time and I felt complete at the end.  I didn't feel that there was anything left out that was very important.  I cried when they crowd at Hogwarts realized that Harry wasn't dead and George turned to his now absent twin to tell him.  I cheered when Molly defended her daughter.  I whooped when Neville beheaded Nagini!  But most of the time I was gripping my middle child's hand as she grasped mine and neither of us daring to breathe.  Both of us glancing at each other as we feared what we knew was coming.

The night was hot, but it didn't stop people from dressing up and being jubilant in line.  Even I dressed as Professor Sprout (that's my hat to the left).  I was accompanied by a Hufflepuff student and Gilderoy Lockhart.  It was fun and festive and I'll miss getting to do it again next year.  It still hasn't set in that there aren't any more movies coming out.  But for the past nine and a half years we have enjoyed seeing the movies and getting to be part of the Harry Potter world.  I look forward to Pottermore and can't wait to see what all that will hold for us.

Until then we will just have to go see other movies.  On my agenda for this fall are the following:  Hugo (based on the book The Invention of Hugo Cabret), Sherlock Holmes (yay!), Captain America, Cowboys versus Aliens, Rise of the Planet of the Apes, The Three Musketeers (I'm a sucker for period pieces), The Muppets (come on, it's the Muppets!), Coriolanus (Ralph Fienes and Shakespeare; do I need to say more), The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo (without subtitles this time!), and War Horse.  So let's go to the movies!

Thursday, July 14, 2011

Book Review: Harry Potter and the Wonderful Wizarding World

I told you this was going to be a week of Harry Potter.  I can't  possibly review all seven books (in any reasonable amount of time).  I can't even pick one book that I can say is my favorite.  I love them all for one reason or another.  I love Sorcerer's/Philosopher's Stone because it introduces us to Harry and this wonderful world that J.K. Rowling created in her mind.  Chamber of Secrets is probably the least of my favorites, but only because I find Gilderoy Lockhart so annoyingly vain, but we are introduced to the Horcruxes even though we don't really know it yet and the lovable Dobby.  Prisoner of Azkaban brings us the affectionate characters of Remus J. Lupin and Sirius Black (oh and  of course Buckbeak).  Goblet of Fire, broadens the wizarding world by bringing in more countries and gets us back on track with the reality of Voldemort.  Order of the Phoenix shows us the young characters truly growing up with Harry realizing that he can be a leader.  Half Blood Prince finally shows us the Horcruxes and how important they are.  It sets us up for the challenge that is ahead in Deathly Hallows. 

J.K. Rowling has written this fantastical children's series that is loved by people of all ages.  I know people in their eighties who adore these books.  My two younger children were listening to them when they weren't quite old enough to read them for themselves, fascinated by the imagery.  As they grew old enough to not freak out, they came to the movies.  As I mentioned yesterday, these books are timeless and will be loved by children (and adults) for generations.  I wonder if she knew, as she wrote these books, who all would fall in love with this world and be sobbing on July 15, 2011 as they sit in the audience to watch the final movie.  I can't imagine that she did. 

These books can bring about such emotion.  I have laughed and cried and sighed and had my heart swoon as I read these books.  I smiled with delight and became angry for various characters that I felt were wronged.  I mourned death and celebrated new life.  I even threw Deathly Hallows across the room in anger when I thought Jo had killed off my favorite character.  It took my family nearly an hour to get me to pick the book back up and turn the page to know that Hagrid wasn't truly dead.  I have loved every minute that I have spent reading these books and not once have I been bored.  I don't know that I can say that about any other book I've ever read.  There have been times that I sort of skimmed through sections of books, but not with any of the Harry Potter books.  I didn't dare.  Rowling had a wonderful ability to be able to make everything interesting and important.

You may be thinking that I have found no faults at all in these books.  I have, but they have been so minor that I can ignore them.  There are things I wish I had seen more of, places I wish I could have just explored, characters that I want more back story.  But those are personal grievances and not necessary to the plot.  They may be in little notes scattered on Rowling's desk or locked up in her mind. 

There have been no other books that have made me want to be a part of that world as much as Harry Potter.  The only other fictional place I would want to truly live rather than Ottery St. Catchpole (because I would be friends with the Weasleys and the Lovegoods) is The Shire from Tolkien's Lord of the Rings and Hobbit books.  I want to go to Diagon Alley and go shopping.  I want to have a pint of butterbeer at the Three Broomsticks.  I wanted to attend Hogwarts, damn it!  My children each cried the autumns of their eleventh birthdays because they didn't get their letters. 

I am sad today because this is kind of the end of everything for Harry Potter.  There will be no more midnight book or movie releases.  No more known opportunities to dress up as Professor Sprout (or Molly Weasley) and go into public.  It's over.  It's the end.  It's final as of midnight tonight.  But I have hope.  I have hope that somehow Harry Potter will still be an important part of our lives.  I'm excited for PotterMore.  I've submitted  my e-mail in case I am one of those lucky few who get in before the October official opening.  But today is sad.  And I blame J.K. Rowling for creating such fantastic books that have wrought this emotion on this day.

Wednesday, July 13, 2011

The Knitting in Harry Potter

(Yes, to answer your question, Harry Potter is probably going to appear in every post this week, so get over it, thank you very much.)  If someone had asked me who my absolutely favorite character is in the Harry Potter series, they might be surprised by me answering with Rubeus Hagrid, keeper of keys and game keeper at Hogwarts School of Witchcraft and Wizardry.  What?  Not Molly?  Not Severus (especially when played by Alan Rickman)?  Not Dobby?  Not Lupin?  Not Hermione?  Nope.  It's Hagrid. 

Let me explain.  Yes, I am very much like Molly.  I have a bunch of kids (not as many as Molly, but more than the average American household).  I am married to a geek (and let's face it, Arthur is a wizard geek).  I knit and do other domestic things.  I am fiercely loyal to my family and somewhat doting and we both knit.  But as much as I love Molly.  As sexy and endearing as I find Professor Snape.  As adorable and courageous as I find Dobby.  As caring and understanding as I find Remus.  As smart and confidant as I find Hermione, it is Hagrid that takes top spot. 

It began when Hagrid pulled out a large bit of knitting that somewhat resembled a circus tent and began knitting on the train with Harry on their way to Diagon Alley.  Here was this huge half-giant with large hands and fat fingers (at least in my mind) sitting with a pair of 4.5mm needles (at least in my mind) knitting a ... and that's when the mind goes blank.  I've toyed with everything from a jumper to a hut cozy to a thestral blanket.  But he was knitting.  He was the first character we encounter with mention of knitting.

Lots of character knit, though.  Molly (duh) and most likely Ginny (and I even can see Bill knowing how for some reason).  Hermione knits.  Later we find that Dobby has learned the craft (or perhaps he knit for the Malfoys).  Dumbledore even knits (he loves knitting patterns).  I can see him sitting up at night when he has been pondering where the next Horcrus might be or worrying about a meeting with the Board of Directors and pulling out a pair of thick woolen socks to knit a while gently prodding his thoughts in the pensieve. 

There is no huge display about knitting in the Harry Potter series.  But there is knitting.  It's all around and it seems so ordinary and normal.  But then that's how it is in my house.  There are four knitters in this family, so the fact that there is knitting in Harry Potter just makes it that much more special to me.  And tomorrow as my children gather around the television (beginning at 3am) to watch all seven movies prior to going to the midnight premiere, there most likely will be knitting involved.  And maybe someone will have a good idea what Hagrid was knitting.

Tuesday, July 12, 2011

This week's 10 on Tuesday is to list your ten favorite things about Harry Potter whether it is the books or the movies. I'm doing a mix of the two as I love them both. This list will contain spoilers, so if you haven't read the books and don't want to read spoilers, quit now and come back after you've seen the movies or read all seven books.
1. Harry Potter and the Philosopher's Stone was J.K. Rowling's break out novel. That such genius could come out of her first book was a miracle. To follow it up with six more books that became even better with each book is pure talent.

2. Neville Longbottom. Neville is one of my favorite characters. I loved him when he was a bumbling chubby eleven-year old in the first book. I loved him when he was the last boy home from the Yule ball. I loved him when he was at the Ministry of Magic facing his own fears. I loved him when he was an "of age" wizard at Hogwart's protecting his fellow students in the Room of Requirement. I cheered when Neville killed Nagini with the Sword of Gryffindor!

3. I watched my children grow up with Harry Potter and our entire family had something to talk about at the dinner table, even if it was arguing which Weasley twin was the best (and why).

4. Molly Weasley. I understand and love Molly. She wants to care for people and love people. She's a Scorpio (according to the Harry Potter Lexicon) and fierce when backed in a corner. I like to think (as a knitter) that her wand is a Brittany Birch crochet hook that she uses to pick up stitches (it could never be a knitting needle because she'd need two and would probably have something on the needles in a time of need whereas a crochet hook can much more easily be accessed in an emergency. (See? Don't they look like they could be wands?)

5. That millions of children (and adults) have been brought to reading because of these wonderful stories and they didn't quit reading after the seventh book was over. They came back to the bookstores to read more.

6. The movies. I have always considered the movies as a visual representation for the book readers. I've heard so many people who never read the books remark how they were confused in the movie. Of course you were because the movies weren't for you. They were for the readers. We understand what is going on. We aren't lost. We get eye candy for all the hours we have delightedly toiled (can you toil delightfully?) over the books. We get to see Diagon Alley, Hogwarts, Hagrid's hut, The Burrough, and Gringott's. We get to see Quidditch! We get to see the magic we've read about.

7. Words. Yes; there are words in the Harry Potter books, but they are used so delightfully. I love Rowling's use of Greek and Latin. I love how she has named her characters with so much thought. Each word seems carefully chiseled from many resources in order to create a perfect sentence. My favorite use of this kind of word play? Umbridge. From Umbrage: 1. Shade or shadow; 2. shady branches; 3. an indistinct indication or reason for doubt; 4. a feeling of pique or resentment at some often fancied slight or insult. Whenever I run across a name or word that intrigues me, I have to go look it up. Xenophilius is another fantastic name.

8. The world of Harry Potter is timeless. It could be set in modern times (even though Rowling has said that it is set in the late 80's and early 90's). My grandchildren can (and will) read these books and be able to relate to them. This is so rare in today's juvenile literature. The last person who did this so flawlessly was Madeliene L'engle.

9. Magic. Magic just intrigues me. I love the idea of lighting a room with a single word. How thrilling it would be to have knitting aided by magic. I would love to ride on a broom or travel by Floo powder. I would adore going to school to learn magic to turn a whistle into a pocket watch and have it sing you the time. I would faithfully go to each class and do my homework just so I could do magic. It would be so awesome to go to Ollivander's to have my wand choose me. I would love to receive an owl post (or send one for that matter).

10. The "I love magic" scene in the movies. There's one in each movie. It's that moment that Harry realizes or remembers that he is a wizard and how wonderful that is. The look on his face the first time he sees Diagon Alley probably mirrored my own. I love when he walked into the tent in Goblet of Fire to find that it wasn't a drab old ten foot by ten foot box but a multi-room house with rugs and carpets and a kitchen. It's OK, Harry. Because I love magic, too!

Friday, July 8, 2011

Writing Workshop?

Today starts the writing workshop that I was supposed to attend in June. (There were two sessions and the first one didn't have enough attendees so I decided to go to the one this month.)  I'm supposed to go with a writing idea, manuscript, or outline, pen and paper to take notes and a dictionary.  I've got my dictionary.  My Webster's New Pocket Dictionary.  (I wasn't about to drag along the unabridged, although I was tempted to take the Dictionary of American Idioms or my M-W Compact Visual Dictionary.) I also have my dictionary app on my phone (very handy).  I have my notebook and paper.  That was probably the easiest thing to come up with.  But then I got to the part where I needed to bring "an idea, manuscript or outline."  Oh I have ideas.  I've got about a hundred floating around inside my brain.  I've even got a few manuscripts (should I take my laptop - I'm thinking maybe).  I even have a printed manuscript (my proof from my NaNoWriMo book).  I have my current Camp NaNoWriMo manuscript that I could work on (but I'd probably blush every time I had any "naughty bits" to read).  Why does it have to be this confusing? 

So I've decided to take my laptop, my proof, and my memory stick.  I'll have pen and paper and probably a nervous stomach because I don't know what I'm walking into.  Wish me luck.  And I'll report back on Monday how the weekend goes. 

Thursday, July 7, 2011

Book Review: Room by Emma Donoghue

I read this book a couple of months ago, but never reviewed it.  Since I am still reading the book I was last week (got distracted by a couple of projects) I thought I'd take the time to review this one. 

Room by Emma Donoghue is a contemporary novel written in a very unconventional way.  They story is a sadly familiar one.  A young girl is kidnapped and held as a sex slave to a heartless and ruthless man.  We've seen this story in the headlines over the years and it is very sad.  What is sadder is that this story includes another victim.  A five-year old boy named Jack.  This is his story, not his Ma's story.  The narrator of this book is Jack and I found him to be a sweet endearing boy who only understands that his entire world is a room the size of an average child's bedroom (about 144 square feet).  This is all Jack knows of the world. 

There are parts of him that remind me of Samson.  He's never cut his hair, so this young boy has very long hair. And he believes he has the strength of a thousand men even though he clearly understands fear, he is willing to put it aside for his Ma.  However, I don't believe he truly gains or understands his strength until he cuts his hair.

And then there's Ma to consider.  Ma has spent the past seven years as a prisoner to Old Nick.  She has done everything she can think of to protect Jack from Old Nick and to protect Jack from the small world in which he was born.  She uses all her energy and all her strength until it gets to be too much.  She suffers from toothaches and headaches and clearly depression.  She's at the mercy of Old Nick to give her the things she needs, knowing what it will cost her.

As depressing as this book seems, there is hope in it.  There is perseverance.  There is love.  It is such a well-written book, that I almost believed at times that the book was really written by a five-year old little boy who had always been kept in a small locked cell for his entire life.  I enjoyed watching Jack explore his world and describe it.  There were times that I was angry with Ma because of the lies that she told Jack, but I questioned what I might do in the same situation and realized it would be much the same.  I would tell lies to my child in order to make sure he felt safe and loved. 

This book has been out for a while and I'm glad to see that it is still a popular read.

Currently reading:  The Knife of Never Letting Go by Patrick Ness

Wednesday, July 6, 2011

Tour de Fleece

It's July and for millions of people around the world it means it is time to check daily to see how the Tour de France is going.  Who's ahead?  Who's wearing the yellow shirt?  How the heck do they endure it day after day through mountains and valleys and in rain and heat and sleet (remember that year)?  For over 4,000 knitters this month also means that it is the annual Tour de Fleece.  We spin our fibers as cyclists spin their wheels.  It's kind of the same except without the mountains or hills or long exhausting hours.  If we start to get a blister we stop.  If we get hungry we go get a piece of cake.  to tired to even get out of our jammies, we just spin in our lovely sheep festooned pajamas.  Yep.  It's grueling I tell ya. 

The premise is that you set a goal for yourself and spin every day that the race is happening.  I decided to spin for 10 minutes a day at a minimum.  I've spun a total of 9 grams so far.  It may not seem like a lot but considering I don't spin all that often and I'm using my lovely Trindle to do so, it's a big step for me.  I love my Trindle.  It spins fabulously and my spinning is getting more even each day.  Yesterday I only dropped the spindle twice while spinning. 

The fiber I'm using is a wonderful merino and bamboo blend that I picked up at Stitches South last year.  It looks a whole lot like cotton candy with its pale blue and pinkish lavender colors.  (Xeno cat can attest that it doesn't taste like cotton candy).  It drafts so lovely and is going to be gorgeous once spun and plied.  I have no idea what I'm going to do with it, but it will be something people will be able to see easily (so not socks).  I'm thinking a scarf or hat.

It may not be as challenging as riding a bicycle for 3600 kilometers, but when we get to the end we will have more to show for it than a silly yellow shirt.  And the really cool thing is that everyone is a winner.  I like that kind of world.

Tuesday, July 5, 2011

10 on Tuesday: Herbs

Today's 10 on Tuesday challenge is to name my 10 most favorite herbs.  There was a time when herbs and spices were considered two distinct things.  Spices were generally aromatic plants that were generally ground or grated when used in cooking whereas herbs were used whole or cut and were from leafy sources.  Think the difference between cinnamon and oregano.  Today, however, the word spice is used interchangeably for any plant-based material that is used in cooking.  You don't go to the grocery store and see an herbs and spices section.  It is simply labeled Spices.  So here is my list of my 10 must have "herbs."

1. Pepper  (I don't know how a kitchen can function without pepper (allergies aside))
2. Cinnamon (This is a necessary ingredient when making snickerdoodles, so one must have this spice)
3. Ginger (I know I use this on a weekly basis)
4. Basil (Lemon basil is probably my favorite of all, but I'll make due with regular sweet basil)
5. Oregano (You can't have Italian without it and basil and garlic, but mostly Oregano)
6. Thyme (We always need more thyme, time?)
7. Mint (Peppermint mostly, but I love growing chocolate mint because when it rains my front step smells like a York Peppermint Patty)
8. Rosemary (I think this is actually my most favorite herb ever)
9. Lavender (Although I don't cook with it often, I use it mostly for aromatics although I do have a fabulous recipe of lavender cookies and have added lavender water to cake frosting in the past)
10. Lemon balm (Again I use this more for aromatics than cooking.  I just love the way it smells)

Monday, July 4, 2011

Red, White and Blue

Today is Independence Day in the United States.  The celebration of the birth of our nation.  Our declaring that we are a free and sovereign nation.  Together, in one very big loud voice we declared that we were going to take no more.  We were bold and wrote a letter declaring that we hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable rights, that among these are life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness.
I love my country, don't get me wrong.  There are just some things about my country that we are still working to get right.  We still haven't perfected that whole unalienable rights and life, liberty and pursuit or remember that those are only among our unalienable rights, not our only inalienable rights.  We also tend to forget that our Declaration of Independence is not our governing document.  That would be the Constitution of the United States.  Two separate documents.  Two separate functions.  Although it saddens me that our Constitution sometimes forgets the principles on which we based our independence.

What does this day mean to most people?  Wearing a flag on their chest, putting up little rows of flags along the edge of their yard, barbecue, beer and fireworks (please don't mix those last two).  People play patriotic music and watch movies that are reminiscent of "Go go USA."  My middle child will be watching Independence Day, the Will Smith movie with aliens.) No.  The other Will Smith movie with aliens.  No no.  The Will Smith movie with aliens where he punches one's lights out.  Yep.  That one.)  I bought it for her this past year when she was frustrated that no network was playing it on July fourth.  We are grilling burgers after I get home from work (yep, I get to work today).  We may or may not go watch some fireworks.  Most likely we will  sit at home wishing that our neighbors would remember that fireworks have been banned this year because of the drought (only official fireworks are permitted).  And because it is my family and we are weird that way we will have an open discussion on what it means to have freedom.  I'm always interested in my children's viewpoints.  They are quite refreshing and enlightening.

So it is Independence Day.  The Fourth of July.  The President of the United States is alive (despite the Fox Twitter feed last night that was hacked into).  Our service members are working hard to assure our freedom (and the freedom of other people).  The sky is blue (at least for some of us).  The world is really a good place to be.  So go out and pursue a little happiness today.  (And if you must go into a retail business, be kind to those who are working so you can enjoy your day off.)

Saturday, July 2, 2011

Cucumbers

I love cucumbers.  There is something wonderful about them and I never quite could figure out what it was I loved about them until I read The Red Tent by Anita Diamant.  Towards the end of the book the Dena moves to Egypt and she has cucumbers for the first time.  "But best of all were the cucumbers, the most delicious food I could imagine, green and sweet.  Even in the heat of the sun, a cucumber kissed the tongue with the cool of the moon. I could eat them endlessly without getting full or sick.  My mother would love this fruit, I thought the first time I bit into its watery heart."  Isn't that perfect? 

I can eat cucumbers right off the vine.  I can eat them with our without their skins (although my preference is without, especially for commercially grown cucumbers that tend to have tougher skins). Cool or room temperature.  It doesn't matter.  A cucumber sandwich is wonderful with just a very thin  swipe of mayonnaise and layered on white bread (although it is acceptable on wheat bread).  The less you do to the cucumber the more I like it. 

There are three main kinds of cucumbers: slicing, pickling and burpless.  I don't normally care for the flavor of a burpless and if you don't want to burp after eating cucumbers then don't eat the seeds.  But that's my favorite part.  Cucumbers have been grown as a crop for over three thousand years.  Someone had a good idea with that.  They are a fairly easy crop to grow unless you have squirrels who also think that cucumbers are tasty eats in which case you have to hover over your garden night and day with a threatening look on your face (not that my threatening look scares many squirrels much less my own children). 

If I have to do something to my cucumbers I do very little.  This is my favorite cucumber recipe:

Summer Cucumber Salad

4-5 regular cucumbers
2 t. dill weed (fresh is better, but then I always think that fresh is better)
1/2 c. sour cream

Wash, peel, quarter and slice the cucumbers.  Mix with the dill and sour cream.  Let it sit in the refrigerator for several hours.  (If you are going to a picnic or party, make it the previous day).  Serve.  It will serve about eight, but often times I have found people want this very difficult recipe.  Why?  Because it is so simple and fresh.

It's summer, so go eat a cucumber!

Friday, July 1, 2011

A bit on self-publishing

Yesterday I reviewed a book that was self-published.  I currently have on my Nook several self-published authors.  I have nothing against self-publishing and there are a few of my books that I have toyed with self-publishing.  In today's world there are some great resources for self-publishing that make it truly affordable.  Create Space is one of many print-on-demand services that has very little initial outlay of money to publish your book.  They have paid services as well such as cover and interior design options, editing (from copy editing to full-blown editorial editing) and even marketing tools. There are also several e-publishers including Barnes and Noble's new Pubit! (their exclamation point, not mine) where you can create an account, upload your book and have your book available to Nook owners around the world.

I have wishy-washy feelings about self-publishing.  On one hand self-publishing allows the average person the ability to put their toils and tribulations into a book format.  I actually have a paperback copy of my last NaNoWriMo book (courtesy of being a winner and getting a "free" ARC of my book - It wasn't truly free as I did pay for the expedited shipping.)  It's really cool to hold your own book in your hand.  To see your name printed on the title.  To flip through the pages and smell your words.  It's really really cool.  As a former librarian and current bookseller I get such a giggle out of seeing "my" ISBN  on the back. (Although if I decide to have this traditionally published I know that the number will change, but I have an ISBN!) I have pet my book, stroked its lovely cover and carried it around with me.  It's my first book baby and it makes me feel like one of the Big Kids in the writing world.

On the other hand though, even though I have done copy-editing in the past, I still find my work littered with errors.  I find grammar blunders, misused words and spelling blunders.  You know what those are.  Those are the words that are spelled correctly but aren't the ones you mean.  In one of my books I have a character whose name constantly comes up as Any rather than Andy.  Spell-check doesn't catch those worse because Any is a real word spelled correctly.  It's just not Andy's name.  It won't catch the stupid mistakes like "They're" and "Their" or "moot" and "mute" or "could have cared less" instead of the correct "couldn't have cared less." 

On the other hand (now do you see why I chose Kali for the picture today?), self-publishing can boost your self-esteem, especially if you have been toiling for years trying to get your work published.  You know it is a good story.  You know people will love it.  You are confidant that your work is solid.  You can't find someone who will take a chance on it though.  So you do it yourself.  Market it yourself.  And you love what you have created.  You have a tangible (or digital) book that belongs to you.  It is your book forever.  And people can (and probably do) read it.  You are an Author now because you have a book to prove it.  Ha! Take that publishing world!

Yet on that other hand, there is something about needing the strokes from a Real Publisher to make one feel that they have triumphed.  It's really cool to have Harper Collins or Scholastic or Random House or Penguin or Little Brown (or one of their many smaller houses) printed under your name on the spine.  How fantastic to have that little Penguin flapping its little wings on the spine.  Traditional publishers will generally help you market your book and they can get your book into a lot more hands than you can on your own.  They can send to the mass market book sellers and go to ALA and Book Week and RWA and Comicon and all those really cool book venues.  They make your book look not just like a book but like a Real Book.  It will look very polished and professional.  They will use unique photography that will get people's attention (and hopefully they won't use a similar photo the same year as a different publisher used for a CS Lewis book).

On that (what are we up to now?) fifth hand having a self-published book that does well can help you get your foot in the door to a Traditional Publisher. (We really shouldn't think of self-publishers as not being real.  They are real.  They are really publishing books, but they aren't what we have come to think of as traditional publishers.)  If you show that you have done your market, taken your licks, worked your way through the publishing world on your own and have a book that has done moderately well, that can all make an impression on an agent or editor.  I've even talked to self-published authors who have had an agent or editor contact them after reading one of their books.  That's pretty darn cool. 

Yet (and you knew there was going to be another hand in all this) there are still traditionalist Traditional Publishers who scoff and dismiss those who haven't written the prerequisite nine thousand eight hundred fifty-seven query letters and received six thousand five hundred one rejections (because the other three thousand three hundred fifty-six query letters went unanswered).  They don't care how witty or charming or influential your writing may be.  You didn't go about it the Real Way so therefore you aren't worthy of their time.  OK, so the majority of agents and publishers aren't really that bad, but there is a bit of prejudice in the publishing world against self-published authors.  Go to a writer's workshop and raise your hand when they ask if anyone is published.  When they ask you who your imprint is and you say, "Create Space" eyes will roll.  "Oh, you are one of those writers." They won't even use the word Author associated with you.  It's as if you haven't earned the title. 

Now I'm going to say the part that makes almost everyone groan.  Do your homework.  Whether you are self-publishing or writing your next query letter, do your homework.  Find out who your audience will be.  Find out more about the publisher or agent or editor.  Make sure there aren't any hidden fees or clauses.  Know everything ahead of time.  Don't go blindly blundering into your mistakes.  Take time to really know your craft no matter how you choose to publish.  Make sure your manuscript is as polished and flowing as possible.  Just because you threw up words on a page does not mean you have written a book.  A book tells a story or gives us information in a clear and concise manner.  Make sure you actually have a book before you publish it.  Even if you do it yourself.




Thursday, June 30, 2011

Book Review: Switched by Amanda Hocking

First let me say that I really love this story.  No matter what I say in this review, remember that I love this story.  I think that Amanda Hocking is a brilliant story teller and she is very bold for self-publishing.  (Although Amanda has recently had a series bought by St. Martin's Press.)  I'm going to start with the "worst things I found in the book" and then move on to the "best things I found in the book."  The worst thing I found is that the book seemed to lack a professional polish.  Perhaps this is due to not having an editor when Amanda first decided to self-publish. (I do not know that she didn't have an editor.  I am completely assuming she didn't.)  I found the book littered with over used words ("just" being the top of the list), over-repeated words (using the same word over and over in the same sentence, paragraph or page), and incorrectly used words (rod for wrought).  They all seemed to be common errors that an editor would have easily caught and corrected.  Not surprisingly, the biggest problem I ran into was that I was reading this on my Nook and I couldn't make editing notes in the book as I do with my paper copies.  (That's the former editor in me that insists that I can't leave a mistake unmarked.  I've even corrected grammar and spelling in a Tom Clancy novel - ooooooooo.  It happens.  Even to the best. But this is an e-reader issue, not Miss Hocking's issue.) 

Now for the best parts.  This is a wonderful story.  It is fresh, alive and unique.  The story moves you quickly through what is happening and Amanda doesn't let you forget about things left behind.  I was fascinated by her use of imagery and could easily envision the details in the book.  As I was reading I wasn't given unimportant information that didn't relate to the story.  So many times I am given far too much detail in a book and wondering why I needed to know that there was a bowl of grapefruit on the coffee table.  What does it mean?  Why grapefruit?  Amanda never once did that.  Every detail she offered was relevant in the story even if you didn't come back to it for several chapters.  I also loved reading a new look at an old idea.  I've gotten tired of vampires and werewolves that all seem to have the same sort of story as to how the creature came to be, how they live and how they die.  So many young adult paranormal stories have turned into watered down romances that just happen to have a vampire in them.  Switched is completely different.  I like this world Amanda has created and I look forward to finishing this series and moving on to some of her other work. 

If you are looking for a good quick read for the summer, this is an excellent pick.  Plus, most of Amanda Hocking's books are available through Barnes and Noble or Amazon e-books for the low low price of $2.99 and even 99¢ each.  So not only are they good, they are also very affordable.  Go support independent literature!

Currently reading: The Knife of Never Letting Go by Patrick Ness

Wednesday, June 29, 2011

Twisted German Cast On

I have fallen in love with a new cast on technique.  I had done it in the past on one or two projects, but never truly liked it.  This past Sock Madness competition had a sock that started with this cast on technique and amazingly I fell in love with it.  I'm not sure why, but I did and I've been using it ever since.  Perhaps it was all the Scandinavians who said, "Oh, that's the cast on we always use" or maybe it is because I realized how much stretchier it is than the regular long tail cast on.  Although, do be aware that this is a variation of the long tail cast on and takes just a wee bit more yarn than the regular long tail cast on. 

I have found that by using the Twisted German Cast On I don't fall too hard into the "Ooops, I cast on too tightly ... again" problem.  I also think it gives a much nicer look than the ordinary long tail cast on.

This is the long tail cast on:


Notice the bottom is kind of wimpy looking and not very stable.











Here is the Twisted German Cast On:



See how the bottom edge looks like a lovely braid or a row of knitting and the base is much more stable. Yet it is fairly stretchy.










Here's a wonderful video on how to do the Twisted German Cast on:

Tuesday, June 28, 2011

Ten on Tuesday: Independence Edition

Next Monday is the celebration of the Independence of the United States of America.  I need to say something right off the bat: I'm not an "oo-rah Go America USA USA kind of person."  Don't get me wrong.  I love this country and the principles on which it was founded, but I've been to other countries and I don't think that we are "number one."  I think that we have a lot going for us, but I don't think that we are supreme above all other countries.  If that makes you hate me or quit reading the blog, have a peaceful journey as we aren't made for each other.  I am an unrepentant liberal and for that I will never apologize.

Ten things I like about the "Fourth of July"

1. Fireworks  (I love fireworks.  Any fireworks.  They are so pretty!)
2. Waffle House will be open (I know, my foodies, but this Southern Girl loves Waffle House)
3. That red, white and blue (and their related colors) go well together
4. Yankee Doodle Dandy with James Cagney (I love musicals and George M. Cohan wrote such memorable songs that are short and fun.)
5. Apple pie (but I also like it on July 5th and September 19th, and February 23rd)
6. Grilled hot dogs (normally I'm not a hot dog person, but on Independence Day I feel this urge to eat a hotdog with sweet relish, catsup and mustard on a white bun with a side of baked beans)
7. People seem a bit kinder to each other in this country on that day
8. Baseball (Go Cubbies!)
9. That we live in a country where we are free to worship (or not) any god (or goddess or nothing) that we feel called to worship (or not) without federal or state persecution and that I have the freedom to say that as well
10. That I will be working in a bookstore on this day where people are free to write and read books of their choosing. (So go read a banned book just because you can.)

Monday, June 27, 2011

Twue Love!

This past week I have had a couple of reminders about my favorite movie.  This is not a cinematic masterpiece.  It doesn't have an astounding (or even surprising) plot.  It has no major wonderful special effects.  The dialogue is cheesy, the costumes impractical and the cast was virtually a bunch of nobodies or half-knowns.  However, if I were stuck on that proverbial deserted island with only one movie to watch (no one has told me yet how I would play it) it would be Princess Bride.  Yep.  The movie with fencing, fighting, torture, revenge, giants, monsters, chases, escapes, true love, miracles... (Doesn't sound too bad.  I'll try to stay awake.) 

This past week Peter Falk died.  He was the grandfather who tells the story to his grandson, stuck at home sick.  And yesterday on TeeFury Fezzik was the subject of their daily shirt. (Buy it so the artist won't hurt.)  (If you don't check out TeeFury on a daily basis you should because they only release a single design each day for one day only and then it's gone.  The topics range from Firefly, Star Trek, Star Wars, Doctor Who, TMNT, LOTR, POTC, Harry Potter, Buffy, comics, basically anything that strikes a fancy with current or nostalgic pop culture - today it's Calvin Ball.)  And from that (I'm assuming) there was a flurry of tweets on Twitter quoting Princess Bride.  It also didn't help that the question of the week last week was "If you had a million dollars what would you buy?" and someone wrote down "Andre the Giant's left hand."  (Don't ask.  I don't know.)

So if this movie isn't a cinematic masterpiece, what is it that makes it my favorite movie?  Simple.  It's brilliant.  It has fantastic witty and quotable dialogue that can be used in so many different situations.  I can't think of another single movie that has so many quotable lines than Princess Bride.  Off to the store to do a little swim suit shopping?  The line that chases you out is "Have fun storming the castle." To which you are then obligated to call back, "Do you think it will work?"  It will take a miracle.  As you wish is the exact same in our family as I love you.  And I have learned over the years to never end a sentence with "I mean it" because one of my children will respond with "Anyone want a peanut?"  Even when I am angry and about to explode.  In a hurry to leave for something and the others in your party are not fast enough for you?  Out comes the fake Spanish accent and "You donna suppose you could speed things up?"  That guarantees the response, "If you're in such a hurry, you could lower a rope or a tree branch or find something useful to do."  When the oldest teen sleeps in until afternoon they are usually greeted with "You've been mostly dead all day." 

I love the score for this movie.  There are lots of Dun-dun-dun-duh's that are so reminiscent of old westerns.  It's climatic when there is fighting and swoony when it is romantic.  And there is kissing (They're kissing again.  Do we have to read the kissing parts?)  A movie with kissing can't be all that bad and because the kissing is generally made fun of in this movie even a seven-year old boy can watch it without being grossed out. 

There is much to be learned from this movie as well.  For instance if someone is all dead then the only thing you can do is go through their pockets and look for lost change.  There is nothing better than true love (except for a nice MLT where the mutton is nice and lean and the tomatoes are ripe).  Life is pain (, Highness. Anyone who says differently is selling something). There are no R.O.U.S.'s in the Fire Swamp (Rodents of Unusual Size?  I don't think they exist.  THUMP!  And there always has to be a thump after I don't think they exist otherwise it isn't funny).  Mawwiage is a bwessed awwaingement.  (Do not try to quote the Impressive Clergyman unless you can do it correctly.)  And always remember: never go against a Sicilian when death is on the line!  Ha ha ha ha ha ha ha ha ha ha ha ha ha! Thunk!

Need a new insult?  Princess Bride has got some good ones including:  you wart-hogged faced baffoon,  miserable vomitous mass, unemployed in Greenland (I mean really, that would be so horrible!) and my favorite "Humperdink! Humperdink! Humperdink!" 

If you have never seen it, I pray you, get a copy.  Invite some of your most silly (or better yet serious) friends over and eat chocolate (it makes it go down easier) and drink a bottle of brandy.  Learn the lines. Quote the lines.  And above all live for True Love!  It's inconceivable that someone wouldn't. 

Share with me some of your favorite quotes.

Sunday, June 26, 2011

Spiritual Sunday: Rain

We've been having a drought where I live.  Days and days without rain in an area that normally has rain almost every afternoon this time of year.  It makes people grumpy.  While they say that they are enjoying all the time that they have to get out and go play in all the sunshine and that they don't miss the rain, they really aren't having any fun and they are getting grouchier with each passing day or no rain.  Our cars are dusty.  Our yards are dry and brown. We have to water our gardens to get the little produce we can.  The berries aren't as sweet.  The air even feels dry, which is odd for living along the Gulf Coast as we do. 

Then on Wednesday night it started to rain.  We had a really nice storm come through and it rained throughout the night and into Thursday.  It even was raining Thursday night and I didn't have to play my white noise machine (which is programmed to play rain with thunder) to go to sleep.  I had the real thing playing outside my house.  And while the air felt wet and heavy and it became steamy on Friday when the temperatures started rising again, it felt fresh and new outside.  Things seemed cleaner.  Even the houses seemed fresh from the new rain.  It was simply lovely.

It's odd how weather affects our mood.  And it is different for each of us.  I love rain (and snow for that matter, but we don't get snow here in the south often - which is a good thing).  On rainy days I feel fresh and clean.  The rain is soothing and the thunder's rumbling is peaceful.  I've never been afraid of thunder.  My grandmother told me that I was born during an extremely violent thunderstorm and that when I was a baby they could always count on me taking a nap when a storm would roll in.  I like that story.  I don't know if it is true or not, but I like to think it is.  None of my children are afraid of thunder either and rarely will they even wake at night from a storm.  If they do, they simply sigh and snuggle deeper into their blankets and are lulled back to sleep. 

Rain, for me, means a good day or reading.  It is curling up in bed or on the couch with a new book or an old familiar and letting the rain play the soundtrack for the book I'm reading.  Since beginning work at Barnes and Noble (a bookstore for those who don't know) I have found that rain also makes other people become readers.  When it is raining outside people tend to stay longer in the bookstore.  On Thursday I found all the over-stuffed chairs filled, the cafe full and people curled up on the floor throughout the store with books propped, enjoying the forced captivity and the time to enjoy a book. 

Rain has played a role in many different religions.  In the Judeo-Christian story of Noah's Ark, God cleansed the earth with rain.  He washed the impurities away.  The ancient Aztec had a rain god called Tlolak.  He wasn't a very nice god, but he was revered because the sacrifices to him were thought to bring about the rains needed for a plentiful harvest.  Zeus is the god of thunder (and with that comes rain) as are the Roman Jupiter and the Norse Thor.  The Inca has a god of rainstorms called Pariacaca (which when you say it almost sounds like rain pitter-pattering on the window).  The Egyptians had Tefnut who was the goddess of rain.  Many cultures had devotions or rituals they performed to their gods and goddesses to plea for rain (and in some cases to stop the rain).  Rain has even played a role in our religious structures.  Masons knew that water running across mortar would weaken it and cause structural damage, so gargoyles were built to divert the water and thus save their work.  (It should be noted that gargoyles date back to pre-Christian cultures and are found throughout the world including Greece, South America and Japan.)

Rain is important.  We need rain to fill our rivers and reservoirs.  We need it to grow crops, to clean, to cool, and, especially, to quench our thirst.  Rain may inconvenience at times.  Weddings have had to be rescheduled or moved because of rain.  Ball games have been called due to rain.  Rain has caused floods and when paired with the winds of a hurricane has been known to devastate cities.  Rain isn't predictable.  We can't forecast very far into the future when we will have rain or when it might stop.  Our powers of prediction are truly limited to just a few days at best.  Yet as infuriating as it is and as fickle as it seems, we still should be glad when we do see it as living without it would be a terrible world that would be dry and parched. And I don't want to live in that kind of world.

Saturday, June 25, 2011

Chocolate Chip Cookies

I love a good simple cookie sometimes.  Chocolate chip is just that perfect cookie.  There isn't too much chocolate, just the right amount of vanilla cookie and, when fresh out of the oven, speak to my inner child.  Over the years I have toyed with a variety of cookie recipes.  Through a process of trial and error I have mished and mashed several recipes together to get the best dough and my favorite cookie.

Chocolate Chip Cookies

1/2 cup of butter softened
1/2 cup of vegetable shortening (although I usually make them with all butter.  Half shortening tends to make them a bit more chewy)
3/4 c. sugar
3/4 c. brown sugar packed
2 eggs
2 T. milk (trust me on this)
1 t. vanilla extract (if using artificial vanilla use 2 t.)
1/2 t. salt
1 t. baking soda
1/2 t. baking powder
2-1/4 c. flour (although this varies anywhere from 2 cups to 2-1/2 cups depending on humidity)
1-1/2 c. mini chocolate chips (although you can use any, I like the way that mini chips spread through out the dough)

Using a mixer add all the ingredients in order, mixing well before adding the next.  You can add 1/2 - 1 cup of chopped pecans, although I seem to be the only one in the house that likes nuts in my cookies, so I rarely get to have them.)  When the dough is thoroughly mixed, using a spoon.  Eat it.  OK, don't.  OK, do.  OK, technically you aren't supposed to eat cookie dough that has raw eggs in it, but in all my forty-something years of eating cookie dough I have never had a bad reaction.  And cookie dough is just so yummy.  But if you insist on baking cookies (which you really should because if you ate that much cookie dough you will get a tummy ache and it won't be because of raw eggs) heat your oven to 350°F and bake them on a baking stone for 12-14 minutes.  If you don't have a baking stone, then I recommend using parchment paper on a metal sheet.  It won't be as good as on a stone, but it will make clean up easier and you don't have to worry about your cookies sticking to your pan.  After they have baked eat them as fast as you can.  Have a glass of ice cold milk with them or a cup of tea.  It's best that way.

Friday, June 24, 2011

Today I shall write

Today I shall write.  I shall write the most stunning prose ever.  My words will rival those of Milton, Mitchener, Rowling and King.  Sentences will flow with ease and every word will appear as though it was meticulously planned when in reality they spilled onto the page to tempt and delight.  My characters will be so well-formed that the reader will feel as though they are their best friends.  My villains will be heinous and my heroes strong, bold, and deliciously beautiful. The heroine will be no femme fatale, but a confidant and capable woman who is still sexy and alluring.  The plot will be riveting and the reader will languish in bed captivated by each chapter or, sadly, the reader will be stuck at work wishing the hours to whisk away so that they can get back to the book that is calling to them from their coffee table.  It will cross gender lines and be adored by both staunch conservative and radical liberal alike.  My writing today will be hailed as this decade's most entertaining and important work of fiction.  The Washington Post will announce that it is a
"Must Read!"  Yes! Today the words themselves will be my muse!

Actually I'm probably going to write a whole lot of shit today that will be edited and slashed and rewritten tomorrow, but the above paragraph is how I want to write each day.  I wake up with the intention of writing well and when I review it later I wonder what idiot sat at my computer and put that stupid drivel in my book.  But that is what the writing process is about.  I am sure that there are few authors who are a pleasure to edit.  Whose manuscripts are clean and polished and ready for the world.  I have had the pleasure of talking to quite a few published authors (some of them even well-known and well-read) who have griped about having to go through the editing process.  The authors I follow on Twitter remind me daily that writing is not something we do, but something we perfect.  It is a continuous work in progress until it has been printed and delivered to stores.  And by that time there is more work to be done on the next book.

So today I most likely will not channel Shakespeare or Goethe or even Austin.  Today I will regurgitate a couple thousand words and hopefully they will form some kind of sentence structure and arrange themselves into paragraphs and when I look at it again tomorrow it would look like a two-year old pounded on my keyboard.  And I shall be thankful for spellcheck.

Thursday, June 23, 2011

Book Review: Invincible Summer by Hannah Moskowitz

First let me say that I adore Hannah Moskowitz.  Break broke my heart (and squigged me out at the same time).  Sometimes I think this woman sees right into my very teenage soul.  I was hesitant to pick up her newest novel.  It's that fear that the Breakout Novelists Breakout Novel will be their One Hit Wonder.  I kept passing it in the Young Adult Contemporary section.  I think I was a tad put off by the cover as I was afraid that somehow Hannah had fallen into the genre of "Contemporary Teens Having Lots of Sex Books."  However, after reading countless Tweets about how wonderful her book was, I  picked up Invincible Summer.  I am so glad that I did.

Invincible Summer is the story of a family.  A quite broken and passive aggressive family.  Sort of resembled my own growing up (though with fewer siblings).  The story is told from Chase's point of view.  Chase is the second born and the second son.  He idolizes his older brother. He puts up with his younger sister.  He absolutely adores his little brother who is deaf. And he shares his birthday with his baby sister.  He loves them all.  He worries about them all and for all different reasons.  Each year this misfit family spends their summers at the beach with their seasonal neighbors, the Hathaways and their three children, Melinda and the twins, Shannon and Bella.  The McGills and the Hathaways.  The Hathaways and the McGills.  Every summer together. Every summer the same. Or at least that was the way it had always been.  But for the four summers of this book, each summer seems jarringly stepped apart from that sameness, held together only by the clever intertwining of Camus's quotes. 

I found myself understanding almost every character in the book at some point in my reading.  I identified with Chase because I always felt like it was my responsibility to worry and care and take care of the members of my family.  It was my duty to keep them all together.  I worked hard at that for many years.  I associated with Noah, the older brother, because I always wanted to run away.  I always wanted to leave.  It was easier to leave and forget than to stay and deal.  I even associated with young Gideon and completely understood how he felt to not be able to be understood even though he was always being heard.   I especially related to Melinda in a big way.  Being a rape survivor and acting out sexually in very unhealthy ways is not uncommon.  Each month for several years I was thankful I didn't get pregnant and when I was older I was even more thankful that I had never picked up any STD's.  I kept thinking if people made love to me then it would void the rape somehow.  I equated consensual sex with making love.  It took me a long time to understand how those things were different.  I hope that Melinda figures that out sooner than I did.

This book made me laugh.  It made me cry. It made me even blush.  It made me cry a whole lot more.  I loved this book and glad that it is part of my collection.  Thank you Hannah for opening your heart and pouring out those words for us so delightfully, so lovingly and so honestly raw.

Currently reading:  Switched by Amanda Hocking

Wednesday, June 22, 2011

The problem with UFO's


I honestly think sometimes that aliens come and abduct not our bodies but our knitting patterns when we are half finished making something.  I started fantasizing yesterday about a new knitting project.  A nice vest with waist shaping that buttoned in the front or perhaps it was a pullover with a deep neckline that would be perfect to wear over a crisp shirt.  I even think that the gorgeous silk/wool blend that I got at Stitches would be the perfect yarn for such a venture.  I went as far as to go to Ravelry and search for vest patterns.  I doodled a bit.  I looked through my own library to see what I already had.  And I considered swatching to see what gauge I was getting.

And then I came to my senses.  The aliens had come back and stolen my patterns to all my UFO's  (For those of you who are not knitters, UFO's are UnFinished Objects as we have FO's as well ... sometimes if we actually get to finishe something prior to alien abduction.)  I tried to reason with myself that I didn't really have that many UFO's.  In fact I went over to my Ravelry project page and counted them just to prove it.  See?  I only have my second Little Slipped Stitch sock, the second My Little Bit of Lace sock, the second Kimono sock, the second Rick sock, my second Regency sock, the Argus Panoptes socks, the Pea Vines shawl and the green cabled summer sweater which is 45% finished.  I could lie and say that my way of dealing with socks missing their mates in the wash is to not knit their mates, but the honest truth is that I have every intention of knitting their mates because they are beautiful socks and deserve to be worn in pairs.  I could just wear Dobby socks, but again, these are great socks and as much as I love that mischievous adorable House Elf, I like pairs of socks. 

I have decided that I will not cast on anything new until I am caught up with what is already on the needles.  Well, except the shawl.  That's a Big Project and complicated so I may end up having that as a work in progress even after I have finished everything else.  Oh and maybe after I finish the cabled summer sweater I will cast on another sweater project because one can't have just socks to knit.  And while I really shouldn't, I may end up casting on something with some of that sock yarn I got at Stitches before I forget all the cool things that Anna Zilboorg taught me in the sock class I took from her. 

See?  This is why I really think it has to be aliens!  No knitter in her right mind would have this many UFO's hanging around.  What is that green glow I see on the horizon.  Quick!  Hide your patterns.  The aliens are here.

Tuesday, June 21, 2011

10 Books Recommendations to a Friend

This week's 10 on Tuesday is 10 books you would recommend to a friend.  Just 10?  OK, I'll try this, but 10 is going to be a hard number to stop at.  (All links are to Goodreads.)

1. Little Women (only because it is my comfort book that I always end up going back to)
2. To Kill a Mockingbird (love it love it love it)
3. The Red Tent
4. Tuck Everlasting
5. The Time Traveller's Wife (I hated it, I loved it, I hated it, I really loved it)
6. The Harry Potter Series (only because it is the best children's literature written and I don't want to waste seven of my spaces)
7. The Very Quiet Cricket (Because every reading list needs a good bedtime story)
8. The Hunger Games Trilogy (they should be read together)
9. The Handmaid's Tale
10. Knitting a Boyfriend Sweater (OK, you can't buy this yet.  I wrote it and it isn't published, but I'm working on it.  I smile when I read it because I enjoyed writing it so much.)

What's on your list?

Monday, June 20, 2011

A brand new job!

Each Monday night I go to my local Barnes and Noble bookstore for knitting night.  We are one of many groups of "Noble Knitters" who meet at their bookstores to share our love of knitting, drink a beverage from the cafe and surround ourselves with books.  I don't know about the other "Noble Knitters" around the country, but I can say that our group of knitters loves books.  Adores them in fact.  We often share books around or recommend new books or break out into mini book club discussions while sitting with our knitting in hand. 

Recently a sign was posted at the store that they were looking for a new bookseller, particularly for the Digital Section.  In other words they needed a Nook salesperson.  My daughter immediately said I should apply.  Three people in the group asked if I had.  I mentioned it to my spouse and he said I should definitely go for it.  So, oddly, I did.  I wasn't looking for a job.  I don't need a job.  Somehow, though, I have found myself employed.  So tomorrow is my first day of real work.  I have already been to the New Employee Orientation, wherein I learned what to do if I am robbed at the cash registers, what to wear, and gave them the name of who to call in case I fall, bash my head open and have to go to the emergency room.  (That isn't as funny as it seems as I am a complete klutz. The likelihood of that happening are greater than you would expect.) 

My biggest concern hasn't been if I will do well at my job.  I love books.  I've been a librarian and have worked in a bookstore in the past.  I adore my Nook.  When the cat knocked it off the table and cracked the inner screen I cried (and bought a new Nook and now I have insurance for it).  I am not afraid to cross train to help in other departments.  I'm not even worried that they will like me as I know most of the employees and they know me.  None of the normal things that a person is worried about when beginning a new job are much of a concern.  My big concern was "What am I going to wear?"  Yep.  My wardrobe.

Now if it were winter I wouldn't worry too much as my winter wardrobe is much more work-friendly than my summer wardrobe.  My summer wardrobe is made up of flowing skirts, camisoles, lightweight shirts to layer on top of the camisoles and espadrilles.  Not really bookstore friendly clothes.  So I went to my favorite clothing store chain (aka thrift stores) and spent under forty dollars to spiffy up my wardrobe.  I came home with four pair of nicer slacks, three buttoned tailored shirts, and a new purse.  OK, I didn't need the new purse, but it was brand new, never used, and met all my needs (a place for my Nook, a place for my knitting and a place for all my other crap that I have to carry with me).  Surprisingly (or maybe it shouldn't be) I had all the grown up shoes that I could possibly need for work.  I have hemmed the two pair of pants that were too long and ironed everything nice and crisp for this week. (The down side to having grown up clothes is that so many of them require grown up work like ironing.)
I will say that Project 333 really helped in making this wardrobe as I was able to think of the things I was purchasing in terms of how they would work together to create a bigger looking wardrobe than what I actually have.  How do the pants, shoes, and shirts all tie in together to create more outfits than just four?  It helped me limit what colors I aimed for at the store and kept me looking for things that could cross over seasons as well.  I'm looking forward to experimenting with this new wardrobe to see how much I really did learn from that experiment.

The big challenge is going to be remembering to blog.  Hopefully work won't get in the way of my fun times.

Sunday, June 19, 2011

Fathers and families and fairies

In case you missed all the signs in the stores, the sappy (or funny) television commercials, the reminders on the radio or Google's doodle of the day, today is Fathers' Day.  There is controversy over who is to get credit for the first Fathers' Day, but we can pretty well agree that it came after the first Mothers' Day.  Woodrow Wilson was the first President of the United States to actually declare it a holiday.  Fathers around the country were honored for one day for all that they do all year long.  Children knelt at the knees of their fathers and basked in his wonderfulness.  And then the retail industry got involved. 

Personally I loathe these Hallmark holidays.  It's like someone had the bright idea that we would give dad a special day wherein we buy him lots of (sometimes useless and often times cheap) things like ties, aftershave, soap-on-a-rope, and rotary saws which will go unused, become dusty or slice a finger off.  (By the way all those things happened to my dad and his gifts when I was a child.)  Fathers don't have to cook, do the lawn, or wash the car on this one Sunday of the year.  They can sit in front of the television and hope there is at least a baseball game on.  Who thought that the middle of summer was a good time for Fathers' Day?  Hockey and basketball are over, Football won't begin any time soon and baseball is just getting started.  There isn't much exciting going on sports-wise.  (No, do not mention golf.  That is the. Worst. Sport to watch on television, much less in person.)  Where I live it is already too hot to go outside and do anything really fun (our heat index today is supposed to be over 105°F).  Which boils down to aside from a card and some "OMG I need to buy dad something" gifts, today is pretty much like any other day.  Except it is Fathers' Day.  Like that is supposed to mean something.

In the Judeo-Christian scriptures it says to "Honor thy mother and father."  It doesn't say to "Honor thy mother and father on one appointed day of the year."  Nope.  It just says honor.  Perhaps if we honored our parents more throughout the year we wouldn't have this need that we need to do something special one day out of the year to make them feel like we care about them.  We wouldn't have to single them out for the work that they are doing all year. 

Now granted many of us have dysfunctional families.  Some of us have not just dysfunctional families but ones that are so broken and hurt that they resemble a jigsaw puzzle where the dog has chewed on a few of the pieces so they will never fit together correctly again. My own family (that being my parents and siblings) are more like a jigsaw puzzle with a couple of pieces missing (I'm afraid the dog might spit them out later, but that has yet to be verified.  My baby brother could be hiding them in his pocket so he can be the one to put the last pieces on the board and thus "win" at the family puzzle.)  My created family (that being my spouse and three children (and four cats and one hamster and a tiny elephant named Tippy)) are more like a new box of puzzle pieces.  All the pieces are there and we even have the border built now and most of the fun parts are done, we are just working our way through all the sky.  There are a few pieces that fell on the floor and the cat batted around so they are dusty and one one has a little crease on the corner, but they all fit.  I like how we have worked together.  We are comfortable with each other and like being together. 

One of the things that we have done has been to basically ignore Hallmark holidays.  We don't really celebrate Mothers' Day and Fathers' Day and Valentine's Day.  Why?  Aren't we supposed to honor and love each other all year?  Does it really prove we love someone when we buy them flowers or boxes of chocolates or soaps-on-a-rope just because some industry said we should?  We joke in our family that we have a Valentine Fairy.  She comes on February 15th bearing clearance chocolates.  (She's almost as closely loved as the Easter Fairy who comes bearing clearance candies and 25¢ egg dying kits which is then used to dye fabric and yarn.)  We generally greet each other on those "special days" and give each other a kiss.  However, that is how we begin most of our days.  "Good morning.  I love you." Smooch. Smooch.

And that is how I think it should be.  Honor each other every day.  Honor your mother.  Honor your father.  Honor your lover.  Honor your friends.  Honor your family.  Respect each other.  Be good to each other.  Love each other.  And then we don't need to feel that we should go out and purchase stuff.  Stuff. Stuff. Stuff.  I really don't like stuff.  I want relationships that work and people I love surrounding me.  Not just on the third Sunday in June, but every day.  Now go be good to each other.