Month: March 2009 Page 1 of 3

Improv Writing: Not supposed to be.

There’s blood on the floor, and there’s not supposed to be. It’s only one drop of a nosebleed, but there it is, still mahogany-red on the tiles.

There’s blankets on the couch, and there’s not supposed to be. But it’s lonesome back in her bedroom, and she can listen to the sounds of us breathing, if need be.

There’s a glassiness in her smile, and there’s not supposed to be. I see it in her pictures, trying to recapture the way people smiled back at her when she was a baby. Did she become less precious? Why don’t people notice her the way they used to?

There’s a way she tells you about her dreams, the way the ends of her sentences fade out, because she can’t say it right, and I remember she could run long before she would talk. And she can make me laugh, but it’ll be a long time before she can tell jokes.

Success!

We played Faery’s Tale from Firefly Games tonight with Ray, her first RPG. Lee GM’d.

Game review:

  • Good setting for kids: faeries vs. goblins.
  • The rules were easy enough for Ray to understand (at 7.5 years old).
  • The rules and character creation were not so oversimplified that I was frustrated.
  • There are options for different types of and more complex characters, which we didn’t use.
  • Gorgeous book art.
  • Have to buy book not through Firefly Games but through Green Ronin press. Faery dice did not arrive as ordered; haven’t been able to contact customer support through ordinary channels.

Lee had a lot of fun GMing, I think. (He had a lot of props on hand, too.) And Ray had some fine ideas for getting out of binds, once she calmed down from the thrill of Something Horrible Has Just Happened to Your Character, Now What? Seriously – she was so excited, she spent about a quarter of the game running in circles around the couch.

Squee!

HBO is doing a series for The Ladies’ No. 1 Detective Agency, and the first episode is tonight.

Recipe: Angeled Eggs.

Easter is going to be a Ray Day, which works out pretty well, since it’s right around the half-birthday mark. We will spoil her rotten, favorite foods, treats, an Easter-egg hunt…the works. One day a year to spoil someone you love is not enough, you know? Special request: a silly-string fight.

So we were discussing what she wanted to eat, and I told her I’d be making deviled eggs with the Easter eggs, since I liked deviled eggs so much. She wanted to know what was in them, so I told her: she loves hard-boiled eggs, but doesn’t care for mustard.

“Well, can you make them with no mustard?” she asked.

“How about we make angeled eggs?” I asked.

“What’s that?”

“I don’t know…” I said. “We will have to invent it.”

Ray was more concerned with the visuals. “How will we put a halo on it? And wings?”

“I’m just going to figure out the flavors for now,” I told her.

Here’s what we did:

Slice 4 hardboiled eggs in half lengthwise and pop out the yolks.
Mix with about 1/4c. mayo, 1t lemon juice, and 2t sugar.
Fill the whites with about 1T of filling.
Sprinkle with fleur de sel.

You wouldn’t think they’d be good with the sweetness. But you’d be wrong. We also tried them with sugar sprinkled on top, but it wasn’t quite as good.

Now: how the heck am I going to get halos on those eggs?

Snow Eve.

So I left work at noon-thirty today, because I’d finished everything except stuff I could work from home. It’s supposed to snow all night tonight, and part of the day tomorrow, and I doubt I’ll be heading in to work before noon tomorrow.

Before I left, I put all the food I had at my desk and set it out with a note: Emergency Stash! A number of people were planning to stay overnight if the snow got bad enough to close the base. A case of breakfast bars, two cans of soup, and some hot sauce. I told a couple of people, but everyone seems to have brought piles of food. For some reason, one guy brought in a case of eggs.

The weather wasn’t bad when I left, but by the time I got home, I was glad I’d left when I did. The entire drive home, I was thinking, “More snow! More snow!” and remembering Blizzards I Have Known.

At day care, Ray wanted to walk out the door with her hood off and her jacket unzipped. Maybe I should have let her. If she were nine or ten I would have let her, but not today. I bit back telling her to be careful, and she slipped down the grassy hill. I had to laugh. “It’s a blizzard!” she said. “The worst blizzard ever!” I told her of course it wasn’t and then regretted it. It was a thrill running through the wind with the snow crawling inside my clothes. Ray said, “It’s a blizzard!” all the way home.

At home, the first thing I did was go out to Bunnita’s cage. She was sitting on top of her hut, out of the wet on the concrete. I opened the lid to the cage, and she ran to her litter box. When she intends not to get caught, she settles into an open corner, so she has multiple escape options. The litter box is easy to reach into, and she can be boxed in. I picked her up as she was making a half-hearted run for it; she burrowed into my jacket as I brought her into the house.

I took off my coat and started untying my shoes, then noticed the shed door was halfway open. I’d dragged out the hose a few days ago and let Ray run around with it, watering plants, bushes, and apple trees. I have one apple tree that’s taken off; it’s gone from under chest high to beyond reach over the last two years; the other tree hasn’t done anything. The yard has turned into a slab of gravel again, despite all the gravel I pulled out last year. The snow felt colder, but then I wasn’t buttoned up as well as I had been earlier.

I called Lee from the house and told him the roads were starting to freeze, then called the girls at work: nobody answered, for which I was grateful. I left a message with the most recalcitrant of the bunch. Go home. The roads are bad. Because I didn’t really believe she’d left, only ignored the phone because she was tired of people nagging her to get out while she could.

The bathtub was still draining and foul-smelling from last night. I can’t find any drain cleaner. It’s probably something too difficult and expensive for home repair, anyway. At least the shower’s fine. I questioned Ray, both dreading and hoping for a positive response: “I need you to tell me the truth. Even if it’s weird. You didn’t put anything down the drain last night, did you?” But no.

I screwed around online for awhile. My fingers got cold, then colder, so I got up. You know how you’re cold and you get up and check the temperature on the thermostat, and it’s what it ought to be? I got up to check the thermostat and the wind had blown the door open. I locked the door.

Ray and I played a half-dozen games of “animal rummy.” She’s at the right age for it, finally. I kicked her butt up and down, all through the town. She came close a couple of times. I cut her off when she started to get red in the face. I still haven’t picked up a chess set for us yet. She said, “I haven’t been able to play a lot of card games,” so I must not have made her too mad.

The cat was wandering around with a wad of hair in his mouth. His winter coat is shedding. I brushed him while visibility faded in and out. He’s getting old: his coat wasn’t full of the knots and small pieces of grass he used to have, and he purred instead of trying to bite me out of revenge for all the static the brush kicked up. I end up with a good fistful of gray fur. At least that won’t end up underfoot, wet and hideous, at 5:30 a.m.

Ray and I playinged “Wizards 101,” a free online MMORPG for kids. I love one of the games on there; I ended up playing it to the point where Ray abandoned me for other things. I both enjoyed playing it and wished I hadn’t started. Once again, I remind myself that I should never gamble, shouldn’t play poker for money. It isn’t the MMOs that get me – It’s the stupid side games.

It took Lee an hour to drive half a mile, then another half-hour to drive the rest of the way home. He said he felt sorry for some people heading the other direction, who were spinning their tires on a 25-degree hill.

I long for a hot bath in a room that doesn’t smell foul. I’ll probably take a shower anyway.

It’s turned into the kind of do-nothing evening that gets under my skin and leaves me depressed, so I turned off the computer game and started writing this blog entry, because I want a tangible result for the day. I wrap up in a blanket, and the evening becomes less oppressive: the heater’s fighting to keep up with the wind, and I realize I’ve been cold for hours. I’m bad at cold. It was heaven when I started college: the dorm rooms were baking hot all winter long.

I wrapped a blanket around Ray. She ditched it, then pulled her arms inside her shirt. I wrapped her up again, and she put her head in my lap. I leaned down to kiss her ear and got a mouthful of static electricity. It’s not snowing.

More snow! More snow!

Which comes first…

The egg or the Smashing Creme Egg accordian band?

This clip has one of the best rube goldberg devices ever. Evah!

Short-short: Escape from Kindergarten

I wrote this about a year ago now, when Ray was in kindergarten.*

They said it couldn’t be done. But I am Juan. And Ella remembered the toothpaste.

Miss Breegan poured my orange juice and when she didn’t look I squeezed and squeezed and Ella said “take the cap off stoopid” and Miss Breegan said “Ella hush” but she wasn’t looking, so I did and it all went blllllllllup into the cup and I stirred the orange juice with my lucky crayon and drank toothpaste orange juice but it wasn’t gross enough so I stuck a finger all the way down on my tongue and wiggled it until I puked brown bubbles and Ella said, “Miss Breegan, Juan blew chunks all over my uuuuuuunicorn” and Jasmine screamed and Miss Breegan said “Oh Juan” and walked me to the nurse’s office but at the last second I escaped and ran outside and grabbed my jetpack from the bushes and I flew to my dad’s house and made him go to mom’s house and say sorry and she said sorry back.

They said it couldn’t be done. But I am Juan. And I can do anything.

*About a month ago, two little boys in first grade ran away from school. They had a plan and everything. Ray was unable to report why they did it, though.

Recipe: Fish Tacos.

So the plan was to make fish tacos. Unfortunately, I’d forgotten to pick up beer and cabbage. I decided to walk to the Mexican grocery store and get the cabbage, then stop at the liquor store on the way back.

On the way to the grocery store, which was about a mile away, all told, I started making plans to get all my April groceries from there, walking, as an experiment. Carrying a six pack on the same day one has done all kinds of exhausting things to one’s muscles is not such a good idea, especially when the last block is up a hill, and by the time I had arrived back home I had abandoned my plan, at least the walking part.

The beer was New Belgium’s seasonal pale ale, Mighty Arrow. It’s about as bitter as coffee. I usually don’t like pale ales, but I loved this one. Is there a beer New Belgium can make that I don’t love? Oh, yeah. I wasn’t too fond of Skinny Dip, and I usually can’t cope with IPAs. Well, I shall have to find out.

This is, to date, my favorite frying batter. I am going to leave the oil on the stove until I have a chance to fry up some mushrooms with it. While I had the oil hot, I coated a few pieces of cheddar with flour and batter and fried them, too – total success. The opposite of fail, although they do like to puff up and turn into cheese balloons instead of staying in nice cubes. About a half-inch square seemed about right. Too small, you get balloons. Too big, the inside doesn’t get gooey, just warm.

I also tried frying very thin slices of lime. I had lemon-jalapeno slices at Nosh when I ate there, and they were excellent. I think I cut the slices too thin, and the batter is different. I had better luck just frying the slices in flour than flour-and-batter. I was thinking the batter was just panko, but panko burn so quickly and the slices brown so slowly that I suspect panko is not the answer. Anyway, the slices were incredibly, additively bitter from the whites, but the fruit and peel were chewy and delicious. What to do, what to do.

The thing about fish tacos is that they’re aren’t Mexican. They’re Southern Californian. So don’t think of the cabbage-white sauce combination as crazy, think of it as spicy coleslaw to go with your fancy fish sticks.

I love catsup and mayo with my fish sticks, but I love capers even more, so I was won over by the spicy tartar sauce.

Fish Tacos (adapted from Allrecipes).

1/2 cabbage, shredded
1 quart oil for frying
1 pound mild white fish fillets, cut into finger-sized pieces diagonally across flesh (we used tilapia, cod is traditional)
soft corn tortillas (we used taco shells, which turned out to be inferior!)

White sauce:
1/2 c plain yogurt (used sour cream; it tasted too strongly of sour cream)
1/2 c mayonnaise
1 lime, juiced
about 1/4 of a jalapeno pepper, minced
1 t minced capers
1/2 t dried oregano
1/2 t ground cumin
1/2 t dried dill weed
1 t chipotle powder (or cayenne)

Batter:
1 c all-purpose flour
2 T cornstarch
1 t baking powder
1/2 t salt (this was not enough salt)
1 egg
1c beer

Mix ingredients and set aside to let the flavors meld.

Chop 1/2 cabbage and fish. Make sure the fish are fully thawed, if frozen, before frying.

Heat 1 quart of oil to frying temperature, which is 375 degrees or the point at which you can drop a droplet of batter in and have it turn golden in about 30 seconds.

Mix the dry ingredients for the batter. Mix the egg and beer and add to the dry ingredients.
Don’t do this ahead of time; you want to keep the baking powder in the batter right at the point where it’s still reacting to the beer, which will make the fried batter more delicate.

Put about 1/2 c. flour in dish one and the batter in dish two. Cover 5-6 fish pieces with flour, shaking off excess, then dip in batter and drop in oil. Fry until golden-brown and drain on paper towels.

Pan-fry the corn tortillas in a couple of tablespoons of oil, a few seconds on each side. Put cabbage, a couple of pieces of fish, and white sauce in tortilla and eat!

Weekend in Review.

Friday. Worked on a freelance murder mystery expansion pack for Freeform Games. Gave up on it; it felt like pulling teeth, trying to write out character sheets for my ten characters. It seemed like such a good idea, too: motive, method, opportunity; participation in major pre-existing plots; goals; bonuses; loves, hates, knows. Sucked the life out of making up the characters, I tell you.

So I read the entirety of A Shadow in Summer in the bathtub while the water got cold and I had to pee. There’s a compliment for you: not, “It was so good I stayed up all night” but “It was so good I forgot to pee.”

Saturday. I went to a free yoga class in the morning. This was significant for two reasons. One, when you’re done with a yoga class, you feel like you’ve accomplished something. The next day, you know you’ve accomplished something. My heart center is closed; I have no balance. Two, the class was out at the Air Force Academy. I coolly flashed my badge and drove through the gates and promptly got lost. I did find the place in time for class, though, when I remembered I hadn’t turned off the main way until after the big planes on the side of the road. Pain level: 1 acetaminophen, and only today. I was gently interrupted during class by an older black woman who told me she was so flexible she was about to put her foot in my face, could I please scoot down on my mat? Sure enough, while I was at about a 45-degree angle, she had her foot on the floor over my head. She apologized profusely afterwards. I just wanted to pinch her cheeks she was so cute and nice; I want to be her when I grow up.

I went grocery shopping afterwards and ate all kinds of snacks at Whole Foods, Costco, World Market, and Target. (I also considered stopping at El Liborio, but I was tired of shopping, and Mexican grocery stores do not serve snacks. IMO, the only real drawback.) I also stopped at PetCo but did not eat any of the snacks (doggie biscuits), even though they smelled good.

I tried some pu-erh tea at World Market. Yummy. All the reviews of it call it an “earthy” tea, but I’d have to say it was more like non-bitter black tea with green-tea umami flavor. However, fifteen baglets for ten dollars is not going to fly at my house, so I snooped around online for places that carried it. It turns out Stash has more kinds of tea than you dare shake a stick at. I like their stuff whenever I get it, so I’m going to eschew smaller companies with esoteric names and order from them. However, as I have set a goal of drinking up the tea in my cuboard before I get any more, I will wait. I have about thirty bags left, plus about a pint of loose-leaf thai coconut tea and some Korean barley (?) tea from Kate. I’m not going to hold myself to drinking the last two, though. There’s just too much of the thai tea, and I don’t crave either regularly.

I was wondering if I’ll ever get to shop at a Trader Joe’s. Probably not in Colorado until the state allows food stores to sell alcohol.

I made myself a salad (Lee and Ray had gorged themselves on McDonald’s earlier in the day) and took a nap. When I woke up, I decided that Saturday was not a writing day but a Day of Food Experimente and made fish tacos. Lee declared that it was another one of those dishes he doesn’t like unless I make it. [Glow.] I also made the cheese bread recipe out of the Artisan Bread in 5 Minutes a Day. The bread turned out not to be terribly cheesy but easily my favorite recipe to date. I think it’s the oil in the cheese – the bread was much softer. But the cheese did add an element of umami, sheer deliciousness, even though the sharp cheddar bite didn’t come through at all.

I watched Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix with Ray and slept with her in bed, as Lee had declared earlier in the evening that he was going to play Fallout 3 until late.

He says he ended up killing one of the NPCs as an experiment and intending to reload to a save point afterwards, but forgot – and ended up saving over his last save game. Start over? O noes!

I’m so glad I still get good snuggle time with Ray. Everybody warned me there would come a time when she would no longer do want to do so, but it hasn’t come yet. We always end up having sleepover-talks when we sleep, usually about how to deal with nightmares. I tell her they’re normal, that having a lot of nightmares seems to be tied to having a very creative brain, and it’s a way for her brain to complain about things it doesn’t like in the waking world, like being frustrated and scared and overwhelmed. We talked about why it’s hard for her to fall asleep; she says it’s because she keeps thinking too much. We talked about counting sheep and how one way to fall asleep is to trick your thinking-too-much brain into getting frustrated with all the stupid things you’re thinking and give up. “One sheep, baaa. Two sheep, baaa. One hundred and fifty sheep, baa. O SHUT UP! OK OK OK I GIVE UP! AAAAHHHHH!” As I type this, I realize that most meditation techniques are the three-year-old brain forcing the adult brain to break down in tears. I told Ray saying OMMM was kind of the same thing. So she tried to say it under her breath, but I told her she had to say it out loud, because when you do it makes the bottom of your brain vibrate, which your thinking-too-much brain finds annoying.

Ray: OMMMM – hee hee hee – OMMMM – ZZZ.

I couldn’t believe how fast she was out. Quick, even for her.

Sunday. I woke up early and decided to get up and write. I messed around on the computer, realized I wasn’t getting anywhere, gathered all the character sheets for the main-pack characters, and ran a bath. I felt guilty about it, like I’d started drinking. I worked on a few more characters, but it was pulling teeth again. And Ray was chewing on her shirt again (she’s been chewing on every @#$%^&* thing she can fit in her mouth lately with teething; the second pair of teeth on the bottom are loose; she chipped one of them but isn’t in pain. I have to call the dentist on Monday to see if we should just have it pulled) so I was in and out of the tub what with the exile to the room/freedom.

Eventually, I gave up and got out. I sat down in front of the computer and just started writing the actual character sheet (instead of just the stats, as it were), and it went really well, and I said, “Why was I making such a big deal out of this?” By the end of the third character, I was worn out, though. So many things to check for consistency, you know, before you start writing, or else you’re just going to have to start all over again, when you’ve already set the character in your mind. Ugh.

As always when I write at the computer, part of the time that my brain has its little hourglass icon up, I mess around with playlists on various sites. The December 2008 playlist, for example, had a lot of the songs I listened to throughout Alien Blue. The February 2009 playlist has a lot of songs I listened to while writing the last short story, about food and death. The March 2009 playlist is very jazzy and 50’s (the murder mystery is called Hollywood Lies). Lost of Pink Martini, Cardigans, and some Madeleine Peyroux, who sounds just like frikkin’ Billie Holliday. She’s a white girl, though. Who knew? Robbie Williams does an excellent version of Beyond the Sea.

I took another nap and some pain meds when I woke up. Damn, yoga classes are hard.

Lee put up the pot rack for me today! I must say, it looks very sexy with the pans hanging proudly. They may not have copper bottoms, but I love their curves regardless. Also, after several months of on-and-off discussion, the damn thing is hung so sturdily that Lee was able to hang from the rack without making it budge, so I’m safe. We even discussed how to prevent anything coming loose if I should bonk my head on the pots, which made me feel better. I have this fear that my clutziness will cause significant damage to myself and others; I used to panic every time I came next to a balcony when Ray was a baby, out of fear that I would accidentally fling her over the edge somehow.

Wow. There’s a morbid image with which to end a blog post. Oh yeah, for supper I tried implementing the baby-artichoke plan that Margie came up with, which was to saute the crap out of quartered chokes and braise them with wine. Only I used lemon juice and water, not being an oenophile. Report: even though they are baby chokes, they must be trimmed, outer leaves peeled, and tops cut off. Otherwise it went smashingly. I got some fleur de sel this weekend, so I sprinkled some of that on top. Smashing – it isn’t the taste that’s different, just the texture, a non-crunchy salt explosion. Using fine salt, you end up with overall saltiness; using kosher salt, you end up with annoying salt crunchies stuck in your teeth. Fleur de sel is like the dessicated salt we used to get in the bottom of the pan of softened water we kept on the woodstove to humidfy the farmhouse, back in the day. Quite tasty.

Next week should suck, between OT and racing to meet my Hollywood Lies deadline. Oh well.

Book Review: A Shadow in Summer

by Daniel Abraham.

If you’re the kind of person who likes Gene Wolf or Umberto Eco but is left wondering whether you really understood what was going on, don’t read the rest of this description, just read the book. It’s be more fun to be surprised.

A Shadow in Summer is a fantasy about…hm…let’s say it’s about the road to hell being paved with good intentions. It’s set in an alternate (or future?) India-type city in which the Western world is being dominated by an empire. A few cities have achieve a kind of independence through the power of their poets, who capture the embodiments of ideas and trap them in human form (called “andat”), with incredible powers. The problems are that 1) re-trapping an idea is harder every time and 2) each poet can only hold one such idea in his or her head at a time.

The story revolves around the current poet and his andat, Seedless, who ensures the city’s prominence by removing cotton seeds from bales of picked cotton. Big deal, eh? But Seedless also deals in the sad trade, or abortion, when required, and could drop the next generation of the empire’s children in a heartbeat, if he so desired. The poet, in a moment of self-loathing and doubt, created Seedless, and is now forced to carry his own nemesis with him: Seedless is conspiring to destroy the city and the poet himself.

That’s not what the story’s about. As for that, go find out for yourself.

A master-level book. This is the first part of a quartet: where the hell will it go from here, only reading the rest of the series can say.

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