Small Things 1-17-15

1.  Finished Shiver by Maggie Stiefvater, and am really enjoying it, though it’s interesting how much simpler a book it is than her later ones.  This is not a criticism, just an observation. She’s got an amazing grasp of language, of the poetry in prose, and I’m very much enjoying watching her build this story – another trilogy – up from the ground. Book one was a rather sweet love story, and book 2 is already darker, which is kind of cool – 3 books exactly the same are kind of boring. Something for me to consider in my own work. I started book 2 last night, and can’t wait to move on to book 3.  Much more than the sum of its parts, this trilogy is becoming.

2. The Boy’s flu bug has hit the kiddo – not as bad as Dad’s, but then, the kiddo & I took the shot.  But he’s got the croupy cough that gives him asthma, which makes him panicky, which makes me panicky, which means I sleep on his hardwood floor and give myself a crick in the neck, while he wakes up chipper and ready for the day.  Happily, my own shot seems to be working just fine and neither of my contagious darlings has been able to ensicken me.  Yet.

3.  It’s really cold here.  Cold enough that chicken eggs are freezing before I’m able to get them inside.  I believe the scientific term is DAMNED FREAKING COLD.

Brr.

4. Cat is making small strides (or rather, puddles) toward recovery.  Feeling more hopeful (and also more tired of cleaning) than I was a few days ago.  Also, anyone need a cat bladder manually expressed, I am the woman!

5. My stated goal of finding some online crit partners has seemingly worked out quite nicely.  Currently trading manuscripts with a few women – varying degrees of ‘Yes!’ but that’s to be expected.  Quite pleased with initial forays into critting after a long long long hiatus.  It does my writer-brain good to be working on other people’s writing again, too.

Also – question for readers. I am trying to find an internet blocker that can be scheduled.  ie: I want to block myself off the NYTimes and NBC every day after 8am, not have to do it myself every day. Cold Turkey looks perfect, but I work on a mac.  Every internet blocker I can find for Macs is a ‘set it yourself each time you want to use it’ deal. Not super-helpful.  Any ideas?

Small Things 1-13-15

1.  Finished up the second of Juliet Marillier’s Shadowfell Trilogy, Raven Flight,

…and I’m not entirely sure I’ll buy the third. The first book was complex enough to hold my interest, but honestly, the second feels more like she’s just chugging through a fairly standard bad-guys-in-charge world, overcoming mystical & emotional obstacles left & right (and rather easily at that) til she can get to the good stuff in, I assume, book 3. Rather disappointing in a way I’m not used to being disappointed by this author. Shall have to go back & read her Sevenwaters books to see if my tastes have just changed, or if this really was just not her best.

2. The local-ish winter farmer’s market is sort of awesome, and I’m kicking myself for never having been there before. Lots of vendors, even in January, and it’s held in a huge greenhouse – the other half of which is filled with rather wonderful houseplants. It being January & all, I’m jonesing a bit for greenery, and it was heavenly to see a bougainvillae in full (enormous!) bloom. They had wee little ones, too, and I’m trying to figure out if there’s anywhere in my house warm enough for the tropical darling…

Which I’ll decide by next Sunday, since I suspect I’ll be going back there pretty regularly. Time to start eating local meat – and I found a local miller, as well! Trying to draw that circle of consumption in a little tighter – plus, you know, homemade pretzels!

3. Cat is doing ok, but there’s been no progress on the peeing-alone front, though by damn, I’m getting good at this maneuver! Vet is not saying much one way or the other, but I suspect she’d been hoping Mattie would be doing better than this by now. Keep fingers crossed for us, because honestly, it’ll be the worst kind of horrible for her to be doing well in every other way if this does not improve.

4. Clementines seem especially delicious this year. The kiddo is addicted – as am I.

5. I installed new blinds in his room, and honestly, you’d think I just built a house based on how proud I am of this fact. I think because the walls in this house are old plaster, so hanging anything on the walls is a real challenge – so even though these were drilled into the wooden windowframe – easy! – I feel like I’ve really accomplished something big, since I was expecting it to be epic, but instead it just worked like it was supposed to. So he has blinds in his room, and I wish we’d done this 4 years ago. Now, on to the rest of the house…

Small Things 1-9-15

1.  Cat is healing up nicely. Red blood count is back up, and she’s getting used to the new routine.  I’m also getting quite good at it if you have any full cat bladders around that need expressing…

2.  Finished The Scorpio Races by Maggie Stiefvater, and loved it.  Pookas, real horses, a fishing island, horse-racing, a love of the sea.  Pretty much a perfect book.  Highly recommend to fantasy readers.

3.  As I’d hoped to, I’ve found a few writers online to swap manuscript critiques with, and it’s making a huge different in my  incentive to get the work done.  Funny how thinking about someone else’s writing can be at least as helpful to my writing as their thoughts on mine…

4.  It’s really damned cold here. Cold and the snow started at about 9 and is still going strong.  Would really love for it to warm up a little, but, you know, New England winter, I can’t complain overmuch since this is what we signed up for.  Still.  A little warmer for a few days would be nice – a bit of a thaw-out even if the temps never get close to 30*

Brrrr.

5.  I bought a foot-warmer footrest thingy for my closet-office, and this thing rocks.  Only sips electricity, concentrates it just where I need it, and DAMN, this thing gets toasty even when it’s bitter out and chilly in.  Honestly, if you’re sitting & shivering, this is a pretty wonderful idea that is working as well as advertised.

Small Things 1-6-15

1.  So.  Learning how to manually express urine from my (pissed off) cat’s bladder.  Cross that one off my bucket list.

*sigh*

Ok, seriously. My beloved Mattie-catty had another run-in with a car. She’s fully ambulatory, no broken bones.  Sort of.  Her tail has basically been yanked off the end of her spine, causing nerve stretching & damage to everything back there.  Hopefully the damage is temporary.  She may never regain the tail, but we have high hopes for excretory function.

A bad night two nights ago, when her red blood count was falling – internal bruising was pretty awful – & we basically thought I was bringing her home from emergency care to die.  I slept on the dining room floor with her so she wouldn’t be alone – and so I could get her to the vet quickly if her pain was so bad that she needed to be put to sleep at, say, 2am, but she slept comfortably and then a couple of hours before dawn she rallied rather remarkably.  Today she’s uncomfortable because of the peeing thing, and I’m uncomfortable because of the scratches and bite wounds she’s given me, but she’s walking, jumping, climbing up on laps, chasing cat-toys, and generally acting just fine.  Except for the peeing thing, and having a dead tail.  So I get to ‘help’ her pee three times a day until she gets that back–which she does not actually appreciate at all. She’s actually being very good about it, but there’s apparently only so much pee-related discomfort/humiliation a self-respecting cat can take before she lashes out.  She’s always very sorry afterwards, but I’m thinking seriously of investing in some leather gloves.

She’s not in any physical pain at the moment, so we’re giving her time (and antibiotics. And muscle relaxants) to heal, and hoping for the best. That’s the only treatment there is for this. Weirdly – for this is not apparently a common injury – I had a dog who died from complications of this exact same injury when I was very young. So I’m dealing with some anxiety because of that awful outcome, while trying to listen to my vets who all say that cats do much better with this (as with every) injury than dogs, and that she’s actually already responding well.  So I’m trying–mostly successfully–not to despair.

We’re also trying to figure ways to contain the cat indoors – which will be a huge adjustment for her – while still allowing the dog independent access to the outdoors as needed (which is important.) But for the moment, we’re just trying to get the hang of this ‘help the cat pee in the bathtub’ trick.  She’s in no mood to go outside right now anyway. She knows she’s fragile right now, even if that knowledge irritates the hell out of her.  Plus, you know, it’s damned cold out there.  Even the voles are snuggling underground.

Send good thoughts our way.  This is no fun for any of us.

2.  On a lighter note, the little boy is back in school and giddy with joy.  We all like having the structure of school in our day, but he really missed his friends and his teachers, and the whole exciting thing of being a big kid at school.  So happy he loves it so much.

3.  He also loves Young Cam Jansen books.  Oh my.  My parents gave him a bunch of them for xmas, and he’s loving the ‘mysteries’ (after one has read a mystery 17 or 18 times, we ALL know how it ends, kiddo!) of them, as well as being able to read so much of it himself. Out of nowhere, he’s told us maybe 10 times in the last 2 days that one of his friends at school can already read, and I think he’s put himself in competition with this boy.  Which is probably just fine for him emotionally. He can do it when he’s motivated, but he would usually rather be read to – we’re certainly not putting any pressure on him to read, but I know he likes to be the best/first at everything, so if it means he pays more attention to where my finger is when we’re reading together than he does to the pictures, so be it!

4.  It’s cold here, and icy, and the chickies would like it to warm up now.  Them and me, both.

5.  I’ve started corresponding with a few people about starting up a fiction critiquing posse, and it’s good to be talking to non-relatives about writing again. I’ve allowed my writing world to become a bit too small over the last few years, and it’s nice to be out in the world again, so to speak. I think this is the year to really get some things done and out there, fiction-wise.  I had another manuscript request on January first, which was a nice thing, and a good thing happened on the 31st that I’m not allowed to crow over just yet – though trust me, you’ll hear about  it soon.  So I’m feeling optimistic, and inspired to work harder, work smarter, and get this writing thing going.

Because honestly? Manual Pee Expresser is not my calling in life, no matter how good I get at it.

Sigh.

 

Book Review – CITY of STAIRS by Robert Jackson Bennett

CoS

I read fantasy – a lot of it.  Though I’m getting tired of all the grim, mysterious-men-in-cloaks that seem to be taking over the genre.  So when I saw this book in the store, all gray & prominently featuring a mysterious Man-in-Cloak, I’ll admit I walked right on by.

Not true. I actually remember picking it up, reading the back copy, then setting it down again & moving right on by.

Total mistake. This book is better than anything I’ve read in a long time.

I like diplomatic dramas. I like empire vs. colonials. I like plot twists. I like when the underdog isn’t maybe quite so noble & valiant as we’re led to believe, and I like when the good guys are maybe a bit more complicated than it seems at first. I like when the story itself is much more complicated than it appeared initially, and I REALLY like it when the author can fidget an incredibly detailed, intrinsically important world-building structure into a complex, believable, UNIQUE story without dropping any of the myriad of balls he’s got in the air.  And I like when the book ends as strongly – no, stronger – than it began.  Give me all that & I’m a very happy reader.

I really liked this book.

Truly well-written, truly masterfully plotted, and truly original.  I loved the characters, their inner & outer conflicts were interesting and came together in the best possible way.

This is one I’m recommending to all my friends. If you like unusual, well-written fantasies where you’re discovering things about the world all the way to the end, this is one you should definitely pick up.  Ignore the cover art, ignore the back copy. I’ll bet you’ll be glad you did.

I received this book from Blogging for Books for this review

Small Things 12-31-14

Year’s end, and it was a good one, by & large.  Can’t complain, & have so very much to be actively grateful for.

Professional lesson learned in 2014: Just because I wrote a book — and did a good job on it, and think it’s publication-worthy — does not mean it will ever be published.  Seems like this lesson ought to have been self-evident some time ago, but writer-ego is a silly thing.  It is possible to be both incredibly arrogant about the brilliance of one’s creation and incredibly self-doubting of one’s professional worth at the same time.  Who knew? This is a sadness, but a manageable one. I’m working on a book that’s unlike anything I’ve ever written, and I’m excited to work on it every chance I get. That’s a nice feeling, and I have high hopes for it (see above, re: arrogance of the brilliance of one’s creation, etc.)  :)

Other professional lesson learned: I have actually learned to craft a decent query/sales letter/ package. I know this because most of the top agents who represent books in my field did request a copy of my manuscript (not at all a given in today’s over-saturated market.) The fact that they did not choose to represent it is–sadly–the direct result of what I learned in pro. lesson #1.  But at least I know when I finish my next book, that I will likely be able to get some good agents to take a look at it.  And I’m hoping they love it a bit more than they did this one.

This year I picked up my reading pace, and I intend to keep amping up the ‘books read’ number until I’m as saturated in wordswordswords as I used to be. Aiming for 100 books this year, hoping for a few more than that. Happily, xmas gifts hae styled me out on my first dozen or so – waiting on my bedside table, as I write this.  And I have a list of the next dozen or so, just waiting for me to be ready for them.

But all of these are things I’ll be spending more time pondering later in the year. (Ah, and there go the fireworks. People around here seem to love fireworks.  Even when it’s only 7* out there. Brrr…)

For me, tonight is to be spent huddled in front of the woodstove, sipping really good wine (our thanks to the Boy’s parents!) It was a day of doing jigsaw puzzles, reading xmas books both long & short (Kiddo’s obsessed with his Cam Jansen collection, Mom & Dad – thank you!), constructing LEGO sets, bringing in eggs still barely warm on this frigid day, sipping tea all day long, enjoying my new electric foot warmer (in my office, which is actually a closet, ie: an uninsulated, unheated bit of space that gets downright nasty in the cold. The footwarmer sounds frivolous beyond words, but seems to be making all the difference between cozy & impossible-to-accomplish-anything-due-to-uncontrollable-shivering) The Boy is here beside me, reading, occasionally sharing interesting tidbits. Sipping wine.  Holding hands.  Enjoying the fire. And the company. And, well, and everything.

A New Year’s wish: I hope everyone reading this is feeling as blessed with the company you’re keeping (whether nearby or merely in spirit) as I do.  I hope 2014 was a good year for every one of you, and that 2015 will be even better.  May the New Year be sweet for us all.

& I’ll let you know how the black-eyed peas & ham & collard greens turn out for tomorrow night’s dinner…

 

 

Small Things 12-29-14

1.  Getting toward that contemplative part of year’s end that I rather like.  The holidays we celebrate are over. Clean up is finished (or at least begun!) and things are starting to return to familiar patterns.  This makes me happy – almost as happy as the excitement of the holidays, actually.

2.  Hoos-Foos (which is to say, my blue-egg laying chicken) is laying again. So my collection of eggs each morning is rainbow-ish once again.  Which makes me way happier that it should.

3.  Have decided that I need to get back into the habit of reading A LOT.  I used to be one of those people who read a book a day, more or less. ie: that was pretty much my whole life.  And that’s – obviously – not desirable, or even possible, with an affectionate 4yo around, but I can do better than I have these last few years.

I gained a big chunk of time when I decided to stop bringing my phone upstairs each night for the hour or so a day I need to ‘calm down’ after my exciting, invigorating activities.  (Yeah, a bit of sarcasm, since even I realize I’ve got a cushy, nearly stress-free life. But still. If I don’t zone out before bedtime, I get anxious at about 3am & don’t get back to sleep.  And – no surprise, I know! – reading is better for my brain than playing games on my phone.  So I plan to keep doing that.  And maybe try to carve out a few more bits of reading time, as well (child pick-up line at school, I’m looking at you over the pages of my book!)  So expect to see more formal & informal book reviews on this blog – & I honestly do apologize if that’s not your thing, you three people who still check in here on occasion.

4.  I’ve also decided I really need to try to find some formal critique partners. Which seems wonky, since I LIVE with one of my favorite writers. But there it is. I think I need a crit partner who’s writing stuff that’s more like mine – or at least more like my intended audience.  So whether I join a local-ish writing group, or just poke around online with the intention of finding a dedicated crit partner, I think it’s time to do it for real.

5.  My husband bought me a fancy bread machine for xmas, among other assorted & amazing goodies.  And I fired it up today for the first time. Oh my.  Going to take all my holiday-strained will-power not to just sit and eat fresh bread all the time now.

nom nom nom

Small Things 12-13-14

Last one of these dates til 2103? *sigh*  It’s been a good decade+ of these, and I’ll miss them.  In lighter news….

1.  The chickens are bitter about the cold weather, and at least one of them (the blue-egg layer) is either refusing to lay at all, or laying in some strange place I haven’t found yet.  She’s contrary enough it could be either way, so it’s a mystery that keeps poking me every day.  Silly birds.

2.  I’m finding the writing hard these days. Got very disheartened during my last round of rejections. I think the finished novel is going to end up getting “trunked” and I’m sad because I really love a lot of things in that book – the protagonist’s constant re-exploration of being a powerful woman – how it affects her choices.  The rights of bloodlines vs. adoptive & created families.  Pregnancy loss and desperation. You know, standard high fantasy tropes.

Ok, not so much. I guess I understand why it’s having a hard time finding a home – not a single sword-wielding king in sight!  But still.  I had hoped.  And it’s hard to walk away from a lot of work and start work on something else.  But I’m trying.  Trying to make the joy be about the writing, not about the finished project.

3.  This month is skidding by, feeling very out-of-control. So much going on with holiday celebrations at home & at the kiddo’s school. The unseasonably cold weather, the snow & ice,  it’s all adding up.  And I have to say that I’m looking forward to January 2 when the world quiets down immensely and we can all just snuggle in for a while.

4.  That said, my parents are making noises about possibly possibly moving out here.  Which would be so much awesome that I can’t even imagine it.  I mean I CAN imagine it, and I desperately want it.  I want my mommy and daddy here where I can go see them and we can go to the movies & eat Sunday dinner together and celebrate holidays together and bring donuts over with the paper on Saturday morning and the kiddo can go spend the night and we can walk our dogs together and I can unload all my unwanted zucchini on them and OMG I WANT THIS!!!!  So keep your fingers crossed for us all, eh?

5.  Finished baby blanket #1.  It’s funny, my two closest friends here are both expecting new babies in the next 5 months. One has gone through a rather epic experience, and in fact, is using a surrogate. The other, her pregnancy has just happened in the way babies just happen for some people. And while once it would have been really hard to see past my own writhing green jealousy to be happy for them, these days I’m so contented with my own little family that the envy has just up & disappeared.

It’s a nice place to be–happy to be making baby gear for others, but even more perfectly happy with my own reading, writing, ‘rithmaticking, hilarious, klutzy, silly, splendid little boy.  We got so lucky with this child, life just gets more & more fun as he gets older.

His teacher wants him to start kindergarten next year. A bit early, since he’ll be 4 for a few weeks–a mid-September birthday–but she feels (& I agree) that he’ll be happier challenged than bored.  And he’s a wise little soul, I think he’ll do fine, even though I can’t quite figure out where his babyhood went.  Of course, one of the three things he asked for, for Christmas, was clothes for Real Bunny, so I guess he’s not a big kid just yet!  But Kindergarten? Really??? Sigh.

And on that note, I hope you enjoy your last sequential date day for a very long time.  I know I will…

Comments Off

Book Review – TAMALES by Alice Guadalupe Tapp

tamales

Ok, you guys.  Christmas is coming.  Cookie time, right? Plum puddings and candy canes and rare roast beasts?

WRONG.

It’s tamale time.  Which, if you live in Tucson or Santa Fe or Moab, or even a lot of southern California is awesomely easy to partake in.  ie: the lady down the street sells them door to door (the best) or from a shopping cart in some grocery store’s parking lot (awfully good), or even at a restaurant or tamale shop (super-convenient & delish.)

New Hampshire seems to have, approximately none of these things.

I’ve spent far too much time trying to replicate Christmas-season-tamales-past, with very little bang for my time/money buck, because I don’t know what I’m doing, and it’s hard to wing something that’s traditionally undertaken by a houseful of people, when you’ve got a hangry preschooler whining for dinner, and “is it SUPPOSED to look like this?” is a valid question.

That has all changed.  This book.  Seriously, this book.

Alice Guadalupe Tapp illustrates & discusses different wrapping methods, different masa types commercially available, and sauces/condiments to complement her tamales. There are recipes for vegan tamales & dessert tamales & nose-to-tail tamales (innards & ‘odd’ cuts of meat.) She’s attempted to make tamale-making a simpler, more forgiving process, offers tons of shortcuts that manage to save time without compromising taste/texture.  Seriously? This is a reference book for those of us who love tamales, but didn’t have an abuelita & a bunch of aunties to learn from.

Out of the 50-odd recipes in this book, I can only find one ‘dessert’ recipe I do not want to try (Oreo-filled, because I’m not a big fan of those cookies), and a couple of the nose-to-tail ones, because I’m not a fan of tripe or tongue.  But everything else?  I’m sold, I’m there, I’m working my way through the book methodically and happily.

So happy holidays to all, and to all, a happy tamale-making experience every night this month if you wanted to (and if I wasn’t the adult in charge of dinner for three people, I think I just might be making them every night for a while.)  Honestly, this is the most awesome cookbook I’ve found in a LONG time.  Anyone on your list who’s a fan of steamed masa should get a copy of this for xmas or solstice or Chanukah or New Year’s or Kwanzaa or whatever you celebrate at this time of year.

Tamales, folks.  Happy tamale days to everyone!

I received this book from Blogging for Books for this review.

Small Things 12-1-14

1.  I really mean to get better about posting here.  Really.  Honestly.

Thanksgiving was wonderful, good times had by all.  But the best part of the long weekend? My own far-away parents told me that they might, possibly, consider entertaining the possibility of moving out here.

I could barely sleep all weekend for the idea.  SO. EXCITING!

2.  December is here, and honestly, I was barely used to it being November. So this?  This December nonsense?????   PFFFFTTT!!!

But seriously, I’m beginning – ok, middling through – the long slog of xmas gift buying/making. I finished the kiddo’s advent calendar last night at about 10pm. (I also  submitted a story for an anthology, which deadline was about 9 hours after I managed to finish it.  Sensing a theme here?) Baby mittens knit (now i have to get GOING on baby blankets.  Three new arrivals between family & friends in the next 5 months.  Knit knit knit! Purl purl purl!)

But it feels like a busy time, because it is a busy time.  School conferences, dentist appointments, all coming in this weird three week period between holidays.  January 2nd can’t get here soon enough for me!

3.  I was able to reproduce my Great-grandmother’s penuche recipe, and what’s even better is that the kiddo LOVES this stuff (I mean, what’s NOT to love? Pure fudgey sugar. Yum!) But it made me amazingly happy to reforge that link to my past.

4.  Chickies survived the bitter, arctic cold of this weekend just fine, thanks to the chicken-sitter & the electric water heater. (Yeah, seriously.) I was more relieved than I’d really like to admit when we got home to the winter-wonderland & realized they were just fine (if RATHER happy to be let out of their pen.  6 X 12 is rather confining when you’re used to being Chicken Empresses of the Universe.

5.  As always, this really was my favorite holiday. I have so much to be grateful for, so many people in my life to love. I hope it was a lovely holiday for you & yours (or at least not too painful, for folks going through a hard time.)  Now let’s all get through the rest of the month, and all will be well.  Yay January!