Monday, April 13, 2015

A rare writing-related post

It's really not so much writing-related as language-usage related, but since writers use language as their weapon of choice, it might as well be labeled as a writing-related post.
These are some of the words and phrases people tend to overuse and/or use completely wrong:

1) literally - did you know that a kitten dies every time someone says or writes "literally" when they mean "figuratively"? ;)
2) indeed - academics overuse this
3) begs the question - it doesn't mean what you think it means
4) utilize - when the simpler, less pretentious "use" is often the correct form
5) theory/theorize - when people actually mean "hypothesis/hypothesize." A theory is a well-tested hypothesize that is supported by an abundance of empirical data. A hypothesis is just an idea...more often than not thought up on the spot. E.g. Someone spies a squished frog on the pavement and tells his friend, "I have a theory as to how this happened." Um, no; you have an idea, a hypothesis. You've not tested this thoroughly; it's not a theory.
6) at the end of the day - just an awful cliché

What are some other words or phrases you've noticed that people use wrong or too much? Please share in the comments! 

"I may not have gone where I intended to go, but I think I have ended up where I needed to be." ~ Douglas Adams

Monday, April 06, 2015

Doodle Day March

I participated in Doodle Day again in March. It's a good way to get me to do a 10-minutes-or-less sketch daily, keeping those drawing muscles somewhat limber. But with some deadlines to attend to, I could only get up to the letter K for the theme of "imaginary friends."
aardragon - I'd repurposed this drawing from KidLit Creatures Week
Bob the badger bakes me biscuits

my Couch Potato pal is a bad influence

After that, the rest of the month was spent panicking about a couple of deadlines I had, and I quit doing these doodles. 

This month, however, I have foolishly optimistically picked up another challenge. The A-Z Challenge where you post an alphabet-related something (doesn't have to be art) every week day in the month of April. I found out about it from Catherine Johnson and it seemed less intimidating than some challenges. If you want to check out what I've been doing, go to my Wordpress 365-Day blog called "One Good Thing."

Speaking of my One Good Thing blog, I've been considering dropping this blog and just doing the other one. Who really has time for more than one blog?? I love Blogger, but I may love short, pithy blog posts even more. They're very different in feel and nature. What do you think I should do?

"I may not have gone where I intended to go, but I think I have ended up where I needed to be." ~ Douglas Adams

Monday, March 30, 2015

Oatmeal Chocolate Chip Cookies, a recipe

I could have sworn I had posted this recipe before, but I couldn't find it here when a friend asked me for the recipe. It is one of our favorite cookies, so I thought you might all enjoy it, too. 
Oatmeal Whatever-Chip-You-Want Cookie

based on Hilary Clinton’s winning recipe in the bake-off with Barbara Bush

1.5 C unsifted AP flour
1 t salt
1 t baking soda
1 C solid veg shortening
½ C granulated sugar [I use ¼ C]
1 C firmly packed light brown sugar [I throw in ½ C of whatever brown sugar I have on hand]
1 t vanilla extract
2 eggs
2 C old fashioned rolled oats
12 oz semi-sweet chocolate chip, or butterscotch chips, or cappuccino chips, or some combination thereof (adjusting for sugar level)
Preheat oven to 350F
Combine flour, salt, and baking soda; set aside.
Beat together shortening, sugars, and vanilla until creamy.
Add eggs, beating until light and fluffy.
Gradually beat in flour mixture and rolled oats [I alternate ¼ of each at a time].
Stir in chips.
Drop batter by well-rounded teaspoonfuls onto cookie sheets.
Bake 8-10 minutes until done [in my oven, I bake 14 minutes and the cookies are drier and crunchier, the way we like them].
Cool on sheets for 2 minutes before placing on rack for further cooling.

Makes about 7.5 dozen cookies

"I may not have gone where I intended to go, but I think I have ended up where I needed to be." ~ Douglas Adams

Monday, March 23, 2015

Soaps make me clean and happy

Many moons ago, when I first started blogging, I also became interested in making soap. I started with melt-and-pour because it was something easy and fun to do with the boys as part of our homeschool learning.
Sushi soap...with wasabi soap and pickled ginger soap
skull and crossbone soaps
 In researching soap-making, I stumbled upon the thoroughly awesome Soap Queen blog and was immediately drawn into the whole wonderful world of soapers. I have made some of the nicest friends from this caring and encouraging community.

Anyway, as a fun break from writing, I've started up with soaping again, this time cold process soaping. I like making tangible, useful things when not writing or doing art. Baked goods fill my tummy, knitted good keep me warm, and soaps clean us up and help us smell better. Writing does none of those things.

I had made a bunch that turned out pretty well last fall to give as holiday presents. Then, I had to take a few months off to prepare for the NYC Society of Children's Book Writers and Illustrators conference. With that stress behind me, I can now make soaps between writing and drawing again.

Since I'm still a newbie, I've decided to stick with an easy recipe in Anne Marie Faiola's "Soap Crafting: Step By Step" book (which I highly recommend).
Southern Peach scented soap
Linden Blossom scented soap (on left)
Champagne scented soap
I've already promised a couple of bars as gifts, and might offer a little bundle of them as a prize to celebrate my 600th blog post over at my One Good Thing 365-blog. But I should have enough soaps to last my family a little while. Besides, I'll be making more! Can't wait to try out some other formulations. :)

"I may not have gone where I intended to go, but I think I have ended up where I needed to be." ~ Douglas Adams

Monday, March 16, 2015

Coffee Cloud Cake

Because our chickens have finally started laying again - molting is such a pain - we have a lot of excess eggs. I have, therefore, been in search of recipes that use a lot of eggs.

There is a yummy sounding recipe in the New Good Housekeeping Cookbook called Coffee Cloud Cake that uses 6 eggs, so I decided to give it a try.

It turned out pretty darned tasty, and because some friends on Facebook asked for the recipe, I'm sharing it here.
Coffee Cloud Cake

6 eggs, separated, at room temperature
1/2 t cream of tartar
2 C AP flour
1 C strong cold coffee
1 T baking powder
1 t vanilla extract
1/2 t salt
4 oz walnuts, finely chopped

1. In large bowl, at high speed, beat egg white and cream of tartar until soft peaks form. Beating at high speed, sprinkle in 1/2 C sugar (I use about 1/3 C instead), 2 T at a time; beat until sugar is dissolved and whites stand in stiff peaks.

2. Preheat oven to 350F. In another bowl, on medium speed, beat 1 1/2 C sugar (I used a bit over 3/4 C only) and egg yolks with flour, coffee, baking powder, vanilla extract and salt until light and fluffy. With rubber spatula or wire whisk, gently fold flour mixture and nuts into beaten egg whites until just blended:

3. Pour batter into ungreased 10" tube pan. Bake 1 hour to 1 hour 10 minutes, until cake springs back when lightly touched. Invert cake in pan on funnel or bottle; cool completely in pan. With metal spatula, carefully loosen cke from pan; place on cake plate. Because I can't be bothered washing too any things, I just left the cake in the pan.

I still prefer citrus chiffon cake (which I might make this coming week), but this did smell incredible when it was baking! I think it would taste even better with a bit of chocolate or coffee whipped cream.

Let me know if you try this!

"I may not have gone where I intended to go, but I think I have ended up where I needed to be." ~ Douglas Adams

Monday, March 09, 2015

Never stop learning

I'm an autodidact (my whole family is, really), but I don't like to have to take exams, write papers, or attend classes in the evenings...or, heck, even leave the house. My favorite ways to learn are by reading - of course - and by watching The Great Courses lecture series.

Unfortunately, as good as our library is, it doesn't have most of the courses that we want. Here are all the classes that we have:

some of those on the left hand end are free DVDs from Howard Hughes Medical Institute
I recommend nearly all of the classes, in particular the ones about physics (classical, quantum and particle) by Sean Carroll, Richard Wolfson, and Benjamin Schumacher, "Understanding the Human Body" by Anthony Goodman, and "The Fall and Rise of China" by Richard Baum.

Have you ever watched The Great Courses DVDs before? If so, which one(s)?

"I may not have gone where I intended to go, but I think I have ended up where I needed to be." ~ Douglas Adams

Monday, March 02, 2015

That sneaky week

I don't know how it happened, but a whole week managed to sneak by me. I had grand plans for this week's blog post...okay, no I didn't. I had some ideas, maybe, but here it is, Sunday afternoon. So, I'll just babble on about a few things and pretend like it's a *real* blog post.

One of my Facebook friends, I believe it was Salina Yoon, the amazing author of the Penguin books (e.g. Penguin In Love - not affiliate link), mentioned something about my having plenty of hand-knitted socks for the winter, and I believed that I did. But when I tried to scrounge up my knitted socks, I realized I do not actually have enough! I only have 6 pairs, 2 of which have holes and need darning. 
the blue-white striped ones on the left are made of a chitin yarn
So, it's a good thing I'm knitting a new pair of socks for myself right a lovely shade of green, no less. Come on, Spring; bring it on!
Also springy is a little sketch I did for my good friend, Elaine Kiely Kearns (who founded the amazing site and runs it with our other good friend, Sylvia Liu) for an absolutely sweet story she wrote. If any editors or agents are reading this (HAH!), you really need to check out Elaine's story. :)
Lastly, more great news: Russell James, the leader of our Minnows Literary Group, announced that he'll be sending a check to Doctors Without Borders for about $130 for December's earnings on our anthologies...AND, that the earnings for February's sales will be more than double that! I feel like we are single-handedly fighting ebola with MSF...without, you know, putting ourselves in mortal danger, unless you consider getting harsh reviews of our books as dangerous.

Happy March!

"I may not have gone where I intended to go, but I think I have ended up where I needed to be." ~ Douglas Adams

Monday, February 23, 2015

Stars - what do they mean?

No, I'm not referring to the Oscars last night.
My science fiction group, The Minnows Literary Group, now has four anthologies that benefit Doctors Without Borders (Out of Time, In A Land Far Away, Centauri Station, and Still Out of Time), and the combination of the four sell around 100 copies per week. We appreciate that people leave reviews, but, occasionally, the stars given don't seem to match the reviews.

Amber over at WANATribe once posted a blog post about the rating system difference between Amazon and Goodreads, but I can't seem to find her post. So, I thought I'd give a quick recap here.

On Amazon:
1 star = I hate it
2 stars = I don't like it
3 stars = It's okay
4 stars = I like it
5 stars = I love it

On Goodreads:
1 star = did not like it
2 stars = it was okay
3 stars = liked it
4 stars = really liked it
5 stars = it was amazing

As you can see, Amazon's scale is more extreme on the Dislike end, while Goodreads allows for a more extreme Like rating. Therefore, 5 Stars on Amazon is really more like 4 Stars on Goodreads. Keep that in mind when I love your book but only give it 4 stars on Goodreads. ;)

"I may not have gone where I intended to go, but I think I have ended up where I needed to be." ~ Douglas Adams

Monday, February 16, 2015

The Magnificent Julie Rowan-Zoch

Through the 12x12 Picture Book Challenge, I have met many talented illustrators, some of whom became good friends (and two of those are also my wonderful critique group mates!). Julie Rowan-Zoch is one of good friends who constantly inspires me.

We exchanged postcards one day recently - that's fun! I need to exchange with my artist/illustrator friends more often - and I was so taken by them, I had to share with the world (or at least the small percentage of the world that reads my blog).

Here are Julie's business card and promotional postcard:
This is the front of the promotional postcard. It's brilliant the way she tied the front and the back together around the central characters.
One of the things I admire most about Julie's work is how she can make a piece look so simple and yet convey such emotions and narrative at the same time.
Is this darling, or what? Reminds me of the fun time I spent in the Netherlands...but much cuter.
 In addition to being super talented, Julie is also generous. She created illustrations to celebrate all her Facebook friends' birthdays. Here's one she made for me the first year I "met" her:
 And this is the one for last year:
a little frog must have told her I've owned chickens for about 12 years
Julie's talent has now been recognized far and wide and she's been signed by the prestigious Wernick & Pratt literary agency. Check out Julie's success story at Julie Hedlund's site.

Hope you'll go look at some of Julie's art at her website and Facebook page. You'll be glad you did!

p.s. following advice from my very wise friend, Sylvia Liu, I am changing comments back to being always open

"I may not have gone where I intended to go, but I think I have ended up where I needed to be." ~ Douglas Adams

Monday, February 09, 2015

The Society of Children's Book Writers and Illustrators NYC Conference

Because I'd spent the previous week preparing for the conference and then most of the week away for the actual conference, I don't really have a post today. Therefore, I'm going to post a few doodles I did while I was listening to the speakers at the SCBWI Conference, and a bit of rambling and call it a day. 

Not only was it an inspiring conference, I also got to meet a whole bunch of online friends for the first time: Douglas Florian with whom my friend Elaine and I spent a lovely half-day with,
he signed a bunch of books for me
my Penguin Posse critique group friends and Minnows Literary Group friends. I am pretty sure I have new best friends for life, partly because we shared some scrumptious meals. When you break bread (or sushi) together, you are bonded in friendship!
tapas, Japanese-style
scallops at Cognac, NYC
I hope to have a very cool post about a very cool friend for next week or the following week. Stay tuned!

"I may not have gone where I intended to go, but I think I have ended up where I needed to be." ~ Douglas Adams

Monday, February 02, 2015

Happy Birthday, Phyllis!

It's Groundhog Day again...and this year, it is also Punxsutawney Phyllis's 10th birthday! Phyllis is author, and super nice person, Susanna Hill's literary baby.

In honor of this lovable little groundhog, I've penned a (quick...sorry, Phyllis; didn't have much time) ditty. :)

There once was a groundhog named Phyllis
Whose birthday calls for parades and floatillas.
But she wanted something worse:
Birthday wishes penned in verse!
If it doesn't make us stronger, it'll kill us...

Do I hear collective groans? Thank you; thank you very much!
Have a lovely week, hopefully free of bad limericks after today!

"I may not have gone where I intended to go, but I think I have ended up where I needed to be." ~ Douglas Adams

Monday, January 26, 2015

Book Love Blog Hop

I've agreed to do a rare blog hop because it's about books, and because the lovely Cathy Ballou Mealey asked. :)
The idea is the brainchild of Carrie Finison and it's to highlight books that you think deserve more recognition than they're getting. Participants are to:
"Post reviews for the books you chose on Amazon/social media. The reviews can be brief - even a short review on Amazon helps. Posting on Goodreads or Shelfari is great, too, or Twitter, Facebook, Pinterest, etc." and link back to Carrie's blog.

I would like to highlight four of my favorite books:
Last Chance to See by Douglas Adams - the rather depressing topic of species going extinct is covered by Adams in his characteristic droll British style
The Cosmic Code by Heinz Pagels - a very well written book for the lay person on quantum physics; my only beef is that there are virtually no equations in it
Half Magic by Edward Eager - Eager was inspired by the tales of E. Nesbit to write tales that are equally magical and fun for the upper elementary set. I find his writing more accessible than Nesbit's
The Chrysalids by John Wyndham - not nearly as well-known as Day of the Trifid by Wyndham, this book is a memorable post-apocalyptic story that has a hopeful ending

I want to point out here something that some of you may not realize, which is that a 5-star rating on Amazon is equivalent to a 4-star rating on Goodreads.

If you'd like to play along, please let me know as I'd like to check out your choices. Also, if you're not already friends with me on Goodreads, please friend me! I like to see what others are reading. I think my moniker is "writer64" there.

Have a great week!

"I may not have gone where I intended to go, but I think I have ended up where I needed to be." ~ Douglas Adams

Monday, January 19, 2015

Recipe time!

Tastier than hammer time (whatever that even means). I'll bet you've been waiting eagerly for the first recipe of the year.  Or, not.

I tried a new recipe. I'd gotten it off of almost exactly 4 years ago and had never made it. Why not? Well, because we rarely have dried cherries in the house. But, our wonderful friends, Carol and David, gave us a gift box of dried fruits from Bella Viva Orchards and I finally had dried cherries to bake with.
It turned out dense but super chocolatey and quite tasty.

Black Forest Cookies
adapted from Martha Stewart online
makes 36

1 C AP flour, spooned and leveled
2 T unsweetened cocoa powder
1 t baking powder
1/2 t salt
8 oz semisweet or bittersweet chocolate, chopped (I used chocolate chips)
1/2 C unsalted utter, cut into small pieces
1/2 C granulated sugar (I used 1/4 C)
1/4 C dark-brown sugar (I usually whatever brown sugar I have on hand that's opened)
2 large eggs
1 pkg (12 oz) semisweet chocolate chunks (I used cappuccino chips)
1 1/2 C dried cherries

Preheat oven to 350F. Line 3 baking sheets with parchment paper (I only needed 2...I have large baking sheets), set aside. In medium bowl, whisk together flour, cocoa, baking powder, and salt. Set aside.

Place chopped chocolate and butter in a large heatproof bowl set over a pan of simmering water; stir until melted and smooth. (I have used the microwave for this step before in making other things that require melting butter and chocolate together.) Remove from heat; whisk in sugars, then eggs, until smooth.

Whisk in dry ingreds just until combined (do not overmix). Fold in chocolate chunks and dried cherries. Press plastic wrap directly onto surface of dough and refrigerate until firm, 30-40 minutes. (I left it in the fridge for 35 minutes and it was way too hard to handle; next time, I'll only put it in for maybe 15 minutes.)

Drop mounds of dough (about 2 level tablespoons) about 2 inches apart onto prepared sheets. Bake until edges are firm (but not if you could tell; I know I couldn't), 11-13 minutes. Cool on sheets for 1-2 minutes, then transfer to a wire rack to cool completely.


"I may not have gone where I intended to go, but I think I have ended up where I needed to be." ~ Douglas Adams

Monday, January 12, 2015

Learning already

It's only been a week and a half into the new year, and I'm already learning things! Things like:

1) It is coooold in January even when you go as far south as Patagonia, Arizona. But we had a nice trip anyway.
the dry desolation of southeast Arizona
Yes, that's snow on the ground.
outside our cabin window at Ramsey Canyon Inn
2) I should have kept in touch with the professional artists who thought very highly of my art skills because they would have made me feel guilty for mostly wasting the last 25 years of my life and not working harder at honing my skills (yes, I'm thinking of you, Bill Mammarella and Rick Ortwein).

3) Root veggies like kohlrabi and rutabaga are versatile, tasty, and keep well.

There are a few more things, but I won't bore you with my list. How about you? Learn anything new or deep in the first week plus of January?

"I may not have gone where I intended to go, but I think I have ended up where I needed to be." ~ Douglas Adams