Home - is where I want to be / But I guess I'm already there /I come home -
she lifted up her wings /
Guess that this must be the place...
- Talking Heads, "Naive Melody"

Sunday, August 30, 2009

Productivity

It's been one of those weeks, in a good way. Post-vacation I decided to set aside the writing project for a while and concentrate on getting other areas under control. So in addition to writing about half of the doc plan for the project that's going to rule the next sixteen months of my life and fixing a bunch of bugs, I've done the following:
  • Sorted through the toy boxes, putting like with like
  • Did a lot of laundry, including the lake stuff
  • Whittled down the stack of magazines that was overflowing the basket
  • Made sandwich bread for the first time in forever
  • Made chocolate chip cookies and chocolate-macadamia-nut cookies
  • Made lemon cake
  • Made cheese scones
  • Threw away some clutter (every little bit helps, right?)
  • Cleaned out L's dresser
  • Cleaned out my workout clothes drawer
  • Partially vacuumed
  • Got L a haircut, a lunchbox, and some pants that fit for school
  • Cleaned the kitchen
Today I'm making baguettes, something I haven't done in ages and ages, whether because it was too hot, or I wasn't together enough to plan anything twelve whole hours in advance.

Not sure what wisdom I'm getting out of this--perhaps that I do better when I concentrate on one or two things at a time, instead of spreading myself over six--which is one of those "insights" that merits a resounding "duh." Though it might mean that if I want to be a writer in my off time as well as the work week, I need to hire a cleaning service. And a cook.

Tomorrow is the last day of August. I keep thinking about Christmas... it'll be here before I know it, always is. Time to start making a baking plan! Wish lists for the kids! Schedule! Hm, wait, maybe I should do Thanksgiving first....

Saturday, August 29, 2009

Perspective

Something that happened while we were on vacation....

Sitting in Kellerhaus, sharing a sundae with my daughter, staring at a display of T-shirts proclaiming "life is crap" and wondering why anyone would purchase or wear one, it suddenly occurred to me that this restaurant, currently full of tourists and young Europeans working their way through the summer, was on a planet circling a star among billions and billions of stars, a dust mote in the immeasurable vastness of the universe.

I am distinctly divided at heart on the utility of this knowledge.

Friday, August 28, 2009

The Internet

Nothing more or less than a way to say "If you like me, check this box" to the entire planet.

Thursday, August 27, 2009

Stonyfield Strawberry Pomegranate Yogurt

Is. Awesome.

Tres Leches Cake

I do still cook. Really!

This is a cake I first made for our Cuban-themed supper club (since the only alternative I could find was Cuban Opera Cake and I was absolutely terrified by that prospect). I also made it for a co-worker's birthday once, and yesterday I made it for her farewell party, as she has decided to leave the paid-for-working world for a while.

This is a really, really easy cake. I have to admit it's not my favorite thing to eat (sue me, I am a chocolate person), but it's pretty good. The only tricky bit is the whipped cream topping; when I bring it to the office I bring canned whipped cream, and for supper club I whipped it at the host's house so it didn't have time to fall. I got it from someone on a bulletin board, but it's originally from Cottage Living.

MAKES: 15 servings
PREP: 10 minutes
BAKE: 30 minutes
CHILL: 4 hours
1/2 cup unsalted butter
1 cup sugar
5 large eggs
1 teaspoon vanilla extract, divided
1 1/2 cups all-purpose flour
1 1/2 teaspoons baking powder
1 cup milk
1 (14-ounce) can sweetened condensed milk
1 (12-ounce) can evaporated milk
1 1/2 cups whipping cream
1/4 cup powdered sugar

1. Preheat oven to 350°. Grease and flour a 13- by 9-inch baking dish.

2. Beat butter and sugar at medium speed with an electric mixer until fluffy; mix in eggs and 1/2 teaspoon vanilla. Combine flour and baking powder; add gradually to butter mixture, stirring to blend. Pour batter into prepared dish, and bake at 350° for 30 minutes or until wooden pick inserted in center comes out clean. Pierce cake with a fork all over.

3. Combine the 3 milks, and pour on top of cake; cool to room temperature. Cover and refrigerate until well chilled, at least 4 hours or overnight.

4. Beat whipping cream, powdered sugar, and remaining vanilla at medium-high speed with an electric mixer until thick; spread over cake, and serve.
Notes: There didn't seem to be enough batter for the pan at first, but it baked up to a reasonable height. It took a few minutes less than predicted to bake. The milk mixture seemed to be way too much liquid, but I took hold of my nerve and poured it all in, and a couple of minutes later it had all been absorbed.

Vacation Log

15 August: Hot, gorgeous. Spent most of the afternoon on the dock.

16 August: 7 a.m., first waterskiier of the day. 7:50, Lydia in the water. She'll get into the sandy place by herself now.

17 August: 5:30 a.m., the lake is still and misty. Crows calling, loon hollering, squirrel chattering. Perfect day yesterday. After a grocery run, we had lunch. More dock time. JJ took his nap. Lydia colored. I went swimming. Right now, watching a bat fly around outside.

18 August: Yesterday - beach, lunch, dock, JJ's nap, Meredith for a visit to the bakery (Abondante), dinner. Very hot, 90s. Read most of Jhegaala.


19 August: Yesterday I took the kids to the beach while D went to GPC. L will let me hold in the water so she can kick. JJ iffy about water. L got up in the morning and announced that she had a "happy dream" about "a caterpillar that went into a chrysalis." After lunch D took her to the library. I took a swim. JJ napped. More reading. More swimming. Early dinner of leftovers, then Kellerhaus.


(later) Fun Spot a huge hit. L cried when we left. Lunch at the Tamarack - lobster roll for D, grilled cheese for me. He's off doing laundry, me reading and playing with L while JJ naps. Not so hot today.

20 August: Clear - can actually see the mountains this morning - and cooler. Yesterday - leftovers for dinner, and the Rescue of the Float Ring. Also a brief rain shower. Went to Innisfree and bought books, to Oglethorpe and carefully did not buy anything. Nothing sounds like a summer afternoon here. The cicadas rise and fall, the water slaps the shore, a distant boat motor hums, someone shouts. Never quiet silent. Lunch: peasant bread, sliced tomato, mozzaralla balls.

21 August: Foggy morning, cool. Last night kids making me nuts, and my throat sore. Today we have to clean and I want to visit the quilt shop. I am just about vacationed out! :)

(later) Hot, humid, overcast. Thunderstorm around 4. Cleaning all done. Rankin still throwing new characters into every chapter.

22 August: Rain went on most of the night. Went to GPC yesterday for ice cream. Other family got here around 9:30. I don't think there is a square foot here that does not have a spider on it. Finished The Black Book.


23 August: More rain yesterday. Eileen took L out in the kayak, and she got a boat ride for ice cream later. Takeout from Lee Wah's for dinner. Overall, a good vacation. Sun, swimming, relaxation, some work on the book, some reading. I think the kids had a good week, and they've been pretty good, all things considered. This morning we'll pack, tidy up, have an early lunch and get on the road.


Wednesday, August 26, 2009

Vacation Reading

Once upon a time, I left for vacations with a big stack of books in my luggage. Eventually, I realized that I never read them, and I stopped bringing books. For the past few years the only thing I ever managed to read up at the lake was the cottage copy of Terry Pratchett's Lost Continent (I still have no idea how it got there), and maybe a magazine or two.

In high school, college, and early adulthood, it wasn't rare for me to read a book every single day. Not generally demanding books, granted; I do gravitate toward the fluffier end of the SF/F spectrum, but still. How I've gone from that to struggling toward a goal of a book a month is a long story, mainly to do with children and the decisions that came after them.

With this vacation, I tried to be a little more ambitious; after all, Lydia is older and more able to self-entertain, and JJ still naps in the afternoon. I had my copy of Jhegaala. I had an Ian Rankin novel (The Black Book) a coworker loaned me. (I still have the third of the Dresden Files, come to that, but I kind of dread resuming it.) I even lugged along The Middle Sea, which I got for my birthday--two years ago, or three?

And... I read! Jhegaala turned out to be something of a disappointment, which is always sad because when Brust is on, he is on, and when he's not, you feel like a massive opportunity has been missed. It was okay, but it was an episode that didn't really add anything to the Story of Vlad. It's set in Fenario, which is fine, but all the action is in one tiny town, so it can't be said that we get to know the land or the people. None of the old characters show up (I spent pages waiting for Aliera to appear and kick some ass... never happened; in fact, there was a striking shortage of ass-kicking throughout). The characters are almost universally people I have no interest in meeting again, which is good I guess, because we're not likely to do so. Vlad doesn't get any insights into his own situation or nature. I can't even figure out exactly when in his timeline it's supposed to have taken place--before Issola, since he still has Spellbreaker and doesn't know some rather important things, but after his split with Cawti, but including epilogue-type action it covers about a year so that doesn't seem to work... I confess to being confused.

Spoilers ahead! The Black Book was my first exposure to Ian Rankin. I'm not really into the modern crime-mystery genre, and I found this to be an okay book, but I'm not likely to read more of him. There were a ridiculous number of characters and a truly baroque plot, which the author seemed to think all had to be wrapped into a single final package, even if it didn't quite fit in the box. I found the entire McPhail subplot extraneous and pretty distasteful. Eddie and Pat's murder of Willie seemed waaaaay out of line for either character. Getting the final plot explanation in the form of a dead character's journal seems to be cheating. The whole thing left me feeling vaguely dissatisfied. Maybe if I'd read the earlier books, it would all have made a bit more sense.

I'm nowhere near done with The Middle Sea, but so far it has also been something of a disappointment; other than some stuff on the Norman settlements in southern Italy, Mr. Norwich has presented little that is new to me, mainly giving out a blazingly fast overview of ancient and early medieval times, much like you would find in any general history of the era. For some reason, I had expected the sea itself, and the surrounding landscape, to play something of a role in the story, but so far this has not really been the case. It makes me want to write the book I wanted this one to be, which is always a dangerous notion.

I also spent time browsing through two new cookbooks: 660 Curries, a longtime darling of the Cooking Light forums, and Barefoot Contessa Back to Basics. The first looks fun and challenging, though a bit complicated, and the author's tone is occasionally intrusive, and Ina Garten can do no wrong as far as I'm concerned. I am hoping to get back into a new recipe groove once I have a chance to sit down and do some planning. Farmer's market today, we'll see what they have....

Monday, August 24, 2009

We're Back!

Much blogging to follow with details of our vacation in NH. It was a very good time!

Friday, August 14, 2009

Ingredients

Yesterday was one of those happy days when a Penzey's box turns up with the afternoon mail. This time it contained one pound of Dutch cocoa--my grocery store being lame enough that I can't find it reliably there--and a pint of vanilla extract, as my last bottle is nearly gone. I love opening their boxes, pulling out the wads of newsprint (which will be set aside for the kids to scribble on), finding what small sample bottle has been tucked away as a freebie (this time, something called Greek seasoning--not sure if or how I'll use that one...). The holiday baking season will be here before we know it, right?

On our last visit to the Worcester farmer's market there was a meat seller I hadn't seen before, new to the market this year. I've already forgotten the name of their farm, but will have to find out. The prices are, well, high. I bought a pound of hot pork sausage and a dozen enormous eggs. The eggs went into cookies and a fritatta I made this week; four of them so far have turned out to have double yolks, something I had heard of but never encountered. Makes for some really rich chocolate chip cookies.

The sausage I used last night, in one of those no-recipe dishes I tend to make in the summer: I turned the sausage out of its skin and browned it, added some shallots and some sliced up summer squash and zucchini, and let it all cook until the veggies were done to my taste. Threw in a bit of white wine, cooked for a few more minutes, and served over pasta. The sausage was sweet and spicy, needing no other seasonings at all. I hope I can afford to patronize their farm again before the summer ends!

Reconnecting

It was a really busy weekend, but the kind of busy that leaves you happy and satisfied rather than frazzled. Well, maybe a little bit frazzled....

Saturday morning we got up and piled into the car to make the drive to our old stomping grounds in Somerville, where an old friend of D's was visiting with her sister. This sister lives, literally, a block away from our old apartment on Landers Street, though our time in the neighborhood did not overlap. We hadn't seen her since our honeymoon in San Francisco, so there was quite a bit of catching up to do while we walked in to Harvard Square. It was a perfect day, clear and not too hot, and a lot of fun to see things we haven't visited in a while. We stopped for a bit at one of Harvard's fountains, where the kids climbed on the rocks and stomped in the puddles, and then went on to the Harvard Book Store to say hello to an old co-worker and update him on our latest literary defeats.

On a whim of D's, lunch was at a place I'm pretty sure was called Shisa, a Japanese-Korean type restaurant in the square. We thought we had been there before, but either we were wrong or it had moved to a different part of the building, since the space we ended up in was nowhere we had seen. The decor struck me as extremely hip, which always makes me self-conscious, and even more so since people with small children in tow are often looked down on by the hip.

Some things we have learned about going out to decent restaurants with little ones:
  1. Eat early. At 11:30, there were only a couple of other people there, so at least we didn't feel like we were wrecking lunch for half the patrons.
  2. Do not assume that they have milk.
  3. Stock up on distractions. I still tend to fail at this, but Grandma is the master. Pens and paper, calculators, iPods, sticky notes... something for them to do that is not repeatedly dropping utensils on the floor.
  4. If they can't sit still for a moment longer, playing under the table is fine. As long as it's your table.
  5. If all else fails, take them outside. There will be other meals.
Despite the speed with which we ended up eating, I quite enjoyed my pork bulgogi, and left a hefty tip to make up for all of our requests for more chopsticks, more napkins, and more straws. As a reward for behaving herself better than she might have, I took L to Curious George, and bought her a book called Bedtime in the Jungle, which has been in high demand since.

On the walk back, JJ fell asleep in the stroller, much to everyone's relief. We walked back to Somerville and hung out for a while in the park/community garden area, right next to where we used to live. L climbed around the playground (she's gotten so much more confident in the past year) and sat in the fountain (what the hell, we figured... clothes dry) and eventually, sadly, it was time to leave. We all promised not to let nine years go by before our next meeting.

Sunday morning was a blur of kitchen work and cleaning--pesto, potato salad, blueberry bars, and chocolate chip cookies. Nothing complicated. In the afternoon we piled back into the car and drove down to CT to see our friends the Rs, who are planning to move soon to a more southerly part of the state. We haven't talked about it much out loud, but this almost certainly means the end of our gaming group, which has stuck together so long, and of course we're sad regardless at the prospect of seeing them less often.

The day was unseasonably cold and gloomy, but we sat in the back yard and talked politics while the kids played, and then the front yard and talked about the hassles of moving while the kids played, until we were all cold enough to want to go inside, and talked about books. The grill was fired up, and we enjoyed a thoroughly traditional summer menu of hamburgers, corn on the cob, baked beans, and my potato salad, finished off later on with cupcakes.

Due to heavy traffic from returning weekenders, it was 7:30 by the time we got home, and I hustled L through her bedtime routine, anxious to retire myself. Alas, going to bed did not mean getting to sleep, as JJ had another screeching fit. This is the third time recently that he has done this, and we have no idea what is causing it--teething, gas, crankiness?

Frazzled ending or no, it was a really good, and much-needed, weekend. An unremarkable week at work followed, and tomorrow we'll be on vacation.

Wednesday, August 12, 2009

Mediterranean Stuffed Eggplant

This was one of those "I have x, let me do a search..." recipes. I bought a couple of eggplants on a whim at the farmer's market on Friday, without much of a thought as to what I would do with them. Mediterranean Stuffed Eggplant turned out to be a pretty good thing. Not a great thing--it takes a little longer to make than I like on a weeknight, and there's a couple of things I would change if I made it again.

For one, my eggplants were way too small. Even though I cut back on the amount of filling, there was a lot of it left over after I stuffed my little purpling darlings. For two, there was bit too much going on in the filling. Next time I might cut back on the number of vegetable types involved, and let just a couple of them shine a bit more. The feta, on the other hand, was an excellent inclusion. I could have used more of it than I did.

All told, a qualified keeper.

This Is Not a Game

I started reading TINAG some time last month, read half of it in a day, hit a snag of some sort--possibly involving exhaustion--and set it down. This past weekend as part of my "read, dammit" resolution, I picked it back up. After the long hiatus, it was something of an act of will, but I'm certainly glad that I did it, quickly picked up the steam I had lost and finishing the read in good time.

I almost used the title "This Is Not a Book Review" for this post, but it turns out that a ton of people have already made that joke. Every chapter in This Is Not a Game uses the "this is not a..." structure. Halfway through the book I started getting a bit tired of that, but by the end had regained my admiration; many of them are clever, and some of them wryly misleading.

I am delighted to find myself in the target audience for this book: people who are reasonably plugged in to the internet, aware of how software and its creators work, and who know a thing or two about role-playing.

TINAG is possibly the most fun thing Williams has done since Drake Maijstral. Between this and Implied Spaces he seems to have found a new devil-may-care attitude toward writing, a bit of a change from the occasionally frowning seriousness of some earlier work. Not that these are humorous books by any stretch, but he doesn't seem to be sweating the small stuff, instead focusing on deliciously complicated plots, a handful of compelling characters, and vast quantities of Cool.

It's right-now setting and fast pace contribute to something that might even be called hip, unless that's become a pejorative. The cast is intriguing (Austin, BJ, Charlie, Dagmar--I am still trying to figure out if that means something, or is just an authorial whim), the supporting characters in particular, and it's clear that Williams knows something about gaming, and gamers who--hurrah--get to be included in as something other than Cheetos-stained comic relief.

I'm not sure it's High Art, and it's probably not going to age very well--too much is dependent on the current technological and political world--but I found it an extremely fun read and recommend it without hesitatation.

With this one under my belt, I have read a whopping seven new books this year. Not exactly something to brag about, but better than I've done in some years, and I should be able to read five more by the end of the year.

Saturday, August 8, 2009

Feta-Stuffed Turkey Burgers

So, getting back to the food thing, albeit in a rather brief form, since it's 5 a.m. and I am starving, but want to make sure I get this one down, while the moon sets and someone rattles a shopping cart down the street....


I have made these twice, have not been moved to make the yogurt sauce but otherwise find them reasonably yummy and easy to make. We had our first corn on the cob of the year with them, sweet and crunchy.

This weekend is going to include a lot of running around, but also, I hope, a fair amount of time in my kitchen, continuing the re-grounding process. If nothing else I have pesto to make with the hube bunch of basil that is currently perfuming half the apartment.

In other news, L had her first visit to the dentist yesterday, and as far as they can tell, she has no cavities! (She wouldn't let them take side x-rays.) She does have a pretty bad overbite, however, so we'll have to see what develops there.

Friday, August 7, 2009

Good Things

Whew?

I may be emerging from this slump. This would be a good thing, as I do not particularly enjoy being depressed. I am working from home today, so a little after five I laced up my shoes and went out for a jog. The full moon was setting, the sun not yet up, the air a crisp-feeling 60--the perfect temperature for running. I did a bit over three miles, my best distance to date, and was particularly pleased since running outdoors is slightly more challenging than the treadmill.

I saw two of the neighborhood regulars, the first being an older man with some sort of disability who, as far as I can tell, just walks (limps) around all day. I often see him when I'm leaving for work, and sometimes when I'm coming home, just walking. This morning he nodded to me as I walked by, and again I wondered what his story is. About halfway through my outward journey I passed a man with the sort of perfect physique that bespeaks a great deal of time and attention; I have seen him out running in every kind of weather over the years we have lived here. We exchanged a wave and a "Morning," and another wave when we crossed paths again on our homeward journeys. In the parking lot across from the "Dance Ranch" four young men were gathered, and a police officer was walking back to his car, presumably after speaking with them. One of the four sent some lightly mocking words my way. Kids these days, or any day, reminding me of a quote I saw long ago.
Times are bad. Children no longer obey their parents, and everyone is writing a book. -- Marcus Tullius Cicero
Everyone does seem to be writing a book, or opening a restaurant, or traveling, or producing something unique and lovely... doing things. The proper reaction to this is not to go to bed, sulk about how unfair life is, and bemoan my wallflower nature, but to see what can be done... while being realistic. I have two small children, a full-time job, and a commute that eats three hours out of my day three or four days a week on top of that. Maybe now is just not the time for major creative endeavors, and I need to stop beating myself up about that fact. Maybe I should set myself some smaller goals, to preserve forward motion against the day when I finally have something resembling free time again.

So, in this optimistic spirit, a couple of new goals. I am going to try to start doing more reading. A friend sent me this year's list of nominees for the World Fantasy Award, and I've only even heard of one of the authors; that's pretty pathetic. I will set myself the modest goal of a book a month for the remainder of the year. I'm going to try to get to the library on that frequency, too.

I'll continue with the second draft of Assassin, but I am not going to kill myself trying to finish it this year. I am not going to attempt NaNoWriMo, and I am not going to get upset about that. Once I get my rejection from TOR, I'll shelve Wizard for a while, unless I can find a writing group or something (not sure I would have time to participate, assuming I can even find a group that is not chock-full of nut cases).

Today I'm going to visit the farmer's market, get my kitchen back in order, do some stuff I get paid to do, and not worry so goddamn much.

Thursday, August 6, 2009

No, Really

Slightly less self-pitying but still pensive, wondering at what point does one decide that no, one is simply not good at this, and chuck the whole endeavor?

Wednesday, August 5, 2009

Quitter Thoughts

I'm not sure if it's the submission process or just a low point in my biorhythms, but this thing seems to be turning me into a stressed-out, self-obsessed wreck. I am finding my insecurities magnified (useful from a "know thyself" perspective, but not much fun), and worse that I resent those of my friends who have more time and resources to devote to their own creative pursuits. Yesterday I contemplated deleting all of my files. The world does not need another mediocre fantasy writer.

Tuesday, August 4, 2009

Effort #2 Away

There won't be much cooking going on here this week--we were away for the weekend, so I haven't had time to plan or to shop, and it's going to be "all quick tried-and-true, all the time" for a few days. But I dropped an envelope in the mail this morning, with slightly less trepidation than I felt a month ago, and I am getting back into shape, so there is progress on some things.