Sunday, October 31, 2010

Week Link

I picked this link up off my Nashville BFF’s wall on Facebook. It’s a cool website where you can get T-shirts with vintage book covers printed on them. I just had to pass it on to you book lovers out there. I’ve already picked up a couple of Christmas presents. And yes, one of them happens to be for me. The link takes you to their selection of men’s T-shirts, but there are women’s and children’s, too.

Out of Print’s mission is stated on their home page:

“Out of Print celebrates the world’s great stories through fashion. Our shirts feature iconic and often out of print book covers. Some are classics, some are just curious enough to make great t-shirts, but all are striking works of art.

We work closely with artists, authors and publishers to license the content that ends up in our collections. Each shirt is treated to feel soft and worn like a well-read book.

In addition to spreading the joy of reading through our tees, we acknowledge that many parts of the world don't have access to books at all. We are working to change that. For each shirt we sell, one book is donated to a community in need through our partner Books For Africa.”

Friday, October 29, 2010

Savory Bread Pudding

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Today I reviewed revisions for Wined and Died, the fifth Home Crafting Mystery. Usually I have a rough menu plan for the week, but I hadn’t really thought about dinner tonight. Suddenly it was 6:00 p.m. Usually I’d just grab something out of the freezer and heat it up – soup, chili, a casserole.

But:

The dairy delivered milk today. I’d picked up the egg share on Tuesday. And there was a half loaf of chewy ciabbata slowing growing stale in the bread drawer. Add in some grated sharp Cheddar and a handful of leftover chopped ham, and dinner was savory bread pudding with sliced heirloom tomatoes.

Savory Bread Pudding

Tear or cut 5 or so slices of chewy bread into 1-inch cubes. Leave on the crusts. Toss together with 1 cup chopped ham and 1 cup grated cheddar cheese and put in a buttered, 1-quart casserole dish. Combine 3 beaten eggs with 1 1/2 cups milk and 2 teaspoons of Worcestershire sauce. Pour this mixture over the bread, etc., and press the bread down with a fork until it absorbs some of the milk and egg. *

Bake in a 300 degree oven for about 45 minutes, or until a cake tester comes comes out clean. Then broil the top so it’s all golden brown and crusty.

Dig in!

*You can put this together and let the bread soak up all the liquid overnight, like a strata. Then bake the next morning for a yummy breakfast or brunch.

And, of course, you can use any kind of meat (leftover sausage, bacon, grilled chicken, shrimp) and any kind of cheese. A handful of fresh chopped herbs is a good addition, or caramelized onions, spinach, chard or cooked mushrooms. You get the idea.

Wednesday, October 27, 2010

That Blows

102710 038And blows and blows and blows. Like much of the middle of the country, we’ve been experiencing some weather. In the mountains, more than two feet of snow has fallen, and the ski areas are starting to open. Down by the foothills, though, we’re getting eye-achingly blue skies for the most part – and lots of wind. For three days now.

Which has not been too great for my already crappy tenuous Internet connection.

The wind is blowing in a number of changes. Nighttime temperatures verge on freezing, but some sturdy blooms maintain their beauty day-to-day. Out with the t-shirts in the closet, and in with the sweaters. We made a quick trip up to the Sierra Trading Post to augment our supply of winter fleece on the cheap, and boots have replaced my open-toed shoes at the front of the closet.

Downstairs in my office, the chill has settled in. So far the space heater is still unplugged, but my big, poofy writing chair sports a wool blanket for my feet. I curl there and type or edit, occasionally coming out of my fictional world to watch the whirling yellow leaves outside the window.

102710 026We pulled the tomato plants, but the last of the fruit is sunning in the window. Rosemary, thyme, parsley and chives are back in their big indoor pot. The rosemary grew a lot during it’s summer tenure in garden, and needs to be cut back. I’ll use the trimmings to infuse rosemary-black pepper vodka for the Bloody Marys that are so popular when friends come over for Sunday football games.

706400_carrot_topThe brisk nights have brought the broccoli plants back to production and sweetened the beets, carrots and leeks still in the ground. K got the ladder out and climbed up to rescue the last of the apples. They went into one crisp for us and another for a friend recovering from surgery.

I still have to plant the garlic and spinach for next spring, and put in the tulip and crocus bulbs. The narcissus are beginning to sprout inside, and hopefully will bloom around Christmas. Hyacinth bulbs in different hues await forcing in the garage.

Neighbor Porch 1010Gourds and squash of all kinds hunch next to the ubiquitous doorstep pumpkins around town. Some of them are really strange looking, not at all what I’d call attractive. But some are unusual AND attractive. I think I like the dark pink Princess (also called Cinderella) best. They’re supposed to taste good, too. Anyone know if that’s true?

Knitting Book I’ve assessed my yarn and fiber stash in the basement cabinet, and dug out the yarn winder to wind up loose skeins so they’ll be easy to work with. I’ve been crocheting a lot lately, but found two sweater patterns to try in Knitting Simple Sweaters from Luxury Yarns. I love the classic, one color patterns with simple construction. Busy sweaters don’t suit me or my wardrobe, and these look like some I’ll really wear. Plus, I already have yarn for them in the stash.

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Velvety blue chenille on ball winder

My spinning wheel sits in the living room. During the first game of the World Series tonight, I’ll rub it down with carnauba-and-orange wax and oil all the moving parts. Tucked in the cabinet is most of a bump of natural wool roving along with brown and green dyes. It should spin into enough tweedy sort of yarn for a sweater. Not sure if I’ll get to that or not this winter, but in the meantime there’s plenty of raw fiber to keep me busy in the evenings.

Daily fare has frequently turned to soups and stews, fresh bread and slow-braised meats. Tomato sauce, beef and chicken stocks, and drying herbs scent the air 24/7. I felt like I’d won the lottery when the dairy offered to deliver frozen, pastured, Colorado chickens along with the milk this week.

Not the BIG lottery, mind you. But a nice scratch ticket. I ordered ten and they were delivered yesterday. I swear I heard the freezer groan when I jammed them in there.

What is the wind blowing your way these days?

Monday, October 25, 2010

Getting Better

woman golfer

Every once in a while I examine my goals. Long term, short term, and in between. It’s not a scheduled thing, and the urge is usually sparked by a change of some kind – in circumstances, expectations, or the transition between seasons.

Last spring I took a day to play around with what I’d like to accomplish in the next year or so. I looked at my writing goals, my yearly goals of learning something new and trying to challenge my comfort zone, and then checked in on what I’d already been working toward. It’s not about being rigid and planning everything down to the minute, but about maintaining awareness about where my life is going and whether that’s where I want it to go.

One of the things on the list was to improve my golf game.

Which is kind of funny, because I’m pretty ambivalent about golf in general. So many people are passionate about it. They want to play every day. They love it when they play well and hate/love it when they play badly. Yet I still struggle with the notion of spending five hours whacking a ball into a four-and-a-half inch hole waaaay the heck over there.

Golf is like life, K tells me. He’s played since he was fourteen, and gets out to the course two or three times a week in decent weather. Yes, he intones, a round of the gentlemen’s game is a metaphor for life.

No, it’s not, I respond. Golf is a walk in the park. Or, rather, a forced march over very well-groomed and water-wasting turf while missiles travel around you at concussion-inducing speeds.

Exactly, he says.

Okay, it’s fun if I’m playing well. Unfortunately, I only took up the game three years ago, so that doesn’t happen very often. My scores are better than most at this stage, I’m told, but K is the one doing the telling, and he’s vested in keeping me on the course. We do have fun together out there, though, and that’s important.

Ergo, one of my goals was to get better at golf so I’d have more fun. I thought perhaps an afternoon at the range each week, and playing a couple times a week might do it. I’ve had lessons. When I manage to pull off what I’m supposed to do, things progress nicely. All I needed was practice.

Well, I only played once a week over the summer, with very little range work in between. So I was as surprised as anyone when I scored 43 on nine holes, including two birdies.

Tweet #1. Tweet #2.

There. I’ve arrived. I’m officially a Good Golfer. Let me tell you, K had some high expectations the next time we hit the links.

I knew better. Crazy good performance is usually followed by not-so-good – if not crazy bad – whenever one is trying to improve a skill. It’s not a reaction so much as probability. Getting better at anything comes with time and practice. There is no arrival point, only a gradual increase in ability.

And the reason I knew better is because I’ve never “arrived” as a writer, either. Oh, I’m published, and I’ll be published some more, but to sit back and think that means I’m some kind of expert is fraught with danger. The more I write the better I get, but I’m not done learning and never will be. Never.

That thought makes me oddly happy. Hopeful and looking forward to what comes next.

But what’s with this sudden desire to to haul my clubs over to the closest municipal driving range?

Sunday, October 24, 2010

Week Link

In the course of my various writing projects I research a wide variety of topics. Some are truly strange (e.g. what does lye do to tooth enamel?) and some are simple things like geography or language.

But I find myself researching even when not writing. Planning a vacation, helping a friend’s child with homework, or just because I’m cursedly curious.

Here are a few links I’ve found useful for research of all kinds. They are all reputable resources who are respectful of copyright law.

Bibliomania is a place to access classic texts – fiction, nonfiction and poetry, study guides, book summaries (think Cliff’s notes), dictionaries, author biographies, and religious texts.

Free Documentaries is a site that has collected documentary films from all over the web. Some you’ll recognize, others wildly obscure.

Bartleby provides access to tons of classic literature, reference and verse.

and

Google Translate will translate bits of text or entire web pages into a variety of languages. And from those languages into English.

That’s why I know the French title of Lye in Wait translates into something like “Crafty! It Smells!”

Sigh. I guess there are some things we just don’t need to know.

Friday, October 22, 2010

Applesauce Cake

My grandmother gave me this recipe. She’s 90 years old and still going strong. She told me they made it in the Depression, when eggs were scarce – this recipe doesn’t have any. Ironically, I’m always looking for ways to use up the eggs I get from the CSA. Still, this is the time of year for apples and applesauce, and this cake is delectably moist and spicy. Also note that it contains no oil (the pectin in the apples takes care of that function), so it’s low fat. It’s also super simple.

Grandma’s Applesauce Cake

applesauce_cake 

Combine 2 cups of sugar with 2 cups of hot applesauce. In a separate bowl, stir together 2 teaspoons baking soda with 3.5 cups flour and a teaspoon each of ground cloves, nutmeg, cinnamon, and salt. Add to the applesauce mixture. Add in one cup raisins or nuts, or a combination of both. Bake in a 350 degree oven until done.

“Until done.” Because Grandma just assumes you’ll know when it’s done. And it does depend on what kind of pan you use. For a loaf pan I’d say to start poking it with a wooden toothpick or cake tester at about 50-55 minutes. If the tester comes out cleanly the cake is done. A 9x13 pan will probably take a little less time. And expect it to take a bit more time at high altitude.

Also, I butter and sugar – or flour – the pan before adding the batter. If you use sugar it caramelizes on the outside but still makes it a bit easier to ease out of the pan.

This cake doesn’t require any frosting, but a cream cheese frosting might be nice.

Wednesday, October 20, 2010

Clearing Out Dead Wood

These are the ratty, tatty, decades-old grape vines situated in a bizarrely inconvenient spot right by the side of the street. This picture was taken last February.

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I’d been planning to do something  about them for a couple years. They draped over a falling down, split-rail fence. The muscular vines pushed it down and started rambling out onto the asphalt. Cars gently dodged them. In the summer they were a mess; in the winter they looked like we stacked a bunch of yard shrek by the curb and no one ever came to take it away. And actual, edible grapes? Fuggetaboutit.

So I dove in last spring. After a few hours trying to “prune” those monsters, I swore I could hear their sarcastic laughter. I threw up my hands and retreated. Kindness and tidiness would not work. Nor would subtlety.

For a while the Great Grape Project went on the back burner. Soon they had sprouted. Too late to cut them back? Maybe. But I didn’t care. If they died, they died.

We hacked and chopped. Pulled the fence out with a chain. Hacked and chopped some more, until all there was left were four pathetic, stubby trunks.

They wept. With great vigor, the remaining wood sucked water up to feed plants that were no longer there. Liquid seeped from the cut ends, the tragic, futile drops shining in the sun before spattering to the ground below.

I averted my eyes when I walked by. Wondered what the neighbors thought of our plant cruelty. Chivvied K to help me pull the dead stumps out.

But then they stopped crying and started leafing out. Bit by bit, the grape vines renewed. All the fruit comes from new growth, and all the growth is now new.

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In keeping with the Seussian feel of our place, K designed and built three trellises. 

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The vines are healthier than ever, and now we have actual fruit! Only by getting rid of all that deadwood was that possible.

I’m trying to eliminate the dead wood in other parts of my life. The first pass on my office is done, but I still spend a little time every day decluttering, paring down, throwing away, cleaning out and revamping. As I do, I think about not only what physical objects to get rid of, but what habits and thought patterns might not be doing the job they used to.

And I’m thinking a lot about how technology fits into my life, what works, what doesn’t, what I’ve been doing because everyone does and what I’d like to give up. How much new growth might occur as a result of less time spent on the computer or in front of the television?

I’d love to hear where you’ve cut dead wood from your life only to discover new growth ensued.

Monday, October 18, 2010

And We Think We Have It Tough

I’ve tried many times to explain why I’m so interested in colonial home crafts. Truth is, there are many reasons, but I often cite the increasingly technological world around us as the primary one. Still, I’ve knitted, crocheted, cooked and baked since a very early age. Laura Ingalls Wilder’s Little House series had a deep impact or me – or did it? Which came first, my interest in how people lived a century or so ago or reading about them?

housework

Two women sharing the housework in the late 1800s
Photo courtesy Library of Congress

Whatever sparked my interest, do not think I’m trying to romanticize the tasks that, frankly, made life pretty darn hard back then. A typical woman’s life in the late 1800’s consisted of work from dusk ‘til dawn. Work done without modern conveniences like standing mixers, washers and dryers, vacuum cleaners or even refrigeration. In urban areas she might also hire out to do housework, laundry, sewing, or work in a factory. In the country, she not only cared for her home and fed her family meals fixed from scratch every day on a wood-burning stove, but grew much of that food, sewed, knitted, spun and wove to make clothing for her family, cared for children – and livestock – and often helped her husband with other farm chores. She sometimes made a little extra income for the family by selling extra butter or eggs from her flock.

Multitasking? Hardly a recent concept. And not only did she have to work her tail off, she had to perform her tasks really well. Survival might depend on it. 

I do, perhaps. romanticize the actual colonial skills. The ability to make your own clothes, grow and cook your own food, or build a piece of furniture from scratch is amazing to me. The idea that these basic abilities might be lost is tragic. But with the resurgence of interest in many different home crafts, that loss is unlikely to occur. In fact, because of the luxury of being able to specialize, some creative souls have taken traditional home crafts like cheese making, quilting, baking and knitting to new heights, offering delectable artisan foodstuffs and beautiful pieces of artwork.

But make no mistake: We are incredibly fortunate to have the technology that we do.

Pedroni

“Part of the family of George Padroni, near Sterling, Colo. They have 9 children and some hired help. Only one child in school …This is 6 yr. old Lena, who works some too. The 8 yr. old boy pulls and piles beets. 9 and 12 yr. old boys run the pulling machine, (the mother said, "We all got to do all we can.") 11 yr. old girl piles and tops and does housework. 13 yr. old girl piles and tops. Says she hasn't hurt herself with the knife this year, but did last year. The whole family begins work from 5 to 6 A.M. and works until 6 P.M. and after, with time off for dinner. Pedroni has been living here for 20 yrs., owns several hundred acres, about 100 in beets. Is said to be well-to-do. Location: Sterling [vicinity], Colorado.”

Photo courtesy Library of Congress

Yesterday I made spaghetti from scratch. I made the noodles from egg-and-flour dough. Made the sauce from garden tomatoes cooked down, pureed, and then cooked down for four more hours with handfuls of herbs, chopped onion and celery, and a bit of brown sugar. The meatballs originated as a tired roast from last year’s beef, ground and added to bread crumbs, egg, garlic and basil.

Still, that was easy peasy compared to a hundred-plus years ago. I used a standing mixer to whip up the pasta dough, and then the pasta attachment to extrude the spaghetti. I used the grinding attachment to grind the meat, a convection oven to brown the meatballs, a blender to puree the tomato sauce, and a gas stovetop to slowly cook that sauce down. Not to mention the dishwasher.

Believe me, I appreciated every hard-worked-for bite of the finished product. But as much as I enjoyed making that meal from scratch, I did it by choice. I also washed and dried four loads of laundry with hardly any effort at all. Vacuumed the house. Watched a football game and a baseball game on television – and still had time to edit two chapters and begin reviewing a friend’s manuscript. 

The best of both worlds. Talk about lucky!

Sunday, October 17, 2010

Week Link

scatpatternHalloween is around the corner, and so is pumpkin carving. Sometimes I free-form funny faces or draw designs and then transfer them to the pumpkin for carving. One year I hollowed several kinds of squash out and drilled holes all over them with different sizes of drill bits. They were pretty cool looking, all lined up on the porch railing, if I do say so myself.

But I don’t draw particularly well, and often buy patterns. The cat above is one. The sites below provide all sorts of complicated and not-so-complicated patterns. For most of them a set of pumpkin carving tools is essential.

Zombie Pumpkins is where I’ve bought most of my patterns because there are so many to choose from. However, you do have to register, and their selection of free ones is limited.

The Pumpkin Lady has a few different designs, though many are the same as Zombie Pumpkins. Some of the free ones are pretty cute. The majority of the patterns must be purchased, though.

DLTK is the place to go for free patterns, as well as very detailed and friendly instructions for how to use the patterns. If you’ve never used a pumpkin carving pattern before and are curious, take a look. This site caters to kid’s crafts, and well worth exploring.

Friday, October 15, 2010

Winner, Winner, Chicken Dinner!

Okay, no chicken dinner. But the box of books from the giveaway will be winging their way to M.T. Logan over at I Love a Mystery who entered via email. Congratulations M.T.! And thanks to everyone who entered the contest. Look for another drawing soon.

Today I’m over at Inkspot, talking about – crazily enough – used books.

TGIF!

Wednesday, October 13, 2010

Book Giveaway Reminder and Harvest Numbers

You can still enter to win the book giveaway until midnight tonight (October 13)! To see the list of books (19 of them!) and the different ways you can enter please check out this post from last week.

Good luck!

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Well, we’re finally far enough into the autumn chill that I can get a real handle on what the gardens gave us this year. There are three raised beds that are approximately 8X8, and a tear-shaped potager that’s about 6X30. If my math is correct, that makes the total garden space about 370 square feet. Good heavens, that sounds like a lot. Sure doesn’t seem to take up that much room! As it was, I planted successively when possible. For example, once the spinach and lettuce had bolted – well into July – the yellow wax beans went into that area.

Here are my estimates in no particular order, from roughly keeping track of the harvest which began in May with the spinach and arugula.

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Artichokes – about 15 medium from 4 plants – left 2 on hoping they’d bloom but am still waiting

Asparagus – none, as this was the first year it went in so it was just getting established – the ferns are lovely, though

Strawberries – a few handfuls for breakfast here and there as the plants became established in the perennial bed

Leeks – 15, still unharvested, tucked in with asparagus – they are a French variety that’s supposed to turn blue-purple after the first frost

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Red Cabbage – 4 ginormous heads – 2 still unharvested and 1 foisted on a friend

Green Cabbage – also 4 ginormous heads, harvested in June

Potatoes, all kinds – 18+ pounds – should have been more but the soil had too much clay in it – still have one volunteer plant to dig up, though

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Broccoli – don’t know the overall harvest, but from 4 plants we’ve eaten broccoli every week since June and added about 1.5 pounds, blanched, to the freezer

Chard (Bright Lights) – 4 square feet + 3 huge volunteers have produced literally armloads of the stuff and it’s still going strong – at least twenty pounds so far, much of it blanched, chopped and frozen

 

Cauliflower – 2 heads

Cucumbers – 2 plants gave plenty for salads and cool yogurt soup over about three months – but not enough to really pickle – took the plants out two months ago when the powdery mildew started in on them

Pumpkins – 1 large and 1 small – took the 1 plant out in early August due to powdery mildew – the milk solution I used on the leaves probably would have worked better if I’d not watered nightly with a sprinkler rather than a drip hose, but I was too lazy to change it – my bad

Spaghetti Squash – 7 off one plant before I dug it up re: the same powdery mildew problem

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Beans (green, purple, yellow wax and lima) – about thirty pounds so far, and there’s at least a pound waiting to be picked right now – many of the limas might not mature before frost hits (probably next week) – we’ve eaten beans every few days since early July, given away bags of them, made 6 pints of dilly beans and stacked five half-gallon bags of them in the freezer

Zucchini – about 10 small ones and 2 large – the 1 plant went in late and is tucked behind some tomatoes, so well under control

Green Peppers – 45 or so good-sized ones. Half are in the freezer

Tomatoes (Celebrity, Early Girl, First Lady, Beefsteak, Purple Cherokee, Mystery Yellow Heirloom) – the exact amount is iffy – 9 plants produced enough for 38 pints of canned sauce, juice, and stewed tomatoes, 10 large sheets of roasted tomatoes (now frozen), four pints of pizza sauce (frozen), fresh ones eaten almost daily since July, plus we’ve supplied two neighbors with tomatoes for a couple of months – yesterday I stripped what was left off the plants and got about a bushel (that’s 8 dry gallons!) of green-and-just-turning fruit -- yow

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Arugula – more than we could eat – my guess is that in its short season about 3 square feet provided at least 1 bushel, if not more

Cilantro – enough to freeze 5 sandwich bags full (here’s the post on how to freeze it)

Various Herbs – enough to cook with – need to dig up the rosemary, sage, chives, parsley and thyme to bring inside for the winter, and once I puree the basil and pack it into ice cube trays to freeze there should be enough to last the winter

Beets – other than the two crazy-big volunteers (a pound apiece!) there are twenty-seven medium beets still in the ground

Purple Carrots – about 45 of varying sizes – at least 15 are still in the ground

Red onions – about 5 pounds

Yellow onions – also about 5 pounds

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Scallions – only 15 or so before the onion bulbs started swelling and I left them to mature – but there were at least 2 dozen onion scapes from the red onions that were a nice substitute

Spinach – about 3 pounds

Lettuce (Iceberg, Bibb, Red Sails) – 7 plants kept us supplied for salad and wilted lettuce until they bolted completely in July

Rhubarb – NONE – the 1 plant up and died – will try again next year

Shallots – does it count if you eat the ones you were going to plant? No? Never mind…

Horseradish – NONE – I never got around to planting it

Corn – NONE for us, 18 unripe ears for the raccoons

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I’ll be announcing the winner of the book giveaway on Friday!

Monday, October 11, 2010

The Importance of Persistence

You can still enter the book giveaway here on Hearth Cricket until midnight on Wednesday, October 13th. For details on how to enter and to see the list of the books you’ll receive if you win, check out the Book Giveaway post from last week.

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cover I’m currently reading Leonard Mlodinow’s The Drunkard’s Walk: How Randomness Rules Our Lives. The term “drunkard’s walk”  is

“…from a mathematical term describing random motion, such as the paths molecules follow as they fly through space, incessantly bumping, and being bumped by, their sister molecules.”

The book is interesting – and disconcerting – on several levels, but here I want to share something he says about how important persistence is to success. On page 9, Mlodinow talks about, of all things, the unpredictability of publishing. Perhaps this isn’t that surprising since he is an author, so the subject might be closer to his heart than to some. On the other hand, randomness plays a larger role in our lives than I imagined, and the idea of cause and effect is more subjective than we think. So it could just be chance.

ANYWAY. He cites several examples of books that were rejected before hitting it big. Bear with me if you've heard some of these before.

“One book in the 1950s was rejected by publishers, who responded with such comments as ‘very dull,’ ‘a dreary record of typical family bickering, petty annoyances and adolescent emotions,’ and ‘even if the work had come to light five years ago when the subject (World War II) was timely, I don’t think there would have been a chance for it.’”

The book? The Diary of a Young Girl by Anne Frank.

George Orwell’s Animal Farm was rejected because “it is impossible to sell animal stories in the U.S.”

John Grisham’s A Time to Kill was rejected by twenty-six publishers.

Dr. Seuss's first book was called And to Think That I Saw It on Mulberry Street. It was rejected twenty-seven times before publication.

It’s no secret that J.K. Rowling was rejected by nine publishers before someone saw the light.

And poor John Kennedy Toole committed suicide after multiple rejections of A Confederacy of Dunces. His mother, however, persevered, and eventually it was not only published but won the Pulitzer Prize for Fiction and sold, oh, a couple million copies or so.

But here’s the part I like. Mlodinow goes on to say,

“There exists a vast gulf of randomness and uncertainty between the creation of a great novel – or a piece of jewelry or chocolate-chip cookie – and the presence of huge stacks of that novel – or jewelry or bags of cookies – at the front of thousands of retail outlets. That’s why successful people in every field are almost universally members of a certain set – the set of people who don’t give up.”

People who don’t give up. Gives us all a little something to think about, eh?

Sunday, October 10, 2010

Week Link

This week I’m providing two links, though I’ve recommended both of them before. The sites are updated for those of you who have already checked them out, and for those of you who haven’t, these places make it a little easier to be green.

The first is the Monterey Bay Aquarium’s Seafood Watch. These folks keep an eye on what kinds of fish and shellfish are available, safe, and sustainable at any given time. I try to check in with them regularly to see what’s in season and find out if there are any seafood warnings.

The second link is to Catalog Choice. This site enables you to opt out of catalog mailings from individual companies. It takes a little while to kick in, but once it does the daily pile in the mailbox is blissfully lighter. Recently they’ve added an unlisting service for a $20 fee. This proactively removes you from mailing lists and cuts down on new catalogs and junk mail showing up in your mailbox.

And don’t forget about the big book giveaway here on Hearth Cricket. A winner will be randomly chosen from entries received prior to midnight on Wednesday, October 13. For details on how to enter and to see a list of the books I’m giving away, check out the Book Giveaway post from last week.

Friday, October 8, 2010

Guacamole

Tonight we’re having people over for a meal, lots of laughter and conversation, and a fire in the backyard fire pit if the thunderstorms hold off. They’re good friends, certainly not people who demand a spotless house or fancy food. Then tomorrow some relatives are coming for the rest of the weekend, so we’ve been spending a chunk of today doing the regular weekend things: shopping, mowing, giving the house a bit of a buffing, and getting things ready for upcoming meals.

I’m looking forward to tonight, and am employing my usual methods for casual entertaining. Which is, by the way, the only kind of entertaining I do. First, it’s a potluck, which takes some of the load off me. Second, the food can mostly be done ahead of time so I’m not spending my evening cooking instead of socializing. And third, the main dish is either something slow cooked with little need for attention or strict scheduling, or else something grilled.

Tonight it’s something grilled. One of my favorite meals to serve a crowd is a hamburger bar. It’s not fancy, but as long as the ingredients are the best it tastes terrific and people have a lot of fun with it. It begins with grass fed beef, and then everyone has to make some choices for their particular burger. There will be two kinds of bun, three kinds of cheese, lettuce, red onion, tomatoes, pickles, bacon, mushrooms browned in bacon fat, onions caramelized in butter, raw-milk gorgonzola crumbles and guacamole.

Someone is bringing a salad, someone else an appetizer and green beans. I’ve par baked wedges of russet potatoes tossed with walnut oil, chopped rosemary, salt and pepper, and will blast these steak fries at high heat in the oven to crisp them up when the burgers go on the grill. For dessert? Thawed oatmeal-molasses-chocolate chip-spice cookies that I made last week.

Since it’s football season and avocado season as well, here is the recipe for the guacamole I threw together this morning. It freezes well, so if you hit a sale on avocados I recommend doubling or even tripling it.

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Guacamole

Squeeze the juice of one small lime or half a large one into the bottom of a mixing bowl. Add the flesh of two ripe avocados and mash the avocado into the lime. The lime both brightens the flavor of the guacamole and keeps it from turning brown. Add 1/2 teaspoon of salt, two or three Tablespoons of finely minced raw onion, a very small clove of garlic, crushed (or 1/4 teaspoon garlic powder), and several dashes of Tabasco sauce. Stir it all together. Add more salt or lime to taste.

You can also add chopped cilantro if you roll that way, or a few Tablespoons of prepared salsa. I didn’t today, as one of my guests is allergic to tomato products, but the flavor of the avocados this time of year is so good they require little dressing up.

Serve with chips. Or on hamburgers.

Don't forget the book giveaway going on right now. To win the whole shebang, between now and next Wednesday, October 13 simply hit the Follow button in the sidebar to the right, leave a comment on any Hearth Cricket post mentioning that you want to be entered in the drawing, or send me an email at cricketmcrae@gmail.com to let me know you want to be included. Use two or three methods to be entered more times. And if you’re already a Hearth Cricket Follower, just let me know in an email and I’ll enter you twice.

Wednesday, October 6, 2010

Book Giveaway

The de-cluttering continues, and I have a big ol’ box of books to give away. Mysteries, of course. Paperbacks, all, both trade and mass market. They are all used, though many only by me. And they run the gamut from psychological thrillers to cozies. Oh, yes, plenty of cozies.

Please note that I don’t think of any of these titles as “clutter.” It’s just that the book shelves are overflowing. Something’s gotta go – to your benefit. My hope is that the winner will discover a new author or two, and get a chance to indulge in some old favorites. Since these aren’t new releases, I’m providing a list below so you can see what you’d be getting.

To win the whole shebang, between now and next Wednesday, October 13 simply hit the Follow button in the sidebar to the right, leave a comment on any Hearth Cricket post mentioning that you want to be entered in the drawing, or send me an email at cricketmcrae@gmail.com to let me know you want to be included. Use two or three methods to be entered more times. And if you’re already a Hearth Cricket Follower, just let me know in an email and I’ll enter you twice. I’d automatically include all Hearth Cricket followers and email subscribers in the drawing except I know not everyone is looking to add to their TBR pile. Ha!

Here’s the list:

  • Blue Heaven – C.J. Box (2007) (not a Joe Pickett novel, winner of the Edgar for Best Novel)
  • Officer Down – Theresa Schwegel (2005) (also won the Edgar for Best Novel)
  • Missing Persons – Stephen White (2005)
  • Every Secret Thing – Laura Lippman (2003)
  • A Field of Darkness – Cornelia Read (2006) (the first Madeline Dare novel)
  • Dead Men Don’t Lye – Tim Myers (2006) (first in his Soapmaking Mystery series)
  • Knit One, Kill Two – Maggie Sefton (2005) (first in her Knitting Mystery series)
  • A Pinch of Poison – Claudia Bishop (1995) (the third Hemlock Falls Mystery)
  • Murder Well-Done – Claudia Bishop (1996) (the fourth Hemlock Falls Mystery)
  • Gunpowder Green – Laura Childs (2002) (the second Tea Shop Mystery)
  • The Nymphos of Rocky Flats – Mario Acevedo (2006) (first in his Felix Gomez, Vampire P.I. series)
  • Lost Dog – Bill Cameron (2007)
  • Photo Finished – Laura Childs (2003) (fourth in her Scrapbooking Mystery series)
  • Dead and Berried – Karen MacInerney (2007) (the second Gray Whale Inn Mystery)
  • Patterns of Murder – Monica Ferris (includes the first three Needlecraft Mysteries: Crewel World, Framed in Lace, and A Stitch in Time – with original copyrights in 1999, 1999, and 2000)
  • A Rant of Ravens -- Christine Goff (2000) (the first Bird Watcher's Mystery)
  • A Secret Rage -- Charlaine Harris (originally printed in 1984) (standalone, not part of her series')
  • String of Lies -- Mary Ellen Hughes (2007) (the second, I believe, in her Craft Corner Mystery series)
  • And finally, an ARC for Scream for Me by Karen Rose which came out in 2008

Good Luck!

Monday, October 4, 2010

Insane Time Management

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Benjamin Franklin said the definition of insanity is doing the same thing over and over while expecting a different result.

Of course, that’s not entirely true. Presumably, doing something like striking a golf ball over and over will make you a better golfer. Writing stories over and over will make you a better writer. Practice of a skill or craft is how you increase expertise and ability.

Also, sending out query letter after query letter even after you’ve been rejected is how you get published. That’s hardly insane.

Yet, humans often do the same thing over and over and indeed expect different results when we try to change a habit, go on a diet, or start an exercise regimen. We keep trying what doesn’t work, hoping that this time maybe it will.

1151807_to_doFor me, this thinking can apply to managing the hours in a day and the to-do list on my desk. I plan my work and work my plan, prioritize for effectiveness rather than efficiency, and pay attention to keeping balance in my life. But while I do get a lot done, it doesn’t feel like it. It feels like every day I fail to accomplish what I wanted to, what I should have. For the most part it has nothing to do with actual accomplishment, but with my own expectations.

So I decided to address some of my insane thinking. Here are a few things I’ve been trying.

For a long time I kept a master to-do list that was, literally, pages long. Too long. Too mentally heavy. The false sense of busyness and importance wasn’t worth it.

Out with the long list. Out with the notion of to-do lists altogether. In with a much shorter reminder list, a helpful thing rather than a pile of obligations.

There are only so many hours in a day. I have a terrible habit of making [another] list of things I want to get done each day, and it’s always too long. Granted, I try to include things like taking a walk or calling a friend, but there is simply no way anyone could do all of it in the allotted time. Estimating the time it will take for each task, even when I underestimate that time as I often do, actually demonstrates that I’ve scheduled sixteen solid hours of activity and still haven’t added things to the list like shower, eat, talk to K, pet the cat, and breathe.

Out with the extended daily task list. In with three tasks I want to accomplish each day (and not things like “write a novel” or “weed all the gardens”). Once those things are done, I can do more. And will. But at least I will have met my goal.

The habit of writing every day somehow became extended to other things. In the name of balance, I began to approach each day as if there was a quota for activities associated with all the different parts of my life: writing, promotion, cooking, gardening, home keeping, socializing, etc. This doesn’t work over the long haul, though. There isn’t enough time for all of it every day, and it’s a recipe for failure. There is, however, time for all of it over the course of a week.

Out with daily quotas. In with weekly balance. Larger chunks of time – even a whole day – devoted to specific areas of my life have allowed for deeper engagement in whatever I’m doing at the moment.

Sometimes I become involved in one activity and don’t want to move on to the next. Transitioning from, say, writing to gardening or from socializing to writing can be difficult. Something along the lines of an object moving in one direction will continue to move in that direction until forced to stop.

In with a very simple transition ritual. Depending on what I’m doing it might be a cup of tea, a drink of water, or a few minutes of deep breathing and doing absolutely nothing. The fact that I’m acknowledging the need for a transition seems to be enough for it to work.

That’s a start, at least. Will any of this work long term? I’m guessing about half will. And no doubt my attempts at thinking differently about managing time and tasks will need some tweaking – most plans do, after all. But I’m giving it a shot.

Do you have any bad time management habits? Or better yet, have you managed to break any bad time management habits? I’d love to hear about it.

Sunday, October 3, 2010

Week Link

Yes, the second Sunday post in a row, with another link. I’ve been running across some interesting ones lately, and will continue to post them here on Sundays as long as I find things that I think might be helpful or fun.

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I’m not much of a shopper. In fact, I don’t enjoy clothes shopping at all. When I find a brand that fits, with styles I like, I stick with it. If I can find it in a store here in town I’ll buy it and keep my dollars local. When I can’t, 6pm is a good web site for lots of good brands and some screaming deals as well. If you’re a total shopaholic you can sign up for their daily alerts, but you can also visit the site at will and search for exactly what you want. Unlike some discount  shopping sites there’s no membership fee.

Shop on.

Friday, October 1, 2010

Stuff or Experiences?

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National Public Radio likes stories about happiness. Not happy stories, though there are probably a few more of those on NPR than other radio networks, but stories about the concept of happiness.

On September 7 they picked up a story from the Associated Press on how money does buy happiness – to a degree. Up to a yearly income of about $75,000 happiness does increase, but after that it evens out. If you make more money than 75K, your sense of success and security may increase but not necessarily day-to-day happiness levels.

And on a Science Friday radio story around Christmas last year, they interviewed another happiness researcher. One of the things he discovered was that increasing happiness had nothing to do with having more stuff. Stuff just doesn’t make us happy, it turns out.

That probably doesn’t surprise most of us. At some point stuff owns you more than you own stuff.

However, spending money on experiences may indeed increase our happiness levels.

So to that end, I wrote my quota for today, did a load of laundry, and filled a bag with old clothes. I’ll add the bag to the growing accumulation of “stuff” in the basement that’s going to the thrift store, part of my recent attempts at decluttering.

Then K and I are getting on the motorcycle and heading into the mountains to see the last of the fall leaves. We’ve booked a room at our favorite little place built over the Big Thompson River, where we’ll throw together some dinner on their deck grill, eat outside bundled up in fleece, and then head back tomorrow morning after a night listening to the river.

And it won’t actually cost much at all. Look for pretty pics next week!

(Oh, and the link I’m posting on Sunday is, ironically, for a shopping site. At least it’s a discount one!)