So, I’m still here. Still writing. Still existing. Still creating, though I’m being particularly sporadic about *what* I’m creating these days. Shirts were a thing for a while, then drawing, now it’s back to writing. And yes, I’m still knitting. I’m down to my last unfinished project before I get to play with the new yarn. But that’s a story for another day.
I’ve been turning over this story in my head for a while now. It started out as fanfic, but I honestly hated the idea of writing so very much of something using someone else’s characters. So I tried to reframe it. And it’s sort of set off at a mad dash.
There’s lots of dialogue written right now. Shockingly, the voices in my head do a rather fine job of talking to each other. But finding that crowbar into the story itself has been interesting. I tend to write from front to back. I always have. I think that it’s all the essay writing I did in school. But that only gets me so far in my longer stories. I get to the middle, and there’s a hazy idea of the end somewhere in there, but I have no idea of how to get to it.
So I’m trying something new. I’m writing down the dialogue as it comes to me. Just basically tacking it on to the end, for me to come back to later. And rather than trying to flesh out the story as I go along, I’m sort of stream of conscious-ing the general feel of the story. It’s helped me to work through some of the snags I’ve come across and a few short scenes have even popped out in the process. It also keeps me typing away for whatever time I’ve allotted myself (an hour or so, usually), rather than stopping when I get to a snag and then getting distracted by Candy Crush or something.
The major drawback to do it this way is that the result tends to look like I’m talking to myself. I write down questions, and then a little later may decide on a general answer. And trying to pull my inspirations together makes things a little muddled. It’s really hard to have the “Quirky female tech geek” character without invoking Claudia from Warehouse 13 or Abby from NCIS. It’s not a bad thing, I suppose. At least knowing where my inspiration stems from helps me to pin down the general voice for my characters.
One of the things I’m worried about right now is the depictions of race in this group. I want a diverse group but it’s hard to avoid the idea that my desire for a diverse group may stem from a degree of token-ism. And of course, there’s the issue of writing realistically for some of these characters when I don’t feel I have the experience to really represent their background cultures in the well thought out and respectful way I want to. The Traitor Voice thinks I’m going to say something stupid and offensive and people will get mad at me. And I probably will. If I never finish this, it won’t matter. If I do manage to finish it, I hope I have friends who are kind enough to point out those places where I have crossed the line.
So anyways, here’s some of the random bits that got me down this particular path.
This is me trying to work out where the thing should open. There’s a bunch of stuff before this, but it’s mostly background plot stuff and me trying to figure out where the crowbar should go.
Action and quips right off. Set the scene. This is what they do. Go out, track down the big bad, take it down. Don’t want to be too Agents of SHEILD or Warehouse 13. Or MIB. But frankly if you’re going to have a world with aliens and alien technology you’re going to run into this cliche.
Later, while trying to figure out the role of a secondary character:
Fish out of water. Hi, howdy, hello, this is our spiffy alien fighting team welcome to it. Introductions and expositions all around.
And a random conversation snippet, just for the hell of it:
He lifted his chin and gave her an icily proud look. “Beards are for vainglorious fools who think their strength of their arms is measured in the length of their facial hair.”
She nodded sympathetically. “I knew a guy like that. Couldn’t grow a beard to save his life. He claimed it was because he was part Cherokee.”
He frowned at her, frustrated once more by her uncanny astuteness. “I do not know what a ‘Cherokee’ is.”
“It’s okay. I don’t think he did either.”
This letter is for the students of the club I advise, some of whom graduated this weekend and are moving out into the world. But it’s also for all of the the young men and women who I have had the privilege of knowing over the years, as supervisor, teacher, or simply friend, who I never got to say this to.
First, I want to apologize for calling you my kids. I will fiercely defend your right to be treated like the adult you are, and woe be unto the person who does otherwise. But it’s hard to explain to other people what you are to me, and so I default to “kids.” You are not my students, because you often teach me as much as I teach you. You are not my peers, because I hold a certain authority over you. And while I have grown close to many of you over the years, it is hard to call you my friends until that authority ends. So to all those who don’t understand the bonds which this group forges between its members, you are my kids.
Next, I want to thank you for letting me be a part of your lives. I wanted so badly to teach high school when I first came to college. In a way, you have taken the place of those students. I wanted to touch minds, change lives, and challenge my students to think critically about the world around them. I get to do all of that and more with you. I get to sit down, have lunch, and talk with you about everything from current politics to social justice to the latest news of the geek world. I get to dress up with you, work beside you, and make jokes with you. I get to share my dreams with you and get to listen to your dreams in return. I get to be there when you fall in love, when your heart breaks, and when you fall in love again. Best of all, I get to see your smile when you ask that special someone to be yours in marriage. I get to listen when you need someone to talk to, and I get to help guide you when you need more than just someone to listen. I get to laugh with you, cry with you, and be amazed by you. All of this without having to grade a single paper (though I’ve polished up my share of resumes).
It is a bittersweet time for me. I know that each and every one of you will do amazing things with your life, because you redefine amazing to be whatever you want it to be. I know that you can’t do those things unless you go out into the world and find your way on your own. But I am so sad to see you go. I have known many of you since your senior class t-shirts were still unfaded and unfrayed. In the four or five or six years since then, I have grown to care for each and every one of you. I may not have always agreed with your choices, or you politics, or your opinions, but I still care for you. And I will miss you.
Know that I am proud of you. Know that no matter what happens from here, I will always be proud of you. You may slip. You may fall on hard times. You may feel lost in the world outside of this tiny town. You may long for the days when you sat at a table of your fellow geeks and had nothing more to worry about than upcoming midterms. Know that those people are as much your family as any other. Those that were there with you, those that came before you, and those that will come after. And me. Because while I may let you go for now, know that you will always have a place in my heart.
Full disclosure: I met E.E. Ewer at this past AggieCon and greatly enjoyed her company while in a location that serves adult beverages. I specifically picked up this book because I found the author quite witty and wanted to see if her wit translated into her books. Take that as you will.
The Lord of Shadows suffers from what I like to call “First Book Problems.” Most notably, the main character is quite clearly a representation of the author, right down to the character’s name being the author’s first name spelled backwards . Ewer repeatedly uses “the brunette girl,” “the brown haired girl,” and “the green eyed girl” to describe her main character, leaving most of the rest of the character’s description to the imagination. Without the assistance of Ewer’s drawings , the reader would have some difficulty in putting faces with the characters. Finally, Ewer seems to have trouble finding her voice in the narrative. The beginning and several spots throughout the novel could have done with some brutal editing and polish.
The Lord of Shadows is otherwise a very beautiful book. The world in which it is set is fascinating, and the love story around which it turns is very well told. The dialogue was just as witty as expected from my interactions with the author, and I found myself not wanting to put the book down. The ending seemed a bit rushed, and I feel as though there are a hundred stories lying hidden somewhere in the middle of the final chapter. Stories which I would very much like to read. The Lord of Shadows may be E.E. Ewer’s first book, but I dearly hope it will not be her last.
The prologue and the first two chapters are available online at thelordofshadows.com and both a paperback and ebook are available for purchase.
 In any situation where a word or name seems unusual, I tend to look for the puzzle. Which probably says more about me than it does about the author.
 Admittedly amazing drawings.
On New Year’s Day, I finished a scarf.
Moose and I had spent several days out at our timeshare, basically doing what we had purchased the timeshare for. Absolutely nothing. We played games, watched TV, made tasty food, and I knitted on my scarf.
This wasn’t just any old scarf. It was the first piece I had started when I took up knitting again. Back when Wit and I were still living together, in the between time of Moose and I’s relationship, at the home that had a walk-in closet big enough for my craft space and fireflies in the backyard. This soft grey scarf has the dust of three homes, the fur of five cats, and the air of many an outdoor event woven into it.
I’ve taken up knitting before, but never really managed to get into it. Up until New Year’s Day, I didn’t even know the proper way to bind off a scarf. Sure, I could start a project. But I never really seemed to finish anything. Having a companion on my knitting adventures seemed like just the motivation I needed.
Wit threw herself into the knitting with her usual enthusiastic insanity about any new project. She cranked out scarves, hand warmers, and baby blankets like a machine. The instant one project was done, she was casting on another and looking for the materials to the project beyond that. The knitting bag became her constant companion. She tended to knit until she ran out of yarn, and then suddenly realize that she had gone a bit overboard. One late night out at faire, she pulled out the baby blanket she had been working on and held the needles up to her chest. The thing fell all the way to the ground and puddled. We all looked on in utter astonishment at the sheer size of it and she said “… I think it’s done.”
I, on the other hand, was a terribly slow knitter. I loved the process, but I couldn’t seem to make my hands and needles work with the ease that Wit did. I pulled the yarn too tight or let it hang too loose and never really seemed to find my rhythm. I bought different needles to cast on different yarn and started other projects. Despite also carrying the knitting bag just about everywhere I went, I never seemed to make any progress on anything. Worse, the original scarf was stalled for several months because I had accidentally purchased two slightly different shades of grey and the local craft store couldn’t seem to get any more.
Time passed. I still liked knitting, but it became a thing I did only very occasionally. And then, Moose’s aunt was diagnosed with cancer and wanted hats.
Suddenly, I felt an overwhelming urge to knit. Hats were small and easy to turn out. I made several right in a row before the urge sputtered out. But now I was in the habit. I had discovered the ease of taking out my knitting whenever I had a moment where my hands were free, and some tips from Middle Sister helped me sort out my needles. So I picked up my grey scarf again.
I can look back on that original shopping trip with Wit and realize that I was overly ambitious for my starter project. The two massive skeins of yarn I’d picked up were beautiful, but would take forever to knit at my pace, even if I hadn’t given up somewhere in the middle. A less ambitious project would have been finished faster and may have done better to motivate me to continue. But I couldn’t resist the pull of that soft dove grey.
For Christmas this past year, Eldest Sister had the idea of giving everyone consumables. Mom got canvases to paint and I got a box full of yarn. I remember looking down into that box and thinking “Oh god, I forgot to tell her I was abandoning eyelash yarn.” Followed immediately by “That bulky yarn is amazing. I want to cast that on right now!” And then the Traitor Voice piped up. “You never finish anything.”
It ran through the many projects I had started over the years and never finished. Fabric for skirts sitting neatly folded into boxes. Paintings half finished. A shelf of journals partially filled. Beadwork partially sewn. Novels that ground to a halt in the middle. Cross stitch abandoned in a tangle of bright thread. Even down to my company, which I couldn’t seem to get off the ground as much more than a hobby.
It took days for me to come to terms with that moment. In the meantime, Moose and I holed up in our little getaway and endeavored to spend as much time as possible in our fluffy robes. I slept a lot, took a walk through the complex, and went antique shopping by myself. The alone time cleared my head somewhat (as it usually does) and let me sort through some of what I had been feeling. But the real moment of clarity came as we were pulling into the driveway of our home.
At some point during the vacation I had noticed I was almost out of the current skein. I was looking at the third skein and realized that I hadn’t actually looked at the scarf itself in a while. I pulled the finished part out, held up my needles, and it fell to the floor in a puddle. “Huh,” I thought. “I think it’s done.”
From that moment until the instant we pulled into our driveway, I knit all the time. Watching all the movies and TV gave me a lot of time to mindlessly knit. I pushed myself to knit faster and smoother. I spent the car ride home head down over my knitting. I realized that if I knit fast enough, I might just be able to complete this scarf before we made it home. And I did. Just barely.
I bound off that last trailing end and felt so proud. I thought “I never finish anything!”
Which is when the practical/sensible part of my brain slogged through the muck of self-doubt and started listing things off. I’d managed to fill that one journal, hadn’t I? Sure! Since I’d started blogging online, I couldn’t exactly be said to have *completely* given up journaling. I just didn’t have a set number of pages to fill any more. And hadn’t I made all those skirts and shirts for faire? Sure I had. I’d even made a number of dresses. Including my wedding dress, come to think of it. And maybe I hadn’t managed to get my business off the ground the way I liked, but I had still probably made thousands of pieces of jewelry over the years, both small and large. So what if I hadn’t taken to beading or cross stitch? So what if I hated the way my drawings turned out? So what if I couldn’t finish anything longer than a short story? I had finished things, damnit! Lots of things! And I was damn well going to finish a lot more!
So despite deciding to forego a New Year’s resolution this year, I wound up setting one anyways. Every week, I would spend at least an hour knitting. I would only work on one project at a time. And I was not allowed to touch that beautiful blue and purple bulky yarn I had gotten for Christmas until ALL of my other knitting projects were finished.
It seems to be coming along swimmingly thus far. I’ve already finished one half done project, and started on a second. I need to do some untangling and sorting before I can actually work well with the third. It is the least finished and will likely take a good deal of time. Beyond that is one single simple piece, which I may undo in favor of a different type of knit project. I will still use the same yarn, though, and finish that project before I move on.
Even now, with all the help I’ve been getting, it’s hard to realize that The Traitor Voice still manages to hold sway over my self-image. It slips in with sneaky little moments of self doubt, insisting that I’m nothing, I’m no one, I’m not worth anything. It gets its digs in even with the constant repeated proof that I can, in fact, accomplish things. It’s tempting to just let it whisper the lies and pretend they don’t hurt.
I may never finish the project of knitting myself back together. There are too many tangled threads, too many knots to untangle, too may places where I was torn open and patch up badly. But I’m not that girl anymore, the one who never finishes anything. I am strong and I can carry on.
This book was painful for me to read. Not in the same way that ttyl was painful, with its text and leet speak. But “too close to home” painful. Virginia is a high school girl dealing with her best friend moving away, with her family’s various dysfunctions, and her own body image issues. Reading about her brush with body dismorphia and self harm, I felt the pain of being that girl all over again. Which I suppose makes Virginia’s transformation into a strong, confident young woman all the more dear to me.
The book opens up with two of the characters fooling around. There are several similar scenes throughout the book, but the closest those two characters come to being sexually explicit is when the boy gets the girl’s bra off. There is a rape scene, but the author handles it well. In fact, the whole subject of rape (and some of the horrible ways people deal with it) is handled with a thoughtfulness I appreciate. Other than that, the closest the book gets to being sexually explicit is when Virginia describes the way a certain guy makes her feel.
As for being anti-family… I suppose that exploring how a young girl becomes independent from her family might be seen as anti-family. But really, Virginia is closer to her family by the end of the book simply because she asserts her independence. She becomes more comfortable with herself, is able to communicate better with her parents, and generally goes through the same metamorphosis that just about every teenager has to go through at some point.
I think this book could be quite influential in the lives of a lot of teenagers, especially young girls who might find themselves uncomfortable in their own bodies (which is to say, most of them). I also think that parents of teenage girls should probably pick up the book, if only so they can get a glimpse of what it is like inside their daughter’s head. Dads may not even know what it is like, and Moms may have forgotten. It’s not an elementary age book. But I personally probably could have used this book when I was in junior high, and I know that there are more than a few teenagers out there who probably do too.
It is clear to most people who visit our home that Moose and I are geeks. We don’t have a TV in our living room. We have an 8 foot wide panel screwed to the wall with a black frame, so that the projector has a nice smooth surface to play on. A length of white plastic loom covers the bundle of cables that snake from the projector to the outlet. It has only been recently that the entertainment system plugged into those cables was moved into a nice fancy cabinet. A nice fancy cabinet which is currently stuffed full of card, board, and video games. Our study has two slick black desks side by side, arrayed with monitors, electronic accessories and coffee cups. In one corner, several sets of plastic drawers are filled with neatly coiled cables, electronic components, and tools. My craft room has a whole wall of projects in progress, fairy wings tucked into one shelf, and a row of gaming books lined up neatly next to my collection of Stephen King hardbacks.
What is not so easy to see is that we are also geeks when it comes to cooking. We love gadgets in the kitchen just as much as we love them in the rest of our home. The closet in the hall where most people would put coats when guests come over is instead stacked with machines. It is where my food processor lives when it is not in use. It is the home of the crock pot, the cooler the crock pot gets carried around in, the waffle maker, the dehydrator, and the bread maker. And now, it is home to my yogurt maker.
The making yogurt at home was one of those wacky ideas I’d stumbled across one day while looking up crock pot recipes. As it turns out, you can use your crock pot to make yogurt. It seemed like a pretty straight forward idea. Get some plain, active culture yogurt, pour in some milk, leave it alone for a few hours. I wondered if this was something that could be done with goat milk. One of the local goat farms puts out some lovely strawberry and blueberry yogurts, but I still loved my key lime soy yogurts (when I could get them). More importantly, the local goat farm put out a plain, active culture goat yogurt. No sweetener, no flavor, nothing but pure goat yogurt. So I poked around and discovered that not only could you make your own goat yogurt at home… But there were fancy machines that would do it for you! In individual serving cups, even!
After a good deal of research, I settled on this little number. There were a lot of concerns expressed about the machines which used plastic containers, so I decided that I should probably go with glass. The timer and automatic shut off were an important feature for me. As was the date feature on the lid. I wasn’t terribly worried about not getting around to eating the yogurt in time, but I thought it would be a nice thing to have. Best of all, seven jars would be exactly perfect for one yogurt per work day, a spare for the weekend, and a jar to keep plain starter in until I needed it.
I also bought these delicious extracts. Bonus: It came with a pumpkin pie flavor. It needs a bit of doctoring to get a good pumpkin pie flavor, but the apple, blueberry, and key lime come out perfect. I’m generally not fond of cherry flavorings, and this particular flavoring is no exception. I could probably doctor up the peach to get a nice peach cobbler flavor. That will likely be next week’s experiment, along with an attempt at making blueberry muffin flavored yogurt. This week it’s key lime, pumpkin pie, and cinnamon vanilla. Last week I tried a recipe which suggested putting a dollop of jelly in the bottom, but the jelly didn’t break up unless I smooshed it with a spoon. Which probably has to do with the jelly I used more than anything else.
For the milk, I used Meyenburg Whole Goat Milk in the first couple of batches and a local goat milk for this week’s batch. Thus far, the major difference seems to be the strength of the “goat” flavor to the milk. The local milk has a slightly sharper flavor to it, which is something I’ll need to take into consideration on future recipes. I should have realized that was a possibility, since I used this milk for my blackberry ice cream and had a similar experience. I’ll be down at my sister’s house in The Big City for Thanksgiving and I’m considering trying convince Moose to swing by a couple of the goat farms which are on the way home from there.
So far, I’m pretty happy with this little gadget. The yogurt comes out considerably more watery than cow milk yogurt. However, since my starter yogurt is fairly fluid to begin with, I don’t actually see this as a flaw with the machine. When you have as many allergies as I do, you get used to your food looking slightly different from everyone else’s. Even if you don’t have allergies and you’re just the kind of crazy techno-hippie that likes the idea of making your own yogurt, I’d recommend picking up a yogurt maker. With just a few minutes of prep each weekend, I can have breakfast for the whole week in flavors I love. I can’t really say that I’m saving money quite yet. I estimate it probably will be March or so before the initial investment of machine and materials is balanced by the long term savings of not buying individual yogurts each week. Not too shabby, when you do the math.
Besides, you can’t really put a price on the thrill of experimentation and the joy of taking that first sip of something you made yourself.
Also, a weirdly “male gaze” moment in which the author goes on at length about a character’s opinion of her breasts over the course of her life. There is a more detailed description of this character’s breasts than there is of many of the other not-insignificant characters in the book. Seriously, I’m talking size, weight, position, and nipple angle. Yes, really.
Snow Falling on Cedars is a fairly complex book. It is several stories intertwined, told through the narrative of a murder trial. Over the course of the book, Guterson explores interracial relationships, the forced imprisonment of Japanese-Americans during the second war, gender roles in the 50s, racism, and gillnetting, which is apparently sort of like trawling, only with less driving around in the dark.
Yes, there are several sex scenes. The character mentioned above? Has lots of very detailed sex with her husband. Yes, this sex includes more descriptions of her breasts. Also, there are some generally profane words thrown around as well as a whole slew of racial slurs. It also puts the racism of the way Japanese-Americans were treated into sharp focus, managing to sum up the whole conflict in a single exchange between two of the central characters. It’s a very, very good book. Not a book I’d give to an elementary aged kid, but I think if you had a mature 7th grader who already had a pretty good idea of how sex works, you’d probably do fine.