I have fallen off the map

So. Funny thing about November: I disappear from everywhere while I am in NaNoWriMo mode, and I’m starting to hit that slump. Good news, though: I’m at 37k and chugging along!

This will be a traditional post of sorts. I did a new thing. If you’re in the U.S. and you shop for groceries at Kroger, you may have been pestered to buy one of those Home Chef meal kits. I’m happy to say that I tried the BBQ chicken flatbread one and it was DELICIOUS.

Happy Thanksgiving to those of you who celebrate. Stay home, wear a mask, and wash your hands!

NaNoWriMo 2020: Excerpt #1

For seven of the last twelve years, I have participated in National Novel Writing Month, or NaNoWriMo. If you are new to the blog or the writing world, NaNoWriMo is simple: write a novel between November 1 and 30 with a minimum length of 50,000 words including all-new content. The idea is to write a rough draft that can be polished later for personal enjoyment or publication.

I am happy to report that this year, I have stayed on track for the first week and written over 13,000 words! As promised, I am going to do something I have NEVER done and am nervous to do even now: share some of my creative writing with the world. Nothing like facing your fears head on, am I right?

One of the things that has stuck with me in many years of wordsmithing is to write what you know. When the goal is words on paper or in a digital document, pulling from your own knowledge base is far easier than making something up from scratch. So, I decided to plop my protagonist in a situation that I have experienced firsthand: being an underpaid and overworked employee of a major coffee corporation that has a mythical creature for its logo. (Not naming it here because I don’t need corporate lawyers coming after little ol’ me.) I was inspired by a tumblr post that I saw months ago that I have since lost in which someone suggested having a customer service person deal with the most hellacious demons and be completely unphased by their awful behavoir because that is what working with the public does to you. My protagonist, Zora, is that person.

Without any further ado, enjoy this foray into baby writing that was hastily typed out in the wee hours of November 1, 2020!

Continue reading “NaNoWriMo 2020: Excerpt #1”

It’s peanut butter frosting time, peanut butter frosting time

I know I said I was going to share NaNoWriMo excerpts this month. I will, I promise. However, I am at a measly 1900 words and have not decided how much I will share just yet. Once I get my ducks in a row, the first excerpt will go up on November 8.

For today, I have a fun little story to share about frosting cupcakes. The moral of this story is to scrutinize the measurements of recipes on the Internet.

Last week, my husband celebrated a birthday. When I have the time and the emotional stamina, I like to bake his birthday dessert myself. After perusing recipes ranging from simple to complex, I opted to go with something basic. His favorite candy is Reese’s, so I decided to do chocolate cake with peanut butter frosting. It was just the two of us, so I made a dozen cupcakes. While they cooled, I opted to whip up this frosting.

I thought half of the recipe would be fine. In fairness, it did give me enough to frost all twelve cupcakes, However, what I did not bank on was the MASSIVE quantity of frosting that would result, and I was so grateful I didn’t follow the original measurements. You could probably frost a multilayer tiered cake with that amount, honestly.

This was a somewhat naughty shot of the cupcake batter. Whoops.
This wasn’t even the end of it. I frantically snapped this and sent it to my BFF asking what in the world I was going to do with all of it!

So, once the cakes were cooled and the frosting was made, I filled a plastic baggie and snipped the tip off since I don’t own piping bags right now. In my frustration, I made this video (and yes, you can go follow me on TikTok; sometimes, I post videos of my cat).

Fortunately, the cupcakes were a hit, and I used some store-bought hot fudge to top them off. Husband is a little upset because he believes I ate more than half of them. I didn’t keep track, but we have so much frosting that I could always make more!

Presentation means nothing as long as they taste good IMO

Mark your calendars for November 8 when I find the courage to post my original fiction here for the whole world to read!

Roast Points: A Coffee Journey

Sometimes, I joke about my first true love being something non-human. My so-called first true loves range from the piano to writing to black eyeliner. Honestly, though, I admit that one of my long-standing objects of affection is a good cup of coffee. If you have it in your head to interact with me in morning hours, you can butter me up by brewing coffee. I grew up drinking tea and continue to have a special affinity for it, but coffee has been my caffeinated beverage of choice since my teen years. I spent a brief period of my working life employed by the biggest coffee company in the world with a green siren as its logo, but had to jump ship due to the company’s starvation wages. From the French press to shots of espresso to the old standby of a drip brewer, I love it all. (Except Keurig. Keurig coffee tastes like someone scraped an ash tray into a mug of hot water and has a horrible environmental impact. I will not mince words here: Keurig can fuck off.)

So, it makes sense that when I saw the opportunity to support independent coffee companies in the midst of pandemic-induced economic peril, I seized it. A pal shared a referral link to Trade Coffee, a company that offers a customized subscription service for coffee hounds. Take a quiz, get bags mailed to you on a schedule, support indie roasters. Oh, and the first bag was my favorite four-letter word: FREE! In a moment of glee, I signed up and waited eagerly for my first shipment.

My initial bag was a dark roast from Gimme Coffee. I opted to get coarse-ground beans since I lack a proper burr grinder but prefer to use my French press. The press and this coffee were a match made in heaven, assuming my teeny kitchen is heaven on earth. I love a robust and nutty coffee, and my preferences steer toward beans that are grown in the Americas south of Mexico. Ergo, it made sense that this little bag was exactly what I wanted. I was sad to see her go.

Gimme Coffee! Absolutely delicious!
I’ve had this Bodum French press for at least eight years. It makes the richest and most delicious cup of coffee in my opinion.
Not only do I adore coffee, but I have a growing collection of silly mugs from dear friends and family. This is a great cup for pushing through tough times.

Shipment numero dos fell short of my expectations. I don’t know if I received a bad batch or if it was just too light for my taste, but I found it to be bland and hard to discern much flavor. My stepdaughter and I powered through it, but we were not sorry to move on to bigger and better brews. Doma, if you guys are reading this, I have faith that you can do better. Maybe your medium roast just doesn’t gel with my taste.

A mediocre photo of a mediocre coffee
The newest addition to my coffee mug family! If you have never lived with cats, this mug will seem crass. I definitely howled with laughter when I first saw it and continue to giggle when I use it.

My third and most recent shipment was one that I picked out myself. Trade gives you the option to peruse your coffee matches and alter the coffees in your queue, and when I saw a bag with a purple label, I had to have it. Misfit Coffee sells this house blend year-round, and they describe it as having notes of dark cocoa and praline. I second that, and would bathe in this stuff if I could. It is delicious.

I told you the bag was pretty! Also, this mug was a birthday gift from a fellow writer. I will treasure it forever.

I am eagerly awaiting my fourth bag which is scheduled to ship this week. My hope is that it will arrive in time for the start of NaNoWriMo since I will need ALL the caffeinated beverages.

Speaking of! NaNoWriMo begins on November 1 which is also the next time I am updating the blog. I have a plan to stay up past midnight on Hallow’s Eve to get started, so I may be able to share some of the early words here on the blog that same day.

Also, if you are interested in trying out Trade Coffee for yourself, I will drop my referral link here. As I mentioned above, your first bag is free. In a time when I can’t hug people safely outside of my household, I can at least share the love in other ways. Hope you enjoy!

Just another unplugged Monday

Anyone else feeling really overwhelmed with everything that has happened in October? It’s like the bottom dropped out of something that had a very flimsy bottom to begin with, like we got the bottom of a paper bag wet and then decided to collect marbles in it. I have felt like I am all over the place between web-scrolling, figuring out how holidays are going to work this year with a blended family, and self care. I have no other way to phrase it: it’s been some tough shit lately.

Still, I don’t want to sink into doom and gloom even though that’s what October can be. In years past, I have used October to gleefully prepare for NaNoWriMo, and in truth, I am going to take the plunge and pants it this year. (For non-WriMos, that means I am going into November first without any plans; therefore, I will be flying by the seat of my pants.) Kudos to those of you who engaged with my Facebook and Twitter posts in addition to the polls I put up here. If you are browsing on mobile, the polls may not display; have a screencap or two.

Transacription: Should I do NaNoWrimo this year?
Yes! – 2 votes – 100.00%
No – 0 votes – 0.00%
2 total votes
(Side note: I have no way of knowing which two of you voted, but thank you!)
Transcription: If yes, should I post some excerpts here on ye olde bloge?
Oh hell yes- 2 votes – 100.00%
Ew, no, keep your verbal diarrhea to yourself – 0 votes – 0.00%
2 total votes

What has really helped me keep my sanity in the months leading up to October has been implementing a weekly evening where my entire household disconnects from the digital world. If you are stranger to my life, I offer some background: I am married and my partner has a tween from a prior marriage, so we have two or three people under my room most of the time. As the weeks of quarantine stretch indefinitely into months, we are all having trouble shouldering our mental burdens and engaging in activities that don’t require Internet. So, back in spring or summer, I suggested we break our habit of staring at screens constantly during waking hours. The rules would be simple: from 6 PM until bedtime every Monday, we would not use electronic devices like smartphones, tablets, computers or TVs. While it would likely help our collective mental health to shut off the electronics more often, I recognize that we also need interaction from people who are not in the house for our sanity. Plus, with school and work relying heavily on remote access, it is not feasible to go offline too often. Even so, it would not be impossible to carve out a day to be disconnected. Thankfully, the other two agreed to sail this ship with me, and I have noticed it helps in a myriad of ways!

My favorite part of unplugging on Monday is the fact that we will actually talk to each other during dinner, and no one is competing with external media to be heard. In a time when a lot of us are struggling to socialize, this is a big deal. Even before the pandemic, I tried to be mindful of how often I was pulling out my phone to capture a memory or to distract myself while out in public. Being totally engaged was never something I excelled at, but I have definitely enjoyed myself more when I am fully present at a show, a festival or even at a friend’s house. As grateful as I am to have the world at my fingertips with a smartphone, I am old enough to remember when having a cell phone of any kind was a novelty and often had little capability outside of making voice calls. There is a wealth of evidence about how heavy usage of social media can spell disaster for mental health, and as a person who has openly struggled with depression and anxiety for the majority of my life, I have taken leaves of absence from my social profiles to get back to a good place. Even when I am doing well with my thoughts, I get frustrated when I am spending time with someone and they interrupt our conversation to do something on their phone. When the devices are put away, I feel more connected with the people in the room with me. I cannot stress the importance of how much that matters.

Staying off the distracting machines also means I can get back into the swing of things I love doing, especially reading and writing. While I do have an e-reader, I reach for my physical books on Mondays (and in general, to be honest). At the start of lockdown, I made a deal with myself that I would read the monstrous Dostoevsky tome The Brothers Karamazov. Although it took me months to get through it, I failed to make consistent progress until I dedicated Monday nights to curling up with my books. An added advantage is that I have read novels and memoirs that have been sitting on my shelf for an embarrassingly long period of time. As fellow book collectors know, purchasing books and actually reading them can be two separate hobbies. My goal is to merge them back into one. Plus, the more I read, the more I enjoy my own writing. The prose penned by others reminds me that my story is important, too. When I go through dry periods of very little reading, my inspiration for writing anything at all evaporates. I have a goal to reincorporate reading into my daily life, but for now, having my weekly standing date with a manuscript gives me a welcomed escape from everything else.

I admit that I have been lax in enforcing unplugged Mondays since October began. If I circle back to where I started with this post, maybe there is a connection between staying glued to the screens and feeling like I am spinning indefinitely in a chaotic void. I will use this as a loving reminder to myself tomorrow to be unavailable to the outside world for a night.

Next week will be my last post before NaNoWriMo begins on November 1. The countdown is on!

Quick question:

We interrupt today’s bleak hellscape to ask you, a random Internet person with an opinion, to make a choice or two. Polls will be open until 11:59 EST on Saturday, October 17.

If you have stumbled here and have never heard of NaNoWrimo nor participated, you can join the fun over here. I have participated off and on since I was a senior in high school back in November 2008, and it’s always a good time even when it is STRESSFUL AS HELL.

Go GWAR or Go Home

Remember in years past when concerts were a regular occurrence? Sure, you always ran some sort of risk when going to one: your hearing could be damaged if you forgot earplugs, you might have to suffer through the Russian roulette experience of using a portapotty if the show was outdoors, or perhaps you would accidentally drop something and never find it again among the sea of stomping feet. If you are like me and your concert preferences tend toward the punk and metal side of things, you might even end up in a mosh pit. (Having been blessed with a petite frame and a resting nice face, I always luck out with good samaritans who pick me up and place me outside of the mosh pit whenever it breaks out. Appearing small and dainty has its perks when you don’t like getting punched in the face.) Still, my absolute favorite thing about going to concerts is that I can really retreat into myself and recharge my introverted social battery while also being in the presence of others.

How, you may ask? None of that makes sense. I can explain.

Concerts are underappreciated as an introvert’s paradise. You will be surrounded by people, sure; however, no one expects you to interact with them. You are likely not going to have a stranger come up to you and strike up conversation because neither of you will be able to hear each other. You will have a talking point the next time you do have to make small talk with someone because you can mention that you recently went to a live show. If you are fortunate enough to see one of your favorite acts whom others in your immediate social circle don’t know or appreciate, you will suddenly find yourself surrounded by others who have listened to the same records on repeat. As someone who struggled with fitting in and accepting myself throughout my entire adolescence, concerts aided me in finding my people.

So, once the pandemic worsened in later winter and early spring of 2020, concerts appeared to be going extinct. How could a band in good conscience gather together hundreds if not thousands of people in close quarters while they sang and screamed along, possibly infecting others with respiratory disease? How could the employees of major venues justify endangering themselves and their families by working these events? How could indoor arenas and halls safely gather music fans from near and far without creating a superspreader event? The answer for many months was to postpone or outright cancel everything until further notice. Sure, virtual concerts tried to fill the void, but it just was not the same. While I enjoy having the comfort and privacy of my own commode and not having to stand in line for overpriced beers while watching video feeds, I really missed being able to go to concerts. As time stretched on, I seriously wondered if my last show ever would be the one I attended in February 2019. (It was Coheed and Cambria, for those who might be curious. I’ve been a fan since my emo middle school days.)

Fortunately, a random doomscrolling session on Twitter changed it all. The metal band GWAR was going to hold a drive-in concert. I, erm, gleefully and somewhat sadistically coerced a pair of pals to go to this horror celebration of blood, piss and outright tomfoolery.

Let me tell you guys: it. was. AWESOME.

I have to confess that GWAR had shown up as a blip on my musical radar in my teenage years, but they were not a band that piqued my interest. Instead, I veered off the metal course into punk. Before buying our car’s ticket for this show, one of my friends who had the pleasure of previously seeing GWAR live suggested that I give their music a listen before committing. While the lyrics themselves can be a bit too much for the pearl-clutching conservatives among us, I was unphased. Having lived in the horrorscape of the United States for 29 years, a few satirical songs about alien bodily fluids was far from the worst thing I’d ever heard. Besides, I was 1000% over being in my house but also wanted to be responsible as I went out to have fun.

I’m glad to say that the execution of this drive-in show was fantastic. All tickets and merchandise had to be purchased in advance, cars were limited to four person occupancy, bringing food from the outside was allowed (but no alcohol or illicit drugs, although I suspect that rule was anything but enforced), and each vehicle was spaced out so that attendees were socially distanced. While I missed the closeness of dancing in a crowd as well as chugging an overpriced beer while doing the white girl wiggle, I had a good time. The lights, the heavy sounds and the goofy stage antics were still there. The atmosphere was charged with excitement from the other concertgoers much like the shows of old. My friends and I were too far from the stage to be hit with the fake blood, urine and semen that is a trademark of a GWAR show, but I don’t find myself too upset by that. My hope is that my fellow Richmonders have proven that we can safely party at live music venues even while the world is ending. I have also resolved to budget more money for concerts in the future since life is too short not to experience the things you love.

I forgot to take more photos both because I was slightly inebriated and because I try to live in the moment at concerts, but I did snap this VERY short video right at the very beginning.

I felt very smol

Next week will be…something. I haven’t decided yet. Please be safe, dear readers.

Add to cart: how I, a smug suburbanite, ended up with a ukulele

Once upon a time in a small town in rural Virginia, a tween girl rented a movie from the video store called Josie and the Pussycats. The glam, the sass, the soundtrack and the whole package enticed her. While this was far from her first venture into a passion for music, it sealed the deal. She signed up for chorus class in middle school and —

Ahem. Middle school was awful. High school wasn’t a huge improvement. College took ten years. The end.

Okay, I kid. Still, Josie is one of my favorite movies to this day and the music is bangin’. I wanted Josie’s hair, voice, and life. I stayed in the school choir throughout middle school, abandoned it in high school, and returned in my community college days. I was fortunate to have an electric keyboard and a guitar, but I had no formal instrument training until college. My brain responds better to keyed instruments like the piano and falters with stringed ones, and as quarantine persisted, I thought about I could use the time at home to practice something again. I looked at electric pianos and keyboards since moving an upright or grand piano in and out of a tiny apartment would be a disaster; however, the electric counterparts were not as wallet-friendly as I preferred. During a session of general internet perusal, I came across suggestions pointing to ukuleles. Their compact size would make them portable and generally inexpensive, although you can certainly drop plenty of money if you wish. They have four strings instead of a guitar’s six (yes, I know a bass guitar has four; don’t @ me), and the material is friendlier for breaking in fingertips that haven’t touched the steel-wrapped strings of an acoustic guitar in over ten years. Because I was bored, had extra cash on hand, and impulsive, my ADHD brain decided that I had to have this little guy.

About how many times have I sat here pretending to be Marzipan from Homestar Runner and chanted “Uku, lele, uku, lele” over and over? Not enough

I waited eagerly for the package to arrive. I tracked it on UPS like a madwoman. When it finally arrived, I was overjoyed. My uke! It was here! I was going to have a new way to entertain myself AND I could irritate the amateur musician living in the apartment above me. This was a win-win.

Well, unfortunately, ADHD flounders outside of rigorous external schedules. I bought my ukulele, watched about two whole YouTube lessons, and then put it in my closet for safekeeping. With it out of sight, it slipped my mind. Hopefully, now that I am shaming myself on the internet, I will be arsed to create a practice schedule and stick to it.

Next week will be a recap of my first concert in the era of COVID. Stick around and stay safe, friends!

Baking my way downtown

There was this really strange period in the early stages of quarantine where everyone was baking bread. The demand for yeast was so high that supermarkets cited a mass shortage. Flour, sugar, and other baking ingredients flew off the shelves as everyone panicked at the idea of being unable to safely leave their homes for indeterminate periods of time. While I do not like to think of myself as a prepper or a doomsday conspiracy theorist, I definitely saw the value in knowing how to make my own food staples at home from scratch. Besides, for those of you who have known me in my adult life, you are well aware that baking is one of my FAVORITE activities. Sure, writing was my first love, but giving someone a carefully crafted pastry and watching them delight in my hard work never gets old. I had three notable successes in quarantine baking: bread, pizza crust, and apple brown betty. I decided to start with bread.

As luck would have it, I happened to have a couple of yeast packets in my house from the 2019 holiday season. A passion for baking is shared by my husband, and he had quite a lot of fun making all matter of goodies between Thanksgiving and Christmas. My newsfeed was flooded with recipes for homemade bread, and I wanted to join the fun. I knew I had yeast and some whole wheat flour that I wanted to use, so I considered giving it a go. How difficult could it be? As I pored over methods, I saw that proofing was highly suggested. (TL;DR proofing is giving your active yeast a chance to do its thing. It feeds on your raw ingredients and makes your dough expand. It takes time where you have to let your dough sit while you go off and do something else.) When I discovered a recipe that required zero proofing, my interest piqued. This baker claimed that one could make bread in a slow cooker without proofing beforehand. The hell was this sorcery? Could it be true? Would it be edible? I opted to take the plunge and find out.

What a cute little bread ball, eh?
Give us this day our Crock Pot bread

A lovely brown crust, a soft and fluffy middle, and a taste that was mild enough not to overpower other toppings made this a winner. However, it did NOT keep well and was quickly reclaimed by nature after a few days of being kept on my counter in airtight Pyrex. I have opted not to make this again until I know that it will be eaten within one to two days. I get the feeling that if we are still in this awful timeline by the time Thanksgiving is upon us, I will bring this baby back.

Eventually, the great yeast shortage of 2020 subsided. Once I had procured a jar of active dry yeast, I decided to up the ante. Pizza is hands down one of my favorite comfort foods. It’s hard to screw up bread, sauce and cheese. It occurred to me to take a stab at making my own dough. Unfortunately, a lot of pizza dough recipes assume that you are both in possession of a standing mixer and have procured a dough attachment. Since I do not own a standing mixer, I opted to BE the standing mixer. It’s a messy job and can aggravate repetitive motion injuries, but it gets the job done. Also, when you’ve had a particularly stressful day, sinking your hands into pizza dough is therapeutic. I found this recipe that was simple and permitted the omission of a hefty kitchen appliance.

What I learned about making pizza crust myself is that it is a labor of love and requires a good bit of preparation beforehand since the dough HAS to proof. I also discovered that making the dough into a nice round circle is not nearly as easy as it appears. Many of my early pizzas were more ovoid than circular, but still yummy. To be truthful, the first pizza or two was not photographable as it resembled an amoeba that I remember seeing in my high school biology textbook. Not sure about you guys, but amoebae are not appetizing to me.

Anyway, back to the topic at hand. Is it delicious and worth it to make pizza dough from scratch? Absolutely. Would I continue doing this in the future? Definitely. I even bought a special pizza pan for future pies, and I am so glad I did. Maybe one day, I’ll splurge and get myself a pizza stone. (Might need to get that standing mixer while I’m at it.)

Homemade pizza dough topped with store-bought pizza sauce, diced onions, yellow peppers (NOT MANGO), and pepperoni. Deeeeelish!

I have a major sweet tooth as well, and I have used quarantine to remake some old standbys like brownies, cookies, and pumpkin scones. My introduction to a new dessert came from none other than Peggy Hill on King of the Hill. In a few episodes, the Hills mention Peggy’s apple brown betty dessert. I had never heard of it, and after finding this vintage recipe, I had to make it myself. I don’t have shortening on hand, so I substituted butter. Still, it is absolutely delicious and pairs well with vanilla ice cream. Having made it twice, I can also confess that it disappears in my house within twenty-four hours. Super weird how that happens, eh?

If you are unfamiliar with this masterpiece of a TV show, Peggy Hill is in the green tank here chewing out a country music star for stealing her lyrics. Image lovingly borrowed from the King of the Hill Wiki.
I love my white ceramic cookware, but my goodness, it looks so gross after baking
Hungry yet?

I’m still up in the air as to what I will post about next Sunday, but I’m confident that I’ll think of something. See you next Sunday!