Monthly Archives: September 2011

Details, Details…

We went to my nephew’s wedding in Atlanta last weekend. The time for when all our college contemporaries getting married has pretty much passed, and we are mostly going to weddings that are for folks who are work or family. It was interesting being a close relative but otherwise not involved member of the wedding. We went to the rehearsal lunch because we were in town, not because there was any need for us to be part of the rehearsal. We ate and went back to my brother’s while the wedding party did the actual rehearsal.

Part of the festivities included post rehearsal parties on Friday evening–one for the guys and one for the gals. The dudes were going to go off to a monster truck rally or some such while the girls headed off to go bowling. Turns out the groom was a bit wiped and they ended up hanging out at my brother’s place and vegging poolside with drinks, cigars, and conversation.

The invitation to the hen fest was pretty straight forward, but came with these directions:

Please bring a pair of panties so we can play the “Guess who’s panties” game. All panties will be placed in a seperate bag and bridesname will have to guess who brought what pair! (sic)

I’m not a prude. Really. But, I thought the notion of bringing a pair of my panties to a party in a bowling alley was a little bit strange. Considering the fact that the bride’s mother, her future mother-in-law, my 15 and 19 year-old nieces, my 17-year-old daughter, and I were all going to be there, I was torn between being game and not playing along. In the end, we all brought panties. I picked a pair that were clean and didn’t say much about my real panty preference. When it came to the party game time, after bowling, we gathered at a table in the snack section of the bowling alley and the bride began to guess who brought what pair.

She was spot on with a few of them, and she kept track of which pairs she had guessed correctly and which she had not. With a different crowd, this can be a drinking game where the bride takes a shot for each missed guess. Fortunately for this bride, she was downing water instead of booze, or I don’t think she’d have lasted very long. Just a couple of shots would put her under the table.

When she pulled out this tiny g-string and calls it for her very pregnant Matron-of-Honor, I simply thought “That’s a pre-preggo pair.” Several pairs still had tags on them, and I thought that people must have wimped out on bringing their own panties. When, at the end of the party, I asked for mine (and my daughter’s) back, I did get a rather strange look from the hostess. It wasn’t until the next day when my nieces had figured it out and explained it to me. The invitation should have read:

Buy a pair of panties for bridesname so we can play the “Guess whose panties” game. All panties will be placed in a separate bag and bridesname will have to guess who brought which pair!

A simple mistake, but just a couple of words could have made it so much more clear. Only half of us brought our own panties. The other half purchased theirs. I’m still not sure what it was about the first quote that made it clear to those who purchased them to buy panties when it didn’t make it clear to me or my nieces or my sister-in-law. Was it that those who had purchased theirs had been part of the planning? Or is it an age thing? I’m old enough that I haven’t been to a bachelorette party for a long time. My nieces and daughter are too young to have been to any.

Maybe it’s just the vague nature of the English language. When I re-read the initial party invitation, I can see how, if you know the game already, that it’s obvious that you buy the panties. And, in a way, it makes a lot more sense than a bunch of women showing up with their own panties crumpled in their pocket or hidden in purses. The experience did give us all a memorable story and a lot of much-needed laughter.

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Tomatillo Salsa

Compared to fifty pounds of cucumbers, this singular colander of tomatillos did not seem like much of a project. Even after finding a recipe online that looked promising, and reading the ingredient list that would include eight cups of chopped onion, three cups of chopped chile peppers and a cup of chopped jalapenos, I was still thinking it wouldn’t be that big a deal. What’s a bit of chopping? Adding to my determination was the fact that my hubby grew the tomatillos, onion and garlic (just 12 cloves). It’s been hard work keeping up with the steady flow of produce from the garden, and I hate wasting food.

The only items I needed to purchase from the store were the peppers, lemon juice, some spices and more jars. My supply was depleted by the pickle party last month. When I got to PCC, there were maybe a dozen withered and lame looking Anaheim peppers out for sale. The produce manager on duty was happy to inform me that she’d just received a new box from Full Circle farms and brought it out for me to pick through. Now here were some fresh, fleshy and succulent peppers that were also local and organic! Yay.

When I got home I spent a good twenty minutes removing the paper husks from the tomatillos. The task is made much easier if you put the fruit in a bowl of water and peel the paper off underneath the surface. Once they were cleaned, I just had to chop them up. It turns out that I don’t like the smell of raw tomatillos. In fact, it is downright nauseating. I’ve never had a problem with cooked tomatillos, and green salsa is generally my favorite. Some things are just better in their cooked form. By the time I was done chopping them up, I was looking forward to replacing the scent with the onion.

I used about four of the onions we had harvested the day before to get the eight cups needed for the recipe. By the time I was done, my eyes were watering and I was over the sickly sweet smell of the tomatillos. I’ve heard there are various things to do to help with chopping onion, but I’ve never had anything work. I’ve tried burning a candle nearby, holding bread in my mouth and chilling the onion without success. I refuse to buy a pair of those silly looking goggles I’ve seen at the store.

The picture I took of the jalapenos was too blurry, but the Anaheims look pretty good. Just imagine a smaller pile next to them, a pair of rubber gloves and about an hour or more of seed removal and chopping time.

The tomatillos, onion, peppers, lemon juice, garlic, cumin, pepper, oregano (also from our garden) all went into a pot and cooked for half an hour before being packed into hot jars and then put through a long hot water bath. At the end of four hours, we have ten pints of green tomatillos salsa. By the time it had all cooked down, the inside of our house smelled like a restaurant.

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WordPress Site Stats

One of the fun things about blogging on WordPress is the “site stats” page. I look at it to see how many people read my blog and to see “who” might be reading my blog. It shows me how many people who have read, or at least clicked on, which posts. I have no way of knowing exactly who, but this photo snapped from the iPhone wordpress app shows that 26 people from Facebook checked it out yesterday, four people clicked on the comments on the Publishers Weekly blog I linked to and so on.

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The stats below show what searches people have performed via search engines like Google that bring up my blog. For the last few months, one of the top referral links has been “Skilcraft Pens.” That alone has me thinking about doing more research into the pen company or maybe creating a short story anthology about the pens. This week is the first time that it didn’t even make the top ten list. Check out today’s referral hits below. The first one made me laugh because I simply can’t imagine why “hot chicks in Carson City” would bring up my blog.

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Blogging has become sort of a public journaling exercise for me, and I’ve come to the point where I just blog about whatever random thing is on my mind at the time, things I don’t want to forget, or things I want to share.

I am finding what people are looking for equally interesting. Whether they are searching for hot chicks, pens or unhealthy Irish breakfasts, I can’t help but see a glimpse into a story idea. It’s great fodder for a writer.

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The Current GLBTQ YA BrooHaHa

It started on Monday when a blog titled “Authors Say Agents Try to “Straighten” Gay Characters in YA.” (To unpack the acronyms…YA is “Young Adult” and the other is “Gay, Lesbian,Bisexual, Transgender, and Queer”) Basically, the author doesn’t name the agent, but alleges that they were told to get rid of a gay character to make it marketable. There was immediate uproar and speculation as to who the agent was. The twitterfest has been remarkable. Yesterday the same blog posted “Riposte and Counter-riposte”, a response to the original blog. The agent in question responds to the accusations made in the original post. Interesting reading if you have the time.

About four years ago, I pitched a book to a highly renowned New York agent. It was about a fifteen year old girl who loses her family and ends up moving across the country to live with her lesbian aunt and her aunt’s long time partner. The main character, the teen, ends up in a mental state that sends her over the edge where she seeks comfort and control any way she can–through alcohol, drugs and sex. The agent asked me to bend it to the Young Adult market even though I had clearly been writing to an adult audience. There was no concern on the agent’s part that the two parents in the book, the two main role models who would be there for Bess, are lesbian. Because Bess, the main character, is straight, I’ll never know if that would have been an issue, but I seriously doubt it.

But,the question, in my mind, is…What about the books that do feature GLBTQ main characters in the YA market? Are they out there, or is there really a conspiracy against them? Sometimes numbers can help sort things out. After the initial blog post on Monday, Malinda Lo posted an illustrative blog post. The industry has gone from zero LGBTQ books published in 1969 to almost…hold onto your seat…forty in 2009. Less than one percent of YA books on the market feature LGBTQ main characters. And of those, half of them are only the “G” part of the equation.

What I find really frustrating is the assumption that the only readers for these books would be LGBTQ identified readers. That’s like saying only African Americans will read Toni Morrison, that only Native Americans will read Sherman Alexie, or only vampires will read Anne Rice. Any publisher who is thinking about marketability and making a profit should be working to increase the number of LGBTQ books in their line-up. Maybe they are. Maybe there just aren’t enough people writing quality material. And that’s what burns a little about the original post that started the discussion. The writer was given some hard to hear advice and took it the wrong way.

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I Am Writer–Hear Me Roar

Okay, go ahead and groan out loud. My mind is sort of mushy today due to the fact I spent most of it in a semi-comatose state with my arms wrapped around my sick son. There’s a lot of guilty pleasure in this. I mean, who really wants their child to be sick? Not me. But, the days are fast approaching when my nearly nine-year-old boy is going to get to that stage where cuddling with Mommy becomes more freaky than comforting. I hate that it will happen and accept it at the same time, so I snatch these moments of childhood when they are offered, even if I might catch his cold as a consequence. It gave my head much-needed space to think and just veg for a while.

After his latest nap, he felt pretty chipper so went outside with a big stick to wander around the property. I jumped onto the computer to check email, FB and my recent obsession,Twitter. (Anyone reading this blog can follow me @LRockenbeck) I’m finding this whole “#” interesting. You add the symbol followed by a word indicating an interest and, voila, you reach other people with the same interest. Sort of interesting for marketing purposes, and very helpful for networking. One of the various #writing tweets by Kristine Rusch caught my eye. From her blog:

Without writers, there are no publishing companies, no game companies, no comic book companies, no movie companies, no record labels. Without us, most of the entertainment industry will collapse. —Kristine Kathryn Rusch

That’s a whole lot of pressure on writers. It’s a whole lot of power, too.

Both of the recent writing conferences I attended were filled with discussions about the publishing industry. Sounds like an obvious sort of thing to talk about if you are a writer, but there has been significant change in the industry over the last couple of years. Publishers–and it doesn’t matter WHAT they publish–are scrambling to catch up to the world of electronic publishing. In the mainstream market, there is an added layer between the writer and the publisher–the agent. In the erotic market, there is almost no agent representation. Writers work directly with publishers. And, for the most part, the erotic market has moved almost whole-scale to the e-book market with “print on demand” and specialty bindings making up the print market. Books in leather-bound covers with art, beautifully made and worthy of holding onto or giving as gifts are seen as the future for print. The book that you usually buy, read in a day or two, and discard will be primarily found in electronic format.

With less reliance on dead-tree books (how’s that for a great positive e-book marketing term?) out there, the world of electronic books becomes infinite. There are no shelving space problems, and the publishers don’t hate you if your first, second, third or even fourth books don’t sell. In the traditional print world, publishers had to put enormous resources into printing costs, distribution and marketing. If your book didn’t sell, you became “un-publishable” and your career crashes to a nasty stop. Under this model, the power really is in the hands of the publisher. In the electronic market publishers take almost no risk at all.

Rusch’s blog about the need for writers to see their own power rings true. All too often, I hear writers talking about publishers and agents with some sense of fear–as if they are gods that we must bow down to or else lose the chance of people reading us. The agents, editors and publishers that I have met are nothing more than people hungry for good writing. The general sentiment that a writer needs to find an ‘agent’ and then everything will fall into place really is pretty much, as Rusch describes, like waiting for Prince Charming to sweep in and save the day.

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Sweet And Sour Pickles A Crunchy Tasty Hit

No mirrors involved. This is just one long hallway.

I just got back from Las Vegas and another writing conference yesterday. It was a tiring but rewarding weekend. I met dozens of people I’d heard of and whose work I had read. I also talked to umpteen editors and publishers–tossing around story ideas and coming up with several viable projects. (Now I just have to get my self in gear and do some major writing.)

The overall size of this conference was small compared to the PNWD conference I blogged about earlier, but it was every bit as fulfilling. I spent most every waking hour involved in either social situations or in conference classes and panels. As someone who spends most of my days at home alone at the computer, I found it almost too much. Maybe it’s just that it’s different from my norm, or maybe it’s because my throat is still sore from all the talking. Or, it could just be sore from all the cigarette smoke I breathed in as I walked through the casino to my room.

The airport was subdued seeming to me yesterday. Flying on 9/11 wasn’t exactly something I relished, but I didn’t really want to give power to fear so booked my return flight as practically possible after the conference had ended. Sure, I could have left on the 10th, but I would have missed out on some very valuable social bonding time.

Cool and crisp.

When I got home yesterday, I was greeted with welcoming, warm hugs from all and the scent of some delicious Welsh Cakes Bill was just taking off the griddle. It was enough for me for dinner, but by eight thirty in the evening I was a little peckish. I routed through the fridge to see what we had and remembered that one of our unsealed jars of sweet pickles should be ready to test. I opened the jar and pulled out a cold fresh spear. The mix of spices was from the spice store in Pike Place Market (thanks again to M. for bringing her supply!). The crunch of the pickle was perfect! I think trimming off the blossom ends and brining the cucumbers overnight did the trick. I can’t wait to see what the “Dutch Crunch” end up tasting like. Unfortunately, we can’t open any of those until we have more room on our pickle shelf.

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Pickle Party 2011

Fifty pounds of cucumbers doesn't really look like that much in a box like this.

I was at the produce section looking for bananas when I felt compelled to pick up a couple of pickling cucumbers the produce guy, P.J., had just put out. I rolled the cool bumpy veggies in my hand, thinking over the sagacity of getting into a canning project. P.J. must have seen the look on my face–something between longing and desire?–and made me an offer on a case I couldn’t refuse. The price was substantially lower, per pound, than that of the regular retail and the notion of getting an entire case of cucumbers was appealing to me at some deep spiritual, domestic goddess level. I make jam, jelly, and pickles; I am woman!

I am, however, also experienced enough in the realm of pickle making to know that I would be a complete idiot to attempt the task by myself. Besides, canning and preserving parties are a great way to get together and have fun with others to accomplish what could be a rather odious chore if done solo. I put a note on Facebook about my idea and had several people interested. When the day arrived, there were enough of us to make the work fun and enjoyable even if tiring. The term “Crazy Cooking Project” was more than just bandied about.

We talked a bit about the irony that we weren’t really saving money by our efforts. A jar of dill pickles from the store doesn’t cost all that much. The certainty of what is in the jars–fresh local cucumbers, onion and garlic from my own garden, dill from a local farmer’s market, grape leaves from the arbor just outside my back door–plus the inherent feeling of accomplishment at making them ourselves is what seems to spur us on. Besides, the variety of what we created is different than what the store offers. I’d never heard of “Dutch Lunch Pickles” until M. found the recipe in “The Joy of Pickling.”

Pickling, canning and preserving are home-based arts that have become less survival driven necessities and more pleasure arts/crafts. Like sewing and knitting, other skills that were practically required to survive in years gone by, canning has become an optional luxury. It’s almost impossible to make a skirt for less than what you can buy one for at Target. Knitting a sweater costs way more than picking one up at Costco. The difference of course, is about quality and style and the sense of accomplishment. Being able to say “I made this” in a world of mass-produced goods and where people are losing the skill to make almost anything feels pretty damn good.

For me, though, the best part about the pickle party was that it really was a party. Being an “at-home” mom who spends most of my time at home by myself, the day of working with others not my spouse and not my kids was….fun. Really fun. Call ’em “Crazy Cooking Projects” if you want, but bring them on just the same!

At the end of the day, those chairs felt great.

After six hours of pretty much non-stop labor, we ended up with:
12 pints Garlic Dills
10 pints “Dutch Lunch Pickles”
12 pints sweet and sour gherkin style
6 pints sweet and spicy with red pepper and garlic
10 pints “Dutch Lunch, no garlic”
12 Quarts straight dill

Sorted and grouped by size.

We quartered and brined about 25 pounds.

Jars filled with cukes, spices and brine, ready to seal.

Some genius solved the hot water/picking up the jar lids with a magnet and a stick. I almost cried with joy.

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