Monday, January 20, 2014

General Blabbity Blab


[WARNING: SELF-INDULGENT NAVEL-GAZING ABOUNDS IN THE FOLLOWING POST. ONLY PROCEED IF MASTURBATORY SELF-EXAMINATION IS YOUR THING.]

This post is so title because I couldn't figure out how to spell "blahdy (blahty? blawhtty? bleauoeajkdlshtadfteatttttyyyyyyy?) blah." Just for the record.

My writing schedule got all jacked up this weekend, and I didn't actually get anything done. Which is disappointing. I was hoping to start building my streak up again, but I didn't.

The story, when I work on it, seems to be going well. I've attempted to write novels in the past, so this isn't my first attempt. Each time was slightly different. The first fizzled out when I ran out of things to write about (it was an extremely derivative fantasy anyway, so no loss) because I was pantsing. The next novel I attempted twice, both times fizzling out in the planning stages.

This time, I started out wanting to create a list of scene for an outline of sorts. But, as I wrote, I started out doing stream of thought, thinking through what I wanted each scene to accomplish and what I thought might work for what happened. And it evolved into a sort of scene by scene Wikipedia style summary of the novel that I'm making up as I go along. It's weird. Like, a very in depth outline.

Anyway, so, assuming that I continue with this like I have been, that means that when I start drafting, the actual events should be relatively easy to work out, and I can just focus on the writing. It should produce a faster draft at least.

Total days writing, 14. Total streak: none.

***

I ran yesterday for, like, 5 or 10 minutes. I started out just bouncing around, playing, and then I realized, Hey, I could keep going like this. So, I just...did. And after running for about 5 or 10 minutes, I decided to stop and continue getting ready to go out to eat. But that made me realize that I could totally get back into shape if I'd just actually get off my lazy ass and do something.

This year, so far, has resulted in a lot of navel gazing for me. A lot of thinking about who I am and asking if I'm happy with it, and if not, how can I work to change? or what things do I even need to work on?

Some things? Being more positive. Trying not to get so pissed off about things that don't work out well for me. Also being just an iota more organized. I live in a sort of swirling vortex of chaos, and if I could at least rope that tornado and ride it, I could be much happier. And also exercising and eating more healthy--more healthy largely meaning "not eating seconds." If I run like I used to back in college, I could eat some awful things and never notice it on my body...for now at least. Might as well enjoy the 20's metabolism while I have it, yeah?

***

I've been what I would consider "an adult" for a few years now, but I'm really only just now starting to realize what that means for me. Like, I'm renting a house, and I have a 9-5 (not really those hours, but still) job, and it's all sort of dawning on me this year that I'm, like, an adult

I think this revelation comes to me because one of my friends just had a baby, which is the next general milestone that people my age hit, which my friends just did. And that weirds me out. Nearly all of my friends are parents now. That's just...a strange thing to realize. A sort of shifting of my perception of reality. Similar to when I noticed that all of that nostalgic media that's being dredged up now is from my childhood--the late 80's and early 90's--and not the stuff my parents. Like, people my age hold jobs in positions of power enough to influence the structure of the national media. Good God. Terrifying.

This revelation also hit me because I have another set of friends that are about to graduate with their master's degrees. They're looking into what one of them described as a "grown-up job." They're looking at things like benefits and getting a new car and moving out of their apartment and at least renting a house. They're where I was just a few years ago.

To have people at the stage just ahead of you, and people coming up just behind you, provides you with a good place to pause and think about where you are in life and take stock. It provides two interesting points of contrast and metrics to measure you're life: where you've been, where you may someday head, and where you are right now.

***

These are things that have been on my mind lately. I would apologize for putting such self-indulgent introspection on here, but since it is my blog, I'll continue to write whatever I want to. This is, after all, mostly for me.

Wednesday, January 15, 2014

Sacrifice a Goat to Tecthulhu for Me


Last week I slipped on ice and hurt myself at work, and spent a couple of days out of commision while my back slowly worked its way out of knots (thanks in part to the strange combination of potions and rituals prescribed by the local apothecary). Therefore, this week has been "OH GOD WHERE DID ALL OF THIS STUFF COME FROM?! RUN!! RUN FOR YOUR LIVES!!!"

On top of being swamped at work this week, our internet has decided to try to shit the bed. It's been very spotty for almost 2 months. We called our provider and got some tips. We bought a new modem, that came with all new stuff, and its acting the same. So now we have someone coming out this weekend to take a look. It's getting progressively (and impressively) worse with each day. Where before internet would cut out every 10 or 15 minutes for maybe 10 seconds or so, now we'll have hours where the internet will be out, punctuated with brief moments where the internet will flicker alive, then fizzle out again.

I am writing this during one of those glorious moments where it appears to be functioning mostly properly.

As if that weren't annoying enough, Janetter, the Twitter client that I use on my Android phone, has stopped working. I have a suspicion this has to do with Twitters shift in coding. Apps were supposed to update to HTTPS or stop functioning and TA DA mine did. Which means I've been forced to download and use the Twitter app--and it's horrible! It lacks a lot of the features that I loved about Janetter, and it's slow and clunky to boot.

We have plans with some friends this weekend. Thank God for that, or I might lose it.

I was on a role of writing everyday this month, until the weekend. I couldn't write Sunday, nor Monday, and that broke my streak. I've tried making up for it by writing (well...plotting) extra yesterday and today, but it's frustrating that I missed those two days. Part of it was my fault--poor planning on my part--and part of it was unavoidable stuff that came up. But frustrating nonetheless.

So, the writing for 2014 is 13 days total, with a writing streak of 2 days.

Friday, January 10, 2014

My Latest Obsession

Do you like cooking?

Do you like drinking?

Do you like hilarious females?

You will love My Drunk Kitchen.

This is the latest episode. SHOVE IT INTO YOUR EYE HOLES AND THEN GO OBSESSIVELY WATCH ALL OF THE BACK EPISODES YOU SILLY MONKEYS!

Wednesday, January 8, 2014

The Weather Outside is Frightful

Tobias Buckell is a writer that I have followed off and on for many years now (8 at this point, I think?), and he's always brilliant and insightful. The other day, on Twitter, he posted about going out to see what being in the super cold temperatures we've been getting this crazy winter would be like. He lives in the proper Midwest, where they've been getting slammed, and since he's writing a book about the arctic, he thought it might be good research to go wander around in it some.

Because I am the pinnacle of original thought and output, I thought, "Cool! I wanna try!"

Where Tobias Buckell lives, it was -10 F, with -33 windchill.

When I went on my little walkabout, it was 2 F outside, with a windchill of -17.

Some initial things of note: it was interesting to compare my own experience to Mr. Buckell's, and if you want to check that out, his post is here. One thing that I kept in mind was that Mr. Buckell is from the Caribbean originally, whereas, while I'm from a southern state, I'm no stranger to the cold. However, there was a good 10 degree or more difference between our areas as well.

It was still cold as balls. It's just...how cold do you want those balls? Whisky stones, or flash frozen?

Anyway, I knew it was colder than the day before, when I had been shoveling the driveway, so I knew to bundle up. I wore the t-shirt I was wearing at the time, jeans, regular boxers, regular socks. I don't have any long johns or anything like that. From there, I put on a warm flannel shirt I bought back in November, rubber steel-toed boots I bought back when I was in college, and my leather coat. I have a thin scarf that usually suffices for most cold situations, but given the circumstances, I grabbed one of my wife's big, heavy, long scarves to wear instead. I also grabbed an earflap hat--the kind you think of when you think of the cliched Canadian.

Taking no chances, man.
In the picture above, you'll also notice gloves. I started out wearing my wife's fingerless gloves with mitten overlays so I could take some pictures with my phone, but those suckers were too thin and I quickly returned inside for my pair of thicker gloves. They're just super cheap gloves from Walmart, but they do the trick most of the time.

As I dressed, I made sure to tuck my shirt in to keep the wind from blowing up the bottom of it and freezing my stomach and chest.

I set out for my mailbox--I figured I'd check the mail while I was out. However, I quickly realized that it was bright outside. Too bright. The sun reflecting off of the snow was radiating like the ground was touched by the hand of God. I squinted my eyes and pressed on for a few moments, waiting for my eyes to adjust. However, I eventually realized that it wasn't really getting any better, and that if I wanted to be able to see anything that was going on, I'd need something.

My own pair of sunglasses recently died the tragic death that nice, semi-expensive sunglasses always do, so I went hunting for my wife's pair.

If you take anything away from this story, gentlemen, it's that when the arctic apocalypse comes, the women will all still be around because we men are too goddamned stupid to buy and maintain essential things. Or maybe that's just me.

Anyway, after procuring my wife's sunglasses, I set out again.


The sunglasses helped immensely. It was still bright, but not unbearably so. It was eerie, strange, wandering around the neighborhood. Most everyone was locked up inside their houses with their heaters and their PJs and their cups of hot cocoa. One solitary soul was outside scraping snow off his driveway.

As I walked, I studied the ground. There were ridges scattered throughout the snow, creating striation looking patterns. The wind would gust through occasionally, picking up the dry snow on top and carrying it away, looking like dirt devils.

I remember thinking that, while it was certainly cold, it wasn't as bad as I thought. And then, just like Mr. Buckell said in his post, I turned the corner of the block and felt the gust of the wind. Holy God, it sliced through my jeans like they were made of tissue paper, the cold feeling like it cut right to my bare skin. I leaned into the wind, struggling through some of the deeper dunes, and was surprised to find even my thick gloves weren't keeping the wind out.

I had started my journey with m scarf just around my neck, but when the wind hit me in the face, it was like a thousand birds attacking my bare skin, pecking and snatching at every exposed bit of flesh. My checks especially, felt raw almost immediately. I wound up stopping, taking my gloves off, unzipping my coat right there, and rewrapping my scarf to make sure that I covered my face as well as I could.

With myself resituated, I pressed on. It was cold. Sweet Jesus was it cold. I should have had thicker socks on, but the movement and my determined pace kept my feet relatively warm. I was also clenching and unclenching my fists--absently at first, until I realized I was doing it, then purposefully because it seemed to be helping.

As you can see in the above picture, it was a bright, blue sky kind of day. Not a cloud around. The sun was shining like it was wanting to show off. On a day like this in the summer, there's no way I would have been outside. The heat from the sun would have felt like touching a hot pan to my skin. Today, I don't think I felt even the tiniest bit of warmth from it.

I made two laps around the block. The second lap, I noticed little places where the snow looked like it was starting to melt. Intrigued, I stopped and felt around. The snow had melted, and frozen back so perfectly that it was still clear. Instead of looking like ice, it looked like a stream of water that was just suspended in time.


It didn't really come out in the photo, but I took my gloves off for that picture, and my hands were instantly numbing and fumbling with my phone took a lot of effort. And the sun was so bright, I could barely see the screen, so this photo, as with the selfie above, were taken basically blind, me just tapping my phone screen frantically in a rough approximation of where the camera button was.

On my trip, I noticed several animal prints in the snow. I know several of my neighbors allow their pets to just wander the neighborhoods unchecked. I hope they got them in because I'm pretty sure they couldn't survive something this cold.

I have vague memories of it getting this cold when I was ten or so. I remember it getting down into the negatives for the first time in my life, and being astounded that it could actually be that cold. Nearly fifteen years later, that feeling hasn't gone away.

It was -2 F this morning when my wife went to work.

Stay warm everybody.

_______________

A post script: while I was out driving earlier today, my window fogged up on the inside. I rolled my window down in an attempt to get it to unfog. This worked (ish), but when I tried to roll my window up, I heard a loud cracking sound that scared me. I thought I'd broken the window!

Not quite. The condensation on the inside of the window had frozen to the rubber strip, however. Seriously, y'all. That's fucking bananas.

Monday, January 6, 2014

Salty Language

Photo from: Minnesota Historical Society
My wife was recently diagnosed as having high blood pressure. Among the recommendations from her doctor, she was told to try to reduce stress in her life, to try to lose weight and exercise more, and to cut her salt intake to below 2000 mg of sodium per day.

We're no strangers to changing our diets in various ways for health reasons. A couple of years ago, we made an attempt to cut as much sugar out of our diets as possible. Because of this, we didn't figure that lowering sodium could be that much harder. Hell, they have "low sodium" options all over the damn place at stores. It should be a breeze.

Turns out? No, not so much.

Many of the "low sodium" options are really not that low in sodium. For example, let's look at something like chicken broth. In my area, the Walmart brand chicken broth costs $1.89, and has somewhere around 800-900 mg of sodium per cup (4 cups per box, if you're buying it in the boxes, which is what I was looking at). The "reduced sodium" option still had around 570 mg of sodium per cup. That's still a shit-ton of salt, guys.

I figured there had to be an alternative. Grabbing random brands off of the shelf and slowly becoming more and more frustrated did eventually reveal a brand of organic chicken broth that only had 70 mg of sodium per cup (for the same size container, 4 cups per box). But the price was three times what the Walmart brand was!

I managed to find a vegetable broth that fell between the "low sodium" Walmart brand and the organic brand in terms of sodium content and price, but it took a LOT of hunting. I mean, somewhere around 15-20 minutes of pulling out random brands and reading labels. A huge group of people had started to form around before I was done. I'm pretty sure someone threatened to brain me with a can of heavy cream soup if I didn't make a decision.

It was a similar hunt to try to find salsa for a recipe that was low in sodium. Most salsa has around 170-200 mg of sodium per 2 tbs. I had to hunt forever, but I found a semi-local brand--the only one on the shelf like it--that touted itself as "gluten free" and "low sodium" that only had 10 mg of sodium per 2 tbs.

What I've noticed is, even if we're eating low calorie options and watching our sugar and fat intake, the amount of sodium that gets slipped into processed foods is astronomical. The only way, it seems, to circumnavigate all of this and come even close to what is recommended would be to make our own stuff.

I was looking at making some bean burritos that could be frozen and thawed and reheated at random whenever we needed a quick lunch (it's why I was looking for low sodium salsa). Turns out? Low fat refried beans have 480 mg of salt per 1/2 cup.

Obviously, there are some things that are just going to have to be cut out of our diet. (Goodbye licking that life-sized salt statue of Tom Hiddleston.) But some of these options...I could make them from scratch and they'd be low sodium...but who has time for that? And every short cut that I take (say, buying canned pinto beans to make my own quick and dirty refried beans), I still have to double check the sodium count and get the "no salt added" canned pinto beans because the regular has 700 mgs of sodium per cup.

This is the biggest problem with eating healthy. It's expensive. We live in a society where it's currently trendy to be a "foodie" and buy all of your food gluten-free, fat-free, salt-free, animal-cruelty-free--food created from free-range unicorn farts and rainbow magic! But to be able to purchase those products, you have to have a certain financial stability that my wife and I just don't have, that lots and lots of people across the country don't have.

It's been a bit frustrating. When you only have so much time left in your day after work, you have to ration your time out. Just how much time do you spend cooking something and eating instead of doing paperwork, cleaning, doing the laundry, paying the bills, or any number of other things that you don't have time to do because you and your spouse both work full-time jobs.

I don't make homemade apple sauce very often because it takes forever to make, delicious though it may be. That's the reason these short cuts were developed in the first place. But when those short cuts might be killing you? Or when those short cuts will cost 2 or 3 times as much to get them healthy? It forces you to look at things with a new perspective.

It seems that new perspective is holding up in the broth aisle comparing brands for sodium values while other impatient shoppers draw lots to see who's going to beat you to death with a can of olives and stuff your body behind the gluten free cookies where no one will find it.

Wednesday, January 1, 2014

Looking Back, Looking Forward

Photo from:  Ivan Zuber of Flickr
2013 was an interesting year for me. Because I'm only 24, I'm still at that stage where my life is kind of like a bag of Shake N' Bake--a whole bunch of nebulous things are thrown into a bag and tossed around, and whatever sticks to me is what we'll call my "adult life." Obviously, I am the chicken breast in this failure of a metaphor, and not just because of my "Sexy Big Bird" costume I own.

The past few years have found big changes for both my wife and myself. Hell, actually getting married was a big deal. Then I graduated from college. Then I got my first job, which involved us moving across the state. Then we moved again to a more choice location. Then I discovered my true form, shed my weak human shell, and ascended into insectile godhood. See? Big changes.

Each year, my wife and I talk about how this is the year that we're going to get a handle on things, but each year raises new and unexpected challenges. We adjust our schedule, keep laying plans for our future, looking toward that moment where we can settle down and say, "Okay, we've made it. We're adults now. The rest of it is just maintenance." I'm starting to suspect that isn't exactly how the world works.

This year my wife finally got herself situated. She graduated college, she got the kind of job she's always wanted--and with a work environment that is phenomenal. Everything hasn't quite settled down yet, all of the gears haven't finished clicking into place, but its looking more and more promising every day. Oh, we replaced one of our cars with a better one--although not the one my wife wanted to replace...maybe next year, dear.

This year also involved major changes at my job, changes that affect the nature of my job in a few ways. It's put a bit more stress on me and kept me pretty busy. Thankfully, by this point, I've learned the ropes of the job enough to be able to compensate somewhat for these changes and work to make things just a little easier. But it has affected what I can and can't do at home, how much time I can devote to writing and reading and such.

2013 also re-demonstrated that I am shit at keeping resolutions. Even though they've been mostly the same resolutions for 7 years or so, I continue to be balls at meeting them. That's okay, though. I tried. I think, as long as you try, it all shakes out. So I didn't exercise nearly enough, nor did I really eat the way I should have. We also didn't unplug like we intended. There's always next year.

That's the thing I like about New Year's resolutions, even if you fuck them up, there's always the opportunity to try again, to do better--at least, as long as you understand time as a linear progression and not something like a random firing of stimuli in the cerebral cortex of a flaming space-bird's brain as it crashes into a dying star or something. But why would you think of time like that? You weirdo.

Writing-wise, I did much better this year. While the quality is probably still dubious, I've been more consistent. I've blogged more this year than any year before, which is good. I've also written and/or revised several short stories, which is better. I still can't keep a consistent schedule, but I'm improving in that regard. I also submitted much more this year. I wish I could post the blog equivalent of dancing in the end zone, but that particular stroke of luck hasn't struck yet. I'll just keep plugging along, scrawling my fever dreams in my book bound in human flesh using the blood of my enemies as ink--y'know, the usual writer stuff.

Reading wise, I came damn close to meeting my goal of reading 25 books in the year. I really am celebrating, as this is the most books I've read since 2010. I had a LOT of down time then, and I was going through some stuff, so reading was how I'd coped. This year, it was sheer making time for it. I am, as of this writing, one book short of my goal. I'm hoping I can knock one out today (New Year's Eve), but I don't know if I'll get the chance.

It's not the quantity of reading, though. I'm also pleased with what I read. Not only have I started getting into comics, but I've found some real gems in my quest to expand my reading list. This year, I tried to focus on reading sci-fi/fantasy/horror stuff by women. I did read a little outside of my genre of choice, but not as much as I would have liked.

So where does that leave me for 2014?

In terms of writing, pretty much where I am now. I'd like to be more consistent with how often I write, but it's damn hard to get into that headspace with my current job. I am trying, though, and my wife is helping. Lately, she's been yelling at me if I don't get my ass in my office and work on something for at least 30 minutes before bed.

This year, I think I'll alternate between working on a novel that has me enchanted at the moment, and working on revising/submitting short stories.

This year, I want to read more non-fiction books and expand my mind. I have lots of books queued up that look interesting--books about local history, books about Islam, books about transfolks' experiences, books about African Americans' experiences, etc. I'd like to learn a lot this year.

I also want to read more books by PoC writers. My bookshelf looks pretty universally white, and I'd like to fix that.

There are also some pretty big and kind of terrifying life changes that the wife and I are looking into making. We've been talking about them pretty much every night, doing research, crunching numbers. We're really excited by the prospects, but also terrified--well, I am. Because I feel like we have a good thing going here, we're finally starting to get settled, and I don't want to tip that balance and have it all come crashing down around me.

So, here's to 2013--it wasn't a bad year. Here's to 2014--may it kick all kinds of ass and bring with it much glorious good times.

Happy New Year!!!!


Hope you and yours have a safe and happy new year.