Cooking with Baby Bellas

Well, I’ve been pretty busy making things lately. I’m making 3D printers pretty much every day. I’ve tried a handful of new recipes including marinated mushroom and sweet potato tacos this week and baked mushroom baozi earlier in the month. I’ve managed to update my fan fiction and am finally writing the crucial scene I know many of my readers have been waiting for. I’ve also finally gotten myself to write another flash fiction for ThanInVain‘s Flash Fiction Challenge. The prompt was just too good to pass up and I found myself with a little time tonight, so let’s start with that.

Prompt: A woman’s cat goes missing. Two days later she receives a ransom note.

Catnapped

Ellen Helmsby shrugged out of her overcoat and settled into her chair, heedless of the layers of cat fur. She squirted a little hand sanitizer into her palm to her to rid her hands of the metallic smell of dealing with other people’s coins all day.


She clucked her tongue behind her teeth and waited for Tire to materialize for their pre-dinner cuddle. She’d tell him about her day and he’d purr and life would be just a little bit better. Then she’d open a packet of food for him, and put a TV dinner in the oven for herself.


But cluck and call as she might, Tire didn’t come. She got down on her creaking knees calling out to him under the bed. Finally she was reduced to swearing at the damn cat to show up. He didn’t. She sat in the chair all night.


The next day, cars honked as she gave people the wrong change or or her mind drifted. Her supervisor thought the exhaust fumes might be getting to her head and sent her home. A note, in purple crayon, was wedged under the door.

Deer Cat Lady,
My bruther loves your cat. He wants it, but can’t rite. He’s 4. If you give me a bazillion $ I’ll steal it back. But it has to be a bazillion or I can’t, cuz he’ll cry when I take it.

Ellen heard the hedges rustle and saw the grubby six year old from next door watching her.

Being a cat person myself, I couldn’t resist the prompt and I’m glad I gave it a go. It feels good to be writing.

I’m trying to lead a more healthy life-style, and building printers all day is certainly a lot more physically active than my last job. I’m also trying to be mindful of healthier new recipes and fewer sweets. So far, it’s working. However, there’s an amazing frozen custard shop not far from where I work, and I want some…right now. However, I’ve got some very good motivation for wanting to get healthier right now. I’m looking forward to a long life with the man I love, and I want to be healthy.


The marinated mushroom and sweet potato tacos were absolutely delicious. I’m not going to lie, I ate several and they were all gone before I could take a picture of them. One lingered on someone else’s plate (the tortilla got a bit burnt) and I did manage to snap a picture of that before it too disappeared. 

Marinated Mushroom and Sweet Potato Tacos

I cut and cooked the sweet potatoes the night before, so they weren’t as crisp as I could have hoped, but they were delicious and it saved me an hour of prep-time right before dinner, which was good since by the time I get home, I’m pretty hungry. I used baby bella mushrooms and topped it all off wit a little cheese, sour cream, and green onions. I always keep a container of sliced green onions in the freezer to add to meals. They keep for ages and defrost almost instantly when I add them to any dish.


A few weeks ago, I watched the new reboot of Sailor Moon that just launched. I then followed it up by indulging in a few of the classic episodes as well. I remember watching the original episodes on television as a kid in the morning when I got ready for school. I think there’d usually be an episode of Sailor Moon for me in the morning, and an episode of Mighty Max for my brother. Eventually Sailor Moon only aired on cable, and my family didn’t get cable until I was in middle school, so I missed out on most of the later seasons.

Watching it recently I was surprised as how much I remembered and still felt familiar, but I was also delighted by what I didn’t remember. I’d forgotten that Serena/Usagi tends to eat a lot. One of the things she was snacking on was stuffed pork buns, which I remember as a delicious treat from my time in Taiwan. 

Usually stuffed pork buns are steamed, but as I don’t have a steamer at the moment, I specifically wanted to find a recipe for baked buns. I toyed with the idea of barbecue baked pork buns, but the recipe I found was for mushroom baozi, and I am so glad I found it.

I don’t have much experience baking, particularly with making dough from scratch. This recipe called for me to make the dough and give it an hour or two to rise, but I was going to be working and didn’t want to delay dinner by two hours or more once I got home, so I made the dough and let it rise over about 8 hours in the fridge (it turned out great).

It still took longer than I was expecting when I got home to roll the dough out into pieces and put the filling inside, but it was totally worth it. Most of the baozi I made were the mushroom recipe I found on the website, but I also made a handful with shredded pork from the crockpot and barbecue sauce. 

The mushroom ones actually turned out best (I didn’t use enough barbecue sauce, so the pork ones were a bit dry). I wasn’t real sure about being able to seal them up well, so I put them together upside-down. 

Mushroom Baozi

I also should have rolled out the dough a bit thinner, and maybe added a little more salt, but I will definitely repeat this recipe. 


So, there you have it. I haven’t been blogging as much as I should, but I’ve certainly been making things, and more than keeping busy. There’s always more to get done and more to learn. Are there any other recipes you’d suggest using mushrooms? Baby Bellas are my favorite. Any advice for loosening hand muscles after building something all day? 

Making Changes

Friday was my last day of work as an administrative aid at a major university. As of yesterday, I’m officially making stuff for a living.

Pretty cool, no?

I disappeared from blogging pretty thoroughly in January because we’d been given a test shipment of printers to assemble and all of my energy went to learning how to do that as best I could in a short time frame. I had never built anything more complicated than an Ikea bookshelf before. Two weeks ago, I put in my two weeks notice at the university, and Friday I said goodbye to my coworkers and students. It was hard getting everything wrapped up so that I could leave, but it was even harder to say goodbye to my coworkers and the students we saw every day. 

I’ve probably made every mistake that can be made while putting together a 3D printer, but now I know what mistakes can be made and how to fix them. A word to the wise: test everything thoroughly, and double-check it twice.

I’ve got a long way to go, but I’m excited to be doing something new. I know how far my abilities have come in the last few months and I intend to keep seeing them grow. I wish I could say more right now, but this is as much as I can say right now.

Casserole Creation: Chicken Cordon Bleu

I’ve finally tried a new recipe again for the first time in ages. I’ve been itching to try this one since a friend of a friend posted a link on Facebook a couple of weeks ago. I gathered up most of the ingredients, and then had the last one dropped in my lap this week, so it was time to try it. Are you ready? Chicken Cordon Bleu casserole. I guess it wasn’t a surprise; the title of this post probably gave it away.

Chicken cordon bleu was one of my favorite dishes growing up. My mom and aunt would both make it for me on special occasions, sometimes with fresh cut french fries. Excuse me while I wipe the drool from my keyboard. They’re both excellent cooks and I’ve adopted a number of their recipes. For my college graduation party they even made two hundred mini-chicken cordon bleus for me, because it was my favorite. No surprise, they were a big hit and disappeared pretty quickly. I don’t even want to know how many I ate. Mom, Auntie, if you’re reading this, I love you both. Chicken cordon bleu (made from scratch, NOT the nasty frozen kind) is delicious, but it’s a lot of work. Pound the breasts (or tenders if you’re making minis), coat them in egg, and bread crumbs. Roll them up with swiss cheese and ham inside, pin them shut with toothpicks, fry them, and then bake them in the oven. I’m exhausted just writing it, so as delicious as it is, it’s not something I make terribly often. When I saw this casserole recipe, I knew I had to try it.

Let me just say I have very little experience with casseroles. I had a vague notion that casseroles are a one pan meal, so it must be quick and easy to throw together. Quick and easy cordon bleu? Yes, please, and seconds. The only other time I’ve really attempted to make anything in a  casserole dish was the spinach and sweet potato gratin I made last year adapted from a recipe I found on Smitten Kitchen.

This wasn’t quick and easy, but it was well worth the effort. I filmed the cooking process tonight and will finally be updating my YouTube channel. I used Terri’s recipe I found on TastyKitchen and made a few modifications. I’ve learned to check out the comments on food blog posts before attempting the recipes I find and I’ve found some great advice, so I tried to incorporate it into my dish tonight.

I’m picky about meat and as anyone who has eaten with me will tell you, I don’t particularly relish the task of separating meat from bone and cartilage, so instead of stripping a rotisserie chicken, I baked several chicken breasts the night before with a little salt, pepper, and garlic, shredded them when they came out of the oven, and stuck the chicken in the fridge. For the ham, I used Easter dinner leftovers I’d been given, rather than a package of deli ham. It was delicious.

Shredded chicken

 

When I got home from work tonight I buttered my casserole dish, and piled in the chicken, then put a layer of ham on top. I used shredded swiss cheese instead of sliced because…well, I had it.


Ham and Chicken

I was actually really pleased with the sauce. Based on the comments on the original posting on the recipe I decided to use half the amount of salt, and significantly less milk. I used skim rather than whole milk, and only used 2 cups of milk instead of the 3.25 that the recipe called for. I also replaced the mustard with garlic. I loath mustard. My feelings towards mustard can only be rivaled by my feelings towards pickles–yuck. But garlic is a beautiful thing. As per the instructions, I melted 4 tablespoons of butter, slowly mixed in 4 tablespoons of flour to make a roux, added 2 cups of milk, and then my seasonings: lemon juice, paprika, salt, pepper, and garlic. I let it heat for a while until it thickened and poured it over my dish. I taste-tested it and it was beautiful. This picture came out a little orange, but it was actually slightly pink, from the paprika.

Let there be sauce!

After that, all that was left to do was make the crispy topping. The recipe called for a cup and a half of panko bread crumbs, 6 tablespoons of butter, parsley, and seasoning salt. I used half panko bread crumbs and half Italian bread crumbs, and swapped out the parsley for spring onions. I skipped the seasoning salt altogether. I tried to get away with 4 tablespoons of melted butter to mix with the bread crumbs, but it really needed 6 for that many crumbs. And a little grated parmesan, just because it was left over in the fridge from chicken francese the other night.

Casserole Topping

I popped it into the oven at 350 degrees for 45 minutes and sat down to wait. I’ll admit, by then I was pretty hungry. I was a little impatient and took it out 12 minutes early–it didn’t seem to suffer any harm from it except that maybe the topping wasn’t as crisp as it could be.

Chicken Cordon Bleu Casserole

What would you have paired with it? I went with baked potatoes because they were easy, but I’m thinking I might go with something a little lighter tomorrow–I’m open to suggestions. Yes, tomorrow. No I’m not cooking it from scratch again, I’m looking forward to the joy of leftovers. I can’t wait.

Upcoming projects/updates:

  • I have majorly slacked off on the Flash Fiction challenge. We’ll see if I go back to it. I do like it as a writing exercise quite a bit, but I may be a spectator for a while.
  • I’ve posted chapter 27 of my Dramione story, Law and Marriage . Chapter 28 is nearly ready and will be going up soon.
  • I Tweet. I resisted Twitter for a long time, but I’m planning to apply for the AmtrakResidency for writing, because it looks awesome, and they want whoever gets it to Tweet about the experience. Therefore I shall Tweet, because I intend to be on one of those trains. You can find me at @ErinWritesOn . I’m a bit torn between that and HiIMakeStuff for a handle. What do you think?
  • I recorded my casserole project tonight, so hopefully I will sit down and get a YouTube video up in the relatively near future.
  • And–I went back to the gym on Wednesday. I don’t even want to tell you how long it had been since I’d been there, but I lifted weights, and did a few minutes of stationary bicycle (I hate cardio). It felt great to get back under the barbell again and know I could still do it but man am I sore. But I’m going back tomorrow. My coworker and I have pinky promised on it, and you know that’s sacred.

Until next time, keep making stuff!

Making Connections

Back in January, I decided that I wasn’t going to have too many set goals for the year. My plan was to have more generalized goals, with an idea about how I want my life to look, rather than a set of specific numbers to aim for. I’ve definitely heard both sides of the argument in favor of specific goals and general ones. I think the most important point for both sides is to be realistic. Push yourself, but don’t set an unrealistic standard. For example, it would be unrealistic for me to want to be in a size 2 dress by the end of the year. However, wanting to get trimmer and lift heavier weights? That’s a more general goal that I should be able to push myself towards.

I haven’t been staying as on top of my original fiction as I had planned to be this year, but on the whole, I have kept myself writing something consistently. It’s a start.

One of my more concrete goals for this year was inspired by all the Christmas cards I’ve sent out the past few years. Sending out Christmas cards wasn’t something I particularly did growing up, but moving 12,000 miles from home can make you a bit sentimental sometimes. I never learned to eat apple pie or found the joy in sending Christmas cards until I moved to Taiwan 2010. Every year since, I’ve sent Christmas cards. I prefer to write quite a bit in them, wanting to make an opportunity to actually reconnect with the person. Frequently, putting an open call out on Facebook asking who wants a Christmas card leads to a conversation online with the person when I get their address and the opportunity to catch up with someone I haven’t spoken to in a while. Life is short and we only live for so long. Sometimes people might drift out of our lives for a good reason but more often we just didn’t try hard enough to keep in touch. There are family members and friends who I feel like I stay in touch with because I see them in my Facebook feed, but I don’t know the last time I had a conversation with some of them, and I think that should change. 

One way I’m trying to change it is by making phone calls or at least sending a message when I say to myself, “Wow, I haven’t talked to so-and-so in a while. I wonder how they are?” Don’t wonder. ASK. Call them. Have a conversation.

Another way I’m trying to make sure I reconnect with the people who belong in my life is by using the USPS. How many days out of the week do you get something in your physical mailbox that isn’t either someone trying to sell you something, or a bill for something you’ve already bought? Not often enough, I’ll wager. I know I get excited whenever I see something else in the mail. I’ve decided to pass that feeling on by sending making sure to send at least one thing out in the mail every month. So far this year, I’ve been successful. There were some New Year and birthday cards in January, the “Hugs Keep Us Alive” T-shirt for my friend’s birthday in February, and in March I sent a copy of a storybook I wrote and printed a few years ago to a cousin of mine who likes the story. 

Image

A picture from my story “Sky Pond”, about two friends seeing the world differently, and braving it together.

I’m not sure yet what I’m going to send out in April, but I do know at least one phone call I plan to make. You never know how long any of us have here. 2 years and 51 weeks ago my dad passed away. Sometimes I still think about calling him. Don’t wait until you’re not busy to try to catch up with someone. The truth is, you’re probably never going to be “not busy.” Make sure the people in your life know they’re important to you.

Emerging on Twitter and Finding Time to Write

It’s been a while, but I promise, I’ve been writing. I’ve posted several new chapters of my in-progress fan fic, and I’m loving where it’s going. It’s been such a pleasure to write it, and I have to say, the response I’ve received from my friends at FanFiction.net has been overwhelming. Over four hundred people are following the story. I haven’t written Dramione before and hadn’t been sure how well I’d be able to pull it off. It’s definitely been an exercise in a different style of writing for me, but like I said, I’m pleased with the results.

I haven’t been doing quite so well with my desire to work on my flash fiction skills. I fell off of Thain in Vain‘s weekly flash fiction challenge back in February when I began working on a major project. I still can’t talk about the project yet, but give it a little more time. Any way, I’ve had a lot more free time available in March and didn’t make it back to my writing commitment and I’m sorry for that.

Did anybody hear about the #AmtrakResidency a few weeks ago? I saw that someone had suggested it, but then there was a wait while Amtrak hashed out whether they could or would put together a program for writers. Great news: They have! They’re giving away 24 “residencies” which will be 2-5 day trips long distance trips on a train for writers to write. Write anything you please.

I’m totally excited about this and plan to apply but I have no idea yet what I want to use for my writing sample. I love to write and I am excited at the prospect of applying for something that would give me a few days to jumpstart some writing while watching the world go by.

Now, for the application, I need a Twitter handle. For reasons I’m not entirely sure of, I’ve shied away from Twitter since it’s beginning. I’ve never had a Twitter account until last night. I can now be found on Twitter under the handle: ErinWritesOn. I had considered using the name of this blog for it. Which do you think sounds better: HiIMakeStuff, or ErinWritesOn? Decisions, decisions.

I’ve got a lot going on in the next couple of weeks, including going out of town for a week. I’m hoping during that time I’ll get some writing done, or maybe even some editing. A week more or less away from the internet might just do the trick.  I guess we’ll see what happens?

Bananas Over Bananas

I’ve never really liked bananas. It sounds crazy. After all, nature designed bananas to be a great snack–easily portable, they come with their own biodegradable wrapping, inexpensive, and a good source of potassium. I should be totally ape over bananas. Sorry, I couldn’t resist–feel free to leave now if necessary, I won’t blame you.

Oh? You’re still here. Cool.

I first learned to like bananas in Taiwan. At the time, I discovered my then-roommate is an amazing baker (for the record, I can’t bring to mind anything that she wasn’t excellent at, and she is a tremendously positive and kind-hearted person as well). I can cook fine, no problem. Meat, vegetable-like roots and fungus, and even sauces, I’m good to go. I’ve even started dabbling in soup. But I really do best with things that stay on the stove top and that I can keep an eye on. As much as I love eating sweets, baking has never been my forte. However, my roommate? She was amazing at it. She started a baking club at the school she was teaching at as a way for her advanced students to get more practice at conversational English and learn a bit more about American culture than what Hollywood shows the world. She made all sorts of things that I hadn’t really exposed myself to before, or if I had, it’d been when I was young and determined I didn’t like those things. What sort of dishes? Apple pie. Banana bread. Almond bars. I could go on.

I was absolutely bowled over by the banana bread she brought home and decided that maybe bananas weren’t so bad after all, at least in bread form.

Our apartment in Yilan didn’t have an oven, which wasn’t exactly uncommon. When I moved to Douliu a year later and lived on my own, I decided to buy a small oven (probably more akin to a toaster oven). It wasn’t a great piece of machinery, and honestly, I probably got what I paid for. A fair amount of heat escaped, nothing really cooked evenly, and it just wasn’t great. But it sufficed for most of my needs. I think my most frequent use for it was to make my own version of “French Onion soup”. The broth consisted of vegetarian oyster mushroom sauce, soy sauce, and Mirin. Probably the only part of it that resembled french onion soup was the onions, bread, and the cheese. My oven did succeed in melting cheese on top of my soup, so I was pleased enough. I do vaguely recall other attempts at using it–there was an apple pie who’s graham cracker (Digestives) crust fell to pieces and cookies that came out half burnt and half mostly raw. My coworkers were nice enough to help me eat the apple pie and cookies all the same, despite the fact that a lot of it didn’t look real tasty.

My attempt at making banana bread myself went pretty poorly. I had way too much batter for the oven or for the size dish I had an I didn’t realize it. So most of it didn’t cook, even left in for longer or put back in again a second time. I’m sure none of that was a brilliant idea. I did try some of the outside bits that did seem to cook and it was okay actually, though not as good as my former roommate’s. I should give her recipe a try again now that I’m back home and have a trustworthy oven–the heat only escapes when I get impatient and open it to check on whatever is in there.

Tonight though, I didn’t decide to make banana bread. Maybe I would have had more luck. I decided I’d try to be a bit healthier and make baked banana chips. I’ve mentioned before my weight loss yo-yoing–getting down about 20 pounds and gaining it all back. At the moment I’m trying to look for sustainable practices for keeping myself healthier and accountable. It’s a slow process, I’m working on it. Making banana chips instead of sugary banana bread was an attempt at it.

Back to the banana chips: I looked at half a dozen recipes that all said about the same thing–slice your banana thin, spread the pieces on parchment paper with a little lemon juice and put it in the oven at 200 degrees for an hour or two as necessary, you can’t go wrong. Well, I’m beginning to think I went wrong somewhere.

I peeled my banana and sliced the pieces maybe a quarter of an inch thick and spread them over my parchment paper and heated the oven to 200. I had a hard time deciding how I was going to season them. The truth is, I’m not a big fan of the flavor of bananas alone. I don’t think I’ve ever eaten more than a bite or two of one. So I separated my banana pieces into sections to experiment.

Group 1: banana and a little lemon juice

Group 2: banana, lemon juice, garlic

Group 3: banana, lemon juice, garlic, and cayenne

Group 4: banana, lemon juice, garlic, and just a tiny bit of olive oil to see what would happen

When my tray of banana pieces had been in the oven for about 40 minutes, I checked on them to turn them over. They were slimy. They were quite slimy. And I thought they smelled pretty gross. I flipped them all over and reset the kitchen timer to total 2 hours instead of one.

I checked them again at an hour and forty minutes. They were still kind of slimy and I still wasn’t digging the smell. It was a this point that I decided I might as well open up WordPress and blog about the experience. Maybe one of you has some advice for me, or maybe you’ll get a laugh out of imagining my face smelling the slimy grossness that was in my oven. It looks something like this.  Sorry, I did post the picture, but  then a net-dragon ate it. They’re known for eating horrendous pictures so that they will hopefully never bee seen again.

Annoyed and wishing I would have just made roasted chickpeas, I flipped them again and turned the heat up to 250 to let them finish their last 20 minutes for a cumulative 2 hours in the oven. As much as I love roasted chickpeas, I don’t like how they taste eaten cold the next morning, so they’re not a great snack for me to bring to work. I was hoping banana chips might be.

They’ve come out of the oven now and they’re rather tacky. I’m thinking I might have left the slices too thick. Maybe I should have gone with an 1/8 of an inch slices. I haven’t taste tested them yet.

Image

Okay, I’ve tasted them now. They dried a bit, but definitely are not remotely crisp or crunchy. I’m guessing I should have sliced them thinner. Unfortunately, I don’t seem to like the taste of hot, mushy banana. I tried a couple of the different flavor combinations and just found the banana too overwhelming.

I suppose I shall have to try another experiment another day. For now, I’ll post this and get back to working on my next chapter for Law and Marriage. I have to say, for a ship I haven’t really explored much before now, I’m really enjoying it. I did manage to update it mid-February, after being unable to update since the end of December. I’m hoping to get another update in this week or this weekend. Cooking features heavily in the next chapter.

I’ve fallen far, far behind in Thain in Vain‘s flash fiction prompts. I’m hoping to get everything back in balance again. In the meantime, I ran across this on Facebook and it’s awesome. It’s 20 two-sentence horror stories. It’s some of best micro-fiction I’ve come across–definitely got chills reading some of them. I’m trying not to think about them now, so close to going to sleep, so read those at your own risk.

Well, it’s time to write, so TTFN!

(Please be sure to read that last bit in Tigger’s voice, because that’s totally what I imagined when I wrote it.)

Checking In

IMG_1707

Hey, everybody!

I’m sorry I’ve been a bit absent the past few weeks. The good news: I’ve been involved in a pretty epic building project. It definitely feels like one of the coolest things I’ve ever made. The downside is that for the past week and a half, there hasn’t been time to do anything else. I wake up, go to work, cook dinner, and then work on my awesome project until bed. So, for the past week and a half, I haven’t managed to get hardly any writing done: no blog posts, no editing on my NaNoWriMo novel, and no update on my fan fiction.

What’s that you say? What’s my excuse for the other two weeks since I last updated?

Well, I was sick. I had the worst sinus infection I ever had. It made me dizzy, and uncomfortable, and hardly willing to sit up, much less think enough to function at work, or write when I came home. However, I’ve come to a crossroads now on what I’ve been working on the past 10 days and a little bit of a break. I wish I could tell you what I’ve been working on, but not yet. You’ll get a full accounting as soon as I can give it to you. Suffice it to say, it’s something I’ve never done before, and I’m proud of what I’ve accomplished.

I’ve written a little bit of fan fiction tonight, so hopefully an update on that won’t be too far away, although a part that I wrote before I got sick will probably have to be rewritten. If only things came out right the first time, right?

I did experiment with a few new dishes in the kitchen, including the Baked Potato Grilled Cheese sandwich this weekend. It was pretty good, but it was a lot of work for first thing in the morning. However, it was enough food to fuel my creative endeavors until dinner time.

I’ve also fallen behind on Thain in Vain‘s flash fiction challenge. Coming up with the time to write 500 words in the span of a week may not seem like a lot, but under the circumstances, I just didn’t have two brain cells or enough time to manage it. I plan to make up the stories, but I’ll get there.

I’m sorry this post is so random and rather uninformative. More is coming, I promise. I can’t wait to tell you about what I’ve been working on. In the meantime, I hope you’re having an awesome week.


That's all folks.

 

Frozen, Fantasy books, and Flash Fiction Week 3

Two posts in one weekend? I’m on a roll. And I guess I’m still procrastinating on that whole editing thing. I’ll get there eventually. Last night, I went out to see Frozen, which is, I think, one of the best things Disney has put out there in a while. It was really refreshing to see a story that was about sisters, communication, expectations, and growing up. Yes, there’s a romance in it, but contrary to the traditional 1950s and 1960s Disney, this movie is mostly about the love between sisters rather than the romantic interest. While one character thinks marrying a man she just met is a brilliant idea, because obviously it’s true love, two other characters point out that it’s absolutely ridiculous. I loved the movie.

All the same, I think my favorite part was probably during the credits. I looked down at saw 2 or 3 young girls up in front of the screen, dancing. They were probably around 5 years old. I’ll admit it, the music was good and I was dancing in my seat. It made me really happy to think, “YES, these are the Disney princesses these girls are growing up with. I’m okay with that.”

I grew up on Disney Princesses like Belle and Mulan, who put others first and risked their lives for the people they cared about, and who learned to be themselves, even when the rest of the world didn’t accept them as they were. Sleeping Beauty and Snow White never did much for me. Admittedly, if you want a great retelling of Sleeping Beauty with a princess who doesn’t just let the story happen around her, I recommend Spindle’s End by Robin McKinley.

I grew up on YA Adventure Fantasy–The Black Cauldron, Artemis Fowl, the Lord of the Rings, the Enchanted Forest Chronicles, Harry Potter, the Pendragon books, Young Wizards, and pretty much anything by Diana Wynne Jones. For the most part, these stories were about young people finding something bigger an more important than themselves and fighting for what they believed in. Artemis Fowl may not quite fit that mold, and I don’t think anyone would call Lord of the Rings a YA book. But my main point stands, that the stories were about people finding their larger place in the universe and doing good–romance in these stories tended to be more incidental than anything else.

I was fairly horrified when I came back from two years out of the country and walked into a large chain bookstore for the first time in a long while and found the YA Fantasy Adventure section by and large gone in favor of rows after rows of “Teen Paranormal Romance.” Yes, that was the tag on the shelf. Or shelves rather–there were 18 shelves on 3 book cases with that label. I think a lot of the things I found so meaningful to read when I was growing up are disappearing. The Hunger Games was refreshing in that it fell more back into that model of focusing on what was going on outside the arena of who had a crush on who. Yes there was a love triangle in it, but for the entire first book pretty much the main character had no idea either of the guys had those sort of feelings for her–she was too concerned with staying alive and protecting her sister, which really was the more important bit to be worried about at the time. She didn’t have a chance to think about anything else.

I guess I ran a bit longer on that than I meant to. I could discuss my favorite fantasy books for hours, but I’ll stop now. Here’s this week’s flash fiction entry for Thain in Vain’s flash fiction challenge.

Week Three Prompt: While at a party, two adult siblings find themselves attracted to the same person.

Sibling Rivalry

Elise shook her head, laughing. Her curls were getting just a little longer than she liked, just enough to start to swing when her sister said something inappropriate. “I can’t believe you just said that. Have you no sense of decency?”

People moved slowly about the room, eating and drinking and talking. Some of them were strangers, others hadn’t seen each other in years.

May just rolled her eyes. “If we don’t have a little fun, what else is there?” She sipped her drink. “It’s not like we’ll live forever. Besides, Jeffrey was Irish.”

Elise shook a few crumbs off her skirt from the cookie she’d had earlier. “What on earth does that have to do with anything?”

“Well, aren’t wakes supposed to be fun?”

“You’re impossible. Don’t let Mary hear you talking like that. They were together so long—this is all hard enough on her.” Her eyes strayed to the young priest on the other side of the room, chatting with Sarah-Jean. Her sister wasn’t wrong, he was a dashing specimen. He was only about forty or so and he still seemed to have all of his hair. And what a smile!

May smirked, noting her sister’s gaze. “I saw him first. I think I’m going to go thank him for such a lovely homily.”

“Oh no you’re not. Look at him all you want—I’ll probably do the same—but don’t you go making a scene,” Elise said.

May gave her older sister a smirk. “Just you try to stop me.” It took several moments for May to ease herself up out of her chair, bones creaking. Nothing really worked the way it used too. She shuffled across the room as directly as she could, but had to stop several times to catch her breath or make conversation.

Swearing under her breath in a most unladylike way, Elise put her hands out onto her walker and pulled herself to her feet. May had made fun of the walker when Elise had finally decided she needed one, but who had the last laugh now? The walker clunked against the floor as she started toward the priest. Damn May. She couldn’t be content to look at a handsome fellow, she had to go talk to him. She’d always been a precocious girl—too impulsive. She couldn’t be content to simply hang back and watch an attractive man. Elise would have been content to just watch the priest from afar and maybe smile at him but May had to go and raise the stakes.

Elise grabbed a glass of punch off a nearby table and put it in the little basket at the front of her walker. She smirked at May, who seemed to be stuck talking to Jeremy—the man didn’t have his own teeth still, let alone his own hair.

She was a little out of breath when she reached the priest. She picked up the punch with a hand that trembled only a little. “Thirsty?”

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The flash fiction ended up being 499 words, plus the title. I hope you enjoyed this week’s submission. My next goals: finish the latest chapter of my Harry Potter story, fold the laundry, and start my editing processing on The Making of a BeastFeel free to leave comments about any good fantasy books you think I might enjoy, or your thoughts on anything I mentioned above–there’s never enough people to talk about my favorite books with.

Confession

Happy Friday, everybody. Or, Saturday. I probably won’t post this until tomorrow.

I took the plunge and did something I’ve been putting off since I hit my 50,000 word NaNoWriMo goal on November 29th. I reopened my story for editing. This might not sound like a big deal–I got the words on paper, I did the hard part, right? It’s just time to go back and clean it up a bit, yeah?

Well, I have a confession to make. It’s probably going to make me sound like a bad writer. The truth is, maybe I am.

I’ve never seriously edited a story before.

I’ve sent out 1.3 million words’ worth of stories into the internet to hopefully entertain and delight fantasy fans, and I’ve never seriously edited them. Most of those stories were fan fiction. I had strong characters as my starting points and I put them in a situation and just let the characters dictate what their natural responses would be to the situation. The stories just kind of evolved, and I’d post a chapter at a time, as they came to me–there were a couple of stories that were 8 years, start to finish, as I pretty much took a break from fan fiction throughout all of college and a couple of years after and only returned to it intermittently until recently. There are pros and cons to this I suppose. Pro? I had to stick with what I’d written because it was already out there and I couldn’t change my mind about a plot point after the fact. Con? I couldn’t change my mind about a plot point because it was already out there.

Maybe it’s just a decade of habit now, but when I think about my stories, I rarely ever give much consideration to major changes. Pretty much everything I’ve posted on FanFiction.net could use going over with a fine tooth comb–there are typos that need to be fixed that embarrass me. But I’ve never really thought about dismantling the stories and changing any major facet about them. The characters told me what felt right for them and the story worked. If I didn’t know what the characters needed or I wasn’t sure where it was supposed to go…then my reviewers waited a long time between chapters.

Participating in NaNoWriMo this year and really pushing myself for the first time in writing an original story (as original as a fairytale gets), I discovered some of the problems with my method of writing. If you have characters you know like the back of your hand, characters you feel like you know as well as anyone in the real world, it’s possible to feel pretty certain that you’ve chosen a natural response for them in a situation. But what about when you don’t really know who your characters are yet? When their backstories are still largely unformed?

For example, part way through my NaNoWriMo story The Making of a Beast, I decided that the main character’s friend and confidante wasn’t a friend who he’d grown up with–it was his father’s friend, who had watched him grow up. I’m fairly certain he’s going to abandon the main character at some point, but I’m still not sure who he is and what the reason for it might be. So I just skipped over that bit.

That’s right–I skipped over chunks of the story during NaNoWriMo, which is something I couldn’t do when I was writing fan fiction. Again, you’ve got the pros and cons there–by being able to skip over it in this case I was able to keep writing, and moving on, and I know I can go back and fix it when I’ve made decisions. It’s been over a month and I haven’t wanted to think about it–I haven’t made those decisions, and I don’t have any better idea about who my characters are. When I write my fics, if I can’t decide on something or I’m not sure about it, it delays the whole process, because I can’t go back. B has to follow A and C has to follow B or the whole alphabet will hate me–though occasionally there’s a good excuse for a flashback and things can be jumbled up a bit.

Here I am now, more than halfway through January, and the only headway I’ve made is to promise myself that I will go back to this story, and that I will do NaNoWriMo again. I have 50,000+ words of unedited something with all these decisions still waiting to be made and these gaping holes in the story as I jump from one part of it to another. Thinking about it, I think I was trying to rush things. I predict all said and done this is going to be a roughly 200,000 word story. I’ve written stories over 150K before (and my current fan fic is nearly at that mark), but it’s never something like this.

I used to always find I had the best chance of editing something if I printed it out and took a pen to it–it’s easy to gloss over things on the computer. I opened my story tonight for the first time since November and started nipping and tucking at the prologue, changing a word here or there. Then I decided to print it. Surely I can do it all if I just take it a piece at a time. And then I found myself wondering what I was doing, trying to edit it piecemeal. Shouldn’t I read the whole thing again and then go to work on the pieces?

Honestly? I haven’t the foggiest. I’m leaning towards that, so that I have a better idea of what I’ve already written. I told myself from the beginning that sections of what I’ve written were probably going to have to go, but I find myself reluctant to part with any of it–something I remember feeling in the creative writing classes and projects I did a lifetime ago.

How do you feel about the editing process? Does it make you cringe? Or is there satisfaction in purging your story, making it better, getting the perfect fit for it? The perfect fit really does make a difference in most things in life. I could probably wax philosophical on that for a bit, but I think it’s time to call it a night. If I manage to hit “publish post” in the next 30 seconds, it’ll still be Friday.

Too late. Saturday is here. Oh well. It’s still Friday somewhere, isn’t it? Time to curl up and sleep.

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And before I forget, here are a few things you can expect to hear from me about in the next couple of weeks:

Stay tuned!

Flash Fiction Challenge and a New Start

Greetings, everybody!

I realize I’ve kind of been taking a break from the blog since my post-NaNoWriMo wrap-up. The new year is just getting started. In the near future I’ll post the obligatory road map for where this year is going to go–I’m seeing a fitter me, a lot more writing, making things hands on, and reconnecting with people I care about. To these ends, I’m already making progress. More that later.

To start with, I’ve decided to participate in Than in Vain’s flash fiction challenge to keep myself writing something original and have a small goal each week. I haven’t worked on my NaNoWriMo novel since I hit the 50,000 word mark on November 29th. I do plan to go back to it; I know where that story is going, I just haven’t decided how it’s getting there. I think the editing process on what I have for it so far is going to feel a lot like pulling off a scab and finding pus. It won’t be pretty, and it might hurt, but cleaning it up will help it heal. Since that’s a gross image, here’s my flash fiction badge instead (it’s much prettier).

Flash fiction badge on my blog, because it's somehow less awkward than pinning a badge to my sweater. Right?

Flash fiction badge on my blog, because it’s somehow less awkward than pinning a badge to my sweater. Right?

I only heard about the flash fiction challenge a few days ago, so I missed out on the first week’s prompt, but I was in time for the second. Flash fiction is essentially a very short story. I’ve seen some brilliant 25-50 word flash fictions in the past. For the purpose of this challenge, a flash fiction was described as a story of 500 words or less.  Thain is posting writing prompts every week. My story for this week is exactly 500 words. I  have mixed feelings about it–I haven’t done really short fiction in a long time. But here it is, take a look.

Week 2 Prompt: A writer famous for horror stories is writing a story that grows so terrifying that he/she becomes to afraid to complete it.

Reggie Sprowls was tentatively happy. It was a relatively new experience for him. He’d built his whole career on scaring others senseless. The picture tucked into the corner of his storyboard was as out of place as the woman asleep on his bed.

Soft fingers stroked his cheek, and woke him up. There was a dent on his face from where his cheek had been pressed against a pencil, and his latest draft had fallen to the floor. “Reggie, it’s late, come to bed.”

He looked up blearily, yawning. “I’m meeting with my publisher in the morning. He said what I brought him last week was rubbish.”

“I’m sure he didn’t say that,” she said, pressing her fingers to his cheek and trying to rub a little life back into it.

His head leaned back of its own accord and he closed his eyes as he let her fingers do their task. “His exact words aren’t important.”

“Come to bed. You can work on it in the morning. I want to curl up next to you.”

He conceded, and slept. Morning came and he went back to his manuscript, leaving Callie asleep in the bed. He frowned at the page. He’d never written a romance before. All of his stories ended with knives in backs and people buried alive. He was good at that sort of thing. He looked at his story about Ronald and Cathy meeting in a bookstore, exchanging awkward flirtations, an atypical courtship…and what then?
Maybe he should go back to writing about bleeding walls.

He could hear the sound of Callie puttering around the kitchenette, making breakfast. How long had he been staring at this page?
What did you do after the man and woman got together? How does it work? Relationships fail. He moved everything off his storyboard from the tree-who-got-revenge-on-the-lumberjacks story and started tacking up post-it notes and trying to find a way to make it work. There was no was no way this could end well. Ronald and Callie would fight. Or she could trip on her  wedding dress walking down the aisle and break her neck. They could die in a plane crash on their honeymoon. Ronald might fall asleep while writing and impale himself on a pencil—or a pen, a pen was definitely sharp enough to go through the throat.

There was no happy ending. He would never be happy. It was impossible. All stories ended in death. Death was the only story. He looked at the happy (if not terribly imaginative) pages he’d written about Ronald and Cathy. There would be no happy ending for them. He’d been content to know life’s miseries, and write them. This glimpse of happiness, only to take it away…it was cruel.

Callie was shaking his shoulder. She tried to talk to him, but he simply stared ahead with blank, terrified eyes, his grip tight around the pen. His breakfast had long since cooled.

Well, I’m ready to hear what you think of it.  But first? Delaying tactics! Or rather, getting back to all those things I mentioned earlier. Sound good? Great.

I’m trying to keep my goals from getting too specific, because some of the best things that happen in our life are totally unplanned. When I was in high school, I never would have imagined that I’d live in another country for two years–I didn’t even want to be too far from home for college. I ended up in college 3000 miles from home (and survived) and the spur of a moment decision to take a Mandarin class for fun eventually led to studying abroad in Shanghai, teaching English at a Taiwanese summer camp, and two years of living in Taiwan after college. It’s a strange world.

My goals this year don’t look tremendously different from last year’s goals. They can pretty much be summed up as: I want to make things (connections with people I care about, smiles, delicious meals, novels, short stories, videos, blog posts, 3D prints, crocheted hats, I want to make it all!). As you saw in my last post, I’ve had some mixed success. I wanted to become a healthier person last year (take that as you will). I strength-trained, and I got stronger. I ran (a little), and I got faster. I counted calories and cut down on sugar and carbs and lost about 20 pounds. And then I stopped lifting, running, and counting. I gained back every one of those 20 pounds (not for the first time). I’m so annoyed at myself over it–it feels kind of bitter to know that if I had managed to maintain my weight after the losses, the next 20 pounds I lose would bring me down by 40…instead, I’m having to re-lose the same weight. It doesn’t feel good–I swore to myself after the last time that I wouldn’t that again. Well, this time, I have a plan.

I need to start lifting weights again–even if it’s dumbbells on my living room floor instead of making it to the gym and getting under the barbell. I need to go back to making better decisions with what I eat, and not deciding that a rough day at work means that it’s totally acceptable to splurge on cookies. Or eat fast food because the only way I’ll actually take a break during lunch is if I leave the office. I think moderation is going to be the key. One of the incentives I came up with is to set a very limited budget on how much I can spend on ordering food out at work, say $10 a week. Whatever I don’t spend of that allotment each week will go towards treating myself to something I really love having done but don’t feel like I can splurge on very often: a massage. It gives me multiple reasons to make better eating decisions during the week.

Another thing that I decided I needed to do this year is make sure the people who are important to me know that they are. Last weekend, I called several family members and long-time family friends who I hadn’t heard from in a long while. It felt good. I missed them and it was great catching up. Until I went away to Taiwan in 2010, I never sent Christmas cards. It just wasn’t something I did.  However, Christmas cards in Taiwan were adorable, quirky, covered with glitter, sequins, and ribbons, and really inexpensive. I put out an open call on Facebook and asked who wanted a card. Exchanging addresses with friends and family I hadn’t talked to in a long while led to conversations with people I missed. It was really great. I’ve done it every year since. Also, looking at all the Christmas cards hanging around my room that year made me feel warm and fuzzy and cared for while I was 12,000 miles from home and working on Christmas while most people I knew back home had time off. To be honest, I haven’t taken this year’s Christmas cards off the mantle yet because when I see them, I smile. One of my goals for this year is to send out a card or letter every month. I’ve got three birthday cards and a belated holiday card ready to go in the mail, and I plan to write a letter to a friend who I know is finishing bootcamp this month.

Those are a few of the things I plan to do this year–there’s more, there’s always more. I need to teach myself the updated version of iMovie so I can get back to posting YouTube videos. I have a friend who’s expecting a little one at the end of this summer, and I’ll be crocheting a hat for her. There are more dishes I’d like to teach myself to cook and new skills I’d like to learn. Of course, there’s also writing. I think I’m going to have to elaborate on my writing goals at a later date, or this post will never be finished. It’s been a long week, and I’m about ready to call it a night and sink down into a bubble bath.  Maybe I’ll pick up my dumbbells first–I do have to walk past them when I get off the couch. See? It’s a start!