I've been meaning to do this for a while, but tonight I finally went into the LJ FAQs and figured out how to change all of my old entries to friends only. Some of my entries will stay public- things like recipes I want to share, or reviews of music/books, etc. But lots of my posts are pictures of my son or bits of plot/excerpts from my novel, and I just don't want those floating around, freely accessible in cyberspace.

If you have been lurking on my journal, feel free to add me as a friend. If I know you, I will probably add you back. If I don't know you, leave a comment on this entry letting me know why you'd like to add me.

Also FYI, I still want to change the username of my journal. Look for that to happen soon.
I am such a terrible blogger. But I'm determined to become more active here. I just need to come up with a plan for what I'm going to blog about. Writing and revising, of course. But also books in general and commercial/popular fiction in particular. Not that it's entirely relevant, but I'm also interested in other things like gardening and baking that might find favor with the internet masses. :)

And then I need to commit to blogging on a schedule. I'm going to try for MWF, with one day for a writing-themed blog, one day for a book review or general book-themed blog, and then one miscellaneous day.

Because this Monday is the Fourth of July, I will start with a miscellaneous blog about summer, cookouts, family, food, gardening, and maybe something about the remodel we're starting at my house over the three-day weekend.

See you all on Monday!

Cross-Posted from my other blog, Dreams on Paper.
I haven't stopped writing, but I have stopped blogging. This is something I need to remedy, because so much of the author-reader experience these days includes internet interaction. In this vein, I may soon break down and get a twitter account. I've been holding off for ages because I feel like twitter is contributing to the poor grammar of America. If you're restricted to 140 characters, you feel justified in taking shortcuts.

But I don't want to turn this into a rant about social media. It is a powerful force, and should not be ignored.

What I want to write about instead is workshopping.

I just got back from my third residency at the Seton Hill Writing Popular Fiction MFA program. Aside from being the only program of its kind in the country (there are plenty of MFA creative writing programs, but only one that focuses entirely on genre fiction), it is also the first writing program I've been involved with that fosters good, constructive workshop sessions. Sometimes I've stumbled into good critique groups almost by mistake, but most of my undergrad writing classes were fraught with disdain and disparagement. Often the professors egged on the students in their destructive critiques. I escaped that world and switched to studying literature (mythology and folklore was my specialty) just to keep a hold on my sanity.

But Seton Hill isn't like that.

Here's what I love:

They've learned from their mistakes. The first class you ever take at Seton Hill now is a class on critiquing. You learn the "sandwich" method (positive comment, constructive critique, positive comment), and how to explain what you feel rather than saying, "I didn't like this." Then you don't have a workshop until the next day, which gives you time to revise any critiques you may already have completed.

Every workshop is moderated by an instructor who has copious workshop experience. This is more important than you might believe. The students can easily take over a workshop unless the moderator is on top of things.

The joy of workshopping a piece is found in having so many inquisitive writer-minds focused on your manuscript for an hour. No matter what genre they write, other writers have fantastic insights into the process and can spot all sorts of things you, as the author, are too close to the work to see. I love workshops and critique groups because I get so much out of them that makes me a better writer. I hope I give a little back, too.
As an author of a fantasy series-in-progress, I feel honor-bound to defend them against negative comments.

Tonight I participated in a class chat as part of my MFA program in genre fiction. The chat's theme was characters and point of view, but about halfway into the the chat we started crossing from character into plot. We were talking about the requirements of series writing, and how to carry characters and plot over the course of a series. Someone made a comment about mystery and romance series being different than fantasy series, and I chimed in that a lot of fantasy writers view their series as one huge story/book chopped into volumes. Another member of the class shot back that that was lazy writing, a la the Wheel of Time.

A chat room isn't the best place for an argument, or even a discussion, because you can only enter so much text and in this case there were twenty or so other students who wanted to talk about other things. So my only rejoinder was that I didn't mean that the individual volumes didn't or shouldn't have their own story arcs.

But now that I have time and leisure, I want to talk about the fantasy series, and to defend my views.

The first point is that we have Tolkien to blame. When he wrote The Lord of the Rings he did not write it as a trilogy. He wrote it as one book and for various reasons (one being the cost of paper post-WWII), his publisher insisted on breaking it into three volumes. I would never suggest that other writers blindly ape Tolkien's example. After all, if you read the entire book it does have a plot arc and character development (though confined primarily to the hobbits). Tolkien knew what he was doing, but was forced to do something else instead. I mean, who would end The Two Towers with Frodo taken by the enemy and Sam in possession of the Ring? When the movies were made, they shifted events around so that Towers would have a more satisfying climax and conclusion, and it's one of the few changes I agree with.

Modern fantasy readers want their books to have good character development and good plot structure. Just furthering the overall series plot isn't enough- you have to tell a good story every time. But that big picture or big problem that follows/pushes/is pushed by your characters throughout the course of the series is just important.

I think of the modern fantasy series as an ocean tide. It's all the same water, and the goal is to hit some high point on the shore, but it is going to take a number of waves breaking on the sand before the tide comes all of the way in. Each wave is a book. It has a beginning, a middle, and an end. In each, the characters are pushed further on their own journeys and grow and change as the wave swells and curls. At the climax they crash upon the shore and then sweep back to regroup for the next book/wave. Every time they get a little farther toward their goals, and meet new challenges along the way.

Fantasy readers want big, sweeping stories with lots of scenery and characters and plots that aren't easily resolved in one 500 page volume. Stand-alones exist, but both publishers and readers are going to beg for more.

So when you write fantasy, you can't neglect the individual book problem or the overall series problem(s). You have to consider both.
Blogging appears to be something I can't stick with on a daily schedule. When I'm writing fiction, I can keep at it every day and there is an arc to the story that I am following. But writing about writing, I find a need some kind of topic to expound upon.

And lately I've been stressed and very tired. I'm in a big push to finish my current work in progress prior to the World Fantasy Convention at the end of October. I'm not going to the Con with the intent to sell the MS, but if I end up chatting with someone about my work and they're interested, I want to have the goods to produce.

I'm also working on a few pieces of shorter fiction, hoping I can get even a few minor sales under my belt to help supplement our income so my husband can quit his second job. So that doesn't leave much time for blogging. As a matter of fact, I am stealing this time away from a short story that I started working on this afternoon.

But I'm still here and alive, and I thought I'd better update so this blog doesn't become an empty space. I promise I'll have something more enlightening to talk about in a month or so, especially come November when NaNoWriMo starts. Hello, sequel to my current project!
(Crossposted from Allison Holz)

Revision is going to happen at some point or another, so the question isn't so much 'if' as 'when.'

For much of my writing life I was a revise-as-you-go sort of writer. Lots of published authors do this, so it is a reasonable method. When SJ Rozan came to talk at my MFA program in January, she told us that she writes new material every night, revises it in the morning, and then starts the cycle again the next night. I think of hers as the telephone cord method- looping around backward before going forward again.

I was never quite that organized. I would write several chapters, then go away from it for a while, sometimes weeks or months. This was also back when I would only write "when the muse struck me," so there were lots of days when I didn't write at all. When the muses appeared and the stars aligned, I would have to re-read everything to become reacquainted with my manuscript. As I read, I would start revising. But after I squandered the energy on all of those revisions, I didn't have much left for new material. I might get an extra page or so written, but never much more than that.

Even after my first few years of NaNoWriMo I still did the same thing. It took me until 2004, the year I won my first NaNo, to realize that the "write it all down then revise the crap out later" approach worked for me. I could finish stories this way. So from then on I have endeavored to take this approach to writing, both in the "write every day" work ethic and the "revise later" approach to editing.

A friend commented on my personal blog that as a short story writer she finds that she works better when she doesn't force herself to write every day. On the days she forces herself to write she just writes crap that she ends up deleting. She made the comparison to training for runners. A sprinter isn't going to need the endurance training that a cross-country runner needs. So short stories can come out in bursts whereas novels need that daily persistence.

But I should mention that, as long as you are consistently producing and happy with your writing, it doesn't matter if you write every day or just on the first and third Tuesdays of the month. It doesn't matter if you revise daily or at the end of each chapter or after you finish the whole book (or short story). Just keep on writing, keep on creating, and you'll get there eventually.
I've been telling stories my whole life, and writing them down ever since I learned how to make my letters in kindergarten. In middle school one of my English teachers recognized my crazy writer tendencies and allowed me to forego the daily writing prompts in her class in order to focus on writing a fantasy novel. I also wrote a mystery short story that year that got an honorable mention in a young writer's contest.

That little bit of encouragement sealed the deal for me. Ever since, I've allotted countless hours to the craft of writing. It's become an obsession and a desire and one of the greatest loves of my life.

Starting in 2001, I joined in with a bunch of other crazy writers on this thing called NaNoWriMo, National Novel Writing Month. In the thirty days of November, several thousand writers around the world attempt to write an entire 50,000 word novel. This goes on every year and the number of writers participating has grown exponentially. I've won twice or three times since that first year, and the experience has taught me writing discipline. To win NaNo, you have to write every day. You have to push through blocks and shove the words out on the paper until the story is done. When the story has been wrenched from the depths of your mind and is flourishing on the page, you can edit and revise at your leisure.

NaNoWriMo taught me the most important writing lesson: if you want to be a writer, you have to make it a part of your life every day, no matter if the writing is good or if it is crap. At least you're still writing.

And the beauty of it is, once you're in the habit of writing every day, you feel unsettled and unfulfilled on the days when real life interferes with your writing. You start writing because you have to, because it's what you do, not because of the muses or a whim.

Not that writing is easy just because you do it every day. Writing is hard, but it's worth every bead of sweat and every drop of blood.

Writing is my life, and I wouldn't have it any other way.

Welcome to my writing journal.
I haven't posted in a million years, but I thought I would pop in to say hello just before I head off into the wilds of Pennsylvania for Residency. My first term has been a rough one. The work hasn't been difficult, but juggling that with a full time job, a toddler who is sick more often than not, a spine injury, costume side jobs, and anything resembling free time has been a bit of a trick. Fortunately I'm insane about lists and schedules, and that keeps me in line.

I've managed to get nearly all of my critiques finished, and I should have time to finish the last two before the final workshop session on Sunday. Speaking of which, my work doesn't get critiqued until the last day this time. As a 'One,' I was critiqued on the first day of workshops, which was a bit harrowing. But it turned out to be a nice thing, because we only had two stories in our group and I got to have a lot of time and feedback. All of it was constructive and positive. Time will reveal if my next workshop will uphold that experience or dash it to pieces.

I'm falling asleep on the couch as I write this, which means it's time for bed. I still haven't packed...probably not the best thing to put off until the last minute, but laundry didn't happen over the weekend because I had to work.

Off to bed I go.
I need to actually do something about my plan to write a cooking/foodie blog. In the last two days that I've been home sick with Roland, we've watched a bunch of food-related movies. Ratatouille, Mostly Martha, Julie & Julia, and although it isn't about food per se, after watching so many food movies all I could think about while I watched Sabrina (the remake) was the food they eat.

But anyway. I've decided that like Julie Powell I need a deadline and a more specific goal to get me going on this project.

My "theme" for my blog is the DIY Kitchen. I want to write about making things from scratch, about growing your own vegetables and herbs or at least getting your produce at a farmer's market. About canning and preserving, and doing things like making your fruit preserves with juice or honey instead of refined sugar.

Unfortunately due to other obligations-- work, grad school, Roland-- this is not something I will be able to do every day. So instead I will do it twice a week. I will make one meal and dessert completely from scratch every week, probably on the weekend, and blog about it with pictures. I will also bake a different loaf of bread a week, using the King Arthur Flour Baker's Companion for my base recipes.

Here's how I plan to break this down. My original idea was to write this as a cookbook, and I wouldn't present recipes for complete meals. Instead, I would give recipe "building blocks" and at the end of each chapter give suggestions on putting things together. My style isn't so much about the recipes, but about teaching people how to cook for themselves, and let them make the creative choices.

That idea won't work quite as well in a blog, because a blog needs to be about things I've actually cooked. So I'm going to start with my first entry about what those building blocks are. Then each meal will be chosen from those blocks, and the posts will be about how I chose what and why. I will tag the entries so if someone wants to go right to entries about cream sauces, they can do that.

Because I'm sick this weekend, I'm going to do something easy to start. From the protein/meat category, I choose chicken. Mostly because I already have some on hand. From the starch category, brown rice. I'll do a medley of steamed vegetables, and cover everything with either a sweet & spicy peanut sauce or something fruity, maybe with apricots and oranges. For the dessert, I'm going to make a variation on this fudge cake from King Arthur Flour because it is easy. Something fruitier would technically go better if I do a fruit sauce, but cakes with fruit tend to be much more labor-intensive.

Then on Sunday I will bake a loaf of bread. Probably I will do a whole wheat sandwich bread, just because. Then if I have any leftover at the end of the week I will make this as my dessert for next weekend, which I can't do this week because I don't have any homemade bread and that defeats the purpose of DIY.

I will add a link on this post to my new blog as soon as I get everything set up.

EDIT (8pm):

I decided to go with wordpress to familiarize myself a little with their system. I chose a minimalistic setup that is still pretty customizable. Eventually I may buy a domain or make it a subdomain of my current website, but I can't afford the extra $6/month right now with losing the hours at work.

So, until further notice: The DIY Kitchen

EDIT (1/30, 10am): I've also created a syndication feed here on LJ. [livejournal.com profile] thediykitchen
I should be working on revisions to my novel, but instead I am going to write a review of Avatar.

Most of this review will be under a cut, as it shall be rife with spoilers. But here's the short-take. Whoever first said that Avatar should have been called Dances With Fern Gully is 100% spot on the money. There are whole scenes and story ideas stolen from those two films. And yeah, I know. There are no new ideas, only new ways of presenting those ideas. But this isn't even a new way.

Ok, on to the real review. SPOILERS LURK BENEATH! )

So there you have it. Pretty scenery, lovely music, and an engrossing alien culture. But undeveloped characters, horrific plotting, and gratuitous violence detract too much from the setting, and I can't say I would spend the money to see it again.
Excerpt from my novel:

The girl's back pressed up against the undressed stone of a high wall. An unwilling voyeur, Kieran felt the scrape of its unfinished edges against her bare upper arms as if her skin were his own. Three young men surrounded her, each much taller and bulkier than she. They ringed her with their bodies, throwing taunts and innuendos like rocks. She stood very still, but Kieran could feel the rage and fear coursing through her, clutching at him like a hot fist.

Taunts turned to touches as the oldest, who could not have been older than Kieran's own age of nineteen, reached forward with grasping fingers to fondle her breast. The girl's skin crawled as the three groped her, bruising her flesh with their eager hands.

When she moved, it surprised all of them. Her fist flew with speed, strength, and precision. Kieran heard the crack of bone in the smallest man's nose and watched with admiration as the girl swept his legs from under him with a well-placed kick. She sprang into the sudden opening between their bodies and ran.

Kieran watched as they pursued her, as she sprinted nimbly around various obstacles littering her path and scrambled over a low wall. On the other side, one of the young men caught up and grabbed her arm. As she tried to pull away, a group of teens exited the building in front of them, blocking the girl's path. Kieran felt their fear and hatred as they recognized her.

Like a pack of feral dogs scenting blood, the teens descended. The boy whose nose the girl had broken landed a punch on her collarbone. Kieran heard it snap and watched her fall back against the cobblestones. Pain blossomed in the girl's left shoulder, and burned in Kieran's own. Once her body lay prone, the group of teens began to attack with fevered glee, their blows impacting randomly and rapidly on her body. Fists and feet planted agony wherever they landed.

Kieran felt each blow as the girl screamed, lashing out with her right arm and legs as best she could. At the same time, she withdrew into her mind to keep the pain from overwhelming her body. Kieran knew the moment she delved deep inside and sensed a core of golden strength. He reveled with her in the sudden burst of power as she wrapped it around herself like a blanket. She shouted again, a cry of anger and agony, and the blows stopped.

Energy seeped out of her into the air and Kieran watched her now through a haze of golden light. She built a wall between the attacking teens and her poor abused body, and the world around her slowed. The wall was fluid but viscous, and cloudy like crystallized honey. It held the others in suspended motion, some caught in the midst of a kick or punch. Finally safe, the girl allowed her body to go limp on the ground. The pain nauseated her. Gingerly, she tried to touch her left shoulder to assess the damage. But her right arm erupted in fire as she attempted to move the tortured limb.

A rough whimper escaped her lips and she blacked out. She did not see what happened next, but Kieran did. Still reeling from the pain he had shared with her, he watched as the amber-colored wall hardened and then cracked open with a bang, tossing her tormentors to the ground. Each teen lay sprawled against the stones, unconscious, their bodies radiating outward from the girl's like a sunburst. A servant came out into the courtyard and saw them lying thus. He held his hands over his face, palms toward him, and drew them down into an X shape, a sign against evil. Then he started screaming.
Your fingers twine with mine. Although slightly thicker and more masculine in shape, your hand is nearly the same size as mine, fingers the same length. We both have an octave and a note reach on the piano. I've marveled at that fact since we first met, but today it seems even more appropriate, just one more way we fit together.

Your skin is rough, marked with the callouses of labor and the ravages of eczema, but I relish the texture against my smoother skin.

The first cord wraps around our linked hands, a symbol. We are tied with bonds of colored cord and spoken promises witnessed by everyone we love. This outward marking reveals the connection we've already felt, have always felt, since the first moment. I never believed in love at first sight, but damn it, you caught me.

I had stopped believing in soul mates, in people who fit together as though they were created in one piece then torn asunder. But your hands match mine, and now they all can see two halves made one.
under a cut tag for my friend's list )

This entry written for week 8 of LJ Idol. I'll let you decide if it happened or not.
Some of these reviews may contain spoilers. I will mark as appropriate.

The book I am currently reading is Fire: Tales of Elemental Spirits, co-authored by Robin McKinley and Peter Dickinson. There are four 40-60 page short stories, and one 110 page novella. Of the five stories, my favorite thus far is "Hellhound," the short story written by McKinley. What follows is a short review of each story. I haven't finished the novella yet, so I'll post about that tomorrow.

"Phoenix," by Peter Dickinson

Leading off the collection, "Phoenix" tells the story of a young girl drawn into an ancient cycle surrounding the phoenix of legend, amusingly named "Sonny" by his current caretaker. The story doesn't really go anywhere, but the cyclic nature is kind of the point, so I understand that. What is intriguing is the way Dickinson works with that cyclic concept to reinvent the phoenix legend. In this version, the phoenix is tied to two priests during each of its life-cycles. They are both born at the same time, at the pinnacle of the cycle. One ages forward while the other ages backward. At each cycle, they switch places. The one aging forward starts going backward, and the one who went backward is reborn somewhere out in the world nearby. The jeopardy in the story comes from the uncertainty that the cycle will continue. The premise is interesting, but I feel it would have worked better with another twenty or thirty pages of action. Not much happens, and what little action occurs you learn about by being told of it, rather than seeing for yourself. The conclusion came too quickly- Dickinson jumps from introducing an interesting plot snarl that could cause difficulties right to the end without actually seeing those difficulties take shape or become real obstacles.

"Hellhound," by Robin McKinley

Definitely my favorite, but as with "Phoenix," I felt "Hellhound's" climax happened too quickly. McKinley does a remarkable job of quickly immersing us in her world, getting us emotionally involved with her characters, and then putting them into serious jeopardy, but I do not entirely believe in the method the heroine uses to escape that jeopardy. Despite the shock-and-horror filled denouement, I felt the major conflict was almost too easily won. But I adored the brother and sister who are the main characters, and McKinley's description of people's relationships with their animals is a reflection of her own deep devotion to her two "hellhounds," deerhound/greyhound mixes she has nicknamed "Chaos" and "Darkness" for her blog. Although main character Miri's "dog" is like no real dog in the world, McKinley's understanding of the human/pet connection is flawless and makes me yearn for a new dog!

"Fireworm," by Peter Dickinson

Perhaps the most complete of the short stories, Fireworm actually feels like a "traditional" short story with a beginning, middle, and end. It was well-plotted and paced, and had a very fitting ending. I enjoyed the way storytelling was woven into the tale, and how Dickinson relied heavily on mythic elements and legendary tropes. The story is a hero's transformation tale, taking us on the journey that turns unwanted orphan Tandin into a heroic Spirit Walker. It would take lots of space to discuss in detail each of the mythic ingredients Dickinson uses to spice his soup, but to name a few: journey into the Otherworld, physical transformation, born to no father/god for a father, paying a price for magic/knowledge, etc. Set in a primeval, pre-iron age world, the dichotomy of the ice of winter and glacier with the fire of mankind works brilliantly on both the physical and metaphoric levels. Dickinson also lets us see the "villains" of the story as sympathetic beings, a welcome change from the black/white, good/evil you see in many fairy-tale or myth based stories.

"Salamander Man" by Peter Dickinson

This story threw me for a bit of a loop. It also has all of its constituent parts in the right order, but although I understand what happens in the story, many of the motivations of the characters are non-existent. The central part of the story is the transformation of the main character into a giant man of flame. Yet he does not do this consciously, and the narrative even has to switch to third person omniscient to tell that part of the story because third person limited can't accurately describe what is happening to a character who understands almost nothing himself. In the end, what might have been spectacular is only interesting because you have no emotional involvement with the main character. I basically put it down and thought, "oh, whatever."

Tomorrow I will review First Flight.
We sit in darkness, munching trail bars we made together last night. You reach for my hand, and I give it knowing it may be the last time. We've had many firsts, and we've begun to have our "lasts," now, too.

Seven weeks, a moment stolen out of time.

I scuff my boots against the rock, listening to the scrape of stones as they skitter down the rockface beneath us. "I'll come visit you, later this summer," you say.

Maybe you will, but I already know it won't be the same. I'll be back in the real world, my reality, of school and friends and family and life. I say nothing, but squeeze your hand. I want to stay in this moment; I don't want to think about what is going to happen next.

The sky is turning grey. Some of the stars are too faint to see.

"What is your favorite memory of Colorado?" You ask, just to get me talking. You don't like silence, and I understand you need to fight off your melancholy with words.

"Hiking Audubon, probably," I answer, but I know you need more than that, so I elaborate. "I don't know if anything else in my life will ever quite compare to that experience."

"I've been to the top of mountains before, but the view from that one was pretty spectacular." You lean over, rub your lips against my hair. "So's the view right now," you say, and I feel my heart breaking open, a burst of pain and need and sorrow like the paintbrush smear of pink and orange and gold bursting over the far horizon. I look away from the sky, up into your big brown eyes.

"It's ok, I guess," I tease, and you lean over to kiss my mouth. After a moment I turn away, looking back out to the sky. "My last Colorado sunrise."

"Will you come back next year?"

I wonder if my answer will influence yours. "Maybe. I'll be graduating next spring, so I probably won't have time."

"I've still got a few years before I finish my MFA, but I might do summer stock at home." Hedging, just like me. That's ok. Maybe we both need the lifeline: the belief, however false, that what we have between us can somehow continue.

A red sliver appears above Boulder, thousands of feet below us. You put your arm around me, and we hold on to each other as we watch the sun rise.

(this entry was written for my week 6 entry to LJ Idol)
It's that time. I didn't publicize the last two votes because one of them was for community-members only and I didn't feel right asking anyone else to join a community they had no interest in. The other one was my pie recipe, and the vote was over a weekend- generally when my friends list is away from their computers. This week the voting ends on Wednesday.

It took me a while to decide what to write this time, with the theme "Bearing False Witness."

The Poll

My Entry

If you like what I wrote, please vote! This has given me an excuse to blog about something here on LJ other than NaNo!

And speaking of NaNo, here's my progress:

42327 / 50000

I wanted to be at 45k today, but it was the first day in a long time that Steve was home a whole day, so I spent most of the day with him and Roland. No regrets! I just won't be finished before Thanksgiving unless I give up a lot of sleep this week.
I am sitting on the floor, feeling the scratchy carpet against the bare skin of my legs, blundering my way through a paperback novel. I think I've been sitting in this room my entire life.

I started out sitting on the torture-device masquerading as a couch, with its thin unyielding cushions and sharp ninety-degree angle that encourages stiff, correct posture. After ten hours I feel I am due for a little slouching, so I move to the floor.

They call it a Waiting Room, and I've never heard a more apt title. All you do here is wait. I dare you to try and do anything else in here. I've tried hand-held video games, magazines, puzzles, writing, and reading both fiction and non-fiction books. I tried to do homework, I tried to draw. Something about this room defies all of your efforts to think about anything else than the person you are waiting for. Maybe it's the rows of harsh fluorescent lights, or the TV set to eternal news channels played at a distractingly high volume.

I can't concentrate in here. I can't breathe in here. "I have to go to the bathroom," I tell my father. He nods. He's just waiting, too. I've seen him leafing through papers to grade without picking up a pen, and just staring into his book without turning the pages.

The bathroom is somehow better than the Waiting Room. It's just like any other public bathroom anywhere. I'm a girl, so we get stalls and sinks, at least one handicapped stall, and a baby changing station. The floors are always some kind of cheap tile, the walls coated in high-gloss easy-to-clean paint. There are even familiar names on the toilets, paper-dispensers, and stall doors (don't tell me you haven't read the brand names while sitting in the stall at some point. You know you have).

I finish my business, wash my hands like a good girl, and dry them under the super-jet-speed hand drier. As I leave the bathroom, I think, "what now?" This little trip at least gave me something to do. I wander down a hallway, and I can smell it. It's too sweet, with bitterness beneath. The harsh antiseptic odor of industrial cleaner tries to mask the scent, but nothing can. People are dying here, people despair. People are being saved, too, and I try to remember that. But I've been watching for years as the cure kills my mother just as suredly as her disease.

I find myself back in the waiting room. My father is gone- I panic, until I see the note he's left on the chair: "Just got a call from the nurse's station. Your mom's in recovery now, and they're letting me go see her. I'll be back soon."

Recovery. We shouldn't have to recover from the procedures that are meant to make us well.

It seems like hours, but is only fifteen more minutes before Dad is back in the room. "She's very groggy, but doing ok. They had to do some repair work because the shunt in the artery failed. They thought she might lose the kidney, but she seems to be doing ok now. Another few days and she would definitely have lost it."

I feel...everything. A mix of hope, pain, anger, elation, despair. "When can I see her?"

"When she gets down to the room."

Another hour passes before the nurse calls to tell us Mom is in her room. My steps are too eager, I rush down the halls while my father trails behind me. We make a wrong turn before we find the room, but eventually we get there. When we walk in I think we must have been given the wrong room number, as well as bad directions. I don't recognize the woman in the bed. Her skin is waxy, nearly a true white, her hair oily and limp around her puffy face. There are tubes everywhere, taped in place with huge yellowish white strips. Who is this woman? Three machines beep beside her bed, a kind of mechanized cacophony that I cannot believe she is sleeping through.

Dad approaches the bed and takes her hand. "Wake up, hon," he whispers. The eyes open, but even they are not the same. I can see they are the same color, the same shape, as my mother's eyes. But these are bloodshot, the pupils dilated, her gaze unfocused. She mumbles something in a voice I do not know. Dad seems to understand this strange gibberish- he picks up a cup on the bedstand and pulls out a green swab. He dabs it on her mouth, and she licks eagerly. I can smell the spearmint. For the rest of my life, the smell or taste of spearmint will always take me back to that hospital room, to the crushing despair and disbelief of a child who has seen her mother- the goddess figure of her childhood who was all the hearth and home deities of ancient myth combined- transformed into a lifeless shell, a mockery of a mother.

She looks at me, and mumbles. I hear my name. "Carrie," she says, and I go to her. I am on the opposite side of the bed from my father. I take the limp hand, feeling the cold flesh that makes me think of corpses, seeing the shiny wide tape and big white bandage over the old IV line in her wrist. She has a central line, now. She's been in the hospital for two weeks, and though I don't know it yet will be here for several more.

"Mom," I say, and I smile. But these are lies: the smile, the name. This is not my mother, and I am devastated, broken.

I don't know what I expected. I don't know what I was waiting for, all those hours in that room. But it wasn't this. Still, I smile. I hide the confusion, the pain, the loss. I bury them beneath a forced cheer so bright I must be lighting up the whole hospital. But a part of me has died; the part that was still innocent, the part that believed in miracles. The part that believed in God.

"You're so beautiful," I tell her, and my smile stays on over the lie. "I'm so happy to see you."

(This is my week five entry for LJ Idol. It is also a true story.)
A Dark Alchemy.

That's what I'm calling the pie recipe I made this weekend. It started off its life as the "Midnight Mocha Pie with Cafe Au Lait Crust" in the King Arthur Flour Whole Grain Baking Book, but that is just too boring a name for the pie that resulted from their recipe + my slight alterations.

(For those of you reading this via a direct link on LJ Idol, if you want you can skip the recipe and go down to the "~*~*~" part. On my friend's list the recipe is under a cut-tag)

A recipe for turning a few simple household ingredients into dessert gold. )


Prior to making this pie, the only chocolate pie I'd ever eaten (other than Boston Creme, but that's not really a pie...) was the one some of you may have been unfortunate enough to experience at a family gathering at some point in your holiday past. That "pie" is basically just chocolate pudding inside of a tasteless white flour crust. In fact, if the crust were to have any flavor notes at all, I would call them bitter/acrid/a little like feet.

This is not that pie. For one thing, this crust has flavor. Allowing the dough to rest in your refrigerator for a few days makes the tiny hint of espresso powder you add to the crust just SING. The texture of the crust is dense and chewy, like an apple or pumpkin pie crust, not phyllo-y like the evil chocolate pie of my childhood.

But the crust is just the beginning (that is, if you eat your pie like I do. I always eat the crust end first). The filling is where the truly dark alchemy happens.

I do not know how or why, but the "setting up" the King Arthur Flour book claims will occur with refrigeration never quite happened with my pie. And let me tell you that was a very, very good thing. The top of the pie formed a crust, as advertised in the book, a little like the thin crispy layer on the top of fudge brownies. As a matter of fact much of the pie was a similar consistency to a very dense, wet, and intense chocolate brownie. But the true joy of this pie revealed itself within the first slice.

As I cut into the pie for the first time, I had no idea what lay within its dark depths. But when I pulled the slice away from the pie, out spilled a rich black syrup. It was a surprise, like cutting into one of those chocolate lava cakes thinking you've just got a regular old mini-bundt cake. Placing my slice on the waiting plate, I could not resist swiping up some of the syrup with my finger. And ah, my taste buds! I've never tasted anything quite like it. Far more than the sum of its parts, it still resonated with hints of kahlua and espresso, bittersweet Green & Blacks, and Hershey's Dutch process cocoa. I have no idea how the syrup formed in the center of the pie- above and below the syrup layer the filling formed denser brownie-like layers. Most pies are wet by nature (think of the rich fruity syrup formed in blueberry pie, for example), so I suppose I shouldn't have been surprised, but whatever strange alchemy occurred truly did produce dessert gold.

This syrup would make an excellent topping for vanilla ice cream, and I would have jumped at a chance to pair the two had I any in the house at the time. If you make this recipe for a gathering, be sure to buy a half gallon of vanilla bean Breyers to serve with it. And although you need to keep the pie refrigerated, I'd recommend heating the slices for just a few seconds in the microwave, then adding a scoop of ice cream on top before serving.

I dare you to make this pie. Take a bite. Your tastebuds will sing out with pleasure at the devastatingly dark beauty in the marriage of chocolate and espresso. Go ahead. Try it.

(EDIT- I had one slice left, so I took some pictures. What good is a food blog without photographic proof?)
A Dark Alchemy
A slice of dark beauty.

Dripping with Syrup
See how the chocolate flows...
My last LJ Idol post was about the long battle my husband and I fought to get pregnant. This week's topic lends itself perfectly as a follow-up.

LJ Idol Week 3 - Smile! )
"I passed a mass," I told my husband. I felt the hard plastic of the chair beneath me, stared through the glass in front of me to the fish swimming through the green water beyond. When I turned my head, I saw he didn't understand. "Earlier today, at work," I added, as though that would elucidate anything. But I couldn't say the words, couldn't make my mouth move over the sounds I needed to speak: 'I think I miscarried.'

We had been trying to get pregnant for a year. I put off going to my doctor for ages, afraid I would be told I couldn't have children at all. When I finally went, she told me I had no "gross physical abnormalities" that would keep me from conception, but that my hormone levels and the cysts on my ovaries probably meant I had poly-cystic ovarian syndrome. The good news was the ultrasound showed a cyst on my ovary, and assuming it actually burst and released an egg (not always guaranteed with PCOS), I might be able to get pregnant if we tried right away.

So we tried. I started planning a trip to Germany and Switzerland with one of my best friends, and was excited to think that I might take my baby with me across the Atlantic. I was late, although late means almost nothing with PCOS. Sometimes my cycle lasts 20 days, sometimes 70. But I hoped, and put off taking a pregnancy test because I didn't want to be disappointed. Then I went to work one morning and my hope died.

A week later, I flew to Europe. In Switzerland, we visited the Jungfraujoch, known as the "Top of Europe." I climbed out onto the observation deck at 11,388 ft above sea level between the peaks of the Monch and the Jungfrau in the Bernese Alps. I watched snow swirl with puffs of cloud, stared down at the valley almost ten thousand feet below, where we started our morning only an hour before.

I remembered the first time I stood on a mountain peak, four years prior in Colorado. A group of friends and I hiked Mt Audobon in the Indian Range of the Rockies. It took us a whole morning and into early afternoon to climb the four mile trail up to 13,233 feet above sea level. The last hundred feet of the mountain was excruciating. I literally crawled up the scree, resting every few moments because my lungs could not take in enough oxygen. But once I reached the summit, I forgot the weakness in my limbs, the burning in my chest, and the twinges of headache. I thought I could see forever; peaks as far as the eye could see, all the way to the Continental Divide. I felt free, standing on top of the world. We ate lunch and any remaining pain and weariness fled. As we descended the mountain, every step held a hidden spring. We sang show tunes and folksongs, told jokes and laughed like madmen. We were alive, and the mountain had proved it to us.

We had taken a cog-train to the Jungfrau. Only an hour's ride to rise ten thousand feet; we expended no effort. We sat comfortably in our padded train seats and watched the amazing Alpine scenery as we passed through the lower tree-lined slopes and up into the rocky, snow-swept heights. Yet standing at the top of Europe, I felt sick. The rapid ascension to the higher altitude and lower oxygen levels brought on nausea and a migraine. Everything we did at the Jungfraujoch was spectacular: standing in the snow-spray of the pass, walking inside the Aletsch Glacier, sitting in a cafe with a bird's eye view of Alpine peaks. I could not concentrate on these wonders, could not feel the exhilaration I felt at Mt Audubon. I just felt sick. I slept the whole train-ride back down the mountain, and the headache lingered until the next day.

When I returned from Europe, my OBGYN started me on hormone therapy. Finally, after over a year of trying, we conceived. To our joy, we did not miscarry a second time. Our son was born in December of 2007, and having him is all the sweeter because of how long and how hard we tried before we could become pregnant.

So I have to remind myself: easy isn't always better. Sometimes having gone through the struggle is what makes the destination worthwhile.

July 2011

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