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What I’m reading today:

Pretend It’s Aliens
A neat mental trick to understand the climate battle ahead.
By Farhad Manjoo

It’s Valentine’s Day today, and I love this essay! (Also Mr. Man and my family and unicorns, but this I can share:) It’s a genius way of identifying one of humanity’s main flaws when it comes to making change, and then (here’s the good bit) finding a way around it.

…climate change is not war. There is no enemy, other than ourselves. And we are very bad, as individuals or collectively, at fighting ourselves over anything.

This thought chilled me.

Then, one late night after taking a dose of a kind of sleep medicine that is now widely available in California, I had an epiphany:

Pretend it’s aliens.

For years I’ve been saying that if aliens invaded, we’d get over our internecine squabbles pretty damn quick. Sadly, it would also require an actual alien invasion. And while movies of same tend to end with triumphant human victories, they generally don’t show the part where we have to bury all the bodies.

Unless it’s not pretend at all?

Just, you know, saying!

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From the Library of Congress:

Today in History – February 7
On February 7, 1867, Laura Elizabeth Ingalls, the author of the beloved semi-autobiographical Little House series, was born in Wisconsin, the second daughter of Charles and Caroline Ingalls.

Little House on the Prairie etc. were some of the first real books I read.* They were also where I learned (among many other things) to make candy from maple syrup and snow, twist straw into logs, cast bullets, make candles, that nails were once a precious commodity, and that life before modern medicine was often hard and sometimes deadly.
***
Speaking of modern medicine, I’ve been following the new measles outbreaks. Here’s a little public service announcement:

“Are you feeling all right?” I asked her.
“I feel all sleepy,” she said.
In an hour, she was unconscious. In twelve hours she was dead.
— Roald Dahl, on his daughter Olivia and Measles

 

Now, some people can’t be vaccinated.** That’s why the rest of us should. “You are a human shield”! (I love that, and I love being a real-life superhero and all-around good neighbor.) Thank you to the researchers who made vaccines possible, to the public policies making it a requirement, and to my parental units for helping me be part of a healthy community by keeping my vaccinations up to date!

***

* Ok, Hop on Pop and other such books are real too, but these had chapters and everything! Also Little House was only semi-autobiographical and had some race issues, but acknowledging that lets us know how far we’ve come.

** For more on the “don’t” rather than the “can’t,” check out this TED Talk: Why (Some) Parents Don’t Vaccinate.

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So, November.
/vroom!

Yeah. Like that.

November is (of course!) National Novel Writing Month. I’ve taken part for the past however many years, and it has been fun. I laugh, I write, I cry, I win. Then I collapse in a mostly useless heap for the next many weeks. The holidays don’t help post-NaNo productivity, of course, but I don’t know that a draining push to write write write write does either. I’m looking for sustainable output.

I’m also distracted this year. As mentioned, I’ve taken up woodworking and it’s fun. I like the challenge, I like the creativity and idea generation, the inevitable roadblocks, problem-solving, and the triumphant conclusion.

It’s a lot like writing, actually, only with more finished product and results that don’t depend on the vagaries of editorial preference.

So this November, I decided to do something a little different. Instead of NaNoWriMo, I opted for NaNoMakeMo.

Me, one month, making stuff, with the definition of “stuff” being flexible. Words, wood, whatever. I’m one of those people who can be well and truly stuck on one project but super productive on another. As long as I’m working on whatever my secret brain wants to pay attention to, much gets done.

I decided to use this quirk to my advantage. It’s a classic productivity trick called structured procrastination. I may have mentioned it here before.

The first rule is there are no rules.

Write, turn, bake, sew, whatever. The goal is what’s important, not how to get there, and for November the goal was simple: Make more stuff.

I pulled on my big girl work clothes and got to it.

/insert 30 days of work work work work work.
/ok, fine, I didn’t work all 30 days
/some days I sat inside by the fire and read, because winter and cold and snow, people!

* * *

So how did the first inaugural NaNoMakeMo go?

My original plan was to post updates (with photos and witty commentary even!) as I went along, sharing each and every project through the twists and turns of the creative process. When that didn’t happen, I decided to make an awesome advent calendar-style image map linking all of the awesome into one aesthetically-pleasing package.

Yeah, that didn’t work out. Images and updates take time. Thinking about how to frame a project takes time. Stepping back from the desk or workbench or computer takes time and also the sort of mental space I don’t always have when I’m mid-stream. And the interweb informs me that image maps have been out of style Like For Ever.

Too bad, I was going to use this fun image. It pretty much sums up my month.

Instead you get this uber post. Also, I made this list.

(Yes, that’s my list handwriting. It is both teeny tiny and impossible to read, or so I’ve been told. I have no trouble with it at all. Let me just get a magnifying glass;)*

* * *

So how did it go? Pretty well, actually.

I got a lot done on a lot of different projects, which I find very satisfying. Rather than feel I’ve ignored much of life in order to focus on one dimension, writing, I’ve made progress on multiple fronts.

For evidence of same, please see Exhibit A (note: some projects have been excluded in the interest of maintaining holiday-related surprises;)

I made things, I broke things, I learned more about what to do and what not. Yay:)

* * *

What would I change? Next time I might plan a bit more. Fifty thousand words is a little nuts but having a target helps your aim, you know? Goals and also alternatives, for when the old attention span is minimal and absolutely everything looks interesting except the work on the desk. Maybe I’ll list the different possibilities on little pieces of paper and keep them in a jar for when I need to pull out a new project.

(Teeny tiny lists on teeny tiny scraps of paper, in a Swedish glass jar. Because that’s how I roll, and if there’s one benefit to the passing years, it’s figuring out new ways to work around my own crazy:)

In sum: NaNoMakeMo may be a less dramatic way to approach creativity than NaNoWriMo but it’s also, at least for me, more sustainable. And in the end, a productive, constructive life is the true goal.

And so I declare the inaugural NaNoMakeMo a pretty not-bad success. Here’s hoping you enjoyed your month too!

* * *

* The point usually isn’t the reading. It’s about thinking, and the process of sketching out an idea or problem helps me think it through. I find that works best when I’m scribbling on the back of some envelope, or a scrap bit of paper or the corner of a random flyer. Who says no one uses the mail anymore?

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It’s a rainy Sunday afternoon and I’m in the mood for a little fun. If you are too, check out this trick over at NPR. Mr. Man and I just tried it and it is exactly as cool as it looks.

Mwahahahaha! Oh, and the idea to use this technique to ease childbirth is fascinating too.

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Where I’ve been (at least in part):

What I’ve been doing (at least in part):

I hope you’re enjoying your summer too!

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Tonight’s dinner:

pasta with citrus shrimp and French sorrel, Swiss chard, lemon thyme, basil, garlic chives and cherry tomatoes from the garden.

This is about the extent of our bounty so far. It may have been 94F today but it’s still Canada, the growing season starts late and ends early. Still fun!

The astute observer may also have noticed a bright splash of color in the background. That’s my favorite new summer beverage, Ace Hill’s grapefruit Radler. So, so much nommity goodness!

/yeah, I’m buying it by the case

#noregrets!

 

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This is the latest version of my favorite chocolate cake recipe. It has been used (extensively) for layer cakes, sheet cakes, and cupcakes. Why a new recipe? With tweaks to the fat portion of the ingredients, this version has even more flavor (sorry, Canada, flavour), than the original, and is still simple, easy and quick to make. Oh, and if you happen to forget the butter and coconut oil in the microwave, this works as a fat-free recipe too. Ask me how I know;) I’ve also included an updated frosting recipe, because that’s what friends are for. It’s metric, because these days, that’s how I roll.

I like it. I hope you do too!

Truly Excellent Chocolate Cake, v. 2.0

Cake:
2 C. sugar (400g), half white, half brown
2 C. all-purpose flour (250g)
3/4 C. cocoa powder (88g)
2 t. (11.5g) baking soda
1 t. (4.3 g) baking powder
½+ t. (5g) kosher salt
2 eggs
1 C. buttermilk (or 1 scant cup milk, warmed with 1 T. white vinegar)*
1 C. coffee
2.8 oz. (80g) butter, melted
1.16 oz. (33g) coconut oil, melted
2 t. vanilla

1. Preheat oven to 350F. Prepare one 9″ x 13” pan, two 8/9” cake pans, or 24 standard muffin tins, with butter and flour/cocoa powder or line with parchment paper (a lot less trouble).
2. Mix sugar, flour, cocoa, soda, powder and salt in a large bowl.
3. Add remaining ingredients, beat for 2 minutes.
4. Pour into baking pans and bake until tester comes out clean (30-35 minutes for cake pans, 35-40 minutes for large pan, or 22 minutes for cupcakes).
5. Let cool 10 minutes and remove from pan. Frost when cool.

* Note: I usually make a cup of coffee in a 2C glass measuring beaker, then add the vinegar and fill up to the two-cup line with milk. Voila!

. . . . . .

Buttercreamcheese Frosting:
100g butter, softened
160g cream cheese, softened
560g powdered sugar
pinch of salt, to taste
~½ t. vanilla
2 T. lemon juice, or some combination of lemon, orange juice concentrate, milk, cream, and/or Grand Marnier; this is the flavoring portion so tweak at will!

1. Cream butter and cheese together until whipped smooth, fluffy and white (can take up to 5 minutes but it’s worth it).
2. Sift powdered sugar, add to butter mixture in two parts, blend.
3. Add flavorings and beat another ~3 minutes until smooth, light, and spreadable. Adjust liquid as necessary to reach desired thickness.

Works well for anywhere you need a mostly white frosting, and colors well. Just ask my friend Uni the Unicorn!

Uni the Unicorn was a present for a six-year old’s birthday: Six layers of chocolate cake with buttercreamcheese frosting, a little marshmallow fondant for the eyebrows, and magic!

 

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