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Posts Tagged ‘inspiration’

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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Things that could have gone better today (mostly minor, ’tis true, but it’s barely afternoon!):

  • Tracked Hurricane Florence instead of working on my current novella.
  • Walked instead of running. Because really, I can’t run. It hurts, like everything else good for you (not really, but some days that’s how it feels). Ouch ouch ouch!
  • Forgot to take my vitamins with breakfast.
  • Haven’t cleaned today. Even odds on whether I’ll get to it at all, really. Wynonna Earp is just as awesome through a thin film of dust, right?
  • Ignored the hummingbird feeder and other oddities to wash in the laundry sink. Again.
  • I still don’t know how to get rid of the efflorescence by the laundry room drain. Or is it mold? Or some similar-looking precursor to an alien invasion that just happens to be starting in my basement? Maybe leaving it there is actually me doing a noble service to SETI-hunters everywhere?
  • There is a crack in this seemingly perfect pen blank. You can’t see it. Half the time I can’t see it. But it is there, and now all I can do is use it as a reminder that not everything works out the way you’d like, but sometimes even mistakes can be beautiful.

Enjoy your day, imperfect or otherwise!

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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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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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My bird feeder is half full.

It’s an extra large “squirrel proof” version that almost lives up to its name. It’s tall and has a red metal cap and four weight-sensitive perches designed to give smaller birds a chance against the jays and cardinals and squirrels in the neighborhood, and mostly it works. Watching birds come into the yard is fun and satisfying for both humans and felines. Except that there’s a lot less to watch these days.

I haven’t refilled the feeder since last year. And it’s still half full. Where are the birds?

I’ve been wondering this every time Mr. Man and I are out and about. We live in an established suburb and when we first moved into our house the yard hosted raccoons and rabbits and groundhogs and once, a fluffy orange fox. Now only the squirrels and a few birds remain. The city is going through a burst of expansion, so perhaps it’s no surprise that the decline in surrounding farmland is taking a toll on the wildlife. Still, this shift feels new.

* * *

A New York Times article* brought this to a head for me. It’s not the first report I’ve seen on the topic, unfortunately, but we do (with apologies to The Day After Tomorrow) appear to be reaching a critical de-avian-ization point. Agricultural practices in particular have done a number on the insect population. Is it any surprise that birds will follow?

Insects and birds are all part of that delightful staple of elementary school classrooms, the food web. The next obvious questions are, “What’s next?” and “How long until it affects us?”

Public policy is one way to improve the situation. For example, the Farm Bill helps preserve habitat on private lands and provides an often much-needed economic buffer for farmers and other land owners. Don’t have acreage at your disposal? You can still make a difference by creating bird-friendly (and pollinator-friendly) yards.

But before we can make a better world, we need to envision that world.

* * *

“We’ve all got both light and dark inside us. What matters is the part we choose to act on. That’s who we really are.”
― J.K. Rowling

One of the best things about speculative fiction is that it allows us to test drive ideas, to spin them into the future, to weigh the potential positives and negatives without actually having to live through that AI or medical or environmental apocalypse.

It reminds me of something I said to a friend facing a life-changing decision: “Whatever you decide, do it on purpose.”

* * *

“We are our choices.”
― Jean-Paul Sartre

Some of the most terrifying words in the English language are “unintended consequences.” Fiction, particularly of the speculative variety, can help steer us through those dangerous waters, between Scylla and Charybdis.

Have a goal, consider the consequences. Then act on purpose.

Making sure that we aren’t on the list of species in decline by protecting the species around us? That seems like a terrific goal.

And maybe next year I’ll have to refill my bird feeder more often.

. . . . .
* tl;dr: Bird populations in France are experiencing “precipitous declines in agricultural regions, even among common birds well adapted to human activity” and scientists point to “the loss of insects, the major food source for many birds, as a likely result of pesticide use.” And before American and Canadian readers breathe a sigh of relief, “A report two years ago said that the problems for about a third of North American birds were urgent.” Ruh-ro!

 

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I love this so much I just can’t even say. The idea that a generation of Potterheads and aspiring Jedi and would-be superheroes are tackling the big issues of the day? Absolutely fantastic.

As Time correspondent Charlotte Alter put it,

“This is not just a generation that has grown up with school shootings,” she tweeted, before building her apt analogy. “It’s also a generation that grew up reading Harry Potter.”

It’s everything I love about storytelling and everything I want for society. To those writing the good fight, from Tolkien to Rowling to all of you working to make the world a better place through storytelling…

Thank you.

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Oh hey, don’t ask me how but it’s the end of October already. This holiday I bring you the winner of The Most Awesome Costume award (as determined by yours truly):

/zomg, now I so want a speeder:)
Happy Halloween!

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