Sunday, October 23, 2016

Cooking Isn't That Different From Writing

No cooking today. I didn't even make meals, living off leftovers from take-out and Friday night's trip to a restaurant. After serious cooking the last two weekends and then taking part of Friday off to prep for a family event yesterday, I was finally able to get my couple of hours of sitting on the couch and reading. I didn't get nearly enough done, but that's life, right?

Unnecessary Creativity

I started writing about my cooking here because I consider it unnecessary creativity. "...creative acts--making something, anything, that didn't exist  before--that are unrelated to an individual's work. "...something about engaging in the creative act on our own terms seems to unleash latent passions and insights." In other words, creativity spurs creativity."

Sure enough, last weekend I had a creative thought over a pot of spinach soup.

Like A Rough Draft

Pre-pureed spinach soup
Okay, so I was interested in trying spinach soup. Why? I like soup, like to eat it several times a week, particularly pureed soups. I was getting tired of carrot and squash and heard about spinach soup somewhere. You know, like when you've been writing in the same style for a long time and you want to mess with structure?

So I found this recipe that called for zucchini as well as spinach. Well, I like zucchini. The recipe didn't call for very much stock, but I've been making soup regularly for a few years now, so I thought I could add more. And where was the thickener? I'm an experienced soup maker. I threw in a quarter of a cup of rice.

Post-pureed serviceable spinach soup
Pre-puree the soup wasn't anything I wanted to show to anybody. Post-puree, it was...serviceable. It was a serviceable soup, like a serviceable piece of writing. I could think about the soup for a while. In fact, I froze it in batches so I can keep trying it and thinking about it for quite a while, the way you should think about a rough draft for quite a while. I have rough drafts I've been thinking about for years.

Also, I've lost the recipe I used. And even if I had it, I made a lot of changes that I don't fully recall. Talk about a work-in-progress.

Finding Treasures In Your Filing Cabinet

Well, it's cookie dough, anyway
I make a big effort to keep my drafts organized and labeled so I can quickly put my hand on them. Should I want to. But, it never fails. Something always slips through the cracks. Like the container of cookie dough I found in one of the freezers last weekend. (I'm sure you're not surprised to hear that I have two. The one in the garage is like a tank. You can't do anything to stop it.) I thought it was cookie dough, but what kind? It was in the freezer because at the time I started it, I couldn't finish. Now I could do something with it. But what was it?
I was able to turn it into something

It was mint chocolate chip! And, yes, I was able to finish the job.


Like outlining for later writing time
After a little research, I came up with something fantastic this weekend. Turns out, you can freeze raw scones and then bake them the day you need them so they'll be fresh! This is major. And even more major? I found a recipe for yeast rolls that could be made and shaped the day before and then baked when you need them. I had recipes to do this with sweet rolls, but I wanted savory ones. If you have to bake yeast bread the day before you need it, you are serving day-old bread, my friends.

Okay, okay. I was experimenting for a family event. A birthday brunch. For an eighty-nine-year-old. But I'm used to experimenting. All writing is experimenting. Right? I mean, unless you do the same thing all the time. Experimenting is what I do.

I just write and cook and write and cook.

Another weekend, another Weekend Cooking post.                                         

Friday, October 21, 2016

What Did You Do This Week, Gail? Oct. 17 Edition

It's easy to stay focused on one goal when it's close to being completed. I find that to be the case, at least.

Goal 2. Prepare Mummy Hunters for Submission. I'm getting close to the end of this. I can feel it. I'm careening between believing this thing is hopeless, finding brilliant fixes, brilliant I tell you, and getting excited about what I'm going to do when this is done.

Goal 5. Community Building/General Marketing/Branding

Promote History in the Kitchen post to Google+ Twitter
Lit Tourism post
Promote Lit tourism post to Google+ Facebook+ Facebook community, Twitter
Time Management Tuesday post
Promote TMT to Facebook, Google+, Google+ community, Twitter
Lucy Variations post
Promote Lucy Variations post to Facebook community, Google+, Twitter
Call for CCLC
Begin CCLC
Goodreads reviews: Zita, Red Shirts, Lucy Variations
Goodreads blog post

Thursday, October 20, 2016

The Music Stopped

Ever listen to NPR's From the Top with Christopher O'Riley? An hour of interviews with and performances by highly talented and incredibly charming young classical musicians? Yeah, well, Lucy Beck-Moreau, the teenage concert pianist in The Lucy Variations by Sara Zarr, is never going to be a guest on that program.

Lucy is getting ready to perform in an international music competition when she walks away because of a family crisis. The price she pays? Well, the music stops. The applause stops. The attention stops.

There's a lot going on in this book that's familiar. The controlling grandfather. The mother who is trying to compensate because her own youthful career fizzled out. The well-meaning father who is too weak-willed to have an impact on his daughter's situation. What is different and striking is the music teacher, Will. He has the potential to be the stereotypical teacher who changes the protagonist's life. But he so isn't.

The Lucy Variations is an engaging read, even for those of us whose experience with classical music is limited to listening to it on the radio. The book opens a door into a world where people find their passion early and are willing to train hard and long to serve it. And then there is Will.

Tuesday, October 18, 2016

Time Management Tuesday: The Zeigarnik Effect And Procrastination. Really?

It's not often that I come across something new and wonky related to time management. I stumbled on the Zeigarnik Effect while reading about productive people. The Zeigarnik Effect is supposed to help them. I suppose whether they actually know about it or not.

This is a cool story. A Russian psychologist, Bluma Zeigarnik, noticed while she was in a restaurant that waiters could remember orders that hadn't been fill yet but forgot them once they had been. Zeigarnik did a series of experiments and "concluded that the “recall-value” of unfinished tasks is high because it’s human nature to complete a task we’ve already started."

Sounds Like A Story

Personally, I wonder if the concept of "story" is a factor here. Story is a huge presence in our lives, and we desire to see a story completed. If you think of a "task" as a "story," an uncompleted task becomes an unfinished story. The person who hasn't completed the task is left hanging. In fact, TV cliffhangers and Charles Dickens' serial writing have been described as examples of the Zeigarnik Effect at work. The viewer/reader must come back for more, because the story isn't done.

What Does This Have To Do With Managing Our Time?

Supposedly the Zeigarnik Effect can help procrastinators because once they make themselves start a project, they're likely to finish it. The Zeigarnik Effect makes it difficult for you to let go of something you've started. "Knowing that your brain will nag you to complete it should make it easier to dive in."

I have my doubts about that. If the Zeigarnik Effect worked all that well, there wouldn't be hard drives and filing cabinets filled with unfinished manuscripts, basements and spare bedrooms  wouldn't be filled with unfinished craft and DIY projects, and there would be none of those weird half-finished bridges and highways to nowhere. I wonder if the Zeigarnik Effect isn't more of a factor with shorter- term tasks--like filling a meal order--then long-term ones that could take weeks, months, or years to complete--like writing a book.

What's more, the Zeigarnik Effect may be more about memory than it is about procrastination or managing time. A later study also suggests that motivation plays a hand in how well the Zeigarnik Effect works.

However, if you want to see if the Zeigarnik Effect has an impact on your work or is something that could have an impact on your work, consider the following:

  • How are you about completing your shorter tasks? Personally, I'll go into contortions to finish a blog post. I'm also obsessed with the CCLC. This may be the Zeigarnik Effect at work. Keep ZE in mind when you need to get started on something short. Starting it may very well mean that you have to finish.
  • Some proponents of the Zeigarnik Effect suggest using what I call the Unit System to break your work time up into small units. Presumably each unit of time becomes a task which, once begun, you will feel you have to finish. As you knock off more and more units, you get more and more deeply into the larger task. Theoretically, at some point your mind sees the big task as the uncompleted task and will want to keep going.
  • Warning: Remember completion bias "our natural tendency to focus too much on tasks that are easy to complete -- often at the expense of the tasks that are more important?" Be careful to make sure that the Zeigarnik Effect doesn't work together with completion bias to keep you focused on short tasks that you can complete and get off your mind to the detriment of the big jobs.
This little job is now done. I really need to go back to work on the big one.

Monday, October 17, 2016

On The Trail Of "Misty Of Chincoteague"

On vacations I like to visit author homes. This year I couldn't find an actual author home. So, instead, we ended up spending a couple of nights on Chincoteague Island, Virginia. Yes, that's Chincoteague of Misty of Chincoteague fame.

I read that book a long time ago. Loooong time. Pretty much all I remember is a pony...some kids...horses swimming... It was enough for me to drag my family there maybe fifteen years ago when we were driving south and saw a sign for Chincoteague. It was enough to take me back on this trip. However, I wasn't enthusiastic about rereading the book. As one of my relatives said, "You no longer want a pony."

So I have nothing to say about the book. But I had a neat time on the island. And I have pictures.

I'm not using any footnotes here. My info comes from signs on the walls in a National Park building, a municipal park kiosk, and a cool gift shop owner I was yakking with while waiting for the bearings on my bike to be replaced at Mid Town Bike Store, which I only mention because the place is fantastic.
Ponies on Va. end of Assateague


Okay, first off, Misty may be of Chincoteague, but she wasn't actually from Chincoteague. She was from another island, Assateague, which is close enough to Chincoteague that, if you are a healthy horse, you can swim from one island to the other. Interesting bit of trivia--two-thirds of Assateague Island is in Maryland. One-third is in Virginia, like Chincoteague. Who knew?

To be clear, there are no wild horses on Chincoteague. They're all on Assateague.  They've been there for around 300 years. Two theories about how they got there: 

  1. They are descended from horses that escaped from sinking ships belonging to early explorers.
  2. They are descended from horses that were kept on Assateaue by settlers trying to avoid taxes. 

I kind of like that second story. It shows initiative.

Chincoteague Fire Department
There are two herds on the island now. One, on the Virginia end of Assateague, has been maintained by the Chincoteague Fire Department for something like forever. The herd on the Maryland side is maintained by the National Parks Service. Maintenance means controlling the size of the herds so they don't destroy the Assateague Island habitat with overgrazing. Which, of course, would not be good for the horses, either.

The Fire Department controls its herd with an annual auction of ponies that has been going for something like forever. A vet selects horses on Assateague that are healthy enough to make the swim to Chincoteague at the end of July. Supposedly ten thousand people descend on the island for the auction. Or maybe tens of thousands. I heard that, too. Horses that don't sell, swim back to Assateague.
Ponies on MD side of Assateague

Why the popularity for these horses? They are now a designated breed. Some of these animals can sell for over $10,000, though the average price is significantly lower.

Rumor has it that the National Park Service maintains its herd with neutering. Don't know what goes on with that.

Carnival grounds
The Fire Department also runs a carnival at the time of the auction. Early in the 20th Century, downtown Chincoteague experienced two serious fires. The fire department started running the carnival at that time, raising money for equipment to deal with crises of that type.


What About Misty The Book?

Miss Molly's Inn
Author Marguerite Henry went to Chincoteague in the 1940s. She was already a published author, often writing about horses. (As a Vermont child, I was familiar with her Justin Morgan Had a Horse.) And there she heard about a pony named Misty and came up with her book idea. Misty of Chincoteague was published in 1947. It was a Newbery Honor Book in 1948. Yeah, that's all I've got about the book, because, remember, I didn't reread it.

The inn in Chincotague where Henry stayed still exists, and visitors to the island can stay there. Though we didn't. Henry bought Misty, and the horse seems to have bopped around a bit between Henry's home...somewhere else...and the island.

Misty All Over Town

In 1961, a Misty movie came out. There was a premiere in the Chincoteague theater, which is still open. Misty showed up in town for this event. You can see her hoof prints in concrete outside the theater. And, wow, she signed them!

Misty's Descendants
Well, ponies don't last forever. Misty sure didn't. She died in 1972. She has descendants on Chincoteague, and I got some pictures of some. For the life of me, I can't remember where we saw these horses. And I've looked all over the Internet. (EDIT: A reader identified this place for me. It's the Chincoteague Pony Center, which describes itself as "the home of the largest herd of Misty family ponies on the Island." Thank you, Anonymous.)

Misty's Present Day Home
Misty is gone, but...not really. You can see her in a preserved (stuffed) state at the Museum of Chincoteague Island. Happy to say, we weren't there on one of the days the museum is open, so I missed out on this treat. If you hunt carefully on-line, you can find a photo here or there of what you might call Misty's Afterlife.

So there you have it people. Your Misty tour is complete.

You can check out more Misty-related Chincoteague  photos at my Following "Misty of Chincoteague" Around Town Pinterest board.

Sunday, October 16, 2016

History In The Kitchen

After last Sunday's kitchen work, I didn't think I'd be doing any cooking this weekend. I was looking forward to cleaning my office desk, because I've been working in the sun room this past summer and have been using the desk as a dump spot. Also, there were a few personal things I was hoping to do, stretching out on the couch and reading being right at the top. But my sister and I are running a birthday brunch next Saturday for our elder, and I needed to get started on some baking for that. And, hard though it is to believe, I still needed to stock up on soup. Soup is a thing here.

Saturday's Soup Making Podcast (I Got Started Late In The Day)

On the Media: How The "Fake News" Gets Made This was a discussion with representatives of some of the cable humor news shows. (I'm a fan of Samantha Bee, myself. Kind of lovin' the rage.) I can't say I got a lot out of it, until some guy said that they couldn't just write jokes. That's how I feel about all humor. Yes, this probably has something to do with my 12th grade English teacher dissing Bob Hope for just standing on a stage telling jokes.

Sunday's Cake, Cupcake, Bread, and Cookie Baking Podcasts

Backstory: Untrammeled: Americans and the Wilderness. This was terrific. You could say that it's a history of American beliefs about wilderness. And there are some real eye openers here.

My Favorite Murder: Sidebar Nation.  I found My Favorite Murder on a list of humor podcasts. I chose it because of what someone had said on the On the Media podcast I listened to on Saturday. You can't just write jokes. I wanted to listen to humor about something. It ended up being one of those podcasts where the hosts laugh and laugh, so listeners think something really funny must be going on. It was an hour and sixteen minute podcast, and they didn't get to the first murder until around the 40 minute point. And then things weren't all that funny. The hosts sounded shocked, which seemed odd because they run a podcast on murders. Wouldn't they have heard a lot of this kind of thing before? If they just read newspapers and on-line news sites, they would have heard similar things.

You're probably thinking, Gail, why did you think a subject like murder had any potential for humor, anyway? Hey, I roomed with nursing students for a semester when I was in college. I raised my kids next door to a NICU nurse. My sister is a nurse who's been around. These are women deep into dark, dark humor. Now, those are some people who could have done a funny murder podcast.

So What Are You Going To Do Next Weekend, Gail?

Well, after spending Saturday celebrating three birthdays, I'm hoping that on Sunday I'll finally get to the couch with some reading. But if I'm cooking, I expect I'll be doing it with some history podcasts.

If I'm able to crash on the couch reading next Sunday, I hope to visit some of the participant blogs in Weekend Cooking at Beth Fish Reads.

You can check out my other weekend cooking and podcast posts at my Podcast in the Kitchen Pinterest board.

Friday, October 14, 2016

What Did You Do This Week, Gail? Oct. 10 Edition

I started to get some control this week. By that I mean I really only started, with goal and objective planning at the beginning of the week and this assessment at the end.

Goal 1. Adhere to Goals and Objectives. Well, that is what this post is about.

Goal 2. Prepare Mummy Hunters for Submission.  Didn't make as much progress as I wanted, but I am moving ahead. I still have the rest of today. And I brought a scene to writers' group Tuesday night for discussion. You'll see below that writers' group is a multiplier.

Goal 4. Marketing Saving the Planet & Stuff eBook Believe it or not I stumbled upon something just yesterday afternoon that could become a marketing opportunity in January.

Goal 5. Community Building/General Marketing/Branding

Promote Food Post at Twitter, Google+
CT Humanties/CT Center for the Book Post
Promote CT Humanities Post, Google+, Facebook, Twitter
TMT Post
Promote TMT post Facebook and Twitter
Goodreads review Raising Demons
Work on Chincoteague blog post
 Attended writers' group & discussed mummy book. Multiplier.

Tuesday, October 11, 2016

Time Management Tuesday: Could I Do More, If I Slowed Down?

 As a I said a while back, the monkey that had control of my mind this summer has been resting. She's sitting in a corner watching me while she builds up her strength. I've got to be prepared. I can't stay on task when she's on top of her game. I got started on a modest meditation program while I was on vacation, the classic method for putting monkeys in their place. But I've been thinking about trying to slow down, too. Feeling rushed and overwhelmed is unpleasant, and I don't know that hurrying does any good as far as getting work done is concerned.

Could Slowing Down Help Me To Do More?

I began to think about this one morning last month while eating breakfast in a motel. You know, one of those places where you make your own toast, but it's free. I realized I was really enjoying those breakfasts. Why? Because all I was doing while I was eating was eat. ("If you're going to eat, eat," I've read in some Zenny book. Probably more than once.). I was sitting down while I did it, too. That's an important point, because for a long time now I've eaten breakfast standing up in the kitchen, so I could empty the dishwasher and take care of dishes in the sink while I wolfed down my oatmeal.

The monkey liked that, I'm sure.

Then on the last day of vacation, we ate lunch at a Subway. One poor woman was working by herself. She was doing a pretty good job of keeping up with the lunchtime crowd. My companion and I had a theory about why. She didn't rush. She didn't lose time making the kinds of mistakes rushing causes. She wasn't slow, either. She just worked at a consistent, methodical speed.

Monkeys don't like that kind of thing.

But What Does Slowing Down Mean?

Slowing down, working calmly, sound like good ideas. But doesn't working slower mean we are going to have to do less? The workload hasn't changed. The time available hasn't changed. All that's changed is how quickly we're going through that workload during that available time. Common sense says that if we go slower, we have to get through less of that workload.

A life example: If I sit down for breakfast instead of eating while I empty the dishwasher, the dishwasher still needs to be emptied. (Yeah, I know there are people who live out of their dishwashers. I am not one of them. Not judging.) How and when is that going to get done?

A work example: I've been rushing around this past year checking out markets for my short work and making submissions. I could definitely slow my work life down by cutting back on that. But writers don't get published if they don't submit, right? (Honestly, we often don't get published when we do submit.)

Are We Talking Philosophy Rather Than Strategy?

Working slower is going to be my new research focus for the next few months. I am going to be doing it slowly. I'll be checking back.

Monday, October 10, 2016

CT Center for the Book Website Is Up And Running

Connecticut Humanities launched its new CT Center for the Book website this past summer.

In addition to an Events page that has a lot of potential for readers and writers in the state, the site has a section on Connecticut Authors. The author section is also broken down by genre, and breaks out to info on individual writers.

The Connecticut Center for the Book is the state section of the Center for the Book at the Library of Congress. Every state has one. Connecticut's Center for the Book was part of the Hartford Public Library for at least ten years. It moved to Connecticut Humanities, then called the Connecticut Humanities Council, in 2012.

Sunday, October 09, 2016

Hit Some Fine Podcasts While Cooking Today

When last we discussed the issue of my need to listen to something while cooking, things were not going well. The sci-fi and horror podcasts I'd found were not grabbing me. I definitely couldn't take any more writing process podcasts or writer interviews.

Well, today I needed to do some restocking in the kitchen after having been away from home for nearly three weeks. It got a little bingie, because I made two types of bread without a bread machine, since I lent mine to a family member before I went on vacation. And, by the way, I've still got what it takes to do 8 minutes of kneading...twice. Booyah!

On top of that, I hit the old motherlode with podcasts. These were actually from two podcast series I subscribe to. I just hadn't listened to them in a while.

The first two episodes came from Eric's Guide to Ancient Egypt. I was interested because I'm revising what I refer to as the mummy book. The material I listened to was terrific. 
  • The Birth of Egyptology. I assumed this would deal with nineteenth Egyptology. It did, and more. A nineteenth century Egyptologist plays a part in my book.
  • Women in Ancient Egypt. Yup. An ancient Egyptian woman figures into my book.
There are a number of other episodes I want to listen to because they relate to my book. I don't know how I missed them. I think I recently downloaded a bunch of new episodes, and the goodies were in there.

In addition to two batches of bread, you can see from the picture above that I also made a cake, some potato stuffing (meh), and began a batch of Amish chicken pot pie. That's in the white kettle, because Amish chicken pot pie has nothing to do with pie. All that took a while, so I went on to:
I'm feeling a lot better about podcasts right now. And I'm set for bread for a while.

I'm taking part in Weekend Cooking at Beth Fish Reads. You can also take a look at all my Podcasts in the Kitchen posts through my Pinterest board.