Wednesday, October 3, 2012

Rules for Writers, #1: "To Be", or The Kiss of Death

So, back in the day, I was an English Major at Brigham Young University in Provo.  Truth be told, I'm still an English Major . . . but more on that later.  Right now, I've got writing on the brain, and I'm gonna share some of it.

A few months ago, I read Edenbrooke, by Julianne Donaldson.  A fantastic debut for those of us who love a good romance (where bodices stay intact), it stands as the first book I read multiple times.  (Three times in about five days, I think.)  That kicked off a huge reading surge over the intervening days and weeks and months, and here are some things I've learned from reading a whole slew of Kindle books, trying to keep my mind off the fact that Julianne Donaldson is still months and months away from her next release.  (Anybody else remember that old Mervyn's commercial . . . "Open Open Open . . . "? Yeah.  I'm so there.)

But, back to what I was saying.  Ummmm . . . oh yeah.  Writing!  So, I love to work with writers.  I love writing my own stuff, but just as thrilling to me (or maybe more so) is working with someone else to really dig deep and bring out what's hidden in their language.  Really good writing . . . writing that pulls you in and weaves a spell you can't explain . . . stuff like Wendell Berry's story "You All Right?" from Fidelity. I'll never forget the magic of the evening, the still, flooded forest, the flowers and stars in that story.  And yet, when I went to read Vern the lines that so caught me in their spell, I couldn't find them.  Berry's writing slips past like a gentle breeze, all the while bringing you into a world of his making without you noticing the transition.  He's a man I hope to meet someday.

But I digress.  (Again.)  Without further ado, here are the things I'd like to say to writers (especially of regency romance ebooks with low ratings:)

1) In nearly all cases in storytelling, versions of the verb "to be" obscure meaning.  "To be" hides the real action of the sentence elsewhere, pushing it into the background.  It stultifies and distances, formalizes and diminishes.  And it inflates word count.  Truly rare are the sentences in which using "to be" cannot be avoided.  Like that one.  No, wait . . . let me think.  Here: Only seldom will you find an unavoidable need for "to be".  But only seldom.  (Yes, use fragments in order to avoid unnecessary "to be's". I'm a great fan of fragments.)  The trick lies in avoiding "to be" as much as possible, while avoiding stilted, stuffy writing.  If your sentence can't be restructured smoothly without "to be", go back to your concept and rework it entirely.

Here's an example from one book I recently read.  I had to highlight these lines, so egregious did I find them:

"All was noise and confusion. Private carriages were coming and going, some of them being driven by coachmen and some being driven by dandified young gentlemen."

My version:

"Noise and confusion reigned.  Private carriages came and went in a tumultuous stream, driven by coachmen or dandified young gentlemen."

Now, I would really rather take the concept and tell it in a completely different way, but that's a good example of how easy one might evict that paralyzing verb.  There are plenty of other examples [ahem] I mean, examples abound.  Maybe I should start posting them here, with reworked versions, just for kicks.  (Writers = word geeks. ;o)

Now, that said, "to be" is, after all, a verb.  It lays claim to a proper place in writing, just as the previous sentence shows.  But it should NOT be strewn about, or used as the primary verb to declare past tense.  Er, I mean, writers should not strew it about.  (See what I mean, about hiding things?  That time it hid the subject entirely, which was writers.)  The book quoted above did so--the author used "to be" every chance she got.  Not sure what her editor was thinking.  (Do modern authors even have editors that approve their books before publication?  They should.  I should be one. ;o)

So, tune in next time.  Not sure when I'll write, or for whom, or concerning what.  My blog's like a box of chocolates . . .

Monday, September 3, 2012

Rubbish Recollecting

(If you have an adblocker, you might need to turn it off to see the video. Thanks!)

I love this idea . . . in big cities pedal power really is the best option. I remember being able to make much better time on my bike than friends in cars. (Less waiting at lights, for example, because there were two bikes in the bike lane, and twelve cars.) In a rural area, a good stout draft horse team could carry a whole lotta garbage, and bring it to big trucks placed strategically, so as to radically minimize the fuel usage and pollution. Yes, I have a thing about diesel exhaust, after my daughter developed asthma during a 2.5 year stint near the highway and busy railroad line. Diesel particulates are notorious factors in asthma, growth retardation, learning disabilities, and a host of other maladies. It’s SO time to look at things differently, and stop assuming that this world we live in, that’s so saturated from more than a hundred years of dousing is going to go on just as before, without serious problems surfacing (already far advanced) we can’t even imagine yet.

Please, share this with friends . . . the more people hear about things like this, the more likely they are to consider it. And do leave me a comment. There are few better rewards to a blogger than lively comments. Thanks for stopping by!

Friday, August 31, 2012

It's in the pudding.

Why it is that human beings (and increasingly now the pets they keep) seem to be the only creatures on the face of the earth for whom the foods they crave are the ones that kill them most readily? Super Size Me stands as a tremendous example of that, among many others. Our modern literature, rife with books on the evils of nearly every food commonly produced and commonly affordable, adds even more voices to the dissent. It seems only the “radical” ways of eating (whether raw vegan or truly traditional diets like Wise Traditions) have any real, true effect for the better on health in the long term. (That statement comes from talking directly to people who have eaten this way, and my own personal experience, not studies paid for by pharmaceutical companies, the AMA, or other western traditional medicine/nutrition interests.)

As I sit here, wondering how to gather the strength again to take back my health yet another time (it’s a long story, and I’ve had two huge setbacks that have put me farther back than I was to start with), I’m amazed at the body of knowledge that’s out there about agricultural chemicals . . . that they spray on roadsides all over my county, that they routinely pour into lakes in the name of controlling invasive aquatic weeds, that are used on ag crops and in food “processing” that kill us by degrees. There’s a condition known as Leaky Gut, in which unfriendly flora populate the small intestine, using up the food you need and leaving toxins in it’s place, conveniently tearing into the lining of the small intestine so those toxins and lots of undigested foods (including gluten and lactose) are given a free pass into the bloodstream. How do these bad guys take up residence, you ask? Well, we feed them, and they grow. The gut (for lack of a better, short term) is an amazing little ecosystem all unto itself. It readily adapts to the foods we eat and the things in our environment, doing the best it can to handle what comes its way. If we eat whole, fresh foods, most of them raw, our digestive tracts are happy as can be (eventually–after the adjustment period), with the flora and fauna necessary to help us digest our foods. But, if we consume things not from the natural world (refined foods, processed foods, non-foods that are more chem lab than kitchen, and so on), our gut becomes populated with fungi and decidedly unfriendly flora that not only sink roots deep into the delicate lining of the small intestine causing microscopic tears, but they consume the food we would otherwise be able to absorb, and leave poisonous compounds in their wake. Not to mention allowing undigested food particles into the blood stream. And for susceptible individuals, that can mean serious deep depression.

I’ve been musing lately, about what a truly sane response would be to someone peddling poison as a panacea to problems both herbaceous and insectal. When presented with the chemicals, and after reading just a few lines of the toxicity warnings, the gardener/farmer/potential customer would look the chem pusher in the eye and say:

“This is poison. And you want me to put this on my food crops? In my garden? In my home? And this is supposed to help me?”

The chem guy responds: “It’s all perfectly safe. The recommended concentrations are so low that they’re perfectly safe for people and their pets. They’re designed to only kill tiny little critters or the target plants.”

Gardener: “So, for example, your insecticides only affect tiny insects, and things smaller?”

Chem Guy: “Exactly! It’s perfectly safe for you and me.”

Gardener: “What are you and I, besides astonishingly intricate conglomerations of tiny living creatures? Creatures orders of magnitudes smaller than insects? I don’t care how safe you say this is. If it kills bugs, it’ll kill me. Slowly but surely.”

It seems pretty clear that most of the rest of the world has realized this, with many countries banning all kinds of chemicals that are still legal in the U.S. It’s time we stopped lulling ourselves with the marketing spin from these chem mega-corps, and use a little common sense.

“Better living through chemistry” isn’t.

Friday, August 24, 2012

Four-legged friend: Day One

Well, today we added another member to the family.  Meet Muttsy.  (Name changed to protect the innocent. ;o)

She came to us from friends in our ward who are moving.  It took Vern and I a while to decide to bring Muttsy home with us, and I'm so glad that we could.  She's a quick learner, responds very well to gentle training, and has a great deal of self-control.  She knows I don't want her to run ahead of me on the stairs, so if she can't bring herself to go up slowly with me (which is hard when you're a short-legged doggy type), she'll wait for me to get to the landing before following up that far, and then wait for me to get to the top before she comes up after me.  If she gets ahead of herself, it only takes one gentle and firm "No" to remind her.  She does like to lick the kids' faces when they're in range, HJ's the most.  That's tomorrow's training point--no licking the baby. lol

Near as I can tell, she's got some Bassett Hound and Schnauzer blood, and I don't know what else.    Her front legs bow so cute-like, as a Bassett's do, and her coloring is black & silver like a Schauzer's.  Our friend told us Muttsy's coat will get pretty long if it's let go, and she has little tufts of hair on her toes that I think are hilarious. :o)  She's adorable, though.  These photos don't do her any kind of justice.  (What can I say?  I just had my phone, and it was a busy day, getting her settled in, and assuring her place in the "pack".)

She's already claimed the bed I placed upstairs for her, choosing it over the people beds that were easily accessible to her.  She stays very well when told to . . . I just need to keep the kids from using her name or looking at her during dinner. lol  But she went back when I told her to, and waited patiently to clean up the floor until I told her she could get up.

She's also proven to be patient with the kids.  None of my kids have really bothered her much, as far as I can tell . . . but the girls have taken to using her as a pillow whenever they can get away with it. ;o)  This little furry friend is also really good for me.  I've been outside far more today than I have in months . . . and have made more trips up and down the stairs, as well.  I also plan to get much more serious about walking every day, since Muttsy needs it.  (Pack animals cover ground . . . every day. It's instinct, and when satisfied, makes for a much happier pet.)  

I really love the little furball already, and I want to make sure she's well taken care of.

I'm looking forward to tomorrow, to see what it brings. :o)

Friday, July 6, 2012

Cabinet Hardware Tutorial: The Long & the Short of It

Today, we'll be going over the way I install bin pulls on my cabinet drawers.  The pulls I love are from (they also have an eBay store, which is how I order from them).  They're durable, I love the finishes (this is the fourth finish I've installed), and they're seriously affordable.  Score. ;o)  They have these short posts on the back, though, that allow some depth for the screws to thread into, which necessitate an extra step in drilling holes.  See?

So, here's the "before" shot: 

Gotta love the half-finished kitchen, no?

What you'll need:

(Sorry there's no photo . . . it has been days, and I just haven't gotten to it.  So, use your imagination. ;o)

Bin pulls
Appropriate-length #8x32 pan-head machine screws (check the thickness of your drawer fronts; I always need to buy 3/4")
Measuring tape
Template (or cardstock to make your own; having done it both ways, I highly recommend the drawer & cabinet templates from Home Despots)
Drill bits (3/8ths and 7mm)
Rubber mallet
Pencil with a good sharp point

Step 1: Hold the template up on the drawer face, and choose which sets of holes works best for you.  The holes should be a little above center for these types of pulls.  I made a light pencil mark in the holes I thought would work, then held the pull up against the drawer with the posts in back over the marks so I could eyeball the placement.  You could also make a paper "shadow" of your pull and tape it to the drawer so you could look at it from across the room.  For my slab-front drawers on the top, the template worked like a charm.  For the panel-faced drawers, I had to use a 1/2" thick piece of wood (a piece of a wooden trivet, actually) to elevate the template so the holes weren't too low.  I had to put the pulls in the top stile of the drawer, instead of the middle of the panel.

Step #2: Measure and mark the center of your drawer.  You can see I have two marks on the top of the drawer, below.  I measure from both sides, which serves to check my math, and even things out when they're a millimeter or two off.  In this case, I usually had about one millimeter between marks, so I would position the template between them.  Using the center mark(s) as a guide, center your template and mark the spots where you'll drill.  If you're using a home-made template,  now's the time to measure & mark it.

Now I take my trusty friend, the rubber mallet, and my new trusty friend, the awl, and make small holes to help keep the drill bit from dancing all over in the split second before it digs in.

Then you put little patches of blue tape over the small holes, poke the awl into the holes you made so the blue tape has holes in it, and get your drill & 3/8" bit ready.  In a few seconds, you'll have something that looks like this:

Then, to accommodate the thicker posts on the back of the pull, chuck your 7mm bit, and enlarge the holes about halfway through the drawer front.  Trust me, this is the easiest way to do it.  Otherwise you'll end up using washers to keep the screws from sinking into the huge holes in the back of the drawer front.  (Sorry, I took the blue tape off too soon in the photo below.)

So now, when you take your blue tape off, you'll have something that looks like this:

Next, you fit the pull into the holes.  If they're a little too close together, take the drill and run the 7mm bit a little against the outside edge of one of the holes (with the bit sitting most of the way into the hole, if that makes sense).  Usually, though, if you've marked carefully, the pull will fit just fine.  If it's a little tight, that's okay.  The screws will help snug the pull up against the drawer front if it's stubborn that last little bit.

Now, make sure you have screws the right length.  I always need to buy 3/4" #8x32 machine screws, as the 1" screws that come with the pulls are about 1/4" too long, and won't snug up.

Below, you can see the longer screws that come with the pulls on the left, and the shorter ones I bought on the right.  If you're lucky, you can find machine screws with wider heads, like those that come with the pulls.  If not, they still work, but it's more secure with the wider heads.

And then, stand back and enjoy your finished product. :o)

And here you can see my kitchen with all the hardware installed.  Hooray! :o)

Saturday, June 30, 2012


“Genius is nothing more nor less than childhood recovered at will.”  ~Charles Baudelaire

'Nough said.

Thursday, June 28, 2012

Of butcherblock and goosenecks.

So, last we met, I believe I showed off a sneak peek (on facebook, if not here) of something along these lines:
 That's an 8' slab of Ikea's oak butcher block countertop, waiting to be cut to length, as you can see below.  Purty, ain't it? ;o)  I'm in love just a teensy little bit.

When you see what I'd been using for counter, I think you'll understand why.  Exterior grade 3/4" plywood.  Splintery, rough, with plenty of "personality". {chuckle}

We had help, in the form of friend and church associate Kelley.  He's got enough woodworking experience under his belt that we felt confident enough to actually CUT these things without cold sweat or palpitations.  He's also a lot of fun.  While he kicked back under the cabinet, driving screws into the underside of the countertop, he said he often considered going into plumbing, as plumbers just got to lay around all day, in the most comfortable places and positions in the house. lol

In order to secure the counter, the drawers had to be taken out, as you can see above. I had filled them immediately after installation a few days before, and HJ generously volunteered to count all of the chopsticks and flatware.  It took him quite a while . . . almost as long as it took to cut and place the counters.  (Handy, that.)

Here's Kelley again, measuring for the sink notches after getting a couple of pieces installed (you can see them behind Vern).  The sink cabinet is the open one with the white rail across it, which helps support the apron-front Domsjo sink.

Meanwhile, HJ continued to busy himself with inventory-ing and testing the tensile strength of stainless steel.  (By the time we were done, he had tucked every last fork under that drawer there in front of him. lol)  And yes, I know most folks don't let their babies play with pointed objects.  This little guy is much older than he looks, and is really careful with such things.  He has never hurt himself when playing alone . . . it has only been when older siblings (those one or two steps above him) have tried to "help" him that problems arise.  He was also watched very carefully.

Meanwhile, this is what the living room looked like.  (The kids' mattresses were stacked up on the other side of the room.)  The Bear (aged 4) made himself busy behind the pile there.  I was charmed with what he had built . . . 

"Mom!" he said, "Come see my town!"

I love it. :o)  I'm always enchanted with the ways my children repurpose the tiniest things and imagine them up into houses (and their components), towns, zoos, spaceships, etc.  It was a looooong, long day, but at the end, this is what things looked like:

And this is what Chip looked like, when I asked him what he thought about it being this time of day . . .

. . . and still no dinner yet.

 It was still light outside, and so my lizard brain kept telling me that it couldn't really be time to make dinner yet . . . and I still had so much to do on the kitchen . . . (you really should go read that link--no, really.  do.)

Here's the same side of the kitchen at the end of the following day, once I had a go at the cabinets with a drill and some hardware . . .

And here's the other side, with the other project of the day--the sink & plumbing! Completed!!!

Yes, my friends, I've had a fully-functional kitchen sink for several days now, and it's so novel.  Sink and counters are such useful, useful things. ;o)  I'm a pretty happy girl right now.  I'm really loving my high, gooseneck faucet.  It doesn't have a spray, but the pull-down is so nice that I hardly notice.

And now, I'm off to conquer breakfast and spend some time with the children and their workbooks.

Tuesday, June 26, 2012

Animals: What they're really thinking . . .

Heheheheh.  These are really good ones. :o)  I hope they make you laugh when you need it!  I'm off to work some more on getting this place livable.  Blog posts to come soon, really . . . . no, really, they are! ;o)