Six tips for NaNoWriMo success

Two days left, folks! Who’s excited? Who’s eager to get started? Who’s wandering around their house with a glazed look in their eyes, mumbling, “What the heck have I gotten myself into?”

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Thirty days of happiness and joy!

Writing every day, especially 1,667 words a day, can be tricky. I get that.

But if, despite that, NaNoWriMo is still something you’d like to do, fear not: It’s totally within your grasp.

Below I’ve collated some tips that have seen me through two NaNoWriMos and two bouts of Camp NaNoWriMo. Seasoned WriMos, please feel free to pile on with your own advice. Let’s get our new colleagues abundantly provisioned on the trail to success.

"We do not need to stop for directions, Edith."

“We do not need to stop for directions, Edith.”

1) Make the commitment.

Tell people. Tell your friends and family. Tell your work colleagues. If you know people are likely to ask you about your novel periodically, you’re much more likely to stay on track with writing it.

Something else that might help you focus is writing your own Ten NaNoWriMo Commandments. When I did this my first year as a WriMo, the list included predictable items like “Thou shalt not prioritize TV over writing,” but also a few like “Thou shalt not prioritize writing over exercising or talking with family.” It’s all about balance.

Speaking of which …

2) Make writing a natural part of your balanced life.

If you usually watch an episode of Scandal or Bones in the evening, consider replacing that with writing 1,667 words, and an episode of a YouTube-based series if you have a few minutes left over at the end. If you usually listen to an audiobook while jogging, turn it off and spend your run mapping out the day’s scenes. If you usually spend your bus commute tapping away at Candy Crush or a sudoku, pull up your NaNovel and write instead. You don’t have to write your daily words all at once. It can be a paragraph here and there throughout the day — whatever works best for you and the time you have available.

Even the Weeping Angels couldn't stop this WriMo. What's your excuse?

Even a Weeping Angel can prioritize NaNoWriMo. What’s your excuse?

3) Don’t do it alone.

If your RL (Regional Liaison) is planning write-ins, word wars, or other general merriment close to you, consider joining in. Or find a few other WriMos from your social circle and agree that you’ll periodically check in on each other to cheer and console.

Also, online friends shouldn’t be underestimated. On the NaNoWriMo site, surf your Regional Lounge, Genre Lounge, Age Group, or the All-Ages Coffeehouse to find a core group of great people to commiserate and celebrate with. Post questions on the Reference Desk forum, and answer ones that ask for your expertise. There’s a beautiful, thriving community over there — don’t miss out.

4) Format can make a difference.

The NaNoWriMo site routinely promotes special “novel-writing software”. If that’s your jam, go for it. For my first NaNovel, I found it helpful to format a Word document like a book — landscape-oriented, with two columns per page, generous margins, page breaks for new chapters, and dropped capitals (Word tutorial here). It helped me feel like I really was writing something serious. It also made the pages zip by. If you’ll be writing on the go, consider using a Google doc so you can access it from any computer. Play around and talk with people until you find a method that works for you. (Again, the NaNoWriMo forums can be helpful for exploring options.)

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Or you can try to replicate Shelley Jackson’s Ineradicable Stain project. (Good luck.)

5) Reward yourself for meeting wordcount goals.

When I first did NaNoWriMo, I stocked up on chocolate eyeballs, in-shell peanuts, and Polish graham crackers — but I couldn’t eat any of it until I’d written my words for the day. You could also try setting bigger goals. Maybe if you validate your wordcount by November 30, you can spring for a professional manicure. (If you’re on a budget, stay home and give yourself this nifty literary manicure.)

6) Have fun!

This is your novel. Nobody’s looking over your shoulder and pointing out what you’re doing wrong. If you get bored with your historical novel halfway through and need to throw in a talking yak, have at it. If your two leads need to spend five pages arguing the finer points of grammar, let them. (And if you need to inventory a wardrobe or write out a character’s lengthy grocery list to meet your daily goal, have no shame — we’ve all been there.)

Are you doing NaNoWriMo this year? What are your plans for success?

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Comment policy: I heart feedback! Just please make your comments and links relevant to the post. Comments judged to be run-of-the-mill spam or generic web traffic solicitations (e.g., “Please follow me!” or “Read my blog!”) will be deleted. Interesting or funny spam will be preserved for posterity. Like my attitude toward beets, this policy may change at any time.

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Photo credits: Rock climber and hikers from aatlas, angel from scrapbookingfanatic, tattoo artist from niekverlaan on Pixabay.

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Counter Action: Sweet potato dinner rolls

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Sometimes I feel like I have a good grasp on this adult thing.

I go off to work in my suit and nametag (or to class in nice jeans and a cardigan). I pack lean protein and leafy greens for lunch. I work at a standing desk and swig water all day. My gums, my joints, my weight, and my professional profile are on my mind. Cat hair on my clothing legitimately worries me.

And then I get home and all bets are off. Cookie dough leaps from the fridge into my mouth of its own accord. I still read YA fiction. Cat hair is of no concern. Given a slow holiday weekend, I’ll watch several episodes of Buffy the Vampire Slayer in a row with no remorse. A couple of weeks ago, I realized that the church where I attend Evensong also offers a free yoga class right after Evensong … so I could conceivably wear my yoga pants to church?? Is this real life?

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These rolls are a bit of both worlds. They’re the kind of thing you could serve at a fancy dinner party or your in-laws’ Thanksgiving. Or you could make half a tray for yourself and eat them with turkey and cranberry sauce, cackling to yourself as you watch your fourth straight episode of Buffy the Vampire Slayer. It’s a flexible recipe, really.

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Sweet potato dinner rolls

(barely adapted from an AllRecipes.com recipe)

  • ½ c. warm water
  • 2¼ tsp. dry active yeast
  • 4 T. brown sugar, divided
  • ½ c. sweet potato purée (½ of a large sweet potato, sprayed with cooking spray, microwaved under plastic wrap for 3–4 minutes, and mashed thoroughly)
  • 3 T. unsalted butter, melted
  • 2 eggs, beaten slightly
  • 1 tsp. salt
  • 3½–4 c. flour
  • 1 T. butter, softened

Directions:

  1. Combine warm water, yeast, and 1 T. brown sugar. Let sit 5 minutes.
  2. Add rest of brown sugar, butter, eggs, salt, and sweet potato purée. Mix thoroughly.
  3. Add flour slowly until dough is kneadable and not too sticky.
  4. Knead dough until it is smooth and elastic, and passes the windowpane test. Place in warm greased bowl. Cover with plastic wrap and tea towel. Let rise in warm place (like an oven that’s been turned on for a minute or two) for an hour.
  5. Punch down dough and roll into balls a little larger than golf balls. Cover again with plastic wrap and tea towel and let rise in warm place for an hour.
  6. Bake rolls at 375°F for 10–12 minutes. Brush tops with softened butter and continue baking until golden brown.

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EDIT:

Comment policy: Feedback is always welcome! Just please make your comments and links relevant to the post. Comments judged to be run-of-the-mill spam or generic web traffic magnets (e.g., “Follow me!” or “Read my blog!”) will be deleted. Interesting or funny spam will be preserved for posterity. Like my attitude toward beets, this policy may change at any time.

Diverse literature: How can we read authentically?

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Two summers ago, I discovered a new writer: Shappi Khorsandi, the Iranian-born author of the hilarious memoir A Beginner’s Guide to Acting English. I was pretty proud that I was reading someone not many people had heard of. I was even more proud that she was Iranian, in the same way that a seasoned traveler is proud to “discover” Doha or the Caucasus.

I quickly realized my folly and resolved to enjoy Khorsandi’s writing purely on its own merit, not for any adventurousness it might represent on my part, but I didn’t realize the full danger of that mindset until quite recently. This year, a book club at my school is taking part in the #WeNeedDiverseBooks movement, celebrating a broader spectrum of voices. In the process, I discovered Jabeen Akhtar’s splendidly candid essay “Why Am I Brown? South Asian Fiction and Pandering to Western Audiences”, from the Los Angeles Review of Books. It summarized a lot of assumptions I’ve made about diverse literature, and it gave me a lot of good things to think over — not just in my reading choices, but also in how I write diverse characters.

In response, Aarti from Book Lust wrote a reflection on how we can “read diversely AND authentically”, exploring new sources and realms of fiction while demanding a broader range of international viewpoints from American publishers. If you get a chance, look over one or both of these essays — they’re well written and worth your time. And if you’re looking for your next good read, I can definitely recommend Khorsandi.

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Photo credit: jingobah on Pixabay.

WriMos, start your engines.

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Again with a Poland story! I must be feeling nostalgic.

It was late October 2010, and I’d been in Poland for about a month and a half. I was learning a few new words every day, assiduously mapping out my lessons, and steadfastly ignoring how I felt about any of this.

Within a week of arriving, you see, I had realized something key: The Sonya who had landed in Poland was exactly the same Sonya who had boarded in the U.S., only a little hungrier, a little smellier, and a lot more tired. I hadn’t magically gained the ability to converse fluidly with strangers, or lead a group with confidence, or unequivocally love the company of children. I like kids. I respect them as the future of society, and I appreciate any initiative that tries to give them a good start in life. But it takes a special kind of person to work effectively with them, and as I greeted each new day in Poland, I was increasingly sure that I did not possess that particular superpower.

I know this face well.

I know this face well.

So after a month and a half of feeling like I was falling down a well, I realized I needed a parallel task, to reassure myself that there was something on this planet that I could accomplish. I opened up the document containing my bucket list and surveyed the items. “Ride in a hot-air balloon” — probably not an option here. “Go vegan for six months” — possible, but not very spirit-lifting. “Participate in National Novel Writing Month” — definitely not possible. I couldn’t take the time to write 50,000 words in a month. I had a job. I had Polish to study and people to meet. And besides, it was late October. If NaNoWriMo was a November thing like I thought, there was no way I could think up a novel-length idea in time.

I pulled up the NaNoWriMo website to confirm the timing. Yes, it was scheduled for November, about a week away. And it wasn’t just a self-regulated, work-on-your-own thing … you could fill out a profile, and accumulate writing buddies, and enter your word total each day, and ask for advice on the forums …

"You will ask strangers to tell you about life on a dairy farm. You will wait eagerly for their response."

“You will ask strangers to tell you about life on a dairy farm. You will wait eagerly for their responses.”

So sue me, I signed up. (Show me a blank online profile, and I’ll fall over myself to fill it out.) And in the end, I did manage to find an idea that sustained me to 50,000 words with a minimum of plot bunnies. I also had a lot of fun getting there. But even more than that, I found focus and purpose. No longer was I plodding through each day, glancing at the clock every ten minutes. Now my classes seemed to zip by, powered by my knowledge that when I went home for the evening, I could rejuvenate with a cup of tea and 1,667 words.

There’s a lot of debate over the value of NaNoWriMo. I examined it a little myself when I finished Camp NaNoWriMo this year. But for me, it will always have a special place in my heart as something that saved me during an unpleasant period in my life.

NaNoWriMo: The protective dolphin to teaching's sharks.

NaNoWriMo: The protective dolphin for a new teacher’s sharks.

If I make it to 50,000 words this year, it will be my third win. If I don’t, it will be my third unsuccessful attempt. Either way, I’m planning on having fun. Right now, for example, I’m having a blast developing the characters and puzzling out the plot (… between a full-time class load and three jobs. Gosh. November should be interesting.). I’ve discovered that the best way to do this is to compile everything — all the plot brainstorming, all the setting development, all the town maps and social hierarchies and character rosters — in a Google Docs folder, so I can work on it from any computer.

A big part of this folder is character development stuff. I used to have a terrible time with this — my characters all felt like carbon copies of each other. Then I started sitting down with each of them in my head and asking them personal questions. Below is what I’ve asked my characters this year. If you’re a fellow 2014 WriMo, please feel free to use it — and if you’re found additional questions helpful, I’d love to hear about them.

His/her name

Age:
Physical description:
Fashion style:
Personality synopsis:
Hobbies:
Room decorations:
Favorite social media site:
Celebrity crushes:
Religious beliefs:
General strengths:
General weaknesses:
Sexuality:
Relationship status:
Hometown:
Family:
Educational background:
Strengths in this setting:
Dream job:
Secrets:
If not in this setting, s/he would be:
What s/he wants:
What s/he will fight for:

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Photo credits: Bored student by PublicDomainPictures, pocket watch from BenjaminNelan, and shark from Taken on Pixabay.

Counter Action: Baked oatmeal with pear and raspberries

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Five years ago, I was not much of a cook.

I didn’t need to be, really. I had to eat most of my meals in the college cafeteria, and for the rest of the time, I could get by with toast and fruit.

Everything changed when I moved to Poland for a year. All of a sudden, I was not only living on my own in a tiny village, I was also earning a modest stipend and in serious need of a hobby. Cooking was really my only option.

Well, cooking or shopping.

Cooking or shopping or romping through Eastern Europe on my own.

But I went with cooking.

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How many people can brag that their dining room, their living room, and their bedroom are all the same room? Yeah, be jealous.

When I was packing for Poland, I hadn’t planned on teaching myself how to cook while I was there, so I’d only brought one cookbook. Fortunately, my flat had fantastic wifi, so I figured I could find some good recipes online.

I was wholly unaware, you see, of the concept of food blogs. You can imagine my delight when I discovered first Joy the Baker, then the Pioneer Woman, and then Smitten Kitchen, whose recipes formed the majority of my “to try” list.

This baked oatmeal, from Joy the Baker, was one of the first things I baked in my tiny oven. That appliance would go on to host scores of other experiments, from granola to calzones to rosemary challah rolls, and the baked oatmeal was a delightful christening. I topped it with some fresh gruszki (“GROOSH-kee” — pears) and maliny (“mah-LEE-nee” — raspberries) I picked up at a farmer’s stand down the stand, using my extremely fractured Polish. It was mid-September, I was nervous about teaching, and I knew the winter would be no picnic. But for the time being, it was enough to have something warm and fresh and delicious to look forward to.

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Baked oatmeal with pear and raspberries

(based on Joy the Baker’s baked oatmeal with fresh raspberries and pistachios)

Ingredients:

  • 1-1/2 c. old-fashioned oats (not the quick-cook kind — they’ll get soggy)
  • 1/4 c. brown sugar
  • 1 tsp. cinnamon
  • 1/4 tsp. nutmeg
  • 1 tsp. baking powder
  • 1/2 tsp. salt
  • 1/2 c. milk
  • 3 T. butter, melted
  • 1 egg, beaten
  • splash of vanilla extract
  • 1 pear, cored and diced
  • 1 c. fresh raspberries
  • milk for serving

Directions:

  1. Combine oats, brown sugar, cinnamon, nutmeg, baking powder, and salt.
  2. In separate bowl, combine milk, butter, egg, and vanilla.
  3. Combine wet and dry ingredients. Pour into greased loaf pan.
  4. Bake at 350°F for 20–25 minutes, or until the middle is pretty firm.
  5. Let cool for 5 minutes. Spoon into bowls and top with pear, raspberries, and milk. Leftovers will keep in fridge for 1–2 days.

Book Chatter: Books for tired people

Three years ago, I got a job I really wanted.

It was with people I really enjoyed, in a setting I loved, doing work I adored. It was all set up to be a fantastic complement to my full-time classload.

There was just one small problem: It took place mainly at night.

Every Wednesday at 4:30 p.m., after a full day of classes, I would get the office and open my computer. Every Thursday at 3 or 3:30 or 4 a.m., I would totter home, feeling not at all prepared for another full day of classes.

"Another two blocks? Are you kidding me?"

“Another two blocks? Are you kidding me?”

It was still a great job opportunity. I just ended up with two unexpected legacies.

  1. I learned a lot about the various stages of fatigue, which include giddiness, grumpiness, nausea, vertigo, and tinnitus. (Good times.)
  2. Ever since then, I’ve had trouble staying awake if I sit still for more than twenty minutes. It’s like at some point during that year, my brain realized, “Hang on … we’re sitting. This might be our last chance to catch some Z’s for the next 40 hours. Shut ‘er down.”

This second item has caused some small problems. You know … like in class, especially when I fall into a micro-nap while my hand keeps taking notes. Some real excerpts from my class notes so far this year:

  • “OPACs not common until 1980s; used to have Q-search don’t the occult King fantasia”
  • “physical database design: code entities & attributes for use; don’t get rid of the entraces & exts. it’s Hawaii! — primary keys”
  • “heap: table that has no qimg usun threaten clustered index”

I can only hope my sanity is never officially called into question. My notes might argue against me.

Between these narcoleptic tendencies and my usual classwork, my ability to enjoy personal reading has been severely pinched. I now rely mainly on lighter stories that are easy to read in ten-minute installments on the bus or between classes. Below I’ve highlighted a few of my recent favourites.

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I’m sorry, did I say “lighter”? My mistake. Ashley Little’s Anatomy of a Girl Gang might not be the kind of story you’d read to your kids at bedtime, but it’s definitely a gritty, compelling read that will make a long bus trip fly by in a snap. The story follows five teenage girls as they decide to form their own gang, the Black Roses, and carve out a place for themselves on the streets of Vancouver, B.C. Do they beat the odds and succeed? I’m not telling.

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Sometimes the best reads are old reads, am I right? I picked up my copy of Eat Pray Love, Elizabeth Gilbert’s year-long introspective odyssey, in a secondhand bookstore several years ago. Since then, it’s been lent out several times and re-read even more often. Sometimes I start at the beginning like a civilized person; sometimes I page through it until I find the story that’s been echoing in my head that day. Either way, Eat Pray Love is the chicken soup of memoirs.

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I’ve always loved William Goldman’s The Princess Bride (especially once I discovered that there was no unabridged edition), so I was delighted when a friend gave me a copy of his book The Silent Gondoliers for college graduation. The story follows Luigi, a man who would be the best gondolier in Venice … if his singing didn’t make people ill. It has all the elements of a classic fairy tale, but with a muted, thoughtful ending that you might not expect.

What’s your favourite book when you’re exhausted?

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Photo credits: Cat from Catkin on Pixabay; book covers via Better World Books and Amazon, linked through the images.

Moffat Syndrome (or, The Case of the Female Puzzles)

Some disclaimers before we begin:

  1. As I’ve said before, I’m a big fan of John Green’s work — on the page, on YouTube, and in the world. I trust him to think critically and empathetically, and I’ll eagerly read whatever he writes next.
  2. I stopped watching Doctor Who after the 50th Anniversary Special. For all I know, that might have been the point at which Steven Moffat started cranking out female characters who did not fit the description below. Please feel free to inform me thusly.
  3. Here be spoilers.

Okay! Let’s get started.

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So I just finished John Green’s novel Paper Towns, and I have to say it was excellent. The opening prank series was so riveting it sustained me through the comparatively low-key middle, all the way to the profoundly hilarious road trip at the end. John Green will never cease to amaze me with the way he develops his characters deeply and with great sympathy. I can see why he’s so popular with young adults — he takes their problems seriously. He knows it’s no joke being a teenager. He remembers how frustrating it was to be in a place where everyone is telling you to take more responsibility, but they won’t take you seriously when you try.

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Also, between Paper Towns and Looking for Alaska, I’m beginning to take him seriously as a prankster. You can’t be that inventive without having some major practical experience.

But there was something in Paper Towns that made me stop and say, “Huh … interesting.” It came to me when I started thinking about how Paper Towns would be adapted as a movie (which it is, due out on June 15, 2015, and starring Nat Wolff and Cara Delevingne). I’m sure it’s going to be great. The road trip sequence alone will be worth the wait.

(Have I mentioned I’m a fan of the road trip sequence? It’s true.)

However, let’s stop and think: Throughout the book, Quentin’s focus is on Margo. She’s the reason he’s doing all this research. Is she an antagonist? an antihero? a catalyst? That’s up for debate, but she’s certainly central.

But how much does she actually show up? If the movie were filmed in strict chronological sequence, where would the parts with Margo be?

There’d be a big chunk at the beginning, with the eleven-part prank.

Then there’d be a little bit at the end, in the barn.

And that’s it. Margo is gone for most of the story. Her absence is what makes the story tick.

A map and a watch together? To discuss Paper Towns? Thank you very much. I'll be here all week.

Literal ticking + a map that might contain paper towns = thank you, Nebraska, you’ve been a wonderful audience.

This piqued my interest because it reminded me of another John Green book — his first, Looking for Alaska. It too has a central female character (Alaska). It too has a male narrator who is entranced by the central female and spends the book trying to figure out something about her. Perhaps most relevantly, it too revolves not around the female character’s presence, but around her absence.

Now, to an extent, we’re lucky: John Green’s female characters are still characters in their own right. They have personalities and preferences and quirks. We know them like we know our friends.

But even within this personhood, Margo and Alaska still function partly as puzzles to be figured out, questions to be answered, anomalies to be understood. In their respective stories, this function makes sense — the girls embody the protagonists’ doubts and misunderstandings. They’re the yogis sitting on the mountaintop, waiting for the protagonists to figure out how to reach them so they can reveal something crucial to the protagonists’ growth.

"Sunscreen. That was that last item."

“I just know I forgot something … oh right, sunscreen.”

I won’t say I love this use of any character, female or otherwise. (EDIT: I should add that at the end of Paper Towns, Margo confronts Quentin about using her as this character. He’s relied too much on his idea of what she is, rather than trying to understand her true nature. “People love the idea of a paper girl,” she says. “They always have. […] It’s kind of great, being an idea that everyone likes. But I could never be the idea to myself, not all the way.”)

At least Margo and Alaska only have secrets. They aren’t wholly required to be secrets.

To see what I mean, let’s look at some of Steven Moffat’s major female characters.

There’s Amy Pond. Who is she? Well, she was seven years old a minute ago, and now she’s all grown up. Why is that? Oh, now she appears to be made of plastic — why? Where did her human body go? Let’s spend a few episodes chasing down those answers. No, don’t worry about how she’s coping after waking up alone and in labor in an alien prison, only to be forcibly sterilized after her baby is stolen — lots to do, Hitler to kill, come on, get with the program.

There’s River Song. Who is she personally? Well, she appears to know the Doctor very well, even though he’s never met her. Why is that? Let’s develop that plot point for a season or two.

And how about Clara Oswald? What is she like as a person? Well, she keeps showing up in the Doctor’s travels. That’s an interesting attribute. We should find out why.

All of these characters are exhaustingly backstoried, while still managing to be personally bland. Even the most nuanced of Moffat’s female creations, Mary Watson, still comes with a heck of a lot of mysterious baggage. The takeaway point for these characters seems to be that women are never what they appear to be — they’re always the figurehead of some kind of plot, and they should be researched and sorted out accordingly.

And listen, I get that women can be enigmatic. I understand that we can be weirdly mercurial. I myself had this thought just the other day: “Ugh, humans can be so stupid sometimes. Ooh, he’s cute. Is that cake?”

OH MY GOSH. CAKE.

Humans might have had some stupid ideas over the years. Cake was definitely not one of them.

But the real world is made up of us real women, who are so much more than puzzles. Yes, we should present legitimate questions and mysteries to be solved. Yes, we should serve as catalysts in some situations. Yes, we’re sometimes at the forefront of conspiracies.* But in all cases, we definitely still have personalities and needs of our own.

I’m all for the embodiment of problems and doubts in whatever characters the writer sees fit. I’m certainly not campaigning for every protagonist to be female. But if we’re expected to trust or like or invest our time in any of these major characters, they need — like Margo and Alaska — to be more than mysteries. Whatever their gender, whatever their role in the story, at the end of the day, they all need to be human beings.**

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*For example, I’m currently re-engineering the world’s lawn sprinklers to shoot out rainbow sprinkles instead of water. Don’t tell anyone.

**Unless they’re Silurian, Sontaran, Solonian, Saturnynian, or otherwise non-human. Then they’re free to be that.

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Sources: The “women-as-puzzle” term comes from this article. This article describes the biggest reason why I gave up on the Eleventh Doctor. And for the Moffat fans, here’s a defense that gave me some good things to munch on.

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Photo credits: Puzzle from libni, flamingo prank from tpsdave, map and watch from schaeffler, yoga pose from cheifyc, and cake from la-fontaine on Pixabay.

Counter Action: Apple pie smoothie

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After a long run, there’s nothing better than downing a smoothie.

(Although a good stretch and a shower come close.)

I started running the summer after my junior year of college. It was a beastly hot summer, as usual for the region, and my roommate and I spent most of our free time lying around the house like a couple of damp towels, getting up only to adjust the A/C or stick our heads in the freezer.

There was also a great deal of my roommate’s favourite TV show, which had this weird storyline involving a large blue box. When she was watching it on the big TV and I was studying at the dining room table, it was too bizarre not to surreptitiously watch with her. Eventually she caught me at it.

Seriously, look at this objectively and tell me you're not a little weirded out.

Seriously, look at this objectively and tell me you don’t have questions.

“Hey, you want to come and watch?” she said, clicking pause.

“What is it?”

“It’s called Doctor Who. You’ll love it. Come on.”

It took me a few episodes to get into it, but eventually I developed a voracious appetite for all things Whovian, and the rest, as they say, is history. Halfway through an episode (possibly S02x05, “Rise of the Cybermen”), I suddenly realized that the heroes all had one thing in common: They were very good at running.

This was such an epiphany, I might even have put down my bowl of cherry cobbler for a second to ponder it. If I were the companion, I realized, we’d never escape anything. “You go!” I’d gasp, stumbling to a halt beside the misbehaving reactor and clutching the stitch in my side. “Go on without me! I’ll catch up!”

And then the Doctor wouldn’t leave, of course, and the reactor would blow up, and that would be the end of the series. All because I was in terrible shape.

I shared this realization with my roommate, and she agreed: Weather be darned, we were going to start running. We found something on Pinterest called Couch to 5K that seemed promising, since Day 1 told us to run for only thirty seconds. “I can do that,” I scoffed. As it turns out, I couldn’t, but I learned soon enough, powered by cheesy Pinterest quotes like “Sweat is your fat crying.” We also drank a lot of spinach smoothies (recipe in the offing, also from Pinterest), and it was then that I discovered the joy of a well-earned smoothie.

This apple pie smoothie is an excellent transition between summer and fall — it’s got all the chilly delight of a summer smoothie, with the flavour palette of fall. If you were feeling particularly adventurous, you could even swap out the apple for a dollop of pumpkin purée, if that’s your jam.

But let’s not lose sight of the moral of the story: When common sense and years of health education fail, TV and the Internet can step in and save the day.

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Apple pie smoothie

Ingredients:

  • 1 large, cold apple, cored and diced (leave the peel on for more fiber, or remove it for a special occasion)
  • 1-1/2 c. cold milk (or part milk, part apple juice)
  • 2 T. quick-cook oatmeal
  • 2 tsp. maple syrup
  • Pinch of nutmeg
  • 1/4 tsp. cinnamon

Directions:

  1. Pour milk (or milk and apple juice) into blender. Add oatmeal. Let sit 2–3 minutes to soften oatmeal.
  2. Add apple chunks, maple syrup, and spices. Blend until smooth. Serve cold.

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Photo credit: Doctor Who screenshot originally from clarasity.tumblr.com, via Pinterest.

Book Chatter: The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society

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I don’t have enough time to do this book justice, but since that won’t change anytime soon, I’ll just have to share it with y’all in the small space I do have today.

The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society is one of those books that I kept seeing everywhere, and every time I saw it, its title leapt out at me and pestered me with its originality until I finally took the book home out of sheer annoyance.

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Result #2 on Pixabay for “annoy”. Tyrolean cows will have none of your nonsense.

But when I opened it up and began to read, my impatience vanished in an instant. TGLAPPPS is a charming, funny, poignant epistolary novel, a genre I’d never encountered before. The authors, Mary Ann Shaffer and Annie Barrows, switch narrators often enough to stave off monotony, and in any case, every single narrator is so vivid, so fresh, and so engaging that it’s a delight to listening to whoever’s speaking at the moment.

The story opens in London in 1946, where 33-year-old Juliet Ashton is enjoying modest fame as a new writer in the first days of rebuilding after the war. One day she receives a letter from a man she’s never met, on an island she’s never visited — Guernsey, one of the British-held Channel Islands between Britain and France. The man’s letter is short and professional, asking for Juliet’s help in locating a book, but Juliet is intrigued by the small details he’s revealed about life on Guernsey, which the Germans had occupied during the war. Her correspondence blossoms into a network of acquaintances on the island, until finally Juliet realizes that she must visit Guernsey and meet these people for herself. What she finds there might very well change her life.

Rich with historical detail, TGLAPPPS unfurls its plot in a setting rarely visited. If you’re looking for high-quality historical fiction, light reading for the train, your next book club pick, or just an all-around great story, TGLAPPPS is the book to choose.

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Photo credits: Book cover from Better World Books; cows from flyupmike on Pixabay.

 

Counter Action: Overnight artisan bread

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Taking food pictures is always fraught with danger.

My roommate has three cats, all aggressively friendly and as stubborn as tiny mules. Last night, for example, they all curled up in my room, intending to spend the night there. I had different plans. I’ve mediated enough of their nighttime spats and picked up enough fallen books to banish them to the living room.

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The kids: Salem at the top left, Bandersnatch Cutiebutt opposite, and Crookshanks supervising from below.

Salem was on board with this right away — she can take a hint. The Bandersnatch was displeased but eventually deigned to leave. And Crookshanks … oh, Crookshanks. The guy is either a seriously deep sleeper or a seriously good actor. After I’d spent several minutes nudging him, blowing in his face, and clapping my hands, he finally rolled over onto his front, where I could pick him up and haul him out.

It’s a similar process when I want to use the cats’ obstacle course — a.k.a. the kitchen table — to take photographs. I can’t turn my back for a second, or else they’ll be on the table sniffing my setup. I have to get everything together in one trip, then snap pictures wildly, pausing only to clap my hands several times or blow in the kids’ faces.

Is this food photography or jungle photography? Sometimes I’m not sure.

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The dough for this bread can be thrown together in five minutes, dumped in the fridge, and forgotten for up to 18 hours. When you’re ready to bake it, just pull it out, plop it on a preheated pizza stone or dutch oven, and bake until golden brown. There’s no kneading, no proofing, no waiting around for the dough to double twice. It’s that easy, and that delicious: soft and flavorful on the inside, with a thick, crunchy crust. If you want to tell your dinner guests how you made it, feel free to amaze them. Or let them think you’ve spent weeks nurturing the perfect pâte fermentée. It’s your choice, really.

Overnight artisan bread

(Taken from The Baker Chick)

Ingredients:

  • 3 c. all-purpose flour
  • 1/2–1 tsp. yeast
  • 1–3 tsp. salt
  • 1-1/2 c. warm water

Directions:

  1. Combine all ingredients in large bowl. Cover with plastic wrap and place in fridge.
  2. Eight to 18 hours later, remove dough from fridge. Place pizza stone in oven, with baking tray below. Preheat to 450°F.
  3. Form dough into ball and place on hot pizza stone. Pour 1–2 c. water into hot baking tray and immediately close oven door.
  4. Bake 40–45 minutes, or until bread is golden brown and sounds hollow when tapped from underneath. (If you like, open oven door 2–3 times during baking to spritz more water on the pizza stone. Alternately, to avoid the hot water method, bake bread inside dutch oven or other covered ovenproof dish. With this method, bake covered for 30 minutes and uncovered for 15.)
  5. Cool, slice, and enjoy. Bread is best the day it’s made. Alternately, store in sealed container for 2–3 days.