“I'm all in favor of keeping dangerous weapons out of the hands of fools. Let's start with typewriters.”
Frank Lloyd Wright

author: Nicole J. LeBoeuf

actually writing blog

a day with fruitcake in it is a good day
Tue 2014-12-09 23:41:56 (single post)

Dear world: There is a new fruitcake in you! I have baked it just now today.

It snuck up on me. Usually I bake it partway through November, but I honestly forgot all about it until a few days ago. Once I remembered, though, I didn't waste time. Off to the grocery for fruit and nuts! Hurry up and slice things and soak them in booze! Then today that sucker got baked.

Here, as per tradition, is this year's list of fruitcake ingredients:

  • diced candied papaya
  • cubes of candied ginger, sliced into wedges
  • green raisins
  • dried strawberries, sliced into thin wedges
  • dried red tart cherries, sliced in halves
  • dried blueberries
  • pitted deglet noor dates, sliced lengthwise in quarters
  • slivered almonds

Slicing dried or candied fruit is a pain. Anything that requires me to slice it has earned its place in the lineup, trust me.

The recipe, as always, was the McCall's "Best of All" Fruitcake recipe which an online friend shared with me years and years ago. This appears to be someone's adaptation of it, and it has at last resolved for me the mystery of the missing .5 cup flour. I think my friend forgot to transcribe step 5. Maybe next year I'll include it. Not that my fruitcakes have suffered for only having 1.5 cups flour in them, mind you. Nor do they suffer for my not bothering with the frosting.

As you've no doubt surmised, I ad lib extremely freely with the dried/candied fruit. Fruit and nuts came from Whole Foods on Pearl Street; Whole Foods bulk products typically don't have artificial colors or flavors added. This is kind of a big deal. Just for a change, I once went to Sunflower (next door to McGuckin's; it's now a Sprouts). I was unpleasantly surprised by the bitter taste of numeric food coloring in the papaya. Not doing that ever again.

The booze the fruit soaked in overnight was brandy, but as I am now out of brandy, I may soak the wrapping cheesecloth in rum. Or possibly the Balvenie Caribbean Cask, which would be fairly interesting.

Given the lateness of the fruitcake construction and the upcoming vacation schedule, it will not be unveiled at our annual winter solstice party and yule log vigil. Said party will not be happening this year, due, again, to our vacation plans. Instead, I expect the fruitcake unveiling will be at the family Christmas party. My family really likes this fruitcake. It will be quite the challenge to reserve enough to mail to the usual long-distance recipients.

I got to it later in the day than I meant to. Today began with a dental cleaning at 8:00 AM, which you'd think would ensure an early start to the day. But when I got home around 9:30, I was exhausted. Apparently dental cleanings wear me out. They aren't particularly painful; the crew at Dr. Adler's office are fantastic and solicitous and caring and responsive. Last time, I let the hygienist know that the gum exam was kind of jabby; this time she made sure to use the blunt plastic probe instead of the sharp metal one. I warned her today about an ulcer on my gums, right up front and center, and she zapped it with the dental laser and spread it full of topical anaesthetic gel. Also, if you want to hear fascinating things, make sure to ask Dr. Adler about his peregrine falcon.

No, everything was fine. But I stress. I tense up. I start wringing my hands--well, really, my hands start wringing themselves--and my feet start twitching. My jaw tries to close up. So I spend the whole time telling myself "Relax, relax, breathe, pretend you're yawning, you don't need to do that with your hands, just relax..." And apparently the whole circus just wears me out.

Which is why I came home and went back to bed until two in the afternoon.

Which is why I had to leave for roller derby practice before the fruitcake was done with its 3.25 hours at 275 deg F. I put it on the timed cook cycle, so it would turn itself off after 3 hours and 15 minutes, but John still needed to babysit it because once the fool thing shuts itself off it sings out a 6-note tune to let you know. Repeatedly. "I turned off your oven. I turned off your oven..." (I've made up words to most of its jingles. I can't help it. The tune for when pre-heating is complete is a full four-line verse.) So John was still going to need to tell the oven "Yes, I hear you" by pressing the CLEAR/OFF button.

As I said to the head coach, "What a day! It both started and ended with pain!" She was alarmed at first--"Are you OK? Did you get hurt?"--but no, it was just the discomfort that goes with the territory. I'm sure I have new bruises (though I'm told I gave as good as I got), and I don't even want to think about squat jumps. It was a good practice. It was the sort of practice that wants everything you have. So you give it. So, when you get home, you fall over.

When I got home, and the house was full of friends and the smell of fruitcake. Not too shabby for a day that I mostly slept through, right? And now, I think I shall fall over. Good night!

See Patreon activity feed or Wattpad excerpt for cover art credits.
I can't even begin to tell you how happy this makes me. Well, I can begin. But I can't finish.
this fictionette has a faerie in the family
Fri 2014-11-28 23:13:08 (single post)

And it's up at last, on Friday by the skin of its teeth (and some judicial database tweaking): "The Importance of Faerie Godmothers." It's about Thanksgiving, and families both functional and dys-, and about generational differences in how to handle unexpected magic. Patrons pledging $1/month or more can read the whole thing right now this second--everyone else must make do with the first 400 some-odd words which appear here, and on Patreon, and at Wattpad.

Remember that on Sunday, November 30, one of this month's four fictionettes will be released in its entirely to be read for free by the vast internet hordes. I haven't yet decided which of the four it'll be, but I'm leaning heavily towards this one, because out of the four right now it makes me happiest. I don't typically blog here on Sundays, but if you watch my Twitter feed you should see some notice about it sometime on that day.

This one gave me trouble. In its original form, it didn't really have an ending. On the search for one, I wound up inventing at least as much again as was already on the page, word-count wise. (The animal crackers, for instance.)

It's beginning to dawn on me that my original intent to just publish a slice of my writing process each week isn't going to reliably cut it. Sometimes the story isn't all there. Sometimes what is there is littered with endless permutations of "I'm going to babble until I figure out what to write." And there's only so raw that I want Friday Fictionettes to be. I want them to have beginnings, middles, and ends. I want them to imply whole worlds and lives. I want them to be viable pieces of flash fiction.

And that's why today's fictionette took so long. I hope you like it!

In other news, the second pair of folding closet doors is DONE. It looks amazing. Or maybe that's just two weeks of hard work talking? I look at it and I feel such a mixture of accomplishment and relief. All that hard work went somewhere, darn it. It went somewhere attractive, too.

That door--of the two stained bi-folds, it's the one on the left--used to stick something awful. Friends found it impossible to close after hanging up their coats. I'd apologize, saying "There's a trick to it" as I gave it a tug at its happy spot. But now? Now that we've reinstalled it? There is no happy spot, because there is no getting stuck. It opens and closes beautifully. I think it's because, when we took it down, we accidentally shifted the position of the bottom bracket, and apparently we're magically good at repositioning brackets.

I can only hope a similar transformation occurs with the remaining two bi-folds, because their action really suffers by comparison.

a weekend of mixed blessings (not writing related)
Mon 2014-11-17 23:41:16 (single post)

I skated in my new boots for the first time at Sunday practice. (That is, for the real first time. I don't count the five minutes of rolling around at Skate Ratz so I could adjust my toe-stops to a comfortable height and confirm that the newly mounted plates put the wheels in the right places under my feet.) New boots! So exciting! They got a more hard-core first-time workout than I expected, though.

See, John and I carpool to Sunday practice, but we arrive in time for him to assist with coaching the A team's practice. The combined B and C teams' practice isn't until three hours later. I generally spend those three hours in a side office in that building doing my Sunday morning AINC reading (an hour of employment ads from the three major broadcast regions of the state) and generally poking around on the internet.

But yesterday's A team practice was a little underattended, a common feature of offseason snow days. So John came out and found me and asked me to gear up early. "We're practicing a new three-person defensive formation, but we need a fourth person to jam against their wall. Would you?"

So that's how my brand new skate boots and toe-stops got their first real workout. Jamming against an All Stars tripod. For a full lap of the track. Oh my goodness were my ankles sore! I was pretty much driving forward (adequately) and juking around (slowly) on toe-stops the whole time. I also discovered that my boots weren't the perfect fit I'd hoped for--my heels kept shifting up and down no matter how tightly I tied the laces.

Part of the problem, no doubt, was having heat-molded them to bare feet, but then skating with socks on. So when I geared back up after the B/C team off-skates warm-up, I went without socks. THAT WAS A MISTAKE. A terrible, terrible mistake. That up-and-down rubbing of my heel against the aggressive inward sweep of the boots' heel cup resulted in three huge blisters, each at least the size of a quarter, which made any toe-stop work or transitions utter agony by the third hour of practice. I had to bail on the last fifteen minutes of skating, though I was able to participate in the off-skates plyometrics at the end of practice.

(I also ended up bailing on the farm this morning because I quailed at the thought of putting shoes on at all.)

So today I have taken the boots off their plates and remolded them while wearing a pair of my hand-knit derby stockings, that being a lot more representative of how I plan to skate in them. I'm trying not to be worried about re-installing the plates. It's just four bolts per skate, right? To be sent through existing holes? No worse than reinstalling hinges or slider assemblies after staining our closet doors? And yet I worry. Will I get the bolts as tight as they had been? Will I strip the holes? Will everything explode?

Worrying is my default passtime. I find things to worry about. They don't have to be rational worries, either. It's just my brain, being obnoxious as usual.

I also worry about whether my problems with these boots mean I got the wrong size after all. But then I remember how my Riedell R3s ate big bloody holes into my ankles during my first couple of practices with them on. (No exaggeration there--I remember taking off my skates and discovering wide bloodstains on my socks.) So maybe I shouldn't panic about having a painful breaking-in period just yet. Breaking-in periods are what makes new skate equipment a mixed blessing.

Speaking of reinstalling hinges, the first pair of bi-fold closet doors is reinstalled in the living room. It looks lovely and opens and closes smoothly. Hurray! This, however, is also a mixed blessing, because there are three more pairs to do. The next one is currently on the buckets, getting its paint stripped. And so the interminable home improvement project continues.

From bad paint job to beautiful refurbishment in... oh, let's not think about how long it take. I have seven more to do.
winter arrives on a monday morning
Mon 2014-11-10 23:30:28 (single post)

Remember last week? Remember "Get the peppers out of the field before the cold snap?" Turns out, that was just practice for the real thing. Today was "Harvest ALL of the greens before the snow falls and temperatures drop to single digits Fahrenheit."

So one crew was in the field, harvesting tot soi and bok choi, lettuce and kale, chard and escarole and frisee, and the other crew washed each incoming basket of greens and packed them away in boxes for storage in the cooler. I was in the latter crew. It meant standing outside with my hands constantly in cold water. I was in short sleeves at first, because the morning was quite warm. By lunchtime I was wearing a borrowed hoodie, I couldn't feel my toes, and I could barely work my fingers. And the water was actually warmer than the air outside. So was the walk-in cooler, when I went in to raid the "seconds" basket for some take-home greens to turn into gumbo z'herbes.

But it was a morning well spent. And I felt pretty good, freezing weather aside. I didn't expect to. I honestly thought I'd have to stay home sick today. Saturday night, I began developing cold symptoms; Sunday, I was blowing my nose constantly. But either it was a 24-hour cold or the pseudoephedrine I started taking successfully masked all symptoms, because I felt fine today. Better than fine: I got up at 6:30 AM without a grumble and ready to do EVERYTHING.

The "Let's Get Everything Done!" mood settled in late last night. It's a great feeling! It makes everything seem possible! Nevermind that it's just the drugs talking--take advantage of it while you've got it, that's what I say. So instead of spending the evening curled up in bed around the achy, tired parts of me that a three-hour roller derby practice had worked out, I applied three coats of polycrylic to the front side of the closet door I was working on, and I wrote. Then this morning I swept all the sawdust off the balcony before the snow could turn it to muck.

Just look at that picture. Check it out. In the backdrop, three bi-folds painted in the "curdled cream" color we're trying to get away from. On the left, the paint-stripped and mostly-sanded half of the bi-fold, still displaying the dark stain from sometime before the door got painted. On the right, the finished product, stained in Minwax "Gunstock" red-brown, coated with water-based polycrylic, and ready to install.

Conclusion: There is life after paint-stripping!

So maybe my good mood wasn't entirely attributable to pseudoephedrine and caffeine. Maybe it was the warm sense of accomplishment. Yeah, let's go with that.

This bracket has got Game 3 and Game 4 reversed, but otherwise, that is exactly how today went.
all the ways derby eats workdays all up (your Fictionette Freebie is safe)
Fri 2014-10-31 22:17:05 (single post)

Today was the first day of the WFTDA Championships. I spent pretty much the whole day at Harpo's Sports Grill, whose owner, being kind and generous and also intrigued by this "roller derby" thing, agreed to stream today's games over their TVs.

Apparently I don't exactly work while I'm watching derby. Who knew?

About all I managed to do today was release "Out of Sight, Out of Mind" as this month's Fictionette Freebie. Go, enjoy, read. Or, well, maybe "enjoy" isn't the right word, since this one is the creepy quasi-depressing one. But of the four I posted in October, it feels the most complete, the most like a real story. So that's what you get.

I'm going to try to get the October "podcast" out over the weekend. It may be touch-and-go. We have a dear friend in from out of town staying with us, and that will make anything that looks like "work" difficult to get done. Right now we're all hanging out in the living room (where I hurriedly packed away the paint-stripping, door-staining station and cleaned things up) and we probably won't sleep 'til very late. I'm strangely OK with this.

A friend remarked that this picture looked like the set of a haunted house or a zombie movie. I made a sad face at him.
haunted houses, for temporary use in
Wed 2014-10-29 22:45:25 (single post)
  • 5,300 wds. long

So this is my life right now. There is an area of the living room that's been taken over by painting, staining, and finishing projects for about a month now, and that ain't going to stop for a little while to come. I do not entirely regret this! This is where we stained and finished our brand new bedroom closet sliding doors and our brand new bedroom-to-shower-access bi-fold door. Those are happy results.

But now it's time to do the living room closet bi-folds.

There are four bi-folds in the living room. They started out as two-footers, but whoever installed them had to plane each panel down about half an inch in order to make them fit the oddly sized space. I forget what it came out to be. Ninety-three inches maybe? It was not the full eight feet. Anyway, this is why "Just buy new plain pine bi-folds and stain them" isn't the solution. Also, a new plain pine bi-fold is something like $80. And while time is money, we'd still have to stain them and finish them. So, no.

Instead, we're stripping the "curdled cream" paint off of them. And sanding through the layer of stain that's waiting under the paint. And, theoretically, staining and finishing them with the same color we used for our bedroom closet doors and shower room access door.

Paint stripping is a process. I'm not sure I have it down yet. What you see here is the first of the four bi-folds. After two days of work.

Great excuse to go to McGuckin Hardware and get all the things. Like, a whole 'nother gallon of that Zip-Strip stuff. Cheap natural bristle brushes. A proper scraping tool. Professional grade steel wool. Adhesive-backed sandpaper for that 3M sanding block. All! The! Things!

One day we will have lovely refinished closet doors in our living room. One day we will also have our living room back. And I will actually be able to put in a five-hour writing day, and maybe even think about the requested revision on "Caroline's Wake." (I have been assured there is no deadline. But it would be nice to turn it in while the current senior editor, the one who requested the revision, is still there to receive it.) One day we will actually be able to list this condo unit for sale, and move into something more house-like and roomy and well laid out and on the ground floor. One day.

Alas, that day is not today. It's not tomorrow, either.

I'm beginning to wonder if it will even be this year.

dear wednesday
Wed 2014-10-22 23:20:35 (single post)

My optimism was totally misplaced. Not only did lunch in Denver eat up a huge chunk of my available energy for the day (much of which I used on the staining the back side of closet door number three), but I gave in to temptation and accepted an invitation to a Geeks Who Drink trivia outing.

I keep telling myself, "I'm allowed outings with friends and family!" and "I regret nothing!" Eventually I'll believe it.

Meanwhile, lunch was lovely. A couple of my aunts and a cousin on my Dad's side, along with a friend of theirs, are spending the week in Colorado. Today their plan was to take a bus tour of Denver. As this was set to leave from the Cherry Creek Mall, it seemed convenient to meet them down there and have lunch at California Pizza Kitchen. We had a nice long visit over salads and pasta. I don't often get a chance to hang out with these particular relatives when I travel back home to New Orleans, so we had a lot of catching up to do.

CPK can be proud that their Jambalaya Pasta passed the Cajun Authenticity Test for not one but two Louisiana natives today. In my opinion, it tries a little too hard in incorporating the overrated (and nontraditional) method of "blackening" the chicken--really, blackened chicken in your jambalaya? Isn't that a touch gilding the lily?--but the flavors came together well. It tasted like jambalaya, gosh darn it. Only with fettuccine rather than rice.

The friend who invited me out to trivia is a fellow roller derby skater. During the course of her ongoing injury recovery, we've taken to going out for trivia nights together as well as hanging out and playing games. It's part of that weird silver lining that roller derby injuries have. Naturally the league rallies around injured skaters, taking turns bringing them meals and keeping them company. These visits turn into opportunities for skaters get to know each other as regular people with lives outside of derby. We get to play board games and card games and watch TV and drink beer and go out to trivia night and have all those conversations that the trivia quizzes prompt.

Not that we couldn't enjoy all that fun stuff without someone getting injured in the first place, and obviously we'd all prefer that no one get injured at all, but it does seem to be the case that the injury recovery period can jump-start the process of forming off-skates relationships.

Tonight we came to the conclusion that the late 30s is kind of an ideal age for pub trivia. We remember a bunch of older pop culture that many of our competitors don't, but we still feel connected to current pop culture waves. At least, that was John's observation. I'm a little less connected to current pop culture than he is. I started complaining about kids-these-days pretty much the moment I graduated high school. But I'm fairly solid on a wide range of random stuff right up to 1994. Also vocabulary. I'm good at vocabulary.

Dear Thursday: I'm looking at you now. Don't let me down.

housework, skate parties, and john and me
Tue 2014-10-14 23:50:36 (single post)

Today wasn't so good on the writing front. Writing productivity got attacked from the front end and the back end. Both attacks were relatively pleasant, but--there goes my Tuesday.

The front end attack was an inability to get out of bed. You ever hear Jim Gaffigan do his comedy bit about the snooze button? It was kind of like that, and it went on until mumble-mumble o'clock AM. When I finally got up, it was all PANIC! Gotta do stuff! Gotta write! Gotta stain the closet door! Gotta do other housework too! Also gotta make cookies! All in the next five hours! PANIC!

The cookies had to do with that rear-guard attack on the day, which was our league's skate party. Which was a lot of fun. I'd been looking forward to it for weeks! But of course, there was baking cookies to bring, and there was the hour-long drive there and back, and there was how tired I was when we finally got home...

"We." Yeah. That was the best part: John came too. He put on his brand new skates, and he skated. He skated pretty darn competently for someone who hasn't hit a rink more than once in the past twenty years. And he skated with me! Everything was awesome, and nothing hurt. Well, that's not quite true--John reports a non-zero amount of pain in all of the muscles that skating requires unaccustomed use thereof. "Quadratus complaintae," I think I heard him mutter. (That's a pun.) But he had fun, and he's eager to do it again. ("I hear they have an adult skate here on Wednesdays," he said, and also, "Are you up for Detour Derby this Sunday?") Just--not tomorrow or anything. ("Next Wednesday, though. Next Wednesday's adult skate for sure.")

So we are both tired tonight, and happy. And utterly non-productive. Ah, well. Just wait 'til tomorrow.

Admittedly, squash vines can be a little prickly. Not THAT prickly, though.
also did you know azalea honey is poisonous i did not know that
Fri 2014-10-03 23:32:35 (single post)

For this week's Friday Fictionette I would have really liked to get a photo of an azalea hedge densely populated with brilliant blossoms in all different colors, but, for one, I'm not currently living anywhere particularly azalea-rich, and two, it's the wrong time of year. I suppose I could have scoured the internet for something appropriate. A cursory search found me a lot of exceedingly docile azalea bushes, nothing that stood a chance at representing the titular maze, and besides, there were generally people in front of them. For example.

Anyway, I ended up taking a close-up of my heap of squash vines out on the balcony. No, they are not fierce thorn vines that might guard your garden gate. And yes, if you look closely, you can see between the leaves the blue plastic of the Rubbermaid-type storage bin I used for a planter. Whatever. Don't look too closely. It's all about the lush abundance of the foliage, OK?

As Fictionettes go, this one endured bit more revision than most. The end and the beginning were present from the first, but the journey between them needed some reshaping. And so it was done, and so it is now ready for subscribers/Patrons to download and enjoy. The first few paragraphs are available as an enticing excerpt here, on Wattpad, and on Patreon in my Activity Feed.

Now I am about to collapse under the sheer weight of the sushi I ate for dinner. We had friends in from out of town on the occasion of the Great American Beer Festival, which visit traditionally must include a pilgrimage to Sushi Zanmai, which pilgrimage generally involves eyes being bigger than stomachs. We left nothing on our plates, which means I've now got nothing left to stay upright with.

Good night, Internet!

*thunk*

And if you remove the wrong pick-up stick, all the marbles fall out...
This is Punch-Out Squirrel. Punch-Out Squirrel loves eir brain. Punch-Out Squirrel is standing on John's new helmet, because John loves his brain too.
in which washington cherries go kerplunk
Mon 2014-09-29 23:40:42 (single post)

The fall harvest season brings with it a series of exceedingly homogenous Farm Mondays. At other times during the year, my Monday morning shift might consist of several tasks, a miscellany of Things What Need To Get Done. Culling seedlings, filling seedling trays with potting soil, weeding the berm, watering the potted trees, whatever. I'm an extra pair of hands. I'm handy when the high priority items prevent the core staff from getting to the items of slightly less high priority. But during the fall, my whole shift tends to be taken up with that day's great big harvest task.

Three weeks ago, it was beets. Last week, it was peppers. Today, it was tomatoes.

Tomatoes for seed: identify the plants whose fruit consistently demonstrates the desired traits; collect only from those plants, and only those fruit that best demonstrate those traits. Tomatoes for food: gather everything that's neither rotten nor green, pretty much. Tomatoes for snacking on while en route to the next tomato: I fully except my mouth to break out in sores tomorrow from the overdose of ascorbic acid.

The tomato plants grow in round tomato cages. Their branches bust out all over. To get to all the tomatoes, you have to dig and tunnel your way through the foliage. Your arms turn green and yellow from the juices in leaf and stem. And sometimes the tomatoes--especially the cherry varieties--especially the Washington Cherry reds--are so ripe and ready to go that the moment you touch them, let alone jostle the foliage in order to reveal and reach them, they fall right off the stem. It's like playing some weird arboreal version of KerPlunk.

So that was my Farm Monday.

After that came a roller derby shopping pilgrimage. I'd heard good things about Skate Ratz, so when John decided that learning how to skate would be part of learning how to coach, I suggested we check them out. That's how we came to spend most of the afternoon and evening in Loveland getting John equipped for derby. Not only that, but it turns out that Skate Ratz keeps on hand a sample Bont boot in every size from 3 to Something Huge, expressly for fitting. They also had an Antik boot in my size so I could make an informed choice between those brands.

So I have finally ordered the Bont Hybrid in leather, color black, size 3.5. This will replace my current pair of Riedell R3s, which are two and a half years old, and one of which, for a couple of months now, has only been holding heel and sole together by an army of denim strips (cut from old jeans) and veritable gobs of Loctite Flexible Adhesive.

We celebrated our life-changing purchases over dinner at the Pourhouse, which is the best house.

And that was my Monday.

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