“As a writer one of your jobs is to bring news of the world to the world.”
Grace Paley

author: Nicole J. LeBoeuf

actually writing blog

in which real derby hits happen and kimchi gets assembled
Thu 2018-07-19 14:16:49 (single post)

Departure day dawns. It has been a morning of laundry and leftovers and last-minute printing out of things. My right hand is dyed orange from having packed up a sampling of Monday's kimchi to take home (insert "caught red-handed" jokes HERE). I've gotten my exercise walking from the Hertz rental office along Andrew Higgins Boulevard/Howard Avenue to the train station, and I've had a fantastic lunch thanks to one more visit to Cochon Butcher.

And now I'm relaxing aboard the train that'll leave New Orleans in about 20 minutes. Guess it's as good a time as any to continue the travel journal.


Sunday, July 15, 2018: When we tire of hitting pedestrians with fat-bats, we hit each other for reals

Woke up, as planned, at stupid o'clock. Got all the stuffs packed and ready. Walked out the door in search of the nearest Blue Bike hub, which I found without any trouble at St. Claude and Elysian Fields. Checked out a bike by means of the computerized interface in back, and off I went.

I hope that I will never not get that surge of delight as I pedal up the street of "WHEEEEEEE I'M BIKING! YAY!" Skates are my wings, but bikes mean freedom. They open up all of the immediate environs the way a car, with its bigness and its need for gas and to follow one-way signs and find parking, does not. On a bike, I feel like I could go anywhere.

Where I went was Daisy Dukes, a 24-hour diner on Chartres just off Canal. I had the fried oyster half-size po-boy with a cup of the gumbo. Also a coffee and an orange juice. They were hopping-busy, but they quickly found me a high-top for one right in the back.

Once I was fed and rested, I re-rented the bike and pedaled over to Hertz for my rental car. It was a black Chevy Sonic and it did what it was supposed to. It got me back to the airBnB to pick up my stuff and then it got me down into to New Orleans East and the Big Easy Rollergirls warehouse in time for the post-ROTB Hangover Mashup.

It was a good game. The score stayed fairly close right up through to halftime, after which the gap began to widen as patterns established in the first half replicated themselves in the second. Far as I could tell, a good time was had by all, and I hope I'm not just saying that because my team, the Matadors, won.

Last time I got to participate in a post-ROTB Mashup, three years ago, I was decidedly a beginner. An advanced beginner, sure, and if you saw me playing with BCB's Bombshells you might even call me an intermediate-level skater; but in a group of people I'd never skated with before, all of them from other leagues and many of them outranking me in years and skill, I was a bit of a mess. I hoped to acquit myself somewhat better this year, and I think I did. I had some good hits and some great stops, I called a lot of plays, I braced when the wall rotated, and, in the second half, I performed some decently effective dedicated offense for my jammers right off the line that I do believe helped widen our score differential.

I love feeling like I know what I'm doing. It's still kind of a new feeling for me.

To be clear, the skill level across both rosters seemed to skew high. Even the gals who said things like, "I'm sorry, I don't really know what I'm doing" right before the whistle, they did just fine. Everything felt friendly; I'm told that some years you get a certain amount of revenge hits between people from rival leagues, but there was none of that going on that I could see.

Dad came to watch, and I was super proud that he got to see how far I've come. He came to my last post-ROTB Mashup three years ago, and his main comment was an amused "You sure took a beating!" This year he sounded a little more taken aback: "There were some vicious hits out there!" I was all like, "I know. I gave some of 'em!"

(HAY HAY BCB YOU GUYZ I DID THE FOREWARD-FACING HIT THING IT WAS AWESOME. I missed a crossstep check though. My timing on that one's still kinda iffy.)

Dad's other comment was, "I don't know how you can do all that in this heat." He had a point--it was very hot in that warehouse. No surprise; it was very hot in New Orleans my whole trip. As I knelt by Dad's lawn chair to talk to him at halftime, sweat rolled down my face and torso in free-flowing rivulets. I went through a can and a half of coconut water, a couple cans of La Croix, and a whole lot of water from the Igloo cooler kindly situated between the two team benches. By the time we were done, we were all ready to throw ourselves in the pool.

The pool was at Pontchartrain Landing, the traditional site of the post-ROTB Mashup afterparty. Pontchartrain Landing is a marina and RV campground with a restaurant and bar. The pool is for residents only, but they have a running agreement with the Mashup hosts to let us use it. So we did.

For lunch, I had a "frozen alligator" daiquiri (mint and kahlua and chocolate chips) and the Salty Pig (pulled pork and fried oysters on top of toasted french bread rounds).

Eventually I got sun-dried enough to change clothes (I hadn't realized I'd need my own towel) and head home--home home, this time, the house in Metairie where I'd grown up. I let myself in and collapsed on the sofa. Dad vee-jayed his favorite live concert DVDs for us. That was about all I had enough energy left to do: be an appreciative audience. Also to eat. Dad had made chicken and andouille gumbo ("it has never come out so good!") and a neighbor brought us a bunch of boiled blue crabs (so, yes, I did get my boiled crabs fix after all).

It was a great start to my half-week at home.


Monday, July 16, 2018: The kimchi is now a tradition

My Mom lives at The Atrium, in the memory care unit. Every Monday and Wednesday, Dad picks her up and takes her for a ride in the truck. It doesn't much matter where. Just being in an automobile is enough to make her giggle. And that's about all she does anymore. She giggles, she taps her forehead slowly against the armrest, she repeats "One, two, three, four, five" (all she can remember or at least access of the rhyme that continues "Once I caught a fish alive") in a gruff and teeth-clenched voice, and she giggles some more. That was about 99.9% of her activity that I witnessed when I went along for the ride today.

I've done my mourning already. This is what is, and I'm resigned to it. But every time I visit, I'm a little shaken by how much farther the dementia has progressed. At least last visit she was able to respond to direct questions and would spontaneously say things to Dad like "I just want to be with you" and "You're so good to me."

It's strange and backwards and sad when the daughter moves into the role of comforting her father. Parents are mythically big and invulnerable and all-powerful. Even when we're all grown up, some of us sometimes still seek out their approval and appreciation. It's always a shock to see them helpless with illness or grief. It was a shock when I was eleven and newly diagnosed with leukemia and the two of them broke down crying in front of me, and it's a shock now to see Dad having to bear this burden of care and grief. Mostly he doesn't let it show. Sometimes, though, cracks appear.

Sometimes all I can do is just give him a big hug. At least I was there to give it.

On a lighter note, while we were out driving Mom around, we stopped at the Korean grocery on Transcontinental at Vets Blvd, and I went in for kimchi ingredients. I am simply not going to get away without making kimchi during a visit home. It's inevitable. It has become tradition. I'm not fighting it anymore. And I admit it's a kind of fun role reversal to be the one directing kitchen traffic and giving Dad food prep instructions.

We did this kimchi recipe (minus the oysters, which we did not have on hand) and also that one (but with yellow squash in addition to the cucumbers). We also had some sliced, seasoned squid that I'd picked up on a whim; it was a salty, spicy treat on fresh sliced tomatoes.

Every time I make kimchi with Dad, I am surprised all over again at how easy it is, and why don't I make some more the moment I get back to Boulder? And then I never do. It probably has to do with how far I have to drive to be sure of finding Asian chives. Like that's even necessary! They have a great flavor, but so do scallions and even leeks. So! No excuses this time.

Oh and hey--lunch was at Mr. Ed's. Not the one on Live Oak I used to bike to for muffulettas back in high school. They have multiple locations these days. This was their fish house and oyster bar on 21st Street, couple blocks over from Andrea's (which I did not have occasion to visit, more's the pity). They still serve that amazing turtle soup, but I didn't order it this time. I was distracted by oysters and other delicious things. That's kind of how most of this trip went, really: "Something blah-blah yadda-yadda OH HEY OYSTERS!"


Food Talley for Sunday and Monday:

  • 2018-07-15, 07:15 - fried oyster half po-boy, gumbo (Daisy Dukes French Quarter)
  • 2018-07-15, 14:00 - Salty Pig: fried oyster and pulled pork on french bread (Pontchartrain Landing)
  • 2018-07-15, 17:30 - chicken and andouille sausage gumbo with boiled blue crab appetizer (home: Dad's gumbo, a neighbor's seafood acquisition)
  • 2018-07-16, 12:15 - oysters rockefeller and bienville, softshell crab almondine with Meunière sauce (Mr. Ed's Oyster Bar & Fish House)
  • 2018-07-16, 18:00 - fresh sliced tomatoes dressed with Korean seasoned squid (home: tomatoes from Dad's friend's garden, squid from Oriental Market)

What? No. The kimchi has not been eaten yet at this time. We're letting it ferment overnight. And the squash and cucumber are busy mingling with the seasonings in the fridge. Don't worry, we'll be tasting it tomorrow.

after a small interruption we continue with our tale
Wed 2018-07-18 22:54:28 (single post)
  • 3,843 words (if poetry, lines) long

Had a late night last night and didn't have the oomph left over to continue the travel journal. Late night tonight, too, but enough is enough. Skip two days, you wind up skipping three, then a whole week, then nothing gets blogged at all. So! Picking up where I left off the other night...


Friday, July 13, 2018: The train arrives in New Orleans

Well, not until 3:30 PM. Slept well, felt a lot better, got a significant amount of work done on the short story before the train arrived. Spotted wildlife from the train: wild turkeys just outside a town in Mississippi (can't recall exactly where) and a ton of egrets at Port Manchac. (Sometimes you get pelicans. Sometimes you get cormorants. Today it was mostly egrets.) Had a perfectly terrible excuse for a muffuletta for lunch. I'd forgive the substitution of the hoagie roll--I allow a lot in an out-of-town muffuletta, just so long as they get the innards right--but the microwave did horrible things to that hoagie roll, and the result was just sad.

No, wait, I misremember, the awful not-muffuletta was last night over dinner, because we were with that nice couple who got off the train in Memphis. But then I have no memory of what I had for breakfast or lunch on the train Friday. Clearly these were not memorable meals.

Had a phone conversation with Dad during which he tried very hard to get me to accept his offer of ferrying me around downtown once I got in. I don't think Dad's ever gotten comfortable with the idea of me being downtown by myself, not even after all these years. He also wanted to know why I thought I needed a rental car when he has no plans and is happy to drive me around. Which was very sweet of him and all, but, I don't know, y'all, I did not expect to still be defending bids for independence to my father at my age.

So the train arrived. I'd planned on having my luggage held at the station while I skated up to the Sugar Mill for my ROTB packet, then retrieving it and taking the streetcar to my lodgings for the night. When I found out how much that would cost me, I rearranged my plans. I would instead take the streetcar to my lodgings immediately, then skate all the way back to the Sugar Mill, then skate all the way back to the airBnB. Fine. I like skating. Let's do this.

The streetcar system is more confusing than it ought to be. The line I boarded was the 49, but you couldn't tell it from the car. The car said 03. It also said Uptown/Loyola, which, correct me if I'm wrong, has absolutely nothing to do with where it actually went, which was St. Claude and Elysian Fields. I dunno. I think I have a decent handle on navigating New Orleans, but I've never taken the streetcar with intent before. (Taking it mainly for the experience of WHEE I'M ON THE STREETCAR doesn't count.) There may be some subtleties I'm missing.

It's OK, you don't have to @ me about it. I'll figure it out as and when needed.

So that worked. Got to the house. Let myself in. Sat down in the blissful air conditioning (four blocks of New Orleans in July is a lot). Eventually got into my leggings and cut-offs. Packed my bookbag to be more lightweight for skate travel, leaving in only the things I imagined I'd want that evening.

Went out on the porch to put on my skates AND WAS IMMEDIATELY SURROUNDED BY KITTENS.

(eeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeee)

They were black and tabby and muted calico and tortie and gray. There were at least seven of them. They were half-grown and half-feral. Their favorite game seemed to be Who Can Get The Closest To The Human Without Getting Pet. They arranged themselves around the chair I was in, some where I could see them and some not. When I finally tore my eyes away and toe-stepped down the stoop to start my evening's journey, they scattered, then rearranged themselves proprietorially on the porch where I had been.

It was a long trip. It took me about half an hour, maybe forty minutes. Followed a pedicab most of the way down Decatur and North Peters. "You make a nice safe lane," I told the bicyclist. He suggested I hold onto the back and let him tow me; I declined, citing a need to see potentially hazardous bits of street before I rolled over them. It was a kind offer, though.

Stopped on the way at the terribly convenient Hertz on Convention Center Boulevard to reserve a rental for Sunday AM pick-up (and, incidentally, put to bed any future arguments about whether I needed a rental car; it was already rented, too bad).

After I'd done my required pre-ROTB business at the Sugar Mill, I headed the couple blocks down Andrew Higgins Boulevard toward Tchoupitoulas and Cochon Butcher. And there I not only worked some more on my short story, but I also had the muffuletta to make up for Amtrak's utter disgrace of an alleged muffuletta.

Got back to the airBnB eventually and met the neighbor lady who feeds the kittens. Sat on the porch and talked awhile. Finally went inside, geared down, changed into regular street clothes, walked to the nearby grocery for skater fuel--protein/energy bars, coconut water, fruit, that sort of thing. Came back. Started laundry. FINISHED THE SHORT STORY AND SUBMITTED IT. Promptly keeled over. The end.


Friday, July 14, 2018: Rollerbull o'clock

Woke up at 5:30 with plans to leave the house at 6:00 so as to be at the Sugar Mill for 6:30. That is frickin' early. What's more depressing is how hot out it already was when I started skating back toward the Sugar Mill. When a block later I encountered another rollerbull waiting for an Uber, I gratefully accepted her invitation to share the ride.

6:30 was indeed early--too early, really, to be there, despite that this was what the welcome packet told us to do. Not much to do, and no one to talk to if you don't know anyone and are sort of awkward at getting to know people. Was saved by some skaters from Big Easy Rollergirls who recognized me and also a crew from Steel City who'd been chatting with me on Twitter the afternoon before. So now I had some people to "bull around" with, and it was fantastic.

Dad was out there waiting to get a sweaty hug from his derby daughter and watch the fun and take pictures. (He was already beside himself with amusement/shock that several of the bulls were going topless except for pasties. I imagine he will wind up telling this detail to his hunting buddies, bar pals, and other friends and family about three billion times over the remainder of the year.)

So we received the blessing of San Fermín and were released to chase down the runners and swat their butts with our toy bats. Yay. I mean, honestly, I'm there for the skating, not so much for the butt-swatting. I am not thrilled by 1. dudes who say things along the lines of "ooh, yeah baby, hit me harder" (ew) 2. mostly dudes but some women too who holler after you that you "hit like a girl" or "got nothing" or other stupid challenges to my imagined machismo (this is not where my machismo lives, sorry, thanks for playing, try me again when I'm parallel parking or considering spicy food) 3. runners of all genders who insist that their friend "needs a beating" (bull does not take request, bull hits request-er instead). Or, in the case of the dude accosting me after the run while I was trying to talk to my Dad, dudes who come and put their hands/arms around my shoulders or on my back or other places without my consent and I have to extricate myself firmly but, alas, without breaking their gropey-ass appendages because violence is frowned upon by event organizers.

Basically I'm in it for the excuse to skate multiple laps around the course and then skate-dance to whatever the band is playing at the afterparty.

Eventually I peeled off, texted my goodbyes to the Steel City gals, and made my way into the Quarter. Greeted runners doing the same with "Great run this morning! Did y'all have fun too?" Stood for a selfie request with a couple tourists who said they'd had a blast.

Discovered that it's harder than I'd imagined to find a bar open before 11:00 AM on a Saturday. Found my way to Johnny White's for a beer and a photo uploading session. A party of runners descended on the place while I was thus occupied and took over the jukebox. When I finally got up to leave, I said hi and great run and all that, and one of them said, "We had a running bet whether you were deaf and maybe blind, that you were able to just keep working on your computer with us there." OK, I guess.

Now it was past 11:00 and all sorts of lunch options opened up. Too many options. I was too tired for decisions. So I fell back on my usual, which is the French Market Restaurant--you know, that place on Decatur Street with the green-and-white awnings and the constant tantalizing smell of boiled seafood wafting out the door. What I really wanted was boiled blue crab--I'd been assured they were in season--but they didn't have them. So I had a pasta dish instead. It was amazing. It involved spaghetti in a generous crawfish cream sauce topped by a central tower consisting of two slabs of fried eggplant and one damn fine crab cake. So that was fantastic.

I just want to point out that I have never yet been told anywhere in the New Orleans area, "You can't come in here with those skates on." Every single place I've been, restaurant or bar or hotel or Hertz rental office, they've been all, "Roll on in! Just be careful, OK?" The French Market Restaurant is no exception, but its restrooms are up a flight of stairs. Not a problem. Derby teaches the proper use of toe stops. So I'm toe-stopping my way up the stairs, and someone on her way down is all, "You are so talented," and I'm all, "Not talent, just good training." I mean, it beats the exchange several years ago on a post-ROTB bar crawl when the whole way up the stairs at Saints & Sinners someone kept repeating "Girl, you are gonna fall and break your leg." Like, why? Why would you say that? Having said it, why would you say it again?

Made it to the house. Tired. Full stomach. Clothes can't come off fast enough. Brief shower. Crawled into bed. Out like a light and stayed that way for about five hours.

Ventured out on the street again after dark--in shoes this time, thank you--looking for dinner and maybe if I was lucky a little wifi. The problem with Frenchmen Street is, mostly what you'll find are rockin' clubs with awesome shows and a one or two drink minimum and huge crowds. Would have been great if that was what I was in the mood for. If I'm in the mood, it's a treat just walking down the street and hearing the music coming out every door. But I just didn't have the energy for it.

Found my way instead into a courtyard and up some stairs and onto a rooftop patio with a pop-up called Rogue Cafe. They made me some tasty nachos. Thus for food. Then I remembered Envie at Barracks and Decatur, and settled in for coffee and an omelet and a bit of internet errand-running. This included making myself a Blue Bikes account. I'd noticed the rental hub on Frenchman Street at Washington Square and liked the idea of biking rather than skating to the Hertz office the next morning.

Stayed up a little late to get my Sunday morning AINC reading done--I'd already missed the Saturday shows, so I didn't want to miss Sunday too. Set my alarm for 6:15 and went to bed.


Food Tally for Friday and Saturday

It occurs to me I should be keeping track of what-got-et-when. I mean, we're now in the ACTUALLY IN NEW ORLEANS part of the travel journal. Food is going to be important. Thus:

The pasta takes the prize in that list with the muffuletta coming in a close second.

Cover art incorporates and modifies public domain image from pxhere.com - provided pxhere are not lying about that. I have some concerns.
with a hot bath and a huge RPG monster all things are possible
Tue 2018-05-29 23:52:02 (single post)
  • 1,432 words (if poetry, lines) long

Actually Writing Trivia! DID YOU KNOW? Niki composes some 80% of her blog posts in the bathtub after derby. It's getting to where some nights I can't make myself get started at all unless I'm sitting in hot water. Especially those nights when I have derby practice. And I had quite the derby practice. Hard on the heels of the Mayday Mayhem tournament, I'm heading to Topeka this Saturday as a last minute substitute into the Bombshells roster. And we did a weird new thing with how we field blockers! It was hard on my brain. Then it was hard on my body. Then we did ten minutes of interval sprints and ten minutes of plyometrics. And all that came after my post-tournament massage, which was like an extra workout in which someone else makes your muscles do the hard stuff for you.

So, yes, the bath. The bath and the beer and the recovery dinner. The beer is Lazy Magnolia's Southern Pecan. The dinner was Dal-style Lentils & Greens with Poached Egg. (The greens were radish sprouts chopped fine. I know, I know. Cooking is a crime against microgreens. I can live with that.)

But back to the writing!

Even considering Mayday Mayhem, everything was late. Later. It took me the better part of four hours yesterday to get the Friday Fictionette polished and ready to read into an MP3. No, I didn't manage to nibble at it over the weekend. I got as far as my freewriting Friday and Saturday, and not even that much on Sunday. So I didn't actually push the release until this morning. Tuesday. Tuesday is apparently the new Friday. I don't like it any more than you do.

But it's up now! The Friday Fictionette for May 25, 2018 is, belatedly, "Payback" (ebook and audiobook for Patrons, teaser excerpt for everybody). It's... well, I don't entirely like it. The protagonist is a whiny, entitled twenty-something in his backstory and an angry, resentful, stalled-out 40-something/60-something in the main story. I don't think he deserves a second chance, honestly, although if pressed I'd admit that no one deserves to have twenty years of their youth siphoned off without their consent. I dunno. This is another one I'm not selling very well. I guess it's not that bad. It's just, I've committed Mainstream Literary Anti-hero under a thin veneer of Life-shattering Fae Interference, and it makes me feel dirty.

Welp, it's what we've got. Have at it.

After the delayed release, I buckled down and made a solid start on the June 1 fictionette. I put up the Monday Muse (late, obvs), wrote the first draft of the author's note, and wrote most of the first draft of the fictionette itself. Which is huge for a Tuesday. My motivation, on top of needing to get the June 1 fictionette out early (Friday's probably going to be all road trip all the time and Saturday's the bout), was having begun a battle with a Suulan. A Suulan is worth 3,500 words which you must produce in four hours. My attack and defense stats mitigate that somewhat, but it's still a lot of work with very little room for futzing around. So there was nothing for it but to keep babbling rough draft until I'd hit my target. Yay! 4thewords for the win!

Between being in full-on Friday Fictionette catch-up mode up 'til this morning and moving into preemptive catch-up mode today, I haven't made it back to the short story revisions and am not likely to get there this week. Alas. And I have three bout weekends in June, so crunch time will continue right through the fourth weekend of the month. But there is a light at the end of the tunnel, and that light is JUNE HAS A FIFTH FRIDAY, HUZZAH! I look forward to doing absolutely nothing on that day.

there are games and then there are games
Fri 2018-05-25 23:00:29 (single post)

First, the good news. Boulder County Bombers won against Pikes Peak Derby Dames (Colorado Springs), 205 to 145. That means we go on to play Crossroads Roller Derby (Las Cruces, NM) at 3:30 on Saturday the 26th. It will be our second time facing them this year. The first went very well for us; we hope to do as well or better tomorrow.

Next, the not so good news: I didn't finish the Friday Fictionette in time to release it today. (This had a lot to do with sticking around after our game to watch our probable Sunday opponents play, then going out for dinner and games with one of the blockers from my "pod." About that latter, more in a moment.) Probably won't tomorrow, either. All I can do is nibble at it as often as I can over the tourmament weekend so I can have it up Monday at the latest.

Now for something completely different:

So right around the corner from the tournament venue is The Summit, an all-ages arcade. There's bowling, laser tag, and a bunch of the sort of arcade game that you pay for by swiping a card and that you can win tickets at for prizes in the little store. There is also a restaurant, the Crossroads Tavern & Grille.

John and I went there for dinner yesterday. This was right after some of the team went to the venue to preview the floor we'd be skating on. There were enough of us there, plus our coach, that it turned into a sort of capsule-sized practice session, with agility drills and wall work and so on. So by the time we were done, I was unexpectedly hot, tired, sweaty, and hungry.

Right at the top of the restaurant's burger menu is a Mac 'n Cheese Burger, kinda pricey at $19.99 but plenty enough food to be worth it. It's two full-sized patties each served open-face and covered in their signature three-cheese mac 'n cheese. The whole is sprinkled with bacon pieces and comes with a side of fries or whatever. That is what I ordered, mostly because both burgers and mac 'n cheese looked tasty and I was too hungry to decide between them.

Probably the first clue that something beyond the usual was going on: It arrived at the table and John asked me if I thought I could finish it. This is not a question he generally asks me, familiar as he is with my post-derby appetite. I was like, *shrug,* there's a refrigerator and microwave in the hotel room if I don't.

Time went by. We ate our meals. I read things on the internet. It was peaceful.

I was on my last couple bites of burger and just beginning to pay attention to the sweet potato fries when the server came back. She looked at my plate, looked at me, and then she told me, "You are the first person I have ever seen finish that burger all by themselves in one sitting." I'm all, huh? What? This? Seriously? Yes, she said. First time. Even the big burly guys who purport to be ready to eat a truck fade out somewhere in the second patty. "I am so proud of you," she said, "and I'm so happy that the first person I saw do that was a girl!"

All I could say was, "You must not get many roller derby skaters eating here."

But here's the kicker--apparently that Mac 'n Cheese Burger entree is a challenge entree. It's not listed as such in the menu--I probably wouldn't have ordered it if it were--but it is the case that if you do indeed eat it all by yourself in one sitting, they give you a $20 game card to spend in their arcade.

So that's what my podmate and I were doing there tonight. We were spending my windfall arcade money. And then I took all the tickets I earned playing those games and bought some fun little trinkets to share with the rest of our pod tomorrow.

It's a surprise, so don't tell!

Click through for excerpt and full cover art credits.
They came in 1 lb baskets. I had 2 to start, and a milk stout.
where i'm at and where i'm going
Sat 2018-04-07 16:46:54 (single post)
  • 1,217 words (if poetry, lines) long

No Puzzle Pirates/Spiral Knights blogging today. Had as much as I could do getting the Friday Fictionette for April 6 out on not-quite-time, and then it was half past noon and time to go eat crawfish. More about both in the paragraphs what follow.

I swear, as late as I was all through March, a Saturday morning release for a Friday Fictionette feels practically on time. I finished up production this morning and scheduled them for release at 1:00 PM today. Well, 1:00 for the ebook, 1:01 for the audiobook, and 1:15 for the HTML teaser excerpt. It's called "Contract Negotiations" and it's about the games goddesses play when they're bored and, possibly, in a mood to provoke each other.

So, here's the thing I just discovered about that. I mean, about the Friday Fictionette production process, but really about the process of drafting in 4thewords and copying the results into Scrivener? Turns out, 4TW introduces a bunch of non-breaking space characters and other invisible, unpredictable factors into the text where bog-standard word processor functions like copy/paste and turning italics on or off is concerned. It wasn't obvious until I'd already created the ebooks and was working on the excerpt and noticing "Huh, why's it look like there's double-width spaces sprinkled throughout the text? Please tell me those aren't visible in the ebooks...." THEY WERE. I had to do some really detail-oriented manual replace-and-find-next maneuvers and then recreate all three ebooks. Which was kind of infuriating. But oh well.

About crawfish: There seem to be more crawfish boils in the Denver/Boulder area all the time. Used to be, I knew one place to go, and I went there once a year: NoNo's Cafe in Littleton. Sometimes a bar would announce a very special party, but that was random and not to be counted upon. But this year I'm seeing crawfish events popping up all over my Facebook feed, like the one today at the Dark Horse in south Boulder. Which I went to. And it was fantastic. And apparently this was their third this year HOW DID I NOT KNOW ABOUT THIS BEFORE NOW and they might do one more maybe. Oh, I'm still going to go to NoNo's; they do them the best and have the most generous serving for your buck, and I'm not just saying that because the owner's practically family. But Dark Horse has become a surprisingly close second.

In case you're wondering, I can't recommend French Quarter Brasserie on Pearl Street for boiled crawfish. The one time I went, they were overcooked and underspiced, like maybe they tried to skip the post-cook seasonings soak time and instead just boiled them a few minutes longer. You can't get away with doing that and charging $14 per pound. By comparison, Dark Horse was $12 per pound, and NoNo's comes to about $11 per pound when you do the math (they do all-you-can-eat 'til they're gone, like a proper Gulf South neighborhood crawfish boil, pouring them out onto newspaper-covered tables for everyone to dig in).

(Don't get me wrong, I am happy with FQB for oysters on the half shell. I'm pleased enough with what they call po-boys despite that what they call po-boys involves remoulade instead of mayonnaise and soft hoagies rather than French bread; for me, the hard crust that crackles to pieces, sprays a five-foot radius with crumbs, and cuts the roof of your mouth is not a selling point. Maybe that makes me a heretic. Whatever. I prefer soft bread. And the amount of fried crawfish they put on my so-called po-boy was delightfully generous. I'm not a po-boys purist, OK? But I have standards when it comes to crawfish, and, much as it pains me to say it, FQB did not meet them.)

So that's where I'm at today as of right now: pleasantly full of crawfish and finally done with the April 6 Friday Fictionette. As for where I'm going, that'll be a reprise of last week's pizza-cocktails-and-Spiral-Knights date with John (at Beaujo's in Longmont and Vapor Distillery in Boulder). Saturdays are good.

does everything from posole to queso blanco
Wed 2018-02-14 22:13:48 (single post)

I was going to blog about cooking yesterday, but I was obliged to sacrifice yesterday on the altar of Overdue Household Administration Tasks. So you get the cooking blog post a day late. Here it is.

A few weeks ago, I woke up from a dream about cooking posole. It seemed like such a good idea that I resolved to do it for real. And I did! But also I made a mess of the kitchen. I used dried hominy instead of canned, since that happened to be what I was able to lay hands on soonest. And I thought, well, it'll plump up as it reconstitutes, but it'll soak up a bunch of broth as it does, so it's OK that there's not a lot of head room in the pot, right? WRONG. My poor old 4-quart slow-cooker overflowed all over the kitchen counter.

On the plus side, it was full of posole, which is amazing right after a three-hour roller derby practice. That almost made up for having to clean up a lake of ancho chili broth and pork fat right after a three-hour roller derby practice.

Not for the first time, I was reminded it was probably time to upgrade to a 6-quart slow-cooker. And I was reminded again when I found myself shopping at McGuckin a couple days later. They have a nice selection of slow-cookers in various sizes and brands. But I did not bring home a slow-cooker after all. I brought home a multi-cooker. (We pause now for the audience to go "ooh" and "aah" appreciatively.) I admit it: I am weak and easily tempted and also susceptible to the fear of regrets. As in, "Yes, the multi-cooker has a bunch of functions I probably don't need, and it costs about a hundred dollars more than the crock-pot I'd planned to buy. But if I do just buy the crock pot, will I come to regret not having bought the multi-cooker instead? I mean, define false economy. Besides, it's got pressure-cooker functions. Haven't I always kind of sort of wanted a pressure cooker? NOW'S MY CHANCE."

That very night, I used its WHITE RICE function to make rice. Badly. (I've gotten better since.) The next day I used its SAUTÉE, BROWN, and SLOW COOK functions to make the tea-braised chuck roast recipe at the end of this article.

But what I've used it for most frequently is cheese.

The multi-cooker does not boast of a cheese-making function. It boasts instead of a yogurt-making function, which is apparently for cooking the yogurt-to-be after you've mixed in the live culture. I didn't actually use that function. (Also I don't like yogurt.) But the yogurt-making instructions start off by having you heat your milk using the SLOW COOK function, which is also the first step in making paneer. So.

I never manage to drink a whole bottle of milk before its expiration date. "That's OK," I tell myself, pretty much every time. "I'll just make paneer with whatever's left." And then, pretty much every time, I put it off. And I put it off. And then next thing I know, it's too late. The milk has not only begun to self-curdle, which by itself mightn't be so bad, but it has also started turning surgical-appliance pink, and I'm not touching any pink milk that didn't come labeled STRAWBERRY, thanks.

But since acquiring this multi-cooker, I've made cheese multiple times. No putting it off at all. Partially, that's because I'm still all excited about using a brand-new kitchen appliance. But, more to the point, the multi-cooker makes the process simpler. I mean, not the entire process. The whole routine of getting out the cheesecloth and setting up for draining the curds and pressing them into a mold and draining them some more, that doesn't go away. But the multi-cooker does obviate the anxious half hour of running into the kitchen every five minutes to make sure the milk isn't boiling over. It also heats the milk up more slowly and with less potential for scorching.

I probably could have done this in my old 4-quart crock pot. But the idea just never occurred to me until I read the hype on the box the multi-cooker came in. "Does everything from rice to yogurt!" It is possible that a creamed corn experiment gone wrong had left me irrationally averse to heating milk or cream in a slow-cooker. The yogurt instructions reassured me. (I might actually try the slow cooker creamed corn thing again this summer, come to think of it.)

So I've made paneer in the multi-cooker. I have also fried paneer in the multi-cooker (using the BROWN function) preparatory to a sort of random-greens version of saag. Additionally, I have made queso blanco, which is what happens when I leave the curds draining too long so that the finished cheese is a crumbly mess that's fantastic on tamales. I've even experimented with pouring the whey back into the cooker, changing the function from HIGH temp to LOW, adding a tiny bit more acid, and then waiting to see whether this would produce ricotta/ricottone. IT DID. I got like a whole tablespoon of ricotta.

What the heck does one do with a tablespoon of ricotta? Bake a very tiny lasagna? Fill the world's smallest calzone? Stir it into the next batch of macaroni and cheese? Or something else?

TO BE CONTINUED! ...or not, depending.

working around a broken gold star dispenser
Wed 2018-01-10 23:56:50 (single post)

Announcement: I have begun to mail fruitcake to people! This involved taste-testing it, of course. (Also I hadn't had breakfast yet. My taste-test was rather thorough.) Past taste-tests indicate that rum really isn't the right flavor for fruitcake, at least not in my opinion. It's just too sweet. The right answer is cognac. Brandy will also do. I used cognac to re-booze the cheesecloth wrap a few days ago, and the flavor is much improved.

I was trying to remember what went into the fruitcake so I could list the ingredients on one of the accompanying greeting cards. Raisins, black and green; currants, black; ginger, candied; dates, pitted because there are limits to how much work I'm willing to do. But... was that all? I mean, yes, and slivered almonds, of course, but--no other fruit? Maybe dried cherries, but--no, I remember in the grocery store thinking, "Not both cherries and strawberries." But I certainly have no memory of julienne-slicing several ounces of dried strawberries by hand. If I had done it, I would remember. Trust me. Having done the same to the dates and the candied ginger was extremely memorable.

Well. Guess what I found in the back of the Volt this afternoon. That's right. A sealed pint container of dried strawberries. From December.

It's cool! It's fine. Dried fruit is fairly shelf-stable. But I'm thinking, dang, that's a lot of oatmeal I'm going to be eating those strawberries with.

OK, so, anyway, what I came to blog about the first time: Writing Gamification and Brain Hacks, Part Lots of Many.

Writing is not a job with a lot of external validation. Not at my stage of the game, anyway. There's a lot of time spent churning out words that no one cares about but you. There's a lot of story submissions that result in mostly rejection letters. There may be some self-publishing but very few eyeballs successfully attracted.

Common wisdom says that, for this reason, this is not a job for someone who needs external validation. The only validation that counts has to come from within. You know that what you're doing has worth; that knowledge has to be enough to keep you going. And if it isn't, maybe you aren't really cut out for this writing gig. Many people aren't. It's OK.

Y'all, common wisdom is mean.

I think most of us really do need some form of external validation. We're not robots, for goodness sake. Simon and Garfunkel's "I Am a Rock" isn't self-congratulatory; it's ironic, and the irony is bitter. We're not rocks, we're not islands, and if our internal validation process doesn't get the benefit of an external reality check from time to time, at least a little, maybe we start to doubt.

And what if your internal validation process is broken? See, I'm not actually very good at telling myself a did a good job and believing it. I'm much better at finding reasons why what I just accomplished doesn't count. Look, I've been spending more hours writing per day, or doing affiliated writing tasks that need doing. My daily word count has gone up. I'm submitting more stories more frequently. Two of my previous publications will debut in podcasts this year! The writing is going great...

And yet that little self-sabotaging voice in my head says, You're just making yourself a lot of busywork so you can feel accomplished.

It says, So how many of those 4,000+ words went toward actual publishable works?

It says, Easy to surpass five hours in a day when that's how far you are behind schedule.

It says, But what are you submitting lately? Not new stories. Not full-length stories. Certainly not good stories. You're scraping the bottom of the barrel in order to check off the Submissions Procedures to-do list item on a technicality.

There is no private workday writing-routine accomplishment so great that that little self-sabotaging voice can't tear it down. It will find a reason why the latest thing I did doesn't count.

So if I'm not getting external validation from acceptance letters and reviews and fans and stuff like that, and I'm not getting internal validation because that self-sabotaging jerk voice is overwhelming any sense of legitimate accomplishment, then where am I supposed to get any validation from at all?

Possibility one: Self-administered gold stars. Respond to the accomplishment by awarding myself some small tangible pleasure. It can be a literal gold star sticker, a small piece of chocolate, a walk in the sun, a few minutes playing a fun game. Main thing is, it's enjoyable. Self-sabotaging jerk-voice can make me question my right to feel accomplished, but it can't stop chocolate tasting good or gold stars being shiny and cheerful. Establishing a pattern of "accomplish something--get a yummy treat" can over time help dislodge the pattern of "accomplish something--realize it was worthless." Or at least give it some healthy competition.

Possibility two: Self-initiated external validation systems. Otherwise known as--you guessed it--gamification.

Take 4thewords as the example, since I'm using it right now this minute. 4thewords doesn't care if the 1300 words you defeat a dust-zombie Villager with were story draft, blog post, freewriting, or even a bunch of incoherent babble. Write 1300 words, defeat the Villager, get rewarded. You'd think that this would further fuel the Jerk-Brain--It would have rewarded you for pasting in 1300 words of lorem ipsum, so it doesn't mean anything--but, weirdly, that doesn't seem to be the case. Possibly because I know that I wouldn't just paste in 1300 words of lorem ipsum and call it writing. Possibly because the incoherent babble has a purpose.

And definitely because it's like that piece of chocolate: It still tastes good. It still feels good to see the pop-up that says "You WON a battle against Villager. You received 4 dust and 136 XP."

That last bit is the brain hack. It's magic. It should not work. I'm the one pulling the marionette's strings. I'm the one starting the robot on its preprogrammed sequence. And yet when the sequence completes and the robot says "Good job!" I react emotionally like my old Null-kitty getting belly rubs. Because even though I'm the one awarding it to myself, chocolate still tastes like good.

Basically, I've installed an artificial connector between "write a bunch of words" and "feel good about having written a bunch of words" to replace the built-in connection that got broken somewhere along the way. It's actually "feel good about the game quest that writing a bunch of words enabled you to complete," but it doesn't matter. It is still a direct line between writing and feeling good, and that line is vital to keeping me motivated to write.

Now, there's a whole 'nother speech Jerk-Brain likes to give me about what a pathetic specimen I am for needing all these brain-hacks and artificially induced belly rubs and chocolate when Real Writers Don't Need Tricks to Get Themselves to Write... but that speech, at least, I've learned to shrug off. "That may be so," I tell Jerk-Brain, "but I'm still writing."

so about those new year's resolutions
Mon 2018-01-01 23:07:23 (single post)

Happy 2018 everybody! I hope the first day of the new year has treated you splendidly. If it hasn't, well, what's one day out of three hundred and sixty-five? Not even one percent. Tomorrow can always be better.

I have done my darnedest to stuff everything I want into a single day. Writing, playing, exercising, cooking, time with my husband doing all of the above. All that was missing was fibercrafts and derby, and those will happen tomorrow.

I even got in a visit to the Boulder Bookstore. When I checked out the other day, they gave me a coupon for 25% off everything in the store on January 1. "Is this because you've got annual inventory coming up, and you'd like as little stock as possible to inventory?" I asked. Both staff members on check-out duty nodded emphatically. So John and I went in today and did our part to make their annual inventory easier.

I got new packages of non-specific winter holiday greeting cards. (All the winter solstice cards had sold out long ago.) John got a couple of books. One of them was all about bread. So tonight, a few hours after our lovely homemade dinner of saag paneer over rice with fresh naan (I win at dinner), John opened up his new book and started experimenting. As we speak, he is eating quesadillas made from his very first attempts at making tortillas.

So I said I'd come up with some New Year's resolutions today, something more specific than what I babbled out Friday. I'm not sure I have, actually. I've just kind of made today into a sort of microcosm of what I want my writing life in 2018 to look like. Which is to say: drafting new story, revising existing story, submitting finished story. I want every working day to have all three of those things in it.

Additionally, I want to:

  • Keep the Friday Fictionette project on schedule
  • Finish new stories and submit them to paying markets
  • Make meaningful progress on novel revision

And of course I would love to actually make some sales and get published more. But I'm leaving that out of my resolution-like statements here because it's not entirely under my control. I can't make editors say "Yes, we love it, take our money and let us publish it please!" But all the work that comes before the editor's yes or no--that is, writing, revising, and submitting pieces of fiction to paying markets--that is under my control. So that's what I'm resolving to do in 2018: More of that.

As for right now this minute I want to write enough words to defeat enough Winter Frizis to collect enough Winter Snowflakes to complete the Snowflake Collector Quest before the Winter Wonderland 2018 event ends midday January 3! Well, that's less "this minute" and more "tonight and tomorrow." Still.

Yay, one more Winter Frizi down and two more Winter Snowflakes in my inventory! Woot!

Cover art incorporates public domain vector images from Pixabay and Public Domain Pictures.net
this fictionette is entering a world of longer days and shorter nights
Fri 2017-12-22 23:43:20 (single post)
  • 1,268 words (if poetry, lines) long

As hoped for and expected, the Friday Fictionette for December 22, 2017 did not suffer for the two days I took off from writing for Yuletide preparations, observance, and clean-up. It is out and ready for your perusal, should that sound like a good time to you. It's called, "The Croquet Lawn, and What They Found There." Here's your usual bouquet of links: ebook ($1/month patrons), audiobook ($3/month patrons), and teaser excerpt (available to all). It is about portals and why you might not want to go through them. Also entomophobia, nicknames for golden retrievers, and needing to buy a new Christmas tree.

It's the Christmas edition of Friday Fictionettes. Well, sort of. I mean, there's a Christmas tree in it. Only there isn't, but that's the whole point, really. Nothing that should have been in that closet is there, and a whole lot of something that oughtn't to be is. Portal fantasy, y'all.

All the above-mentioned Yuletide preparations went to plan. All the food got cooked, sampled, and declared delicious. I now have a lot of leftover pie, which takes care of the majority of my meals for the next three days. Egg nog got drunk on rum. People got drunk on rum. People came over! Some people stayed until very late at night! It was swell.

I even managed to convince my Pandora station to behave and play me songs like "The Holly King" and "Dark Mother." (Also a bunch of random Celtic tunes, a selection of Arthuriana set to harp and guitar, and a whole lot of Loreena McKennitt. Which near misses beat the heck out of random Pete Seeger. "I hear you like folk music so I brought you some folk music." That's nice, Pandora. Good try.) But I didn't end up listening to it much once I stopped cooking, because by then I was either socializing or playing Rock Band.

I played a lot of Rock Band. Rock Band got me through those final few hours after the last guests left (around... 3:30 AM? Maybe?) and John went to sleep (ditto) and staying awake became a real struggle. On the downside, my left wrist is extra sore from curving awkwardly around the controller to get to the overdrive trigger. (Also from mildly spraining it doing dishes the next day.) On the plus side, I've gotten a lot better at sight-reading for pro keys.

Then the sun came up and I went down. I woke briefly as John was leaving for work. He gave me the news that scrimmage had been canceled due to icy roads and stupidly cold temperatures. So it turned out I had only two things to do with my Thursday: 1. Clean up after the party. 2. Continue improving my Rock Band 3 scores. I did those things. In quantity.

And then today happened and I got back to work. For the results of which, I refer you to the first two paragraphs of this blog post.

In addition to my regular Friday writing tasks, I had my very first solo Boulder Food Rescue (BFR) groceries delivery. I've just started volunteering with them. My roller derby league turned me on to them; they were on the list of community organizations which members were encouraged to go pitch in with toward the end of the year. I joined them as a last-minute volunteer sous chef for their "lunch bunch" event back at the beginning of December, and subsequently decided I'd like to work with them more. So I went to the orientation last week, shadowed one of their veteran volunteers Monday morning, and had my first solo shift this afternoon.

It went OK! I arrived at the donor grocery, loaded up the BFR bike trailer with some 150 pounds of donated produce, and rode that sucker the couple miles up to the recipient community. The delivery was a success. I did not bump the trailer into any cars, curbs, or people. The bike did not fall over in what was left of the ice and snow. No food fell off the trailer. One volunteer fell over once trying to get off the bike, having forgotten that the bike's crossbar was too high for her usual dismount maneuver, but she picked herself up again and carried on.

BFR are pretty well known around here, and their trailers are distinctive. Several people recognized the trailer while I was sorting the food, loading it up, or riding it to its destination, and they thanked me. I didn't know what to say. I thanked them back and wished them a good evening. It was awkward and sweet and it kind of made me glow.

I like the gig so far. I'm going to do it again next week.

"So, uh, who wants some cake?"
Tue 2017-12-12 23:48:05 (single post)
  • 739 words (if poetry, lines) long

Because Aubergine of Metafilter might need a little help eating all that cake.

I had happy news of my own to share tonight, and I still do, but the news out of Alabama right now takes, um, all 40 cakes. I mean. I just. I--

(be right back.)

*Running footsteps diminishing in volume*

*Inarticulate screaming from several rooms away*

*Running footsteps getting louder until--*

OK. OK, thanks. Sorry. I'm back. I just--aaaaugh! Look. I didn't want to be glued to the hour-by-hour election results today. (For one thing, I had a cake of my own to bake.) Thanks to roller derby practice, I couldn't glue myself to the screen. So I went to practice and derby, as per usual, ate all my extraneous brain-power. (It also gave me what feel like lovely shoulder bruises which I will be very disappointed in if they don't color up by tomorrow.)

And then I came home, and I looked at my phone, and there was a text, and the text said, "Thank. Whatever Gods. That be." Or something like that.

I wrote back, "Are you telling me the good guys won?"

And the response was "YES." Just that. Just one word, and I started hyperventilating.

Y'all. Y'all! It happened. All the combined efforts of every allied organization to get out the vote--they got out the Gods damned vote! Postcards to Voters volunteers mailed a handwritten postcard to every registered Democrat household in Alabama. (I wrote 55 of them!). And what the NAACP did was huge. (Seriously. Read this twitter thread detailing their efforts. The opposition shooting themselves in their feet at every opportunity didn't hurt, but that's not a thing you can count on. GOTV! IT WORKS!

OK. OK! So. Much shadowed by this, and that's a fine thing, but: I do have happy news of my own. I have been given the go-ahead to announce that one of my September 2014 Friday Fictionettes, "What Dreams May Hatch," will appear at the podcast Toasted Cake in April of 2018. All the happy dance! This will be my second time getting to hear Tina read one of my works (here's the first). She does a beautiful job. I'm very much looking forward to it, and so, I think, should you.

I had more to say, but it can wait until tomorrow. I think I'm going to just go bask in the celebration on Metafilter and the PTV Facebook right now.

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