Wednesday, March 30, 2011

A Spring Parable

Today, Princess got invited to a friend's last-minute birthday party. We were running a bit later than I wanted to, thanks to Bean needing a diaper change. On our way, we stopped off at another of Princess' friends house to pick up her several-times-removed cousin. (They think it's so cool they're distantly related, and so do I!)

I got out of the van to go get Princess' friend, and next to the driveway was some bare dirt, sloping up towards a play area. The earth was packed, thick mud that had been buried under mounds of snow during our soggy winter. We had rain last week, but the ground is finally drying out, and there were deep cracks in the surface.

This in itself is unremarkable. But what I saw had me wishing for a camera in my phone. Right there, in the middle of the chilly weather was a sign of beauty and strength. A daffodil (or a crocus, but I think it was a daffodil) reached bright green spears out of the soil and had knocked some big chunks of earth out of the way as it grew.

The little plant was strong and steady, as if waiting for the air to grow warmer and the sun to shine brighter so it could keep growing and bloom. The starkness between what the small daffodil had endured versus what it would become was plain to see, symbolized by almost luminescent leaves rising out of bleak chaos.

Instantly, I thought of how we are like this. We toil and get full of dirt and at times hunker down under the ground as winter rages. But when the right time comes, we struggle through the layers to become what we were always meant to be, and our blossoming is even more beautiful when we look down to see what we pushed through and rose above.

Always remember, whether under the ground, struggling through, or reaching higher, that the Son is forever shining on His creations, encouraging us to bloom.

Monday, March 28, 2011

Writing Tip: An Easy Way to Find Repetitive Words When You Don't Know What They Are

I've seen lots of writing advice mention taking advantage of Word's find and replace function to see how many times you use common words. This is a good tool, if you know what words to look for.

Unfortunately, after hours of staring at a chapter, all the words tend to run together. Oh, I thought, if only there was a way to find the words I don't know I'm repeating. I didn't know where to find such information--until now.

Today I stumbled across All you have to do is copy and paste a bunch of your manuscript into their special box, and the site creates a word cloud with the words you use the most being the biggest. I plugged in my second chapter, and look what happened:

Wordle: Untitled

I enlarged the picture a little so you can see it better, but it's still blurry. Anyway, I've been over and rewritten this chapter several times, but there's still work to do. From this Wordle I see that I need to check my chapter for the words "looked," "back," "just," and "little," to see if I can cut some of them. I may run a couple of the other words through as well. (Not with a sword, but with the find and replace function--though I may feel like using a sword by this point!)

If you try this, please let me know how you like it! I have a feeling that Wordle and I are going to be good friends.

Thursday, March 24, 2011

Introducing . . . a New Blog Segment!

The big announcement, the brand new segment here at I Am a Pistachio is . . .

Drumroll . . .

Friday Favorites!

Are you jumping for joy yet? No? Ah. I see. Not a fan of the subtle kinds of joy, eh? You might be surprised.

Every Friday I'm going to share one of my favorite things. It could be my favorite lotion, a band (probably not rubber), movie, a picture, experience, or something I find amazingly cool. This will help me remember why I love the things/experiences/people I do, and maybe you'll find something that's a new favorite. I'm looking forward to hearing your Friday Favorites in the comments!

Today's Friday Favorite is a smell.

Ok, I won't make you wait.

The other day I was eating a spinach salad, and to my amazement, I found a piece of clover. Curious, I gingerly tasted it, and let me tell you, I don't know what the heck cows and horses see in that vile stuff. *shudders* But when I spit the disgusting thing out, the scent of sun-warmed, cut grass rose to my nose and brought a tingle of excitement, a teensy jolt of what it feels like after the first lawn-mowing of the spring.

Spring is fickle here in the Midwest. She teases us with a mild day, and just when we're warming up to the idea--BAM! We're hit with a cold one, and I'm not talking root beer, or beer beer, for that matter. Spring is a coy flirt. However, after munching that clover, for a flash of an instant I not only smelled grass, but sunbeams danced on my skin as delicate breezes played with my hair. It's amazing what memory a simple scent can bring.

Now I'm yearning to hear the birds sing under new leaves while I lean on the deck, inhaling green air and drinking some freshly mixed lemonade.

So spring, flirt all you want, but soon you will have to settle down. We all welcome you!

***This Friday Favorite has been brought to you by a rejected clover.***

Wednesday, March 23, 2011

KiTE by Bill Shears

KiTE is the name of a sweeper, which is basically a space garbage truck, but much cooler. My trash guys don't have a laser to blast potato peelings or cantaloupe rinds to bits. . .but I'm getting off topic. Mason Dash is a pilot of KiTE, who thanks to advanced technology, spends most of his three-month flight wearing only boxer shorts and staring into space. Dash's wife, Janet, has made some--ahem--adjustments to Dash's virtual girlfriend toy, Sheila, and Sheila begins changing into something more than a visually pleasing computer program--she begins to think for herself.

Meanwhile, inside the computer, a bit of information develops enough awareness and intelligence to threaten  domination of the entire system (and is comical to watch do so), while Dash (who is ignorant of the whole thing) gets wind of something strange happening on a supposedly unmanned space station.

I thought KiTE was humorous and well-written. This is the techiest sci-fi I've ever read, which made the story a bit difficult to follow at times, but it was great fun. My favorite scenes had to do with the internal computer components becoming more intelligent, forming allegiances and verbally jousting with one another, as well as the subtle but well-placed references to Hitchhikers Guide to the Galaxy. Mr. Shears writes with a flavor reminiscent of Douglas Adams, but the resulting dish is entirely his own. Quite tasty.

There was some gratuitous profanity, but I believe the words are PG-rated. Also, some readers may want to know about a scene that involves a male computer intelligence component "linking" with a female one, and though the scene wasn't overly descriptive (played for humor), it was sexual in connotation. I admit my jaw dropped a bit, but I laughed at the same time!

I enjoyed KiTE and hope to read more by talented author Bill Shears.

Purchase here at Amazon: KiTE

Visit the author's website: Bill Shears

To read my husband, James', review on Kite, head over to Syncopated Musings

***I have received a copy of this book for the purpose of review, and have not been compensated in any other way for my opinions***

My Arch Enemy: Resistance

Reminder: new segment on Friday!

There is a struggle, deep within me (and most people, I'm sure) to balance my desire to express myself in various ways. I love to write, to sing, to dance. I love to create. Yet I get excited one moment, thrilled at the thought of taking part in one of these things, then something inside me takes great pleasure at distracting me from actually carrying any of those plans out.

One of my dear friends, Kimberly VanderHorst, shared a quote with me from the book The War of Art by Steven Pressfield. I was so impressed that I sent away through interlibrary loan and read this masterpiece in a couple of hours. Many times, while reading, I wondered how the author got into my head. I would combine his definition of "Resistance" (he capitalizes the word) with my own understanding on how Satan works against us to distract us from our potential. I'll share a quote with you from the book that really touched me:

"Are you a born writer? Were you put on earth to be a painter, a scientist, an apostle of peace? In the end the question can only be answered by action. 

Do it or don't do it.

It may help to think of it this way. If you were meant to cure cancer or write a symphony or crack cold fusion and you don't do it, you not only hurt yourself, even destroy yourself. You hurt your children. You hurt me. You hurt the planet. 

You shame the angels who watch over you and you spite the Almighty, who created you and only you with your unique gifts, for the sole purpose of nudging the human race one millimeter farther along its path back to God.

Creative work is not a selfish act or a bid for attention on the part of the actor. It's a gift to the world and every being in it. Don't cheat us of your contribution. Give us what you've got."

Now, I do think that our main purpose is getting ourselves back to God, but we're supposed to help others on their way, so I think that was an interesting way of putting his views. But this quote and the rest of the book helped me to realize that my creative work isn't just benefiting me. We should be doing what we love and sharing it with others. Satan would have us think this is prideful, but when we come to our work with a sense of humility and remembering where our gifts come from, it is the right thing to do--to share ourselves with others in this way. This also helps me remember where those feelings of discouragement and distraction come from. 

Now, if it's not too late, I'm going to submit another chapter to my critique group. You know, overcoming resistance and all that polka--I mean, jazz.

(I do have to give a word of warning--Steven uses a couple of heavy swear words in the book a few times. I find that interesting since he also talks about God and angels!)

Monday, March 21, 2011

Squirrel! And an Announcement

It's just a little announcement. Wednesday will be a regular post, Thursday I'm reviewing Kite by Bill Shears, and on Friday I'm introducing a new, weekly segment here at the blog. It's a surprise, so prepare to be amazed! (Okay, it's not that big. But I'm hoping this will be fun.)

Today's topic:

With the weather warming up, the squirrels are out in force. I watch them from my front and back window, cavorting around. (The squirrels cavort. Not me.) I love how light on their feet they are.

Squirrel tails are so cool-looking, fluffy and substantial, and they flick them with more talent than a Regency woman holding a fan. Sometimes I wish I had one of those tails just to display a squirrel's level of attitude without saying a word. When my kids do something I just don't have the language to deal with unless I erupt, I could do what our resident squirrel Harvey does (all squirrels here are named Harvey) to our dog--flick my tail in elegant indignation.

Once, when I was a teen, some kids I knew had a baby squirrel for a pet. Somehow I thought its fur would be bristly, but it was the softest thing I'd ever touched. Their liquid brown eyes are so beautiful too.

And one of the greatest things about squirrels? They make me laugh. Not only the way they torment the dog, but how they look when they're scampering about. They remind me of sideways parentheses. (And we all know how I love parentheses.)

Friday, March 18, 2011

Miss Delacourt Has Her Day by Heidi Ashworth, and a Giveaway Link for TWO Books!

The Sequel

I "met" Heidi a couple years back while blog-hopping. I was probably impressed with something witty she said on the comment section of another friend's blog, and I began reading hers on a regular basis. I got to know Heidi a bit more as time went by, and discovered she wrote a book. I obtained that book, Miss Delacourt Speaks Her Mind, and became an instant fan. One of the highest praises I can give an author is to look them up online after I turn the final page. If I hadn't already known Heidi, I would have looked her up, hoping she had a slew of books I could devour in the same way I eat chocolate--with gusto and a smile. I love books that make me laugh, and I don't come across them very often. Heidi's books are the best medicine!

I was so excited when I found out there would be a sequel, and thrilled beyond words when Heidi requested the use of a beautiful poem my husband James wrote for me. My review of her book isn't changed by the fact that Sir Anthony professes his love for Ginny using my husband's words, *squeal* or that I consider Heidi to be a good online friend. I hope I get to meet her in person someday!

My Review

Poor Miss Delacourt; dear, sweet Ginny! When we left her in Miss Delacourt Speaks Her Mind, she was happily ensconced in Sir Anthony's love--after many delicious ups and downs--and looking forward to her future. With the first few pages of this book, however, all this is turned upside down!

Anthony still loves Ginny, more than life itself. Heck, he even wrote her the most beautiful poem ever! *wink* But due to the untimely death of a relative, Anthony's station in life is about to become loftier. His uncle, the Duke of Marcross, is calling the shots, and the rascal deems Ginny Delacourt "unsuitable".

Thus ensues a twisting plot full of ridiculous women and Duke Marcross-inspired devices that had me despairing whether Anthony and Ginny would ever be together! However, I was reassured time and time again by the dashing Sir Anthony himself that they would be. One of my favorite parts of this story was how Anthony never once thought about not marrying Ginny. For him, it was as good as done--he just had to figure out the best way to go about it while keeping Ginny's reputation intact. Leaving his sweet darling was not an option, no matter how saggy her dress hems were, or the fact that she fell down the stairs to land in a heap in front of his highbrow mother.Which brings us to that wench noble lady. I wanted to smack Anthony's mother so many times, especially when we think she's going to do something kind, but it's self-serving. And Anthony's former love interest Rebecca? Besides her dashing beauty and perfect choice in names, she has nothing going for her except being a cruel, cold villainess. I loved her character! 

Lucinda and Lord Avery make quite a few appearances in the book. Lucinda turned from a silly but good-hearted maiden to a completely insufferable married woman. If I were Ginny I would have thrown a toad or something in her face. I even began to feel bad for Avery, as what the years held in store for him was increasingly apparent! We also get to see a little more of Sir Anthony's valet Conti, whose wealth of knowledge and  hidden talents enabled Sir Anthony to keep his plotting secret.

Heidi Ashworth writes her characters so well they come alive. I was tickled by the amount of witty dialogue. Wit and humor together never fail to make me laugh, and I did so quite often throughout the book. Not many books make me smile so much, never mind giggle into the pages. Plus, and those who know me know that I do not say this lightly, Sir Anthony is in my trio of "Regency Men Who Make Me Swoon" along with Mr. Knightley and Mr. Darcy. In fact, Sir Anthony ranks second to Mr. Knightley. I so wish these books would be made into movies.

Miss Delacourt Has Her Day is clean, charming, smartly written, and loads of fun. I will read it over and over, and both of the books I own by Heidi Ashworth will have prominent places on my shelf. I'm already looking forward to introducing my daughter to them when she grows up enough to become interested in romance, and I'll be buying copies for her when she goes off to college. She's not taking mine.

You can win BOTH of Heidi's Miss Delacourt books at a giveaway on her blog here: Dunhaven Place

Buy this book on Amazon here: Miss Delacourt Has Her Day

***I was given a copy of this book for the purpose of review and have not been compensated in any other way. James' poem was included in the book for the sheer thrill of seeing words in print, and not in any way payment for anything.***

Wednesday, March 16, 2011

A Slight Rant on Characterization, or Here's Something to Think About

Because I live out here in the Midwest, I'm becoming good friends with Mr. Interlibrary Loan. Our library system has sadly encountered a series of budget cuts, so they do not have a lot of the books I want to read, especially ones that are up for various awards. Since we have "budget cuts" of our own, I usually try to read a book from the library first, then buy it later if I love it--kinda like regular people do with movies. (I'm not a big movie buyer, if you couldn't tell.) I had a "duh" moment a couple of weeks ago when I remembered I could get anything through the library!

So, I was excited to get an interlibrary loan last week, and read it while on my sickbed.

The plot was interesting, but after the final pages I closed the book and felt nothing. This bothered me. There was a decent amount of action, tension and emotional happenings that should have had a big impact, but the book fell flat. After a while I realized what the main problem was.

To a point, I can overlook things like predictability and less-than-stellar plot if the characters are good. I like books with characters I can sink my teeth into. Not people I want to bite (hee, hee), but something that makes them stick out, makes them feel real. Action, romance or sympathy doesn't do anything for me if I don't know what makes the character tick, and not feeling enough for the character makes me feel callous, which is something else that bugs me. Boiled down, my feelings amount to this: Oh, you're in danger? Well I don't care because I don't know what kind of ice cream you like, favorite band or type of clothing you're into, or what you typically do on a Saturday night, or if you like dogs or scrapbooking.

Superficial? If this were a real person, yes. But a fictional person needs this type of familiarity, something to make them feel more real and grounded in my mind. I can read about their emotions and how various things affected them, physical sensations and everything, but if the character's not real to me I'm not going to care why he/she is affected that way. I want to see how they act relating to their everyday habits and experiences, and how changing those things affect them.

If a woman likes to run on the sidewalk in her neighborhood every morning but she's been forced to move to a city with no sidewalks, it's going to affect her. If a man's wife always had dinner ready when he came home from work, how will coming home the first time after she's left him for another man affect him? I don't remember which book it was now since I read it as a teen, but one of the most powerful scenes I ever read was one of a family where their mother had died of cancer. She used to like to bake pies and freeze them. There was a scene where the family took out the last pie she had made and shared it. The images were so reverent and emotional that it chokes me up just to think about it now. It's these types of details that will stick with readers.

Changes in routine are also a great way to show character growth. A story about a girl trying to lose weight might have her show her internal resolve by grabbing a bag of baby carrots instead of her daily barbecue potato chips (and no, I'm not admitting to any habits here). No matter how much emotion we try to show in the way characters speak or feel, they're going to fall flat if the reader knows nothing about what makes our characters tick.

I'm going to take my own advice and see what I can do to make my characters more realistic.

Monday, March 14, 2011

A Ditz for Chocolate

Sometimes I wonder how my husband can think I'm an intelligent woman when, at times, I'm a total airhead.

When I was expecting my first child, I was at Walmart with my mother and there was a lady handing out Ferrero Rocher samples. There were three different choices cut open on napkins on the table, so I took one. It didn't taste very good--kind of dried out. I was disappointed, especially when thinking about the commercials with fancy people eating them. Must be an acquired taste, I thought.

The woman looked at me strangely, which I thought was rude since the samples were there for the purpose of being eaten. As we walked away my mother leaned over and whispered, "You ate her display." 

I looked back and sure enough, there was a bowl of wrapped chocolates sitting right next to the trio of stale, cut-open ones. 

My cheeks burned as we drove our cart onward. My mother gave me a wrapped chocolate she'd taken for me. The fresh candy tasted better, much better, but the flavor was tainted by the bitterness of knowing I was a dork.

I haven't gotten better in the years following. Take the last time we went to visit James' parents, for New Years. We'd stopped at Taco Bell and I was tired, stressed out and waiting for our order. I noticed a brown paper-wrapped box sitting on the counter and asked the teenage guy standing there, "Is that our order?"

"That's napkins," he replied.

Oh, well. Someone has to be the family entertainment.

Thursday, March 10, 2011

Book Review: Journey of Honor by Jaclyn M. Hawkes

Back Cover 

Disowned, she came to America anyway. Attacked and left pregnant by a vicious mob, she still pressed on. Finally, in spite of being accused of theft by the vilest of her attackers, Giselle tries to remain as upbeat and uncomplaining as a prairie wildflower as she travels on to Zion.

Thoroughly disillusioned with the ugliness and cruelty of slavery in the South, Trace Grayson leaves his young medical career to go west, hoping to leave bigotry and hatred behind. He begins taking goods by teamster train to sell in the territories. However, this fourth time across, in July of 1848, he’s stuck in St. Joseph, Missouri, waiting for enough wagons to join the train so that they can leave.

Knowing that if they don’t start west soon, they’ll be caught by snow in the mountains, Trace is thrilled when the final wagon signs on. Then, when the beautiful, young Dutch girl traveling with the last wagon is falsely accused of stealing and is detained, the whole trip is jeopardized. Thrown together by circumstance, Trace and Giselle team up to begin to figure out just how to make this epic journey across a continent a success.
With a deep sense of honor and an equally strong sense of humor, together they learn to deal with everything except the one trial that neither of them can overcome.

My Review

The back cover pretty much sums up the story, so I can't say much more without giving anything away. I liked Trace's character. He was strong, gentle, and loyal. What a guy!

I had a harder time finding Giselle's character believable because she didn't seem to have any flaws--except for not letting Trace know when she was in trouble. She was perfect in sweetness, looks, and everything a man could ever want. Seeing her have a few flaws would have made her more real to me. Also, Giselle was so innocent that I felt like she should have been more traumatized after being attacked by a mob than she was, and I was surprised those horrors didn't affect her new relationship with Trace more than they did.

Something that distracted me while reading was that, in many instances (but not all), I felt I was being told the story instead of shown it. For example, there were times I would liked to have read a conversation instead of being told what a character said, or seen how they were angry or happy instead of being told they were, but that's just my personal preference.

I had some difficulty with the backstory concerning Trace's adopted brother Mose. Could a white physician have adopted a black child in pre-Civil War Georgia? To my knowledge, a black child who had recovered from a severe beating would have been someone's "property" and been reclaimed or sold. Adopting a black child into a white family would have caused a lot more problems than hatred and bigotry in words only, especially in the deep south. I could have believed the doctor bought the child out of necessity and treated him as one of his own only behind closed doors, but not adopting and calling the boy his son.

I think the author did a great job with the romance. The romantic tension between Trace and Giselle was riveting, and there were some funny moments between the two. I liked how Trace kept control of himself, and how the attraction was addressed in a tasteful way instead of being tossed to the back burner. I enjoyed seeing where budding attraction took the main characters, and that's what kept me reading until the end.

You can purchase Journey of Honor here: Amazon

Visit the author's website: Jaclyn M. Hawkes

*Disclaimer* I was given a copy of the book for the purposes of review. I have not been compensated in any manner for my opinions.

Wednesday, March 9, 2011

Why Write?

For a long time I struggled with the time aspect of writing. Why, I thought, should I spend so much time and work on something that may never see the light of day? My main reason for writing a book is to give someone an experience that will reach them like so many authors have touched me, but what if I don't make it? Wouldn't all that time be a waste?

Then, one day, I stumbled across this post on Carolyn Garvin's blog: Writing the Significant Versus the Superficial , and it led me to this post on Murderati by Toni McGee Causey: Comfort Reading.

Toni's words, in an instant, changed my view of the time I spend writing. I don't think I've ever read a blog post that changed me so fundamentally. There's the writer I was before the post, and the writer after. When I begin to doubt myself I think of that post and right away, I have things back in perspective.

I've bookmarked the post and when I get a writing space/desk, I may just print and frame it.

After you read Toni's life-changing advice, I'd love to hear your thoughts.

Monday, March 7, 2011

It's Like That. Exactly.

You know how one of the perks of owning one of these--

Our dog Romeo

is how they'll snarf up anything resembling food on the floor?

Drop a Cheeto, gone. Cookie crumbs? You betcha.

Don't want a dog? No worries.

Get one of these:

(Photo by Louisa Stokes)

Same result--except you don't have to worry about chocolate.

Saturday, March 5, 2011

It's an Obsession, Nuh-Nuh

I have this tendency, this quality, if you will, to become totally a little obsessed with whatever I'm focusing on. For example, the other day I was curious about fermented foods and spent an undisclosable (because it's embarrassing) amount of time learning how to make my own sauerkraut. (Which I plan on doing when I find a suitable crock or gallon-size jar.) But I digress.

For the past couple of months I've been slowly going through everything in the main level of my house. It's going to take another couple of months to get through the rest of it. The clearer the rooms are, the better and more calm I feel. So my obsession has been taken to new heights--I've spent hours poring over Walmart and Target's websites, as well as Amazon, looking for the best (read cheapest without falling apart) storage solutions for those things that are necessary to keep.

So, once I found out yesterday that some of those things were in stock at the store, I had to go. James and I went on a date last night and I couldn't get to Target before it closed. So, this morning when I couldn't go back to sleep after being woken up by the Meem Monster (Bean's new nickname, because he yells "Meem!" at everything he wants. It means "more".), I headed out in 20-degree-feels-like-minus-6 weather. I was a little surprised when I saw the clock on the dashboard--8:00. I thought it was lying. On a Saturday I'm lucky to get out to my Zumba class at 10:00.

I got home four and a half hours later, loaded down with some drawers I scored at 50% off, some bins to keep toys under Princess' bed, a cabinet thing for the living room, and something I've always wanted but could never justify the purchase of:

Product Details

Yes, it's a basket. I'm doing cartwheels over having a lovely basket! It now lives under the side table that I want to refinish in my living room. I've always wanted a sturdy, pretty basket with straight sides, but never needed one enough to actually get one--until now. We go to the library pretty often and it's perfect to hold our tons of books!

So if you'll excuse me, I'm going to make lunch for my hungry family and sneak out of the kitchen every couple of minutes to gaze at my basket--and the boxes of drawers and the cabinet that need to be put together.