Wednesday, December 12, 2012

12/12/12

The more things change, the more they... well... become different, actually.

Below is a chart comparing and contrasting some random facts and events from 1912 and 2012.

1912 2012
A first class stamp cost $0.02. A first class stamp costs $.45.
There were 95,335,000 people living in the U.S., 1,650,000,000 worldwide. There are 314,923,000 people living in the U.S., 7,057,950,000 worldwide.
The average life expectancy for a male in the U.S. was 47. The average life expectancy for a male in the U.S. is 75.6.
Best selling car in the U.S.: Ford Model T. Best selling car in the U.S.: Ford F-Series trucks.
The tallest structure in the world was the Eiffel Tower in Paris, France. (1,063 ft) The tallest structure in the world is the Burj Khalifa, in Dubai, UAE. (2,717 ft)
The Titanic sank, killing over 1500 people. The Titanic movie was re-released, grossing over $57 million.
New Mexico and Arizona became the 47th and 48th States, respectively. New Mexico and Arizona each file petitions for secession from the United States.
U.S. athletes brought home 25 gold medals from the Stockholm Olympics. 28 nations competed. U.S athletes brought home 46 gold medals from the London Olympics. 204 nations/regions competed.
The first Bay to Breakers race was run in San Francisco. American runner Bobby Vlught won with a time of 44:10. The 101st Bay to Breakers race was run in San Francisco. Kenyan runner Sammy Kitwara won with a time of 34:41.
Edgar Rice Burrows' character Tarzan first appears in the pulp magazine, The All-Story, delighting audiences and inspiring two dozen sequels. Edgar Rice Burrow's character John Carter first appeared on the big screen, disappointing audiences and inspiring countless yawns.
Lucy Maud Montgomery publishes Chronicles of Avonlea, a fictionalized account of life in a small town in Canada. Michele Feltman Strider publishes Hometown, a fictionalized account of life in a small town in the United States.
The Girl Scouts organization was founded by Juliette Gordon Low. I finally come to terms with my Thin Mint Thighs and Shortbread Bum.

Today's lesson: I spend far too much time on Wikipedia.

Next: Something about King Tides. Maybe.

Friday, December 7, 2012

The Yummish Holiday Letter


Greetings!

I can't believe this year has come and gone so slowly. That extra day back in February really threw off my finely tuned system. It will be such a relief to return to the normal 365-day-per-year rhythm at the first of the year, assuming we survive the end of the Mayan calendar.

On the subject of harmonic convergences, my graduating class will celebrate our 100-year high school reunion next Spring... or summer... or whenever they schedule such things. Due to my advanced age, I don't precisely recall. I'm sure someone will send me an invitation or notice or business reply envelope with suggested donation amounts printed on the back.

Speaking of awkwardly strong-arming acquaintances into writing checks, my second book came out last March. Titled Hometown, it is currently available on Amazon.com in exchange for any number of cash equivalents.

The cats continue their reign of feline terror unabated and have established dominion over 75% of our living space, with the remaining 25% under the constant threat of invasion. All of our clothes, shoes, furniture, and electronics have suffered damage in the onslaught, with the cats often attacking our supplies of food and water as well. However, given sufficient tributes of furry toy mice, Whisker Lickin's treats, and cardboard boxes, we have found them to be benevolent, even affectionate, overlords.

In an effort to improve our understanding of the social and technological challenges humanity will face in the future, Jim and I undertook a revolutionary course of online study. After months of dedicated effort, we are both very proud to say that we have watched EVERY SINGLE EPISODE of both the original Star Trek television series and The Next Generation. We expect a certificate of completion from Netflix University to arrive in the next 6-8 weeks. 

We've also done a bit of traveling in the past year. In fact, we've been going essentially nonstop for the last 12 months and we are pleased to announce that we have (again!) circumnavigated the sun in a mere 52 weeks. We hope to continue our journeys in the new year.

As the year draws to a close, I leave you with this wish for 2013 – a prayer of sorts: Illegitimi non carborundum. 

Wishing you and yours the happiest and yummiest of holidays!

Sincerely,
Michele Strider
& The Yummish Council

Today's lesson: There might have been something in that eggnog...

Next:
Dunno... Got any more of that 'nog?

Wednesday, December 5, 2012

The Second Epistle to St. Nick


Dear Santa Claus,

I take my pen in hand to write a few lines that let you know I have conducted myself very well over the past twelvemonth and to say how much I look forward to your upcoming visit on the evening of December 24.

Your annual call is truly a highlight of my year. In preparation therefor, I have acquired fresh, whole cow's milk (currently stored in a cold, humidity-controlled environment), added a collection of brightly colored hosiery to my home's feng shui, and gathered together the ingredients for several varieties of home-baked treats. I expect it to be a very enjoyable evening all around and hope you do as well.

In response to your anticipated query “what can I bring,” the answer is, of course, only your own dear self. However, should you feel irresistibly compelled, any or all of the following would be a most welcome addition to the holiday celebration:
As you may recall from years previous, our current abode is warmed by gas heat, making the front door, as opposed to your standard means of entrance, the more comfortable option.

Again, I look forward to your visit with eager anticipation and wish you safe and pleasant travels.

Sincerely yours,
Michele Feltman Strider


Today's lesson: Santa is real. I'm imaginary.

Next: The Yummish Holiday Letter

Friday, November 30, 2012

The End of the World As We Know It...

Have you heard? The world is going to end on December 21, 2012*.

The Ancient Mayans said so.

That or they ran out of rock on which to carve their very groovy and ornate calendar.

Since what remained of their once-great civilization was ultimately destroyed in the 1600s, it's sort of hard to ask them.

Still, it's a good excuse for radio stations to throw that R.E.M. song into the lineup this month, which is a nice break from all of the Christmas music.

Plus, it makes those extra holiday pounds seem inconsequential.

And gives procrastinators a better-than-usual excuse for putting off their holiday shopping.

However, since the Ancient Mayans failed to predict the invasion by the Spanish, the chances probably aren't great that they nailed this one.

Nevertheless, let's pretend they're right and that we have only 21 days of existence left.

How would you spend them?

As this is only a drill, I don't advocate emptying out your savings account, running up your credit cards, and eating sticks of raw butter for every meal. It is, however, a good opportunity to practice, not merely surviving, but living each day – if not to its fullest, at least more fully.

For the next three weeks, treat every day as if it might be your last. Not as if it were definitely your last, but with a simple acknowledgment that it could be. 

Below is a suggested sample week:

Day
Apocalyptic Indulgence
Sunday Spend 24 hours straight in sweatpants.
Monday Make a long, detailed To-Do list... then wad it up, chuck it uncompleted into the recycle bin, and couchsurf in front of MNF** all evening.
Tuesday Twos Day! Double down on dessert – because two cookies are better than one.
Wednesday Order in. Eat directly out of the delivery containers.
Thursday Thor's Day! Watch a mindless, fun, culturally insignificant popcorn movie.***
Friday Fried Day! If anyone asks, yes, you do want fries with that.
Saturday Vacation time! Sleep in until 7AM – Hawiian Standard Time.

Today's lesson: ...And I Feel Fine.

Next: Sorry, but “not planning blog posts” is also one of my Apocalyptic Indulgences.
______________________________________________________________________

*Unless, of course, it doesn't. In which case, Happy Solstice!

**Or the mind-numbing show of your choice.

***Though Apocalypse Now may initially seem an appropriate choice, while it is one of my all time favorite films, it is also neither mindless nor insignificant. Instead, for Post-Apocalyptic fun, I recommend Tank Girl




BONUS:
President Bartlet and the Terrible, Horrible, No Good, Very Bad Day


Tuesday, November 20, 2012

Thank You Notes

Dear Dad,
    Thank you for always encouraging me to go where the water was a little deeper and the waves a little bigger... and for being right behind me as I did so.


Dear Mom,
    Thank you for finding it humorous and whimsical that occasionally I went out in public “in character,” (complete with fake accent) and for driving me to auditions and rehearsals rather than to the funny farm.    


Dear Brother,
    Thank you for (mis)spending countless hours of your youth hanging out with me on piers, eating tacos, and listening to rock albums older than we were.


Dear Husband,
    Thank you for being the type of man who will, without complaint, stand in the ladies' lingerie department and hold my purse while I shop for bras. (And then take me out to lunch to boot.)


Dear Cats,
    Thank you for allowing me to achieve my ultimate purpose as a human being by serving your every need/whim.


Dear Birds in the Tree Across the Street,
    Thank you for keeping the cats entertained long enough for me to write goofy blog posts.


Dear Internet,
    Thank you for providing me with all of the wonderful cat videos to watch when I can't come up with ideas for blog posts.


Dear Tomato Plants,
    Thank you for producing so many delicious tomatoes this year, in spite of my total incompetence as a gardener.


Dear Fermentation,
    Thank you for transforming good foods into great foods.


Dear Readers,
    Thank you from the bottom of my heart. 

Sincerely,
Michele Feltman Strider



Today's lesson: I have a lot to be grateful for.

Next: Something far less appreciative.

Friday, November 16, 2012

Flixgiving

Below are 10 suggestions for movies to watch over the Thanksgiving weekend along with my brilliantly compelling reasons for doing so.

Adjust your Netflix queue accordingly.

Movie Why
Groundhog Day Because you are not a slave to the calendar.
The Shining Psychosis and homicide aside, it's nice to see a family spending time together.
The Blues Brothers After fighting the holiday travel traffic, the car chases* are quite cathartic.
Willy Wonka & the Chocolate Factory Give the kids a reason to fear sweets = more pie for you.
Close Encounters of the Third Kind Watch Richard Dreyfuss demonstrate proper mashed potato sculpting technique.
Waterworld It wouldn't be Thanksgiving without a turkey.
Tom Jones You'll feel significantly less awkward about your own family dinner.
The Matrix Watching Keanu chow down on a big bowl of “single-celled protein combined with synthetic aminos, vitamins, and minerals” will make you feel a lot better about yet another day of leftovers.
It's a Mad Mad Mad Mad World It works equally well as either preparation for or justification against participating in the Black Friday sales.
A Charlie Brown Thanksgiving It simply wouldn't be Thanksgiving otherwise.

 

Today's lesson: Making lists is fun.

Next: Probably not another list. Probably.
_________________________________________

*Not enough? Check out Ronin. Thirty minutes of plot, an hour and a half of car chases. Bless you Mr. Mamet. Bless you, sir.

Friday, November 2, 2012

The Big Deal About Small Talk

If you've been anywhere near anything with a speaker or screen during the past year, you've probably been subject to a lot of Big Talk – speechifying, bloviation, and politicking.

Exhausting though it may be, it's also not inappropriate. A presidential election is about big issues and big ideas and it has a big effect on all of us. It's a big deal and it's right to treat it as such.

In the midst of all of this Big Talk, though, let's not lose sight of the value of small talk.

From Merriam Webster: small talk: n. light or casual conversation, chitchat

Like a troop of baboons grooming each other on an outcropping of rocks, the idle chatter of small talk is important to our survival. We learn about dangers (The cookies from the bakery on the corner tend to be dry), food supplies (The ones from two blocks over are better. They use real butter.), new developments in the group (Barbara found a great recipe for peanut butter cookies.), and sexual availability (Hey baby, what's cookin'?). It brings us together, helps foster understanding, and gives us an excuse to have cocktail parties.

After being bombarded for so many months with so much Big Talk, you may have fallen out of the habit of making small talk.

You begin by asking another person about themselves – what they do, think, or feel – then actually listening to the response. The advantages are: 1) you might learn something interesting, funny, or important, 2) while the other person is busy talking, you have more time to enjoy your beverage or hors d'oeuvre.

In the end, a meandering twenty minute diatribe about German potato salad, Game of Thrones, and Gary Bettman's suspect IQ is more about the conversation itself than the specific topics discussed. It's not about convincing the other that the Red Wings are genius and that capers are not acceptable as food. It's about the laugh shared, the connection made. It's not about creating a conclusion or consensus, but a communion. 

Today's lesson: I'm fine. How are you?

Next: More picayune trivialities


Wednesday, October 31, 2012

The Curse of the Black Cat

Looks innocent enough...
It all started three and a half years ago when a black cat crossed my path.

Technically, he was a kitten and we drove 30 minutes north to adopt him. The curse part, though, remains accurate.

His name is Sushi and, as his name implies, he is full of vinegar.

He is sleek and shiny and perfectly black, with bright, glowing yellow eyes. His claws are extraordinarily long and sharp and his fangs protrude ever so slightly. Beneath his chin there is a small cluster of longer fur shaped like a pointed goatee, making his resemblance to a demon complete.

The first night he spent with us, he climbed out of the little bed we'd arranged for him and on to ours, snuggling himself down to sleep... on my husband's face. Since then, he's never missed an opportunity to remind us that he is the black cat at the center of the universe.

Whatever you are doing, Sushi is also doing.
Like all bad boys, he has a thing for leather. To date he has destroyed: three pairs of boots (two fashion, one motorcycle), two pairs of shoes, two bags, a jacket, three ottomans, and a sofa – all leather. That's in addition to two bedspreads, a pair of window blinds, four floor lamps, countless printed headshots, and my sanity. Yesterday I caught him trying to eat the dresser.

He can jump over six and a half feet vertically, closer to ten horizontally, and can climb straight up anything. His favorite places to play are: 1) the tangle of cords behind the easily broken TV, 2) the tangle of cords behind the easily broken synthesizer keyboards, 3) wherever you have momentarily set something breakable. He chatters at me nonstop while I'm trying to cook, gets underfoot every time I carry anything heavy up or down the stairs, filches things out of my purse, and has even been known to chase Jim around the apartment.

Sushi and Sashimi (aka Sasha)
I've tried various methods of exorcising his demonic tendencies: smothering him with punitive affection, distracting him from evildoing with toys, stuffing him so full of treats he can't move, and even getting a second cat – Sasha, a long haired female whom he adores. Still, this morning, I found him playing hallway hockey with three heirloom tomatoes he'd taken from my shopping bag. 

At this very moment, Sushi is in the kitchen, rooting through the cabinet in which I keep the cat accoutrement, helping himself to a new toy. He's learned to pry the door open with his claws. I've learned to give up.


Today's lesson: Beware of black cats crossing your path.

Next: The Cocktail Party Official 2012 Election Statement... or maybe I'll just have a cocktail...

Friday, October 19, 2012

Something About Aimee

FYI, proper beach attire is actually an ankle-length skirt.
We were full, you see. Almost too full to breathe.* Certainly too full for the long drive back from Gulf Shores. We needed salt air to stimulate digestion – so we went to the beach.

We placed our chairs just beyond the reach of the breaking waves. Dusk was creeping in from the corner of the clear western sky. The breeze picked up, churning the water into a stormy greyish-green. The moist sand made a happy, squeaky sound between our toes and the beer cooler was within easy reach. Spring evenings on the Gulf Coast are dangerous. It's too easy to find yourself considering life in a hammock to be a legitimate career option.

While watching the waves and coming close to a zen-like mindlessness, I was distracted by a sudden flurry of activity out of the corner of my left eye. I tried to ignore it, as further investigation required the effort of turning my head. Yet, the flurry continued to flurry and my left eye continued to not quite ignore it, and eventually I was forced to put my neck muscles in play.

“Mom,” I asked quietly of the dark-haired woman sitting next to me. “Is that girl over there in her underwear?”

Like Joe Cool's cooler cousin, my mother sneaked a quick glimpse of the person to our left and nodded “Yes,” then giggled, “Isn't that Aimee?”

The “Aimee” she referred to is a character from my first book Homecoming: A Novella, whom I describe as: “...a big girl. She was not especially tall, nor was she truly fat. She was just too much. She was a caricature of femininity, all breasts and hips and flesh. Her skin was taut and tanned, her body a combination of baby fat and budding sexuality.

The skivvies-clad young woman, in glorious display of obliviousness for a person her age, began bounding up and down the beach in her rather large, practical beige brassiere and ill-fitting, lime green cotton underpants. She twirled, and strutted, and danced near the waterline, while I fervently prayed that no waves would splash her and further stress test the elastic of her undergarments. Sensing that people were watching her, but not for the reason she seemed to think, she increased her flirting, jiggling, and preening by an order of magnitude. I wanted to throw a tarp or something over her, but instead of smothering her with beach towels, I thought back to what I'd written about Aimee and her trip to the beach on Dauphin Island.

"Aimee had flung off her clothes the second we hit the sand, in spite of the breeze. Her suit was decidedly too small and bit into her young flesh, emphasizing the softness of her curves. Her breasts were about to burst from the small triangles of fabric wholly inadequate to contain them. Her buttocks and thighs jiggled with every move, as, to be honest, did the flesh on her belly and arms. Her hair blew wildly, first entangling her body, then flying freely behind her. She moved without grace, but with an energy and self confidence that I found myself envying."

The panties-girl at first struck me as embarrassing and I'd pitied her for failing to conform to social norms. Was my sense of self-superiority actually disguised envy? Was I jealous of, if not her choice of beach attire, her carefree disregard for common custom and public sentiment – a freedom I'm not easily able to allow myself? No matter how many (hilarious!) snarky comments I thought (or whispered) about her, or how foolish she may have looked in the eyes of any number of people on the beach that day, she was happy, having fun, content in her own skin... and underwear.

Today's lesson: A) Judge not, that ye be not judged. For with what judgment ye judge, ye shall be judged: and with what measure ye mete, it shall be measured to you again. (often by your very own self!)  B) I miss Underoos.

Next: Something else!

_____________________________________________

*LuLu's at Homeport... crab melts and margaritas... tasty little gut bomb, that...

Friday, October 12, 2012

A Gift of the Heart

Picture it: That special day, sliding the ribbon from the box, savoring the anticipation before peeking inside to find... Jumper cables.

Sigh... Pure romance!

Don't laugh. That ugly mess of red and black cables connected to King Kong's nipple clamps is one of the most heartfelt gifts a person can receive, along with first aid kits, road flares, and tire slime. 

Diamonds may be forever, but nothing says “I want you in my life for a long time to come” like safety equipment.

More important than the gift itself is the thought process behind it, and the most loving sentiments can inspire some of the most pragmatic presents. Behind each “Christmas seat-belt cutter” and every “Anniversary fire-extinguisher” is an imagined tale of such peril and woe that the Bronte sisters are kicking themselves post-mortem for not having written it. Getting snow tires for your birthday doesn't mean your significant other didn't listen when you mentioned many multiple times how much you like black pearls. It means that the image of you, stranded, helpless, in a ditch by the side of the highway in the middle of the night (always in the middle of the night!) in a blizzard, was more immediately compelling than that of you wearing pretty, sparkly things.

There's nothing wrong with enjoying pretty, sparkly things or wanting to receive them as gifts. Just don't miss the significance behind the seemingly insignificant. In other words, “he went to Jared's” because he wanted you to be happy. He went to Kragen Auto Parts because he wanted you to be alive.

Today's lesson: It's the thought that counts... Sort of like coming up with interesting ideas for blog posts...

Next: Something!

Wednesday, October 10, 2012

The Peril of the Unexamined Life


The proliferation of pretty pink ribbons on posters, produce, products, and people is a sure sign that it's once again “Breast Cancer Awareness Month.

Did You Know?
  • Excluding cancers of the skin, breast cancer is the most common cancer among women, accounting for nearly 1 in 3 cancers diagnosed in US women. (Only lung cancer accounts for more cancer deaths in women.) (American Cancer Society)
  • One in 8 women will be diagnosed with breast cancer in her lifetime (National Breast Cancer Foundation)
  • Estimated new cases and deaths from breast cancer in the United States in 2012: New cases: 226,870 (female); 2,190 (male), Deaths: 39,510 (female); 410 (male) (National Cancer Institute)
  • Breast cancer incidence and death rates generally increase with age. Ninety-five percent of new cases and 97% of breast cancer deaths occurred in women 40 years of age and older. (American Cancer Society)
  • Breast cancer incidence rates are higher in non-Hispanic white women compared to African American women for most age groups. However, African American women have a higher incidence rate before 40 years of age and are more likely to die from breast cancer at every age. (American Cancer Society)
  • In the U.S., the 5-year survival rate for all women diagnosed with breast cancer is 90 percent. When breast cancer is found early and confined to the breast, the 5-year relative survival rate today is 99 percent. Most survivors will live a full life and never have a recurrence. (Susan G. Komen For the Cure)

Today's lesson: Socrates said that the unexamined life is not worth living. So give your girls a little squeeze to show them that you care... and see your doctor regularly. (Do the BSE with the ACS!)

Next: The most romantic gift ever.

Friday, September 28, 2012

Micheleancholia

Dürer understands.
I'm currently enjoying a spell of Melancholy. 

Blog posts, you've probably noticed, have been sporadic. My novel, originally slated for publication next Spring, is proving to be more challenging than anticipated and won't be out until Autumn 2013 at the earliest. My cooking has been uninspired and my housekeeping sketchy. Even my hair is as limp and lifeless as the “before” picture in a shampoo ad.

Having read that melancholy was “the condition of having too much black bile," I've been treating it with homeopathic doses of dark chocolate and black coffee. As “black bile” was believed to be secreted by the spleen, I'm also taking care to keep mine well vented by yelling at pundits on talk radio. Mostly, though, I sit in front of a blank page on a screen, waiting for inspiration to again grace me with her presence.

I have no idea how long it will last, but I trust that, as in the past, it will pass. Eventually my humors will balance and realign themselves and the creative impulse will return.

In the meantime, it can be a challenge to “drive the dark of doubt away.” Looking back, all you can see are your mistakes, and it's easy for “It's not there today” to become “Maybe I never had it at all.”
 
Don't give the weird sisters Melancholy, Chagrin, and Regret control of your fate. Screw your courage to the sticking place and tell self-doubt to screw off. Critique the outcome, but don't criticize the effort. Revise your tactics rather than give up your goals. Success isn't guaranteed, but it's a possibility. The path may be paved with rejection, but hearing “No” is better than never hearing anything.  

Display your talents so they can be recognized, remember that vulnerability is a normal byproduct of exposure, and try to keep a good sense of humor.

Today's lesson: I have writer's block.

Next: I have writer's block

Friday, September 21, 2012

Give Peas a Chance

In honor of World Peace Day:

Whirled Peas Soup 

Stock Ingredients:
6 cups water
4 – 6 smoked ham hocks, (depending on size & meatiness)
2 large carrots
3 stalks of celery
3 bay leaves
1 dash of cumin (whole, not ground)
1 dash red pepper flakes
1 dash thyme
Salt and black pepper to taste

In a large pot, add all ingredients and bring to a boil.
Cover and simmer on low for at least 2 hours (vegetables should be squishy and the gelatin mostly cooked out of the hocks).

With a slotted spoon, remove ham hocks and set aside to cool.
Using a large bowl and colander, strain out vegetables, etc. from broth.
Poor stock into large measuring cup, straining a second time with a mesh strainer.
Add water to make 6 cups of liquid.
Rinse out stock pot and return stock.
When cool, shred meat from ham hocks.

Pea Soup 
Ingredients:
6 cups prepared stock
1 pound dried split peas (green or yellow)
Shredded meat from prepared ham hocks

Rinse and sort peas.
Add to stock and bring to a boil.
Reduce heat and add shredded pork.
Cover and simmer, stirring occasionally, until peas have fully dissolved.

Serving suggestions: Goes great with beer bread and sharp cheddar cheese.


Today's lesson: Writer's block... When I can't write, I cook!

Next: See above mention of writer's block...

Friday, August 31, 2012

Vampires vs Superheroes

According to Pop Culture, the two most important and rewarding career paths open to young people today are “Comic Book Superhero” and “Vampire.”

During this Back-to-School period, when so many of our young people are thinking about their futures and weighing the options open to them, I felt it would be appropriate to compare and contrast the these popular choices.

You're welcome.

Comic Book Superheroes
Vampires
“Do-gooder” “Blood-sucker”
Wardrobe palette: primary colors Wardrobe palette: black
Flies around helping people Flies around eating people
Limited to two dimensions Limited to nighttime
Motivation: early childhood trauma leading to a life of vigilantism Motivation: hunger
Known associates: police, elderly servants and/or relatives, sexually confused youth Known associates: other vampires, werewolves, Anna Paquin
Main antagonist: brilliant-but-insane super-villain bent on world domination/destruction Main antagonist: the sun
Primary Assistant: sidekick Primary Assistant: minion
Common Habitats: secret lairs, telephone booths, Halls of Justice Common Habitats: graveyards, mausoleums, sexy goth night clubs
Affinity for long, dramatic capes: Yes Affinity for long, dramatic capes: Yes
Ability to wear spandex in public without embarrassment Year-round leather
Potential sex appeal as a Halloween costume: 7 Potential sex appeal as a Halloween costume: 10
View from the Whedonverse:
The Avengers
View from the Whedonverse:  
Buffy the Vampire Slayer
Best Genre Flick Featuring Rutger Hauer: Batman Begins Best Genre Flick Featuring Rutger Hauer: Buffy the Vampire Slayer
MPAA warning: Violence, Language MPAA warning: Violence, Language, Nudity, Sexual Situations

Today's lesson: Netflix owns my brain.

Next: Posting will be sketchy for the next week or so, as I'll be in ABQ, NM attempting to eat my weight in green chile. (Any Blake's fans out there?)

Wednesday, August 29, 2012

Vampire Hunting In Storyville

Once upon a time, when I still did stupid stuff like that, I took a “Vampire Tour” through the New Orleans French Quarter.

In recent years, ghost, vampire, and other such “themed” historical tours have become tourist trap “must haves.” This was a while ago, though, when both the concept and I were much younger.

For this walking tour, I wore – as one naturally would – head-to-toe 1970s disco-wear, complete with platform shoes. I also invited my brother, Fino Chevere, as every responsible elder sibling does when going on a glorified pub crawl.

We met our guide on the corner of Burgundy and Something Else Streets sometime after dark. The only reason I remember that much is because said guide – a confused and charisma-challenged young man – pronounced it “Burr-gundy.” “Oh good,” I remember thinking, “He's a local.”

Storytelling is an art. A gifted storyteller leads you, transfixed and transported, through his story.

Unfortunately, this was not that guy. Our guide managed to make telling sexy and/or gruesome ghost stories at night in the midst of the French Quarter feel like a 4th grade social studies lecture on the chief imports and exports of Brussels.*

And did I mention it was raining?

Fortunately, the real mission of these tours is not to tell vampire stories, but to drive your tourist dollar into bars off the beaten path who have contracted with your tour company to do just that. So, ultimately, it worked out well for all concerned. 

In one of these bars, we met the now-departed Ruthie the Duck Girl, but sadly, not her duck. When asked, she informed us that it was “too wet” out... for a duck. Which made our soggy lot feel very clever, indeed...

At one point, the guide led the ever-dwindling group down to the bank of the Mississippi River. I guess we were looking a little the worse for wear at this point. On our shuffling death march toward the water, we passed a couple of locals passing a bottle. We overheard one ask the other “Who are they?” and his friend reply, “I dunno, but if they all jump in, I'm going in after them.” I still think that was awfully goodhearted of the fella.

At some point in the tour, our guide gave up even trying to tell stories – that point being long after we'd all stopped listening – and quietly accepted his new role as babysitter of a bunch of tipsy idiots. He hustled this small, tight-and-I-do-mean-tight knot of hardcore remainders from bar to bar for a while longer, before dumping us unceremoniously in front of St. Louis Cathedral. Or I think he did... It's also possible that Fino and I got bored and wandered off when he started talking about Blue Dog.

What, you may well ask, is the point of the above story?

It happened around 1995, ten years before Hurricane Katrina became New Orleans' primary narrative. Even then, the city had been host to enough scenes of violence, disaster, and tragedy to fill a long, storied night. It also has a long history of storytellers – writers, musicians, and other artists –  acting both as witnesses to and curators of these events.

It's true that the New Orleans I knew and loved no longer exists outside of the stories I have to tell, but more or less drastically, that ends up being true of all places from our past. No place and no person is exempt from the progress of time and change will happen both for good and for ill. Chapters end, but the story goes on. 

Today's lesson: No lesson. Just a ghost story.

Next: Vampire vs. Superhero
________________________________________________________________

*Not brussel sprouts

Wednesday, August 22, 2012

The Worst Novel Ever Written

by Michele Feltman Strider

After my first book Homecoming: A Novella was published, I wrote a second one.

Nope. Not Hometown. That's actually number three.

My second book is an untitled novel that will never see the light of day.

It was set in Miami and featured an heiress/socialite named Rachel.

And, dear lord, is it awful.

The first problem was the characters. There was:
  • Madeline, Rachel's mother, a flighty, spoiled widow with a mysterious past...
  • Alexander, a handsome, older, Eastern European businessman with a mysterious past...
  • Ian, the charming British advertising wizard with a mysterious past...
  • And so on and so on and scooby dooby dooby

There were at least six major characters, all with mysterious pasts. I'm telling you, Agatha Christie would have loved these people – but she'd have been the only one.

The settings were all ultra-fabulous: chic Miami art galleries, glamorous clubs in South Beach, a stunning wooden yacht on Biscayne Bay... There was even a whirlwind trip to Paris to go lingerie shopping.

And let's not even get into the sex scenes. Really. Let's just don't.

Halfway through reading it, my most respected and cherished editor said, as lovingly as possible, “I'm not really sure why I'm reading this.”

Which was a valid question. I wasn't really sure why I'd written it... or why it turned out so badly.

Some sections are decent, I think. I've even culled a good monologue or two from it. The book as a whole, though – disastrous.

And that's OK.

Since then I've spent time with it, analyzing why it doesn't work, and that exercise has served me well. So did failing.

Too often we stifle ourselves with the blanket question “What if I screw up?”

Chances are good that you will, the first time... and maybe the second, third, fourth, and eighty-ninth times, too. Everyone does. The popularity of pencil erasers, liquid paper, and the delete key are evidence of that fact.

As for my truly awful second novel, though no one else will ever, ever lay eyes on it, I've decided to keep it on my backup drive, so I can revisit it from time to time. Like a child's height chart on the kitchen wall, looking back on it will show me how much I've grown.

Reward doesn't come without risk and every failure is an opportunity for growth. Backsliding only means you have work to do to catch up and falling down just gives you a chance to try again. The steeper the mountains you climb, the more rewarding the view from the summit. 


Today's lesson: I get knocked down, but I get up again. You're never gonna keep me down. (Enjoy the earworm...)

Next: Depends on what I run across on YouTube.

Wednesday, August 15, 2012

A Writer Prepares

When corresponding with my legions of adoring fans,* the question I am most often asked is: “How do you write your books?”

OK, the actual #1 email question I get is: “Will you help a deposed Nigerian prince with a complicated international cash transfer?” But for the sake of this blog post, let's go with the other one.

The most truthful and complete answer is: I dunno.

If that's not long-winded and self-serving enough, allow me to go into more detail.

As many of you know, I dedicated my misspent youth to stage acting. Why? I guess I couldn't think of anything less germane** to our modern society.  I seemed to think I was an actor – if by “actor” one means “attention-seeking neurotic with a dubious grasp of reality.” As you are also aware, the chief occupation of actors is attending classes. Thus my B.A. in Theatre...***


In my short academic career, I attended a reasonable number of English Literature classes and feel that they, undoubtedly, made me a more sophisticated reader. They introduced me to the depth and breadth of literature already in existence and gave me the tools to better appreciate it. By and large, though, these classes taught me little about how to create new literature of my own.

For that, I had to go to the Theatre Department.

In a Literature class, written works are viewed as the final product of the author's artistic process. Each is self-contained and final – a closed system, a completed statement. 

In the Theatre – whether you're an actor, director, or designer – literature is the inspiration for the artistic process. Written works are treated as dynamic, open to investigation and interpretation. It was this “living” treatment of literature that taught me how to actually tell my own stories. Below is just some of what I learned:
  • Conflict is not optional. Neither is research.
  • The piece should have an overarching theme/concept. (which might or might not be apparent to the author before the story is complete.)
  • Each work inhabits a fictional universe, with it's own inviolate rules which must be established for the audience.
  • Each character needs an ultimate goal or “through-line” to motivate them through the piece.
  • In every scene you write, each character needs to have a desired outcome and should use varying tactics to achieve that goal.
  • The goals and tactics assigned to a character in any given situation must support that character's through-line.
  • Characters' goals, tactics, and through-lines need to be supported by the text and your research, and cannot violate the rules of the fictional universe.
  • All of the above must be interesting to your audience.
The process by which I create a character on paper is very similar to how an actor prepares for a role. In writing and populating a novel-length story, I liken my role more to that of a director. Like a director, I also rely on a crew of editors, proof-readers, etc. for valuable technical assistance.

I also depend on my audience, for your suspension of disbelief and – most importantly – your willingness to be witness to the stories I tell. My thanks to you all. I'm not just being glib when I say that I literally couldn't do it without you. (Pun semi-intended)


Today's lesson: There is only one way to know if I've achieved any of the above. Read Homecoming and Hometown. (And write a review, holding me to the above standards, if you're so inspired.) 

Next: Something less self-serving. (Yeah... prolly not...)
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*Hi Mom.

**Until I decided to write literary fiction, that is. And have I mentioned my stint in public radio? Next career move: Learn VCR repair.

***Suitable for framing or for folding into a harisen for slapping one's self in the head while reading this: The 20 Best- and Worst-Paid College Majors (My thanks to Zonbi_Kira  for introducing me to harisen!)

Friday, August 10, 2012

Kickin' It On the Six-Six

As you may know from my obsessive need to “Check in” on Facebook, I spent last week on a road trip to, of all places, Gallup, New Mexico.

What?!? You've never holidayed in Gallup?

Actually, Gallup is a lovely area. Someone should consider building a town there.

Gallup is located on historic Route 66. I mean, right alongside it. It's the town's main thoroughfare. If you're looking for a gas station, drive-in/thru burger joint, or “real” Indian jewelry, boy howdy, do I have the place for you.

Americana: I have now officially cruised Route 66 on a Saturday night in a Ford while listening to Bill Haley. I could not have felt more American if I myself had been “made in Detroit.” Oh, wait...

If you should ever find yourself in Gallup for longer than it takes to fill up at the gas station, allow me to recommend Virgie's Restaurant. Do not be put off by the adult bookstore next door. This slightly sketchy-looking restaurant serves family friendly New Mexican home-cooking and does not have a functioning website. What's not to love?

An open apology to Camille's Sidewalk Cafe in Gallup: I now realize that the food fight was ill-advised. My apologies and I hope you were able to get all of the salsa off the wall.

We also took a quick detour over to Albuquerque to visit Fino Chevere, owner of the best stocked liquor cabinet in New Mexico. Thanks again for the hospitality, little brother, – or, at least, what I remember of it.

To the waitress with the pink-trimmed panties at The Library in Albuquerque: We were amused. Thank you.

Fun Fact: It is possible to drive from Albuquerque, NM to Albany, CA in one day, if you miss your cats enough.

That being said, I do not recommend trying this stunt on a Sunday night, when half of the earth's population is also trying to go north on I-5*... with multiple lane closures... and Pea Soup Andersen's is closed for the night... Boo!

Though there is no reason you ever would be, if you're ever in the Cannery Casino in North Las Vegas,** try the posole. Really.


Today's lesson: With road trips, as in life, it's the journey not the destination that matters.

Next: That bit about my writing process that I threatened last time.
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*I-5 = smelliest Interstate in the U.S. The feed lot... oh, dear god, the feed lot...

*≠ Las Vegas

Friday, July 27, 2012

It Ain't Easy

It was cold when we left Wyoming in the dark early hours. Without windchill, the temperature was just above freezing. At speed, it was well below. At that temperature, heated accessories keep you functional, not comfortable. Jim hunkered down behind the short sport windscreen to avoid at least some of the wind, and I tucked in behind him as closely as I could. We had over 1000 miles to travel across 4 states... and fewer than 24 hours in which to do it. We were racing the clock to complete an Iron Butt Association Saddle Sore 1000 motorcycle ride, and neither snow nor rain nor heat nor gloom of night* was going to keep us fools from the swift completion of this crazy stunt.  

We made it, with a few** hours to spare even. The following day, we were both dehydrated, exhausted, and useless... and ridiculously happy.

According to legend, when asked why he wanted to climb Mount Everest, mountaineer George Mallory replied “Because it's there.”

I propose the following refinement to this oft-quoted justification for doing preposterous things: Because it sucks.

It's fun to participate in activities that you find “easy” and at which you excel. It can also be equally, if differently, rewarding to try your hand at something you find extremely challenging. Even making the attempt is a notable accomplishment. If you succeed, all the better.

Beginning today, July 27, athletes from all over the world will compete in the 2012 Summer Olympic Games. They've been training for years in preparation for these few days. They cannot remember a time when their bodies did not ache, or a day when they did not push themselves to the limit of human endurance. They've taken no holidays, vacations, or days off. They've pursued competition over comfort, excellence over ease. They've battled for this chance to compete at the top and now they face their most daunting opponents – each other.

Some will win gold, others silver or bronze. Some will take home only bags of swag from the sponsors – along with a well-earned sense of pride for having undertaken this Olympic challenge. 


Today's lesson: In case you've been hiding under a rock for the past month, the Olympic Games begin today.***

Next: A Writer Prepares – a look into my writing process.
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*We rode through all that and then some. Also, my husband has made runs like this several times now. He is, after all, Jim Strider, big bike rider.

**No, I won't tell you the exact finish time, as Highway Patrol officers are proficient in basic math skills and I'm not sure what the statute of limitations is in, say, Utah.

***Debate: Team USA's 60s flight attendant chinoiserie chic vs. Team Spain's Burger King look. Post snarky observations in the comments section below...

Wednesday, July 11, 2012

Mockingbirds, Finches, Motorcycles, and a Courthouse

On July 11, 1960, the world was first introduced to Miss Jean Louise Finch of Maycomb County, Alabama.

But you probably know her better as Scout.

Since that day, people all around the world have come to cherish her, Jem, Calpurnia, Miss Maudie, Tom Robinson, May Ella Ewell, the exquisite Atticus, and the other characters who so richly inhabit Harper Lee's masterpiece To Kill A Mockingbird.

Like many people, I rank this book and the 1962 film, with it's Horton Foote screenplay, among my very favorites.

Today, however, I write not of the book, its characters, the importance of its themes, or the enormity of its effect around the world, but of the town that inspired it.

The courthouse exterior
Monroeville, Alabama

Even when I lived in Alabama, there was no reason to go to Monroeville. It wasn't close to the Interstate or near a city of any size. You didn't drive through it on your way to the beach or back from one of the University towns after a football game. In fact, you pretty much had to go out of your way to get there at all, which may be why the outlet mall didn't make it... and paper pulp and lumber industries did.

Monroeville was as much a “tired old town” as its fictional counterpart Maycomb when I first knew it and I'd be lying if I said it was a bustling metropolis today. Like Maycomb, though, what Monroeville does have is a population of extraordinary townsfolk.

The first time I visited the Monroeville County Courthouse, my father and I sort of stumbled across it while out for a meandering motorcycle ride.* I was aware that the town, and specifically the courthouse, had inspired the settings of the book and film. I did not dream, however, that we would be able to walk around inside and explore the old building – which ended up being not only a fantastic museum dedicated to the town's most notable residents, Harper Lee and Truman Capote, but the home to the annual Southern Alabama Writer's Symposium** as well. I was blown away.

Then a smiling docent asked us, “Are y'all here for the play?”

Every year since 1991, an all-volunteer cast of locals has staged a full-length production of To Kill A Mockingbird in and around the iconic courthouse. I had the good fortune of seeing the 2012 production and can see why every performance sells out every year.

We sat in the courthouse square of the town where Harper Lee grew up and still lives today, where she and fellow literary giant Truman Capote once played, and where the real-life experiences that would one day inspire the novel had unfolded. We walked the same grounds, sat beneath the same sky, smelled the same pines, saw the same sunset, heard people speak in same purring drawl, and fanned ourselves against the same stagnant, sticky heat, watching as those same events were reenacted in real time. That experience is possible in only one place in the world -- the town of Monroeville.

I did manage to snag a seat on stage for Act 2. Gotta be me...
Monroeville is still a small, rural Alabama town, just as it was in the 1930s when Harper Lee was a child, in the 1960s when the world knew it as Maycomb, or in the 1990s when I was barely aware of it at all.

It is not blessed with favorable geography, a breadth of salable resources, or an over-abundance of material wealth. It will never be a center of fashion or culture or a capitol of commerce or industry. Yet, it will always be the home of Scout, Jem, Dill, Boo, Atticus, and Miss Nelle Harper E. Lee.  

Today's lesson: Great inspiration rather than dense population is what makes a place special. 

Next: Given my recent pattern, probably a long stretch of silence. :-(

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*My dad is cooler than your dad.

**Y'all should call me.

Tuesday, July 3, 2012

Stuff I Learned While Trying To Research a Blog Post About Independence Day

I started out intending to write an insightful, thought-provoking post about the July 4th holiday. After doing a bit of internet research, I ended up with this strange mix of semi-information instead.

Flag Stuff!
In 2011, we spent $3.6 million importing U.S. flags. Of that, $3.3 million was spent on flags made in China. (Which is nothing compared to what we spent importing fireworks from China in 2011 – over $232 million!)

Which country imports the largest number of U.S. Flags from us? Mexico.

The stars were added to the flag by Francis Hopkinson of New Jersey, a signer of the Declaration of Independence who also helped to design the Great Seal of the United States. Hopkinson submitted to the Continental Admiralty Board an invoice for "a Quarter Cask of the public Wine” as “a proper & reasonable Reward for these Labours of Fancy and a suitable Encouragement to future Exertions of a like Nature," but was denied. 

Comfort Food!
From the National Park Service Website: Bess Truman's Mac & Cheese

From the Senate Website: Bean Soup

Celebrations
The hot dog* eating contest allegedly began as a way to settle a dispute among a group of immigrants over who was more patriotic – because nothing says “I'm an American” like excessive consumption and heartburn?

George Washington was said to have marked the occasion in 1778 by giving his troops a double ration of rum. There was a reason this man was elected our first president.

Martha Stewart recommends celebrating by making “Festive Window Swag” and “Tissue Fan Fireworks.” I recommend that we all ignore Martha Stewart.

Closures
The post office will not deliver mail on this holiday, so plan ahead, Netflix-wise.

Banks will also be closed for the day, probably for our own good, since we as a Nation seem to have no sense of fiscal self-control when flags and fireworks are involved. 

Other

The result of typing the words “Independence Day” into Google could lead one to believe that the 1996 Will Smith movie was a far more seminal event in our nation's history than anything that happened in 1776.


Today's lesson: Tomorrow is July 4.

Next: July 5. 

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*In 1870, German immigrant Charles Feltman first introduced the hot dog to the United States. 105 years later, descendant of German immigrants Theresa Feltman (no relation) first introduced the hot dog to my tummy.

Friday, June 22, 2012

"That Was Tomorrow" - A Book Review

Historical fiction is a much abused genre. Too often fascinating people and events are treated like museum pieces – fragile, silent, and dead.

That Was Tomorrow by Mary Lois Timbes avoids these pitfalls, giving us a vivid portrait of a time and place in history filled with colors, scents, sounds, and a strong sense of the future.

Along with heroine Amelia, we explore the turn-of-the-century Utopian experiment known as Fairhope, getting to know the colony's eccentric citizens, their habits, their politics, their fears, and their dreams. It is a coffee-fueled, romance-filled, full-sensory trip back to a dynamic time in a very unique place – and is well worth the visit.

Top 10 Reasons To Buy That Was Tomorrow
  1. Impress others with your extensive knowledge of early 20th century educational theory.
  2. Find out just what the heck “Fishlock” means.
  3. It hits on all the major life themes: Love, Sex, Death, and Food.
  4. Learn the difference between “batter cakes,” “pancakes,” and “scrapple.”
  5. Uncover an historical justification for pairing socks and sneakers.
  6. Because you're curious what Wharton Esherick and Sherwood Anderson might have been like when tipsy.
  7. Radical socialist agenda!
  8. Discover a funky little town in Alabama where I used to knock around as a kid.
  9. Two words: Nudist camp
  10. It's only $9.99 for your Amazon Kindle!

Today's lesson: Buy That Was Tomorrow. (And while you're at Amazon.com anyway, download Hometown. It's free through June 22!)

Next: Maybe a new Yummish saint. It's been a while since the last one. Any nominations?

Wednesday, June 20, 2012

A Midsummer Day's Blog Post

Today is the Summer Solstice, celebrated in many parts of the world as Midsummer.”

Many years ago I was in a “Shakespeare in the Park”-style production of “A Midsummer Night's Dream.” It was the worst production I was ever in – until that same troupe did “The Taming of the Shrew” the next year.*

In some countries, people celebrate “St. John's Day” on Midsummer. Though “John” has historically been one of the most common given names, I currently know only one person by that name.**

Folks in Seattle, WA mark the day by stripping to the skin and riding around the city on bicycles. I love Seattle.

Many traditional Midsummer celebrations involve lighting large bonfires. As these celebrations take place largely in Northern Europe, where the sun will barely dip below the horizon (the midnight sun and all that...), I'm going to have to admit to being confused by the concept. Are they for making traditional viking s'mores? 

As a kid living in Florida and Alabama, I never understood this lyric, as the only immigrants I knew came from tropical Latin countries to the south. In fact, the only people I knew whom this statement even came close to describing were my Michigan-born brother and myself. Let this be a lesson to you not to waste too much time analyzing Led Zeppelin lyrics.

It is said that if a woman places a particular combination of flowers under her pillow on Midsummer's Eve, she will dream of her true love. I tried this last year, but my husband kept jostling them. 

Every time I read the words “Midsummer's Eve,” I think “Fresh is simple with Summer's Eve.” Commercials clearly take up too much of the real estate in my brain.

Speaking of commercials... Witness! Cultural insensitivity at it's finest –

Banned IKEA Commercial, Swedish Midsummer


Reminds me a lot of tail-gating in the US, to be honest... 
and a few nights I spent on Dauphin Island back in college.
I see nothing wrong with any of this. 
I'd party with those cats any day. Skål, y'all!

From the official website of Sweden: “A typical Midsummer menu features different kinds of pickled herring, boiled new potatoes with fresh dill, soured cream and raw red onion. This is often followed by a grilled dish of some kind, such as spare rib or salmon, and for dessert the first strawberries of summer, with cream. The traditional accompaniment is a cold beer and schnapps...” Note to self. By next midsummer, befriend Swede who can cook.***

I have never danced around a Maypole. Or a stripper's pole. I've lived a sheltered life.


Today's lesson: The Earth orbits the Sun... and that is a good thing. 

Next: Why “That Was Tomorrow” by Mary Lois Timbes is the next ebook you should buy.
(Especially since you're going to Amazon.com anyway to download "Hometown" for FREE!) 
________________________________________________________________________

*I'm a slow learner.

**Either I need to get out more or people need to quit naming their kids things like “Pleistocene” and “Artichoke.”

***Not this guy -

Tuesday, June 19, 2012

"Hometown" - Free for Amazon Kindle

From June 19 – 22, my novel Hometown is available as a free download for Amazon Kindle and Kindle enabled devices. 

Why are you giving away your book?
I'm just awesome that way.

What do you want in return?
Reviews! Intelligent, thoughtful reviews from funky tastemakers like you! Having insightful customer reviews on Amazon.com makes my book more appealing to future readers.

Will it expire/disappear after June 22?
Nope. Once you've downloaded Hometown, it will behave like every other Kindle book in your collection.

If I fall in love with Hometown and want to get a copy for my technophobic Aunt Mildred, is it available in print?
Indeed! Print copies are available from Amazon.com for $16.99 (+ shipping).

Is Hometown a staggering work of genius filled with humor and pathos, reflecting the greater human condition?
OK... Yeah. Sure. It's also free until June 22.

Now use the social media buttons below to share the good news -- because everyone likes free stuff!