NaNoWriMo: Bonus! NaNo meets Pirates of Penzance

This video was forwarded out via @NaNoWriMo’s twitter feed yesterday and it was so fabulous I thought I’d post it here to share with you all.

Now we shall return to our regular NaNoWriMo posting schedule.

P.S. Have a safe and enjoyable Halloween weekend, everyone!

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Homemade Applesauce

close up of fresh applesauce with almond ice cream and a cinnamon stick

One of the best things about home cooking is that your entire kitchen/house/apartment fills with the wonderful aromas of tasty recipes, like applesauce. It’s an incredibly simple thing to make. So simple I remember making it as part of a class project in early elementary school, but its also one of those scents that makes a house feel like a home. Perhaps its one of those American cultural things like apple pie.

Anyway, being fall it is the season of apples and in a pretty agricultural area apples are available in an abundance of varieties at Farmer’s market. While there are some common supermarket varieties of apples to be found there I usually get drawn to try the new and different ones instead, so for my applesauce I primarily used Snow apples with a couple of Empires thrown in.

Snow apples are a softer apple and so more suited to applesauce making than the more crisp Empire apples are, but a little variety doesn’t hurt. I do not peel my apples, but that is a matter of preference on your part.

On to the recipe.

Alaina’s Homemade Applesauce

1 1/2 cups water
5 small apples, diced
1/8 cup sugar
1 1/2 teaspoons cinnamon
1/4 teaspoon cloves
1 1/2 teaspoons vanilla
a splash of white wine*

Pour water and diced apples into a saucepan and put over medium/high heat on the stove top. Cook for approx. 10 minutes. Turn the heat down to low. Mix in cinnamon, cloves, vanilla and wine. Simmer for 30 minutes.

simmering diced apples

Remove from heat and mash. I use a potato masher for two reasons.
1) I like the more chunky texture of homemade applesauce.
2) I am lazy and would rather wash one potato masher than have to clean my entire food processor for something that take about 2 minutes.

semi-mashed apples with masher

Allow to cool and serve.

fresh applesauce with almond ice cream and a cinnamon stick

*I used Terre di Futi, which is a blended vernaccia (white). Very fruity. It was what was in my fridge and, of course, the alcohol cooks out.

NaNoWriMo: Preparation

2010 NaNoWriMo Alarm Clock

“A writer who waits for ideal conditions under which to work will die without putting a word on paper.”
E B White (1899-1985) Writer (via @Quotes4Writers)

NaNoWriMo is almost upon us. Are you ready for it?

Yes, yes, that should have had some sort of deep ominous swell of sound behind it. I’m sure there are a few nanites out there who are prepared, but most of us stare at the calendar with dropped jaws at this point and realize that still not sure exactly what we’re writing about.

I’m here to tell you it is all going to be alright. Take deep breathes. Don’t stress. Here are a few tips on how to prepare for the coming month.

Choose a Protagonist

Knowing who your antagonist is would also be good at this point, but knowing who your central character is is a really good start. Once you know who your protagonist is you can start asking the big questions that will help you determine your plot like what do they look like and where do they live. Probably not what you thought I would say, but these things make a difference.

Let’s try out an example. Your as yet undescribed character’s big dream is to be the best wrestler in the world. If this character is young, buff and talented you’re going to need a conflict to make this an interesting journey for the reader. What if the character is a woman? How about a scrawny kid living in the middle of nowhere?

Not only are these choices going to impact your story, but they also make great fodder for your first few pages if your not sure where your plot is going yet at 12:01 am on November 1st.

Notify Your Close Friends and Family

This is mainly so that they won’t think you’re dead when you disappear into a hole otherwise known as your room or mentally unbalanced when you show up ravenously seeking coffee.

Do you have to share specifics with them? Not unless you want to. There’s commentary both ways on the benefits of sharing goals. Think back on goals you’ve achieved in the past. Did you succeed when your friends all knew or when it was a little more private? Choose whichever way works best for you.

Go Grocery Shopping

Plan now and plan wisely for writing munchies. You’re using a lot of mental energy so, choose brain healthy foods like easily munched fruits, vegetables and cheese sticks. Nuts are great too, just keep in mind that they aren’t the lowest calorie foods. I know I probably sound like your mother or trainer at the moment, but if you don’t have healthy options at hand you may find yourself doing a new workout at the gym on December 1st instead of finishing up those last writing details.

Clean Up Your Writing Area

If you have notes, find a way to organize them so you can find what you’re looking for. Otherwise clear out the clutter if for no other reason than so that you have a place to put those snacks so that they won’t chance hitting your computer and causing electronic misery.

Determine a Back-Up Plan

… as in backing up your files. No one wants to think about computer problems during NaNo but I can attest that they happen. Once the month starts you’ll be distracted and this can easily get pushed to the back burner causing potential heartache in the long run. I usually have a copy on my computer which is backed up to a flash drive and also on Google docs. Not only does that provide me with several options should one fail, but it also keeps my document portable.

To Outline or Not to Outline

Last, but not least, the eternal Hamlet-esque question – to outline or not to outline. I do not outline. Other people do. I actually did try to outline my first year and discovered that a number of changes had occurred by the time I reached mid-book. Most people I’ve had this discussion with have said the same, but I’m sure there are others who love their outlines and can’t imagine life without them

What do I do? I determine plot points. These are things that I know need to happen in the arc of the story. Usually this consists of the beginning and the end with a few major developments in between. It’s the bare bones of the story that get fleshed out as I write it.

Here’s an example from last year’s novel:

Ayree (protagonist), a nobleman’s daughter, is taken captive while traveling and given as a war prize to the field general
Field general recognizes the possibility of building goodwill and takes her to the capital
On the way there she meets Shalen (main character, protagonist in different story)
In capital catches the eye of the king
King finds out she’s the daughter of a duke/advisor to neighboring king
Political marriage is arranged

Obviously there’s a lot more to the story than that, especially since it’s the first of a trilogy, but those are the basics and provide ample base for the writing to begin.

I should also mention that a lot of that happens between the 29th and the 31st of October.

In conclusion, I’m not going to tell you that my way is the only way. People complete NaNo with a lot of different methods. These are just a few of the things that I do every year to try and start my month out right.

“If you could get up the courage to begin, you have the courage to succeed.”
David Viscott (1938-1996) Pychiatrist, Author (via @Qutes4Writers)

What do you do to prepare for NaNoWriMo?

Something Magic on Facebook

Hey, everyone! This is just a super quick update to let you all know that Something Magic now has it’s own page on Facebook!

Come on over, check it out and share a little facebook love ;)

5 Things I Love – Oct 25

image for weekly list of five things I'm currently loving in life, music, art, etc.

1. Kroger.com Coupons

I’m not a manic coupon clipper, but sometime in the last year or so Kroger did some updates to their website and I love, love, love their coupon section. Not only do they have coupons that you can print off but they also have loadable coupons that you can put on your Kroger card. Between these, the coupons that print at the register and shopping their specials I end up saving 10-30% a trip.

2. Karaoke

For all the time I have dedicated in my life to singing, up until August’s Epic Tweet-Up I had karaoked a massive once. Not that I had anything against it, my friends and I just never managed to take it from a discussion to actually doing karaoke somewhere. Well, this past weekend my friends had karaoke at their wedding reception and I have no doubt I’ll be returning to that microphone soon ;)

3. Lemonade

By which I do not mean the beverage. I do love to drink lemonade, especially mixed with iced tea, but what I’m really referring to is the documentary on Detroit. The trailer is awesome and they’re getting community support to produce the documentary by letting supporters purchase frames at $1 a piece. Get involved here.

4. Hulu

I know this often comes as a shock to people initially, but I don’t actually get any channels on my television. Thankfully, I’ve got Hulu to help keep me up to date on the latest in some of my favorite shows – like Chuck and Bones. Unfortunately, it did eat part of my life this weekend, but at least I can say I’m caught up on my viewing…

5. Apple Customer Service

I am not the avid Apple fanperson in our office. That designation is reserved for my co-worker across the cubicle, but I am a fan of their customer service folks. I’ve called twice in the last few months due to an issue with my trackpad and both reps I’ve spoken to have been nice, well-spoken and helpful individuals. They’re also super fast on sending you a box for service. I spoke with them on Friday afternoon and my box was marked for a Saturday arrival (too bad there was no one at the office to receive it).

Chocolate Pomegranate Muffins

plated chocolate pomegranate muffins

As I mentioned in this week’s ‘5 Things I Love’, pomegranates are awesome. They’re a pain to peel, but if you love them then it’s kind of like the unboxing experience some hardcore Apple fans have taped and will watch. These muffins are based on Carol Yarde’s Breakfast Muffin recipe from AllRecipes.com.

Chocolate Pomegranate Muffins

1 3/4 cups all purpose flour
1/3 cup sugar
2 1/2 baking powder
1/2 teaspoon salt
2 tbs flaxseed
1/4 cup cocoa powder
1 oz grated semi-sweet baking chocolate
1/2 tsp clove
3/4 cup milk
1 egg
1/3 cup butter, melted
1 tsp vanilla
1 1/2 cups fresh pomegranate seeds

Set oven to 400 and prep your muffin pans.

In a large bowl mix together your flour, sugar, baking powder, salt, cocoa powder, clove and most of your grated semi-sweet chocolate. Save just enough of the chocolate to sprinkle on top of the muffins before cooking. You could also substitute chocolate chips. Mine were earmarked for another recipe.

ingredients for chocolate pomegranate muffins

Once the dry ingredients are mixed add in the milk, egg, butter and vanilla until combined.

partially mixed muffin batter

Fold in your pomegranate seeds and sprinkle each muffin with grated chocolate before placing in the oven. Bake approx. 10 minutes for mini-muffins (like mine) or 20 minutes for full sized muffins.

Makes 36 mini-muffins or 12 full sized muffins.

baked mini-muffins on cooling rack

NaNoWriMo: 5 Reasons Why I Choose to NaNo

NaNoWriMo participant badge

1. The NaNo Community

My first year of NaNo was pretty much a fail with, well, life happened. My second year I had just moved to a new community about six months previously and really only knew a handful of people outside of those I met through work. When I joined and shortly thereafter became a Municipal Liaison (ML) for the Lansing region, I met a great group of people. Our write-ins are always filled with interjections of laughter between word sprints. We encourage each both online and off throughout the month.

Then there’s the online community. Every fall I connect with MLs from around the world, including one lovely lady over in Scotland who has issued a standing invite for tea the next time I make it there. Most of these people I will never meet face to face in in real life, but they’ve enriched my life none the less.

The same is true of my region. Some of my Nanites will never make it to an event, but one of the most popular threads in our forum (besides our introduction thread) is the one where everyone is sharing the things that inspire them in their writing which is inspiring in and of itself.

2. The Excuse to Write

One of the most common things that I hear from people who are actually considering NaNoWriMo for the first time is that they’ve had this story percolating in the back of their minds, some of them for years, and for one reason or another they’ve never written it down. NaNo is a great excuse to start writing that story down. It won’t be completely done in that month, but every word that’s written is one word closer.

3. Death to the Inner Editor

Okay, so maybe it’s more like freezing in carbonite for a month, but one of the rules of NaNoWriMo is that you don’t edit until December. I’ll admit that I occasionally backtrack to fix something but usually because I can get more words out of it then. NaNo isn’t about writing perfectly, it’s about getting the words out. After the month is done and you’ve got that first draft together, then you start the editing part of the process.

4. The Satisfaction of Winning

I freely admit that I have a competitive streak. I love winning and entering that final word count, getting the purple status bar and certificate – it’s a great feeling.

5. Fun

That community I mentioned? We do more than just write together. We start and end the month with a party, and that’s not even counting the write-ins and forum talking in between. On the story level there’s also the craziness of seeing what your characters will do next (it’s not always what you were initially thinking). It’s just fun overall – if you’re willing to let it be.

The fun starts even before the month does. Don’t believe me? Read this forum entry from Hero:

Hello Wrimos.

Look at your novel, now back to mine, now back at your novel, now back to MINE.
Sadly, it isn’t mine, but if you started writing 1667 words a day it could be as long as mine.
Look down, back up, where are you? You’re at your computer WITH THE NOVEL YOUR NOVEL COULD LOOK LIKE.
What’s in your hand? Back at me. It’s the remains of your silenced inner editor.
Look again.
THE EDITOR IS NOW DIAMONDS!
Anything is possible with NaNoWriMo.
I’m on a forum.

And he’s right. Anything is possible with NaNoWriMo.

To all of you out there who take part in the annual insanity – why do you you NaNo?

Miss the first post about NaNoWriMo? Check it out here.

Wedding Bells & Skeletons

First comes love, then comes marriage, then come office shenanigans while you’re on your honeymoon…

full room view of this particular shenanigan

So, one of our managers (not mine, though we’ve been friends since before I started working with my current employer) recently got married and, of course, in his absence shenanigans ensued.

We initially were just going to do cheesy wedding decorations, which we fulfilled with dollar store wedding bells and doves.

folding paper bell garland

Bell garland wrapped around the phone handle

The great thing about shopping at the dollar store (aside from inexpensive shenanigans) is that you never know what you’ll find. The doves, for instance were not in our original discussions, but were a lovely addition.

wedding favor doves scattered across the computer keyboard

wedding favor doves scattered amidst stormtroopers

We couldn’t just leave it at that though. I mean, this is the guy who is the actual owner of the Zombie Survival Guide cards that live in Marketing, and Halloween isn’t far off. It started with a large skull tempting my partner in shenaniganizing, but we opted for the smaller bag or skulls due to their potential diversity.

plastic skull between two rhinos

The glittery spider was another addition, with added appeal in that Twilight’s sparkling glampires had been a topic of conversation that day. (We found out one of the guys in the office is totally Team Edward after I stumbled across the shirtless Jacob Barbie.)

glittery spider and the doves face off on the desktop

Then we saw the garland of skeletons. What better to complement wedding bells?

mixed garlands of skeletons & wedding bells

I actually bought this garland last year for a Scouting event and can say from personal experience that they don’t survive impact very well. These fellows should be pretty safe in their current position.

Of course, I think the best part was this morning, when this tweet appeared on my computer on the opposite side of the building:

twitter quote 'You put a skull in my coffee cup?"

Yes. Yes, we did.

5 Things I Love – Oct 18

image for weekly list of five things I'm currently loving in life, music, art, etc.

1. Pomegranate

The increasing amount of pomegranate products on the market makes me happy, but my favorite form of pomegranate is the fresh fruit. Sure, it’s a process to actually get to the seeds and if you’re not careful they’ll stain your fingers red, but those are minor once those sweet juicy bits of goodness are freed for consumption.

2. Used Book Stores

I’ve always loved books. It’s a familial addiction. I was introduced to used book stores as a kid and to me it’s like a treasure hunt. You never know what new gem you’re going to discover. I also love that when cleaning out my bookshelf I have a place to send old friends where they might be appreciated by a new reader who has yet to explore their depths. Of course, it doesn’t hurt that it’s less expensive on a book addict’s pocket as well.

Note: I do shop new books as well and am aware of how important it is for authors that new copies of their books be bought.

3. Loose Leaf Tea

In preparation for NaNoWriMo I made a few stops while I was in Lansing this past week including Wanderer’s Teahouse and Cafe, a new teahouse across from Michigan State’s campus. All of their tea is handmixed loose leaf in a variety of types and flavors. I had the mango marigold ceylon when I stopped by and it was warmth to a tea lover’s soul. I can’t wait to be able to make a write-in there and try another of their blends.

4. Dress Forms

As anyone who has been to my apartment can attest I have a bright red adjustable dress form in the middle of my main living area just about halfway between the couch and the kitchen. After years of contemplating one, I gave in last Christmas and I am so glad that I did. Not only does it make it far easier to construct my personal sewing projects, but alterations that I’ve avoided are as simple as they should be. If you sew, especially for yourself, it’s totally worth the investment.

5. Dollar Store Weaponary

Have I mentioned recently that I’m a geek? This is another one of those wipe away any doubts moments. A shenanigan ago, when the zombie invasion took place, an ax and a butcher knife, er, appeared in our work area which quickly became absorbed into our office culture. The ax I had picked up last year for a rainy day (you never know when you might need a plastic ax).

Well, those weapons disappeared recently (rumor says into our VP of Tech’s office) and, geek girl that I am, I couldn’t help but pick up this awesome dollar store sword whilst shopping for our most recent shenanigan.

Weapons of the Trade

It’s really too bad that I left my equally high quality knight’s shield behind when I switched jobs.

How Can I Keep From Singing?

My life goes on in endless song
above earth’s lamentations,
I hear the real, though far-off hymn
How can I keep from singing?

Unknown, “How Can I Keep From Singing?”

Music has always been a part of my life.

There’s a story my mother tells about when I little more than a toddler, about 4 I think, and there was some sort of outside concert where the pastor’s wife was up on a platform singing and I positioned myself  just underneath her as if it was I who was the performer.

Then there’s the tape somewhere in my belongings of little me singing my version of ‘Edelweiss’. I didn’t realize that the song already had words at the time. The melody played by the porcelain doll was instrumental, so I made up my own lyrics.

School choir, church choir, homeschool music class – I did them all. I learned to sing art music and hit my first high A while practicing  ‘My Johann’ on the way to audition for the Union University music program.

For a period of my life I was immersed in music. Even as I studied theatre, almost every role I played has me singing – whether it was supposed to be me or not.

Then life happened.

At 10 months out of college I found myself in a full-time 50-60 hour a week job in town where I didn’t really know anyone and there was no time for music or theatre or even, some day, it felt like breathing. That is not to say that there weren’t parts of my job that I didn’t love or that I didn’t know going in that it was likely to be that way.

In part it was a test. I had a theatre professor in college who told us on several occasions that if we could do anything else and be happy that we should do that thing instead. I felt that I needed to try to do that other thing and I failed that test. It was one of the first things that I thought when I was diagnosed with depression in the fall of 2008 and handed a prescription for pills with the strong warning that if I chose to fill it it wasn’t something I could just stop taking.

We all have defining moments in our lives and that was one of mine. This post isn’t about that though.

Not long after that I returned to my performing roots through our local community players and the first time I opened my mouth to sing it was like homecoming. Like the sun had come out from behind shadows I hadn’t even realized existed or, really, like I had locked away some part of myself and become whole again.

Awesome as it would be, I can’t say that I support myself through music. I have, however, welcomed it back into my life both through the occasional musical with our community theatre and as a part of my church’s worship team. I even get up at 7:30 am on Sunday morning for the privilege of helping with worship and I am not a morning person. I do it because I love it and when I ‘m singing I feel like I am more myself than I ever am in most places in my life.

Perhaps music isn’t your thing. Maybe it’s mathematics or drawing or playing with bubbling viscous liquids. Whatever it is – claim it, recognize it and embrace it. If you don’t know what it is – find it and live it. It was never promised to us that life would be easy, but easier it is when you are doing the thing that you love and makes you whole.

Sing through me
Stir the tigers in my blood
Set me free
Like a river rising up in flood
Fuel the fire
Of my desire
Fan the flame inside of me
And sing through me

Jason Gray, “Sing Through Me”

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