NaNoWriMo

If you’ve never heard of it before, NaNoWriMo, is short for National Novel Writing Month, also known at November. Also known as the month writers attempt to make themselves even more crazy than they already were, by attempting to write 50,000 words in 30 days.

I knew this thing existed. I just never wanted to do it.

Like, seriously. Never wanted to. At all.

But it turned out that one of my friends has done it for years, and she started talking about it, and I was all “I’ll encourage YOU, but I’m not doing it”, and she said, “You should at least sign up on the website so you can be my buddy,” and that is where I made the critical mistake of saying “Yes, I’ll do that, at least.” Because I really like this friend. She has critiqued my longest novel AND helped me butcher and pluck two roosters when she’s never done anything like that before in her life. If that isn’t the mark of a good friend I don’t know what is.

So because of her, I went on the website, and somehow I got caught up in it. Next thing I know I’m dropping the novel I was about 15,000 words from finishing, and over the course of one sleepless night deciding that I would instead write the sequel to a completely different novel instead…one that I hadn’t had even the lick of an idea for, or a plot, or characters.  I warned you this NaNo thing makes you crazy.

So here I am, at the end of November, and I have written 50,000 words in 30 days. Actually, in 25 days, because I got completely obsessed with doing this thing. Like I do with almost everything in my life.

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Am I glad I did it, and grateful to Reina for asking me (so innocently!) to be her buddy on NaNoWriMo?

Yes. Yes I am.

Will I ever do it again? I doubt it. I learned a long while back that ‘feeling inspired to write’ is meaningless. If you want to write, train your brain to create inspiration on demand by sitting down and writing. 9 times out of 8.9, after you sit for awhile, inspiration will come. And it will come easier and faster, the more you do it. So I already knew the primary thing NaNoWriMo teaches…but I didn’t know that I could push myself this hard and or write these many words, every day. That was valuable. That is the reason I would recommend every writer attempt this at least once.

But by the end of the month, I was a little turned off by the attitude of so many of the people who were doing NaNo. So many of them were…well, they were honestly cheaters. So many were posting on facebook, talking about how they were including all the words they wrote for their grant-writing job as part of their daily word count. Others were writing pages filled with nonsense children’s rhymes, or purposely writing each sentence in the most long-winded and convoluted way possible. Or upping their word count by never using any contractions, ever.

No. This is wrong, and quite honestly, it makes me a little angry. It’s no wonder NaNo novels are so notoriously terrible that many publishers and agents won’t look at any submissions at all right after NaNo. First drafts aren’t going to be perfect, and they can be quite bad, but I can’t even imagine trying to wrestle a novel into shape when you’re spent the whole month trying to make it as terrible as possible…just to get more words in. All I did differently for my NaNo novel was to write more words every day, and write every day. And I didn’t go back and fix plot points that changed as I wrote, or spend any time whatsoever researching online or fussing over names. If I didn’t know a thing, I just made a note and left it for later. And while I’m no where near writing the end of this particular novel (it will probably be around 75-90 thousand words, all told), this first draft no worse than a first draft I took months to write. And that should be the real lesson of NaNoWriMo: that you can write a book, and you don’t have to wait for inspiration, and you can write even when you’re tired, or not in the mood, or just really want to watch the third season of The Crown on Neflix instead. And you don’t have to cheat. Look, I get that many people’s lives are way more complicated than mine. I’m healthy, I don’t have kids, I’m not married, and I have a day job that doesn’t demand much from me.  But NaNoWriMo doesn’t have to be 50,000 words, or you fail. It can be writing for however long (or short) a time you have, every day. Just to prove to yourself that inspiration, while delightful to experience, is a hoax, and if you want to, YOU CAN WRITE. You can do this.

I taught a short class the other day about writing and brain-training, and afterwards had a lovely conversation with a middle-aged woman who had always wanted to write, but never had, because she was too intimidated. After our conversation, I told her to go home and write. Two days later, she came back to tell me that she had started writing, and it was exactly how I said it would be: her characters were coming alive for her, and she was having so much fun. She was glowing with happiness. I’m so glad I did that class, and I’m so glad she came.

I’ll leave you with one of my favorite bits from my NaNo novel, a fragment of conversation that sent a shiver through me when I wrote it:

His words went through my heart like one of his knives, and the blood that came out was poisoned and dark. “I should be the Queen, shouldn’t I? Not my mother. Not Anissa. Me. In spite of my eyes.”
      “Because of your eyes,” he said. He leaned in, speaking directly into my ear, a low whisper of words. “I swear to you, by every cut I have ever made, that you are the Queen of Minos. You will sit on that throne. Whatever I have to do.”
      And I believed him.

Our Thanksgiving Turkey is a Fish

Since we don’t do Thanksgiving with the extended family anymore, I take the opportunity to make the day a fun cooking/baking experiment. This year, I REALLY broke from tradition.

Meet our “turkey”.

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He’s a rockfish, and I’ve never in my life bought a whole fish before, much less cooked one! But I’d been reading about salt crust baking, and really wanted to give it a try. The recipe said I wanted the head and tail and scales left on, but to ask the butcher to removed the fins and gills. I don’t know if I got a new guy, or what, but despite the sign next to the whole fish stating they would prepare the fish however I wanted, he didn’t seem to have a clue how to remove the fins, or even what ‘gills’ were. I had to discuss the fin situation with him, and he while he was trimming them off, he discovered the fish hadn’t even been gutted yet. So he did that. And then, when I got home, I discovered the fish still had its gills…I guess my impression was right…he hadn’t even known what those were! I ended up being kind of glad he hadn’t removed them though, because fish gills are pretty weird and interesting, and I was fascinated by the chance to see them up close and personal.

But to salt crust bake a fish, first you prepare about 3 pounds of coarse kosher salt by mixing it with egg whites and water to the consistency of wet sand. This was fun, btw.

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Then you put a layer on the bottom of the pan, and place the fish on top, with its belly stuffed with sliced lemon and herbs.

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Then you cover over the rest of the fish with salt, packing it down tightly, but leaving the head and tail exposed.

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The reason you leave the head exposed, is because you can tell when it’s done by looking at the eye. See how clear and translucent it is? When the fish is cooked, the eye will be cloudy and white. See below. (To double check, you can insert a meat thermometer, and check for a temperature of 140 degrees.)

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The salt becomes VERY hard, and you have to break it open with some fairly serious blunt force.  And the meat inside is…wonderful. Flaky and super moist, and flavored with lemon and herbs. So good! And easy to de-bone, because after you slide the top layer off the bones, you just grab the tail and lift…and voila! the skeleton comes out in one piece! I’m definitely doing this method of cooking a fish again. So easy, and it was so luscious!

I also tried a new cake recipe, and it turned out to be the best cake I’ve ever eaten. First, because I like making pretty cakes, I decorated it for the holidays:
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And inside….a cranberry cake! Now I normally am not that into cake, because cake is too often light and fluffy. Light and fluffy = bland and boring, in my book. When I like cake, I like a cake that’s dense and moist and punched with flavor. And this was that cake.

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My mother also thought it was her favorite cake. And she didn’t want me to make this one, because she didn’t think cranberries in a cake sounded good. Also, because I’m not a fan of icing (I generally scrape icing off cake before I eat it) I googled “icing for people who hate icing” and came up with a suggestion for cream cheese icing.

And it was lick-the-spoon wonderful!

“I Love You.”

What we find nearly impossible to believe is that the God who created the universe has spoken these wonderful words personally and intimately to each of us. And he has done it in a way that no one else could: by entering into humanity and dying for our sins upon the cross. He has thus so fully proved his love that there is no excuse for our ever doubting it.

It is this unparalleled manifestation of God’s love that makes Christianity what it is….the relationship that each Christian is intended to enjoy with Christ himself – an intimate personal relationship that is not only unmatched by any other faith but is absolutely essential if someone is to be a Christian.

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In contrast, for a Buddhist to have a personal relationship with Buddha is neither possible nor necessary. Nor is the practice of Islam impaired because Muhammad is in the grave. It is no hindrance at all to any of the world’s historic religions that their founders are dead and gone. Not so with Christianity. If Jesus Christ were not alive today, there would be no Christian faith because he is all that it offers. Christianity is not a mass religion but a personal relationship.

At the heart of this relationship is a fact so astonishing that most Christians, including those who have known the Lord for many years, seldom live in its full enjoyment. it isn’t that we don’t believe it intellectually but that we find it too wonderful to accept its implications into our moment-by-moment experience of daily life.

We are like a homely, small-town girl from a very poor family who is being wooed by the most handsome, wealthiest, most powerful, most intelligent, and in every way the most desirable man who ever lived. She enjoys the things he gives her, but is not able to fully give herself to him and really get to know him because she finds it too much to believe that he, with all the far more attractive women in the world, really loves her. And to leave the familiar surroundings of her childhood – the friends and family that have been all she has known and loves – to go with this one who seems to love her so much, and to become a part of another world seems so foreign and even inconceivable to her is all too overwhelming.

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Like the small-town girl, each of us finds it very difficult to believe that Jesus really loves us. Although we appreciate his blessings, we find it difficult to become intimate with our heavenly Suitor, because it seems too inappropriate that the Lord of the universe should be wooing us. That he loves everyone and that we are included in that great love is too marvelous.

Knowing that he loves us not because of anything in us but because he is love tells us something else that is very important: God loves all mankind with the same love. There is no special reason why he should love one of us more than another. He is no respecter of persons; there is no favoritism with God. And here we see another reason for rejecting the view that God does not love all mankind enough to want everyone to be in heaven. There is no basis in man (all have sinned and the hearts of all are the same) for God to love some and not others – but neither is there any basis in God for his loving one but not another. Thus we are told that he “so loved the world” that he sent his Son into into world “that the world through him might be saved.” There is no greater love anywhere!

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(Except above from “The Love of God”, written by Dave Hunt)

ABC’s of Salvation….

Admit you are a sinner in need of a savior.

Believe in the finished redemtive work of Jesus Christ on the cross alone for the remission of all your sins (past, present and future) and eternal life!

Call on the name of the Lord. (“All who call on the name of the Lord will be saved.” Romans 10:13)

“I am the way, the truth and the life. No one comes to the Father but through me.” (John 14:6)

“When you declare with your mouth Jesus is Lord and believe in your heart God raised Him from the dead you will be saved. For with the heart man believes and is justified and with the mouth confession is made unto salvation.” ( Romans 10:9-10)

“For it is by grace you are saved through faith. It is not your own doing. It is the FREE gift of God. Not by works lest any man boast.” (Ephesians 2:8-9)

Jesus is coming!

Eggs and Introverts

Two quick things today.

First, my black cooper maran hen started laying last week! I didn’t expect this to happen so soon – but when she started “squatting” whenever I reached out to touch her, I knew the egglaying was going to commence in about a week. Squatting is a sure sign.

She lays wonderful dark chocolate eggs…although not quite so dark as I was hoping for.  In the below pic, hers are the two small dark ones (the first eggs a hen lays are very small, and increase to a normal size later on). The lighter egg is a pale brown, laid by my cochin, I think?

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Isn’t it interesting how one is spotted and one plain? This is one of the many reasons I love having chickens. Grocery store eggs are so boring!

And for those of you that have been reading this blog for a long time, you remember that I used to sew costumes and attend yearly costuming conferences. I no longer have the time or inclination for that anymore, but I did just finish a new Edwardian 1912 costume. If you’re interested, you can go check out more pictures and information on my costuming blog.

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I made this dress for a Downton Abbey Celebration my library workplace was having, during which I did a presentation on post-Victorian undergarments, called “What Did They Wear Under There?” It was so much fun to do. I’m an introvert, and so many people have this mistaken idea that all introverts are all shy and socially awkward, and hate talking to people. Not true! Introverts are on a spectrum like everything else, and the only thing that all introverts have is a desire and need for alone time, to recharge. We get our energy from ourselves, and being around people drains that energy. But many of us still love being out…we just need time alone afterward. For myself, I adore public speaking – as long as it’s on a subject I love and am knowledgeable about. Costuming and historical fashion definitely fits those two requirements! I was told afterward by three different people that I should ‘take that show on the road’ it was so good, and one attendee (speaking of the entire evening) said that she’d never been in the library before, and didn’t know she could have so much fun there on a Thursday evening! It was also super fun for me…demonstrating how to walk in a hobble skirt, dispelling the various corseting myths, and even talking about how to use the toilet while wearing a full bustle skirt! I think I’ll be doing more of these…but first I have to do the two-part presentation I’m going in October on natural gardening and natural animal keeping.

Mainly Ducks…But Also a Camel

Let’s talk about the camel, first, because I know you’re curious. I went to the local fair a couple of weeks ago. It’s a very small, not-really-good-for-much fair, but I always manage to see at least one thing worth the admittance fee. This year, it was the walk-through butterfly house and the camel.

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I’ve see camels before, of course, but I’ve never seen a flat-out napping camel.

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Aw. I just want to snuggle him!

My new Muscovy ducks are the real star of this particular blog, though. I started with seven day old ducks, and at about sixteen weeks, chose out the three I was going to keep. One drake, and two hens.

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Tiberius, the drake is a real sweetie. He’s a blue color, and his head is slowly turning white. I was going to keep the black male, but this fellow won me over in the final week with his sweet disposition. And good thing, too – because when I processed the other ducks, I discovered that the black male had some sort of infection inside him, and very well might have died and left me drake-less.

The two hens are much more shy. Tabitha is black, and will also have a white head eventually. Tilda is chocolate and white.

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It’s been really interesting watching their red caruncles on their faces starting to develop.

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And can I just say that these ducks are the best ducks EVER? They are awesome animals, and so perfect for a small backyard urban farm. They are extremely quiet – the males hiss, and females make a low and melodic trill. They aren’t obsessed with water, which makes them much cleaner and easier to pen. They are personable and fun to watch. I wish I had room for several more!

For their sleeping pen, I used an old wood and wire gate I had, and using it the front, built them a coop (I plan on growing a vine up the wire front). One side and the back is wood, the other two are mostly wire. Although I put hardware cloth partway up to keep raccoons from reaching in and grabbing them, most of the cage is larger wire. The ducks are large enough to keep rodents and other small predators away themselves. It’s not the prettiest coop in the world, but it’s in the far back corner of the chicken run where it isn’t very visible.

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The back half has a roofed perch for sleeping. These ducks, unlike most ducks, are perching birds.

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Here’s a shot at bedtime, when there were still seven ducks.

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The ducks’ regular run is the very back part of the yard, against the back property fence. Every two or three days, I divert them over into another part of the chicken run, both to give them a change of scenery, and to allow the chickens into their pen to clean up. The chickens scratch and turn over the dirt and wood chips and duck poop, keeping the ground from becoming stinky. These particular ducks wouldn’t need this so much, since they don’t spill and splash water everywhere like normal ducks. Unlike normal ducks, these aren’t stinky or muddy at all!

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Also unlike normal ducks, these guys taste like beef. Seriously, they do. I had a hard time believing it myself, until I tried it. The breast meat, cooked like a steak, is indistinguishable from a steak! It looks like one, tastes like one, even has the texture of one!

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It’s a true red meat. And when you slow cook the breast like a roast, it’s indistinguishable from roast beef.

Because of this, it does not have the gorgeous duck fat that a pekin does, but I can always buy a pekin in the store. Muscovy is not so commonly available. The only source I could find in my area is mail order – two breasts for $65 plus shipping. It genuinely puzzles me that Muscovy duck is not more commonly raised. They are so easy – much easier than common duck, and although they are large (the drakes get up to about 15 lbs) they are easy to process. I found them just as simple as a chicken.

They are also sustainable for a backyard or small farm because the hens are great broodies and mothers, and will happily hatch and raise one or more clutches of ducklings per year if they are allowed. No noisy roosters, no incubators required! And “beef” in your backyard…how awesome is that?IMG_7699

 

The Sweetest Thing

The sweetest thing just happened on my urban farm. I have a pair of snowflake bobwhite quail, and although they have tried for three years to hatch out some babies, their eggs are apparently infertile. They sit and sit – the male sitting patiently right beside his hen – but nothing hatches.

Until now. I bought some coturnix quail eggs to put under her. I was afraid she’d reject them – either because I messed with her nest to replace the eggs, or because bobwhite eggs are pure white, and coturnix eggs are usually spotted.  Could she tell the difference?

Either the answer was no, or else she didn’t care. They sat on the eggs together, and out of the eight I gave her, three hatched. And they are so so so sweet! I went out to check on them periodically the day of the hatch, and I knew something was up when I approached their pen and male began to pace in front of his hen, holding out his wings to look big and fierce, and warning me away. He was a father!

I’m not sure there is anything so bitty and fluffy as baby quail. Since I had more eggs than would fit under the hen, I put the extras in my incubator, and managed to hatch out five more.  I’m really interested to see what the adult colors are going to be; the chicks range in color from pure golden yellow, to yellow/black/brown spotted, to dark brown.

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Since I was out there with my camera, I did a few photoshoots around the poultry run.

The Muscovy ducks:
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The boys are always bold and out in front. The females are more shy.

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I also discovered that, unlike the camera-shy larger chickens, the bantams are little divas. They are happy to pose.

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I also simply sat and watched everyone (as I do every day) with Ellie on my lap.

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(She wants to make sure you know she is currently molting, and not quite the gorgeous girl she normally is. Kindly disregard the fact that she only has two tailfeathers at the moment. These things are vastly embarrassing to a hen. Good feathers are important.)

The grapes are starting to fill out.

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And the tomatoes are already ripe.

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We’re had a fantastic summer here in the PNW. Warm, but not too warm. And quite a few rainy days. I adore summer rain!

Yesterday I defrosted and cleaned out the freezer, which means I was inspired to fill it again. First I sliced and bagged 14 quarts of raw mushrooms.

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This is the best method for keeping mushrooms. They are just like fresh, whenever you need them in your recipes.

Then mom and I harvested apples from our mystery apple tree. The apples are ugly, but they make the best pies in the world.

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And then I made three pies. One for now, two to freeze.

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I love making pies. And I can’t believe it took most of my life to try putting lattice crusts on them! It is so easy to do, and besides looking beautiful, they taste better, as the spaces allow more gooey goodness to bubble up unto the crust!