Thursday, April 30, 2015

Spicy Pickled Radishes Inspired by Margaret Mitchell's Gone with the Wind

Most novels are well-loved because of their characters. Sure, the story-line and ideas are important, but it’s the people that play out these stories that mean the most to readers. It’s the novels that send messages of hope and bravery through the noble actions of its characters that truly mean something.  Novels with strong, courageous heroes standing upright and strong in the face of evil.

Gone with the Wind by Margaret Mitchell is not one of these novels.

Almost every character is either brutal, treacherous, a push-over, or downright mean. Marital affairs, cheating, and murder abound. Few characters are what could be considered good role-models and none of their actions are ones that should be copied.

And yet, it remains one of my favorite books. Despite the fact that it is full of horrible events and nasty, often immoral, characters, Gone with the Wind manages to tell a beautiful and touching story of inner strength, the dangers of obsession, and the costs of war.  

Scarlett O’Hara only wants two things out of life: to marry Ashley Wilkes and to become rich enough to be able to tell everyone else to go to hell. When Ashley marries another girl, she does not bow out gracefully as any other genteel Southern belle would have done. Scarlett has the fire of the Irish in her veins and is not willing to give up so easily. As the Civil War drives her from Tara, her family’s cotton farm, she fights to reclaim what she sees as her own: Ashley, Tara, and riches. Her knack for business and husband-catching causes scandal among her townsfolk, but Scarlett couldn’t care less about what they think. Goaded on by Rhett Butler, an unprincipled rouge and social outcast, she struggles to build her life into the one that she has always dreamed of. But the more Scarlett fights to make it through life on her own strength, the more she begins to slip. Blinded by her obsessive love for Ashley and her need to reclaim Tara, she rejects the help of those around her, risking the loss of the very thing she needs the most: the love of a man who can truly understand her.

I’m always struck by the characters in this book. There’s Scarlett and Rhett: two immoral people who will doing almost anything to get what they want. Everyone knows how low they are, but neither try to hide it because, my dear, they don’t give a damn.

Rhett is, however, arguably better than Scarlett. After all, he looks after her and Melanie even when they think the worst of him and he tries to make himself a better person for his daughter. One can’t help but cheer when he finally decides to leave Scarlett, delivering his iconic line: “My dear, I don’t give a damn.”

Sadly, there’s actually no “frankly” in the book…only the movie. I know. My whole life has been a lie.

And then there’s Ashley, who is far, far worse than either Scarlett or Rhett. Not only is he a scoundrel, but he tries to hide if from the whole world. Plus, he cheats on Melanie, which is unacceptable on several different levels.

Melanie, the sweet woman unlucky enough to be Ashley’s wife, is a truly amazing person. Everyone sees her as a poor dear who is na├»ve to a fault. She doesn’t see that Ashley is having an affair with Scarlett and is too weak to stand up for herself.

At least that’s what we are led to think.

Scarlett and Melanie both have strength, but each wears hers differently. Scarlett carries hers on the outside, flouting societal rules to show her freedom, asking none for help, and seeing love as a weakness. Melanie’s is a quiet strength, so quiet that some people think it isn’t there. But it is. Her unconditional loyalty and love is what supports almost every character throughout the novel. In fact, Melanie is one of the only women who is respected by Rhett Butler, a man who sees most women as petty, weak, and senseless.

And let’s not forget about Melanie's brave actions when a soldier is stupid enough to try and loot Tara while it is inhabited by these two southern ladies. Scarlett, ever the fire ball and ready to do whatever it takes to protect her interests, shoots him point blank with her husband’s pistol. She turns to see gentle Melanie, sick from child-birth, standing behind her with her brother’s drawn saber in her hand. And then there’s the time when some women speak ill of Scarlett, truthfully reporting that she is having an affair with Ashley. Melanie fires right up, making it painfully clear that she will never hear unkind words spoken about Scarlett, who has saved her life multiple times.

Yes, she sees the corruptness around her. She knows that Scarlett is having an affair with Ashley, she is aware of Ashley’s disloyalty to both herself and their child, knows that Rhett is of disreputable character. But she chooses to love them anyway, encouraging them to turn their lives around while realizing that they probably never will.

This is very different from how Scarlett deals with the problems in her life: with indomitable strength, but absolutely no morals or love. After fighting her way back to a ruined Tara, half-starved and dying, she finds a small radish in the soil. She greedily swallows it, but, having not eaten for a while, quickly vomits it up. Afterwards, she takes a vow: “If I have to steal or kill – as God is my witness, I’m never going hungry again.”

And she doesn’t. She cheats, seduces, and claws her way into a life of riches. But it doesn’t matter, because, unlike Melanie, her hardships turn her into a bitter, wretched person.

The “radish scene” is the one that cleared up a lot of points for me concerning Scarlett and the messages in Gone with the Wind.

In the movie it was actually a carrot instead of a radish, because, my dear, Hollywood doesn’t give a –

Anyway, because I see that scene as a rather pivotal part in the book, I came up with this:
Spicy Pickled Radishes
  • 1 bunch of radishes (usually about 9 or 10 radishes)
  • ¾ cup of water
  • ¾ cup of apple cider vinegar or distilled white vinegar, or a mix of both
  • 3 tablespoons of honey
  • 2 teaspoons of salt
  • ¼ to 1/8 teaspoon of chili flakes, depending on how spicy you like your food
  • ¼ teaspoon of whole coriander seeds
  • 1 clove of garlic, slivered into quarters

1. Sterilize jars for pickling. To do this, bring a large pot of water to a near boil. Place the jar, lid, and tongs in the water for 5 to 10 minutes. Remove with sterilized tons when ready to use.
2. Wash radishes and then slice into thin ¼ inch slices (or thinner). I use a mandolin for this, but you can use a knife if you want. It will just take longer. You should end up with about 1 and ½ to 2 cups of radish slices. 
3. Put water, vinegar, honey, and salt in a saucepan and bring to boil.
4. Pack radishes into your jar, topping with garlic, coriander seeds, and chili flakes. Pour brine mixture over the top until completely covered.
5. Let cool. They will be ready to eat within a few hours. You can refrigerate for over a week, but you’ll probably finish them off by then.
After pickling, the radishes and brine take on a beautiful pink color. They have a very crisp, spicy flavor that I think is awesome.

My Dad says he hates them. But, since he doesn't like radishes, he decided he hated them before he even tasted them, so, my dear, I don’t give a –

In case you haven’t noticed by now, one of the main reasons I decided to write a post about Gone with the Wind was because it gives me an excuse to use that line. Horrible, I know. But, my dear, I don’t give a damn.

Have you ever read Gone with the Wind? Did you enjoy it? Or did you simply not give a…er…did you just not like it? I’d love to hear your thoughts!

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Hot Cocoa Drinks Inspired by Agatha Christie's Mysterious Affair at Styles

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Friday, April 24, 2015

The 12 Different Kinds of Doctors in the World

I think it must be a fact of life that most people spend lots of time doing things they don’t really want to do. Standing in line at the grocery store, sitting and listening to people talk about something they couldn’t care less about (commonly called “work” or “school”), getting stuck in traffic, listening to weird hold music while waiting for that insurance company to pick up the phone.

Me? I spend a lot of time at the doctor’s office.

Now, I’ve never enjoyed doctors, but, having Lyme disease, I have to spend much more time with them than I’d like. So I try to make the best of it, keep my eyes open, and hopefully learn a few things. While doctors are studying me, I’m studying them. And I’ve come to realize that there are about 12 different kinds of doctors….

1) The one who likes to diagnose. You know, the guy who looks at a person, has no idea what’s wrong with that person, but diagnoses them anyway. I have two theories as to why doctors do this:
  • The cynical theory: They want to look like they know what they’re doing. Because I guess they don't feel like having a bunch of nurses working under them or getting a lab coat with their name embroidered on it is enough.
  • The not-as-cynical theory: They genuinely want to help, and think that a diagnosis will at least make their patient feel better. Though, honestly, being diagnosed with Fibromyalgia or MS doesn’t generally do a whole lot for a person's positive mindset.
2) The one you can’t ever understand. Whether this is because he mumbles, has a thick accent, or uses tons of big words, there’s always that one doctor you can’t make sense of. You go from politely asking “Excuse me?” to “What in the heck did you just say!?”

3) The one who’s only smarter than you because he went into a profession that pays really, really well. This kind is really disconcerting. You meet a doctor and expect him to be able to help you out. And then you realize, “Oh crap. I’m smarter than this guy. How am I smarter than this guy? I can’t believe I’m paying for this.”

4) The one who thinks psychology is the answer to everything. Your neck hurts? Oh, you must be tense about something. Go talk to a psychologist. Fatigued? Must be having relationship issues. You’re bleeding to death? It’s probably just stress.

5) The one who throws medication around like it’s candy. I’m 99% sure that these doctors have never actually consumed the medication they prescribe. Because if they did, I think they would be much more reluctant to be so free-handed about doling out medicine that causes vomiting, memory loss, severe cramping, death, and other minor side-effects.

6) The one laboring under the impression that he has a sense of humor. Look, man. I’m in pain. Just help me out here and quit cracking jokes. I’ve heard that one about ten times, and it wasn't even funny the first time. Do you doctors all read out of the same joke book?

7) The one who has no sense of humor. This is even worse than Dr. Funny. They never smile, never make a joke, are always very serious. They're like a lab-coat wearing, unromantic version of Colin Firth's Mr. Darcy. Sometimes appointments can be stressful. Lighten up a bit.

8) The one who is super out of the loop. He doesn’t know what’s wrong with you. He probably didn’t even know you existed until you walked in the door. He proceeds to ask you a ton of questions about your condition, all of which you answered hours ago while filling out that form the nurse gave you. So you sit there and wonder: “Why did I fill that piece of paper out? Was that just something they gave me to help pass the two-hour wait in the lobby? Kind of like how restaurants give children coloring pages? At least they let me use a pen instead of a crayon…”

9) The one who is NEVER wrong. Ever. Pigs will fly over a frozen Hell before this doctor has a mistaken thought or gives a wrong diagnosis.

10) The one with all the cool toys. Also the one who wants to test said cool toys out on you. Hyperbaric chambers, some new medication from Mongolia, electro-acupuncture, he’s pretty sure they’ll work. Maybe. At least it will look cool.

11) The one who looks like an evil scientist from a certain Marvel movie. Yeah. That’s my current doctor. He’s Russian, has a Russian accent, is short, older, balding, not exactly skinny, never smiles, wears round glasses, and is extremely smart. Every time he walks into the room, I feel like raising both fists in the air and shouting, “Hail Hydra!” Okay, so Zola’s technically Swiss and my doctor’s Russian, but still. All he needs is a red bowtie and he’s set to start trying to take over the world. 

I can never tell whether I think this is kind of disturbing or just extremely awesome.

12) The one with horrible handwriting. Oh. Wait. That’s all of them.

And that about wraps it up.  I’m sure I’ll run into more kinds of doctors, and I often run into doctors that are a mix of several different kinds, but right now I can only come up with 12. What about you? Have you noticed any funny personality traits in the various doctors you’ve come across over the years? 

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Friday, April 17, 2015

This is the Blog You are Looking for: Constant Collectible - The Ultimate Geek Site

BREAKING NEWS. I am now a contributor at an awesome geek blog called Constant Collectible.

Okay, so that’s not really breaking news. I’ve been a contributor since last Sunday. But that doesn’t exactly make a very good opening sentence.

So what exactly is Constant Collectible? 

Well, let me break it down for you:

Simon, the creator of this site, does Film Fridays every Friday (imagine that!) and then writes random posts throughout the week when he sees something that he thinks will interest viewers. These posts usually have something to do with new trailer releases, all of which are placed under the tag Trailer Nation. Also, he’s going to do some pretty cool posts this weekend, but more on that later.

We have Johnny, who does comic book reviews, either posting reviews of an entire series (called Massive Review Monday) or a review of a single comic book. These are posted on Mondays. Inconceivable, I know. I’m pretty sure he’s also the guy who makes sure the site doesn’t explode or suddenly fall to pieces.

Then there’s Drew, the tech reviewer. He posts every Tuesday. He works at a tech store, so he has insider information on all the new toys. He just did his first Tech Tuesday, giving us a preview of the new Apple watch.

Paul is also a contributor, though he has yet to post. He’ll be doing reviews of video games, so if that’s your thing, keep a look out for his first post.

And then there’s me. I post every other Sunday. I bet you can’t guess what I review. Naw, you'll never get it. Are you ready for this?

I review books.

Boom. Nobody saw that one coming. Anyway, my first post was on The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy by Douglas Adams, so if you like books (which I know you do, since you’re visiting my site), you’ll want to check it out.

Now, for some super cool news:

You know how the Star Wars celebration is going on this week? Well, Simon is doing live posting (I’m not sure if that’s even a term, but let’s just go with it) of all the interesting events that take place over there. He’s actually going to Anaheim this weekend, so stay tuned for some awesome bits of news.

Also, last thing and then I’ll stop rambling: rumor has it that Constant Collectible is planning it’s next phase: a Podcast.

Yep. It’s going to be epic.

So, if you are interested in learning about geek culture, if you like Marvel and DC movies, comic books, tech toys, nerd novels, video games, or Star Wars, hop on over and follow Constant Collectible.

If you don’t like any of these things, hop on over and follow Constant Collectible.

This is not optional.  

Once you follow, don’t forget to leave comments (we love comments!), like the FB page, follow on Twitter, visit them on Pinterest, etc.

I try to look out for my followers, so I’m just telling you for your own good: Go follow them now. Right. Now. You will not regret it.

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Friday, April 10, 2015

Controlling Your Plot Bunnies: How to Write A Novel From Start to Finish Without Getting Distracted

I think it’s fair to say that most writers have a lot in common with Doug from Up. We’re mid-story, then an idea scampers through our brain and we stop everything we’re doing to try and catch it.

Okay, so there’s a slight difference between us and Doug. We don’t yell “Squirrel!” Squirrels are too mainstream. Instead we scream “Plot bunny!” because plot bunnies are way cooler.  

In case you’re wondering what a plot bunny is, let me explain to you where this term comes from:

I have absolutely no idea.

Maybe sometime in the writing community the term “going down a rabbit trail” morphed into “chasing plot bunnies.” Makes sense, at least as much as anything that comes out of the writing community can make sense.

Anyway, plot bunnies are those super cool but annoying ideas that pop into your head while you’re already working on a separate story. At first they look adorable, and you just feel like you need to go and pet it. But you get close and start working with it, then it suddenly transforms into an annoying creature that won’t cooperate and you’re left holding it in your arms like an idiot, staring at all of the other temptingly fluffy plot bunnies that can only be reached if you let go of the one you’ve already got.

Sound familiar? Probably. At least 9 out of 10 writers I know have issues with this (or used to have issues with it).

Me? I have finally learned to control my plot bunnies. It took a lot of chocolate, several hours spent having melt downs in the shower, not to mention a couple close calls with rabies infection (yeah, bunnies can carry rabies. Thank you, Google, for giving me rabbit-phobia). But now my plot bunnies are very well behaved and don’t stop me from cracking down and finishing a novel.  

So how do you focus on one story, and one story alone, without getting dragged under by plot bunnies?

Let me tell you:

Have a decent plan in mind. Before you start your story, you need to have a definite end in mind so that you don’t start a story and then just trail off or get tempted by new plot bunnies. It obviously helps to have a beginning charted out, along with a rising action and climax. If you don’t have these, you have no story. Your plot bunny is still a plot bunny and if you go in without a plan, you’ll end up flopping around, getting frustrated, losing interested, running off with another plot bunny, and then repeating the process. A vicious cycle, I know.

Have well developed characters. I cannot stress this enough. The more developed the characters are, the more you will be attached to them, the more you will want to see their stories through. You will be far less likely to abandon them for another book. I think we’ve all experienced loss of interest while reading a book or watching a movie because the characters suck. Sure, the idea may be cool, but the main character is kind of lame (*cough* Luke Skywalker *cough *cough*). Or maybe the book is written well, but nobody cares whether the characters live or die. Think Wuthering Heights, though I may be one of the few people who actually read that book. Oh the hours of my life I will never be able to get back….Anyway, you have to love your characters in order to keep the desire to actually see your book all the way through.

No book hopping. Ever. You work on one book from start to finish. You can’t write two separate books at the same time…that’s like having an affair. Just stop it. Sure, you can be writing a novel and take a break to write a short story or a blog post. That can be helpful. You can even edit one book while writing the first draft of a different story. I do that, and it works really well. But don’t ever write the first drafts for two books at the same time. This is a very bad idea unless you are:

  • A professional writer who knows exactly what you are doing
  • Writing a fiction and nonfiction book at the same time (slightly easier, but still not recommended) 
  • Writing two books of the same series
  • Batman
Under any other circumstances, just don’t even try. It’s distracting, slows down your writing process, and you’ll often end up liking one story better than the other, thus ditching one of the two books.

Keep an idea journal. While it’s not good practice to chase after every plot bunny you see, it is actually very helpful to jot down the random ideas that float through your brain. Especially if there is one idea that nags at you very often, then for goodness sakes, document it! You might need it later.

Make a Pinterest board for your book. If you don’t have a Pinterest account yet, just go sign up right now. It’s free and it has saved the lives of countless half-finished novels. By pinning character look-alikes, dialogue prompts, pictures of places that look like scenes in your novel, songs that fit themes in your story, etc, you will keep yourself engaged. It’s liked adding fodder to the fire. You constantly have images in front of you, inspiring you to write, getting you pumped about new ideas. Pinterest is a safeguard against quitting or becoming tempted to gallivant off with just any other plot bunny.

Write on a schedule. If you want to write a novel from start to finish without getting side-tracked, you need to dedicate a specific time each day to doing so. Writing is a job. Treat it like one. I have more on how to become a scheduled writer here.

Come to terms with the fact that you will never be able to write down all of the stories you see in your mind. A bit harsh, sure. A bummer? Definitely. But you can’t do anything about it. Just suck it up and move on. Completing one story is better than having dozens of half-finished books lying around. All we can do is pick the stories that we think are the best, that we think can make the biggest difference, and be happy with the fact that we’re seeing them to the end.

Those are a few of the ways I’ve found to actually finish a story without getting distracted by plot bunnies. What about you? Do you struggle with being unable to finish a book? How do you control your plot bunnies? 

Related articles:
The Scheduled Writer - How to Boost Your Writing Productivity
What To Do When Your Story Bogs Down
10 Way to Make Your Writing Time More Productive

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