Tuesday, February 28, 2006

One Step Up, Two Steps Back

Today I wrote 512 words in Key. I took a break from Day for reasons I'll explain in a minute. Most of this entry will be about writing, which will probably be of interest only to Sue. The rest of you can skip down to the end to find out what funny thing came in the mail for Eugene. I swear I had nothing to do with it!

Anyway, I got a couple of reviews on my latest chapter that really got me thinking. Both people commented on the lack of tension in the chapter, while the second person also said that I was going over the same ground that I've already established in previous chapters. I can see why my reviewers said that, and the rest of the reviews were well-written, balanced with strengths and weaknesses of my chapter. The problem with reviews like this is not with what they say; it's figuring out what I want to do to address their comments. I've heard it said on the OWW mailing list that quite often critters don't point out the real problem, but they do point out areas that need to be fixed. I'm not sure if I agree with that, but I think the reason the chapter turned out the way it did has to do with my writing method. I'm what they refer to as an organic writer, someone who has an idea of how she wants to begin and end a story, along with some landmarks along the way, but doesn't have every scene outlined in advance. I tend to improv a lot as I write, and I'm beginning to think that's why when I look at an early draft, I throw everything out and start over; I think of new things I want to do and add them for the sake of adding them. I have tried to outline a couple of my novels before writing them, but I never finished the outlines. Sue suggested outlining after the fact so I can get a better overview of what I've got. I think I should do that with Day. To be honest, I'm not happy with how this rewrite is going. When I posted the opening chapter, I got some comments on it that inspired me to rewrite the whole thing, but after the reviews that version got, I wonder if the original version was better. I wonder now if I should have just posted the original version of Day without trying to rewrite it first. Hence the same of my entry tonight; I feel like I'm going backward, which is not a good feeling after all of the work I've spent developing my writing abilities. Still, if there's one thing I've learned along the way, it's that protagonists don't give up, and I'm certainly stubborn enough to keep going. While I don't want to change methods in the middle of a writing marathon, I think I need to develop an outline of Day before I go farther with it. Good thing I have Key as a backup, but if I encounter a rough stretch with that, I may pull up a backup backup short story I want to write about Ollie from Key and try that one again.

OK, now that you've suffered through a long paragraph about writing and stories you haven't read, here's your reward. Today Eugene got an offer from the AARP. Yes, that is the American Association of Retired People. Their letter said he was eligible to join with full benefits, and they even included a membership card. For the record, he's a few months younger than I am, and I'm not getting these offers. Should I be miffed at the omission or happy? And if the AARP gives him permission to retire now, can he take money penalty-free from his IRA? For some reason, I highly doubt that.

OK, I think I should try that outline before I go to bed. Tomorrow will be another day and another opportunity to blog.

Monday, February 27, 2006

When Does Rock Become Classic?

First, a quick note of how many words I've written today for the OWW writing marathon: 612 on Day. I also finished a scene. So far so good; let's hope I can keep the pace up. Now on to today's topic....

Eugene and I have been noticing lately that our favorite classic rock station The Drive (which is very similar to The Lake in Madison; we even recognized an announcer's voice from The Drive when we listened to The Lake on our recent trip) is playing songs from the 80s and even early 90s now. I haven't heard Madonna or punk rock; instead, it's been songs such as "One Step Up" by Bruce Springsteen or Tom Petty's "Running Down a Dream." In a way, it makes sense that a classic rock station would play songs by these artists, though if The Drive really wanted to promote classic rock artists, they'd play songs from their more recent albums too. (For example, although I heard Paul McCartney's latest album played once at Barnes and Noble, I doubt I'll ever hear it on the regular playlist of The Drive.) Still, it bothers me to hear these songs on this station, and I had to think about why. I do like these songs, and while it may seem strange to hear songs from high school and college considered "classic," I'm not at a point where I'm worried about my age. (Ask me in five or ten years, and that may change.) The best answer I've come up with is that I've always defined classic rock as being from the 50s (yes, I do like some songs from this era), 60s, and 70s. If you stretch the genre to include later decades, then what does that make the Beatles, for instance? Very classic rock? Immortal rock? Geezer rock? Do we need new terms to define each decade of rock, or is it enough to refer to "60s rock"? At what point does rock become classic? Are there reasons for or against expanding the catalog of classic rock? How will doing so affect stations' playlists?

Plenty of food for thought here. If you have opinions, feel free to post them. I should browse over to OWW and read the latest review of Day.

Sunday, February 26, 2006

Next-to-Last Dance

We started Tango Level III tonight. This class is only two sessions long, but the sessions are longer (two and a half hours). We're working on turns and making our steps "flow" with the music. We're even getting to the point where some of this makes sense. (grin) It's a shame that our last session is coming up so soon. Although driving into and back out of Chicago makes for a long Sunday night, the classes were a nice way to meet other people and get some quality time in with Eugene. We need to either find another tango instructor who teaches the same way this pair does or figure out how to keep practicing on our own.

Saturday, February 25, 2006

March Madness Marathon

Well, March isn't until next week, but I've already begun the madness. I signed up for the writing marathon on OWW. It goes for several weeks (I think four), and you set your own goals for this time. I signed up for 500 words/day on my two main projects (Day and Key). I used to be able to do that every day, but with all that I've got to do these days it's been hard to reach that. We also have several things already scheduled for the weekends, so that may cut into my writing time. Still, I need to make my writing more of a priority. I haven't even done any for the last two days! So please wish me luck, and Sue, I'm sure you'll understand if my reviews of your chapters take longer.

Friday, February 24, 2006

Whew, It Worked!

Well, I finished my project, or most of it anyway. It's a long-term project, so I'll have to monitor it for a while after I bring it into work on Monday. It took a long time since I had to heat my ingredients up and then cool them down. That took the longest, but after I got past that part, things moved a little faster. I think I'm already sensing differences between the control and the experiment version, but we'll have to see how things develop. At least now I can finish my review for Sue and hopefully write for a bit before I start cooking dinner. Tonight's movie night, so I'll get to relax and crochet for a while too.


I'm doing something today I never thought possible with my job: I'm working from home.

I can't talk about what I'm doing, but it requires a stove. Our lab at work doesn't have one, so my boss suggested I do this experiment at home. It's nice; I'm even more casual than I normally am (no make-up; aren't you glad I don't use a webcam? Just kidding), and I get to listen to the radio instead of my whistling co-worker. His playlist is very limited. I also don't have to pay a toll when I walk from the office to the kitchen. But it's not all fun and games by any means. I started this project right after breakfast, cleaning the kitchen counters, washing my equipment, and boiling it in a huge pot of water while I took my shower. I also can't have any food in the kitchen (it might contaminate my project), so if I reach a point with this project where the stove is off for a while, I might run out to Subway for lunch. Does that count as a business expense? It would if I were traveling, but I'd feel funny claiming it for this.

Anyway, I hope this works. I've seen this procedure done before, but this is the first time I've tried it, and I wasn't too impressed with the instructions I have. I wound up rewriting them to incorporate our changes. But I also realized this morning that I forgot something crucial at work, and I'm at a point where I can't go fetch it. We'll just see how this batch works out without it. Hopefully, everything will go well, and we'll want to repeat this project with several variations. It'll be nice since I might have some down time to review/write while things cook.

Wednesday, February 22, 2006

Resistance Is Futile...

I have been assimilated into the Blog collective. Since I don't tan anyway and hate leaving the house without my laptop, I should fit in just fine. Oops, sorry, wrong collective...

OK, I admit it; I'm stealing this from Russ, who stole it from Sara, who was sent this in an e-mail, and so on, and so on, and so on...how much punctuation can I squeeze into this sentence anyway? Apparently a lot. But I figure it might be a good way to tell people a little bit about myself. Also, it gave me an opportunity to make the bad jokes I used above (Yes, I will be here all week; why do you ask?), not to mention put off writing for a few more minutes. (The writer's paradox: I want to write, but when I'm actually in front of the keyboard, the words dry up like a drop of water in the Sahara. Unless I'm working on something else besides fiction, naturally.) Anyway, I should just shut up and fill out the questions. I've "Xed" the things I've done below:


( ) Smoked a cigarette
( ) Drank so much you threw up
( ) Crashed a friend's car
( ) Stolen a car
( X) Been in love
( X) Been dumped.
( X) Been laid off/fired
( X) Quit your job
( ) Been in a fist fight
( X) Snuck out of your parent's house (does taking the dog out while my parents are still asleep count?)
( X ) Had feelings for someone who didn't have them back
( ) Been arrested?
( ) Gone on a blind date
( ) Skipped school
( ) Seen someone die
( X ) Been to Canada
( ) Been to Mexico
( X ) Been on a plane
( X ) Been lost
( X ) Been on the opposite side of the country. (New York and Alaska)
( X) Gone to Washington, DC.
( X ) Swam in the ocean (Pacific)
( ) Felt like dying
( X ) Cried yourself to sleep
( ) Played cops and robbers
( ) Recently colored with crayons
( ) Sang karaoke
( X ) Paid for a meal with only coins (Maybe if I got something out of a vending machine...)
( X ) Done something you told yourself you wouldn't?
( ) Made prank phone calls
( X ) Laughed until some kind of beverage came out of your nose
( X ) Caught a snowflake on your tongue.
( X) Danced in the rain
( X ) Written a letter to Santa Claus
( X) Been kissed under the mistletoe
( ) Watched the sun rise with someone you care about (too early for me)
( X ) Blown bubbles
( ) Made a bonfire on the beach
( ) Crashed a party ("everyone who ever went to college has...," but I think I'm the exception to this rule. Yes, I know I need to get out more. But I'm a writer; it's my goal in life to be attached to a computer. ;) )
( X ) Gone roller-skating
( X ) Ice-skating

Any nicknames? Ulbrichen, Ms. DNA
Mother's name? Olga
What is your favorite drink? Water, followed by green or herb tea
Tattoos? No
Body piercing? ears
How much do you love your job (1-10) 8.
Birthplace: Chicago, IL
Favorite vacation spot? Madison, WI
Ever been to Africa? No
Ever steal any traffic signs? No.
Ever been in a car accident? Yes
A, B, C, D, DD cup size? That's classified information. If you really need to know, I get to measure your privates with my foot. ;)
2 Door or 4 Door? 4 Door
Salad dressing? Bleu Cheese
Favorite pie? Eugene's Apple Cranberry Pie
Favorite number? 4
Favorite movie? A Hard Day's Night
Favorite holiday? Christmas.
Favorite food? Chocolate.
Favorite day of the week? Saturday
Favorite brand of body soap? Shower gel scented with Lily of the Valley. Before that, Ivory.
Favorite TV show? Does the news count?
Toothpaste? Sensodyne.
Favorite smell? Lilacs and lily of the valley.
What do you do to relax? Read or soak in a bubble bath.
Message to your friends reading this? Now it's your turn to fill this out.
How do you see yourself in 10 years? A best-selling author. It could happen...
What do you do when you are bored? Read my favorite message boards.

Dancin' in the Dining Room

I figured I should blog a little earlier tonight to make sure I check in before I get too tired.

Tonight Eugene and I finally did something we've been meaning to do for a while: practice tango. After a late dinner (we made a big pork tenderloin, and it took longer than we expected), we put on a tango CD from the library, slipped into comfy clothes and socks, and practiced our steps. I should say right away that our apartment was not meant to be a dance studio. Even if you discount the carpeting, the halls are too narrow for a sidestep, and we have too many piles of stuff laying around to create more space. Also, we didn't remember how our feet should go to get into the particular steps we wanted to practice. Still, we were able to practice going up and down while pressing our palms together to work on our connection. We also tried going into a position called the cross, in which I have one leg crossed in front of the other. You need to develop a certain amount of momentum to make this flow from the steps, and again we didn't have enough room to make this work very well. We need to find a bigger place to practice and to ask our instructors about certain steps again. Still, it's a start, and maybe we can try again later this week.

As far as working on other projects, I finished another row of my afghan and wrote a hundred words of Day tonight. Hopefully the muse will help me finish my current scene tonight and, if I'm lucky, decide if I want to keep the next scene or change that one too. Better get busy.

Tuesday, February 21, 2006

The Latest Picture

Since the Dear NYer asked to see what my hair looks like after I got it cut last week, here's the latest picture of me. I had my hair in a French braid most of the day, so it's probably a little more wavy than usual. The general shape of the cut is the same as what I normally get, though.

My writing's going slowly again, but I am making some headway on the afghan. I'm on row number 14. Of course, there's over a hundred rows, so it'll take a while. At least it gives me something to do while we watch movies.

Well, it's almost 11:00, nearly bedtime. Let me try switching stories to see if the muse likes that one better tonight.

Monday, February 20, 2006

Weekend in Review

Sorry to all for the absence. I didn't plan to take a few days off from blogging, but the last couple nights I just didn't feel like writing when I sat down in front of the computer. Too tired, I guess. So time to make up for it now.

I had today off, so I had a three-day weekend. Saturday I spent a fair amount of time cleaning; I straightened out the closet (and found the floor!), picked up the living room, unearthed my desk, dusted, and vacuumed. I also made pizza from scratch. I made the dough in the bread machine the day before, and I used a baking stone and our new pizza crisper. I think it turned out pretty well this time; I've had problems with the dough not baking properly in the past. After dinner and the laundry, Eugene and I watched A Day at the Races, featuring the Marx Brothers. It was pretty funny, especially when the three of them were in the same scene. Eugene wished there was a blooper reel, but I guess the movie itself was the blooper reel. I also worked on my afghan and crocheted a few more rows without encountering more Gordian knots. I didn't get much writing done that day, but I told myself I would make it up over the next two days.

Sunday was fairly quiet. I ran a couple errands and worked on a crit for Sue. We stopped in to visit Eugene's family and had dinner before our tango lesson. Since we were in Wisconsin last week, we missed class. One of the instructors worked with us to help us get up to speed. For a while, it seemed like we were getting the hang of things, but then we worked on a more difficult move, and it got a little frustrating again. Our other instructor said that was normal. We have two more classes at Level Three, which is as far as these instructors go. The classes will be longer so we have more time to work on turns. In the meantime, we really do need to practice at home this week, even if we lack space and the proper flooring. I didn't get much writing done Sunday either.

This brings me to today. Since I had the day off, I slept in a little and did some other things, like finish the review for Sue, return the DVDs to the library, and update my website. I added a new chapter of Key, (after over a year since I started the story), an essay about my short story sale, and a photo gallery of Oscar the whale and his trip to Madison. The main link to my website is below, but here's the one to the photo gallery:


I did manage to write a little of Day, but it wasn't as much as I'd hoped for. It seems that I never get as much done as I want, but then again, I have too much that I want to work on. At least I'm glad I had the chance to update my website. I also signed up for panels at WisCon, so we'll see if I'm assigned to any.

And Dear NYer, I'll see about getting Eugene to take my picture so you can see my haircut, but I might wait until tomorrow to post it.

Friday, February 17, 2006

Slow Night

Well, work went slowly today, and so is my writing tonight. I've spent more time playing games on Yahoo! than actually putting words on the screen. (Words from Text Twist don't count towards my quota, unfortunately.) So now I'm writing here about not writing. Makes so much sense, doesn't it? It's nice to get some words down somewhere, at least.

Eugene and I were going to watch a classic movie from the library tonight, but since he had to do something after work and got in late, we're going to save the movie for tomorrow. That should give me a topic for tomorrow's blog. I'm also going to make pizza for dinner; I already made the dough tonight.

I suppose I should stare at Day some more. Maybe I ought to switch to Key instead. Or maybe I ought to call it a night and just go to bed. It's supposed to get very cold tonight, and snuggling under the blankets is more tempting than revising Day at the moment. Hopefully tomorrow will be more productive.

Thursday, February 16, 2006

Hair Again

Yes, it's a noteworthy event when I get a haircut, as I tend to put them off until my split ends have split ends. But it's been about ten weeks since my last one, so it was time.

I have to admit that even though I tried to change my hair cut last time, not only wasn't it noticeable (and it's weird to say that lopping off 4-5 inches of hair isn't noticeable), but adding a shorter layer to my hair made it more difficult to style. The shorter hair tends to come out of a ponytail, which eliminates some of my everyday hair styles. Good thing I can still French braid my hair; I like doing that because it keeps my hair out of my face. Maybe it wouldn't be so bad if I used appliances like a hair dryer or curling iron to do more things with my hair, but they don't seem to work well for me. I generally just towel dry my hair, comb it out, and go from there. But I have enough length in my hair to do something different with it every day of the week if I choose. If it was short, I don't know how I'd handle it; I'd have to figure out dryers and curlers and mousse, oh my! I did try bangs and layers when I was in undergrad, but I don't keep them cut, and they take forever to grow out. So today I had two inches taken off the back and left the layer in front alone. Eugene noticed the cut because my hair was still a little damp when he came home.When my hair is all one length again, I'll probably just keep it that way. I may let it grow a little longer again. If I get daring, I may go to shoulder length, but that's about as short as I'd like to go, at least for now. I guess I'm still traumatized by the boyishly short haircut I had as a kid. ;)

In other news, I've been working steadily on Day and have been making progress. Sometimes I have to stop and think of what to do with the changes that are creeping into this draft, as they always affect more than I think they will. I've been working a little bit on Key too, and last night I created a photo gallery for one of my web pages. Hopefully sometime this weekend I'll upload everything to my website; it's due for some new material.

Wednesday, February 15, 2006

What I'm Not Reading

As much as I love to buy books, it seems that these days I have less time to actually read them. Here's the current pile of books waiting for my attention:

I don't know how many titles you can make out, but I have a variety of books here, including science fiction/fantasy novels, history books, science books, writing books, Beatle books and magazines, and even a classic (Moby Dick, which I started reading on a trip several years ago and abandoned once I returned home). This doesn't include the book I just put in the bathroom basket or my latest issues of Scientific American and Locus, "the newspaper of the science fiction field."

When I really want to read a book, I can do so very quickly. I bought The Time Traveler's Wife Friday evening while we were in Madison, and I finished it Sunday. I did have some more free time to read this weekend, as I had breakfasts and lunches by myself while Eugene was in lecture. I once read four novels (between 300-400 pages each, I'd say) in twelve hours when I got home from college and needed to unwind. (These were the last four books in Piers Anthony's Incarnations of Immortality series. He used to be one of my favorite authors, and I was really interested in this series.) So I'm sure I could clear this pile if I 1): stopped buying new books (but wouldn't that cause the collapse of the publishing industry?) and 2): did nothing but read for a couple of months. Unfortunately, neither of these events is likely to happen anytime soon. I can snatch a few minutes to read here and there, but my best time to read is during my morning workout with Eugene when we're on treadmills. It also doesn't help that I subscribe to two monthly and one bimonthly magazine; I end up reading books between magazine issues. At least I have no reason to be bored. I do need to read a little faster before I buy another bookshelf just to hold my unread books.

Tuesday, February 14, 2006

Our First V-Day

Eugene and I have had many Valentine's Days together already, but strictly speaking, we weren't actually together on the day for many of them, since we were in a long-distance relationship for so long. Also, this is our first one as a married couple. So both of us wanted it to be special. I can't speak for Eugene, but it was fun for me thinking of things to do for him today.

Eugene got the "first strike" in today by sending me flowers at work. I was setting up an experiment when the receptionist walked in with a long box of a dozen roses and a box of truffles. My boss joked about being disappointed; he only got a couple of videos in the mail. Eugene's given me roses on quite a few occasions, but this is the first time he had them delivered. I called him to thank him and displayed the roses on my desk, where they'll remain until the weekend.

After work, it was my turn to put my ideas into effect. I wanted to cook a special meal for Eugene, including individual chocolate bread puddings for dessert. Unfortunately, I found a recipe on MSN.com, but it didn't print out properly. Luckily, I found a similar recipe in one of Eugene's cookbooks. I had to make a second trip to the store to get evaporated milk, but the bread pudding didn't take very long to make. It turned out pretty well; the only thing was that the chocolate chips on top got scorched since I had to bake the puddings in the broiler oven instead of the regular one. For the rest of the meal, I made sirloin steak, garlic wild rice, sauteed mushrooms, a spinach salad, and leftover vegetables. We also had a couple glasses of Shiraz with the meal. By the time Eugene came home, I had candles lit throughout the apartment, tango music playing in the background, and my tango dress and heels on (and an apron too). We exchanged presents after dinner; I gave him two books and a DVD; he gave me two books and two music videos. We had a very nice evening; as I told Eugene, "One down, forty-nine to go!"

Sunday, February 12, 2006

Olbrich Botanical Gardens

Today while Eugene had his lectures, I went to the Olbrich Botanical Gardens. (The name may be similar to my maiden name, but as far as I know, there's no relation.) This may sound like the last place to visit in the middle of winter, but it has a conservatory of tropical plants and birds. I figured that would be a good place to take pictures of Oscar. I had to run back to the car for a spare memory card for my camera, but I still got some good pictures of Oscar and the birds. Here are a couple:
Oscar looking down at the bird feeding area.

Is he a rebel or just illiterate?

Despite the cold, I did walk around the outside gardens for a bit. They have some things there that I haven't seen before, such as the Rose Tower:

And a temple from Thailand:

After that, I hung out at Border's for a while. Although it wasn't much of a photo op, I did find a couple of books and wrote about 800 words. Then I bought a few things for work; picked Eugene up from his lectures; and drove down to Janesville, where we had dinner with my parents. Now we're back home and getting ready for another work week.

Saturday, February 11, 2006

Dinner with College Friends

As I mentioned in my last post, we had dinner tonight with our friends Sara (she of No H fame), her friend Ken, and Brian, along with Oz, Lisa, and their daughter Charlotte. We went to Bluphie's; I'd never been there before, but the food was very good. Here are a couple of pictures:

Sara, Oz, and Charlotte.

Our gang: from left to right, me, Eugene, Oz, Charlotte, Lisa, Brian, and Sara. Thanks to Ken for taking the picture!

After dinner, we hung out at Oz and Lisa's house for a while, talking about everything from trips to our childhoods. It was fun seeing each other, and hopefully we'll get together again when we come up for WisCon in May.

Live From Madison, It's Sandra's Blog!

For the rhythm of my heart is beating like a drum,
With the words "I love you" rolling off my tongue,
Never will I roam, for I know my precious home,
For the city of four lakes I am driving.

I think of these (slightly modified) lyrics from Rod Stewart's "The Rhythm of My Heart" every time I come back to Madison. I fell in love with the city the first time I came here for state forensics as a teenager, and even though I now live in the Chicago area, I think of myself as a "Madisonian in exile." So when Eugene decided to come up here for some continuing education classes, I wanted to come with him. Of course, the fact that I'm married to him might play a small part in that too.

We got in last night and had sushi. Today, while Eugene was in his seminar, I went to Picnic Point and took some pictures with Oscar. I'll post them later on the website. Then, after navigating the detours through campus, I went to State Street. I hung out in a coffeehouse for a while, then bought some clothes at Wintersilks, had lunch at the Himalyan restaurant, and picked up a few thing at University Book Store. State Street has changed since the last time I was here; a few more stores, like Discount Den, are gone. Even The Pipefitter will be moving when its lease runs out. But it's still good to visit. Tonight we're going to have dinner with Sara and Brian. More later!

Thursday, February 09, 2006

The Divine Is In The Details

High time for some writing thoughts here.

I've been thinking lately about how important details are to a story. Some of this was inspired by the book I'm currently reading, which is Conquistador by S.M. Stirling. The premise of this book is that right after WWII, a veteran named John Rolfe tinkers with his shortwave radio and ends up opening a gate to an alternate universe where Alexander the Great lived past the age of 30. This changed the course of history so much that Europe never developed the science and technology to discover America, so Rolfe finds a California occupied only by Native Americans. He promptly proceeds to bring his friends over, and they settle the area while maintaining contact with their original universe. The bulk of the story takes place in the near future, after this alternate world has been settled long enough for one of the original families to plot a takeover.

I bought this book because of this premise, which is similar to what I do in Lennon's Line. What really made me take notice of this book is the level of description and detail Stirling uses to develop his alternate world. You can tell that he's done his homework. The book teems with descriptions of the ecology of this alternate world (unspoiled in comparison with ours, but still artificial in that the settlers introduced African animals into the American wilderness). But Stirling doesn't stop there. He also describes the weapons his characters use with an ease that made me think, "He really knows his stuff." The towns of this alternate world also feel real. His descriptions ring true to life and appeal to several senses. While at times he piles so many details into a single paragraph that I skim over them, the overall weight of them makes his fictional world feel real. It's a level of detail I seldom see on OWW -- or in my own work even. Part of that could be that when I write, I focus on the characters, dialogue, and plot first. Setting tends to get worked around all of that after I reread it and feel it comes across as "talking heads," like a cartoon with no background. I do try to take more notice of descriptions when I'm writing, now that I'm aware of how important they are, but I'm still working on incorporating that ball into the juggling act otherwise known as writing.

There's another level of detail that's also important in writing, and that's sentence-level structure, word choice, and punctuation. In fact, the mailing list for OWW was discussing punctuation today. I'm on digest mode, so I always feel I'm getting the e-mails too late to chime in. There's no reason I can't post my two cents here, though. To me, it's never too soon in a draft to make sure everything reads smoothly. I understand that in many cases, text in the first draft may be rewritten or cut; I do that all the time myself. Still, it should be written as clearly as possible. When I post a chapter to the OWW, I don't want my reviewers to worry about sentence-level problems (though some of them do, and they do make good points). I want the text to read as smoothly as possible so that my reviewers can focus on larger areas such as characters and plot without being distracted. It's not necessary to have everything be grammatically perfect; people don't speak that way, so dialogue should reflect what real speech sounds like. And sometimes you can break the rules for effect. For instance, a sentence fragment can have more emotional impact than a complete sentence would in the same context. But in order to write an effective fragment, first you have to know what a grammatically correct sentence sounds like, and you have to use fragments sparingly. I've read online stories that were filled with fragments, and you could tell they were mistakes. Such stories are painful to read. Grammar and punctuation are details no writer can neglect.

The normal saying is that "The Devil is in the details." For me, that's also where the divine is. When the story works at the detail level, it's easier to read--and perhaps easier to write. And since creative writing is a way to access the divinity in all of us, why not take the time to do it right? For that matter, why not take the time to do everything around you correctly? This may not be possible, but it's something to strive for.

Wednesday, February 08, 2006

What Do I Do For An Encore?

I'm afraid I don't have anything as exciting as my Jeopardy! story to blog about today. At least I didn't have to cook tonight, since it was Eugene's turn. I spent a fair amount of the evening reviewing, but I did manage to write over 200 words in Day of All Seasons. Hopefully I'll have more time to write tomorrow. I also crocheted a little while Eugene made dinner. I'm currently working on a section with some fancy stitches, so it's a little slower than it was in the beginning.

I did see a news article earlier today that I thought was interesting. It's about a sting operation that caught a fake vet:


I forgot to point this out to Eugene earlier; did you see this already, dear?

That's about it for now, I'm afraid. Don't worry; this weekend should be more interesting.

Tuesday, February 07, 2006

By Request...My Jeopardy! Experience

Russ suggested last night that I go into more detail about my Jeopardy! experience. Since today wasn't too exciting--got up, went to work, ran a couple errands, came home, cooked dinner, and worked on a review for Sue--I might as well honor his request. So dust off your Weird Al album and come listen to my tale.

It all began in the summer of 1997, when I was living with my parents and looking for another job to replace my technical writing one. I had part-time work as a copyeditor, but that wasn't enough. I did have plenty of time to watch TV, though, especially Jeopardy!. Like many people, I would question the answers while watching, and I wasn't too bad. So when I saw one day that the show would be holding tryouts in Chicago, I went online and registered. I was quite shocked when I was actually selected, though. But I spent the time in between reading general knowledge books and trying to learn a bit more in my weak subjects.

The day of the tryouts, my parents drove me down to Chicago and dropped me off while they visited my grandmother. If I recall correctly, the audition was in a hotel. Many other people were already there, and quite a few of them were cramming just as I had done. When the time came, we were all ushered into a large room and given a sheet of paper with 50 lines on it.

The audition consisted of a tape of Alex reading 50 clues out loud. For this test, you didn't have to answer in the form of a question. The topics were general; I remember there were questions on recent events and beverages, among other things. For this, I did find that my studying helped me with some of the answers. In order to pass, you had to get over 35 questions right. I estimate there were about 100 people testing at the same time I did; only 15 passed. I was one of them.

The second part of the audition was to get to know us a little better and to see how well we would be able to handle being on the show. The people running the test gave us short interviews and let us practice ringing in with the real buzzers from the show. I think this is when we had to list some interesting things about ourselves for Alex to ask us about, but I'm not sure anymore. I felt like I handled this part well, and after I was done, I treated myself to a chocolate-covered strawberry and waited to hear back from the show.

I got the call sooner than I expected, in September. I had to take time away from my jobs (I was temping at the enzyme company by this point) and make my own travel/hotel arrangements. (They had a deal with the hotel, but I still had to pay for everything.) Eugene wasn't able to fly out with me, so my dad came along, since he'd lived in California before and knew the area a bit. (Edited in: Eugene says he gave me a little stuffed animal to bring along, but I don't remember that part.)

The taping was on a Monday; we flew out on Saturday (I think) so we could spend a day sightseeing. We drove around for a bit, with Dad recording things on his camcorder. I can't remember the name of the tourist area we visited, but eventually we wound up at a beach in Santa Monica (not to be confused with Sandra Monica, my names. ;) ) I couldn't wear my contacts at the beach, and there's a crazy section of the video where I tried to use it and couldn't see what I was doing very well. I also got to swim in the ocean, which is something you don't get to do very often in the Midwest. Unfortunately, I also got a sunburn on part of my neck and back. Obviously I needed Eugene along so he could apply some sunscreen properly. ;)

The next morning, I dressed in a suit (gray with a turquoise blouse) and brought some changes of clothing along in case I won and appeared on several shows. I met a bunch of other contestants at the studio, and we were briefed on the rules again. They also put makeup on us and hid my sunburn. Then we had to wait for our turn to be on. When we weren't playing, we sat quietly in the audience and watched the tapings. They taped five shows that day; as luck would have it, I was on the last one.

After all this time, it's hard to describe what I felt while the taping was going on. I didn't feel nervous; I was too focused on the clues. Unfortunately, the first two rounds of the game didn't have good categories for me, and I missed some easy questions. I got both Daily Doubles in the second round. I missed one about starfish and got the second one about golems. (I got that one because I'd read a book about them earlier.) My score bounced up and down, but I made it through to the Final Jeopardy! round behind the leader. The category was "Playwrights." Being the reader that I am, I felt confident enough to bet all but $100. I don't remember the exact wording of the answer anymore, but it had to do with a modern German playwright. I questioned, "Who is Brecht?" It was right. Unfortunately, the leader also got the correct question, and he won. I came in second.

So, what did I win? The main prize was a week-long trip for two to NYC, which I used in 1998. I was supposed to go with Eugene, but due to a family situation he had to cancel. Again, my dad came with me, and we toured the common tourist traps. We did go to the World Trade Center (which was good, since Eugene and I skipped it on our 2001 vacation), and I also saw Cats on Broadway during a matinee show. Some of the other prizes I got were a case of Tootsie Rolls, a copy of the Jungle Book, a back massager (which I gave to Dad), and, of course, an electronic version of the show.

The show I was on aired in October 1997. I refused to watch it, since I was embarrassed by my mistakes. In fact, even though I taped the show, I still haven't watched it. Maybe when I'm old and senile I'll be able to watch myself without cringing. ;) Still, in retrospect, even though I had trouble in the first two rounds of the show, I was lucky when it came to the final category. Of the four shows I watched being taped, I would have not gotten the final question for three of them and would have bet low on the one that I could answer. So in that sense it all worked out for me.

I don't have time to watch much TV anymore, and I haven't followed Jeopardy! in years, not even when Ken Jennings was on. It doesn't have the same appeal anymore. People have urged me to try out for other shows, like Who Wants to be a Millionaire?, but I don't think I'd do well on popular culture questions. I know more about Schroedinger's cat than I do about TomKat, and I'm happier that way. But now I too can sing along with weird Al that "I Lost on Jeopardy!"

All right, kids, you've had your bedtime story, so now it's time to say good-night. And no getting up in the middle of the night for a glass of water either, or the monsters under the bed will get you. ;)

Monday, February 06, 2006

Working-Class Heroine

My friends Sara and Russ recently posted lists of their jobs in their blogs, so I thought I'd be a copycat. I don't think I had as many jobs as they did, though.

1. Babysitter--I don't think of this as a "real" job, but I did babysit for two kids during the day one summer; I think I was 16. It didn't pay much, but I probably should have set a higher wage.

2. McDonald's crew person--Yes, I had a fast-food job; I think I started there when I was seventeen. I worked mostly summers, though when I was in college, I worked over the holidays. I did all sorts of things: manned a register, worked in drive-through, and I even hosted birthday parties. I was a closer, so sometimes I wouldn't be done until 2:00 a.m. The first night I helped close, I tripped over an exposed outlet and cut myself on a metal tray I had just washed. I still have the scar on my ring finger.

3. Food service, Union South--I was fortunate enough that I saved up enough money from McD's that I didn't have to work during most of my undergrad career. I got a part-time job my final semester; I cleaned trash off trays as they passed by on a conveyor. Glamorous, huh?

4. Maid, Union South--This is what I did with my brand-spanking-new B.S. degree the summer between undergrad and grad school. Now I know what the hotel rooms look like at the Union.

5. Teaching Assistant--During grad school, I taught a technical writing class. The first semester, I worked with a professor. The second and third semesters, I taught on my own. I wound up with the early class both times, and grading papers would take all weekend. The stipend wasn't too bad, though.

6. Science Writing Intern--Yes, I've even worked for the government. I was an intern at the National Cancer Institute's press office for six months. My duties included answering calls from the media, writing press statements and news articles for the Journal of the National Cancer Institute, going to press conferences, and arranging media interviews with scientists. Once I got to sit in in an interview with Dean Hamer, the scientist who claims to have discovered a "gay" gene. I have to admit I found this job a bit stressful at times, since there were days when we were deluged with press calls. It didn't help I was so far away from Eugene and my family either.

7. Technical Writer--My first "real" job post-college. This was for a company called Marquip, which made machines for the corrugated paper (cardboard) industry. When I was hired, I was given the impression that this was the first time they had technical writers and that I would be able to provide significant imput into the manuals. Well, they already had manuals, and it seemed I did little more than revise them--when I was able to get the data from the engineers, that is. I never got too excited about the machines, either; despite having had a bad lab experience as an undergrad, I began to miss science at this point. The only good thing about this job was that it was in Madison. I lost the job after a year and a half, but that was a blessing in disguise, especially later on when this plant shut down.

8. Copyeditor--I had a hard time finding a job in the science communication field, which is what my master's is in. So to bring in some money while I lived with my parents, I found a part-time job as I continued my job search. I copyedited a couple of local newspapers and also did some real estate layouts for them. During this time, I tried out for Jeopardy! and wrote an essay about the audition for the paper. I still have that article somewhere.

9. Lab Tech, Sales Department--When my family moved to Janesville in 1997, I saw an ad for a temp job that needed someone with a science degree. It was for an enzyme company in Beloit, Wisconsin. I started off baking bread with their enzymes to see how they affected freshness. For a couple of months, I held both this job and the copyediting position. When I had a chance to do this full-time, I switched to it, though I continued as a temp for a while longer before they finally hired me as an employee. My job expanded to more than just baking; I learned how to perform enzyme assays and did other R&D projects. I found out I liked this type of work; I got to do a variety of different things and wear jeans to work. My boss was in the Sales Department, and he was very "hands-off," which was also nice. I even made some friends with my co-workers and went bowling with them once a week after work.

10. Lab Tech, Quality Control--In 2002, the company I worked for was bought by another enzyme company. Many of my co-workers were let go, but I was transferred to the Quality Control lab. Even though this was also lab work, it felt like the opposite of what I'd been doing before. All I got to do was collect samples and assay them, without the variety that I'd had in R&D. It was more stressful, and I hated the hours they gave me: second shifts, with work on holidays and weekends. Since I was still living in Wisconsin, that would have made it even more difficult to see Eugene, and I was only seeing him once or twice a month then. After having a breakdown in HR, the company let me go with a severance package. Again, this was a good thing, as I heard later the buyer shut the plant down. Even better, it didn't take me long to find my current job....

11. Assistant Scientist--I have a more exciting title, but I'm still basically a lab tech in the R&D department of an enzyme company. I'm the only one in the lab besides my boss, though, so I have more responsibilities, such as ordering supplies and writing procedures. I occasionally accompany the salesmen on visits to our customers, but mostly I work in the lab. I enjoy it and get along well with my co-workers. I'll celebrate my fourth anniversary in June.

So there you have it. Basically, I like science jobs where I can work on a variety of projects at my own pace. Hopefully, I'll be able to stay in my current job for a long time yet.

Sunday, February 05, 2006

The Tango Bowl

Tonight Tango II started up, which meant poor Eugene couldn't watch the Super Bowl in real time. (He told me later that if the Bears had made it, we wouldn't have gone to class.) He taped it, so he's watching that now while I update my blog.

This class is essentially a continuation of what we've learned before. Technique is still important, but now we're adding "decorations," such as the man putting the inside of his foot against the woman's shoes so it looks like he's stopping her. (Actually, he stops her by directing her with his chest--that's where the connection between the dancers is. The foot is a "fake" to look pretty.) We're also still switching partners, which is especially useful when the partner can give you hints on how to improve. It seems that if we stick with one person, we're more likely to pick up bad habits. I think we're getting there, but we need to practice more. Our instructor told us we can practice on carpet if we take our shoes off, so I think that's what we'll have to do. It's a shame that I won't get to break in my new tango shoes, but I did that a little yesterday as I was doing chores around the house. (Wearing heels for housework sounds so 50's, doesn't it? At least I wasn't wearing pearls.) We're going to miss class next week due to Eugene's conference in Madison, but our instructor assured us we can make it up during the third class.

I see Russ and Sara have posted a list of their previous jobs in their blogs. That's a good way to get to know people, but I'll wait until tomorrow to do that here. I feel like I already posted a lot today. I did do some writing as I said I would; I wrote about 550 words in Day of All Seasons. Before I go to bed, I might start getting some more wedding DVDs ready to send out to my cousins and aunt and uncle. I may also try to work on Key a bit.

Finally, I seem to be having better luck posting pictures now, so I'll add those pictures from the Berghoff that I talked about earlier:

The sign outside. The entrance was beneath it, so reaching the sign was the highlight of the evening.

This is supposed to be a shot of the interior, but the lighting wasn't good enough to show you the details on the walls.

One of the murals.

Dark details of the decor.

Bye Bye Berghoff...

Some of you may have heard about the Berghoff restaurant in Chicago. It's a German restaurant over 100 years old and has been in the same family all this time. When Prohibition was repealed, it obtained the first liquor license in Chicago, which is on display behind the bar. Eugene and I have been there a couple of times, most notably on the night he proposed. Unfortunately, the restaurant is closing for good at the end of the month, as the current Berghoff is tired of running it. So we decided we had to eat there one last time. You may remember from a previous post that we tried to go last month, but it was closed on Sunday. So we figured last night would be our best shot.

Knowing how popular this place is, we knew we'd have to wait a long time before being seated. So I dressed warmly and drove down to Evanston to meet Eugene after work. It would save us some time if he didn't have to come all the way to Elgin to pick me up, and it gave the chance to sell some books at a new Half Price Books first. (I got $14 for them, which was almost enough to pay for the Simon and Garfunkel 3-CD set I found.) By the time we got to the Berghoff, it was about 6:00, and the line to get in stretched down to the corner. Someone said it was a two-and-a-half to three-hour wait, but we braced ourselves and got in line anyway. The wait was as long as promised, and for the first time in over a month, we had below-average temperatures (or at least we didn't have the above-average temps we'd been enjoying). I soon found out I hadn't dressed warmly enough, as my feet got so cold I was convinced my toes would be frostbitten. We people-watched to keep us busy; there was a young girl playing with her family, a street musician playing the sax, a friendly dog that stood in line with us for a while, and a group of people in front of us who had come down from Michigan just for the Berghoff. All of this wasn't enough to distract me from the cold. We finally got into the restaurant around 8:30 and were seated before 9:00, but it took me longer than that to feel warm again.

I took my digital camera along and snapped a few shots before the batteries ran out (and of course I didn't have my spare set with me). Here are a couple of them, though the others are too dark to show the wood paneling and strands of lights in the interior. Strangely enough, Eugene and I were seated at the far end of the room, almost exactly where we were the last time we were here. They ran out of a few items on their menu, but luckily not my favorites. We both started off with hot tea to warm us up. Then I had a cup of chicken noodle soup while Eugene had a salad and some sausages as appetizers. For the main course, I had Wiener Schnitizel a la Holstein--a breaded veal cutlet with fried eggs on top. (The eggs are why it was "a la Holstein," though why they would name an egg dish after a breed of cow is beyond my knowledge of German culture.) I also had sides of creamed spinach and spaetzle, German noodles. Eugene had more sausages, sauerkraut (something I can't stand), and spinach. For dessert, we both had apple strudel with ice cream. We started off with a Guten Appetite, and we were both satt (satisfied) at the end.

It was a long wait, but it was worth it. If I had to do it again, though, I'd wear a few more layers of clothes and make sure my camera batteries are fully charged. It would have been nice to get a picture of us at the table.

One of the people ahead of us in line (the one from Michigan) commented that another old German restaurant in his town had also closed recently. He thought that perhaps this type of food appealed only to those who had grown up on it, unlike Chinese or Italian food, which you can find everywhere. It's a shame, but I do have my own spaetzle maker. I haven't used it yet, but I need to learn how so Eugene and I can someday pass this tradition on to our Filipino-Irish-German children.

(Sigh. The pictures aren't loading. I'll post this entry and try again later.)

Sideways and the Gordian Knot

We had a couple of late nights (late for us, anyway, as we're old geezers) this weekend, which is why I haven't been blogging. I haven't been writing either, though I hope to make it up this afternoon. As for blogging, I plan to post a couple of short entries today.

Friday night we rented Sideways, since Eugene wanted to see it. It's the story of Jack, an actor, and his college roommate Miles, a depressed and divorced writer who's a wine snob. Jack is getting married, and his best man Miles takes him to the Napa Valley for a week of golf, wine, women, and mid-life crises before the wedding. (After having survived the wedding experience myself, I thought the bride was too calm about how things were going the week before the wedding. In her brief scene, they were still trying to decide what type of cake they wanted, which is not something you'd want to worry about that close to the date. And while I wouldn't have objected if Eugene had had a bachelor party, taking the whole week before the wedding off seems a bit much to me. But Eugene was much more involved in the wedding planning than the typical guy, and I appreciate that. But I'm digressing. Am I supposed to digress?) Anyway, during the trip, Miles develops a closer relationship with a waitress at his favorite restaurant (she's studying horticulture and has a good sense of wine), while Jack hooks up with another lady who works at a winery. Jack, however, leads his woman on, and the deception wreaks havoc with both sets of couples.

Eugene was particularly interested in this movie because of the wine references. He enjoyed, but I found the male characters unsympathetic, as they both do some unsavory things. But perhaps another reason why I wasn't too excited about this movie was because I had to deal with the Gordian knot during it. If you've ever worked with yarn, you know that in the center of every skein is a free Gordian knot you have to untangle. I crocheted a few rows of the afghan, then I realized I needed to start a new color of yarn and that I needed to roll up a new skein of yarn into a ball first. Eugene helped, but even so, it took me over an hour to deal with tangled web inside that skein. I hope the others aren't so bad. I crocheted a couple more rows yesterday, so now I'm on row five. Maybe if I do a little every day, it won't be as bad.

On to my next entry....

Thursday, February 02, 2006


Before I get to the main point of this post, I suppose I should provide a quick summary of the last couple of days, as I didn't blog then. Work is going well. Writing is a bit slow, as I had writer's block yesterday on two of my novels. I did manage to break through with one of them, and I got some ideas for the other one as I was driving home from work. Hopefully tonight will be more productive. Also, today I found out about an alternate history story about John Lennon through the OWW mailing list. In the story, Lennon leaves the Beatles in 1962 to move to Texas and work with a fiddler named Bob Willis. Here's the URL:


So, there's precedent for what I do in Lennon's Line, which I hope means a publisher will be willing to take it.

Anyway, I wanted to tell everyone about my latest project (yeah, like I need another one). I decided I want to crochet an afghan. I have a lower tolerance for cold than Eugene does, so I like to have the heat on full blast while he turns it down sooner than I would. In order to achieve a happy compromise, I plan to have a blanket in the car that I can use when he's driving and I'm in the passenger seat.

I started crocheting in my twenties. I got the urge from my mom, who's made a couple of blankets and other things herself. She couldn't figure out how to teach me because I'm left-handed. Finally, I got a book and figured out how to crochet right-handed. (It's easier than trying to flip all the directions over for a left-hander.) I've made several things, including sweaters, slippers, stuffed animals, baby items (for gifts!), and even the ring bearer's pillow for the wedding. (See picture. I made the inside pillow too. I dried all of the roses Eugene's given me over the years, and the pillow is stuffed with them.) This is my first time making an afghan, though. I bought a new book and found a couple of different patterns that I like. They're supposed to take only 48 hours to make, but I wonder how long it will take me to find those 48 hours to crochet in the first place. I used to crochet as I watched TV or movies, but I seldom have time for those these days. Hopefully I'll have the blanket done before too many winters pass. ;)

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