The Gravity of the Situation

The Alchera Project is a monthly selection of writing prompts for member bloggers to use as jumping off points. This post is for the “Grab Bag” option for the period of 10/30 – 12/01.

Deanna isn't a novice at singing, really, though she feels like one as this is her first Christmas concert that involves an actual church. Oh, sure, she sang with school choirs, had solos, made her entrance into community theatre at the tender age of ten, but somehow, standing with the other choristers in the cold sanctuary, the music is different, her heart is different.

The mood is broken when the puffy-haired woman next to her opens her mouth. Sure, Martha is a sweet old woman, sort of grandmotherly, and not a little dotty, but some people just should not be able to sing. The notes she offers forth with a flourish are not known to human kind. (Deanna wonders, idly if Martha is perhaps an alien, attempting to communicate, or an exiled mermaid, unable to produce melodious sounds unless under several feet of water.)

Midway through the verse, the director stops the choir, and asks each section to sing their part. When he gets to the altos, he pauses near Martha and makes a face that, thankfully, the woman utterly fails to see, so focussed is she on singing the correct words, if not the correct notes. He glances past her at Deanna, and the two exchange a look, acknowledging the gravity of the situation.

The next week at rehearsal, Martha is positioned at the end of the row, where the microphone cannot pick up her graceless warbling.

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OneWord: PANE

Snow falling outside covered piles of dry leaves, turning them into artistic mounds of icy masonry. The white flakes landed with precision, coming down with the lack of sound that only snow really has, as if it's absorbing all noise, to be released later, when it melts. Inside the window, a little girl presses her nose to the cold pane of glass, and waits for her mother to come home from work.

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Joining in with JungleMonkee @ LJ

If you read this, if your eyes are passing over this right now, (even if we don't speak often) please post a comment with a COMPLETELY MADE UP AND FICTIONAL memory of you and me. It can be anything you want – good or bad – BUT IT HAS TO BE FAKE. When you're finished, post this little paragraph on your blog and be surprised (or mortified) about what people DON'T ACTUALLY remember about you.

Consider it a short writing exercise, just something to waste a few minutes of time, if you like.

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NoMore NaNo

So, ten minutes ago, roughly, I finished this year's NaNo project, coming in at just a hair over 50k words. While other years have been easy, this year, the project has been a struggle, and I had to fight to finish. In analyzing it, I've learned that I much prefer short stories and essays to novel length work, at least as a writer, though I do think some stories require the length of a novel to be told well. Though it may not seem so here, I guess I'm just naturally concise.

I've pretty much decided that this will be my last year with this project. I've completed it three years in a row, and never bothered to go back and edit. This time, some of the material I've generated, I WANT to edit, and I'm flirting with going back to the old stuff, and making it actually saleable as well. Too, I don't need NaNo to MAKE me write. I write anyway. I may not blog every day, but that's just one part of what I'm doing.

You'll notice that I've not posted any of what I've written for this project. There's a reason for that – I don't like posting raw forms of stories. Oh, I do it on with OneWord and prompts, but those are completely different sorts of exercises.

That being said? I've enjoyed my time with NaNoWriMo, I just don't NEED it any more.

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It doesn't feel like home, really, without the pooches, and yet at the same time, it's kind of nice to be able to unpack without having to rescue things from small teeth and claws…and bladders. Still Monday morning cannot come soon enough. I want my entire 'family' back together.

We left Branson this morning, even though we could have stayed til tomorrow, because we were both tired, and there was really no point in lingering. The fact that we didn't have to rush meant that we took 71 all the way to 40 (in Arkansas) instead of taking the 540 route that is faster, but not as cute. We stopped to take pictures at a place called “Artist's Point” where they have the most amazing view of their valley, as well as a mom-n-pop roadside stand with homemade candy and preserves, popcorn, free coffee, and some very pretty crafty things that are NOT as kitchy as those we saw in Branson. Really. Along with honey and jam and cinnamon apple butter, they also offered jars of sorghum molasses, which I'd never tried, and so, after asking the shop-owner to promise not to laugh, I asked exactly what sorghum IS, and then bought some (I like molasses) to take home.

In the last 36 hours, I've seen a professional production of Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat that was entertaining, but barely beyond the level of a good college show. Fortunately, we managed to get 2-for-1 tickets WITHOUT a timeshare sales pitch/tour, and really $15/each for center orchestra isn't bad. We had fun, anyway, and the music was good. A nice touch was that the actor playing Jacob also acted as our host, and worked his way through the entire orchestra section asking people where they were from, and offering personal welcomes to the show. The cast also comes out for autographs, after, but while there were a couple performances that were worth mentioning, I'm beyond the need for autographs. (Book signings don't count.) Truly, I've never much seen the point.

The fourteen members of Fuzzy's immediate family (me, his parents, his sister and brother, and their spouses and children) had dinner at a buffet place called Sadie's last night. Not a great fan of buffets, I expected it to be carb-laden and scary, but it was actually pretty good. The ribs were excellent, they offered chicken livers and meatloaf as options (guess what Fuzzy had), and I tasted okra for the first time ever (it was batter-fried, and actually, I quite liked it, for it tasted sort of like a cross between celery and eggplant).

The rest of the evening involved a long game of Scotland Yard with Fuzzy, his brother-in-law, two of our nephews, who, at 14 and 17 years old have become kind of cool to hang out with, and Flavia, a foreign exchange student whom Fuzzy's sister's family is hosting. (She's from Switzerland, speaks German and a little Italian, but no French, and turns 21 in two weeks – we had offered her the sofa-bed in the rented condo where we were staying so she could have a break from the chaos of family, and it's made me want to host a student of our own.)

This morning, we packed early, drove Flavia to the other condo so the others could leave, and then realized we hadn't returned our own keys. We trekked back across Branson to do that, and finally left town at around eleven. After stopping once for lunch, once to play tourist, and once for gas (everything here is @ $2.03/gallon, and the CitGo in Checotah, OK was only charging $1.88, so it's fortunate that that junction was our half-way point) we arrived home around 7:30, and have since hit the grocery store for enough food to last til I do a big shopping on payday and watched an episode of LOST that was waiting for us on the TiVo.

I still haven't finished my NaNovel, though I'm close. I didn't write anything while away, but have scenes in my head that I just need to put on paper. I also didn't make any audio posts – meant to, but never got the chance – so if you didn't see any, it's not that you missed them.

I hope all of you in the states had happy Thanksgivings and those of you elsewhere had good weekends.

Bed now.

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Greetings from Branson, MO (Written 11/25/05 at 10:30 or so in the morning)

We didn't leave home at 6:00 AM on Tuesday, but we were on the road (as in, finished with the Starbucks run) by 6:45, so we were happy. I slept, for the most part, until we hit the Oklahoma state line, at which point I had to laugh. As I told Fuzzy, “I don't know if the phrase 'praise God and pass the ammunition' was invented in Oklahoma or not, but if it wasn't it should have been'.” Why? Because apparently the catch-phrase, at least on businesses off 75, is “Y'all want ammo with that?”

Seriously, every business we passed (with the possible exception of McDonald's) was offering ammunition. We passed roadstands labelled, “Fruit & Ammo,” “Used Cadillacs & Ammo,” “Antiques & Ammo” & (my favorite) “Christian Books & Ammo.” It was at once entertaining, and a bit disturbing, and was not at all aided by the atmosphere of economic depression that seemed to loom – the front page of the local paper read “Sun Sets on GM Plant.”

Crossing into Arkansas the ambience changed, as did the landscape. Suddenly we were driving through lush greenery, and then climbing into the mountains. While the Ozarks are nothing like the Rockies or Sierras (the ranges I consider 'home' ), they are beautiful, especially when adorned in fall colors. I'd love to spend a weekend in a quiet B&B in these mountains.

Branson itself is not my cup of tea. It really is a Christian version of the Borscht Belt, and commercialized religion really bothers me. It is in no way a sincere mission when shows are making money singing praise music, just a way of making money. On the one hand, I appreciate the marketing, but mostly, I find myself wanting to flee as quickly as possible to someplace free of kitsch and smarm.

And yet, we're managing to have fun. My mother-in-law's gift to the entire family was a day at Silver Dollar City, which is sort of like Concentrated Branson, with a Dickens Faire flair. We saw a musical version of A Christmas Carol that was reasonably well done, and the sing-along train ride through the lights was pleasant, as were the tree-lighting and light show in the main square, and the food stands actually offered some really delicious skillet/stir-fry concoctions of red and sweet potatoes, green beans, onions, and yes, okra (well, it IS the Ozarks).

Yesterday was devoted entirely to family – Fuzzy's aunt had organized an incredible amount of food (turkey, ham, and several casseroles, fruit salads and regular salads, pecan-crusted yams, and more desserts than anyone really needs to know about) – these midwestern women really know how to host a buffet. The afternoon was spent in game-playing and picture viewing, and then at five pm we switched into Christmas mode, with all the kids getting stockings, and the adults engaging in a gift swap that was hilarious. (A pizza cutter and a quilted apron were the hot items, while Flavia, my sister-in-law's foreign exchange student has become addicted to one of those maze-games where the ball bearings release a money sleeve.) We scored a copy of Dead Poet's Society and a Christmas table-runner and matching placemats in exchange for a lavender bath kit and two pounds of Ghirardelli chocolate squares.

After the gift exchange, Fuzzy's immediate family congregated in their cabin and we spent a few hours just talking and catching up, while the kids watched endless episodes of “That's So Raven.” Today, I'm writing this from Panera, the only place in town with free wifi, or any wifi, with Fuzzy and his brother Bill also fulfilling their geek quotient (everyone else is off shopping). This afternoon, we're seeing Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat, and tonight there's the Trail of Lights. Tomorrow, everyone leaves, and Fuzzy and I are debating staying through til Sunday morning, or leaving tomorrow also, and taking a leisurely drive through Arkansas before heading home.


In preparation for our trip to Missouri tomorrow, we left the dogs at the kennel this afternoon. They knew something was up when I chopped a week's worth of food for them, and separated it into dated and labelled baggies, and then gave them chicken, and cried all the way there in the car. Fortunately it's only seven miles, but it was but most excruciating seven miles ever travelled. I feel like such a bad pet-owner.

I don't feel well. We're leaving in less than 12 hours and I'm not ready. I feel like I have all the wrong clothes, and money's tight because I'm not working on anything but writing right now, and while I do want to see Fuzzy's family, what I really want is a quiet holiday, and staying home. Instead, I have travel and stress. Oh, well, we'll be home on Saturday night, and I can sleep on Sunday.

I'm up to nearly 40k words in my NaNo project, but I'm really struggling this year. I want to write other stuff.

And now? Off to pack and veg a while, and then assemble notes so I can work on articles while away.

I might be making audio posts, but if so, they will ONLY show up at

*sigh* I miss the dogs already.

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Snape + IMAX = Happy Me!

So, last night we went to the last showing of Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire, at the IMAX theatre on Webb Chapel Road in Dallas. We got there just after the 6:35 show started, which meant first, that there were only four people ahead of us in line, and second, that we got to sprawl on the carpeted part of the floor. As I don't own a cloak or Slytherin scarf, and Fuzzy doesn't DO costumes, we didn't dress up. We did bring books. (Mine: Daphne DuMaurier's Jamaica Inn, which I initally read as a young teenager, his: Star Trek the Next Generation: X-Men: Planet X, which is only slightly less cheesey than it sounds.)

By seven-fifteen, the crowd was pretty thick, with lots of adorable ten-year-old girls in Gryffindor garb in evidence, and by eight the line was down the hall to the restrooms, which are in the main cinemaplex building, not the IMAX building. I have to say that the IMAX queue experience is more pleasant than any opening night I've ever been to. You get to wait inside, and since there's only one screen, there are fewer people, and it's almost calm. On the other hand, they make you watch a short film about the IMAX experience in lieu of trailers for new films, and after seeing it once, it gets old. Fast.

As to the movie, I enjoyed it for what it was, but I really wish the scriptwriters kept in all the various subplots, because without two of them, specifically the thread with the twins and the leprechaun gold, and SPEW, what we had was a kid-friendly action film with magical elements, and not a view into a multi-layered fictional realm.

Still, I liked the execution of Mad-Eye Moody's eye and leg, and I really liked the clues offered by certain bits of business – people who knew the plot got them right off, people who didn't would recognize them during the reveal.

I liked that Dan Radcliffe and Rupert Grint are much more in tune with their characters. A lot of Harry's stuff in book four was internal – his thoughts, his reaction, but Radcliffe pulled it off well, especially during the graveyard scene, where you could see fear and resolve in his face. I'm less impressed with Emma Watson's performance, but I recognize that this is because, in eliminating the SPEW thread, they've diminished the character of Hermione. Also, Emma Watson is too cute, so that, while she does look every bit the young girl on her first date during the ball scene, there isn't enough of a contrast.

With regard to the “new” students:
Victor Krum – well played, but almost no lines. Would have liked to see the issues with his pronunciation of “Hermione” on screen.
Cedric Diggory – perfect guy-next-door casting
Fleur DeLaCoeur – no mention of veelas, which lessened the impact of her character.
Cho Chang – Adorable, and her accent is cute.
The Patil twins – are now apparently in the same House, probably because it was just easier for the filmmakers. I'd like to see more of them.

And the “new” adults:
Mad Eye – the ferret scene, the only scene Malfoy's really involved in, was great. Hilarious.
Voldemort – I'm kind of torn. I'm a fan of Ralph Fiennes, but I think there was more he could have done. Still, the makeup is effective, and creepy.
Madam Maxine: Not how I imagined her, but effective. Funny.

With regard to old favorites:
Snape: Never enough Snape. There was no public display of his dark mark, no scene of Dumbledore sending him out to spy. I'd have liked to see that. In the scenes where Snape was present, he barely spoke at all, though Alan Rickman can do more with a single look or gesture than many actors can do with seven pages of dialogue. The study hall scene was brilliant, actually.

McGonnagal: Oh, yes. Dancing with Ron – hilarious. We got to see much more of Minerva in this film, and that was welcome.

Dumbledore: I'm still torn on Gambon as Dumbledore. I don't dislike him, exactly, but I think he's a little more sinister than I really want him to be. On one level, this works, on another, it bugs me. (On a personal note, he's reportedly stated that he has not and will not read the books, only the scripts, and that bugs me a lot. I mean, on one level, I understand it, but…it still irks me.)

Hagrid: Hagrid in love is just too cute for words.

Over all? I enjoyed the film of course, as I've enjoyed the previous three, but without important plot points being made, I'm concerned about how the next film will play, and what else they'll change. That being said, I'm still going to buy the DVD the second it comes out, even though I won't go see it again in a theater (because I just don't do that).

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A few days ago my good friend “Bripadme” posted a recipe for Apple-Braised Chicken, and, since I happened to have most of the ingredients on hand, I decided I had to try it.

I didn't have any cornstarch, so used flour to make the gravy at the end, but other than that, I stayed essentially true to the recipe. Of course, I cook loosely – I don't measure spices, and I make adjustments as I go, preferring to believe that recipes are guidelines, not requirements. Still, it was a satisfying, and relatively easy, dinner that was perfect with glasses of cold cider, and steamed carrots (also with ginger to carry the theme through) on this chilly November evening.

The dogs got the end of the chicken, despite the onion in the recipe, and Cleo was extremely put out that she only got two bites. She wanted more. Evidently, it's a meal the whole family will love. Also, the combination of apples and onions reminds me of my grandfather's turkey stuffing mix, another family recipe. (I might break down and make it at Christmas, because I miss it a lot, so if you live in the DFW area, and want to come to dinner, consider yourself invited.) If I make it again, I think I'll pair it with Near East's Nutted Pilaf – the spices would go well together.

Fuzzy worked from 1 AM through 1 PM today, after putting in most of a day yesterday, so aside from dinner (which we ate while watching Smallville) he's pretty much comatose. I haven't heard from either of the two interviews I had yesterday, but I knew I wouldn't. I've spent the day helping my mother configure her email (I moved her to DreamHost after one too many screaming fits over the funky company she was using that is based in Thailand), and writing and other quiet pursuits.

I like cozy days like this, but I'd have liked it better if the cold weather had come with rain. It's as if the dry weather has made my brain feel parched.

Apple Braised Chicken

2 tsp vegetable oil
1 pound uncooked boneless, skinless chicken breast, four 4-oz pieces
2 Tbsp all-purpose flour
1 large onion(s), sliced
2 medium apple(s), firm, cored and sliced
1 cup apple cider
1 cup fat-free chicken broth
1/2 tsp table salt
1/2 tsp ground ginger
2 tsp cornstarch


In a large, heavy-bottomed skillet, warm oil over high heat. Toss chicken with flour in a medium bowl, patting off excess. Place chicken in skillet and brown well on both sides. Remove chicken from pan and set aside.

Reduce stove temperature to low and add onion to skillet. Sauté, stirring often, until onion is tender and lightly browned.

Stir in apples, cider, chicken broth, salt, ginger and chicken. Bring to a simmer, cover and cook for 30 minutes. Use a slotted spoon to transfer chicken, onions and apples to a serving dish.

In a small bowl, whisk together cornstarch and 2 to 3 tablespoons of pan juices. Combine cornstarch mixture with remaining pan juices, whisking constantly. Simmer for one minute. Pour sauce over chicken and serve. Yields 1 chicken breast and about 3/4 cup of apple-onion mixture per serving.

Flavor Booster: Pears and chicken are an appealing combination. Substitute 2 ripe Bartlett or Comice pears, peeled, cored and diced for the apples, 1 cup sparkling pear cider for the apple cider and 1/4 teaspoon ground nutmeg for the ginger.

Rather than tossing the chicken in a bowl, I used a ziploc bag, to which I'd added a bit of flour and a dash of ginger as well as a dash of pumpkin pie spice, because I wanted a bit bolder flavor. This worked really well. Also, I added a dash of pepper to the spices during the simmering stage, and used flour instead of cornstarch to make the gravy.

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