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As some of you have figured out by now, Ross and I will leap at any excuse, no matter how flimsy, to dress up in costume. Ross is teaching about WWII and the rise of superheroes in class? Time to dress up like Captain America! I’m going to a vaguely 1920s-themed gathering? Bust out the flapper dress!

In the last month, we’ve had two such occasions, the first being a gathering of friends for high tea at the Sugar Magnolia Cafe tea room for my birthday in January.

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If you own a top hat, why *wouldn’t* you wear it?

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The cameo pin I’m wearing belonged to my grandmother.

2019-01-20 13.52.55One of our friends had the foresight to bring along fake mustaches as well.

I received one of the funniest and direly needed birthday gifts: writer’s block soap, which “smells like regurgitated ideas and probably a vampire.” Goodness knows I could do with soap to wash away writer’s block, although I’ll take a pass on the vampire.

Our second costumed adventure was a 1930s-themed date night. We checked out Rockin’ Rolls Sushi first (not 1930s, but delicious, and any place that’s all-you-can-eat is a cost-effective option when dining with Ross), then drove up to Durham to see a special screening of 1933’s King Kong.

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Doing my best Fay Wray impression.

Fun fact, Ross wore this outfit to a Casablanca party he and I attended together before we were officially dating, and he looked just as smashing then.

The movie, which I had never seen before, was surprisingly good, and of course groundbreaking for its special effects at the time. No real research would be done on the great apes until the 1960s, so Kong wasn’t accurately based on any particular species; the filmmakers gave him human-looking eyes because no one had any idea what a gorilla’s eyes looked like. The movie was also surprisingly gory and a little risque since it was pre-movie code, they made extravagant use of the chocolate syrup for blood. (Poetic lines aside, the airplane machine guns had a lot to do with Kong’s demise.)

I was also surprised to discover that Peter Jackson’s King Kong in 2005 (which I *had* seen!) was almost a shot-for-shot remake in a lot of ways. Clearly Jackson was a big fan of the original movie.

If any of you have been up to any costumed hijinks lately, let me know in the comments! I love comparing costume notes and sharing ideas.

 

 

 

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I just finished How to Publish Your Book by Jane Friedman, part of The Great Courses, and I felt it deserved its own blog post.

It also deserves a spot on the must-read list for anyone who would like to get their writing published, even (perhaps especially) if they intend to self-publish. The course is written by Jane Friedman, possibly one of the most qualified people in the country to do such a thing, and it outlines in great detail how to find a literary agent, how to write a great query letter, and a lengthy list of what NOT to do at each step of the way towards, during, and beyond publication. Friedman is kind but doesn’t sugar-coat, and she doesn’t waste the reader’s time. Her realistic, professional approach to the market was refreshing, and I will be recommending this book to many of my editing clients.

While the book mainly focuses on the traditional publishing market, this is invaluable information for someone self-publishing too. To compete effectively, or at all, with traditional publishing, self-publishers need to understand the market–and it is a complex, rapidly changing one. The publishing landscape has changed so radically in the last twenty or even ten years that many of the strategies that worked before simply aren’t viable. Don’t expect to make it big doing what someone else did to make it big in 2009; times have changed, and writers have to change along with them.

You can get the book on The Great Courses website, naturally, but I was able to listen to the audiobook for free using the Overdrive library app, which I highly recommend. Don’t miss out on these insights!

 

Music! Let me share some with you. Skews pretty heavily towards Icelandic music and indie music, but even that is all over the place, so you’ll probably find something you enjoy! (I realized way too far into this post that I could’ve just made a Youtube playlist…but then I’m not sure how I would’ve included the songs that aren’t on Youtube.) Note: this sat in drafts for MONTHS because there was so much I wanted to post, and I didn’t have time to just sit down and pick more than a few songs at a time.

Enjoy!

I ordered the eighth House of Niccolo book, Gemini, by Dorothy Dunnett from BetterWorldBooks because I’m working on the seventh book currently, and I’m no idiot: one does not finish a Dunnett without having the next book in the series on hand. Those cliffhangers are murder.

This was the shipping notification I received:

Hello Stephanie,

(Your book(s) asked to write you a personal note – it seemed unusual, but who are we to say no?)

Holy canasta! It’s me… it’s me! I can’t believe it is actually me! You could have picked any of over 2 million books but you picked me! I’ve got to get packed! How is the weather where you live? Will I need a dust jacket? I can’t believe I’m leaving Mishawaka, Indiana already – the friendly people, the Hummer plant, the Linebacker Lounge – so many memories. I don’t have much time to say goodbye to everyone, but it’s time to see the world!

I can’t wait to meet you! You sound like such a well read person. Although, I have to say, it sure has taken you a while! I don’t mean to sound ungrateful, but how would you like to spend five months sandwiched between Jane Eyre (drama queen) and Fundamentals of Thermodynamics (pyromaniac)? At least Jane was an upgrade from that stupid book on brewing beer. How many times did the ol’ brewmaster have one too many and topple off our shelf at 2am?

I know the trip to meet you will be long and fraught with peril, but after the close calls I’ve had, I’m ready for anything (besides, some of my best friends are suspense novels). Just five months ago, I thought I was a goner. My owner was moving and couldn’t take me with her. I was sure I was landfill bait until I ended up in a Better World Books book drive bin. Thanks to your socially conscious book shopping, I’ve found a new home. Even better, your book buying dollars are helping kids read from Brazil to Botswana.

But hey, enough about me, I’ve been asked to brief you on a few things:

We sent your order to the following address:

From there it gave the usual shipping notification info and signed off, “Eagerly awaiting our meeting!”

I already liked the impact BetterWorldBooks is making in the world (seriously, check out how much they do), but this just cemented my love. I have to wonder, though, what kind of book filing system puts Dunnett in between Jane Eyre and the Fundamentals of Thermodynamics? 😉

Getting gifts for book lovers should be easy, right? Just buy them books! This has backfired for me mightily before, though. Someone may be a great friend but have very different reading tastes, and just because *I* love Steinbeck doesn’t mean that everybody else wants every book he ever wrote on his or her shelves. Apparently. I’ve also had the opposite problem, where I excitedly purchased a favorite book of mine to give to a friend, only to see that said friend already has a copy on their bookshelves. Maybe even two copies. And yeah, you can always get gift cards to bookstores, but sometimes that just feels too impersonal.

Bookish gifts are a great compromise. I recently was approached by Melissa at Literary Book Gifts to see if I’d be willing to feature her shop here on the blog. I admit, I was fairly skeptical since I’ve never done anything even remotely approaching sponsorship before and was leery of the idea. After checking out her shop, though, I was extremely intrigued. She features t-shirts and tote bags with old book cover designs that are just lovely. Here are some of my favorites:

War of the Worlds t-shirt
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Velveteen Rabbit t-shirt
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Wizard of Oz tote bag

Oz

The Hound of the Baskervilles tote bag
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Now, the really cool bit is that Melissa offered a 20% off discount code for readers of this blog! Just use the code QUOTHTHEGIRL20 at checkout to get 20% off anything in the store. No minimum order, and the code doesn’t expire.

I didn’t receive any compensation or products in return for this feature–just the code, which all of us can use. If you order anything, let me know in the comments what you think!

bd0676c5eeacc7a6b3dc6c8fa400bae6I love sharing bookish articles, discoveries, or musings that I’ve run across in hopes that other folks will enjoy them too. Here are a boatload!

If you want to know what I’m reading these days (and my usually very strong opinions thereon), check out my Goodreads!

Wow, that was a long postless spell, even for someone who was a sporadic blogger to begin with! People (especially writers) who are able to keep up with blogging/social media astound me, and I’m envious of their abilities. The blog and social media presence are the first thing to go when things get (stay?) busy for me, and they’re the last things to be picked back up again because by that time I’m so far out of the habit that it’s easy to keep procrastinating. But it’s good to be back for the moment!

One big thing that’s changed of late is that my husband Ross was diagnosed with blood cancer in January of 2017. It’s a myeloproliferative neoplasm caused by an acquired mutation that makes his bone marrow produce too many platelets, and for the first year, it really didn’t affect our lives much at all. He didn’t even have to take medication other than a daily aspirin and some supplements, and while it wasn’t something that was likely to ever go away, he didn’t have any symptoms or discomfort. Fortunately, this type of cancer is something the patient can live with fairly easily, and unless it causes other complications, the patient can have a pretty normal lifespan.

We had a bit more of a scare over this past spring and summer, when his platelet numbers were through the roof and his hematologist recommended going on stronger medication. Ross had blood work every week, then every two weeks, and the first medication wasn’t ultimately effective. The hematologist recommended that Ross go on a chemo drug immediately. We had been hesitant about going that route for a variety of reasons, but it seemed like we no longer had a choice. We were planning on picking up the prescription when the doctor called back a day later and said that since Ross is so much younger and healthier than most people with this mutation, he thinks there is less urgency to reduce the platelet count. He said we could just wait to see if any other complications arose and wait to treat until then.

For the last three months, Ross hasn’t had to be on any medication other than aspirin, and he feels great. We’re happy to stay in the wait-and-see phase for as long as possible–years, ideally. I’m grateful for a flexible job that allows me to go with Ross to specialist visits. (And to spend hours on the phone with insurance companies. Good grief, the healthcare system is almost impossible to navigate!)

We haven’t had anything wildly blog-worthy happen this year (no trips to Europe), but we have had many meaningful experiences: we had lots of people over for dinner, visited friends, helped several people move, befriended our 94-year-old neighbor, and heard lots of amazing stories about his time in WWII. We got a new car at last (new to us, anyway), the Literary League met twice and was the scene of scintillating book conversation per usual, and there were many, many costumed events:

  1. Ross directed a Les Miserables-themed Purim musical telling the story of Esther. Naturally, we dressed up according to the time period.

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2. We attended an Anne of Green Gables party thrown by some friends.

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3. We dressed as Troi and Riker for a Star Trek party.

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4. As always, we participated in Cow Appreciation Day at Chick-fil-A (SuperCow and the ExeCowtive).

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5. We attended the Raleigh Supercon dressed as Captain America and American Dream. I was really proud of how the costumes turned out! These took the most work.

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6. And then of course we found ways to reuse the costumes for a Superhero Rejects party that we threw. Ross was Captain Panama and I was the Isth-Miss of Panama.

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And while we didn’t do any international globe-trotting this year, we did take a wonderful trip to the mountains of Asheville with my family. My brother put together a breath-takingly beautiful video of the experience–sometimes it really pays to have a professional videographer in the family!

We also took a road trip to Illinois for a family reunion for Ross, and on the way we stopped in Indiana where I used to live. I hadn’t been back in 15 years, so that was a crazy experience! We stayed at the Potawatomi Inn, which is where I had my first job, bussing tables as a 14-year-old. We stopped at the house in which I grew up and chatted with neighbors I hadn’t seen in a decade and a half. Surreal!

Last bit of big news: we got a new dog in January! Calvin is a German Shepherd/hound mix, we think, and he’s the sweetest thing on four legs. He loves to wrestle with Ross, but he’s content to sleep quietly next to me while I work all day, and he’s very well behaved. He’s terrified of umbrellas, but nobody’s perfect.

There, now you’re all caught up! I daren’t make any promises about posting regularly, but I’ll bet I can do better than once every 10 months. 😉

 

A group of us have been wanting to go backpacking, so we went to Linville Gorge a month ago with some good friends.

The trailhead warned us that due to the really rough terrain, we should plan on only making one mile per hour. It also warned us that the Linville Gorge Wilderness area had one of the highest search and rescue rates in the country. We laughed and set out into the gorge.

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Just look at those fresh-faced innocent young things.

 

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The views were utterly phenomenal (photos above for proof), and we had a grand time climbing down into the gorge. Our goal was to make it six miles to a really cool cave campsite across the river. We ran into a few problems with that goal:1. The trail was more like a vague suggestion where maybe some people had gone before us, or maybe a couple deer had just trampled things down a bit. We lost the trail at one point (or maybe two points) and spent quite a while scrambling over boulders trying to find it again.

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Actual photo of trail-hunting above.

2. One mile per hour was unfortunately pretty accurate. The terrain was incredibly rough and steep. Also, see point #1.

P10700223. While Ross and I have camping equipment, we do not really have backpacking equipment because we’re cheap. (Backpacking equipment is 3x more expensive but 3x lighter than regular gear.) Our backpacking expert friends had ultralight packs that weighed around 15 pounds apiece. Ross and I had ginormous packs that weighed well over 30 pounds apiece. Go figure, this was really hard to manage on a steep trail. See point #2.

4. Due to our slow pace, we reached the point where we had to cross the river just before it began to get dark.

5. There are no bridges across the river, and the water had risen considerably since our friends had crossed there before. We debated trying to ford it (waist-deep and moving fast) but we were all so exhausted, and it was so dark (see #4) that we decided to go back and camp at the next campsite we found.

We set up in a tiny, rocky campsite in pitch darkness, ate like ravening wolves, and spent a difficult night trying to sleep. The only flat space to pitch our tent was somewhat slanted downhill, and in the night one of our sleeping pads sprang a leak. That ground was mighty hard. We weren’t cold, though! Thank goodness, we had bought a much better sleeping double sleeping bag for this trip, so we were at least warm.

In the morning, we discovered that we had camped right across from Cathedral Falls without knowing it! We knew rain was coming at some point that day, though, so we moved to a better camp site not too far away and set up camp again.

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Making a giant brunch.

We thought we might go for a day hike after lunch, but alas, it started to pour. And it continued to do so for the next 14 hours without a break. We huddled in our tents and actually had a rather lovely afternoon reading and talking and napping. We emerged to cook dinner and um, go deeper into the woods to take care of business (which is seriously no fun in the dark and the pouring rain, let me tell you). I have fond memories of sliding down a hillside in the mud, precious toilet paper clutched tightly in one hand.

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So. Much. Rain.

At that point we realized that the constant rain had created a serious water problem under our tent. The floor of our tent looked like a water bed. Not too much had gotten in (good little tent), but it was only a matter of time with that much water. So, again in the pitch darkness, Ross and I dug a series of trenches around the tent to divert the water around us and dragged our sodden, tired carcasses into our tent at last. Oh, how it rained. Remarkably, we stayed pretty dry, and we had patched the sleeping pad so we slept quite well. If we HAD actually crossed the river on that first night, though, we would have never made it back across. Yes, hello, Search and Rescue?

In the morning, we wrung out our wet clothes and packed up. We planned another 6-7 mile hike out of the gorge. It was much, much harder climbing out than it was coming down, and it was cold. As in, it snowed during the last hour and a half of our climb. The last ascent was absolutely insane, and I was seriously beginning to doubt whether I could make it when we found the road at last! We drove down the mountain to enjoy hot food, running water, and actual toilets (possibly my favorite part) at a Chinese buffet that wasn’t too discriminating (we looked pretty rough by that point).

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The “after” photo.

That would be a great place to end the story, but sadly, there is more. We had all dutifully filtered the water we drank from the river, but I alone had washed my face in the river one morning. Apparently this was a TERRIBLE IDEA. I got giardia from the water, which is basically dysentery, and everything in my body did its very best to migrate outside my body via one orifice or another. I did not know it was possible to vomit that much. I wanted to die for two days and was sick on and off for another week or so.

But wait, there’s more! Just a week ago, we got a card in the mail that said, “Found this on the Pinchin Trail in Linville Gorge. Figured you might like it back!” Ross’ driver’s license was inside the envelope. Ross has countless wonderful qualities, but being observant isn’t usually one of them, so he hadn’t even noticed that he had lost it. What are the odds?? We were in the middle of absolutely nowhere! I’m amazed anyone saw it–we barely saw any other humans during the whole trip.

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Totally worth the dysentery, though.

Sad story time, guys. But I’ll try to make it a little funny.

As you may know, I work from home, and I have two desks set up in my office because I’m greedy. Just kidding. It’s because I work on two different laptops for two different clients throughout the day, and it’s just easier to keep them both set up. I walk back and forth between the desks quite a bit, and Hobbes’ bed is next to one desk. He likes to sleep next to me while I work, and he was used to my routine.

Then a week and a half ago, I walked past him from one desk to the other while he was sleeping and must have startled him. He woke up and bit my foot VERY badly, shaking it from side to side. I screamed (because it hurt like mad and was very shocking, obviously) and fell, which was bad, since Hobbes was between me and the door to the office, and I was afraid he would continue to attack. But he let go and was immediately horrified at what he had done. We stared at each other in amazement. I called the Hubs, very shaky, and he immediately left work to come home. In the meantime, I had a bloody and very painful foot, so I hopped to the bathroom to wash it off a bit. It was already starting to swell, so then I started to hop to the freezer to get ice. And promptly passed out, smacking my face on the kitchen table. It was that kind of day. I gave up on the ice, installed myself on the couch, and pet Hobbes, who wouldn’t leave my side and kept resting his chin on my stomach and apologizing with kisses. He clearly knew he had done A Very Bad Thing.

The Hubs did a great job of first aid, and we tried to put our day back together. Of course, we were supposed to have house guests arriving in a few hours from California, because it was that kind of day. I hadn’t been able to clean as I’d intended, so the guests got to experience a pretty grungy bathroom for the four days they were here, but they were very sweet and helped a lot around the house since I couldn’t walk at all.

Later, we were in the urgent care waiting room, patiently awaiting my (long overdue anyway) tetanus shot, and the place had horrible daytime television on, as those places do. Suddenly that guy with the daytime television announcer voice (Is it the same man who does all of those shows? Is imitating that style of talking a job requirement?) transitioned to a new show and said: “Next up: when the family pet turns into a vicious attacker!” Cut to a woman tearfully describing her experience: “I could hear my bones breaking, and I thought I was going to die!” I’m sure the people in the waiting room wondered why the Hubs and I found that so funny. I did ask Ross to change the channel to some other awful daytime television show, though, because that was just a little too on the nose.

In the end, I had a messed-up ankle from Hobbes shaking it, half a dozen deep puncture wounds, some very impressive bruising, and a split lip (from that dratted table). I’ve not been able to walk for the last week and a half and will be off the foot for another week or so. We had some very serious conversations about what to do with Hobbes. Logistically, I couldn’t walk or care for Hobbes (he’s a big, high-energy dog) while on crutches, but more than that, I felt like we couldn’t trust him. Granted, he had apparently been startled, but I hadn’t made a loud noise or touched him or even come very close. What if a guest or a child startled him? If his go-to reaction when surprised is a vicious bite, we could never have him around other people again.

We hated to do it, but we took him back to the SPCA. Both Ross and I were crying and a complete mess (especially me). It’s amazing how fast you can get attached to a dog. Hobbes is in bite quarantine for ten days, and after that the SPCA’s behaviorist will evaluate him to see whether he can be adopted out to a different owner under special circumstances (perhaps as an outdoor dog).

We would love to try again and adopt another dog, but we have to wait until I heal up, and until we both feel emotionally ready to get attached all over again. In the meantime, I’m getting good at hopping on one leg and at propelling myself around the house in a wheeled computer chair, so at least there’s that.

 

We finally have a dog! The Hubs has been wanting one for ages, but there was the master’s degree, and buying the house, and being so ridiculously busy that I wanted to scream, and all that got in the way. I still have some major reservations about bringing another source of stress into our already stressful, overbooked life, but we finally took the plunge anyway.

August 19th was Clear the Shelters day here in North Carolina, which is a really cool program in which participating shelters waive adoption fees for a day in an effort to get all of the animals adopted. We went to the Wake County Animal Shelter to see if there were any pups who were a good fit for us, but by the time we got there, there were only a couple dogs left and a long line of people. We weren’t wild about any of the available dogs, so we hit up the Wake County SPCA next. Again, a long line of people snaked outside the building, and there were only a few dogs left. We decided to chance it. After waiting outside for over an hour, we made our way inside and met a few of the available dogs.

I should preface this by saying I was hoping for a quiet, boring, older dog who was perfectly housebroken and who would sleep peacefully beside me while I worked during the day.

Instead, we adopted a bounding, bouncing, four-year-old who leaped on people constantly and wasn’t terribly house-trained.

Hobbes

Meet Hobbes, an utterly irrepressible mix of who-knows-what breeds, the energy of a toddler, and goofy sweetness.

We weren’t actually able to pick him up until August 29th because he had repeatedly torn open his stitches from his neutering surgery and was in recovery for far longer than he should’ve been, because he’s totally the kind of dog to worm his way out of a cone and destroy himself at every opportunity.

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He wore that cone so darned long I considered naming him Pixar, but we decided instead to go with Hobbes from the Calvin and Hobbes comic strip, since he has the brindle coloring. (Definitely not because he’s philosophical, that’s for sure!)

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Do not be fooled by that seemingly sad face; his tail was going the whole time we were visiting him.

When we finally brought him home, he grabbed the stuffed hedgehog I had bought him and gently held it for at least fifteen minutes while he explored the house.

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This is about the only mostly non-blurry photo I had of that since he basically never stops flinging himself around excitedly.

I admit, I was tempted to throw in the towel on our first day. In spite of many, many long walks and runs, he was a maniacal wild child. This was problematic since I work from home and had a slew of urgent things that HAD to be done that day, as well as conference calls to attend, which is difficult when a big dog is hurling himself incessantly at your chair. Before 10:00am, he had rolled in an ant-covered piece of trash while on a walk and got ants in his ears, tried to destroy his bed, tried to chew a doorstop, tried to chew some books on a shelf (this is an unpardonable sin in this book-loving household), and tried to climb ON my desk while I was working.

I had grown up with dogs, cats, and horses, and my husband grew up with dogs and cats. We thought we knew how to train a dog. We asked everyone we knew who remotely was interested in dogs if they had any tips. And then, suddenly and inexplicably, Hobbes became incredibly well-behaved. I’m fairly certain that someone kidnapped the first Hobbes and replaced him with a lookalike who actually has manners. The only thing to which we can attribute this behavioral change is that we started using a shake can when he jumped on us, and it did work like a charm, but his whole demeanor changed too.

Exhibit A: peacefully resting at Ross’ feet instead of throwing himself on top of the laptop. Exhibit B: sleeping in his crate willingly (!) with the door open instead of crying piteously. (That crate is so big there’s nowhere else to put it, but I’m sad it covers up my tree decal.)

Adjusting to the lack of freedom when another being is needy and wants to be around you all the time and has to be walked (a LOT) and trained is still tough for me. The Hubs is away this weekend on a men’s retreat, and I still kind of want to murder this animal sometimes, but things are going MUCH better. I’ve even stopped making jokes about turning him into a tiger-skin wall hanging. 😛

 

 

You seem to have stumbled upon a storytelling of ravens. Watch for falling collective nouns; you may find a wing of dragons or a charm of hummingbirds caught in your hair. Hardhats are recommended.

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