Thomas Edison Weekend

There’s a story about Thomas Edison and inventing the lightbulb, and how it took him over 500 attempts. The last three days have been a lot like that – learning things by making a spectacular mess of them.

I was in a three day advocacy training course this week. Most of it I enjoyed and thought I did rather well at. The closing argument I prepared? Not so much… I choked. I managed to recover at the end enough to at least offer some rebuttal, but yeah – spectacular argumentative face plant last thing on a Friday.

Then this weekend, I thought I’d make a batch of Nadine’s amazing pumpkin pie fudge. What I learned after the 60 minutes of failing to reach the correct temperature, followed by too rapid of a temperature change, was I’d forgotten to double ALL the ingredients in the recipe for this double batch. The resulting disaster smelled amazing, but wasn’t even viable as a sauce.

Success and failure are only half of the equation. The other half, the HARDER half,  is what you do when you screw it up.

Flying Update

Two more weeks of classed until Christmas break and the pressure has ramped up significantly. Apologies for the bullet points, but I need to get back to Wills revision.

  • The Doctor Who 50th Anniversary “Day of the Doctor” was fantastic. Going to see it with hundreds of other fans in costume in the theaters was amazing. Peter Capaldi’s eyebrows owned the Internet last night.
  • Thanks again to The Cheesecakes for hosting me while Alasdair was in Leeds for Thought Bubble.
  • One flavor of Jelly Babies is icky. Now that I’ve got the rest of the bag home in lighted conditions, I will investigate further to discover the guilty party.
  • The house is mostly unpacked and I’ve just set up a couple of reusable ceramic dehumidifiers in the two less-well insulated windows. There’s several small projects left, but first I need to learn how to properly install hanging things in these types of walls. This may involve the purchase of power tools. Heaven forfend.
  • Our housewarming / late Thanksgiving / early Christmas / Great Swap party is scheduled and the menu being planned. Alasdair wants to make tamales. YUM.
  • The mediation competition has advanced to the semi-finals this week. It’s fascinating being on the other side of the table this time, and I’m developing whole new sets of skills.
  • I’m hoping I might get to do my first community mediation over the Christmas break, but I haven’t heard back yet.
  • Speaking of the Christmas break, we are officially going to take 10 days off towards the end of the month. I’ll post about it so people can help keep me honest.
  • My latest narration is up at Cast of Wonders – “The View From Stickney Crater” by Rick Kennett, our latest Cy de Gurch story.
  • I think I’ve located an international foods market that carries fresh Ancho peppers. I need to get some and roast them to confirm. Because that would mean green chili and cheese tamales. YUM.

Right. Back to work!

Quick While My Recording Uploads

T-minus three days and counting until the move and things are in good shape. The living room is nothing but cardboard boxes, but at least they’re labeled! Just my office left to tackle, which I’ll start after my final community mediation training session tomorrow.

And I may have found green chilies… Watch this space for a full report once the kitchen is unpacked.

Published in: on November 1, 2013 at 23:01  Leave a Comment  
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Vignettes

The last two weeks have been busy, sunny, warm and amazing. I’ve spent less time at my computer, and more time reading, narrating, in the garden and with friends. I appreciate all the extra effort the late-blooming summer has made, as do my bumper-crop of freckles.

Here are some thoughts, impressions and experiences, roughly in reverse chronological order, or the last couple weeks. No bullets this time; I don’t like how unresponsive they are to formatting.

-Today in Florida, George Zimmerman was acquitted of the death of Trayvon Martin. Zimmerman was charged with second-degree murder and manslaughter; the all-female jury of six found him not guilty of both charges. The racial significance of the case was discussed. Insightful commentary was offered as to the future battles Zimmerman faces. Oakland rioted. The American legal cornerstone of innocence until proven guilty continues to stand side-by-side with centuries-old bigotry in a country that doesn’t have the courage to follow Australia‘s footsteps.

Pacific Rim is fantastic, a lovingly prepared cross between a WWII drama and a kaiju anime. I loved every shiny, explodey, gigantic moment of it. Why couldn’t the Transformers reboot have been like this?!

-I’ve finished two books in the last week, both of which deserve their own longer reviews. “Mr. Penumbra’s 24-Hour Bookstore” is the novel-length version of the original short story, and “The She-Hulk Diaries” gives a Carrie Bradshaw lens to the Avengers’ lean mean green attorney. Both are highly recommended.

-My first visit to Edge-Lit was a wonderful chance to catch up with my entire authorial Twitter feed face to face. Despite the record temperature’s attempts to bake us, a good time was had by all. There was baby-holding and plenty of cake to share, plus Adele put a dog-nose and ears on Alasdair at her Noir Carnival launch.

-Speaking of Alasdair, things have been very diverse for him lately: some ups, some downs. There’s been lots of deep thinking and long talks brainstorming about the future. I’m incredibly proud of how hard he’s working and the many directions he’s exploring. Great job, love.

-He and his parents spoiled me rotten for my birthday. I have a new blouse, a fantastic magnetic bulletin board with a map of the world and little arrow magnets, a culinary blow torch (s’mores!), chocolates, a new African violet for my office, and the Apple Jack My Little Pony comic. Plus I treated myself to a manicure and a day of random window-shopping. Just wonderful.

-The day before I got my exam results and passed with flying colors. Yahoo! Exactly the pay-off I was hoping for after a hard, hard academic year.

-Our Fourth of July dinner with friends and neighbors was fantastic, plus I have macaroni and cheese squirreled away in the freezer for emergency homesickness alleviation.

-Several new projects are in the works for Cast of Wonders which should start to see fruition as early as next week when we debut a new flash fiction segment. I’m also doing a lot of behind-the-scenes organization, such as finally search tagging the back catalog, setting up a Pinterest board with all our episode art, and preparing a database of our author and narrator contact information. The Parsec finalists haven’t been announced yet, but my fingers remain firmly crossed.

-The one area I’ve been less than stellar has been completing the rest of my training contract applications. I’ve started the final batch, but the summer heat has proved excellent inertia on dotting the I’s, crossing the T’s, and pressing send. Now that I don’t have the excuse of waiting for exam results, this next weekend’s project is to knuckle under and get them finished. I hate leaving things to the last minute, and while I technically have a few work-days after my vacation scheme finishes, I’m sure those recruiting managers would appreciate me finishing earlier rather than later as well.

Next time, either my strategy for how to see “Ender’s Game” without a bigot profiting, the before-and-after photos of my summer office reorganization, or a Mexican food recipe for people who don’t like chili.

Meanwhile, Back In The States…

I’ve been meaning to write this blog post for a while. Since the English “summer” weather (read rainstorm) has decided to conspire against tackling the front garden YET AGAIN and I’ve baked myself out of flour and sugar, now seems a good time.

We’re all creatures of habit, and nothing makes that clearer than when things you normally do automatically are thrust to the forefront of your attention because they’re now more difficult or outright impossible. Like grocery shopping in a new country where the aisles are different and they’ve never apparently heard of buying whole coffee beans and why on earth aren’t the eggs refrigerated. It took me MONTHS to figure out which stores carried which products, and even now it seems strange to me that I have to go to three different shops in an average week to pick up all the items I want.

Now add to that mix drug stores. I can’t find the same brands of, well, just about anything. And that’s before we talk about the differences between A4 and letter sized paper and how strange all the binders are with only two rings and … Yeah.

In April when Alasdair and I headed back to California for two weeks for my cousin’s wedding, we packed empty suitcases. We filled said suitcases with all the American products I can’t find over here and were critical enough to be worth the suitcase weight. By the way everyone, TSA considers peanut butter a “gel” that you can’t take carry-on. Just so you know. Since my birthday is coming up and there’s the possibility my family will want to send me goodies, here comes the laundry list of American products I just can’t get here in drippy, wet England.

Food

  • Taco seasoning. The Mexican cuisine scene here is virtually non-existent, and the two restaurants I have found are chains. They’re not bad, but they’re not home-made, right? I’ve got two GIANT containers now. I’ve only used the packets before, so this’ll be fun to experiment with.
  • Green chilies and chipotles. “Chiles” here are of the Asian variety – the small red Hunan-style nuclear jobs, or jalapenos. No poblano, pepperocinni, or other mild-to-medium green varieties.
  • GOOD olive oil. I know, Italy’s closer than California but trust me, the stuff ain’t the same.  Two big bottles of Trader Joe’s California Estate came back with me, plus a gift bottle I got from a friend which I haven’t tried yet.
  • Kosher salt. The Jewish community here is MUCH smaller and isn’t represented in mainstream stores at all. Along with the salt, I brought back matza ball mix for the next time I need Jewish penicillin.
  • Instant pudding. “Pudding” in England is the dessert course, and Jell-O style puddings don’t happen. Instead they make runny custard and pour it over everything. Blech. I’ve got a carefully hoarded box of vanilla waiting for the MutherFudger to reverse engineer…
  • ‘Nilla wafers. Banana pudding, y’all!
  • Clif bars. *sigh* They can be found here, but at £2-£3 a piece at specialist running stores, and not in nearly as many flavors. I used to buy them at Raley’s at $1 a piece. *sigh*
  • Liquid smoke. Yes, Pablo, it does exist. And I can’t make proper brisket or pulled pork without it.
  • Butterscotch and cinnamon chips. Butterscotch isn’t a thing here. There’s toffee, and there’s banoffee (which is like of like bananas foster), and there’s Werther’s which is about as close as it gets. But only in “sweets” (candy), not in baking components. Which is weird and sad and wrong.
  • Vegetable soup mix, i.e. Spinach Dip. Knorr as a brand exists here, especially in the dedicated Polish shops, but I haven’t found this stuff in particular. But that’s okay – I have half a dozen packets now. I’m set.
  • Spices I used to be a snob about – only the best from The Spice House would do. These days, sadly, my wallet won’t support that, but I still brought back my heavy-duty Saigon cinnamon and poultry seasoning, which is apparently an American only thing.
  • Pumpkin. Another “we don’t do that in England” shocker, but the local Waitrose stocks canned pumpkin in the autumn, and I still have a few cans squirreled away for Thanksgiving this year. Alasdair is a definite pumpkin pie convert.
  • Peanut butter M&Ms. Seriously. They have every other candy combination known to man – pretzel and coconut and mint and peanut – but no peanut butter.
  • Goldfish crackers, the whole wheat cheddar ones. I could have filled an entire suitcase with them, they’re my ultimate “with chicken noodle soup” comfort food. Those and the Mother’s pink and white animal cookies.

Health and Beauty

  • Okay, first things first – UK sizes are SMALL. All their products, be it toothpaste or deodorant or whatever, come in much smaller containers. That whole “Everything’s Bigger in America” thing is accurate, and not just the happy meals.
  • The J.A.S.O.N. brand of deodorant I like can only be found in one health store in York. So I stocked up.
  • This St. Ives green tea scrub hasn’t made it to England either. All their other products have, just not this. And you don’t even want to know what Amazon.co.uk charges for it. I bought three of them in California.

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Stationary

  • What? Stationary? I know! Generally this is one category where England wins hands down. They have a much better selection here, and of higher quality. Unless you’re running out of your favorite gel pens in the middle of exam revision and you panic and seriously consider paying international shipping for PENS. I swear, the stress must have got to me…

Vendors

  • International shipping is expensive, where it exists at all. So I stock up from my favorite companies when I’m back in the States, like Sock Dreams, The Spice House, and ThinkGeek. And that’s before we even talk about clothes from Lane Bryant or Avenue, or shoes. Oh Zappos, please start shipping internationally!

That’s everything I can think of off the top of my head. If the minute I publish this I think of a million more, I’ll update.

Procrastination

I’ve reached that part of the school year I always hate. Ninety percent of the work is done, and I can’t seem to muster any energy or enthusiasm for the remaining ten percent. There are still exams to take and coursework to finish and my research project to finalize, but the drive just ain’t there.

Maybe it’s my “the perfect is the enemy of the good” philosophy. Maybe it’s the fact it’s snowing on St. Patrick’s Day. Maybe it’s that I’ve booked airfare back to San Francisco for the end of next month and I’m counting the days.

There are a lot of things on my blogging list, but it’s clear devoting time to each one separately isn’t going to work with any degree of speed. So let’s return to my old friend, the bullet point.

Games

  • Finishing the Mass Effect trilogy was emotionally rough but I’m very, very pleased with the ending. Green, for those of you in the know. It was the only logical choice.
  • The Mass Effect 3: Citadel DLC is the best one yet, and not just because Wrex uses The People’s Elbow on a flying car. It’s even better than Lair of the Shadow Broker. You know all that fantastic inter-character dialog you love so much? It’s four hours of that. Plus a mission that blows your socks off. Plus arcade games and a battle arena that will ALSO blow your socks off. It’s bittersweet and energetic and the perfect send-off.
  • Shepard is one tough lady. She’s literally gone through death and everything you can think of to save the galaxy. She never sheds a tear. Unless your romance option was Thane. And that was perhaps the most perfect moment of all.
  • After finishing Mass Effect I devoured Musaic Box, a fun music puzzle app Alasdair found me. I’m poking at the hard mode now as a palate cleanser between school work. I really, REALLY love the game and I hope they expand it in the future. I’d love to see fugues and rounds, for example, as well as more of the familiar classics they started with.
  • Now I’m playing the new Tomb Raider. Holy COW this is not your 90’s Lara. It’s very different stylistically, and is focused less on the story and more on how you play with interactive quick-time cinematics and weapon and skill customization.
  • Which is good; after having finished Mass Effect, another story-driven game would undoubtedly fail in comparison.
  • Now that I have the ability to use my climbing axe in combat, I’m much happier: having only ranged attacks isn’t my thing, especially when being rushed by a pack of wolves or a madman with a riot shield.

School

  • This next week is the last week before Spring (or Easter, as they call it here in a country without a phobia of associating seasons with religious holidays) Break. I have a single land lecture to go, and four more weeks of sessions, half of which are consolidation and mock exam question reviews.
  • I’m frustrated with coursework. My grades are trending down, and I can’t figure out why. I’ve got a meeting request in to my tutor to see if she can help me understand.
  • Part of it, I think, is the differences in US versus UK grading systems. Last coursework I made a bone-headed and probably time-pressure based mistake: I swapped two terms. In the States, that would be a one-time point deduction. Here in the UK, however, it functions as a mark CAP: there’s only so high a grade I can receive for having made this mistake. Frustrating, to say the least.
  • However, all my mock exam grades so far have been squarely in the Commendation and nearly Distinction category. Since exams are 70% of my grade — and none of my course work has been anywhere near failing — I’m trying to let it go and keep focused on the big picture. Finish strong, and keep moving.

Voice Work and Cast of Wonders

  • I’m incredibly happy with the quality of Cast of Wonders since taking over as editor at the beginning of the year. Graeme and Barry are a pleasure to work with, and we’ve run an amazing range of stories, with some of my favorites yet to come. The schedule is starting to solidify far enough in advance that we’re discussing Halloween and Christmas projects, and the turn-around time on submissions is staying under 30 days. Plus we’ve arranged narration swaps with some of the best names in fiction podcasting: The DrabbleCast (Norm Sherman), PodCastle (Dave Thompson), and Clarkesworld Magazine (Kate Baker) with I hope many more to come.
  • For my part, I’ve been behind the microphone again recently with “Mercurial Skin” and “Now Cydonia“. Plus I have my swap with Norm appearing shortly on The DrabbleCast.
  • And I’m planning to resume longer piece auditions with ACX this summer after exams.

Life In General

  • Snow. In March. *sigh*
  • The cooking apathy has passed at last. I spent all of Friday cleaning the kitchen and inventorying the pantry in a cathartic burst of energy, followed by baking two loaves of bread (rosemary ciabatta and banana) and making pizza for dinner.
  • Alasdair’s becoming quite the cook in his own right, and is picking up on my knack for re-purposing leftovers. We had some fantastic grilled turkey goujons (that’s tenders to us Americans) marinated in sage and olive oil served with leftover mushroom risotto. It made me think of Trader Joe’s amazing butternut squash ravioli. Sooooooon!!
  • I miss clothes dryers, and the feeling of warm, wrinkle-free sheets. I’m convinced England’s grumpy national character could be cured if people drank more water and had fresh-from-the-dryer clothes on a regular basis.
  • This weekend we’re going to a spring pops concert at the Royal Hall. Hurray for cheap student symphony tickets!
  • During Easter Break we’re having two visitors. Alasdair’s parents are coming down to visit for Ian’s birthday, and our friends Whit and Melissa are staying over a night with us on their trip through the UK and Portugal.
  • It’s hard being on a fixed budget, mentally more than physically. We don’t lack for any basics, but when I’m gloomy it’s impossible not to remember what having a six figure income was like. Gym memberships, weekend trips, disposable income. Anyone who makes big decisions struggles with them, and I’m no exception.
    But I wouldn’t change anything. Not even when it snows in March.

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Treading Water

There aren’t enough hours in the day.

As I write it’s nearly 6 p.m. on an incredibly productive, incredibly busy day. I’ve cleared out my inbox and my to do list. I’ve sent long overdue e-mails to family and friends and sent a few more follow-ups (nothing escapes my To Do list. NOTHING). I’ve read slush and sent rejection letters filled with helpful edit comments and encouragement, as well as flagging up the next batch of acceptances. I’ve helped brainstorm ideas and baked banana bread and have the components for dinner defrosting in the kitchen. I also slept in late and only woke up when Alasdair brought me coffee in bed.

Have I mentioned he’s awesome? Because he’s awesome. Even if he doesn’t know the Peggy Ann McKay defense. Seriously England, you don’t read Shel Silverstain poems? Tsk.

However, I have not done any coursework.

Oh I’ve done plenty of school-RELATED work. Vacation scheme applications (almost ready to send!) and calendaring meetings and answering questions from classmates and the seeming endless mediation rep plan editing. I also figured out how I’m going to avoid Mass Effect withdrawal when I go to the competition (just ordered the third tie-in novel for bedtime reading).

But studying? Not yet.

This four week period of time is the roughest part of my entire academic year. The normal lecture and session schedule is plenty time consuming. With the weekly career events, spring law fair, vacation scheme applications, and mediation prep on top, it’s downright brutal. Something was going to have to give, and being 100% on top of the course work was it. I don’t think I’m falling behind, but I’m certainly not where I’d prefer to be.

Once Paris is finished, my schedule should get easier. I think it may stay about the same, because I’ve been offered a part-time job that starts up the week I get back which will take up two of my five weeknights. Or, if I’m lucky (for weird values of luck), it’ll get worse when Open Days and vacation scheme interviews start happening.

Just keep swimming, right?

Back To It

Today is the last day of Christmas break. It’s also the first half of January, and if there’s a time of the year more likely to cause ennui and the urge to curl up under blankets with books, it’s not on my calendar. These two facts, combined with being in the pre-end-game run-up on Mass Effect 2, makes tomorrow feel like the Monday to End All Mondays.

To quote one of my favorite starship captains, “I am therefore going anyway.” I’ve got some fantastic looking boxed-lunch treats (mini naan! mini cheeses! tons of veggies!), got my notes VERY organized, and tonight I’ll knock off early to get a good night’s sleep.

This break has been incredibly productive. And that takes some work on my part to say, since there are several items on the To Do list that didn’t get finished. I’m too used to the sole criterion of my success being ticked boxes on lists, and I’m challenging that by realizing that while many things aren’t finished, ALL of them are in much better shape than they were. Especially given that many of these tasks were new, like writing vacation scheme / trainee contract applications, or preparing for the mediation competition in Paris.

I’ve also rested, which can be like pulling teeth for me. And not just recovering from the post-semester cold and a few days off for Christmas. I replayed Mass Effect 1 and am nearly done with 2. I did a ton of cooking, took walks, did yoga, and slept in late. That’ll be the part I miss the most, especially since the week in Paris is my reading week; no breaks for me between now and Easter.

Lots done, lots more to do. Time to get to it!