Patient Zero

Monday, I went to my regularly scheduled yoga classes and actually did quite well. Not long after we got home, however, my nose started to run. It was annoying, but I didn’t think much of it.

Tuesday morning I woke up sounding like death. I personally found that rather rude, since I had a work project I was desperately trying to finish, but there wasn’t any help for it. In fact, despite doing all the usual things (downing take-no-prisoners vitamins, taking naps, drinking detox smoothies) I have had an abysmal case of the flu all week. I suppose I was due, since I haven’t been sick in forever and even clean eating and good habits can’t keep you from being sick occasionally.

I know this year has been a bad one for the flu in general (unsurprising, since we’re overdue for a pandemic)) but I wasn’t actually expecting to get it myself. My Prince and the furbabies have done an excellent job of taking care of me, and I’ve willingly hermit-ized myself so that I don’t spread this nonsense to anyone else.

That said, I’ll be quite pleased when it’s over!

My Own Personal Astromech

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I have been meaning to post about this since Christmas, so I’m going to get it done today: LOOK WHAT I GOT FOR CHRISTMAS!! My own personal astromech!!

He’s impressively detailed, inhumanly cute, and app-enabled so you can play with him!! He moves around, has all the lights, makes all the noises, and I love him to bits! (The dogs aren’t as sure about him, but it’s hilarious to watch them try to figure out if he should be herded or just studied from a safe distance, lol.) We took him to our gaming group last session and they all loved him as much as I do, which was great. : )

I took a video, but wordpress won’t let me post it, so here is someone else’s video of exactly the same thing I would have shown you. I didn’t even know this existed, but My Prince gets All The Points for finding it and spoiling me with it!

The Hemmingway App and Writing to Grade Level

people-2557399_1280There’s a lot of discussion in various writerly circles about the potential merits and downsides of “writing to grade level.”

Summarized succinctly, one side argues in favor of writing as much as possible at a ninth-grade reading level or below. The logic for this is that vast swaths of adults are not strong readers. By writing at the ninth-grade level, we can keep information, educational materials, entertainment pieces, and everything else accessible to mostly everyone.

The opposite side of this argument (which is where I tend to fall), is that no one will ever get better at reading or improve their vocabulary if we don’t expose them to anything outside their comfort zone. Nearly all the smart, actively-learning people I know encounter new words and ideas by reading above their grade level or outside their usual wheelhouse, and their lives are better for it.

When this shows up in fiction writing circles, I hold my ground. The girls in my Fic Whining Circle and I regularly challenge each other to do better and delight in the new things we learn (words, facts, or stylistic skills) reading each other’s works. That’s my corner of fandom and, while I respect it isn’t for everyone, I won’t hear any nonsense about it being “wrong” not to write down to the lowest common denominator.

In the professional writing world, things are a little different. When you are getting paid to write to a specific audience, writing to grade level makes a little more sense. You may be working with a group of people who are awesome and talented at what they do, but not strong readers/writers. My new job requires that we write to a ninth-grade level and suggested using the Hemmingway app to check our work before submitting it. While I’d heard of the app, I’d never used it before.

My initial thought was that I give it five stars for ease of use upfront. It’s a copy-and-paste interface that uses colored highlighting to show you what it is assessing and where the results came from. My second thought was “where the kriff is the back-of-house information on how to apply this?!”

By which I mean “you’re telling me that these sentences qualify as ‘hard to read’ per the mysterious guidelines, but I can’t fix them unless I know what the specific guidelines are! Do you hate commas? Is it sentence length that’s the problem? Help me out here!”

Half an hour of trial and error later, I largely figured it out. Sentences longer than 13 words automatically rank as “hard to read.” Get in the 20-word range and you’re up to “very hard,” even if they are all small words. The app hates the word “require” and most transitional words (however, although, etc.). Once I’d worked out what the detailed requirements were, writing the next article to grade level was dramatically faster and easier.

While I will not be using it for my personal writing, it’s a great tool to use professionally and I give the developers a lot of credit. Although I would still like to live in a world in which we encourage people to learn up rather than writing down, for now, I am content to challenge myself to write smart, educational articles that are still accessible. Doing so will improve my ability to break down complex topics and write to specific audiences, both of which are key writing skills and a worthy endeavor.

X-Files

Thexfiles.jpgMy Prince and I don’t watch a lot of television. Actually, we don’t own a television, so I guess it’s more accurate to say we don’t watch many shows.

The few we have taken to watching are (annoyingly) brand new, which means that we get a handful of episodes and then… nothing. For like a year. Considering that all we really want is something we can casually watch an episode or two at a time here and there, this is unhelpful.

Then my writer friends and I got in a discussion about how most of them first encountered the world of online fiction through their love of the X-Files. (Fun fact: the X-files played a key role in the development of the online fanfiction world and the legal rules related to it!) My Prince watched the show when it was originally airing live; I did not. Although I was somewhat familiar with it, I’d never actually seen an episode. It was free on Prime, though, so we decided to give it a go.

It’s adorable. (Except when it’s creeptastic.) It’s also delightful to watch in that so many of the things that were absolutely up-to-date at the time are so clearly dated now. Fox Molder is indisputably where the “heart eyes” emoji came from, just as Scully is undoubtedly the source of the “rolling eyes” emoji, which I find endlessly entertaining, as well.

Since all the seasons are available online and no one else is watching it live, there’s no rush to watch, which is exactly what we needed. At the same time, all I have to do is mention what episode we watched in my online forum to get gushing responses and conversation. We’ve only just made it through the first season, but I’m pleased to have the show as a reliable go-to when I want something to watch just briefly while I sneak in a few lines of knitting during a free hour.  : )

New Year, New Places to Shop

One of the things that has been lingering near the back of my to-do list is checking out a couple local stores that we haven’t been to yet. Specifically, grocery stores.

Long story (almost) short, grocery shopping is a pain when you have food intolerances.

When we first moved out here, there was a Super Target just down the street from our apartment and I took to shopping there most of the time simply out of convenience. When we bought our house in the spring, I discovered there was a different Super Target on my way home from the yoga studio. Again, out of convenience, I took to doing most of my shopping there since it was easy to hit on the way home from mid-day, mid-week classes.

Unfortunately, the selection wasn’t the same and, as we transitioned to lower-carb eating,  I became less and less satisfied with how that was working out. While I could (and did) buy some stuff online, that was only marginally better. So I made a note to check out some of the other places that are also on the way home from yoga that we hadn’t explored yet, specifically a grocery store and a place we were told was a “great place to get all things seafood.”

This week, with My Prince having a couple extra days off, we got adventurous and hit them both. The grocery store was amazing. I cannot begin to express how delighted I was to find clean food and even clearly labeled keto-friendly stuff that I’m accustomed to only being able to buy online right there on the shelves. The prices weren’t even unreasonable!  Obviously, I’m aware that grocery stores are not the kind of thing that excite anyone else, but I am extremely pleased.

The other place turned out to be less seafood-focused than an almost-warehouse-style Asian market. Walking around was fascinating. About 90% of it was off the table for me, personally, thanks to things like MSG and gluten, but the sheer novelty of the foods and sauces and their packaging was delightful. (Example: I did not know that rolled and shredded squid are a Thing. I have never seen anyone sell just whole salmon heads on ice before. I had never seen taro root or arrowroot in their whole forms before. Very cool! )

The place does carry Milk Tea which is something My Prince remembers from overseas travels and was quite excited to see. They also have some of the best prices on raw vegetables that I’ve ever seen, so I’m looking forward to hitting them up this summer when I want to make giant salads on the cheap! (Particularly since we tried the local farmer’s market over the summer and, while it is lovely, it is not convenient to get to.)

In light of this new information, I have some changes to make in how I plan and execute my shopping, but I’m delighted that 2020 has already gifted me with stores that will make my life easier this year.

60 Books in 2019

According to Goodreads, I read (or listened to) 60 books in 2019! Obviously, this number isn’t entirely accurate, since it includes books like By The Pricking of My Thumbs (Agatha Christie) that I started and chose not to finish. That said, given how little I was reading a few years ago (thanks to work/life circumstances), to have made it through that many this past year feels like a smashing success.

I hope to match that number again in 2020, with a higher percentage of them being books I read solely for fun rather than for professional purposes, review purposes, or because I think I “should.”

Aside from that, I’ve largely set non-specific goals for this year. This is because many of my goals are physical and there’s simply nothing you can do about how long it takes your body to come around to getting stronger or more flexible except keep doing the work. Attempting to set deadlines can only lead to frustration. So this year my goal is just to keep doing the work – in fitness, in Tango, and as a writer.

It’s not snazzy or exciting, but it’s what I’ve got and I expect that keeping that determination front and center in my head will lead to lots of great things this year (and this decade).  May the new year and new decade bring you wonderful things, as well!!

Recipe Roundup

In keeping with the fact that it has been December/the holidays, most of the stuff on this list falls in the snacks-and-treats category rather than entrees.

Keto Sugar Cookies – I made these as an experiment and didn’t love them. The dough is very finicky – if it isn’t chilled enough it’s impossible to work with. The taste was fine, but they were a little crumbly. I don’t love sugar cookies to begin with unless they are the Lofthouse style, which are frankly impossible to make gluten-free, much less keto/clean). So while I think these would be a decent option for someone who really, really wants cut out cookies for Christmas, I won’t be making them again.

Keto Nut Butter Cereal – I’d tried making this once before and had to toss the whole batch because I’d used the suggested amount of sweetener and they were inedible. I tried again with a drastically reduced amount of sweetener and was much happier! Next time I’ll roll it a smidge thinner and cook it a bit longer so it’s properly crispy, but it was nice to have clean, yummy cereal for five minutes worth of effort and a couple bucks (especially compared to the shocking expense of buying commercial keto cereal!). I absolutely recommend this recipe if you want easy, instant back-up food on hand and just a quick-and-easy treat.

Keto Peanut Butter Cookies – As a general rule, I find keto peanut butter cookies disappointing, regardless of the recipe. They just get dry and crumbly too fast. This, interestingly, was the simplest recipe I’ve tried yet and also the most satisfying. I don’t think I’ll make them often, but when we want pb cookies, these are the way to go.

Keto Peanut Butter Protein Balls – These are possibly my new favorite thing. So good and stupid easy. As usual, I used slightly less sweetener than called for, but these taste positively decadent. I didn’t freeze them, just kept them in the fridge so they have the consistency of raw cookie dough. These will become a staple around here, I’m sure.

DIY Chai Tea – a friend shared her homemade chai recipe with me and it’s delicious. The recipe makes about 1 quart of chai base, which you can store in the fridge in a Mason jar for convenience. Then, whenever you want tea you just combine equal parts base mix and the milk and sweetener of your choice and heat it up. SO GOOD.  I tried both regular (almond) and chocolate milk, and used a couple drops of liquid stevia as the sweetener. It felt like such a treat!

Cranberry and Goat Cheese Flatbread – Technically, this was based on this recipe, but I definitely cheated by using my tried-and-true pizza crust and Ginger Pear Cranberry Sauce recipes for the ingredients. It was incredibly rich. I think next time around I’ll slice it into wedges or strips and plan to use it more like an appetizer than dinner, but it’s a fantastic recipe. Super easy and sure to wow!

That’s it for this month! Hopefully there will be a few less treats and some more “clean winter comfort food” type dishes on here in the January edition.  : )