Bring on the snow

It’s gray and disgusting outside my window. Widespread rain is pushing through my area. And this is why whenever one of my fellow Syracuse residents says something about how they’re glad it hasn’t snowed yet, I want to slap them. (That, and they ought to know if we don’t get it now, we’ll get it in March. Which would you rather have, honestly?)

Rain in December is like a sneeze where you get all the intensely uncomfortable buildup but the sneeze goes away at the last second.

We’re officially less than three weeks from Christmas, and the season is flying by at light speed. I only just got the tree up Sunday, because Thanksgiving weekend was too complicated. Work-wise I’m not in quite the spot I wanted to be. And heck, because I’m still finishing up my book from NaNoWriMo, my brain is still partly in November mode.

What I need to get into the spirit is some good snow. Lots of it. I even bought new boots for the first time in many years. It’s time to bring on the lake effect snowstorms, the giant puffy flakes, the SUVs by the side of the road because stupid people bought too much car for their hat sizes. And yet it’s above freezing all this week.

At nighttime it’s better. Last night I watched cooking videos and got into Bad Idea Mode. I started planning all the yummy stuff I want to make over the break, and even before if I can manage it. I had a craving for waffles last night that will remain unfulfilled for now because we’re out of milk and eggs, and when my wife asked yesterday if I needed anything at Wegmans I foolishly said no. (Why not go out myself for it? Because I am not going out in this ick.)

I hate it when nature and I are at an impasse. A nice snowy December doesn’t seem a lot to ask, especially when the alternative is spring holding off till July.

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NaNoWriMo 2017: a technical win

So that was an interesting experience.

I went into NaNoWriMo again this year for the first time in six years. As I mentioned previously, my goal was to come up with a worthy sequel to The Affix.

Tonight I finished with just over 70,000 words, after a last-gasp spurt of 10,000. But it wasn’t quite a finish, because the story isn’t done. Apparently that still counts, which is why I’m claiming the win. But where it stands now, I’m probably about 10,000 words short of where it will end up, and that’s before the cleanup pass.

In spite of not being done with the story just yet—I’m going to keep at it over the next few days to get it finished—I’m really proud of where it’s ended up so far and where it’s going to finish. I know exactly how I want to end it, too: with a wham line that will rock the world of this story to its foundations.

The last gasp today brought the story into a dimension I didn’t fully expect, but I love: It reaches some emotional moments. The stakes went up really high, and that brought with it a need to make it feel real. Some of that served as a source of pathos, but so did something else I wasn’t sure I was going to include: a scene that totally changes the way one character is viewed and brings some of the tragedy in Jasmine’s past into sharp focus.

So that said, here’s a few words about my (hopefully soon) upcoming book, The Well of Moments. Since this marks the tipping point from a single novel into a series, this will be the second in what I’ll now call the Paranormal Curio series. I went over a few minor bits in an overview a few posts back, but it’s time to flesh out the cast properly.

Continue reading

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Parade blog 2017

The local news is on and the parade is moments away! I have a hunk of a mini loaf of pumpkin bread that’s been sitting in my freezer for a year (it didn’t get freezer burned, surprisingly), bacon, Pepsi, and a can-do attitude. So let’s go. As usual this is a live blog event, so keep refreshing to see updates.

Ulgh. Seriously, a political commercial just before it? I don’t care what your issue is, you do not run a political ad on Thanksgiving.

This is a weird opening. They started with a prerecorded thing with a bunch of NBC people and other celebrities singing to “Dancing in the Street”, and then segued into a performance in front of Macy’s that includes a gospel choir, lots of people in red scarves, police, and a lot of other things of which thematic consistency is not one. Now the lineup.

Okay, opening ceremony before lineup apparently, but I just got a view of Olaf ready to go. Now we’re ready. Gwen Stefani is here, which should be fun; Andra Day is too, which should not. Her voice makes me wince. The Goo Goo dolls are here too, and I know what you’re thinking: Are they still a thing? A couple other names including country. Of course. A lot of names there didn’t jump out at me, oddly. Normally I find more to comment on.

So far the most Christmasy commercial has been a Macy’s ad that led it all off. Also an oddity. I started seeing Christmas ads weeks ago, starting on Halloween. Why is it the ads in the first commercial break are so lame? Somebody screwed up this year.

Remember when Matt Lauer had hair, and Al Roker’s face didn’t?

First Broadway show. Wait, what? They’re doing a Spongebob Squarepants show? What the… what? The lead is just a prepubescent-looking dude in plaid pants, yellow shirt, and suspenders. I can’t tell if I’m being trolled. Now I’ve seen Patrick, Sandy, etc. and it’s…not working at all. They’re just people, and their costumes aren’t even particularly evocative of the characters. And I say this not even as a fan. They’re showing a lot of colorful costumes, but the extras look like they belong to the Spongebob universe more than the main characters. Freaking weird.

Come on, NBC! Who did you put in charge of your ad buys? You are dropping the ball. Although we aren’t being bombarded by truly terrible tablet ads by Microsoft, so there’s that, but I think that has more to do with Microsoft not choosing to do so. So far the most snow I’ve seen is from the ads reminding me that the Olympics are coming in February. Sheesh, not even a Barbie commercial?

Next show. “Dear Even Hansen is a contemporary story about life and, more importantly, the way we live it.” Boy am I glad I’m partaking of a caffeinated beverage right about now. Although this song has the makings of something special so I’ll give it a chance. And while the premise of this musical sounds boring as all get out, the song really came through. “You Will Be Found”, it’s called, and it works.

The UPS Store gets a mention for actually trying to be on theme today, albeit with a commercial they ran last year. I’ll still give it to them.

I just saw Ronald McDonald, but Al Roker is saying something about a troll balloon, presumably from the movie Trolls that I did not see. We’re still doing interviews of NBC stars, but I don’t recognize most of them because I don’t watch these shows.

Now we have a number from the Broadway adaptation of Anastasia. I never saw that film either but this one I really wanted to. Sometime I’ll have to watch it. Come to think of it, we’re coming up on the hundredth anniversary of the event that gave rise to the movie. Chilling thought. But on brighter topics the song came off well and it looks like this has potential as a musical. Helps that it’s an adaptation of one already, I guess.

I can’t believe I missed Despicable Me 3. I missed a lot of movies this year. I can’t believe they’re making a Trolls “holiday” special. I can’t believe my pumpkin bread survived so incredibly well after a year in the freezer; seriously, it’s terrific. Quick quasi-local commercial from Eastview Mall, which is one of the few malls older than I am (I know because my mom tells a story of how I lost a pacifier there forty years ago), and then Gwen Stefani wants us to know she has a Christmas special coming up. The ads are getting gradually better.

The celebrity interviews still not so much. Maybe I’m just bitter since Grimm ended.

Speaking of Gwen Stefani, Matt Lauer is stumbling through introducing her. She’s doing a live song, but not on the parade route. And from the sound of it, she might have a Christmas album dropping, because she’d dreaming of a White Christmas. In that outfit I think I’d be dreaming of a warm coat. I know she’s wearing something sheer over all that skin, but boy am I glad for her sake it’s not colder in New York City today. What about the song, you ask? It’s pretty good; not spectacular, but fun, and I’m always a sucker for a good Christmas song.

Speaking of suckers, Hugh Jackman is starring in a movie about P. T. Barnum that appears to be a musical.

I just saw the sun catch the pumpkin balloons behind Olaf, and for a second I thought I was seeing giant plumes of flame. I think I figured out a way to make the parade even better. There’s now a song from the show “Once on This Island”. Wikipedia says it’s based on a book that’s Romeo and Juliet meets The Little Mermaid in the Caribbean. The song they’re doing isn’t piquing my interest much; it’s just all right.

And the Rockettes are out. Those costumes look cold too, but then they always do. With the workout their legs get though, that probably makes up for it.

There’s an animated movie coming out about the Nativity, and I’m not sure what to make of it. Talking animals and whatnot, the usual jokes you’d see in a kids’ movie. Does Hollywood have the heart to pull something like that off anymore?

A marching band is now doing a mega-medley of retro tunes, Lauer says. I might be thick this morning, but I haven’t recognized the tune yet. Considering he said “retro” and it’s obviously not something from the ’80s or after, I’m pretty okay with not recognizing it.

The official start of the parade is here! Olaf is passing by Macy’s. Who doesn’t love Olaf? He likes warm hugs.

Tom Turkey goes by, and on top is just a couple dressed like Pilgrims. No one from Food Network? Riding below are a couple stars from Top Chef on Bravo. I don’t think I can bring myself to watch a show on Bravo.

They cut into an tie-in ad for a new show with Amy Poehler and Nick Offerman. Interesting. For my part I just want to give them credit for being seasonal. Oogh, and now we’ve hit a local commercial break. Not good. Also when a couple of lawyers have a lame local jingle that says they’re for serious cases, it kind of steps on the message.

Patti LaBelle has a song for us. I don’t know if “people are dying” is the best lyric to throw in for this occasion, even if the song itself is about giving love. Probably doesn’t help that I didn’t understand most of the other lyrics.

We just had a marching band from Nation Ford High School stop by to perform a song, but as they left the storefront they started in on “Land of a Thousand Dances”. Wish they’d led with that one instead. And now here comes Scrat!

Wyclef Jean is doing a song aboard an NHL float that looks like it was put together by the Little Rascals. Not hating his song. That’s a good thing, because there will be country stars later and I need to pace myself.

Ronald McDonald is in a big red shoe car in front of his own balloon. Tell me honestly this wouldn’t be 10000% better if he threw fresh bacon egg and cheese biscuits to the crowd from the car.

Holy crap. I heard they were remaking Jumanji, but this one includes Jack Black and Kevin Hart? I am so in. Fruit of the Loom is trying to convince us buying underwear as a gift isn’t obnoxious. Geico brings us a Christmas-themed commercial finally, and NBC is introducing a show that looks like a soccer mom crime spree.

The Sesame Street float has a song with Leslie Odom, Jr. It’s a typical Sesame Street float song, so it’s uplifting and forgettable. This one is about coming together, so good message.Sesame Street will always hold a special place in my heart.

The Diary of a Wimpy Kid balloon is right behind that, with the Trumbull Golden Eagle Marching Band. They’re performing “My Favorite Things”, which is not a Christmas song! Seriously, it’s not even close to being one. Even though it’s appeared on Christmas albums for like fifty years now, it isn’t a Christmas song. Liking the colors on those flags, though: black streaked with all kinds of shades of purple.

Whoa! It’s Angelica Hale from AGT! Gads I love this kid’s voice. She’s freaking amazing. She’s singing “Girl on Fire” which she nailed in the show, on top of a float with a theme for kids younger than her. The float supposedly comes from Sprout, but we’re spared the squeaky chicken thing and we get Angelica in trade. That’s like driving a Kia and randomly having a Ferrari owner enthusiastically offer an even trade. You go, girl.

Hello, Kitty!

Andy Grammer has a song for us. His music is the sort of pop-adjacent stuff radio stations don’t touch anymore. Kind of a shame, because while his style isn’t quite for me most of the time, the alternatives are worse. It seems to me in the early ’90s he’d be more of a household name than he is now. Now we have mostly amelodic garbage on the radio. Sorry, I started slipping into a rant.

Marching band. Missed the name. I don’t recognize the song. Which is fitting for coming ahead of the red Power Ranger, since I missed out on that whole thing too and have no idea which one of them is supposed to be which.

Jimmy Fallon and the Roots are performing a Prince song on the Gibson Guitar float. I love Jimmy but I do wonder if Prince would have given him the okay on this; he was notoriously prickly. Jimmy and the band are having fun up there, so good for them. Still I wish they’d break out a Fallon classic instead and sing “Idiot Boyfriend”.

Not a Pokémon fan, and I’m violently allergic to anime, but for some reason I adore the Pikachu balloon. Is that weird? I feel like it’s weird.

Ah, the Spirit of America Cheer group is up. That’s a lot of powder blue. Normally I like how colorful they are but they look like a bunch of Smurfs. They have a float, and fittingly Miss America is on it.

They have a Trolls balloon now, with characters I don’t recognize because again, didn’t see the movie. There’s a new float behind them from Shimmer & Shine, a Nickelodeon cartoon. Kid’s Choice award winner JoJo Siwa, a kid herself, is singing on the float. Well, lip-syncing on the float, and more obviously than most. It’s not bubblegum pop; it’s bubblegum garbage not-exactly-rap. Pity.

Charlie Brown and his kite are next. But boy do I miss Snoopy. A parade without a Snoopy balloon always feels like it’s missing something. The Girl Scouts float behind him has Andra Day (ugh) and Common. Seriously, dude? You chose “Common” as a one-name-only name like Cher? Good gads. He just started speaking his way through a rappish part of the song and my respect for him did not improve. Plus Andra Day’s voice still makes me want to jab a pen in my ear.

Back to Amy and Nick. They’re also tying in with Google Home Mini for some reason, so it’s a commercial for a TV show and a home assistant both. Weird, but it was a nice break from that song so I’m on board. Ellen DeGeneres is hosting a new game show that looks delightfully wacky. I think I’m in.

A children’s group made up of kids of active duty and veteran military personnel just performed in front of Macy’s. Interesting concept. KFC has a float behind that, which unfortunately has our first country singer of the day. (Or on a glass-half-full note, fortunately it’s our first country singer and it’s already 10:45.)  This float makes me think of that commercial they have where the family is unwrapping KFC for Christmas. I’d be pretty happy with that.

The US Air Force Band is at the store now, giving us a rousing fanfare about the wild blue yonder. Good work, guys! And thank you everyone who’s serving and away from their families today to keep our country safe.

I missed who this balloon is supposed to be. It looks like a plane from that old Looney Tunes cartoon with the baby jet, crossed with a Transformer. Sara Evans is performing aboard the Entemann’s float behind that. If I didn’t have a big meal coming and I had one in the house, I could totally go for a chocolate frosted donut right now. I’m like a Pavlovian bundle of food neuroses.

Speaking of which, there’s that KFC commercial I was just talking about.

A hip hop group is performing a dance routine to a song that is not a song. I want to like hip hop but I can’t. Which is hammered home with Bebe Rexha performing above the NY Daily News Big Apple float. Ick, this song is like country hip hop.

A Paw Patrol balloon is behind that, leading the TMNT float. Apparently the Turtles are being rebooted again next year. Again. Let that sink in. Kat Graham, who will be the new voice of April O’Neil, is doing a song on the float. Her song is called “Magic”, and… I like it. I like it a lot. It has a melody and the music has a good groove to it. Huh. Unexpected bonus.

That Macy’s commercial just melted me a little. A girl buys her dad’s cologne for her mom for Christmas because the dad is away on a fishing boat. It was really sweet. Amy and Nick are back, and it’s another Google tie-in; maybe the first one was too and I just didn’t notice.

There’s a Sour Patch Kids float. I approve. With Latin recording artist Nicky Jam. Approval fading. I did discover this year that there’s a Spanish-language song I actually like, but this isn’t it. (The one that is: Justin Bieber. I’d say don’t judge me for liking a song that Bieber got involved with, but I’d honestly prefer it if you did.)

Aw, this is awesome. They brought back the baseball player balloon from Miracle on 34th St., and he’s in monochrome. I love it. And I love that movie. You love that movie too; admit it.

Ohio University is performing a song by the group Chicago, which has nothing to do with the holidays. I’m not saying it’s a law or anything, but I’d much prefer a Christmas song.

The red Angry Bird balloon is up now. Boy I wish I had a fraction of Rovio’s money. Flo Rida is coming up at some point this hour. Boy I wish I hadn’t heard that. Now I get to dread it instead of just being unpleasantly surprised.

Another local commercial break. But we’ve also had more Christmas commercials, so that’s something. The sun is out and I wish it had snowed a little. The grass is kinda depressing to look at.

A clownish group of old ladies called Red Hot Mamas just performed in front of the store. Good clean silly fun, and no that’s not a pun about the washing machine they had. Flo Rida is on the Krazy Glue funhouse float, and this may be mean-spirited but I have an awesome idea for putting their product to use. He does have a couple of hot dancers up front though so I’m gonna give him a pass in the spirit of Christmas.

The Spongebob balloon is here, reminding us again how utterly ridiculous that Broadway show looks. King’s Hawaiian has a cool-looking float behind him, bearing the musically decrepit Goo Goo Dolls. But somehow I’m not hating this song. How is this possible? It’s the Goo Goo Dolls. You know, the guys who did that song “Name” and that other annoying song from that Nick Cage angel movie in the ’90s. How is it I’m liking this one? This makes no sense.

Another high school marching band is up. I don’t recognize the song they’re doing. A little dragon balloon is behind them but I don’t recognize it either.

Hey, this is weird. They’re showing parade stuff in a tiny corner of the screen and putting the commercial in a big box instead of the whole screen, like football games have been doing this year during breaks. First time it’s happened that I’ve noticed, though.

Spirit of America Dance Stars is performing in black and white and red all over. Their outfits have a harlequin quality and they’re dancing to a mightily sped-up Pink song. (How many groups here are called Spirit of America?)

Build-a-Bear has a float too, of course. Sabrina Carpenter, who I’ve never heard of, is aboard for a song. She’s doing that style of music that runs her voice way too much through a filter and doesn’t try to keep up a melody outside of the chorus. Gads I miss when music was a thing.

And now, the Pillsbury Dough Boy. The Big Apple Circus has an assembly right behind him, and then the Domino’s sugar float. Remember last year when their float was right next to the Dough Boy? They didn’t put as much effort into funny juxtaposition this year. I missed the name of this singer aboard the Domino’s float, but her song sounds like country. At least we’ve had less country music this time around, but they’re back-loading it all so the dosage is higher all at once.

Green Giant has a float. I feel like he deserves a balloon. But they have another country singer aboard, Lauren Alaina, and now I take back what I said about deserving a balloon. Bad giant! No cookie! (But actually I wish I could like country. They still care about putting music in their music. I just… can’t.)

The Sinclair dinosaur ballooon follows them, so I guess that counts as a green giant balloon. Rosemount High School is doing the national anthem behind him. Okay, so if the song isn’t gonna be a Christmas song, naked patriotism works too.

I see another singer. He’s on top of the Mount Rushmore float. Oh, and it’s Smokey Robinson; didn’t recognize him from afar. That man has had a lot of Botox.

98 Degrees is coming up? Did whoever raised the Goo Goo Dolls from the dead do them too? Lifetime wants to tell us it has Christmas movies coming up, some of which don’t star Lacey Chabert. I wouldn’t have recognized Jasmine Guy if they didn’t show her name.

Aflac! Love that duck. And the gorgeous Balsam Hill carousel float follows him. This float impressed the heck out of me last year and it still does. Olivia Holt is singing a Christmas classic from the middle deck. Yay! Christmas music, and it isn’t terrible! Also I like her treatment of the song. I wonder if she has an album out and if the rest of it is that good.

Behind that, the Grinch and his dog Max. They tell us a new computer-animated version is coming out next year. I don’t know how to feel about that, especially since it’s coming from Illiumination. Hopes are not high.

The Rockford High School marching band wants us to know it’s the most wonderful time of the year. It sure is! Loving those dark blue shiny flags that kind of look like starfields, too.

The Creepiest Tradition Ever balloon is here now, by which I mean the accursed Elf on the Shelf. The Peanuts float behind him is a much-needed palate cleanser.

And here as promised is 98 Degrees. The song is a Christmas song and it’s all right. But I  hope this doesn’t mean boy bands are coming back. My nerves can’t take it. Next, the Davis High School marching band is performing “Ode to Joy”, and you know what that means. Yup, it means I want to watch Die Hard, one of the greatest Christmas movies of all time.

Wait! They said I was gonna see a giant singing Christmas tree. What they meant was a float from Delta that looks like a green wedding cake with a bunch of Macy’s employees in different-colored jackets and sweaters singing. It’s a Christmas song (not one I know though) and it sounds nice, but talk about a bait and switch. I was totally picturing an animatronic tree. Don’t even try to tell me you weren’t either, because you were.

Another really sweet Macy’s commercial coming in right at the end. Dang they are on point with those this year. And our last visit with Amy and Nick. I knew they’d be back.

Macy’s Great American Marching Band might be the last band of the day. They’re performing “Deck the Halls” out in front of the store. And now come the elf balloons and elves on foot, which can only mean one thing. Santa Claus has arrived, to a storm of ticker tape confetti. Amazing how bouncy he’s gotten in the last decade or so.

The hosts wrap up with a salute to our troops, and so will I. Thanks for all you do out there.

And now, time to get hungry and get ready for a huge dinner. Happy Thanksgiving all, wherever you are!

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The story so far

Holy crap this month has been flying by. I meant to do an update post sooner than this.

The big life stuff going on: My wife is back to being pain-free now that the kidney stone is well behind her. I had some good low-key birthday celebrations this past weekend. I found out a massive inconvenience is going to throw next week all out of whack. And now of course Thanksgiving is coming down on us like a freight train. Yipe!

I’ve found time to write. NaNoWriMo has been proceeding very well for me word-wise, but I’m behind the pace on story. This is a problem. I think this book will, when all is said and done after editing, end up around a similar length to The Affix. But first I need to get to the end, and I’m at, oh, about 60% maybe. My word count is going great though.

The new book is going to be called The Well of Moments. Like its predecessor, it’s named for the MacGuffin. Here’s the brief proto-blurb I’ve got going for it on the NaNoWriMo site:

Three years after The Affix, freelancer Jasmine Treager is thrown back into the world of spooky artifacts and the crackpots who love them. A horde of collectors, dealers, and others with their own agendas descends on a hipster college town in western New York for a weekend of mayhem, all thanks to an unassuming stone jar with an inside slightly too deep for three dimensions.

So far I’ve re-introduced a pretty fair number of characters and brought in new ones. Lexi has made an appearance. Another few familiar faces have expanded roles in this book. And Toshiro, the gratuitous ninja who was humiliated the last time around, gets some of his own back this time. New villains have made the cut, including the militaryesque Maxwell, Ralf “Budget Arnold” Klausen, a trio of dangerous artifact hunters known as the Basemen, the Mad Scot (he’s very new, hasn’t come in yet), an assassin with family ties to the first book and a particular distrust of Jasmine, and some new ruthless collectors.

Shots have been fired, explosions detonated, and the new artifact has already done some freaky paranormal crap that’s about to get worse.

But I’m behind, and I have to write write write to get the story proper finished in time. And I have to do some better planning out as I get closer to that point. I have a bunch of loose scene ideas I want to do, and need to figure out an intelligent order to put them in. Some storyboarding in the very very near future probably would be a good idea.

But tomorrow morning, the annual parade live blog begins! Be there at 9 AM EST for some snark. And if you haven’t made your pumpkin bread yet, get to it!

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I made soft pretzel bites

Yep, I’ve been on kind of a pretzel kick lately. I wanted to go a step further here and actually make an Auntie Anne’s style of pretzel, because I like those so much better than the chewy kind (although I like those too). Today I pulled the trigger on that.

I used the recipe in this YouTube video. You may as well get it over there and watch the video, and while you’re there check out his video on preztel-wrapped hot dogs because that looks pretty awesome too. But to give you the bottom line, the dough is made up of a cup of milk, just over two cups of flour, yeast, a little bit of salt, and a couple tablespoons each of sugar and softened butter. If you’ve made dough before, or seen it done, I’m sure you get the procedure. It’s meant to be a light dough without being overworked, so go easy on the kneading and flour, and then of course you pretzelfy it with a baking soda solution, salt, and bake at a high temperature.

So let’s talk post-mortem.

This was my first dough I’ve ever made from scratch. It was something I could tackle because it’s not a very high-gluten dough that requires a lot of kneading or a mixer with a dough hook. I used a spoon early on, and then I just used my hands and a little flour for the rest. Although the recipe calls for 2¼ cups of flour, I only eyeballed that last quarter and came in a little under, supplementing as needed during the short kneading process. I only kneaded long enough for it to really come together and get the butter worked in, and be slightly less sticky. (It seems to me that melting the butter while nuking the milk up to temperature wouldn’t be an awful way to go, though, rather than worrying about softening butter in advance. I can’t imagine the yeast care about a little butter in their slightly sweetened milk.)

I forgot the salt in the dough, but I pressed ahead. It was only half a teaspoon, and with pretzels already being salted—and the fact that I was already using salted butter which counts for something, even if it’s not much—I didn’t sweat it. I cut my dough in half and froze half the batch, having no idea if that will freeze and thaw as well as pizza dough would. The half I used, I split into three pieces and then tried to form into ropes. A 30″ rope like he suggested was not that doable for me, so I just got to a good thickness and started cutting it into chunks.

Each bite-size piece went into the simmering baking soda solution (I ignored his measurements and did about ¼ cup in 3 cups of water), in batches, for about 15-20 seconds. Longer might have been fine. I baked on a silicone mat for about 11 minutes at 450° like the video suggested.

The pretzel bites came out slightly underdone. Now that’s not really a bad thing; they’re supposed to be slightly that way, but I think I could have baked for another two minutes or so without a problem. Only a few of the bites got appreciably brown, too. But once they came out, on went the melted butter. The salt I forgot was not missed.

Making a cheese sauce with just Velveeta and a splash of milk was a mistake. It came out a fine consistency, and I quite like Velveeta, but the flavor was just a little too strong for a dipping cheese. Lesson learned.

Half a batch of dough made up something like 3 dozen pretzel bites, which honestly is probably plenty for three or four people. Hence I have most of that leftover in the fridge.

Will my frozen dough work as well the next time I want to make pretzel bites? I have no idea. What I do know is that this was a remarkably easy dough to put together, and I think it will adapt just fine to other purposes: like stuffed pretzel bites, or a nice little monkey bread, or something on the sweet end of the spectrum like cinnamon sugar pretzels. (Side note: I hosted an online Pampered Chef party last week, and I decided to try their French toast popcorn seasoning. Haven’t tried it on popcorn yet, but I think it would be amazing on these pretzel bites.)

Anyway the possibilities are many, and now I have at least a couple servings of pretzel bites in the fridge to nuke another time.

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Jasmine returns

It’s been a wild and annoying couple of weeks. Since my next-to-last post, my wife had a nasty kidney stone that threw our lives out of whack for a while, and in fact it still is, although the stone itself has now been removed and she’s just dealing with a stent for another couple of weeks. Having our schedules upended wasn’t so bad; it was that she was in so much pain during the worst of it. Thank God that part is over. At this time we’ve now crossed midnight, which means it’s officially our tenth anniversary today. Although I still call it tomorrow, because the day doesn’t count as over till you go to bed.

Somehow, I managed to get talked into NaNoWriMo again.

It’s been six years since I wrote The Affix. During that time my site was going through a huge overhaul and I was working late, but somehow I decided it was time to give NaNoWriMo a try. How I found time after work to write, I don’t know. I started the month sick with a cold, and between that and the stress of writing I got shingles by the time Thanksgiving rolled around. I got to spend the last few days of the event writing furiously, because staying at my desk and not moving was the least uncomfortable thing I could do.

This year, somehow the time felt right again, even when it hasn’t for the last several. All I really had to go on was a story germ, one I’ve tried to write a few times but never got off its feet. One thing about NaNoWriMo is it forces you to keep going.

For a while now I’ve wanted to write a sequel to that crazy book, bringing the supporting character Jasmine Treager to center stage as a new protagonist. She’s going to cross paths with a new paranormal “artifact”, one that has an interesting tie-in to the existing lore, and a few familiar faces may come back with her. And as this book opens, it’s been a few years (I’m thinking three), during which she’s risen to the big leagues in her field as a procurer of rare art and strange objects—thanks in large part to fallout from the events of the first book.

Bonus fun fact: This makes Jasmine my first female main character. Not the first POV character though, as the Merchantman Halflight series I’m writing switches POVs all the time. But Jasmine is the first to carry a story all on her own.

As we speak, she’s underslept and on a party bus full of college football fans, headed towards a fictional hipster town in western New York where some seriously weird crap is about to go down. What kind of weird crap exactly, I haven’t decided yet.

The Affix itself will not be making an appearance. Nor will its former keeper and his friends. Time for a little new blood to mingle with some of the old.

There may or may not be a Tuscan amulet.

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Post-Halloween candy auditions

Halloween was a special time growing up, at least once my family moved to a trailer park. I was seven that year (I turned eight right after), and it was the closest we had ever been to living in the suburbs. Here we finally had actual streets to go down, and plenty of places to visit. I’d estimate we hit roughly 80 to 100 places in our quest for edible gold. But what really stands out for me is the after party: the sessions of trading, wheeling and dealing, and then the inevitable sampling and devouring.

Fun-sized chocolate bars were the pick of the litter, usually accounting for about 20% of the lot. These were the high-value trade goods. The top of the line were the holy trinity of Three Musketeers, Milky Way, and Snickers. As you know, these three are basically in a spectrum: nougat, nougat and caramel, or all of the above plus peanuts. Preferences at different ends of the spectrum meant these got traded for other members of the same family as well. (Reese’s peanut butter cups and York peppermint patties occupied similar positions in this pantheon, right at the top but not a very mostly-chocolate kind of experience. And then there were the others: Baby Ruth, Mounds, Almond Joy, straight Hershey bars, sometimes a very rare but wonderful Chunky bar.) Chocolate being considered high-value put me in a very fortunate position, because I can’t stand coconut or almonds, meaning I often had chocolate I was willing to part with in exchange for either a more preferable chocolate, or non-chocolate with the trade skewed in my favor.

Caramels and taffies were odd ducks, but they made a pretty strong statement too. They came in a lot of kinds, some nice and others less so. I never much cared for stuff like Mary Jane at all, but a simple caramel square or better yet the Brach’s filled caramels (especially the orange!) were lovely. Tootsie Rolls were always worth it, especially the big ones and the fruit-flavored ones. Sugar Babies and their worse-on-a-stick cousin the Sugar Daddy were nasty, not in flavor but because it was like biting into a brick and by the time your tooth made penetration, the candy was determined to take the tooth with it. (Thankfully you don’t see much of those anymore.)

The worst of the haul was always raisins. People who give out mini boxes of raisins on Halloween are bad people. You’re better off just leaving the light off. No, you don’t get to say you’re being conscientious about kids’ health or teeth; that isn’t what the holiday is about, and you’re just throwing a wet blanket on it. If you give out raisins on Halloween, you deserve to have your house TPed. Used-TPed.

But the rest was the really interesting part: a wild assortment, mostly fruit-flavored, from Dum Dums (lots of those) to jawbreakers to various Wonka goodies to Mike & Ikes, and all sorts of others. I discovered a lot of very interesting candies in this mix that I wouldn’t otherwise have very often, and some that were regarded as cheap and uninteresting actually turned out to be the most memorable. And because these were largely viewed as fungible slop, they were ripe for the taking by the handful in exchange for an Almond Joy.

I often wonder if these days kids are getting exposed to some of these delightful but cheap options as much as in the past. I mean yeah, at every door we hoped for a Three Musketeers bar, but the C-list candies were different from anything we had at any other time of the year. Some had very unique flavor profiles; like for instance one mini bag of SweeTart clones might have a take on cherry or grape that was nothing like other candies, but in a surprisingly good way.

Now you hardly see this kind of thing; the megapacks you can pick up at warehouse/club stores are typically A- or B-list candy. Maybe it helped that our neighborhood was a trailer park, because while it was the nicest park in that area by far, it was simply the kind of place you expected to get cheap candy. But cheap is not always bad; I found and enjoyed a lot of good stuff among the also-rans.

There’s a life lesson in that. And that lesson is: do what my sister and her friend did one year, which was get two costumes and make the rounds twice. Someone was giving out full-size Hershey bars that year too.

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