Click it Up a Notch--Favorite Photo of February


Here's my favorite photo from this month. 
I don't know why, but it just makes me smile. 

Click It Up A Notch

So, I've been running...


Last week, I mentioned a goal of mine was to run every day for 7 days. 

I feel I should be honest with you, though, and admit my failure: I only ran for 6 days.  Saturday--Thursday. Boo.

Wednesday was definitely the worst of my six runs. First of all because I went running with a coworker, someone I'd never run with before. (Side note: over the past few years I've learned that finding a running partner is comparable to finding a boyfriend. That's a whole post of its own, but seriously, is it just me?)

This coworker was faster than me--that much was obvious from the start; but I didn't want to look like a slow, lame moron, so I tried my best to keep up. My intense desire to not look foolish and slow coupled with the crazy Oklahoma wind that was blowing directly at us for the first three miles coupled with the hills coupled with the fact that I'd been running for the last 4 days straight equaled me averaging a full minute per mile slower than I have in a long time.

It was seriously depressing, but I tried to keep in mind that some runs were going to be better than others and the important thing was to not give up completely. 

Still, I did learn something important from my goal to run every day for a week, namely: this is not a goal I will ever attempt again.

It's good to be able to recognize this type of thing lest I be tempted to sign myself up for something so unnecessary ever again.

Running six days straight made me more tired, more hungry, and more thirsty than I knew I could be. It also made me slower in general, which is the exact opposite of my goal for my third half marathon in April. (It also forced me to take a daily shower, but my hatred for showers is entirely beside the point.)

I started running consistently in April of 2010 in preparation for my first half marathon. It was something that had always been on my bucket list but was honestly never anything I actually thought I would be able to do. Now, almost 2 years later, I'm still running 2-3 times a week, and I actually miss running when I haven't gone in 4 or 5 days. 

I probably sound insane right now, but it's true.

All that to say, I think I'm finally starting to see myself as a runner. When half the Christmas list I passed out to my family included "running stuff," and I got a collection of leggings, headbands, socks, and dry-fit gloves, it hit me that maybe this is a legitimate hobby of mine.

This Saturday I'm running in a 10k (6.2 miles) with my dad, and in a few months I will be running my third half marathon (my goal is to run it in under 2 hours, but we'll see). And then after that, I don't know...maybe a full marathon? Again, we'll see.

But I've been running, at least. Just not every single day. That's only for crazy people. 

Pet Peeve #276--Literal Misuse


I have pet peeves just like everyone else. Most of the time I am annoyed, but I do my best to ignore it and focus on the positive--the glass is half full and all that. 

There are times, however, when a certain peeve is forced upon me, making it impossible not to notice its obnoxious appearance in my daily life. 

The current peeve that I am referring to is literal misuse--ie, misusing a specific word to the point of confusion and, in my case, anger.

See if you can figure out the word from this actual conversation between Jordan and I at the movies two weeks ago:
* * *
Jordan (upon returning to the theater from the bathroom): Hey, guess who I saw in the bathroom?
Me: Who?
Jordan: Your boss.
Me: Oh wow, really? 
Jordan: Yeah, I literally bumped into him while walking through the door.
Me: Oh my gosh! You did? Did he recognize you?
Jordan: No.
Me: Well what did he say?
Jordan: I didn't talk to him.
Me: But what did he say when you bumped into him? 
Jordan: I didn't actually bump into him. I almost did, though.
Me (confused): said you literally bumped into him.
Jordan: Oh. Well, I didn't. 

* * *

The word, if you didn't catch it, is literally. 
I find this a lot in normal conversation and also in books I'm editing.  So basically I find it everywhere, to my chagrin.

In a book:
  -His voice literally dripped with compassion. (Makes me wonder what color compassion is when it drips.)
  -His face was literally beaming with excitement. (Unless you're Jesus, your face will never be beaming.)

At church:
  -His ministry literally stretched around the world. (Um, no it didn't.)

In real life:
  -It literally took me ten minutes. (But after further conversation I find out that it really took two and a half minutes.)

Do you see why this is a problem? Misusing the word literally can literally change the entire meaning of what you're saying!

So please do (some might argue crazy) people like me a favor and just be careful. Think about the words you're using and what they mean before you use them.

I wish I could literally smack people who use this word incorrectly.
And I mean that in the most literal sense.

20-Minute Meal: Fettuccine Alfredo


Last week, I made Pioneer Woman's chicken pot pie. 
{Here I would insert the picture I took then accidentally deleted.}

The pot pie was delicious, as most of her recipes are, but it called for 1 cup of heavy cream, and the grocery store was out of the small cartons, so I was forced to buy the large, 1-quart carton.

After making the pot pie, I ended up with a mostly full carton of cream. Luckily, I already had the perfect recipe to use up the extra. If you happen to find yourself in a similar heavy cream situation, this is the recipe for you.

It's easy, takes less than 20 minutes, and only requires six ingredients (seven if you include the pasta).

Makes approximately 4-6 servings (depending on how hungry you are and how much meat/veggies you add.)

To make the sauce, you will need:

  • 2 c. heavy cream 
  • 1 1/2 c. parmesan cheese 
  • 3 T butter
  • 1/2 t. pepper
  • 3 cloves pressed garlic
  • 2 t. basil

I always add cooked broccoli and chicken. I'm sure you could add almost any meat or vegetable to this and it would be delicious.


Cook the pasta. (You can use any type of noodles you have on hand; it doesn't have to be fettuccine.) 
*You want to time it so that the pasta is finished as close to your sauce as possible*

While the pasta is cooking, make the sauce. 

Step 1: Melt butter in a medium saucepan. Add pressed garlic and saute for 1-2 minutes just until the butter starts to boil.

Step 2: Add cream, pepper, basil, and cheese. Stir to combine.
Step 3: Simmer on low heat until smooth, stirring occasionally. 

Note: Don't worry if your cheese initially clumps together and seems like it will never become smooth. Just keep stirring, slightly increasing the heat if necessary just until the mixture begins to boil. 

The only way you can ruin this is to not stir it and allow the cheese to sit on the bottom of the pan and burn. 

Step 4: Pour sauce immediately over hot pasta and serve. Add chicken, broccoli, or other variations if desired. 

Note: If the sauce seems too watery once you've poured it over the pasta, just let it cool for a few minutes. It will thicken up.

And that's it! The perfect use for leftover heavy cream...or the perfect excuse to buy some in the first place. 

Polishing Your Prose, Part Two--3 Steps to Creating Memorable Characters


[To read Part One of this series and find out how to remove the flab in your writing, go HERE.]

A common issue affecting writers (of fiction and nonfiction, in case you wrongly believe that nonfiction doesn't need to read like fiction) is the inability to create strong, memorable characters with distinct character traits. Readers are not going to care about a story if they don't care about the people in the story.

I can't tell you how many times I've been editing a novel where I get to the end and realize I don't care one bit about what happens. The plot might be unique and suspenseful, but the lack of impressionable characters ultimately does me in. Whether they live or die makes no difference, and I find myself siding with the antagonist, hoping he or she will kill off the characters I know I should like but honestly just want to die so they will stop annoying me with their lameness. This is a problem, obviously.

Editor and author Sol Stein says this about character description in his book Stein on Writing:

“We need to know the people in the car before we see the car crash. The events of a story do not affect our emotions in an important way unless we know the characters.” 

Following are 3 steps to creating a character worth remembering (and caring about after the car crash).

[For the sake of reading ease and because I don't want to continue using two pronouns, I will use a fictitious character named Kyle.]

B&W Wednesday--Martini, Anyone?


It could be argued that Valentine's Day is largely an unimportant, made-up holiday. Jordan absolutely refuses to go out to eat on Valentine's Day, due to the crowds. So we went out on Monday to a fancy restaurant, where they give you tiny portions of delicious, albeit expensive, food.

And then--cuz we're fancy--Jordan ordered a martini.

When I tried to take a picture of him drinking it, he spilled some on the table. I don't know what happened. But I'm sophisticated and awesome, so I didn't spill any.

[I don't know why it's white. Is that normal? I'm guessing it's the type of martini we got.]

Valentine's Day (yesterday) was also our 9-month wedding anniversary, which I feel like makes us officially legit for some reason I'm not sure of.

Then we had what I will admit is too much ridiculous fun with the self-timer.

So that was our 2012 Valentine's and 9-month wedding anniversary festivities in a nutshell.

Black and White Wednesday

Trending in My Life Right Now


One of the items for this week's scavenger hunt is "trending." While I figure out how to take a picture of an ambiguous subject, you can read a list of 7 things trending in my life right now.

1. Snow! 
Yes, it snowed in Oklahoma last night. Maybe the stupid groundhog was right about this whole winter thing. It took me twice as long to drive to work today, because salt trucks and snow plows do not exist here. I drove 6 miles to work on an ice rink of a main road and almost slid into oncoming traffic twice.

2. Valentine's Day
Jordan doesn't believe in Valentine's Day. Yeah, he's one of those. But I'm a girl and get to decide things like what we do or don't do for Valentine's Day. So tonight we're going out to eat, and tomorrow we'll exchange cards. No presents this year, and I'm perfectly okay with that.

3. Brain Age
I'm sort of obsessed with this game Jordan has on his Nintendo DS. I feel super old school playing it, because it's probably from the 90s and plays lame techno music. But it's an awesome game that gives you brain teasers and puzzles to solve and then tells you how old your brain is. The lowest age is 20; I don't know what the oldest is. 

It can change daily based on the type of game you play and time of day. Saturday night my brain age was 25, which is how old I am, so yahoo! Yesterday I was at 27, which wouldn't have been so bad except that Jordan hit the elusive 20, and he seriously would not stop talking about how smart he is. 

But then, while he was pumping his self-important fist in the air, he stabbed himself in the eye with the tiny pencil you use to play the game. I didn't think he was so smart after that.

4. Pies
On Saturday, I attempted to make a chocolate pudding pie. 

Utter failure is too kind a phrase to describe what resulted. The pie did not become pudding; it became chocolate water. And I had to throw the entire thing out. 
I had made the pie for Jordan's sister's birthday, so not only did I fail at pie making, but I was forced to make that failure evident to his entire family so I could explain why we weren't able to come over and bring pie for everyone.

But last night I made a chicken pot pie from scratch, and it was delicious. So that sort of made up for the other pie, even though I didn't share with Jordan's family, so they no doubt still think I fail at making pie.

5. Downton Abbey. 
If you haven't seen this show, you should. I had heard people at work talking about it, but I dismissed it as being another one of those shows that everyone likes but I don't for a reason I can't explain (The Big Bang Theory and How I Met Your Mother, to name a few). But Downton Abbey is so good, and season one is streaming on Netflix. So you have no excuse not to watch it immediately.

6. No cable.
After six months of full cable channels, including the sports pack and DVR, we now have nothing. No ESPN, no Bravo (and three episodes from the end of the current Top Chef season, I might add). But it's not as terrible as I thought. It's oddly freeing, actually. 

I'm here to tell you that if you feel strapped to your cable like a skydiver to his parachute, there is hope. I've been, to quote the infamous Bilbo Baggins, there and back again. And life is just fine.

7. Last but not least is my recent sprint to get back on the running wagon. 
The wagon left me behind a few weeks ago. I jumped off at first because I was lazy. But then I got sick. So this week I set a goal to run every single day. It's my over-the-top attempt to rejoin the exercise wagon and prepare for the upcoming 10k (at the end of February) and half marathon (at the end of April). 

I ran Saturday and Sunday, which means I only have to run for the next five days in order to meet my goal. After that, I'll hopefully be back on the wagon and ready to resume my normal schedule of running at least three times a week.

Short Story Challenge


This isn't so much a short story as it is the beginning of what could be a short story. But either way, I found this blog link up today and decided to try it. I chose a first-sentence prompt from a list and went from there. It just had to be 500 words or more.

This is 909. Let me know if you think I should keep going or never write again. Not that I'll listen to you, especially if you tell me never to write again.

P.S. This currently does not have a title.

P.P.S. I may or may not have written this while at work. Don't judge. Or tell.

* * *
She ducked as the plate smashed against the wall behind her.

“Seriously?” she shouted. 

Another loud crash sounded to her left, and a cheer went up. Jessica rolled her eyes. She loved her brother, but this was too much. It was one thing to force down Greek food and pretend not to be upset that her younger brother was getting married before she was—and to a girl he met on a study abroad semester in Greece his junior year of college, as if that happened in real life. She’d finally accepted the fact that she was thirty-one and single; most importantly, however, her parents had seemed to accept it in their own way, so that was a blessing.

But it was a whole other thing to have to dance around in circles with people she didn’t know while clapping her hands and avoiding the shards of glass coming from the plates these insane, dark-haired people were breaking all over the floor. For the hundredth time that night, she wondered when the torture was going to end.

While she eyed the exit sign and contemplated whether or not she could escape to the bathroom for the next few hours without being noticed, Daniel appeared and poked her in the shoulder. “Havin’ fun, sis?”

“WHAT?” she shouted. It was impossible to hear anything beyond the sound of glass shattering.

He cupped his hands around his mouth and leaned closer, and she caught a whiff of a cologne and sweat mixture. “HAVING FUN?”
She hesitated. What she wanted to say was, “Not really. This is ridiculous. I just want to eat my slice of wedding cake and go home.”

But she thought better of it--it was her brother's wedding day after all--and merely nodded. “Sure. I mean, yeah. But hey, do you have any idea when this will be ov—"

Just then, Alicia twirled over, her straight, white teeth a perfect match with her clean, strapless, white wedding gown. She hugged Jessica and laughed. “Isn’t this just wonderful?” Alicia looked over at Daniel and squeezed his arm then hugged Jessica again and gave her a conspirator’s wink. “Aren’t I marrying the best guy in the whole world?”

Jessica didn’t have a chance to respond before Alicia spun Daniel into the nearest circle of clapping guests. Standing on her tiptoes, Jessica scanned the large room for her parents, the only other people she knew beside her brother and his new wife.

Once again she considered the events that had led to her spending her first week of summer—the time she usually spent relaxing from her long, hard year of teaching eight-grade algebra—at yet another wedding.

Jessica and Daniel were eight years apart, so one would think there was enough space between children for Daniel to take on qualities found in an oldest child. It didn’t take long, however, for Jessica to realize that she was always going to be the more responsible one. She brought home dean’s list awards and straight-A report cards, and he spent his high school years in the principal’s office for lighting smoke bombs on the school bus and setting fire to the football field.

Jessica’s parents would never admit it, but she knew they were only too happy, albeit confused, when Daniel asked them to spot him the one-hundred-dollar admission fee to apply to a conservative private school not far from their home in the suburbs of Chicago. Jessica couldn’t believe it when he not only attended the school but produced a B- average in his freshman year. Her parents celebrated, and she worried he was on some type of weird reverse drug.

He spent the next few years maintaining the same average, while Jessica came home to her empty apartment filled with math textbooks and old quizzes, dreaming of becoming the head of the math department at Naperville Middle School. 

Daniel asked to spend his junior spring semester studying abroad in Italy, and the Brices had agreed. “He’s earned it,” her father said. As if being the valedictorian shouldn’t have earned her a few months in Europe, she'd thought.

When he left, he had promised to keep in touch. Instead, he spent the first two weeks overseas with no contact, during which Jessica’s mother had frantically called the Italian embassy every day for a week, asking them to check hospitals for a twenty-one-year-old college student with wavy brown hair, freckles, and a noticeable scar running from his left earlobe to his collarbone—the result of a ninth-grade gym class prank gone wrong.

When he finally called, it was to announce that he was in love. 

Jessica had rolled her eyes and said, “Yeah right.” If she hadn’t been able to find the man of her dreams in twenty-nine years, there was no way her little brother had been able to find the woman of his in two weeks.

That was a year and a half ago.

Since then, two birthdays had passed--including the big three zero--and she had once again been passed up for the promotion she knew she deserved. “Nothing is fair,” she muttered under her breath, trying not the glare at the happy couple dancing in the middle of a circle of identical Greeks. At least they’d stopped smashing plates on the ground like a bunch of monkeys at the zoo.

Jessica sighed. It wasn’t that she didn’t want her brother to be happy; she just wanted to know how long she was going to have to wait for her turn—or if her turn would ever come at all.


Livin' on Saltines and Sprite (and a Prayer)


I have, in the past two days, eaten the following: 

(1) sleeve of saltines
(1) blueberry muffin
(2) bananas

And my stomach has shrunk to the size of a small potato. 

Why? Because I was unceremoniously attacked on Monday night by one of those 24-hour stomach viruses. I spent the whole of Tuesday lying on the couch, waiting for the next bathroom run and praying for the strength to survive. I was certain Wednesday would never come. It was the worst day of my life to my recollection, and I'm now convinced that there's nothing worse than hourly vomiting. How could there be? Seriously. I've never been pregnant, and after Tuesday I never plan to be. Who wants to sign up for morning sickness for weeks? I ain't no sucker.

I called my mom to ask if she could ever remember me being so sick. She said no. When it comes to throwing up, I'm more of a one-and-done kind of girl. This was something else entirely.

Let's just say you know you've struck a new low when your husband of eight months is carrying plastic bags full of last night's Chick-fil-A to the Dumpster. Was that too much information?

I'm happy to say that I'm in a better place now. A place that involves being outside of my apartment, which has been thoroughly wiped down with Lysol and Fantastic. My main reason for sharing so much personal information with the internet stalkers is so you can commiserate with me and also so I can remember this terrible time later when I'm complaining about a headache. I need to learn my lesson from this. A headache is candy compared to what I just went through. So I arrive at life's golden lesson: gratefulness.

And even though I'm feeling closer to normal with each moment I travel further away from Tuesday, I am still afraid to eat anything besides saltines and bananas. This is the worst way to diet ever. Not that I'm dieting. Or want to diet. But it seems to have been forced upon me, because I can't look at food the same way again. 

Just thought you should know.

Book Review--11/22/63 by Stephen King


I have never been what you'd call a crying man... I wish I had been emotionally blocked, after all... Because everything that followed--every terrible thing--flowed from those tears.

These are three sentences from the opening chapter of Stephen King's latest novel, 11/22/63. I don't remember the last time I read a book that so completely enthralled me from the very first sentence. I continued to be enthralled for all 842 pages (plus the 7-page afterword).

The first time I saw the title of this book, I didn't know what I was looking at. Was it an article? Was it a headline? I finally realized it was the title of a book when I heard a friend of mine was reading it. She told me it was nothing like what you would imagine of a Stephen King novel. For me, a SK novel involved horror. I don't do horror, so up until a week ago I'd steered clear of the bestselling novelist. But my friend said I would like this one, and she has a good sense of my taste, so I figured I'd put it on reserve at the library and see what everyone was talking about.

The person who had the only copy checked out just happened to return it 10 minutes after I walked into the library, so I got to take it home that night on a 7-day loan. (Although after reading 11/22/63, I'm inclined to wonder if there are any true coincidences.)

The last time I checked out a book on a 7-day loan was last year when I read Unbroken (my favorite book of 2011). I remembered it being a fast and furious week of reading and wondered how SK would fare in comparison.

I needn't have worried.