April 21, 2012

S is for Speed Read Test

You'd think I'd read more books at this rate... and yes, I did get all three of the comprehension questions right. However, I should include a disclaimer: it was mostly dialogue.

So, how fast do you read? Take the test below and feel free to post your scores in the comments!

April 19, 2012

Q is for Quilting

A friend introduced me to this quilting book and I knew immediately that I wanted to make one for myself despite having no quilting experience whatsoever. Heck, I’ve even made it a point to avoid going into the quilting section of Jo-Anns because I thought printed broadcloth and calicos were the Crayola of clothing fabrics.

Brain:  I sew evening dresses, for crying out loud. How hard can a quilt be? Every single seam is a straight line! I’ll have this thing cut and sewn in twelve hours.

I bought the fabric from a quilt shop in Mooresville, NC. This is when I learned that quilt fabric is anything but cheap. There are designers who make the patterns that go on quilt fabric and they have names as recognizable amongst quilters as John Grisham is to the book industry.

Me: Yay! I have my fabric now I can start cutting this tonight!
Friend: Do you have a rotary cutter and mat?

Lesson #2:  A 60 mm Olfa-brand (pizza cutter) is 45 dollars. Add in the self-healing mat and the special yellow grid ruler and kiss 100 dollars good-bye.

I think I cut out all the triangles to do the hexagons in a night and had them sewn together in another day. I arranged the hexagons by color and then I went to sew the strips together.

Lesson #3: Bias is the natural stretch in a fabric that makes curved seams fit together nicely. In a quilt, it is your enemy.

I finished the top with several lumps and not so perfectly straight seams. I moved to Florida and did nothing on it for a year since I had no idea what to do next. Luckily, I found out that the local library is a meeting place for a group of quilters and I was able to talk to someone there who told me how to finish my quilt.

I ended up taking the top and bottom fabrics to a store and paid them to have it machine quilted (those loopy designs all over the top). I was so worried it would be too lumpy and there would be all these ugly puckers in the backside. However, the woman at the store said it looked fine.

Lesson #4. Bias is your friend. It’s that little bit of give that let’s the fabric lie flat while it’s being quilted.

My quilt was a bit noisy when the machine was working on it but the woman at the shop said she didn’t have to sit there and babysit it. Her recommendation was that next time I can take a hammer and pound all the lumps flat.

So medieval… I love it.

It ended up  being 22 months since I started, but at least it's finally done.

April 17, 2012

O is for Out of Print

This is a book I read years ago when I was in elementary school. It is out of print, and has been for a long time.

What amazes me most is that I don't remember it being a spectacular book, yet whenever it pops up on Ebay or Amazon, the going rate is between $200 and $300 dollars.

Below are some other books from my old OOP list:

Back in Print!
I still can't believe I spent $100 for my copy of this only to have them reprint it 6 months later... for $2.99

There is one book I would undoubtedly spend $200 dollars on if it ever went out of print and I somehow lost my copies (I own three. 2 HC and 1 PB) That book is:

My all time favorite book. :)

Anyone else out there have a book they'd value at $200 or what's some other titles that should be reprinted?

April 14, 2012

M is for Mermaids

I’m certain I can’t be the only person who has noticed the Mermaid/Siren trend. (And while you're scrolling, feel free to note how they all share the same blue/green color in their color scheme.)

For the record, I have not read any of these yet, but I think I'm safe to say that Helene Boudreau's title is very misleading when she says "Real Mermaids don't wear toe rings."

I think it should say "Real mermaids don't have hair."

One of the characteristics common to all mammals is the presence of hair, yet most (if not all) aquatic/marine life shares the trait of the absence of hair. (Some whales do have little patches, but it's nothing like these mermaid's luscious flowing tresses that never seem to tangle. And lets leave polar bears out of the discussion.)

Hair should be a huge disadvantage in the ocean. I mean, have you ever seen a fishing lure?
Mermaids who have hair are just asking for some predator to come along and mistake it for a slippery seal or a juicy morsel.  
There are even strict rules about shaving for competitive swimmers. Anyone else see this article?

Maybe mermaids wouldn't be extinct if they invested in some swimming caps?

April 11, 2012

K and L are for Kiwi Loco

Kiwi Loco is a Self-Serve Frozen Yogurt retail store similar to Pink Berry, Red Mango, Yogurt Land, and Menchies.

The difference is, Kiwi Loco is family owned and operated. My husband's parents own half the license agreement and some of his siblings own stores throughout Southern Idaho. Soon, I'll be opening a Kiwi Loco with my husband here in Florida. Our Grand Opening should be on May 4th if all goes well.

I'm certainly feeling the crunch of stress, and will likely have to drop out of the A-Z Challenge since there's been too many surprises (See post for "I"), which have been eating up my normal blogging time.

Kiwi Loco, Idaho Falls, ID
 Here's a little blurb about our self-serve yogurt stores in case you haven't been to one. The key marketing strategy is: the customer is in complete control. 

1. Mix it.  Kiwi Loco rotates through over a hundred different flavors --12 at a time. It's just like those soft-serve cones you see at buffets. Except our machines are the Cadillac of ice cream dispensers.
Kiwi Loco has over 70 toppings ranging from candy to fresh fruit and there's no limit to what you can put on it, or how much you can put on. (Though do try to keep it in the cup. When it spills on the floor, that's product loss.) 

2. Weigh it. Using a state certified food scale (and yes, tare is already calculated for the weight of the cup) the creation is weighed. Prices usually range from 39 cents to 44 cents an ounce. (Average cup is 3-5 dollars.)
3. Eat it. (duh...) 

Putting my amateur graphic design skills from fashion design school to good use--but not in the way I imagined.

My dream was to become a career novelist, and my husband has always supported my writing. Now it's my turn to help him achieve his dream.

If you love frozen yogurt and have done the self-serve experience before, leave a comment with your favorite flavor and topping combination.

J is for Japanese

I have studied Japanese for  four years. Unfortunately, since I didn't ever make practical use of it, my translation skills are pretty poor. 

The following excerpts are from www.soyouwantolearnjapanese.com and is a funny commentary on why Japanese is so difficult: 

I don't care how many anime tapes you've watched, how many Japanese girlfriends you've had or books you've read, You Don't Know Japanese. Not only that, majoring in the god-forsaken language is NOT fun or even remotely sensible. Iraqi war prisoners are often forced to major in Japanese. The term "Holocaust" comes from the Latin roots "Holi" and "Causm", meaning "to major in Japanese". You get the idea. And so, sick of seeing so many lambs run eagerly to the slaughter, I have created This Guide to REAL TIPS for Studying Japanese.

Or, as is actually the case, NOT studying it.

The Japanese Writing System

The Japanese writing system is broken down into three separate, autonomous, insane parts: Hiragana ("those squiggily letters"), Katakana ("those boxy letters") and Kanji ("roughly 4 million embodiments of your worst nightmares").

Hiragana is used to spell out Japanese words using syllables. It consists of many letters, all of which look completely different and bear absolutely no resemblance to each other whatsoever. Hiragana were devloped by a group blind, deaf, and dumb Japanese people who scribbled things on pieces of paper while having no idea why they were doing so. The resulting designs were then called "hiaragana", and were used to predict the future. The prince who invented these characters, Yorimushi("stinking monkey-bush-donkey") was promptly bludgeoned to death. But don't worry, because as your teachers will tell you, you'll hardly use Hiragana in "real life".

Katakana are used only to spell out foreign words in a thick, crippling japanese accent, so that you'll have no idea what you're saying even though it's in English. However, if you remember one simple rule for Katakana, you'll find reading Japanese much easier: Whenever something is written in Katakana, it's an English word! (note: Katakana is also used for non-english foreign words. And sound effects, and Japanese words). Katakana all look exactly the same, and it's impossible, even for Japanese people, to tell them apart. They kind of look like the number 9, except straighter. No need to worry though, because you'll hardly ever have to read Katakana in "real life". 
Katakana vs Hirigana

Kanji are letters that were stolen from China. Every time the Japanese invaded China (which was very often) they'd just take a few more letters, so now they have an estimated 400 gazillion of them. Kanji each consist of several "strokes", which must be written in a specific order or Japanese people will laugh at you. Each character conveys a specific meaning, like "horse" (note that the character for horse could also mean "car". Or "police officer". Or "Didacticism"). 

Kanji can also be combined to form new words. For example, if you combine the Kanji for "small", and "woman", you get the word "carbeurator". Kanji also have different pronounciations depending on where they are in the word, how old you are, and what day it is. When European settlers first came upon Japan, Japanese scholars suggested that Europe adopt the Japanese written language as a "universal" language understood by all parties. This was the cause of World War 2 several years later. Don't worry, however, since you'll never have to use kanji in "real life", since most Japanese gave up on reading a long, long time ago, and now spend most of their time playing Pokemon. 

A handful of the 2500 commonly used Kanji

 Do you know a second or foreign language (or several?) where did you learn it and how often do you get to use it?

April 10, 2012

I is for "I'm going to scream I'm so Infuriated."

I actually had a different topic planned for today, but because of an emergency circumstance yesterday, I'm changing it.

The back story is that my husband an I are opening a self-serve frozen yogurt and custard store. (I'm saving the details on this for the K-L days.)

I spoke with our contractor and the guy we ordered our restaurant equipment through and I thought we agreed he would ship the large refrigerators on the 9th so that they would arrive sometime after Wednesday.

Well... they arrived yesterday.

I absolutely was not expecting to have 2000 lbs worth of stuff to move in and they charge by the weight and there's an expensive re-delivery fee if they store the stuff a few more days. Plus we're the driver's last stop and he's just itching to get rid of these things and go home.

So I'm all by my 110-lb lonesome self and I have to suddenly get these fridges through the front door.

I call my husband and my friend and ask to borrow her husband. (Caroline, I am so watching your kids for a night and paying to send you to dinner with Carl!) My contractor is the best guy ever and even though it's his evening off, he comes back in to help at 6:00 when my husband and my friend's husband get off work.

By the way, here's the dimensions of these fridges:

Height: 79 1/8"
Width: 29 1/2"
Length:  78 1/8"
Weight: 615 lbs

The front door is 84 x 36. (Actual measurements 83 1/2 x 34) Too bad the castors for the fridges are  five inches tall.

I had to buy PVC pipe and cut it into 3 foot lengths. The guys then rolled the fridges off the pallets, through the front door, and we used my car jack to lift them high enough to put the wheels on.

That's when we get it to the next doorway (he one leading into the kitchen) and I realize that while I insisted the doorway be cut 7' like the front door--it's also still too short to wheel the fridges through. (BTW we have not one, but TWO of these fridges.)

So... since we're still in the dry wall stage, I think our contractor is going to just cut the header and make the door taller. Much less stress for everyone--except the dry wall guy.

April 9, 2012

H is for Hair Types

I have very fine, straight hair. It's so thin that when I stick my hair in a ponytail, the diameter measures just under a half inch. I always fool the ladies at Regis and Tony and Guy--they think I don't have a lot of hair and then they start cutting it and it takes them twice as long as they expected.

However, as much as I love my hair, I secretly wish I had curly hair. My mom caved into my begging and let me perm my hair in kindergarten. I loved it, but my hair was fried and within three months my hairbrush resembled a long-haired guinea pig. I've permed it twice after that and sadly the curls went flat, both within < one month>.  The same thing happens when I dye it.

In novels, it seems like there aren't many curly haired protagonists--and that makes me sad because I feel it's an under-represented, hair type that deserves to be glamorized more.

So here's some quick tidbits about various hair types for women--and beard styles for guys--because most guys don't grow their hair out long enough to notice these sort of patterns.

Also, did you knot that each type is further classified by the letters A, B, and C? They define the thickness and tightness of the hair strand. Finer hair with a looser curl is A, B is in the middle, and C is thicker with a smaller curl pattern.

Straight hair is classified as type 1.
It's hard to damage and next to impossible to curl. Tends to be the most oily type of all.

Wavy  hair is classified as type 2. This hair type forms waves and has loose tresses.

Type 3 hair is curly. Has a definite S shape. This hair type is full bodied, and may become frizzy depending on the climate.

Why, Taylor, why? :_;
Type 4 is Kinky hair. This tightly coiled hair appears wiry, but is actually fine and very delicate. Each strand usually has a zig zag pattern. It appears to grow slower than the other hair types because it breaks so much easier.

April 7, 2012

G is for Gaussian Curves

Suppose a researcher selects a random sample of 100 men, measures their height, and constructs a histogram for the data.

Now if the sample size increases to a 1000 men, the histogram changes slightly—it becomes more balanced.

If the same size increases to 100,000 it levels even more. 

If it were possible to measure the heights of all adult males in the world, the histogram would create something called the bell curve, or the Gaussian distribution.

This distribution is helpful for figuring out average weight and height distributions, intelligence scores, SAT scores, prices paid for new cars, the life span of light bulbs, the probability of flipping a fair coin—yet somehow it does not apply to Book Reviews. I think it should.

For a Gaussian curve, there is a rule for Standard Deviation. 

  1. Approximately 68% of all the data items fall within one standard deviation within the mean (average) in both directions.
  2. Approximately 95% of the data items fall within 2 standard deviations of the mean.
  3. Approximately 99.7% of the data items fall within 3 standard deviations of the mean.

Applying the GoodReads rating system, this is fair:

1-     didn’t like it
2-     it was okay
3-     liked it
4-     really liked it
5-     it was amazing

If book reviews followed the Gaussian curve, 68% of the books people read should be “liked it” they should be the average, the norm. Between the 95 and 68 marks, there’s 27%.  One out of four books should either be really liked it, or it was okay.  What’s left after 95%?  5 percent split between didn’t like it and it was amazing, so 2.5% of books for 1 stars, and 2.5 for 5 stars.

These are the books you would loan a friend your copy just to make sure they read it. These books are so amazing you’d give them away as gifts. A book this amazing you went out and bought at B&N full price after checking it out at the library.

One star books-These are books that you when you get to the ending you expect to see a printed page with a website leading you to an apology from the author. These are the books you pick up when you want to die a long slow horrible death.

“But all the books I read are amazing,” you say. And for someone reason, everyone seems to either really love a book, or they hate it. We end up with a skewed curve that looks something like this:

Sorry, but all books can't be 5 or 4 stars. This is the problem Harvard has with it’s applicants. They’re all really smart and talented, but only X number of students can attend. What do they have to do then? Raise the bar, scrutinize even more. Think back and ask yourself, was that book really *that* awesome, or was it just really good? Maybe you really just liked it, but you didn’t want to hurt someone’s feelings and so you gave it a higher ranking that you really meant.

Luckily though,the whole Gaussian curve system ends up working out any way even if no one corrects their habit of only leave 1,4,and 5 star reviews. Because once all of the "Amazing" and "Didn't Like It" ratings are averaged, the rating drops to the standard 3-point-something star review--and the Gaussian Curve triumphs again.

April 5, 2012

F is for French Fry

A lot of people in my local area know my husband is from Idaho and so when they later learn of my love of potatoes and french fries, they seem to think I am too. (Nope, born and raised in California.)
Everyone has their own idea of what makes the perfect fry, but this is my critera:
Photo from: The Burger Lab

Perfect Fry Factor #1: The exterior must be crispy, but not tough.
Perfect Fry Factor #2: The interior must be fluffy, and have a potato flavor.
Perfect Fry Factor #3: The fry must be an even, light golden blond color
Perfect Fry Factor #4: The fry must stay crisp and tasty for at least as long as it takes me to eat the carton’s worth. 

McDonald’s fries are my favorite, and this is how I make sure I get a good fry experience every time:
Photo from: The Burger Lab

1. Cars seem to come through the drive through in sets of three. When I worked at McDonalds I was trained to drop a basket whenever I had 3 cars in the drive thru queue. The first car usually gets whatever is under the heat lamp unless they take a really long time to order. The second car gets the hot fries. The third car gets hot fries, but a smaller proportion if there isn’t a fourth car behind them. (One basket feeds about 2 cars worth, but if the second car ordered a large, then there's a little bit less for the third car. <<You'll still get your 4 oz, but the typical employee will fill it more like 5-6.)

2. Sample a fry at the counter to make sure it’s hot. As the customer you are entitled to fresh, hot fries. If they’re not, request new ones. 

3. McDonalds fries have a VERY short lifespan of 6 minutes. There is a quality control timer for each fryer. Once the timer hits Q1 it’s *policy* to throw the fries out. (Employers don’t like to do this because it’s wasteful, but that’s not the customer’s problem. And if the employee rolls their eyes, ignore them. It’s not like McDonalds pays their employees in leftover French fries.) I always try to visually check the timers before ordering. If the timer looks low I'll stall and pretend like I don't know what I want to order until they drop a new basket. 

4.If all else fails, you can request unsalted fries. It takes 3 minutes to cook a batch, and the employees will probably give you the stink eye, but those fries will be guaranteed HOT. And let’s be honest, you don’t need all that sodium because you’re just going to slather them in ketchup.
My husband's favorite fries were Wendy's before they switched to natural cut with sea salt. (Is it me, or is natural cut a cheap way to cut costs by leaving the skin on?) He likes the extra potato in the center and prefers steak fries over shoe string fries. 

So what's your favorite fry, and why?

E is for A Void

A Void is a 300-page French novel (titled La Disparition in French) that never once employs the letter "E"

I really admire the translator who put this into English. I tried this in English class once, just 100 words, and it was HARD. That's why my A-Z post today is a tribute to the most used letter in the English alphabet.

Below is the first few opening paragraphs from A Void:


Which at first calls to mind a probably familiar story of a drunk man waking up  with his brain in a whirl

Incurably insomniac, Anton Vowl turns on a light. According to his watch it’s only 12.20. With a loud and languorous sigh Vowl sits up, stuffs a pillow at his back, draws his quilt up around his chin, picks up his whodunit and idly scans a paragraph or  two; but, judging by its plot impossibly difficult to follow in his condition, its vocabulary too whimsically multisyllabic for comfort, throws it away in disgust.
            Padding into his bathroom, Vowl dabs at his brow and throat with a damp cloth.
            It’s a soft, warm night and his blood is racing through his body. And indistinct murmur wafts up to his third-floor flat Far off, a church clock starts chiming – a chiming as mournful as a last post, as an air-raid alarm, as and SOS signal from a sinking ship. And in his own vicinity, a faint lapping sound informs him that a small craft is at that instant navigating a narrow canal.

For more fun with writing challenges, try Googling “Oulipo.”

April 4, 2012

D is for Damsel in Distress

Today’s A-Z post coincides with my Insecure Writer’s Support Group post.

No one wants their female protagonist to be the girl who’s always tied to the rail road tracks, or Princess Peach—whose only role is to be kidnapped by Bowser and rescued by Mario. This leads to an unspoken rule that women in fiction need to be strong and super-empowered or else they’re anti-feminist. 

I’m insecure when it comes to writing strong female protagonists because I enjoy a story about a hero saving the damsel in distress just as much as the girl saving herself.
I really like Megara from "Hercules" because she 's independent, but I also love Sleeping Beauty who is a doormat character who gets her HEA by sleeping and letting Prince Phillip do all the hard work in killing dragon and waking her up with his kiss. 

Below is a list I've made of things that are often paired with a strong female protagonist, but which do not actually constitute a SFP:

*Attraction to Bad Boys—this  just means they had poor male role models growing up and have no respect for themselves. A SFP should have self-esteem whether or not she's strapped to a Rube Goldberg death contraption.

*Combat Boots— unless paired with a uniform and rank, this is a fashion statement and does not indicate anything about one’s military success or prowess.

*Cussing—I’ve seen elementary kids with appalling language, so a female character who swears isn’t much of a shocker.

*Drinking/Smoking—last I checked most of these habits were detrimental to health and should lead to a weaker character, not a stronger one.

*Leather—Leather is a type of fabric. It tells me more about a person’s income than their personality.

*Motorcycles—My Honda 250 cc gets 80 mpg. When I ride it, it’s because I’m being more frugal,  not stronger.

*Promiscuity—For both men and women, the number of people they sleep with doesn’t make them stronger in my opinion, it just means they’re more likely to get and STD.

*Tattoos—getting a tattoo or body piercing doesn’t make someone stronger, especially if the tattoo is of kittens or puppies.

April 3, 2012

C is for Costco Chocolate Rabbits

Today's post is something my mom sent me as part of my Easter "care package."

Costco Wholesale
April 3, 2012
 To Customer Service:

I have a complaint about the Belfine chocolate bunnies I bought at Costco.

The product was advertised as two chocolate Easter rabbits, dark and milk, in a cage.

(BEFORE photograph)
I packed the cage well and shipped it to my daughter in Florida. When she received the package, she reports there were at least twelve more small chocolate rabbits in the cage, and the floor of the cage was littered with small chocolate pellets that smelled like…chocolate, but who could be sure?

(AFTER photograph)

Just wanted to let you know. Please DO NOT send me a replacement product. We have plenty of bunnies.


Mrs. Sharan Joyce

**And another one for my brother, who graduated from UC Berkeley**

April 2, 2012

B is for Better Off Ted

If I’d wanted to do a theme for the A-Z challenge, it easily could have been “TV shows I made a habit of watching live and that ended after two seasons or less.”

To name a few:

Better Off Ted
The Zeta Project

Better Off Ted aired for two seasons then was canceled in May of 2010. Unlike everything else on my list, this was actually really funny and I think anyone who likes the Office could easily fall in love with it. In case you’re wondering what you missed, here’s a three minute trailer and a 1 minute trailer below it if you've got a shorter attention span. : ) 

Three minute trailer.

 One minute trailer.

I’m almost afraid to admit I like Big Bang Theory, because then some TV executive somewhere is going to replace it for another staged “reality” TV show or more reruns of 90’s TV programming.
If you’ve had a show cancelled on you, let me know what it is and why you miss it!

April 1, 2012

A is for Anime

You know, huge eyes, hair that looks like the character was hit by lightning, and flagrant nudity. 
Anime has become increasingly popular in Western culture ever since the 1960’s with Speed Racer and Robotech in the 1980’s. In the 1990’s Sailor Moon brought a wave of females into anime fandom.

Dragon Ball Z, Pokemon, Naruto. There’s no end to the monster-of-the week shows.
Then there’s Death Note, Bleach, and Vampire Knight for an older age group.

In this blog post I'm hoping to provide some insight as to why American and Japanese cartoons can be so stylistically different when both generally evolved from the same medium (comics).
Big Eyes: Originally invented by Dr. Osamu Tezuka in Astroboy.  (Dr. Osamu Tezuk is the “Walt Disney” of Japanese animation.)  

 Spiky hair: Evolved from sharp lines used in Japanese animation verses Western animators who tend to draw with smooth and curved lines. (Don't have a source for this, but I believe it has to do with the fact that Kanji and many Japanese characters are drawn with sharp, straight lines.)

European Japanese: During the Meiji period (1868-1912) Japan ended two centuries of isolation from the rest of the world by discarding many of its traditional ways. Anything modern was automatically “in” and anything Western was definitely modern. (This is where you get blonde Japanese characters.)

It's not soft porn, it's "fanservice"

Nudity:  The Japanese don’t regard animation as a “children only” playground and so there's a lot more bare breasts and panty shots in anime than the normal American cartoon. This is also due to a cultural difference stemming from the beginning of the world. (Literally.)

In Western culture there was Adam and Eve. In Genesis they sew fig leaves together to cover their nakedness because God saw it as a sin.

In the Shinto creation story there was Isanagi and Izanami, who gave birth to the Sun Goddess, Amaterasu and her brother Susanoo. After being offended by Susanoo’s rude behavior, Amaterasu shut herself in a cave, depriving the world of light. Fortunately, the goddess Uzume put on a strip tease outside the cave which caused the other gods to create a raucous. Curious to see what was going on, Amaterasu peeked out of the cave, which was just enough to let the sun back out to the world.

One culture starts civilization by covering the genitalia; the other restores light and life by displaying them.