Friday, December 31, 2010

MMX

Oh, 2010. This past year has been very good to me, if at times overwhelming. I'll do something rare now and lump myself and my evil conjoined erotica-writing twin Cara McKenna together for this post.

2010 was my first full year as a published full-time writer, and the first year I made any money at it.

I saw my very first published ebook story release in February, to be followed by six more, plus a paperback anthology. I finaled in the Golden Heart. I made seven sales this year, including my first two romance sales to Samhain and Harlequin Blaze, plus I sneaked in three more submissions that are currently on my various editors' desks. I worked with four different publishers and five different editors. I attended three writing conferences, recorded a podcast interview, took part in my first mass book signings, started a second website and this blog, shuffled my priorities as I took on a second genre and author identity, and magnificently rose to the challenge of further putting off the search for an agent. I made several respectable bloggers' best-of-2010 lists and suffered through a few lousy reviews, buoyed by a surfeit of positive ones. I joined Twitter and made a gazillion writing-trench comrades whom I can now never imagine living without.

In January I traveled to England and Scotland for the first time, to visit one of my best friends and also to meet some of my dad's long-lost kin in Yorkshire. I went to Florida for RWA National, New York City and Oregon to visit with my bonus family, Ohio and Minnesota to visit friends, and drove up to Maine several times to see my parents. I went fishing with my dad and caught nothing but weeds. I got my tarot cards read with my mom. They were right.

I fell back in love with running this year, joined the gym when the weather turned grim, watched many good and bad movies including thirty-four starring Jean-Claude Van Damme, read many books, listened to weeks of radio. Collectively I spent nearly two days with Dan Savage in my ears, and even more with The Archers. I saw several excellent exhibits at the Peabody Essex Museum, was treated to a live performance by Preacher Jack, and nearly witnessed the Celtics win it all. I got hooked on new and awful television shows, reclaimed my posture, began learning conversational Italian, and sniffled as some beloved pets met their makers (R.I.P. Moira, Captain, Guy Noir). I rode the ferry, the subway, the train. I received many duck-related articles and news clips from my vigilant antipodean pen pal. I whooped and wept as my friends changed jobs, went back to school, graduated, got engaged, got married, fell in love, fell out of love, got themselves lost, got themselves found.

I watched the herons and egrets arrive in the cove across the street, only to give way to the buffleheads and brants and eiders as the days grew shorter.

I got addicted to Machinarium then Angry Birds then Sudoku, traded early-mid-life-crises with my husband, popped bottles to mark our professional achievements and sniffled over our struggles, made plans to move then amended them. I diagnosed us each with many ailments, often incorrectly.

I ushered bags of tropical fish up and down the slippery back staircases of the New England Aquarium. I dyed my precocious silver roots no less that fifteen times and walked through yet another pair of Chuck Taylors. I acquired an iPad and we are as madly in love today as we were back in August.

I drove far more than I would have preferred, yet fell afoul of no tickets or dings or mishaps. I stripped wallpaper and painted our bathroom. I suffered through another Halloween season in Salem. I spent two separate evenings dressed as a flapper. I bought my first pair of high heels in a decade. I clapped for my NEC-RWA chaptermates and baked an awful lot. I learned to make chili and dinner rolls and perfected a few new mutations of my unbeatable chocolate chunk cookies. I did not burn the house down.

I wrote blurbs and bios and blog posts and tweets, and with shaking fingers composed e-mails to kind readers. I cried over rejections and frustrations and general confusion and hormonal crises. I saw many new birds in person for the first time, including upwards of forty quails. I hiked up mountains and peed in the woods and I went jogging in the territory of cougars and was not mauled. I went sailing as an active participant for the first time and now bear my scar proudly. I drank with friends. I shot skeet. I got laid. I bowled poorly. I got excited for Christmas shopping for the first time in a few years. Not all in one day, mind you.

I reflected on the past year and all I managed to do, despite the fact that I sometimes beat myself up because I feel I don't do enough. I made plans for the new year, with room for adjustments. I wrote this blog post, and I hit "publish".

Thursday, December 30, 2010

Thrusty Thursday: Vincent Regan

Not only is this the final Thrusty Thursday of the year, it's also my 100th post! Oh deary me, however will I pick a worthy honoree?

It was easy, actually. I've had Vincent Regan in my back pocket [sadly not a euphemism] since I started this silly little blog, and now his time has come. As I've always said, 300 is the perfect heterosexual date movie, as it's got slaughter and violence for the bloodlusty males, and ripped, bruised-up fighter dudes for pervy girls like me… Hmmm, I suppose it's actually the perfect date movie for everyone, except perhaps a pair of lesbian pacifists.

Brutal period pieces seem to be Regan's niche, as in addition to 300, Troy and Clash of the Titans are among the Welsh actor's most noteworthy projects. His weary-ass eyes and excellent on-screen wailing are inexpressibly foxy, plus he's often got facial hair, which is a bonus in my book. But let's see about finding a good clip of the man in action for you poor souls who haven't seen 300 yet…

Well, it looks like embedding is disabled for most of the movie's clips on YouTube, so we'll just have to use an old-skool link to this handy compilation of all the Vincent Regan bits from 300! Well done to the industrious pervert who put that together for us all to enjoy. And to make up for a lack of handy clippage, here's another still photo, this one from Troy:

Mercy me! So under-bathed and overtired.

See you all in 2011 for another year of spirited Thursday Thrustin'!

Wednesday, December 29, 2010

A Year of Lents

When I was a kid, I was always secretly jealous of my Catholic friends who, in my mental wording, "got to do" Lent each spring. It seemed so romantic to me, this notion of doing without for a month. So noble and selfless. My consciousness of Lent started in the late eighties as well, which meant I was also being bombarded with media mentions of "dieting". How grown up the women on TV were, always suffering for their diets! Suffering and going without seemed so sophisticated. Clearly Catholicism is genetic, as I was raised agnostic yet inherited all the guilt and self-loathing enjoyed by my foremothers.

Already, I'm going off topic. The point is, I've decided to do an entire year of Lent-like experiments. Every month in 2011, I'm going to either go without a vice or luxury, or else commit to doing a certain positive thing each day. No moral I'm trying to prove, here—there's no point to this exercise aside from challenging myself and giving myself a healthy shove toward the edge of my comfort zone. I've come to realize in past few years just how adaptable humans are, and I want to explore that a bit more, and hopefully surprise myself with my own flexibility and will.

Here's the schedule for what I'm calling my Discipline Year (you may take that in either the punitive or reverent sense, as I expect it'll be both):


1 GYMUARY For January, each and every day I will go to the gym—a twelve-minute walk from my house. Probably not the best month to pick this one since the weather in New England can be Russian roulette, but I've been slacking badly the last few weeks, so the sooner the better. And don't worry, I won't go nuts. I'll switch between cardio and yoga and group classes and swimming so I don't injure myself.

2 FACE-OFF FEBRUARY In February, I will forgo wearing make-up the entire month. There is a reason, aside from consonance, that I picked this shortest month to not wear make-up. I like the stuff and I've been wearing it since I was about fourteen or fifteen. But I'd like to see just how differently I'll feel about myself if I go without it for a few weeks.

3 MEAGER MARCH No frivolous purchases for the month of March. That means clothes, silly stuff from CVS, coffees or drinks while I'm out and about, iTunes or book downloads…spending on necessities and groceries only. (Alcohol counts as a grocery item, however, as the hideousness that is temperance is coming later in the year.) I'm not too worried about this one.

4 NO #&$%@! APRIL For April, I'm putting the cabash on my potty-mouth, from "damn" and "hell" on up the line of profanity. This will go for out loud swearing as well as tweets and blog posts, though my characters are still allowed to cuss their everloving heads off in my manuscripts, as always. I honestly have no clue how hard this will be, and since my swearing is more habitual than willful, I will have to come up with a penance system for when I inevitably slip up…a dollar to charity or something like that.

5 MEAT-FREE MAY I'll be going vegetarian for the month of May. For now this means no meat, including poultry and seafood. I'm open to tossing eggs and dairy into the mix and upgrading to vegan… I'd miss having cream in my coffee each morning, but if I'm feeling brave at the end of April, I'll up the ante.

6 NO JAVA JUNE That's right, no coffee. I'm dreading this one. I'm allowing caffeine, but substituting rooibus and green tea and maté will not make my grief any more bearable. Coffee is as much a comforting ritual to me as it is a chemical fix.

7 JUJUBE-FREE JULY That is to say, no candy. No extraneous sugar. If a food such as wine or fruit contains natural sugar, that's fine, but no candy, sweet drinks, pastries, or packaged food with sugar as one of its top five listed ingredients.

8 UP AND AT 'EM AUGUST For August I will set my alarm and rise promptly at five a.m. each morning. Normally I get up around six thirty, but I want to see exactly what I might get accomplished in those bonus ninety minutes before the rest of the world wakes up and demands my attention. Perhaps it will just be a lot of yawning, but perhaps it will be an entire extra novella.

9 SWITCH OFF SEPTEMBER In September, I will go without TV. Considering I don't own one, this should be easy, right? Hell no. Thanks to Hulu and Instant Watcher, I've got a mean TV habit going on, and I'll need to figure out other ways to enjoy my lunch hour or unwind at five aside from tuning in to my beloved crappo reality shows. Movies will be acceptable.

10 OMMM-CTOBER For October, I will commit to practicing yoga either at home or in a class for at least forty-five minutes each day. It's something I used to do before writing became my sacred daily practice, and I'm looking forward to reconnecting with it.

11 NOVEMBOOZE That's right, no alcohol for the month of November. I'm dreading this almost as much as the coffee month. And I did pick a holiday month on purpose, just to make it tougher. If I wind up with a contract or a release date in November, I'll just have to get creative with my celebrating. Perhaps a cupcake or a new necklace in place of the usual champagne.

12 DONATE DECEMBER Each day in December I will go through my clothes and other possessions and pick one nice thing to add to a Salvation Army-type donation box. December's usually stressful, and this is an easy one for me. Getting rid of older stuff feels good, and it makes room for new and exciting things to come into one's life. Seems like a good choice for the end of the year and the holiday season.

So that's the deal! This blog will be like my 12-step meetings, so expect lots of whiny posts as I struggle through my various withdrawals and am tempted by seductive relapses. The first week of June should be especially entertaining as you watch me break up with my precious codependent lover, coffee. Oh how I will plead to get him back! And as early as next week you'll probably see posts about how very little I feel like sloshing through the icy slush to go to the gym. Stay tuned and watch me crumble. Or if you're similarly masochistic, join me for a month! If you do, let me know. I'd happily welcome any guest posters who wish to share their own self-denial experiments.

Monday, December 27, 2010

Best "New" Things This Year


Bear in mind I'm not always at the cutting edge of, well, most anything, so these are new-to-me favorites for the year, not necessarily actual new things. But anyhow, here's what topped my lists in 2010:

MOVIES District 13 (French, post-Apocalyptic-ish action, 2004), Cemetery Junction (drama, 2010), Ong-Bak (Thai, martial arts action, 2003), and Harlan County, USA (documentary, 1976).

MUSIC My boy Elvis Costello's new album, National Ransom (2010), various Lady Gaga singles, and a slew of outdated pop and hip-hop I won't embarrass myself by ennumerating.

BOOKS A Wolf at the Table by Augusten Burroughs (2008), The Shallows by Nicholas Carr (2010), 703 by Nancy Makin (2010), Attachment (2008) by Isabel Fonseca, anything by Kristan Higgins.

TV SHOWS Louis (comedy, 2010), An Idiot Abroad (reality / travel / comedy, 2010), various new-to-me seasons of Top Gear (reality, current incarnation 2002—present), seasons one through five of Say Yes to the Dress (reality, 2007–present). Oh and Hoarders, as always.

GAMES Angry Birds and Angry Birds Seasons (iPad, 2009, 2010), Mario Kart 64 (Nintendo 64 emulator, originally 1996), Machinarium (Mac, 2009), Boggle (iPad, 2010).


Sunday, December 26, 2010

Sunday Puzzle

It's Sunday again, and you know what that means—time for me to rip off the puzzle segment from NPR's Weekend Edition Sunday!

Mustachioed enigmatologist
extraordinaire, Will Shortz
If you're a newcomer, each week on Weekend Edition Sunday, Will Shortz (the hardcore crossword puzzlers' almighty God) comes on the radio to do three things: share the solution to the previous week's puzzle, invite a winner who entered the correct answer to play another puzzle (usually word-related) on the air for word-nerdy prizes, and present everyone with the next week's puzzle (answers due in by Thursday afternoon via the WES website if you want a chance to play on the air).

Note: I never post the solutions on this blog…at least not before the submission deadline. I see lots of keyword traffic coming from people looking for the answers, which is at best impatient, and at worst, cheating. For shame.

Now without further ado, here's this week's new puzzle:

Name a famous American from the past who has seven letters in his or her last name. Take the last two letters, plus the first four letters, in that order, and you'll name that person's profession. Who is it?

Click here to see the original puzzle posting, check the answer to last week's challenge, listen to the segment, or find the link to enter your answer.

Thursday, December 23, 2010

Thrusty Thursday: Both the dudes from Fight Quest

Doug Anderson and Jimmy Smith
Those dudes being fighters Doug Anderson and Jimmy Smith. Discovery Channel already gave my back-up husband, Survivorman's
Les Stroud as well as Dirty Jobs' Mike Rowe, and now this?! You shouldn't have!

I've mentioned Fight Quest before, I'm sure. I found this show last winter when researching a boxer character for my erotica alter ego, then revisited a few episodes this fall while deciding which martial art I wanted a current work-in-progress's romance hero to practice. It's an excellent show, which sadly only ran for one and a half seasons (2007–08). It's easy to imagine that a show about two American guys traveling around the world to try their hands at various martial arts disciplines would be chocked with swagger and ego, but Anderson and Smith are both exceedingly humble, curious, and respectful toward their foreign hosts and competitors. If you have a Netflix account and enjoy manful things like fighting, I can't recommend it enough. All thirteen episodes are on Instant Watcher—log in then click here.

Now, to the thrusting. You have a choice between the shorter 28-year-old New Jerseyite and former military bodyguard Doug Anderson, with his manfully beefy arms and chest tattoo and sideburns, or mixed martial artist Jimmy Smith, who's taller and 33 and from Los Angeles, boasting a foxy shaved head and unnecessarily impressive abdominal area. Both can kick your ass with their enviable Jiu Jitsu skillz.

But don't take my word for it. Check some footage and make your own decision.

Here's the first chunk of the boxing episode, taped in Mexico. It's long, but the short intro segment will give you a little taste for the show and its hosts.

Wednesday, December 22, 2010

Some days, I am that white duck.

I've been struggling lately. Not any grand struggle, or a sustained one that haunts me from moment to moment. My struggle seems to crop up sporadically like acne, and it's difficult to pin it to any one event or overarching fact of life. But it comes up again and again—I'm not good enough. I'm not cutting it as a homemaker, a sex partner, a financial contributor, a writer, a designer, a friend, a woman, a human.

At thirty-one, my baby-making machinery is humming insistently, but I can't help but think that if I routinely feel this overwhelmed, working full-time at a job I truly love and also playing the homemaker role, how on Earth can a child ever fit into this equation? If I already feel like I don't have enough energy to go around between my husband, work, friends, and day-to-day chores and errands, what could possibly be left after a day spent caring for a baby?

I suspect my genetically inherited Catholic guilt wants me to suffer. I should be thrilled—my husband is thus-far supportive of me writing full-time, despite the major income hit. I seem to be good at it, and I possess the discipline and drive. No longer commuting, I have the time to exercise and relax and read when the day's writing is done. If the house is clean, that is. On paper, I have it all. But I frequently find myself crushed by the pressure to revel in it. I feel crushed by frequent feelings of inadequacy, when I should be all set up to thrive. Water, sunlight, and nice, nutrient-rich dirt, and still some days I wither.

I take criticism of my housekeeping and other wifely tasks intensely personally, because if there's truth to them, it must mean I'm failing miserably. After all, I work from home. Surely I should be able to accomplish X, Y, and Z around the house. But X, Y, and Z take time, and that times takes away from the forty+ hours a week I feel obligated to spend on my writing and related tasks, and that makes me feel as though I'm falling short in that department. If I tackle all the chores and write five thousand brilliant words and make a delicious dinner, I'm pooped, and then I'm failing at the role of affectionate and charming partner. Seriously, how much worse could a child make this? How do my mother-author-partner Twitter friends do it all?

I want to say I'm not neurotic…perhaps those who know and love me will disagree. But I welcome germs with open nostrils. I don't care what the latest trends are and if I'm hitting the mark. I don't generally worry about what people think of me, unless they feel as if I've hurt them personally. I hope most of my acquaintances would say I'm easy-going. The struggles I'm feeling…they don't feel neurotic or frantic, generally speaking. They feel more like hopelessness. Not quite depression (I know what that feels like), just a sense that I'm failing when I'm not living up to my various daily roles.

When I feel like a worthy professional writer and a creative person, I feel like a lousy partner. When I feel like a stand-up housewife, I feel I'm neglecting my duties as an-author-who-treats-her-work-seriously. If I nail both of those, I probably neglected exercise or friendships or blogging or items on my miscellaneous to-do list as a consequence. As I write this, I feel I should be hemming my husband's pants as I promised. I need to eat dinner, but I need to blog. I need to be reading my friends' books, because they're kind and supportive enough to read mine. I need to find an agent. I need to cure whatever's making my toes all itchy and fat like sausages because I haven't been able to work out enough. I need to schedule this and that and return this e-mail and get groceries and learn to make homemade curry sauce because the store-bought jars are so pricey. And I need to relax, because not relaxing makes everything impossible.

But of course, I don't need to do any of these things…except perhaps the groceries, from time to time. My husband probably won't leave me if I don't hem his pants tonight or schedule this or that utility. My writing career will probably not flop if I take a weekday off to relax or tackle some other project. My friends will probably still like me even if I don't read their books the month—or year—they come out. This blog will not cease to exist if I fail to write twenty posts a month. I do, however, need to fix my itchy sausage-toe problem.

How do you do it, Claire Huxtable?
With pills? It's pills, right?
My husband brought home a book for me from his office, called Perfect Madness: Motherhood in the Age of Anxiety, by Judith Warner. He knows I like nonfiction books about people struggling in our twisted modern society, books about how television is corroding our children's psyches or how our hypersexual media is warping our expectations about intimacy and self-worth. This book is wonderfully and personally written and it is both staggeringly depressing and heartening hopeful. It describes the plight of my generation and the one preceding it to a tee—women trying to cope with their God-given right—nay, obligation—to Have It All, post-feminism. Women striving to have it all but feeling utterly helpless and lost and inadequate and dissatisfied and exhausted.

Some days life, no matter how good it truly is, feels very difficult. And I don't feel as if I'm allowed to feel that way, given how much harder many, many people have it in the world and in this economy. In addition, I've semi-consciously designed my own life to be as simple as possible—don't acquire too many things, live in a condo that's a nice, modest size, only spend the energy cultivating friendships and acquaintances and family bonds that feel mutual and healthy, strive to do work that's challenging and creatively fulfilling… Generally keep things casual and manageable, so that when a child does enter the picture, they'll be part of a humble, adaptable, content family. And content is fine. Jubilant happiness is impossible to maintain for more than the odd fleeting moment, plus it's exhausting. Content is healthy. Content is doable.

Or it should be. So why do I feel so helpless some days, amid all the positivity and ease of my life?

I don't have an answer, and I'm sick of analyzing myself, trying to sleuth one out. I'm just pleased that today—or at least in this hour or minute or moment—I feel calm and content. Just this second, I feel like enough. If only it could last.

Tuesday, December 21, 2010

Video Awesomeness

If you haven't seen it already, behold The Digital Story of the Nativity. Delightful! Thanks to my cuz for the heads-up.

Sunday, December 19, 2010

Sunday Puzzle

It's Sunday again, and you know what that means—time for me to rip off the puzzle segment from NPR's Weekend Edition Sunday!

Mustachioed enigmatologist
extraordinaire, Will Shortz
If you're a newcomer, each week on Weekend Edition Sunday, Will Shortz (the hardcore crossword puzzlers' almighty God) comes on the radio to do three things: share the solution to the previous week's puzzle, invite a winner who entered the correct answer to play another puzzle (usually word-related) on the air for word-nerdy prizes, and present everyone with the next week's puzzle (answers due in by Thursday afternoon via the WES website if you want a chance to play on the air).

Note: I never post the solutions on this blog…at least not before the submission deadline. I see lots of keyword traffic coming from people looking for the answers, which is at best impatient, and at worst, cheating. For shame.

Now without further ado, here's this week's new puzzle:

Name a city in the United States that ends in the letter S. The city is one of the largest cities in its state. Change the S to a different letter and rearrange the result to get the state the city is in. What are the city and state?

Click here to see the original puzzle posting, check the answer to last week's challenge, listen to the segment, or find the link to enter your answer.

Thursday, December 16, 2010

Thrusty Thursday: James Bowthorpe

Photo by Antony Crook
So beardy, so bikey. My similarly beardy and bikey manfriend made me watch the below video of Londoner James Bowthorpe on his 2009 round-the-world bike trip, which raised money for a Parkinson's charity. The 18,000-mile trip took him 175 days, breaking the previous world record by twenty days (set in 2008 by fellow foxy bikey beard-haver, Scotsman Mark Beaumont). That comes out to an average of over 100 miles a day!

I got a bit worked up by Bowthorpe's seemingly spandex-free biking style… Plus I generally go weak at the thought of isolated, weary, lonely, quest-driven men bundled up against the elements, struggling mightily. Graaar! Check out the video of the Norway leg of his epic trip, music by the manfriend's favorite band, Mogwai:



And here's a short interview, for anyone who wants to learn more about the trip:

Sunday, December 12, 2010

Sunday Puzzle

It's Sunday again, and you know what that means—time for me to rip off the puzzle segment from NPR's Weekend Edition Sunday!

Mustachioed enigmatologist
extraordinaire, Will Shortz
If you're a newcomer, each week on Weekend Edition Sunday, Will Shortz (the hardcore crossword puzzlers' almighty God) comes on the radio to do three things: share the solution to the previous week's puzzle, invite a winner who entered the correct answer to play another puzzle (usually word-related) on the air for word-nerdy prizes, and present everyone with the next week's puzzle (answers due in by Thursday afternoon via the WES website if you want a chance to play on the air).

Note: I never post the solutions on this blog…at least not before the submission deadline. I see lots of keyword traffic coming from people looking for the answers, which is at best impatient, and at worst, cheating. For shame.

Now without further ado, here's this week's new puzzle:

From Ward Hartenstein of Rochester, N.Y.: Rearrange the letters of "Wayne Manor" to name two well-known American corporations, past or present. What corporations are they?

Sounds easy enough… Then again, I said that about the triangle puzzle from last week and totally got it wrong. Click here to see the original puzzle posting, check the answer to last week's challenge, listen to the segment, or find the link to enter your answer.

Saturday, December 11, 2010

Recipe: Not Caldo Verde

This is a chicken soup recipe that started as caldo verde when I first made it, then steadily mutated to become completely not caldo verde. It was born of necessity when the manfriend and I kept getting bunches of kale in our local vegetable deliveries, but I've made it with spinach, too. It's very simple, reasonably quick, cheap, and low in calories. Makes about 8 servings. Goes great with my dinner rolls recipe.

In a large stew pot, dump:
2 qts. chicken stock
2 qts. water
1 lb. boneless chicken thighs, cut into small pieces (cage-free organic if you want to go to heaven)
2 chorizo sausages, cut into small pieces (or similar—I use Trader Joe's Spicy Jalapeno Chicken Sausage)
1 large potato, cut into tiny blocks (or, use cauliflower—see next step)
1 cup carrots, chopped into small chunks or thin medallions
1½ cups brown rice
3 cups kale, chopped (or use spinach—see next step)
½ cup onion, minced
4 cloves garlic, minced

Bring to a gentle boil then turn down to medium-low heat. Cover and simmer about 45 minutes, until rice, carrots, and potatoes (if you use potatoes) are soft. Then add:

3 cups spinach, chopped (if you didn't use kale)
½ head cauliflower, chopped into small florets (if you didn't use potatoes)
any other chopped veggies you like—peppers, corn, zucchini, etc.
lots of salt—keeping adding until it's to your taste
½ tsp. paprika
½ tsp. black pepper
½ tsp. red pepper flakes

Cook until veggies are soft. Freezes and reheats most excellently.

Friday, December 10, 2010

Ducks Topple Over in Strong Wind

That was the title of the original article my Kiwi pen pal e-mailed me from the NZ Herald. He's a journalist (though he didn't cover this breaking news, sadly) and he sends me every duck-related story that hits the New Zealand press. And you would be truly shocked how often ducks make the Kiwi news. The ducks from this, the most hilarious / tragic / delightful / horrifying thing I've seen all month, were actually in Canada, but they still made the news two hemipheres away. Watch it. You'll laugh. You'll gasp. You'll awwww and oh noooo! and exprience every human emotion in the span of forty-five seconds. And don't worry—it ends well.

Thursday, December 9, 2010

Thrusty Thursday: Thomas Dietz

Ah, German technical juggling phenom Thomas Dietz… Truly, one of the most potent and ridiculous crushes I've harbored in the past decade. How does one stumble upon a juggling fetish, you may be asking yourself? Well, it happened to me in 2006, back when I lived in an apartment with a TV and a cable service. One of said cable service's channels was ESP2, a dumping ground for sports broadcasting of murky and miscellaneous persuasions. One afternoon while I was cleaning, I flipped channels, looking for something to keep me entertained. What should I come across but the World Juggling Federation Championship! I was entranced. I sat on the floor in front of the screen the entire time and got nothing done. Afterward I feverishly searched the guide to see when it would next be re-aired (at about two a.m. the next evening, I believe) so I could watch it again. Then I ordered the previous year's competition DVDs from the WJF website. Then I Googled Dietz and lost hours of my life watching and rewatching his ridiculous and addictive videos.

But where to go from there with such an all-powerful crush? This is pre-manfriend, I should point out; I was a free agent during the time of this most odd infatuation. Well, the next step in stalking a German juggling phenom is to convince two of your best and most up-for-it girlfriends to rent a Zip Car and take a roadtrip to Connecticut to attend the next summer's World Juggling Federation Championship, live and in person! While there, get heckled in the lobby by the attendees of the exhibition center's neighboring anime convention. Oh yes, competitive juggling is even less cool than anime. Or so they'd like you to believe.

By the time I attended the 2007 convention (of which Dietz was the overall winner, swoon) the manfriend was in the picture. It took much convincing to make him believe the tickets had been purchased well in advance of his materialization (which they had). Still, it was somewhat guiltily that I flounced off to watch Thomas Dietz in all his ball-handling, club-tossing, ring-flinging glory. Wistful sigh. He seems to have gone a bit quiet since 2008, and I can only assume it's because he's campaigning mightily to get juggling included in the 2012 Summer Olympics, a cause I would heartily support.

But talking about juggling's no good. Here are a couple of videos I downloaded forever ago, no longer available on YouTube. To the makers of said videos, if you removed them for a reason, please don't sue me. Just ask and I'll take them down.

Without further ado, world-class German jugglage:

video

More jugglage, plus Thomas shows you how to bake a very tall cake. He's so versatile:

video

Tuesday, December 7, 2010

Recipe: Dinner Rolls

Oh look, so light they hover eerily above my kitchen floor!
Well, French bread dough, basically—make it into any shape you like! Not a tricky recipe, though it does require some waiting between various stages and a bit of a bitchy clean-up. Makes 8 rolls, or 2 small baguette-style loaves.

In a large bowl stir:
1 packet active dry yeast
1 tsp. sugar
¾ cup warm water

Let sit for ten minutes. It should look creamy when it's ready. Then stir in:
1 tsp olive oil
½ tsp salt
1 cup white flour

Once mixed, gradually mix in another cup of white flour, until the dough starts pulling away from the sides of the bowl. Sprinkle flour over your counter or cutting board, and knead dough spiritedly for about five minutes—until it's nice and elastic and smooth. Add more flour to the surface as needed if dough becomes sticky during kneading.

Lightly oil a clean bowl and turn the dough inside it to coat. Cover the bowl with a damp cloth and let it sit in a warm spot, such as next to a radiator, for about 1 hour, or until dough has doubled in size.

Punch the dough down on a lightly floured surface, then divide and form dough into 8 equal balls for rolls (or 2 long ovals for loaves). Space them evenly on a lightly oiled baking sheet and cover again with a damp cloth, and leave them to rise one last time, about 30 minutes, or until they've doubled in size.

Preheat oven to 400°.

Remove cloth and use a sharp knife to cut a slash or an X onto the tops of the rolls (just for looks). Place baking sheet on the oven's middle rack. Bake rolls 10–15 minutes, until golden brown. Loaves will take longer—not sure how much longer, as I've never made them with this recipe, but I'd estimate about 25 minutes.

These go great with a bastardized caldo verde soup recipe I plan on sharing later this week. Enjoy!

Monday, December 6, 2010

WWJCVDD?

For those perverts who follow my erotica alter ego, you may recognize this as a repeat from her group author blog, first posted last spring. I'm rerunning it for shits and giggles, and to maximize the value of the roughly two days of my life I lost to invested in watching Jean-Claude Van Damme's entire cinematic ouevre.

This is my longest post to date…and the least relevant! Today I'm blogging about an experiment I undertook with my manfriend this past winter, in which we watched every Jean-Claude Van Damme film we could get our hands on—over thirty movies in six weeks. Hey, it's New England. February's a bitch and you need projects.

This all began on a semi-drunken night in Old England. My traveling companion and I enjoyed a couple too many Guinesses out amongst my Yorkshire brethren and returned to our hotel to find a terrifically horrible Steven Seagal movie on TV…I wish I could remember more, but I only know it was set in Alaska and all the Inuits seemed to be played by Chinese actors. We laughed and laughed and passed out.

One night after I got back home, the manfriend and I were hurting for entertainment and I said, "Let's watch a Steven Seagal movie!" He said, "I heard Steven Seagal has some contract clause where he won't even take a punch in his fight scenes. Let's watch a Van Damme movie instead." And so we did. Then another. Then another, then a month and a half later we'd watched JCVD's entire available oeuvre. That's about two cumulative days of each of our lives, lost forever, ninety minutes at a time.

As a consequence of this experiment I developed a massive soft spot for JC. He takes a lot of flak for his many rather bad films, and for his allegedly poor acting. It's true, he can't deliver a Hollywood one-liner to save his life, but I think he's actually a rather strong emotional actor. He's also a kick-ass screen martial artist, and I think anyone who bad-mouths JC should be forced to do a split whilst saving a baby and reciting lines in a non-native language. Then we'll see who's talented.

And of course, Jean-Claude Van Damme is pretty foxy. I didn't realize that before starting this experiment, as I'd never actually seen any of his movies. Hey, bonus! He's got a fine face (including the mysterious bump on his forehead which I've taken to calling his "spider eggs") and an ass that just won't quit.

Anyhow, enough of my defensive mother-hen clucking. On to the thirty-plus mini-reviews, my public service guide to JCVD's Cinematic Oeuvre. Here they are, from best to worst…worst in this case meaning boring or insulting, not necessarily campy or ridiculous—many of JC's campy and ridiculous films are among my favorites. You will notice color-coded themes running through these reviews, denoting special features, such as the ways in which JC's accent is explained. Other features are so ubiquitous in JC's films that I haven't bothered pointing them out. These include explosions, breaking glass, primal screams, and high-waisted pants. Those are very nearly guaranteed when you choose wisely and indulge in a little Van Damme of an evening.

Here we go!

1. JCVD (2008)
I think if you're going to watch only one Van Damme movie, make it this one. JC plays himself in it and it's clearly semi-autobiographical. It's a clever little tongue-in-cheek Belgian film not unlike Dog Day Afternoon, and although you don't get much in the way of cool fighting, I defy anyone to watch it and not develop a soft spot for the Muscles from Brussels.

Okay, now on to the classics!

2. Hard Target (1993)
I was tempted to list this first, because it has everything that makes a JCVD flick great. JC plays a Cajun (as he often does in movies set in North America, when he's not playing a Quebecois). Highlights: JC sports a powerful Jheri-curled mullet, punches a rattlesnake, and you get to see Wilford Brimley as a moonshine brewer. Miles of ridiculous plot and fighting, plus a token sassy black lady.


3. Bloodsport (1988)
Major bromance in this one! What I like about Bloodsport is that it's your classic fight movie, the story revolving around revenge and culminating in a climactic battle scene. Lots of training montages, tons of combat, a Hong Kong setting, not too much extraneous plot, TONS of splits (including ones performed using a rudimentary training device) plus some sexxoring and shameless rear nudity.


4. The Shepherd (2008)
This gets big points because JC spends much of the movie carrying around a bunny, plus he's Cajun. You can't top that. Plot is just over-the-top enough and the fight scenes are great. Bonus: one of the villains is foxy.


5. In Hell (2003)
Set in the Eastern Bloc, this one is simply a good movie, in my opinion. Then again, I like movies set in prisons for some kinky reason. You won't get a ton of cool stunts from In Hell, but on the flip-side, JC is spared delivering corny one-liners and does a very nice job as a plain old actor. I'm 75% sure JC is Cajun in this one, though they don't really tell you.


6. Timecop (1994)
This movie has it all! Time-travel, corrupt politicians, revenge, the best JC kitchen-sink split scene ever, sexxoring, spinning hopping roundhouse kicks to the villains' heads… JC's accent is left a mystery.


7. Double Impact (1991)
Here is all you need to know: JC plays his own long-lost identical twin. Bonuses: splits (as pictured), a bit of bromance, and JC's accent is explained as one of the twins was raised in France, the other in a Hong Kong orphanage overseen by a French nun.


8. Double Team (1997)
So horrid it's got to be good. This disbelief-fest co-stars Dennis Rodman (who gets about five hair color changes throughout the course of the film) and is rife with basketball puns. There is a nice training montage scene in which JC makes innovative use of a doorway, among other improvised gym apparati. The story reaches a dizzying climax involving landmines and a baby and JC side-kicking a tiger just before the Colosseum asplodes.


9. Sudden Death (1995)
Die Hard, with hockey! Set at the Stanley cup and featuring precocious children, my husband thought this movie was near perfect, with the exception of the wholly unnecessary scene in which JC suits up as a Penguins goalie whilst eluding terrorists and goes out onto the ice…a scene that could have been cut without disrupting any other aspect of the story. If I recall correctly, JC is Quebecois.


10. The Quest (1996)
This one was loosely based on the life of the same martial artist who inspired Bloodsport—Frank Dux. It's a sort of globe-trekking adventure that features training montages, split-kicks, and JC running about in clown make-up at the very beginning.


11. Universal Soldier (1992)
JC plays a [presumably] Cajun war vet turned government-engineered killing machine. I liked this one…and I don't really like sci-fi, generally. It co-stars Dolph Lundgren as the baddie, and there is some shameless glistening rear-nudity as well as lots of JC getting dunked in icy baths.


12. Until Death (2007)
This was an interesting one…pretty dark. JC is a dirty cop who's addicted to heroin. He later ends up in a coma and wakes up a better man. I can't remember all that much else about it, though I'm fairly certain he's Cajun once again.


13. Desert Heat (1999)
Not like any other JC film I can think of… JC (who may be Cajun, I can't recall) goes to the Southwest someplace, and he has a foot-rubbing bromance going on with a wacky Native American guy. JC also has a threesome with a couple trashy blondes (witnessed by a pervy snakehandler woman), all whilst killing lots of evil rednecks on a mission to gets hisself some revenge! Again, I thought one of the evil rednecks was cute, so that helped. Also, JC is all beat up for a lot of it, and a bruised and vulnerable man turns my kinky crank. Oh and Mister Miyagi is in it!


14. Nowhere to Run
(1993)
This one's actually listed in IMDb as both action and romance. JC is on the run from the feds and takes shelter in the home of a woman and her almost ludicrously precocious children. There is some disconcerting mother-child chat about JC's contentious wang size, but I believe there's a bit of rear-nudity that'll make up a few lost points.


15. The Order (2001)
Dan Brown may have written this, possibly while drunk… It's a mix of Angels and Demons and Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade, set in Israel. Some innovative chase scenes and some interesting weaponry at the end, but not one of my favorites…although you do get to see JC in disguise as a Hassidic Jew.


16. Legionnaire (1998)
Starts out with some sexy scenes of a French JC as a boxer (my personal Kryptonite). He refuses to throw a fight and is shipped off to the Foreign Legion, where he battles corruption and hitmen to get back to his jilted fiancée. Dusty! Bromance! Also, not too corny, though not one of the more memorable films.


17. Derailed (2002)
Nearly set in the Eastern Bloc, this is a better version of Seagal's Under Siege II. JC and his wife and kids are on a train along with a vixeny jewel thief, and chaos ensues! Also a bit like Speed, on a train. Or Die Hard, on a train. Okay overall, the highlights being some ridonkulous stunts featuring JC on a motorbike…on a train! If he'd done a split between two cars, that would have bumped it up the list.


18. Cyborg (1989)
This was an interesting one…post-Apocalyptic and a bit like Beyond Thunderdome, only set in the States and without all the flash and Tina Turner. JC does a notably fine split in a sewer in aid of escaping the baddies.


19. Death Warrant (1990)
Whee! JC is Quebecois! He plays a detective investigating a serial killer. JC goes undercover to solve some prison murders (with the aid of a three-way inmate bromance) and by the end some decently choreographed fighting goes down (though not enough, really), culminating a largely satisfyingly O-T-T climax.


20. Lionheart (1990)
Once again, JC is in the Foreign Legion. This time he escapes and makes it to the States and becomes a fighter on a shady underground circuit. Prepare yourself for split-kicks and interracial bromance! I suspect but can not guarantee that there was some rear nudity. My notes also say there were "leotards", but I can't recall how those actually fit in.


21. Kickboxer (1989)
I love a good fight movie, though this one was just okay. The highlights were that it had tons of training montages, and JC was actually allowed to be Belgian! Holy shit, what an idea! Super-bonus, JC performed splits using a special training device! It also featured a bromance (emphasis on the bro) to be reckoned with plus an additional interracial bromance, a soundtrack to be defied, and one weird zip-up-coveralls-tanktop you have to see for yourself.



22. Universal Soldier: The Return (1999)
JC is back as everybody's favorite Cajun war vet turned super-secret government killing machine. No Dolph Lundgren, but instead you get WWE wrestler Goldberg as the baddie. Goldberg's acting makes JC look like Sir Lawrence Olivier. There is a super-lame evil computer that takes over the top secret government facility, a total HAL-from-2001 rip-off. And there's an adorable child in peril.


23. Maximum Risk (1996)
I honestly don't remember much about this one…I know it's set in Europe and JC plays a man who finds out he had a twin when he discovers said twin's dead body. The brother was a cop who was murdered and JC has to pretend to be him in order to unravel the mystery. Sadly, a bit forgettable, though that film still pictured left sure looks exciting…


24. Knock Off (1998)
Oh Lordy, Knock Off… I had to bump this one up from the depths of the gutter because my husband passionately flip-flopped and decided he liked it. We watched it in two installments because the first time around we both lost the will to live. It co-stars Rob Reiner in a love/hate bromance with JC and the plot revolves around counterfeit designer jeans. In Hong Kong. With explosive terrorist devices hidden in them which asplode with green smoke. I grudgingly admit it had a few innovative fight scenes, but it was also wincingly slapstick and featured a token sassy black lady.


25. Wake of Death (2004)
If I remember correctly, there was some hot sexxoring (and hence rear-nudity) at the start of this movie…then JC's immigration official wife [rather unprofessionally] brings home a refugee girl from a bust and ends up murdered by the Chinese mob. A lot of people end up murdered, actually, and JC has to avenge them all and save the little girl.


26. Universal Soldier: Regeneration (2009)
Set in the Eastern Bloc, this film's got very little action, and very little JC, actually. Very little Dolph Lundgren too, which is a waste. JC's stunts are still solid even though he's getting older, but his role is dull and the movie is generally boring, though nicely filmed. Bonus: I thought the bad guy was sexy—fighter Andrei "The Pit Bull" Arlovski. JC is once again Cajun.


27. Replicant (2001)
Weird one…and nearly another twin flick. JC plays two unlikable characters, one a creepy Norman Bates-ian momma's boy serial killer and the other a "replicant"—a borderline retarded clone engineered from the killer's DNA to allegedly help track the killer down. The real protagonist is not JC-as-retard but a crusty detective overseeing the case. The only bonus here is the unexpected (though my husband totally predicted it) fucktarded romantic twist at the very end… Cannot tell you how deeply I questioned my marriage when my husband called that ending.


28. Breakin' (1984)
Rated low because it's really not a JCVD movie, though JC's role as an unnamed extra is priceless. I'm not one to mock the man, but check it out if you want to see a young JC grinning and dancing in a unitard, fresh off the plane from Brussels to Hollywood. And if you're looking to watch a better period movie about break-dancing, check out Beat Street.


29. Black Eagle (1988)
An oddity, in that JC is not the star. The lead is played by Kung Fu star Sho Kosugi, but young JC, a minor villain, steals a lot of Sho's thunder. With some meager bonus points for campiness, this movie is a bit blah overall but ties with Time Cop for Most Extreme Use of a Split.


30. The Hard Corps (2006)
Oh sweet fuck, prepare to be insulted. JC plays a bodyguard / bodyguard trainer for a sassy black lady's rap star brother and his entourage. You're never once told what city or state you're in, and JC's accent isn't acknowledged or explained. It's only a couple training montages that keep it from falling to the bottom of the pile, plus a bit of bromance.


31. Second in Command (2006)
I nearly put this one last as it's just plain boring. JC doesn't get to fight at all really, and the plot isn't very dynamic. Eensty points for being set in the Eastern Bloc.


32. Street Fighter: The Movie (1995)
Comes in dead-last because it is a) super insulting to even a child's intelligence and b) features very little fighting, street or otherwise. I'll forgive a movie many things if it has good martial arts sequences, and this one did not. JC's talents were wasted and even Raul Julia couldn't save the film…for that matter, neither could Kylie Minogue. The film is set in Hong Kong and JC is freakishly American, emblazoned with an unconvincing stars and stripes tattoo, yet no one acknowledges his Belgian accent… I can't in good conscience recommend this to anyone. It's so bad it's not even camp. It also has a majorly corny ending that made my soul hurt.

And that's it, folks. Sorry to put you through that, but I hope you'll all leave your desks feeling a little wiser and a little more endeared to old JCVD. I strongly urge you, the next time you're torn between Van Damme and Seagal, to err on the side of JC, the side not afraid to take a punch, or to kick a tiger, or to bite the head off a rattler, or to show some ass. Et merci de votre attention.