Friday, December 5, 2008

A Coda on Pie

So last week I wrote an Ode to Pie in celebration of the Thanksgiving week. Yes, I said, "Thanksgiving week," and I suppose I should explain for those of you who are unfortunate enough never to have experienced the annual pie massacre my family calls "Thanksgiving."

You see, every year my mother prepares for the descent of locusts family members into her house by baking pies. (Sweet, tasty pies!) And every year, the number of pies is close to 40. This year it was 41. Last year, I believe it was 38. Whatever the exact number, it's a lot of pie.

But we have a lot of people visit throughout Thanksgiving week. If family fly in from out of town, sometimes they arrive on Tuesday, so we have to eat pie. We definitely get people coming up on Wednesday night, so we have pie with the usual dinner of homemade soup. On Thanksgiving proper, we don't usually get the bird until 2pm, so we might need a piece of pie to tide us over until then. After digesting for bit, we usually need to top things off with another piece of pie; after all, there are so many yummy flavors available. This year on Thursday we had something like 30 people in the house for Thanksgiving dinner and pie, so lots of pie was needed.

Friday is an almost exact repeat of Thursday (pie, turkey dinner at 2, more pie), except we usually have a few more people attending. Again, lots of pie needed. Then we have the stragglers who stay through Saturday, finishing up the soup and the jigsaw puzzle that's taken over the dining room table, and of course it wouldn't be family time without more pie. (Really, people, there's something like 10 flavors to try!)

So anyway, that leads to this little coda. When I left my mom's house on Saturday, she told me to take a pie. Actually, she told me to take two: apple and pumpkin, of which there were a few extra. No problem. After all, pie for breakfast is no different than a "breakfast pastry," except it has more real fruit and tastes better. So we've slowly been working our way through the pies, and last night Boy and I went out to dinner because TSU was out of town. We went to his favorite restaurant, and he requested their tasty chocolate chip cookies for dessert. I gave him a skeptical look and said, "But there's still pie at home." When he complained that there wasn't any pumpkin left, I corrected him and said there was still a piece, I had just moved it into the apple pan. He frowned and gave this response:

"But Mom, that's not dessert pie."

!!!! Only in my family, I suppose.

Thursday, December 4, 2008

The pains of getting basted...

As I've mentioned before, I frequently see parallels between one of my favorite hobbies, quilting, and the gargantuan task that is writing a novel. I was thinking about this the other day when I was doing my least favorite part of making a quilt: basting.

Basting is the onerous chore of taking the completed patchwork top of a quilt and a fabric backing, sandwiching batting between the two, and then pinning the whole thing together. If you don't do it right, it makes the quilting much harder: if there are bumps and bubbles riddling your quilt sandwich, you have to spend more time fiddling with the fabric instead of getting to the stitching. (It's especially crucial if you're machine quilting a piece, since it's so easy to stitch the bubbles into your quilt when you're sewing fast. Since I'm hand-quilting this particular piece, it's not as crucial, but it still helps to have a smooth sandwich.)

Although I have a tacking gun gadget that supposedly makes basting easier, it's never worked properly (I'm probably using it wrong), so I end up using safety pins instead. This requires a lot of annoying work, and always results in stuck fingers. Because I'm working on a king-sized quilt, basting is even more complicated. I have enough floor space to tape anything smaller to the floor, keeping the fabric stretched, but I can't do it with a king. So I ended up taping sections to my dining room table, and stretching as much of the rest as I could with one hand while sticking in pins with the other. It's not a pretty picture:

To give you a sense of scale: each of those squares is 4 x 4 inches. The pattern consists of 5 large blocks made of 25 squares each, and the quilt is 5 blocks long on each side. So overall the quilt measures 25 x 25 small squares; with the addition of a small border, it has a total size of 104" square. (That's 625 squares altogether, if you're counting.) So it required a lot of stretching, a lot of moving and retaping, and a lot of pinning. As you can probably tell from the expression on my face, I'm not having lots of fun.

At first, I thought maybe basting was a good parallel for outlining the plot of a novel. If you take the time to make a really exhaustive outline, it makes writing that first draft a lot easier. You know everything that's happening, and where the characters are headed. You don't have many bubbles, where you have to take out the stitching and smooth things out before rewriting—er, restitching.

The only problem with this parallel is that, unlike basting a quilt, making an outline for a novel isn't really essential. A lot of writers never use them. Although I've written three other novels that way, I'm currently working on one without an outline. Of course, the last three were plot-driven fantasies, and this one is a contemporary comedy that's more character-driven, so that could be the real difference. Another fault with the parallel is that I actually like outlining; it's a kind of brainstorming, so it's a creative process. Pinning a quilt is just busy work that requires close attention and precision.

So maybe a better writing parallel to basting would be the revising process. I know it needs to be done, but I don't enjoy it. I already did the fun parts of brainstorming (choosing the fabric), and writing the first draft (piecing the patchwork). It's hard work trying to figure out what needs to be cut or moved or changed, and it hurts my fingers. But it has to be done, or else I'll forever be trying to work out the bumps and bubbles from my writing. Luckily I have a critique group to help me with this task, and they're much more effective than my tacking gun gadget. I suppose that makes the rewriting a lot like quilting—sometimes painful, a lot of busywork, but showing visible rewards as you get closer and closer to the finish.

Of course, maybe the best metaphor for basting is the creating of quilting-writing metaphors for this blog. Perhaps I'm stretching things a bit, but I had to do something with my brain while I was stretched across half the dining room table, sticking pins into my fingers.

Wednesday, December 3, 2008

I just looove musicals!

I try not to get too political here, but this is a bit of political humor I felt compelled to share, especially since it features Neil Patrick Harris, who I think is extremely funny and talented. And so, thanks to Funny or Die, Prop 8: The Musical!
See more Jack Black videos at Funny or Die

Tuesday, December 2, 2008

The Word Nerd Sez: G is for ...


I was thinking and thinking over this letter for quite some time, because there wasn't a perfect "G" word that sprang to mind. (Actually, there were several words that suggested themselves, but none seemed unique enough.) So I started browsing the dictionary ...

... whoops, got distracted for a moment there (the Latin galact- means milk!). Anyway, a couple pages in I came across this little gem of a word, which means "jumble" or "medley," from the Middle French for "hash." It's a great word to describe this particular blog entry, or the Word Nerd feature, or even this blog as a whole. Plus, this word just trips off the tongue: gal-uh-MAW-free. It sounds so fancy, but means something totally messed up. (Again, a good description of this blog.)

And to jumble things up a little more: here's some of the "G" words I considered but didn't use. Most of them are actually double-G words; I have a weakness for alliteration:
  • gregarious
  • gargantuan
  • googolplex
  • gargoyle
  • gewgaw
  • gingersnap
  • gigantic
  • galligaskins*
  • gesticulate
  • glockenspiel
Okay, those last two don't have the double G, but I still like them. And now that I've used the letter "g" so much that's it's starting to look foreign, I shall bid you Good-bye.

*I lie, I wasn't really contemplating this earlier. But I found this 16th-century word meaning "loose breeches" during my dictionary browse and I had to share.

Monday, December 1, 2008

Photo of the Week--11/24/08

There's all sorts of interesting architecture to explore in Istanbul, from the Blue Mosque to the Hagia Sophia, but I love mosaic artwork and so this is the photo I'm featuring. You can see the azulejo tilework typical of many Islamic buildings from the Middle Ages (and which we saw in trips to Spain, Portugal, and Tunisia, in addition to this trip to Turkey). The other thing that amuses me about this photo is that it is of a specific place in Istanbul's Topkapi Palace. The name of the place? The Circumcision Room. Boy, of course, was gloriously unaware of either the name or the meaning when I took this photo, as you can tell by the smile. (Back then he would smile for photos. Now I have to bribe him.)