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Archive for November, 2011

This is the first year I’ve fully embraced Online Christmas Shopping. In years past I got a few things on the Internet but I was still mostly clinging to the stubborn Twentieth Century notion of traveling corporeally to places of consumerist torment. Now, however, I’m fully converted to the new religion of Buy It At Home And Save Your Goodwill For Your Fellow Man. Because when you think about it, shopping in stores really reduces your peace, love and understanding quotient pretty rapidly this time of year. So while we talk about it the most, we have it the least.

For me, online shopping is an exercise in keeping The True Spirit of Christmas. But we’ll get back to that little nugget in a second.

As anyone who has ever participated in a major religion can tell you, no matter how devout you are, how much the faith is central in your life, there are always going to be niggling practices and habits that give you something to gripe about. For me, the newly converted Online Christmas Shopper I am calling Shenanigans on this whole Free Shipping On Select Items nonsense.

Amazon started out pretty well, but from where I sit it looked like their move to Free Shipping morphed them from a well-known ecommerce site to the 800-lb gorilla they are today. I know that I increased my shopping with them by 300-400% once I no longer had to pay the Lazy Tax aka. shipping and handling. So it now seems everyone is trying to copy that success by screaming loud and long on their homepage that they offer

Free Shipping On Select Items and Free Shipping Every Day.

For someone looking to stretch a dollar, those are powerful inducements indeed. And that’s why I spent an hour and a half shopping at Target.com. Of course, what I didn’t reckon on was that little …On Select Items clause being so narrowly defined. When I finally got to the checkout portion of the exercise I was staring at $23.85 in shipping and handling charges.

For that amount of money I could take a taxi to the Target 2 miles from my house.

Turns out that none of the big sale items they advertised so prominently were “selected” for their Free Shipping Everyday scheme. So they’ll make up the 30% off in part by charging 15% shipping.

Good to know. If only I’d known it before I lingered overlong on their site. It really put a damper on the True Spirit Of Christmas.

…That’s the other thing on which I call Shenanigans. This “True Spirit” thing sounds so arrogant to me. I am a Christian who believes that Christmas is a religious holiday celebrating the miracle of light coming improbably in the middle of darkness, Grace undeserved made flesh. But I’m also a 41-year old woman. To me Christmas has become a kaleidoscope of memories both warm and painful. Thoughts of past times of happiness made bittersweet by present losses. Christmas is a spidereye view of emotion and need and desire and devastation and lights and pine-scented hope. To claim that there is one TRUE SPIRIT is so dismissive of the function Holy Days serve in human lives. Now, I’m not a post-modernist who claims there is no essential truth and that everything is relative. But I also believe that if we are about Grace and Love, denying other people their feelings about benchmark days is pretty ungracious and not at all loving. And that contradicts any claims we could ever make about the trueness of our spirit.

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Skiing

While leaving a comment over at Aunt B’s blog it occurred to me that what I do is not so much taking dictation as it is waterskiing. Wordskiing? How many times can I type the word “skiing” before it starts to look normal and not like a mistake?

After a certain point–sometimes 5 minutes, other times as much as 15–I stop writing the story and then just hold tightly to the rope while the story takes me in the direction it means to go. That’s the amazing thing about rough drafts; they are trips through the spaces in your brain you never thought to visit before.

I suppose this may be why I’m never ending anything properly. It doesn’t feel right to let go of the rope and fall back into the cold nothing of the lake while the boatload of characters and world goes speeding off without me.

Aunt B. unveiled her Author Website yesterday; it’s darling and wonderful. And I’m feeling like a bit of copycat because now I think maybe I should have an Author Website too. I never intended to do such a thing–as far as I’ve always been concerned, Mycropht.blogspot.com and Mycropht.wordpress.com were enough. But given that I think I may actually bite the bullet and start self-publishing to Kindle I think I ought to go whole hog and do Mycropht.com.

Yes, I know that my name is Katherine Coble and that should be the name on my books. And I know that my self-publishing “press” is going to be Group W Bench Press*. But “Mycropht” is who I am on the Internet. It’s been that way for 23 years and I don’t plan on changing that now.

Of course, my father would have a fit. He’s always said that picking out a business name before anything else is the surest sign of someone who isn’t taking her business seriously. He’s overseen more bankruptcies of cutely-named but inefficiently-run companies in his lifetime than I’ve had Rolos. That’s a lot. But I guess all my company plans to do is write stories and sell them for a dollar to people with Kindles. It’s not like we’re milling cotton or brewing coffee.

Isn’t this the most pointless and disjointed post? I confess, it’s the thing I wrote when I had only crumbs in the cupboard.

*like the name of my blog, I’ve had that company name picked out for 20 years. It’s just been waiting on a company. It didn’t feel right attaching it to my graphic design work. But I think it works perfectly for the crazy, misfit stories I plan to publish on my own.

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I don’t like to get involved in the War On Christmas because I really don’t generally think it’s a thing. Well, it’s a thing to the guy who wants to sell his book about how there’s a War On Christmas. In that way, the War On Christmas is a lot like Y2K or the Japanese taking over the world in the late 1990s and all of us white people relegated to serfdom.

It makes a good ghost story for grownups who don’t believe in traditional ghosts but still like to get scared occasionally.

Everyone I have ever known to say “Happy Holidays” is either trying to be politely inclusive or trying to look as if they are trying to be politely inclusive. I’ve never known anyone–and I know a lot of non-Christians–to say “Happy Holidays” as a way of subtly communicating that they hate Jesus. In fact, the people I know who have a dislike of Jesus and/or the religion he spawned are always very upfront about it. Yet they are still generally pretty polite when it comes to Christmas. My experience may be outside the norm; I’m not sure, as it’s the only experience I have.

So when I got the email today I wasn’t really sure if I should be insulted or relieved.

The email was from Fandango.com and it said “Get Ready For Giftmas!”

If I want to use my dudgeon to argue, I’d say that it’s pretty offensive. Because the whole reason I’m giving gifts is as a sort of shadowplay celebrating the great Gift of Grace Jesus brings to the world. By not saying “CHRISTmas” the Fandango people seem to be saying “Jesus just isn’t that important.”

On the other hand, at least they’re being honest. Because, really, to most people Jesus ISN’T that important. At all. That’s a choice they’ve made. And yet they still wish to be involved in the general secular holiday celebrated at the same time we Christians celebrate Christmas. At least they’re being honest. To them it’s GIFTmas. All about the gifts. That’s their choice and they’re not going to pretend otherwise. It’s honest in that same callow Ernest Dawson way. “I have been faithful to thee, December 25th, in my fashion.”

So I guess I appreciate Fandango for tackling the whole mess head-on. But I’d like to humbly say I was happier before, back when we Christians hadn’t taken up arms in a war no one else seemed to be fighting. Because then people said “Christmas” out of politeness and peace. We took the war to them and shouldn’t be at all surprised when Giftmas and Kewl Yule start showing up in emails and store flyers. I should amend my opening statement. The War on Christmas wasn’t a thing. Until we made it one.

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Yes, this does fall under the category of First World Problems. I know that. I choose to point it out anyway.

My newest baby/toy/gadget has arrived. You know how those commercials say “Every Kiss Begins with Kay”? The implication seems to be that if you really want to get some sugar from your woman, you buy her diamonds. Heh. Not in this house. In this house every Kiss begins with K as in Kindle. Actually, I do kiss my husband without being paid in gifts because I love him and I’m not a high-class call girl with one client. Yet he does know the way to my heart is not with diamonds and roses; rather it is with gadgets and stargazer lilies. And so when the new line of Kindles came out he saved up and purchased for me a Kindle Touch.

It just came via UPS, and once the dogs quit spazzing at the doorbell I fetched it from the porch and opened it with glee.

And here is where the “difficulty” sets in.

This is my third (well, technically fourth) Kindle. The Kindle 3 I got last Christmas (and had replaced last January due to faulty memory) has been used daily. It’s got four pages of collections and more than 500 books sorted into those categories. That’s a year’s worth of collecting, categorising and just flat-out managing my library. There have been days that my reading time becomes instead a Library Management time; I’d estimate the set-up on Quindle Mark III: GobiE-Reader has about fourteen hours worth of work behind it.

Maybe it’s just that I’ve been spoiled by years of Apple products. Or maybe it’s because I’m an efficiency junkie from way back, a computer afficionado since the age of 10 and a nut for spreadsheets, filing and other systems of data organisation. But I would have assumed that I could have plugged the old Kindle3 into my Mac, downloaded the contents in one gulp and reversed the process to put everything over onto the new Kindle Touch.

Apparently that was a wrong assumption. Apparently I have to transfer the books ONE AT A BLOODY TIME from the “Manage Your Kindle” page at Amazon or from the Kindle Touch itself, as if I were buying them over again. Once I’ve moved all the books–one at a bloody time–I then go into the Kindle Touch and import my collections.

As much as I love my Kindles, as much as I can’t live without them, I think this is pretty much what I would consider an Epic Fail on Amazon’s part.

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There Is A Limit

The other day I complained about one of my blog peeves–posts ending in questions that are clearly designed to drive comments. Another of my blog annoyances would be posts that ramble on forever, either saying not much of anything or saying the same thing over and over. Many good writers are not good editors. Many bloggers are not good writers.

Since I am a passable writer and an exacting editor, I figured the best tactic to take here is to keep this blog’s daily entries to a 500-word cap. Sometimes I’ll go a few over. If I go a LOT over, I’ll warn folks and throw in a jump. It’s only fair. Perhaps the harshest criticism I fear for a blog entry is the dreaded TL;DR–>Too Long; Didn’t Read.

So I’m faced with this self-imposed limitation (aren’t so many of our limitations just exactly that?) today, and I’m realising that on this post especially that’s a good thing.

Because this is the What I Am Thankful For post.

As I sit here trying to think of that for which I am thankful, I realise that there is nothing in my life I am NOT thankful for. The good things are good and obviously a bounty for which one gives thanks. The bad things all have good outcomes. The crippling teaches me compassion and patience. The isolation drives home the blessings of friendship and the gift of connection via technology. The pain underscores the blessings of the times when the pain stops, and in its deepest throes it allows me to turn my mind inside itself and focus on The God Who Is There. I feel the closest to God when the pain is at its worst, and that is an undeniable gift.

There is quite simply not a single thing I would change about the things placed in my life. And I’m further thankful that I have yet the time, I hope, to change those things about myself that need some work.

As always when it comes specifically to this blog, the thing for which I am most thankful are the people who grant me the gift of their time to read what I say. I realise I make this point often; were I to make it in every entry that would still not emphasise enough how grateful I am. There are two most precious gifts God has given beyond the irreplacable everlasting Grace, and they are Time and Literacy. The fact that I can share those with people who read my words is a type of communing. And I am so ever thankful for that.

At our house Thanksgiving is a time of quiet meditation. We feed our bodies and our souls. We go into the season of Miracle Lights with a sense of joy. I’m grateful for that too. I hope all of you have as wonderful a day and that your lives are richly blessed. Thank you for you.

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School Lunch

According to the various posts my friends throw up on Facebook, we Americans are fat because
–we are too stupid to understand the concept of “nutrition”
–there is a conspiracy helmed by someone called Big Soda, who is an even larger, scarier bogeyman than Big Tobacco
–Corn has transplanted “love of money” as the actual Root Of All Evil
–We just have no willpower

But it wasn’t until today that I saw anyone mention one of what I believe to be the biggest problems with American nutritional conditioning: School lunches.

No, I’m not talking about the same old “Ketchup is not a vegetable” argument, because I think it’s a given that mass-produced low-cost food is not going to provide optimum nutrition until Soylent Green. I’m talking about the length of time that kids have to eat.

For twelve (or thirteen or fourteen) years, Americans educated in the school system–public, private or Christian–are trained to eat their food in twenty minutes or less. Lunch periods in schools range from 20-40minutes. The schools that have the longer lunch periods are generally high-schools, where book-gathering and travel time is built into the “lunch” span.

We know that brains take about 20 minutes to register the Full Signal from the stomach. But for the bulk of our developing lives, as we are establishing our life habits we are also training our bodies to eat as much as they can as fast as they can.

Maybe along with “Ketchup is Not A Vegetable” we ought to also start saying “a meal takes more than ten minutes to eat.”

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I still am not quite sure how this happened.

Last week my husband sent me a really nice email (not being sarcastic here…it was nice) saying that he didn’t care if I did but did I by any chance charge $40 to our PayPal account for some internet game called Minespawn or something about Mines. Given that I have been known to charge our Paypay account on occasion for FarmVille, Baking Life, etc. it was not an unreasonable question. Of course I don’t think I’ve ever spent $40 in one go…

The trouble is that I haven’t done anything with PayPal in six months or so; the minute I saw the charges were through there instead of the App Store I felt a gallon of hot lead pouring into my gut.

Because it isn’t just the $40 going missing. It isn’t just that those $40 are going to Mojang AB to to pay for credits on Minecraft–whatever that is–instead of someplace decent like Heifer Intl. It’s that some asscheddar somewhere on this planet figured out a way to get money that belonged to my family instead of him. And that asscheddar isn’t doing something quasi-noble and Jean Valjeanesque like using the $40 to feed himself or his family. In this time of Occupy Wall Street when we’re all aware of the folks out of work and hungry and what not I could maybe understand if the charge came through for something like Honeybaked Ham or Omaha Steaks. But MINECRAFT? Look, I play games too. And I don’t mind spending money on them in micropayments because for a lot of years my family lived on micropayments for streaming services. Every time I throw $5 at an app like that I picture myself helping some family working for a startup pay their mortgage. Back when we struggled I used to find myself wondering why more people wouldn’t part with the $3.99 subscription payment to our service. If they would’ve just done that it would’ve saved us a lot of grief. So, anyway, I don’t think that spending discretionary income on games is necessarily any worse than spending it on books or movies or any other leisure thing.

But someone stole from us. And not only did they take our money, but they also took our identity. They lied and pretended to be us so that they could have $40 for a game.

I’ve done everything I think I can do at this point. I changed the password and delinked PayPal from Facebook. I disputed the charges with PayPal. They are now “awaiting other party’s response”. What worries me is that the Other Party (i.e. Mojang AB dba Minecraft) says they _never_ do refunds, ever. And obviously the assgouda calling himself tcobles3sdf is using that cash to play away on Minecraft. So I’m sure that Mojang AB is just going to be all “sucks for you, we’ve got our money” and let it go.

It could be worse. It could be a larger amount. It could have been spent on drugs or porn. But the combination of waste and vulnerability has me completely irate. I have never before so deeply empathised with Eric Cartman; I can only picture tcoble3sdf as Scott Tenorman, and I can completely picture myself stewing his parents in a chili.

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I was asking tongue-in-cheek last week, but since I dragged y’all into my pie quandary I figured you deserved a resolution.

This week I will make at least 3 pies. Pumpkin almost doesn’t count because it’s a given. And I’m making it in the worst way possible–with canned pumpkin.

In a nod to my homeland and heritage, Pie #2 is going to be a Hoosier Sugar Cream. All you Southerners enjoy a pale imitation of this one called Chess Pie. Both are Desperation Pies, made with whatever was on hand when the fruit runs out. Chess Pie (which the Midwesterners generally call Vinegar Pie) has less milk, no cream and adds vinegar and cornmeal. Since I won’t be in Indiana for the holiday, I figured making an Indiana pie seems to be a good way to meld my two homes.

Pie #3 is Caramel Pecan. Why? Because I would walk across a pit of writhing vampires for a Rolo. Caramel is my great weakness. And this pie is just a big ol’ slab of caramel with some nuts on top.

I really wanted to do a fruit pie of some sort, but there isn’t any rhubarb to be found for love or money. My husband insists that apple pies are for summer only and I find most berry pies a slightly terrifying experience. I can’t eat them without feeling like I’m dining on eyeballs.

Now if you’ll excuse me I need to go unwrap 36 caramels.

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Blue Book Blogging

This blog is going on eight years old. Eight. (That probably explains why I’m prone to giggle at the Ford Super Duty ads.) In all those years I’ve learned a lot about blogging. Most of it from messing up on my own, but some of it from watching others gaffe off. There are boring blog titles; endless video embeds from fatigued writers who want to say something without saying anything; chronic oversharers and horse corpse floggers galore.

If you were to take all of these annoying and/or dull blogging tics and wrap them around each other into a rubberband ball, that ball would be sizable, yes. However it could still be swallowed by the Monster Of All Irritating Blog Tics.

Now I’m not entirely sure of all the reasons I read blogs. I know I do it because I like to get other peoples’ points of view. I like to be entertained and I like to be able to comment back if something pleases or displeases me enough to warrant it. I’m sure there are other reasons I haven’t quite nailed down but the end result is that it’s free and I enjoy it.

In my Senior year of High School I took a World History Class. That class had the absolutely most maddeningly dull textbook in the history of textbooks–and that’s comparing it against Methods Of Statistical Analysis In Political Science. Perhaps the worst feature of that book* was the Essay Question roundup at the end of each blurb. Every four- or five-hundred words the book would prod you in the genitals of the brain to make sure you hadn’t yet died of boredom. 1. When he came to the New World, Cortez burned his ships. Why do you think he did this? Do you think this was a good idea? How do you think the lack of ships affected Cortez’ men?

To this day I absolutely HATE essay questions at the end of a brief reading. They seem pedantic (which is sort of the point of a textbook, I guess) and smug.

Yet people persist in putting them at the end of their blog posts!

Folks, I come to your blog to be amused. I come to your blog to see the world through your eyes. I do NOT come to your blog to be bullied into leaving comments. Maybe it’s because a lot of the people who are guilty of this are either pastors or Sunday School Teachers and they think every writing needs to be followed up with a Group Discussion and Altar Call. It’s probably a habit ingrained from years of repetition. But I swear, if you start asking me to bow my head, close my eyes and raise my hand if the post moved me to a greater commitment to Jesus Christ I will reach through the monitor and go all Simon Peter on your ear.

So what do you hate most about the blogs you read? Do you think the author is justified in her annoyance? If so, why? And what pies should she make for Thanksgiving? Please write your answer legibly in the space provided below.

*(aside from the sections with pages printed on a nice urine-yellow paper that triggered a year’s worth of cluster headaches)

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How lazy could I get? None. None more lazy. I had to write up several reviews for Goodreads and I had to write a blog post. And then a light came on and I said “by golly! Why don’t I just copy the reviews here?!?” In truth, though, I’d been meaning to talk about these books over here for awhile and so I figured this was the best way to get it all done. And I’d also like to say that I’m looking for book recommendations. (Special To Patrick Todoroff: Gates of Fire is in my TBR folder already.)

Bored in the BreakroomBored in the Breakroom by Jay DiNitto

My rating: 3 of 5 stars

This is a hard book to review.

For starters, it’s flash fiction. Those types of stories are more difficult to do well than most people would assume. The author has very little real estate upon which to erect an entire dwelling for the reader to visit, and for a reader like me whose tastes run to the long and involved, I usually reach the end of story not quite sure what just happened.

The other reason it’s hard to review is because it is (as the author freely admits) an experiment. It’s his first attempt at publishing fiction and he’s thrown it to the wolves!

So did I like it or not?

Yes.

Some of the stories frustrated me, because it seemed they used too many adjectives. In such a spare format those words seem wasteful–like extra engine revving after the starter flag drops in a drag race. In one case there was a word that made no sense at all, and I’m still pondering why it was chosen. (‘reagent’) In another, it’s plain that there could be more editing done. (‘Oxfordian traffic’)

But nearly every story did a very good job of putting me in the snapshot of those people’s lives. And that takes real skill. In more than a few places I laughed out loud. Anything that makes me laugh is well worth the time, I think.

View all my reviews

The Warded Man (Demon Cycle, #1)The Warded Man by Peter V. Brett

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

I’ve now read through this twice, and on the second read I’m afraid I’ve got to reduce my formerly-five-star review to 4 stars.

The book is still a wonderful _story_ in an imaginative place, well-drawn for the reader. Compared to a lot of other entries in the Fantasy category, this is a book I can and have re-read delightedly.

However, in reading it through the second time I realised that things started to fall apart at the last 10% of the story; Brett’s telling of events once things fall into place lacks a bit of the fire and charm of the bulk of the novel. Of course, this is a minor quibble coming from someone who liked the book enough to read it twice and will doubtless read it yet again. It’s a quibble that really only takes the book down to 4.75 or so.

So why did I drop a whole star?

Well, I realise I’m probably being petty here, but taking away a star is the only revenge I have open to me. When I first read this in 2010 it was called _The Warded Man: Book One Of The Demon Trilogy_. Now I see that it is _The Warded Man: Demon Cycle #1_. Yep. Once again the powers that be have decided to just keep gouging away at what was a strong story, diluting it to turn a trilogy into a never-ending pantheon of weak-sauced storylets.

I’m not impressed, and I’m withholding my effusive praise in light of the fact that the publishers just turn it against us time and again.

The Darkness That Comes Before (The Prince of Nothing, #1)The Darkness That Comes Before by R. Scott Bakker

My rating: 1 of 5 stars

I started this book eagerly. It was recommended on a GRRM forum by several GRRM fans and the first few pages of lyrical prose were definitely exciting. So exciting that I even went onto Facebook and talked the whole thing up to my friends.

Then the egg hit my face…

The prose that had at first felt artful became stifling. The world-building was non-existant. You could tell that Bakker has the whole thing mapped out in his head, but that does me no ruddy good at all.

I will never understand why some fantasy authors seem to think that making their work inscrutable means that they’ve succeeded in penning a classic. Yet that’s what Bakker seems to have done here–at least in the 80 or so pages I waded through before acquiescing to the overall shortness of life and giving it up as a bad job.

The End of the Wasp Season (Alex Morrow, #2)The End of the Wasp Season by Denise Mina

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Great novel. Even though they are thrillers, Mina’s books are at the very top of the genre as far as quality goes. No mere airplane read here!

I’d rate this as 4.5 stars, if only because it hit a pacing snag about 75% of the way through.

One thing Mina _does_ do well is the telling. Most authors are wary of “telling not showing”, but Mina’s work is all about taking you inside the heads of one or two of the main characters. By telling you what those characters are thinking, she shows you how the world works. It’s a fascinating way to tease out a story and it works particularly well in a crime thriller. I strongly recommend any of Mina’s works to anyone; if you have no particular love for detective novels, don’t worry. The character studies and sense of place that are Mina’s strongest suit will sweep you along into her world.

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