Friday, February 25, 2011

The fascinating world of mom bloggers

Tilly is "helping"


You might think that I've forgotten about my blog already, but quite the contrary. I've spent the week researching the fascinating world of mom bloggers. (I get the feeling that they — I mean, we — feel "mommy bloggers" is derogatory.) It turns out there's this whole community I had no idea existed.

They have an (online, of course) magazine, Mom Blog Magazine. They have a queen — according to a Feb. 23 New York Times article — Heather Armstrong of dooce.com, who literally makes millions at it. (Perhaps she gets paid for each CAPITAL LETTER.) Not only that, mom bloggers have ads, more adssponsored reviews, sponsored tweets and other ways of making money that I don't quite understand and have yet to stick on my moral barometer.

I've also spent time sprucing up this site, though we have a long way to go before it looks as cool as some of the others out there — Selfish Mom and My Brown Baby, just to name two. Then there's the multi-part post about baby advice I'm working on to welcome my surprise niece or nephew (!) into the world. And finally, I've been downloading an apparent flood of post ideas I didn't even know were there from my baby-sodden brain.

Oh, and I logged into my Twitter account for the first time in a while and "followed" some people. I don't get Twitter, at least not as a consumer of posts. I can send out posts all the live-long day, but if I'm following more than a few people (which most do) the feed becomes just a slush pile of jargon, robot posts and hashtags. How do people make sense of the noise? It reminds me of the chaos of MySpace, and we all know clean lines and organized profiles made Facebook so much more appealing. Perhaps I need a tutorial on why Twitter is so awesome. Any fans out there?

So, there's a lot more to learn about this much more sophisticated blogosphere than I thought. But hey, I've already inspired a friend to start a blog, so perhaps I'm in the right place after all.

Tuesday, February 15, 2011

The best chocolate chip cookie recipe (and thus the best recipe) ever

Horror of horrors. I nearly lost my favorite chocolate chip cookie recipe today. In order for this travesty to never happen again, I'm going to immortalize it here. Here's the original, which is from a New York Times article by David Leite but I think I've made enough changes to it to be considered "an adaptation," which his recipe is already anyway.

Well-loved cookie recipe

I think that the traditional way to write recipes is silly, so I'm going to write it the way I think is best. See, usually I think: "I've had a crap day. I want to make cookies." Then I get out the recipe and begin reading and mixing from top to bottom. Recipe writers, however, think that recipe readers are smart enough to read through the entire recipe first and then assemble their ingredients in cute little pre-measured bowls that are ready to add at the appropriate moment like TV cooking show hosts have. Not true. Doesn't happen. So, I'm going to write this in the order in which you need to know the information, and highlight important instructions and necessary ingredients so you know if it's OK to substitute.

For example, the most important thing you need to know — and the thing I've forgotten all fifty dozen times I've made this recipe — is that you'll need to allow at least 2-3 hours for the dough to chill so don't think you can just throw them in the oven. It's actually best if you can wait overnight, but 2-3 hours is adequate, especially if you chill it in batches as I describe below. 
P.S. This recipe is for we landed gentry who have a stand mixer. The rest of you peons can adapt to suit whatever stone tools you have.
- So, get out a medium-sized bowl (not your mixer's bowl) and a sieve to go inside of it, if you want to.
Scoop in 2 cups minus 2 tablespoons of cake flour, 1-2/3 cups bread flour, 1-1/4 tsp baking soda, 1-1/4 tsp baking powder, 1-1/2 tsp coarse salt. Sift ingredients together or just stir them around.
- Now, get your mixer's bowl and put in 2-1/2 sticks of softened unsalted butter, 1-1/4 cups light brown sugar, 1 cup plus 2 tblsp granulated sugar. Here's a tip to softening butter sticks quickly. Put them still in their wrappers in the microwave for about 30 seconds at 30 percent power. For two sticks, I had luck with 40 seconds at 30 percent power, then flipped them over and did another 20 seconds at 30 percent. Play around with it.  Cream together butter and sugars with a paddle attachment until very light, about 5 minutes.
- While mixer is still stirring, add one large egg and then another (2 total), then 1 tblsp vanilla extract.
- Reduce speed to low and add dry ingredients until just mixed (5-10 seconds).
- Remove paddle attachment and lick clean.
- Stir in one package of Ghirardelli 60 % cocoa chocolate chips until just combined.
- Here's the best part: this recipe makes A BUNCH of cookies. I scoop out a thick line of dough onto a sheet of plastic wrap, then roll into a tube like the kind you buy at the store. I freeze three batches (that usually end up eaten as-is by my husband...) and refrigerate the fourth for cookies later that day. If you don't do this and stick the whole batch in the fridge, you may have to chill the dough longer so that the inside is chilled. If you don't chill the dough, you end up with what we call "island cookies" that are thin and wafer-like and not thick and chewy like good cookies. Patience is a virtue.
- When ready to bake, preheat oven to 350 degrees
- Line a baking sheet with parchment paper or a nonstick baking mat (it really is better than greasing it, but you can do that instead, if you have to).
- If you've done tubes of cookies, cut half-inch slices and put on sheet. Otherwise, drop spoonfuls.
- This is important: Sprinkle the top of dough with sea salt (it's soooo good).
- Bake until golden brown but still soft, about 13 minutes in my oven.
- Transfer to wire rack (again, makes for surprisingly better cookie, but you can transfer somewhere else or leave on the cookie sheet to cool if you really have to).
- Eat warm with a big glass of cold milk.


There you have it! The best recipe ever!

Sunday, February 13, 2011

V is for vendetta against singletons

** A reprint of one of my first columns from the February 2009 edition ofThe Southwest Community Connection, just in time for Valentine's Day **


Alright, the floodgates have opened.
Due to an unexpected wellspring of encouragement (Hi, Mom, Dad) after my first column in last month’s issue, I’ve decided to make this a regular thing.
However, this month’s topic takes a turn away from the political into the cultural – to that most cloying of holidays: Valentine’s Day.
Even though this will be my first Valentine’s Day as a married woman – after wedding my longtime on-again-off-again sweetie in September – and thus should be the time when I am most assured of romance, I have never been quite comfortable with the holiday. It always seemed rather mean-spirited and anti-climactic – kind of like prom or, well, the rest of high school.
Let me explain.
When I was a kid, I loved Valentine’s Day. I loved ripping out the perforated cards and writing my classmates’ names on them. I loved making the heart-shaped valentine holder and taping it to my desk and I loved opening all the tiny envelopes the other kids put in it and eating all the colorful candy.
It wasn’t until later that I realized that Valentine’s Day was actually a romantic holiday and thus had no real role for perpetual wallflowers like me.
It was then that I decided that Valentine’s Day was just plain mean. It was as if we had a national holiday for rich people to celebrate how great it was to have so much money.
“Sorry, poor people, maybe you’ll have more money next year,” top-hatted rich people would say with their haughty laughs before buying each other lavish presents and gold-plated cards that read: “Happy Independently Wealthy Day!”
It wasn’t only that I was jealous of couples, what with their dinner dates and chocolates and surprise deliveries of flowers. It’s just that, if you have someone you love and who loves you, isn’t that fantastic in and of itself? Do you really need a holiday to rub it in everyone else’s faces?
The few occasions when I actually have been with someone on Valentine’s Day didn’t do much to raise my opinion of the holiday. Partly, this was my fault for having such high expectations after so many wasted Valentine’s Days, but partly it was because the men I was with – as is common to their species – had no ingrained concept of romance. It was like watching a pelican land: they looked so graceful on the approach, but when the ground finally came up to meet them, the results were pretty embarrassing.
Now that I am – as my aunt says, wiping away all of my newly assumed dignity – a “Sadie, Sadie married lady,” I’ve also realized that the calendar is suddenly populated with obligations to buy my husband thoughtful gifts: Valentine’s Day, his birthday, our anniversary and Christmas. Granted, this is much less of an agonizing, heart-wrenching, emotionally draining and downright frightening task for me than for him (yes, I had already decided on a Valentine’s present in early January), but it still seems like a lot.
Just thinking about it makes me appreciate the wisdom of my in-laws who were married on Leap Day and thus only have to worry about their anniversary once every four years.
As life speeds up and kids turn us into romance amnesiacs, I will no doubt come to appreciate the four occasions per year when my husband and I are reminded to express our love for each other.
But my hope is, for you and for me, that our lives will be stitched together with plenty of love-filled days that are far less formal and weighty than the 14th of February.

Copyright 2011 Pamplin Media Group, 6605 S.E. Lake Road, Portland, OR 97222 • 503-226-6397

Saturday, February 12, 2011

"How old are they?"

“How old are they?”
If you have a baby — or in my case, two, — this is the question that people will ask you over and over and over. Friends, family, perfect strangers.

How old are they, how old are they, how old are they?
There is nothing wrong with this question. It’s about as benign and innocuous a question as you can get. It’s even less political than “Boy or girl?” and not nearly as inane as the surprisingly ubiquitous, “Are they twins?”
How old are they? How much time has passed since they were born? This is a completely value-less question.
Unless… unless…
Unless your babies were born two and a half months early. Unless your day-to-day life is a constant struggle because of that prematurity, because of the damage it caused in the brain of one of your sons and the delays it caused in both. Then, then it is an awkward reminder of the failure of your uterus to do its goddamn job, the fear of preterm labor and the endless days in the NICU.
How old are they? How old are they?
Do you tell these innocuous interlocutors their real age and have them wonder why they are so small and unable to do things babies their age ought to do? Or do you lie and tell them the age they ought to be if your body could have kept it together? Or do you launch into a slightly embarrassing explanation of both ages that could open the door to more questions or leave the person feeling insensitive for asking what really ought to be a harmless question?
How old are they?
As old as they possibly can be and much, much too young.

Consolidation

I'm getting really excited about this blog. I think it might be just the outlet I'm looking for for all the random things I've written, have been writing and likely will write. I don't know why I didn't think of it before.
I'm in the process of cleaning up this blog and importing my old entries from France on LiveJournal. I've also posted some notes I've written on Facebook and will be putting in some random things from my computer.
Thanks to whoever out there is reading this! If you want to support my endeavor, you can click on the donate button and send something my way!

Oh, P.S. I also changed the name of the blog to "Outrageous Fortune," from the "slings and arrows of outrageous fortune" line in Hamlet's To be or not to be speech.

Sadness in three minutes or less




** Imported from Facebook Notes with this update:
See http://www.npr.org/series/105660765/three-minute-fiction for more about NPR's Three Minute Fiction contest and to read the eight submissions that have so far been chosen as "favorites." Mine isn't among them, which might be a good thing since they don't choose a winner from among the favorites, but it could also be a bad thing since it's not, well, anything. **

Ok, so here is a short story with a long backstory.
For someone whose nonfiction work has been read by thousands, I’m unaccountably shy about showing people my fiction.
But, I have to do it sometime if I ever want to get paid to do it, so I thought this would be a good trial balloon. I’m submitting the following piece to NPR’s Three-Minute Story contest. The rules are that it has to be less than 600 words (this is 451), contain a joke and a character who cries.
There are some obvious autobiographical themes.
A word of warning: this is a sad story. If you prefer it to have a happy ending, forget what I’ve written past <<“Guys!”>>.
DO NOT READ if you find death upsetting, as unfortunately too many of you have had to experience it lately.
Please be gentle but honest. Armchair critics will be much harsher and I’d rather hear it from friends.


What are the chances?
By Shasta Kearns Moore
It felt good to be among family. The Christmas tree sparkled, the fake fire flickered, the wrapping paper glittered. All that was left were the stockings to open.
She tried not to think about last Christmas. She was so happy then, trying for a baby, a week or two pregnant but didn’t know it yet. The intervening year was marred with fear and chaos: twins, complications, career abandoned, bedrest, preterm labor… too early, much too early.
Two tiny babies alone in plastic boxes. Breathing machines, heart monitors.
One box taken away. No more breathing machine, no more heart monitor.
Life would never be normal again.
She blinked back tears and concentrated on the banter around her. They were talking about what they would buy with the $30,000 grand prize from the Scratch-Its Grandma always tucked into the stockings.
“I’mma get a new car upholstered in terry cloth,” her brother-in-law was saying. “That way, when I get out of the shower, I can just jump in and roll around until I’m dry.”
Everyone laughed.
The lottery dust rained on the floor as the cards yielded their secrets to the patient insistence of tarnished pennies. The other speculators cast their bids for shopping sprees, vacations and financial solvency.
She merely wanted a reason to believe that things could be better, that luck could still be on her side, sometimes. She needed a reason to hope.
It wasn’t supposed to be this way. She kissed the son in her lap on top of his head and tried not to imagine his missing double.
The iridescent shimmer on the bubble of the lottery players’ dreams gleamed brightest right before it popped. Disappointed, they turned to pumpkin pie.
“Wait,” Grandma said. “There’s one more. An extra.”
She was the last one to leave the living room, so Grandma gave it to her.
Balancing a baby on one hip, she revealed the pictures lurking behind the latex ink. One, two, three. The matching pictures were there. She blinked.
“Uh… guys,” she said. “Guys!”
A whirl of glee, excitement, smiles, hugs, endless chatter about what she should buy. Should it be practical? Or something to make her feel better? Yes, that’s it. Something nice, something that said: Life can be good after all.
Weeks later, she glanced in the rearview mirror at her baby babbling happily to a toy in the backseat of her brand-new SUV — no terry cloth upholstery.
Life was good after all. Life could be good after so much pain, so many tears.
She looked back to the road, too late. Glass crunched, tires screamed, sirens wailed.
The baby cried.
Breathing machine, heart monitor.
It wasn’t supposed to be this way.

Friday, February 11, 2011

To blog or not to blog? That is the question.

This blog began with the above question in a Facebook status update. Surprisingly quickly a number of my friends urged me to blog. As a professional writer, I have been leery of blogging as I felt my energies and precious little free time should be spent on things that might actually make me some much-needed money. But the more I thought about it, the more I realized that it might be perfect. I don't have time to research and write about anything but me, my family and cerebral palsy so freelancing seems like more trouble than it's worth. And even if I could get a column like the one I had before, there would be deadlines that my chaotic life might not allow for and word-count requirements that my stress level might not accommodate either. And who knows, maybe Google AdSense might actually get me some spending money.
So, to blog or not to blog?
Blog.
In fact, during one of my recent twilight sleep episodes (this is where one twin wakes me up very early in the morning and I hang out in the space between sleeping and waking for a few hours) I remembered that I had once memorized the "To be, or not to be" speech from Hamlet. No particular reason, I'm just pompous and weird like that.
I thought in my semi-conscious stupor I might be able to remember it, but alas, poor Yorick (whom Hamlet may or may not have known well, Shakespeare never actually said). Today, I looked it up and the words came rushing back, though with more meaning than I ever remember them having now that 10 years has passed. So — not that I'm feeling suicidal or anything — I think the speech might be a good way to kick off this endeavor. It's one of those things that everyone knows about but few actually take the time to look at. (I'll try to do it from memory and see how far I get before I fetch the book. Un-italicized words are the ones I forgot.):

To be, or not to be? That is the question.
Whether tis nobler in the mind to suffer
the slings and arrows of outrageous fortune
or to take arms against a sea of troubles,
and by opposing end them. To die — to sleep —
no more; and by a sleep to say we end the
heartache of a thousand natural shocks
that flesh is heir to. 'Tis a consummation
devoutly to be wished. To die, to sleep.
To sleep — perchance to dream; ay there's the rub! (How could I forget my favorite line?!)
For in that sleep of death what dreams may come,
when we have shuffled off this mortal coil
must give us pause.


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