The Book Flood

Iceland- the not so icy island with delicious hot springs and stunning views also is the land of high literacy culture.  I learned last Christmas right before the holiday that Iceland has a tradition dubbed “the book flood.”  It’s basically where everyone exchanges books on Christmas eve and spends the rest of the evening reading.

I first saw this posted on Facebook, but since Facebook’s accuracy may be up for debate I decided to do a little research and found an NPR article about Iceland’s tradition.

I was thrilled to confirm that this is a real occurrence.  I also learned that Iceland publishes more books per capita than any other nation in the world.  So naturally, Iceland is my new favorite county.  I mean its and entire nation doing what this girl loves.

I kind of hope to start this in my own family.  I want everybody reading or listening to books. I know that my aunt and mom would be on board.

I guess I like it so much because it’s not just about reading it’s about sharing the reading experience, sharing knowledge.  It’s a solo thing as well as a group thing.  It’s like the whole country is doing a big read-in. I find that notion just fascinating.

Okay, who’s ready to move to Iceland?!?

Writing Woes

As I’ve mentioned before, I not only spend copious amounts of time reading, but also scratching out my own scribblings. I tend to write long-hand in a journal I carry with me.  However, I have recently been having some writing woes, but not the usual writer’s block and such. I have been struggling with what people say and do when they see me writing.

I have been given the impression that they think my scribblings are silly, and what could I possibly be writing that is so important that I fill up so many pages.  I’m currently on my fourth journal. There are many people who I have kept this hobby hidden from due to fear of judgement.

Now I know that I really shouldn’t give a flying flip what other people think, but a writer’s ego is fragile.  And sometimes things said really sting, such as one morning a co-worker saw me writing before work at my desk and mockingly said, “Dear diary…” like I was an angsty teenaged girl.  I was instantly embarrassed of my writing and felt foolish for it. It made me feel that my hobby of writing and blogging were inferior to other hobbies.

It’s difficult to not let comments like this burrow their way into your mind and under your skin and make you really question what you’re up to. It makes you wonder, is it really worth it for those of us who are not professionals?  Answer: Of course, it is!

However, it is a bit ironic.  A professional writer, such as a journalist or a novelist, is held in quite high esteem, but it feels like if you haven’t reached that level then you’re inadequate. Yet how does one reach those levels without toiling away with a pen and a piece of paper or a keyboard and a monitor before their day job? And what if you just like doing it with no aspiration to be paid?

Writing is difficult.  It is a process.  I don’t like criticism, but I’ll take it and do something with it if it will improve my work.  However, criticism for the act itself seems unnecessary and rather unproductive. I haven’t come upon any solid advice other than to ignore people and their comments and their eye rolling.

I am, however, very lucky to have many supportive people in my life regarding my writing. They are pretty amazing, so I’m going to focus on those awesome peeps, jam to “Shake It Off” and keep doing what I love.

Happy Friday, everyone! Keep on keeping on!

A Paper Desire

When I was in grade school every few months or so the teacher would pass out these booklet flyers things on newsprint from Scholastic, and it always felt like the world was filled with unimaginable possibilities.  I would scour the pages and dream of having a new book in my hands.

On one of these occasions we were given an extra insert about joining the Scholastic book club.  There was a monthly member fee, but you would receive two books in the mail every month.  The books would be suited for the student’s age.

I think I must have been only in first or second grade.  All the details are a bit fuzzy, but I remember wanting it so very much that after the idea was pitched to my parents I was sent off to my room so they could discuss it. I think they wanted to discuss it sans puppy dog eyes.

I vaguely remember trying to listen through the door to their conversation without much success.  However, the final verdict was that I would be allowed to join.  It was a triumphant moment, and I received books every month for several years before my parents and I decided to stop.

At that point, they were sending me two chapter books a month and I wasn’t able to keep up with reading all of them due to school work and activities.  But I remember a lot of those books; particularly those from the early years.  I probably remember them because I read them over and over and over again.  I was especially a fan of the book called Underwear. I also thoroughly enjoyed No Dogs Allowed and Harvey Potter’s Balloon Farm.

Actually, I think my parents still have most of these books.  They are just packed away now.  I can’t imagine my mom getting rid of them.  She has a soft spot for these as much as I do.

It was also due to a Scholastic order mix up that I ended up discovering Harry Potter before it became the craze that it did.  One of the things that Scholastic did was enable students to purchase books at the end of the school year, so when you came back to school in the fall there would be books waiting for you.  I had convinced my mom to get me an Amber Brown book at the end of my 5th grade year all the popular girls were into them so when I came back to sixth grade (just across the hall from my fifth grade classroom), I could pick it up.

However, when I asked my former 5th grade teacher about it.  She said that some sort of error had occurred. By the time realized it, they were out of the Amber Brown book I had ordered.  In a pinch, she had picked me another one called Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone. I was less than pleased with this news, but thanked her anyway.

Well I’m sure you all know the end to that story. Love…true book love. I guess it was just a happy accident.

Those Scholastic flyers were the best, and I was excited to learn that they still send them out to school children today.  They still print them on the same newsprint and the ink still has a certain haziness to it.  And it seems that kids still get excited to take them home and try to pitch to their parents why they will simply die if they don’t get the books they believe they vitally need.

It’s wonderful to know that somethings don’t change because they don’t need to.  Thank you Scholastic for being the rock of the children’s book world.

Does anybody else remember these magical flyers?

The Other Side of Reading

I have recently been reading Elizabeth Berg’s book on writing called Escaping into the Open. It’s fairly obvious that I not only like reading but fancy writing a bit as well.  I’ve known for a while that there aren’t necessarily strict, firm rules to writing in order to be successful.  However, I don’t believe it truly sunk in until reading this. People say what works for them, but that doesn’t mean it’s applicable to everyone.

Thus, a big part of writing is simply figuring out what the heck works for you.  This is comforting and yet terrifying. It’s nice to know that my bumbling around is not only normal but encouraged; however, I really would like to stop bumbling.  But it sounds like that’s just the way of things.

Berg gives the impression that being relaxed about writing will make everything easier.  I think this is true. I’m just not quite sure how to Zen out my brain about this.  Writing tends to make me get this… tightness.  I want to put a masterpiece on the page. This includes my blog posts. I realize I have to get past this, and Berg makes it seem like one day I will.  I just can’t force it.

She reiterates many things I already knew, but it’s nice and necessary to hear them again.  Such as:

  • Write, write, write, just keep writing, no matter what. I have seen transformations in my own writing as time goes on.  Even though there are many times I feel like I’m spinning my wheels.
  • Read everything. This I try to do on a regular basis. (This blog helps.)  Ideas strike in all kinds of weird places.  So just keep that nose in any reading material you can find. As a personal addendum to this I’ve discovered listening to a wide variety of podcast can also get the ideas flowing.
  • There is freedom in writing and don’t let other writers’ hang ups or beliefs limit what you do or how you do it. There are a lot of myths about writing some could be true for some people but they don’t necessarily affect or apply to everyone.
  • Work hard, but be kind to yourself. Natural talent always helps, but drive and passion can make almost any writer succeed.  Furthermore, I know that I’m not a super-star writer, I like to think I have the drive to become one.  And that this hard work does not include mean or self-deprecating thoughts/comments.  A firm gentleness will suffice.  Positivity will go a lot further than negativity.

Berg provides quite a bit of solid advice for a green writer like myself.  She’s realistic but encouraging and right now that’s what my sensitive writing ego needs.

There is a lot of writing advice out there for bloggers and well for all forms of writing.  What is some advice you’ve received?  Any advice that was particularly unique?

A Comma Conundrum

Oxford comma for the win!!

Before I get to what the hell that means, here’s a little background…

My mother was a high-school English teacher for 33-years, and as I’m sure you’ve witnessed my grammar is far from perfect, but it certainly isn’t for a lack of trying.

My mother would always politely remind me that I did well instead of good.  That “Holly has one…” as opposed to “Holly gots one…” And when correcting my papers there would always be a red flick for a final comma in a series of items, also known as the Oxford comma.

It wasn’t until I was in college that I learned its name, that it had a fair amount of debate centered on it, and that technically using it wasn’t written into the stone tablet of grammarian law at the time of the Ten Commandments.  Some believe that the Oxford comma should always be used.  It completes the series.  Some believe that is it unnecessary, and the conjunction is enough to indicate the final separation in the list. These individuals tend to believe that only in very specific circumstance should it be employed to clarify something that could be ambiguous without it.

My boss and I have secret Oxford comma wars.  He leaves it out.  I put it back in.  He crosses it out when correcting drafts and so on.  I don’t think he’s caught on yet that I’m doing it on purpose.

However, earlier this year The New York Times reported that the lack of this controversial Oxford comma has given truck drivers for a Maine based dairy company the grounds to file suit regarding overtime compensation.

Maine requires time and a half be paid after 40 hours worked with a few exceptions that are listed in the state’s statute.  This list, as common in much legal writing, lacks the Oxford comma leaving room for some serious interpretation.

Below is the link to the full article that clearly defines why Oxford may have outfoxed an employer.

Where do you stand: with Oxford or without?

Checking Reading Snobbery

I need to be knocked down a peg in my reading attitude.  I recently read The Templar Legacy by Steve Berry. It is an action/adventure type story centering on the myths surrounding the Templar knights and the Crusades.  I went into it thinking that it would be like every other action/adventure book I’ve read.  But I was low on reading material, and figured it would fill the void until I could get something “better” to read.

However, once I began, I found the story to be exciting and intriguing. It then struck me I had begun to look at books of this type as “low brow.”  I felt ashamed, and I scolded myself about this.  A good story is a good story and that’s all the matters.  Furthermore, who am I to dub things as low or high on the brow spectrum?

These books might not have flowery verbiage, and probably won’t ascend to the place of Sense and Sensibility or A Tale of Two Cities. However, they still took a tremendous amount of effort and research to produce, particularly books like Mr. Berry’s where he mixes a sizable helping of history into his plot. They may be somewhat formulaic, but they keep me reading and that’s the whole point of a good book.

These books are a bit like the Die Hard movies.  Everyone knows they won’t be winning Oscars or other notable film accolades, but the general population will love them because they are action packed with a splash of comedy.  They are pure entertainment and that’s simply wonderful.

I don’t want to read these exclusively like I once did when I was in high school, but these books should not be looked down upon.  And I sometimes need to remind my occasionally snobby arse that reading anything and everything has merit and adds perspective to a reading repertoire.  Things are gained in mysterious places, so keeping a broad range of reading is not only rewarding, but important.

I’m going to delight in these reads to the nth degree because all books deserve a chance, and I’m glad all types of books exist.  It keeps life interesting, and that’s what I’m looking for.  So, here’s to entertaining action novels.

Yippee ki-ay mother fucker.

Minting New Culinary Insight

This past September I got hitched, and one of the bridal shower gifts was an ice cream maker. I was so excited! I still am, really. I made a few batches and loved the idea of experimenting with different flavors.  Naturally, Scott (this is the guy I married) and I can only eat so much ice cream, so when a friend’s birthday was fast approaching I decided to make him his favorite flavor: mint chocolate chip.

So off to find a recipe. All in all the recipes were very similar:  a bit of milk, some sugar, green and yellow food coloring if you want it to have that mint green appearance you find in the store.  But some recipes said to use peppermint extract and others said to use just mint.  Some reviewers mentioned that peppermint seemed to be too strong so they would in the future opt for mint instead.

Now my line of thinking, was why wouldn’t you just use mint in the first place?  It’s call mint chocolate chip not peppermint chocolate chip.  What’s the difference?  So, off to Googles I went.

After going down the rabbit hole of articles on mint, I soon discovered that “mint” is just a general term for a family of plants.  There isn’t just a mint plant out there. There is a wide variety of mint types including lavender, pineapple, spearmint, and peppermint.  So when one purchases McCormick’s pure mint extract in the spice aisle,  it is combination of two types of mint, peppermint and spearmint.  I also learned that generally people prefer peppermint to “mint” extract when making sweet items.  Apparently, the spearmint in the “pure mint” extract can make it taste kind of goofy with chocolate, however, it seems to be based mainly on personal preference.

Nevertheless, the only reviewer complaints I found talked about how the peppermint was too overpowering, nothing about the hybrid “mint” extract, so I decided to go with a recipe that had just called for the “pure mint” extract. It was a super simple and tasted minty to me, and the receiver of said ice cream seemed to enjoy it.  There were a few things that I would like to experiment with to see if I can make it better, and I’m sure the digital ink of the universe will be there to help me.

I must say I’m glad I live in the era of the internet otherwise I dare say I would be very much like my great-great uncle Ross who was known for reading the encyclopedia. Yes, the idea of learning via ink is in my blood.