Sunday, August 13, 2017

Writing 101: Use Your Words (Wisely)

As an editor, I see a little of everything when I'm working with authors. I see the authors who want to keep everything as "real" and "gritty" as possible (in other words, they swear a lot and graphically describe sex and violence), and I see authors who apparently don't want to offend anyone (so they censor out everything).

Here's my take on this:

Use what works for your book.

It seems easy enough, right? It's not - at least for many authors.

You see, authors tend to put themselves into their books. Sometimes, this is great, because it means that we can get honest reactions to situations. I can totally imagine some of my authors sitting at their computers running through scenarios from start to finish: If someone walked up behind me and goosed me, what would I say? How would I react? Would I scream? Would I jump? Would I simply keep walking? 

But - and this is a big but - the question truly should be: If someone walked up behind my character...

And this makes all the difference.

Probably the most obvious place this happens is with interjections. (In case you don't remember what interjections are, I offer you this from Schoolhouse Rock.) (And even if you do remember what they are, this is kind of fun.)

You can tell a lot about an author when you find that the interjection doesn't match the character.

When the "gotta stay gritty" author has an otherwise suitably grandmotherly character yell out "Fuck you, you asshole!" at the pizza delivery boy who handed her the wrong pie, readers might suspect something is wrong. On the other hand, when the author who doesn't like to get too close to things has her college-age ruffian say "Gosh, that's no good," readers will probably also get the feeling that something is out of place.

For fiction (or memoir, for that matter) to really work on all levels, your characters - and your audience - should have as much of an impact on your word choice as your own personal opinions do.

It's not just in fictional outbursts when words have meaning, though. You only have to look at two or three different news sources these days to realize how much difference word choice can make.

When one news source says "passionate young men chanted as they processed through town" and another says "domestic terrorists shouted out epithets while carrying torches and storming through town" - both trying to describe the same situation - you can start to see the power of words.

As writers, we create the world that our readers will see. In fiction, this can be a fun, playful task - or a painful, laborious one - depending on how well you understand your characters. In non-fiction, this takes on even more weight, since - in essence - you're crafting the world your readers live in.

As readers, we need to hold authors accountable for their word choices. If a character's words don't match the character's character, it's up to us to decide if we should read on.

If what we're seeing with our own eyes doesn't match what we're being told, we need to call the author (or news organization) out.

Words are tools. Use them wisely.

Friday, August 11, 2017

Cinnamon Roll Dough, Attempt #1 (aka "Dough-us Ex Machina")

A while back, a friend of mine asked whether I thought there would be a big difference between yeast dough made in a mixer and yeast dough made by hand. You see, she doesn't have a big stand mixer, and so she was looking for input into whether or not to buy one.

I have a "mid-range" Kitchen Aid (full disclosure: we have two in the house, because we each had one before we combined households), and so I thought it would be fun to try to make the same dough twice to see which way turned out best.

She sent me the recipe she'd been using, so I decided to start with the original version (which calls for the mixer), and - since we've been having some cool days, lately - decided to try them out yesterday.

In case you can't read it, this comes from "".

(The final line says "about 1 hour.")

It kind of looks like an ad for the dairy farmers' association, doesn't it?
It seems important to mention - since we're doing the Stand Mixer version this week - that the recipe calls for both a "flat paddle" attachment and a dough hook. So I made sure I could find both of them. (We don't often use the dough hook.)
I'm listening to Finding Neverland as I write this up, and wondering about a character with a Dough Hook for a hand...
I don't work with a lot of yeast doughs - which, coincidentally, I initially typed as "doubts" - so I'm a bit nervous around them. I needed to start by warming 3/4 cup of whole milk, so I set up a mini double boiler on the smallest burner of our range, and put our meat thermometer to work.  
Meat thermometers don't have clips, so it kept trying to fall out.
It's a bit of a challenge to do this, since you can't have the thermometer probe touching the bowl, because that will most likely be hotter than the contents. (If any of you work with yeasts a lot, I'd love some recommendations on how you deal with this kind of thing.)

The recipe, as you may have noticed, is big on weights instead of volume measurements. But I have no idea how much yeast is in 7 grams. Of course, if I had yeast packets, I'd have been set, but we have a jar (in the freezer), so I got out our scale. Which only measures in even numbers. Oy.
Yes, I could have googled the equivalencies (7g = 2.25tsp), but I didn't think about that.
Now we get to one of the things that just really weirds me out about yeast: the whole "it's alive and eats" thing.
Looks yummy, doesn't it?
The house was right on the borderline of too cool for this to all work, so I moved the yeasty milk out to our screen porch where, about 10 minutes later we had definitely gotten some bubbles.

I don't know that I'd say it was "foamy" but it was definitely doing something. So I figured we were on our way.

In the meantime, I'd melted butter and added that to egg and sugar and sour cream in the mixer.
And you thought the bubbly yeast-milk looked weird... 

Meanwhile, in the world of dry ingredients, another really exciting photo of multiple white substances in a bowl: 

Luckily, the dry quickly went into the wet so that it could get stirred together with the flat paddle.

And, yes, there is a "stir" setting on a Kitchen Aid mixer, though I don't know why it's not a numbered stop on the list.
If "Off" is 0, couldn't this be 1?
Because there was so much dry, it kind of formed a cookie-dough-textured mess. Which is when the yeasty-milk comes in:
Ohh... it looks like the dough is glowing.
At first, this really turned out kind of weird looking. I'm glad I've worked with doughs of other kinds enough to know that things have a tendency to come together if you give them a chance. 
An action shot or two later, and that...
...became this: (And I switched to the dough hook.)
Kitchen Aid mixers are known for being able to handle large amounts of dough without any problems, so I wasn't worried about turning this on and letting it go. And "go" it did: 

If you look closely and compare where the spilled flour on the counter is between these two photos, you'll see that the mixer, in fact, "went" about four inches to the side while kneading the dough.

I'm not sure whether that would have been avoided if I had locked the mixer head down, but it was quite noisy and spectacular as it was.
The instructions say that, if the dough is "sticky" you'll want to add more flour. As it was mixing (it kneads for 4 minutes in the mixer), I was noticing that dough was sticking to the sides of the bowl.

When I stopped it, it looked... well... like this:
Yeah. I'm going to vote that we had serious stickitude going on:
A bit more flour, and suddenly this is what I saw in the bowl as it spun around:
That's definitely more of the "smooth and elastic" dough that I was expecting.

Now, I must say that the challenge I was facing in this was basically finished at this point. I'd been tasked to compare making this dough by hand versus using the machine, after all, so this is attempt number one completed. It was fairly easy, not too messy, and came together pretty quickly (about 40 minutes, not including amassing ingredients - and that includes all the "photo stops").

Of course, it would be silly to just stop there and have a ball of dough with no purpose in life. (Not to mention that that sounds a lot like how I feel some mornings when I'm between freelance projects...)

But, to give you a true feeling of how this recipe came together, I think we're going to have to wait until next week to actually get into the cinnamon rolls. You see, at about this point in the preparation I got a call from Christopher inviting me to meet him out for dinner. And, well, I wasn't about to turn down dinner out with my husband - not even for cinnamon rolls, and not even for the "scientific research" I was doing for my blog.

So, as I set the dough in a bowl sprayed with cooking spray and then covered it loosely and set it atop the fridge, I also left for dinner. And, thus, I leave you with this final image of the dough until we reconvene next week:

Sometime in the next few days I also plan to make this dough by hand, to see if that drastically changes how much time it takes.

And then, yes, we'll get into the whole "cinnamon rolling" of the dough. I promise.

Spoiler alert! They turned out looking like this: 

Have a recipe you'd like me to try out - or a question you want me to tackle? Let me know! It might take a while (I admit that I do follow baking whims), but I promise I'll do my best to check it out for you!

Sunday, August 6, 2017

Editing 101: I Am Not a "That" (and neither are you)

All of us have our pet peeves. They range from "people who drive slowly in the fast lane" to "flowers that only bloom during the one week while you're on vacation" and all sorts of things in the middle.

Editors are no exception.

Yes, we follow style guides that give us the basic (and not-so-basic) rules for how material is supposed to be presented. And we lean on dictionaries a lot to confirm spellings and proper usages of words. And we think about how our English teachers explained grammar and usage to us all those years ago. Then, once we have all of that in hand, we go out and apply it to what we're editing.

But, in the same way that we need to figure out the author's own style, we also tend to have our own.

A few examples:
  • Current usage is moving toward "they" as a singular, non-gender-specific pronoun. Your editor has to help you decide whether that is right for your piece of writing and its audience. 
  • There is constant debate regarding whether or not sentences can end in prepositions. You and your editor should discuss how you feel about that. (Trust me - if you want to make that a hard-and-fast rule, you could end up with some pretty painful sentences.)
And a huge pet peeve of mine, which I probably altered about one thousand times in one of the last things I worked on:
  • Current usage frequently allows the pronoun "that" to refer to a person, instead of only indicating objects/places/animals/etc. 
Here's the thing: who and whom (yes, I realize a lot of people find "whom" to be archaic) are made to refer to people. Sometimes, it's obvious:
  • Who is at the door?
  • Who gave you that bouquet?
  • To whom does this sandwich belong?
I can't imagine anyone saying "What is at the door?" or "What gave you that bouquet?" And "To what does this sandwich belong?" sounds to me like someone at a deli is trying to figure out why there is an extra sandwich after all of the orders have been bagged up.

When it comes to usage within a sentence, though, it can get a little more interesting:
  • "Who is the person that is at the door?" should be: "Who is the person who is at the door?" 
  • "Do you know the person that owns that?" should be: "Do you know the person who owns that?"
I realize that this, in the broad scheme of life, is not a life-and-death situation. But it is a person-versus-object situation. And, while it's easy to fall into the "that" usage, it makes people into things with just the change of a word. Which, to me, seems like a bad thing to do.

I can't imagine anyone saying "Who is the person what is at the door?" (Can you?) But again, in essence, that's what the "that" in that sentence is doing. It's making a person into an object.

Personally, I don't want to be an object - I'd rather be a person. And, when I'm working on an edit, I do my best to make sure that the people are people throughout, as well. (Unless... you know... it's part of the story where a person becomes an object, but that situation would probably need a whole different set of rules.)

Friday, August 4, 2017

A Mug o' Summer Comfort

Some days are for trying out new recipes and experimenting with flavors you've never used.

Some days are not.

Today is the latter.

In many ways (most of which I'll be skipping over, here, because this is not a therapy blog), this week has been tailor-made for curling up with a good book, with good music, and with a mug of memories.

I've got good music on my stereo (yes - I'm playing CDs on an actual stereo, which also accommodates cassette tapes and vinyl records), I spent much of yesterday - with its October-like weather - hunkered down with a decent book for book club, and this morning I found a mug to wrap up the week in.

When I was growing up, in a small town in South Dakota, there wasn't a lot to do in the summer. Okay. Yes. There was a ton of stuff to do, in the standard small-town kind of way. But if the neighbor kids were gone, and your siblings didn't want to hang out, the fallback was always to walk up to your mom and say "I'm bored." (Which, as we all know, is never a smart idea.)

When that was accompanied by "I'm hungry," there wasn't a freezer filled with microwaveable snacks, or ice cream, or whatever. Instead - especially on days when Mom just wanted me out of the house - it was met with a directive of finding a mug so that we could make what has become one of my favorite childhood food memories: Oatmeal and Brown Sugar.

Yep. That's it.

So, let's amass the ingredients:

Bonus points for adulthood: The perfect mug for this is from the South Dakota Festival of Books.

You might notice that there is no liquid, here. No water. No milk. Just "Quick Oats" and light brown sugar. Oh. And you might also have noticed the chocolate chips - but those came much later, probably when I was in grad school.

As I alluded, earlier, one of the really important ingredients in this is the mug. It needs to be big enough to support stirring without spilling. It needs to have a handle big enough to be easily held while sitting on a swingset (or reading a book). And it really ought to have a curved bottom, so that it is easier to get everything out of it with a spoon.

I usually start by putting the oats into the mug, because - since they're the lightest component - they'll work their way up through the rest as you go. (As opposed to the brown sugar, which could just end up compacting at the bottom of the mug.)

Caution: DO NOT go more than halfway up the mug. Not just because it becomes very spillable, but because you're dealing with dry oats. After a while - even if you really like them - they can get to be too much.

Trying to be "healthy" with this (although... come on... it is whole oats, so you're not doing too badly), I usually put in about 1/4 to 1/3 as much brown sugar as oats.

Not trying to be healthy at all (although... still... whole oats, right?), as I've gotten older - and emotionally needier - I've added in some chocolate chips. You don't need a lot of them. Probably only about half as much as you need of the brown sugar will get you enough to have one or two per spoonful.

I guess you could add raisins. (But... why?) I've also done shredded coconut, which is kind of fun.
So, there we go. Mug o' comfort from my days growing up in small-town South Dakota.

Of course, we don't have a swingset in our back yard in Minneapolis. But we do have a chaise in our porch. And it's a really nice day out. And I have about a third of my book to read for book club on Monday.

Yes, I have work I could be doing (should be doing). But, some days, a mug of comfort is more important.

In case you're wondering, the book is The Kind Worth Killing by Peter Swanson. It's ... well... it's suspense, but not really a murder mystery, since we know whodunit from the beginning. In many ways, it's better than I expected it to be, and in others it's worse than I'd hoped.
For the record, I think I was always sent outside with this to keep the mess to a minimum - as well to get out my mom's hair for a while. These days, I keep a Dustbuster on hand as I try to get out of my own head for a bit. 

Either way, I raise my mug to my mom for this one. I'd say "Cheers" but, you know, talking with your mouth full is bad.

I suspect this funk won't last too long. And I've got a few recipes on deck that I really want to try out. But, if you've got some comfort food you'd like to share - or a recipe you'd love to see me blog about - let me know!

Friday, July 28, 2017

A Butter/Margarine Post

I grew up in a house that almost entirely used margarine. Let's get that out in the open right away.

I grew up in a small town in South Dakota. I had friends in school who grew up on dairy farms. I know where butter comes from and how to make it from milk. But, in the house when I was growing up, we pretty much never had butter - we had margarine.

We had tubs of margarine in the fridge. We had sticks of margarine for baking (or for making Kraft Macaroni & Cheese).

And, well, that's what I use in about 90% of my baking as an adult (Blue Bonnet, to be exact). Except... well... I occasionally bake for people who are allergic to soy - which is typically the first ingredient in margarine.

This week, I was baking to send some soy-free (and gluten-free) cookies to work with Christopher, and decided to work with a sugar cookie recipe that uses two cups of "shortening." The recipe says that you can use either butter or margarine for half of that, but that you should use actual vegetable shortening for the other half.

No worries. Butter and Crisco. I had both of those. But... yeah... Crisco's first ingredient is soy-based.

So, for the first time ever (and the second - but that's another allergy-related story involving moving too fast and grabbing the wrong flour), I made the cookies with all butter.

The version of the recipe I was working with has lemon and lavender in it, and I worked with the same ratios I always do, figuring that the butter shouldn't alter the flavor enough to muck up the other flavors.

Yeah. I was wrong.

Now, don't worry too much - the cookies still came out really well. They're just so... buttery.

I know. Many of you are probably thinking "Really buttery sugar cookies? What is he complaining about?" But, while I was expecting the nice background of the sugar cookie side by side with the lemon and lavender, the additions kind of got swamped by the butter.*

And the cookies - though they came out of the oven just fine - feel a little odd when you bite into them (compared to how they've been for the previous decades of my life).

I've heard stories about people who avoid sugar for a few weeks and then find that anything sweetened seems too sweet after a while, because they're just not used to it any more. I'm guessing this is my issue with the butter - I'm just not around it enough.

Will I make them this way again? Sure - if I'm baking for someone who can't do soy.

Otherwise, I'm sticking to the margarine and Crisco.

*Yes, in batch two - the actual gluten-free batch - I did up the ratios of lavender and lemon. And they tasted a little closer to what I'm used to. Still not quite right, but much closer.

Sunday, July 23, 2017

Writing 101: Be Careful when Slinging Slang

Remember how, a couple of years ago, everywhere you turned someone was using the word "fleek" or the phrase "on fleek"? And remember how - about the time it started to show up in mainstream culture on TV and in social media - it was already going away?

This is one of the big problems I have with using full-on slang in a book.

Yes, having your characters use words like "fleek" will definitely let your readers know that your book was written by a hip, trendy, and oh so au courant author in 2015. But what if your book didn't go to print until 2016? By the time the book was out, your oh-so-cool terms had already become last year's news.

Honestly, the same can be said - to a lesser degree - about using current bands, current trends (in fashion or food, for instance), or current cars - but for today we're going to try to stay focused on word choices.

There is definitely a time and a place for using jargon and lingo (two words, which, according to my 1954 Funk & Wagnall dictionary used to mean "gibberish") to set a scene or establish your characters.

Doctors need to use appropriate medical terms. They're not going to say that they need a "tube thing with ear pieces to listen to a heart" instead of saying "stethoscope." (Well, we hope, at least.) And the high school football captain might be expected to talk about plays involving end runs and Hail Mary passes, and not foul shots or homers.

Those kinds of job/person-specific language are important to establishing a character's character, as well as letting us know whether or not we should have faith in what is being said.

When you're writing these characters, you need to be able to talk their talk and walk their walk - even if they talk and walk in different universes (or different genders) than your own.

Unfortunately, this can be a slippery slope when you're working with characters that you're nothing like. It can sometimes feel like the easiest way to make your readers believe you is to throw in a lot of lingo and hope that that makes all the difference. (Drop in a "hematoma" here and a "forceps" there and - poof - you've got a doctor. Right?)

One of the most dangerous - in my opinion - groups for this kind of "slang writing" is teenagers, kids, and young adults.

While doctors have, for years, discussed hematomas and forceps, this is because they are terms that have been around for a while. On the other hand, while you may have heard some teenager on TV use the term "on fleek" while you were writing - there's a good chance that you didn't hear it again.

So what can you do? How can you make your main characters fit in 2018 while writing in 2017?

My recommendation: Start by not trying so hard.

Remember the first time you heard your mom call something "gnarly" and you knew she didn't have any idea what it meant? Or the first time your teacher tried to use the word "groovy" and you cringed? They really wanted to fit in. But they tried too hard.

Instead, aim a bit more for the middle-of-the-road. Try for terms that you've heard enough that they've become slightly mainstream. (After all, that means they might stay around longer than just a month or two on social media.) For instance, oddly enough, "cool" seems to keep standing the test of time if you listen to teenaged conversation.

Want your main character to be someone on the outside or a trailblazer? Maybe throw in some retro terms like "nifty" or "swell." Want her to be completely out on her own? Try making up a new term for her to throw around (Lewis Carroll invented all sorts of new words in describing Alice's adventures, J. M. Barrie - according to some sources, if not all - even invented the name Wendy for Peter Pan, and Shakespeare practically made a living making up words).

The main point, here, is to not mire yourself in terms that will hold your book back in six months. Don't use "Yasss...." when "He shook his head, winked, and gave an approving 'Yes'" could work without making readers cringe about how mid-2017 your book is.

Your editor - and your future readers - will thank you.

Friday, July 21, 2017

Boston Cream Pie - the rematch (Part Two)

(If you missed part one, please see last week's post, because I'm not re-posting the recipe for the sponge cake this week.)

Since we dealt with the cake portion of the Boston Cream Pie last week, that means that this week we'll be talking about the pastry cream and the chocolate glaze.

I'm going to come right out and say it: the cream was so much better than the last recipe I tried. This one really had the correct feel to it - luscious, decadent, creamy. (I can't say "smooth" because... well... you'll see.) The glaze... hmm... I kind of think that it's a bit of a toss-up between the two, but I get ahead of myself (and we have many photos to get through).

Step one: The pastry cream:

I'm not going to lie - much of this we've done before, so it may seem a bit repetitive.
In case you're wondering, the egg whites went into the fridge with a label listing the date and how many egg whites were in it. (They eventually became thickener in some fried rice.)
I also feel the need to admit that I crack my eggs directly into whatever I'm using, even when I'm separating them. I know a bunch of people who would get upset with me if they were around while I'm doing it (including my junior high Home Ec teacher), but since we don't have a dishwasher I have no patience for the extra thirty-two bowls that you have to wash after that. 

A little whisking, and that bit of modern art became a cohesive liquid in the pan.

Even better, it gradually thickened, until whisking it left lines in the mixture. 

A bit more whisking and the addition of the cornstarch, and we had frothing, which looked a bit odd. 

The recipe says to sift the cornstarch. In retrospect, that probably would have been a good idea, but instead I just whisked a bunch more.
We then moved on to pouring in the milk. Which, as we all know, leads to one action shot and a lot of very similar "this is what heating milk looks like" photos:
The action shot.
Heating milk #1
Heating milk #2
I will say, though, that the milk mixture did eventually thicken quite nicely. The recipe says you're supposed to continue with this until the cornstarch "loses all trace of raw starch flavor." I have no idea what that means, though (what, exactly, does "raw starch" taste like?), so I just went for the "thick pudding" consistency.

Adding in the rum, vanilla and (optional??) butter looked a bit unappetizing, but it looked fine once it got fully mixed in.
It's not just me, right? That looks really unpleasant.
And, there we go! Pastry cream that was all ready to go into a bowl with plastic pushed down over it and then into the fridge until we were ready for it.
Why the plastic over the top? To keep it from forming a really nasty film on the top that can really ruin the "mouth feel" of pastry cream - or pudding.
Step two: The chocolate glaze:
Does anyone have any tricks for getting the last of the corn syrup out of the bottle? Mine truly sits upside down in the cupboard when it gets low, so that I can more easily empty it. It usually doesn't leak all over the shelf...
As you might have noticed, there aren't many ingredients to this. And, thankfully, there also aren't many steps.
Random comparison of 8oz (by weight) of chocolate chips and 8oz (by volume) of cream.
 Hold onto your hats! More cooking-milk photos!

Okay. I know I mock my own photos of pans filled with white liquids not doing anything, but between the cream and the corn syrup this did thicken pretty niftily - and even enough to show in the next photo:

Chocolate chips (because I'm too lazy/cheap to go out and buy a massive hunk of semisweet chocolate and chop it into small pieces) go in, and then the melty magic begins:

Okay... it may not look all that pleasant in the middle of melting, but it smelled great.
 And it gradually became this:
Yes, you can still see lumps in that, because the chocolate chips hadn't melted down all the way. When you come right down to it, the high wax content in them probably wasn't the best - and I probably should have gone for the block o' chocolate, after all.
Exciting photo of a covered pan filled with chocolaty goodness.
After sitting, covered, for a while, it definitely looked better - smoother - though looks may have been a tad bit deceiving.
And, there we have it! One "foolproof" sponge cake, some pastry cream, and a rich chocolate glaze:
I like to think of the mush/tear in the side of the cake as an homage to Jupiter's Great Red Spot.
In case you haven't guessed, we're now to the point of assembly, which is kind of like making a cake and cream sandwich. 

You spread the pastry cream on the bottom layer...

And then you put the second layer on top, sandwich-style.

But, unlike most sandwiches, this gets covered with chocolate... 

You're supposed to glaze it on a cooling rack, so that the chocolate can drip through and not pool around the edge and make the cake soggy. I didn't want to have to cover my entire counter with waxed paper - and lose all of that chocolate - so I just started with it on the serving plate. 
As you might have guessed... it pooled.
You might have noticed, too, that the chocolate kind of ran off the edges of the cake. That's one of the problems of working with a warm glaze - it's runny. I probably could have waited a bit for it to cool so that I'd have had more control, but was trying to follow the directions, and... there you have it.

After this, you have to let it sit for a while for the glaze to set (otherwise, honestly, it would pour all over the place), and - eventually - you get this:

The pastry cream mooshes out the sides just a bit, since you have to press down to cut through it all. And so you kind of feel like you're getting extra cream - which is not a bad thing.

Oh, and after we cut into it, we covered the cut section with waxed paper so that it wouldn't dry out.

So, how did this one go?

As I mentioned at the start, the pastry cream was much better than the last one. And the glaze was good - though (totally my fault) it had a few chunks in it, and as time passed it got a little gummy and hard to cut through.

If you remember from last week, I had some doubts about when to take the cake out of the oven, and so I left it in a little longer than the recipe called for. This was a bad idea. It turned out a little tough - verging on a tad rubbery. The flavor was great, though.

(Interesting random fact: A friend of one of my sisters recently met Ina Garten. As part of their discussion, Garten was asked if there was one recipe she had never put into a cookbook that she was frustrated by. Her response: Boston Cream Pie. She apparently said that she just hadn't found "the right recipe" yet. So... having only tried two, I feel okay.)

Would I make it again? Maybe. But we have some really good bakeries in the area, so... for my time and effort that might actually be the less-expensive way to go.


If I had gone to the grocery store, I wouldn't have been able to offer you this amazing little slo-mo video. (Cover your keyboard with a towel before watching - it's pretty drool-worthy.)


So what do you want to see me make a studied mess of on my blog? Let me know!