Thursday, April 30, 2009

Breaking in a Missionary

My sister Janine has been home from her mission for about three days now. It's exciting to have her back, and we're all adjusting to having her around the house again, just like she is adjusting to being home again. People are always talking about getting missionaries used to civilian life again. It's supposed to be a weird transition, especially if they've been in a foreign country. Here are just a few things I have learned from my sister about what to expect with a new RM.

1. Never leave them alone. Neen and I went to H & M on Tuesday, as she has no clothes. While we there, I wandered in a different direction then her, and two minutes later, Janine came looking for me cause she was so weirded out by being alone.

2. Prepare yourself for an endless drove of, "This one time in Finland"s. Neenie loved her mission and loves Finland, so I expected to hear a lot about Finland when she came home. What i wasn't prepared for, was the comparison between everything Canadian and everything Finland. "Alberta has a lot of hills, Finland is flat; North American cheese comes in squares, Finnish is in a circle; and Finland never has malls like this" are just a few of my favourites.

3. With missionaries who have learned a new language, be prepared to not understand half of the words that come out of their mouth. Neen is a huge fan of speaking half Finnish, half English. I'm slightly more concerned for this one as when my cousin Mikyla came home from her dad being a mission president in Russia, she spoke half Russian. Five years later, she still does (evil glare). Neen may be saying some words in Finnish forever!

4. The phrase, "This is so North American" becomes a common thing to hear. In the grocery store, at H & M (which is obviously superior in Europe), on the roads, anywhere and everywhere.

5. Having someone awake and moving around in the bathroom on the other side of the room where you are still sleeping at 6 am is a common occurance. Though I think I'm doing better then some in this department, at least Janine isn't up vacuuming at 6.

6. Bouts of homesickness are common. Being upset over how gross North American yoghurt is compared to Finnish is perfectly normal.

7. And my favourite moment of Janine getting used to life at home, a phrase we hear on a regular basis:
"Pants are so restrictive. I want to wear a skirt."
Think of all the 18th century women who said the same statement in reverse. 

Wednesday, April 22, 2009

One of Those Days

I actually hate that phrase. Why did I choose it as my title? People are always saying "Today is one of those days," but it means a different thing every time they say it. So every time someone says that to me I have to clarify what kind of those days we're talking about here. Silliness.

Anyway, today "those days" means the kind of day where it's so very good, you're almost afraid to do anything else because you'll screw up the perfectness of the day. I had one of those the day I got my internship position and all afternoon, I was going around trying to not screw it up. It actually was a good exercise because when my nephew stole one of knitting needles to use as a sword and then didn't remember where he left it, I didn't go crazy because I reminded myself I'd had too good of a morning to get mad over something as silly as a knitting needle.

But I'm getting off topic. Today was that sort of day, because I accomplished something very momentous. I finished the manuscript to my novel.

For those of you who don't know why this is so exciting, let me catch you up. I've been working on my book since last July, and the idea has been in progress since I was in the fifth grade. I've been waiting for this day since I was eleven.

Now you see why I'm so hyper about how the rest of my day goes. What I eat, what I listen to, what I do, will all be part of The Day I Finished a Complete Novel. You can't listen to dumb music or eat something gross on The Day You Finish a Complete Novel. It would ruin everything.

For those other aspiring authors who will read this (the whole two of you), let me tell you something; finishing your story is scary.

Seeing as it was snowing today, and I have no exams, I decided this morning to trade my day of errands for a day at home writing. So I nestled into the window seat, and wrote.

Three and half hours later, I looked up. After a morning of toiling away at my book, after months of writing, rewriting and agonizing over characters and plot lines and punctuation marks, I looked up. All the action I had been planning out for months had run it's course. I had come to an ending that (I thought) was the right amount of insightful and witty. I was done. But I wasn't.

People always say starting a story is hard because you have to draw people in. That's nothing. I can write beginnings in my sleep. Endings suck. Even if you know exactly how it is going to happen. How do you think of an ending line? What words do you end a novel on?

I sat there and stared at my screen for a good fifteen minutes. Getting no inspiration from staring a Pages document, I ran downstairs and started digging out some of my favourite books. How had Gordon Korman, C.S. Lewis, and David Eddings ended their books? They were clever, but the problem is, I didn't write in their style, none of their endings would suit my book. I dug out my writing help books, and looked up the sections on ending stories. It wasn't helpful, all they said was to be sure the story ended when the action did. I'd done that, I just needed one line.

I flipped to the chapter on getting over writer's block. That was even more frustrating. I didn't want to step away from my novel and go for a walk. First, I couldn't see far out my window it was snowing so hard. Second, I was one line away.

Who knew one line could give you so much hassle. I've written different resolutions and ends to chapters dozens of time, and they vary in their success. But this just wasn't a little ending. This was THE ending. I hate books with bad endings, they just leave me so unsatisfied. I had to get this line right.

At my wit's end, I did what I always do next. I started calling my network of writing friends (the whole two of them). Kya wouldn't be home in the middle of the day, but Katey would. The only problem is, Katey hasn't read my novel as much as Kya. She's not as familiar with the characters or how they work.

Ready to cry out in frustration, my salvation finally arrived. Peter came home. My brother is not a writer, but he knows my book backwards and forwards, and has in fact, invented parts of it. The second he came up in the door, I jumped up and exclaimed, "I have one more line! Fix it!"

Knowing my writing moods, he immediately complied. After reading a few paragraphs of the last chapter, he came up with a suggestion that I could work with. I got back to work. What I wrote ended up being more then a line, naturally, but it was an ending. And then I sat and stared at my computer again. I was done. I had a finished copy. Weird.

I will revel in it tonight, and tomorrow, I get to go back and edit! Yippee! Then once I am satisfied, the real fun begins. The writing to publishers and getting rejected part. I'm so excited.

Though to keep up my own morale, I have every intention of writing the sequel during the rejection process.

But for tonight, I am complete as a novelist. I've finished writing my book, for the time being, and feel the need for a solitary celebration.

Break out the sparkling apple juice! Or maybe orange juice. I don't think I have any Martinelli's. Celebration Time!

Saturday, April 18, 2009

Austen Men Are Not Always What They Seem

All right, I am fully prepared for the stones that will be thrown at me for this post, but I will write it anyway.

Lately I've been on a really big BBC drama kick. Well, actually I'm generally a sucker for historical dramas of the Jane Austen/ Elizabeth Gaskell variety, but lately that's all I've been watching. There's something about the stories of that era that just restore my faith in men and humanity in general.

However, I have discovered that the heroes of these books/films are not always what they seem, and no, I am not referring to the leading males in the Bronte sisters' novels, though I also dislike those.

I've been absorbing a lot of period drama lately. North and South, Cranford, Pride and Prejudice, Northanger Abbey, and Horatio Hornblower to name a few (yes, that is a lot, but if watching BBC mini series is the worst thing I can think to do while my parents are in Europe, I think I'm good). Anyway, I've been soaking them all up, and loving it. Tonight, I again had nothing to do, and seeing as I'd watched all my first pick movies, I decided to go with one I hadn't seen in years; Mansfield Park.

For those of you who are familiar with this story and Austen in general, you know how the story goes. Good-and-sensible-to-a-fault Fanny Price falls in love with perfect gentleman, Edmund Bertram. Edmund falls in love with Mary Crawford. Henry Crawford falls in love with Fanny. It is made very clear that Fanny and Edmund are the "good" people and the Crawfords, most definitely the "bad." And so it ends with Edmund realizing that he's in love with Fanny, and the "bad" Crawfords get their comeuppance.

Okay, hold the stones one moment while I make my case for Henry Crawford. Yes, Henry starts out as not a very good person by flirting with Maria, who's engaged, and I can see where Fanny's skepticism comes from, but I really think Henry was sincere in his love for her. Austen starts him on this track of reformation, and it could play out so well, cause Henry really is trying to change his life because of Fanny, but then, she ends her engagement and Henry immediately goes back to his former self.

I'm not blaming the characters for this so much as the plot. It's like Jane Austen is saying the line between good and evil is a brick wall, and try as you might, once you're put on one side, there's no hope for you to change. If I were writing Mansfield Park, I would change the ending so Fanny does marry Henry and realizes she can love him. I mean he tries so hard and is so good to her. Plus Edmund is a bit of an idiot.

If I have surprised you with this opinion, I have also surprised myself. Normally I love the blatantly obvious good boys and bad boys found in Jane Austen, Elizabeth Gaskell, and C.S. Forester. Although I sometimes find Lieutenant Hornblower to so perfect he's almost annoying. The thing that bothers me about Mansfield Park is that Austen starts reforming Henry Crawford and then she just says, "Nope, sorry. You can't change. Suck it!"

On that note, I will finish my blog with some of my other favourite BBC drama men:

Lt. Archie Kennedy - Horatio Hornblower
Mr. Tilney - Northanger Abbey
Mr. Thornton - North and South
Captain Wentworth - Persuasion
Col. Brandon - Sense and Sensibility
Edward Ferrars - Sense and Sensibility
Mr. Bingely - Pride and Prejudice
Robert Martin - Emma
Roger Osborne - Wives and Daughters
Major Gordon - Cranford
Jem Hearne - Cranford
Major Dobbin - Vanity Fair
Henry Crawford - Mansfield Park (with my ending to the story of course)

My absolute favourites are of course at the top of the list; Lt. Kennedy and Mr. Tilney. What's your favourite?

Thursday, April 16, 2009

Tuscany Parents Are the New Fanatics

Sometimes I marvel at how much parenting has changed since I was a kid. So many of the people in my neighbourhood appear to be way more intense then my parents ever were. Today, I saw something to do with this that really made me laugh.

I was driving my brother to a friends house where he's staying for the week while my parents are in Europe. On our way there we passed the Tuscany Elementary School, a hot spot in this neighbourhood. I never like to drive past there at 8 am or 3 pm cause it moves so slowly.

You can imagine my surprise when the area was busy at ten to seven. My brother and I drove past, staring at the parents and children running every which way on the school's front yard. Was there some kind of school barbeque? No, they weren't eating. They were all just standing around.

As we turned the corner around the school, we realized these parents were lined up, waiting to go in the front door of the school. Was Tuscany Elementary selling Metallica tickets or something?

On the way home, my curiosity really got the better of me. I pulled over and asked the nearest parent what was going on. His answer surprised me;

"It's parent-teacher interviews tonight."

The were lining up around the block, basically camping out in front of the school to talk to their children's elementary teachers. Now I have stood in ridiculous, camping out line before. But that was for Lululemon, not talking to a teacher.

Who knew children's education could become such a passionate hobby?

Thursday, April 9, 2009

The Motorcycles Are Out!

I think I'm way too urban, but I guess that comes with living your whole life in the city.

The weather has been beautiful in Calgary. At least, this week. Unlike last week when it was snowing most every night, right now it's sunny and gorgeous outside, the birds are singing, the grass is visible (although it's that lovely shade of brown) and it looks like spring is on the way... for now.

I remember when I was a kid, and my family used to go walking along the bluffs over the Bow River. My mom would always get so excited when April, May or sometimes June would hit, and she'd walk down the bluffs to discover the crocuses were out. In fact I remember one of my sisters coming home once and announcing that piece of news to the entire family. We may have gone out to look at them right away.

Now I am grown and somewhat mature, but I still get giddy at the idea of spring. Yesterday, when I was leaving school, I was getting especially excited. I'd had a great day, things were looking up, and I was fairly dancing as I walked out to my car with Adrianna. Then, as we reached my parking lot in outer Mongolia, I exclaimed;

"The motorcycles are out!"

Adi just looked at me. Which is really unfair because she has known me since I was five, and should know that I frequently say completely ridiculous things.

Still, it's very sad that I have transgressed from little purple flowers to guys wrecking havoc in the Mount Royal parking lot as a sign of spring.

Friday, April 3, 2009

Our Chicken Pot Pie Belongs in the Guggenheim

I should have known after the incredible success of our first cooking adventure that it was too good to be true. Nevertheless, when Adi and I had our second cooking night two weeks ago, I was again expecting perfection.

Oh how little I have learned.

For our next cooking night, Adrianna and I made chicken pot pie. The recipe suggested using pre-made pie crust, and though we originally thought we'd just make our own, by the time we go to the day of, we were both so tired that we just figured we'd go buy some. 

So we bought a box of Tenderflake ready-made pie crust, and took it home, ready to try our culinary skills again and prove how naturally awesome we are. Then we opened the box of pie crust.

First of all, it was frozen, second, it was in squares. Nice little cubes about the size of your palm. We picked up these cubes and turned them this way and that wondering what to do with them. It was a square. Wasn't it supposed to be in sheets? Or something? That's the way I'd always seen this ready-made stuff. The recipe we were using suggested using a ready-made lattice top and baking it before cooking it on the pie. What were we to do with ready-made cubes?

Looking back, it sounds even more stupid, but after much deliberation, we decided we'd cut up the cubes and arrange the strips in a lattice top. Adi got the lovely job of arranging the short little strips of  pastry while I made the filling. Our lattice didn't look like a lattice, but the pieces were so short we figured it wasn't worth the effort to do a real one.

Then we poured the filling into the casserole dish and waited for the top to finish baking. Everything was still going smoothly, and we'd have a lovely chicken pie like the one in the picture, right?



First of all, that silly pastry dough wouldn't cook, it just got kind of oily and gross looking. Second of all, the dough was of course quite flaky, and the different layers just sort of spread out while it was cooking. We took it out of the oven and tried to arrange it on our pie, but it was just a mishmash of flaky dough thrown on top of chicken and carrots.

When completed, our chicken pot pie in no way resembled the picturesque pie in the cookbook, but some bizarre form of modern art, like you'd see at the Guggenheim.

Only then did we looked at the Tenderflake box, and saw the instructions: "Roll out defrosted pastry dough before cooking."

I don't know if any other cooks out there are as stupid as me, but when you're making chicken pot pie, just make your own dough. If you're like me, it's easier.