The occasional observations of Carolyn Kephart, writer

Sunday, September 02, 2018

Brown-Baggery, or How I Corralled My Clutter

Time's winged chariot rumbles on, and the ruts of its wheels have marked yet another of my existential anniversaries (September 1, which was New Year's Day for the Byzantines and is for myself as well). Along with what seems an inordinate aggregate of birthdays I've acquired a concomitant plethora of chattels, and am reminded by my ever-diminishing mortality that by now it's better to amass memories than clutter. To that end I've made my personal new year's resolution to do more and better with what life yet remains, and to consign the needless knickknackery of ill-considered impulse buys and unappealing heirlooms to storage bins in preparation for eventual downsizing. But the tedium of so much emballage was angst-making, until the recent epiphany of a quick, easy and cheap solution that I'm glad to share with anyone out there who's burdened with a heap of idle items best left safely stowed and unseen.

Brown paper lunch bags are readily available in both large and small sizes at most supermarkets and discount stores. My simple method is to write a brief description of the clutter-maker on whichever bag fits best, using a permanent black marker; slide said tchochke into the bag; fold the top of the bag and crumple the paper lightly around the gewgaw; finally and with a sigh of relief place the package in the bin along with its fellows. No swathes of newspaper or plastic or tape, no risked breakage in the event of fumbled unwrapping, no labels to stick on or fall off. The paper's sturdy wrinkles cushion most objects with no need of further protection, but especially fragile items can be double-bagged for greater safety, with a bit of tissue paper or bubble wrap if absolutely necessary.

Life should always be easier. This helps.



Wednesday, April 05, 2017

Beautiful Soup

Soup of the evening, beautiful soup! ~Alice in Wonderland

"You know, you really shouldn't take this secret to your grave." 

Of the many compliments I've received from everyone who's ever tried my homemade tomato soup, that one resonated most. While the Now is with me I'd like to make the following contribution to global happiness. Fiction fades, but everyone eats.

Like so many other American children I grew up on Campbell's tomato soup, only to avoid it in adulthood because my by-then experienced and impatient tastebuds craved something more authentic. One lucky day several years ago I managed to concoct my own version. Here are the instructions, step by step. Serves four or thereabouts. 

Ten-Minute Tomato Soup

1. In a large stainless saucepan make a roux by whisking over medium heat two or three tablespoons of butter with a quarter cup of flour, gradually adding a cup or so of milk. A few lumps won't matter.

2. Microwave a chicken bouillon cube in a half cup of water for a half a minute and stir it into the roux.

3. Dump in two cans of  stewed tomatoes. I've always used plain, not Italian or Mexican, but someday I might go wild and give them a try.

4. Smooth everything to a bisque using a hand blender. Add a bit more milk, or half and half if you like it richer (I do). Heat to a boil and serve.

That's it. 

Grilled cheese sandwiches are pretty much mandatory accompaniments. I make mine just the way I remember them from my time as a kid, only I use Cabot Sharp instead of Kraft Singles, real butter instead of margarine, and homemade bread instead of Wonder. Regarding the bread, I can't recommend enough the fabulous artisan no-knead recipe from King Arthur Flour, which I discovered only recently and deeply wish I'd known about all those sticky, messy, laborious ages ago.

Bon appetit!

Roses, Gems, and the Grace of a Dancer

Note to self: blog more. It's been an unconscionable while since your last post, and you always have some random observation to make that someone will chance to read and hopefully enjoy.

As I noted on Facebook today: April is National Poetry Month, but has only been so since 1996; T. S. Eliot can't be blamed for deeming it the cruellest month in 1922. For me, poetry is the breath of life, and I'd never have become a writer without having grown up amid the beauty of words perfectly woven. I'll celebrate with this haiku since my nickname is Kari, and in Japan kari is the name for wild geese, which symbolize transience. Yosa Buson lived from 1716 to 1784, and was one of the great poets of the Edo period. 



Wednesday, October 28, 2015

October Songs

There is something in October sets the gypsy blood astir;
We must rise and follow her,
When from every hill of flame
She calls and calls each vagabond by name. 
(From "A Vagabond Song" by Bliss Carman, Canadian poet [1861-1929])

October's at once my favorite and most dreaded month. I love its gold-drenched splendor even as I sorrow for the end of summer's pleasures and the onset of winter's privations. Since nomadic cultures have always enthralled me, Carman's lines came as a piquant surprise when I discovered his poem a couple of weeks ago. Most of what I've been watching and reading lately deals with wanderers; just now it's documentaries about the roving tribes of today's Rajasthan and the steppes of Central Asia, and memoirs by Himalayan explorers from Queen Victoria's time. Given such exotic reality, writing fiction has been difficult.

Others, however, have been spinning wondrous yarns, in particular my friend Ilana Teitelbaum (pen name Ilana C. Myer) whose debut epic fantasy Last Song Before Night is fresh off the presses and reaping richly-deserved critical acclaim. Synopsis and first chapters can be found here, and clicking the lovely cover links to An enchanting world awaits.

Friday, February 13, 2015

Matters of the Heart

I've been away a while, but hope to be posting with greater frequency than has been the case for the past few years. The following is not just an explanation for my absence, but a cautionary tale.

About three years ago I wanted to lose a few pounds and started cutting back on carbohydrates. Besides avoiding sweets and limiting starches, I began using saccharin in my coffee instead of sugar. The flat tinny aftertaste was unpleasant at first, but I soon got used to it. Other than that, I steered clear of anything artificially sweetened.

I only drink coffee in the morning and limit my intake to two cups, and thus used four pink packets a day except for occasional temporary switches to yellow packets (sucralose) or blue ones (aspartame) during travels. About half a year into this regimen I started feeling short of breath whenever I exerted myself. It progressively worsened, until by the third year even climbing stairs and doing routine chores was making me feel faint and dizzy. Near my house is a little lake that I've walked around twice a week with my husband for a decade, and during the past two years each time had become more difficult than the last. By August of 2014 I had to halt every few minutes and lean against a tree because my heart was battering so hard that I thought it'd burst out of my chest like John Hurt's hatchling in Alien.

At first I thought the culprit might be the Lovastatin I'd been prescribed the year before, but the symptoms didn't lessen when I quit taking it. Finally, in the fall of 2014 I decided to consult heart specialists. They put me through an extensive battery of tests, but found nothing they could pinpoint as the cause of the problem. Maybe the trouble was pulmonary, they suggested; but lung specialists found nothing amiss. A thorough general checkup revealed no issues of consequence. According to all measurable data, my health was good.

But I knew I wasn't well, in ways that went deeper than just my body. For three years I'd become increasingly reclusive and withdrawn. I no longer felt like entertaining, socializing, traveling. I struggled to finish my novel Queen of Time, then couldn't summon the energy to promote it. I let my online presence dwindle to almost nothing. Great chances came my way and I passed them up. Worst of all, I neglected beautiful things and they disappeared.

Then sometime around last November I decided to quit using artificial sweeteners and go back to sugar. Within a month I started feeling better. Lately I've been striding around the three miles of the lake path with effortless agility, never stopping once, never gasping once. I'm cleaning up my house and rediscovering my friends and getting out more. Last week I finished and submitted a short story and moved on to another, with more and bigger projects to come. Lost time is gone forever, but I'm doing all I can with Now.

Other than switching to saccharin I made no significant changes to my lifestyle during the interval I've described. I don't think it helped me lose weight; cutting out sweets and starches did. I'm aware that millions of people take saccharin with no ill effects and that it's deemed safe by the FDA, which is why I began using it in the first place, but I believe beyond a doubt's shadow that had I not stopped, I might not be around now to write this.

So it's good to be back. My next entry will deal with cheerier things.



Wednesday, April 30, 2014

A Bit of DIY - The Simplest Possible Padded Hangers

It's been ages since I last blogged -- certainly not for lack of material, since I've done all sorts of interesting things since my last post. I'll get to those very soon, but I'd like to begin with a lifehack that  I came up with last week. If it's elsewhere on the Internet, I have yet to find it.


I own a lot of haori jackets and kimono, most of them vintage. The traditional way to store them is carefully folded in boxes, but wanting easier access I hung them in my closet. To my dismay, the hangers created ugly points at the garments' shoulders that over time might easily damage the fragile fabric. Sweaters and nicer blouses were likewise threatened. The only way around the problem was padded hangers, but long searching revealed that they were costly to buy, while do-it-yourself sites disheartened with elaborate instructions that involved sewing, knitting, or intricate wrapping.

But then, epiphany. While spring-cleaning the basement I came across the perfect item for my purpose. Estimated time of construction: a minute or less per hanger.

STEP ONE: Get some coat hangers. For optimal results they must be plastic, but needn't be fancy.

STEP TWO: At your local hardware store, buy some tubes of 1-inch foam insulation that plumbers use to keep pipes from freezing. It's dark gray and comes in four-foot lengths or thereabouts, with a seam running down it. The price should be around a dollar a length.

STEP THREE: Slit the tube seam with scissors. Fit the foam over the hanger, leaving an inch or so of it sticking out past the plastic. Make a hole in the middle of the tube with a ballpoint pen to receive the hanger's hook, fit the rest of the foam over the other side of the hanger, and shorten with scissors. Proceed to do the same with other hangers until you're out of tube; you should be able to make three per length. I ended up with about a foot left over from each tube, which I used with another leftover foot to cover another hanger.

For especially sensitive garments, perforate and drape an expendable handkerchief over the hanger, thus avoiding the need to cut and sew. (The one pictured already had a few holes in it.)

That's it.  The foam doesn't stain, weighs almost nothing, and costs about a quarter a hanger. Pointy shoulders banished!


Visit my website for free short fiction, first chapters of my novels, and bookstore links.

Thursday, October 25, 2012

Last Glorious Gasp

"The wind is cold, the year is old, the trees whisper together..." ~The Incredible String Band, "Witches Hat"

Autumn is a heart-tugging time for me. The languid heats of summer have all but faded from memory and winter haunts the future like a vengeful spectre, ready to strip the branches naked and cover the once-lush fields with frost. But the Now is all blaze and fullness, harvest and riches; a time for meditation and reflection and summing-up. The other day while wandering about I encountered this tree and stood with it for a while, enjoying the kinship.



Thursday, August 30, 2012

My Journey Now

Succès d'estime: a success in terms of critical appreciation, as opposed to popularity or commercial gain” [definition courtesy of the Oxford Dictionaries].

   WorldCon takes place in Chicago this weekend--the great annual gathering of authors and aficionados of science fiction and fantasy, where the Hugo Awards are handed out. My only WorldCon was in San Jose a decade ago, shortly after Wysard and Lord Brother were published, and it was fabulous. I attended as a guest professional and took part in panel discussions, critique groups, greenroom socializing and epic parties, making new acquaintances and reuniting with people I'd previously met at my first-ever such event, Norwescon. The ConJose Wiki entry gives an idea of how exciting it was. As a final flourish I celebrated my birthday in the unexpected company of a terrific bunch of kindred souls.
     Thanks to Facebook, which didn't exist when ConJose took place, I can keep in touch with fellow inkslingers from those days. Since then we've moved into a time of wondrous and sometimes distressing changes. Like many others, I've been delighted to be able to give my books a new digital lease on life at Amazon and elsewhere, but faced with the ever-increasing publication inundation, the resultant pandemonian clamors for reader attention, and the recent revelations concerning some authors' extreme measures to secure fame and/or fortune, I'm seeking the quiet lately. My energies are focused on writing new books, but it's a deep pleasure to reflect that the Ryel Saga has achieved what I consider true success. What I wanted most was to create something beautiful to give the world; and that which I craved, I accomplished thanks to invaluable others who read me for the love of it and asked for nothing in return. To be accorded praise after being read with care is the greatest honor a writer can ever experience, and to have it said that I might be remembered in years to come is fame enough for a lifetime.



Wednesday, July 25, 2012

I've Got To Be Meme

     It isn't a normal Facebook day without at least a half-dozen memes adorning my news feed, usually of pets, babies, or well-known entities either cartoon or political being cutely off-color and/or insistently sentimental. Wishing to join in the fun, I've tried my hand at concocting my own with the help of my vast collection of images and that free PhotoScape software I can't praise enough. Here's one I made yesterday, inspired by childhood memories of gazing up in awe and hoping I too might someday shine:

And here's another, more colorful and with a dash of naughty:

     To pass Facebook censors I cropped the above picture to obscure the fact that the Tibetan god and his consort are locked in ecstatic yabyum, but everyone knows dang well what they're doing.
     More to come, very likely. Feel free to pass them around, and to click the Facebook button on the upper left of this page if you like.




Monday, July 23, 2012

Hair-Tearing-Out Time

     I can't believe it's been this long since I last blogged. So far summer has kept me busy in far too many non-writing ways, but now that things have calmed I can give the work I love--or rather works, which are stacked up like planes over Heathrow just now--my full attention.
     I'll get around to discussing the reason for this post's title, but first I want to thank my new readers from these last couple of months, to whom I owe the acquisition of my new Acer netbook which I love so much I feel like carrying it around in a baby sling. Small, light, tough, perfect for bet I'm grateful.
     And now to the problem that inspired this post. I'm having a terrible time coming up with the right title for the third part of the Ryel Saga. The prequel (an almost complete first draft at present) already has a name--Starklander--and will be a stand-alone dealing with Guyon Desrenaud and his adventures in the North and in Almancar, predating the events touched on in the first two volumes. But Part Three will cover entirely new territory, bringing in the two Art-cities of Elecambron and Tesba, hitherto only mentioned in passing--the bleak citadel of ice and the lush paradise of the senses, where Ryel Mirai and his erstwhile enemy Michael Essern seek a solution to the dilemma that concludes Lord Brother. Michael's brother Yvain Essern, the Count Palatine of Roskerrek, will also figure in the story, as will Riana the One Immortal, along with other characters from the first books and new key players. So I need a title that will suggest both deep divisons and close alliances at work in a world where magic runs both deadly cold and ardently hot. I love a challenge, but this one's tasking me. 
     My urban fantasy Queen of Time has been pulled from publication while it undergoes revisions, which should be complete early next month. Although I'm not exactly new to the game I've taken to heart the expert advice to novice writers by con acquaintance David Brin, and am re-starting the action in medias res where it should be. Anyone wishing a PDF of the new version to replace the old need only e-mail me once it's ready, which I'll announce here.
     Lots more to work on after that, but my next post will deal not with what I'm writing, but those influences that make my writing what it is.




Thursday, April 12, 2012

Another Spring Freebie - PenTangle: Five Pointed Fables

     Spring always jump-starts me. The winter doldrums get packed away along with the woolies, and inspired by emergent beauty I become energized and impatient. I have half a dozen unruly writing projects tugging at my virtual skirts, each clamoring for my full attention, plus a house that will never ever be the clean and orderly haven it could be if I didn't write. Between divvying out quality time among the brain-brats and attempting to confer a modicum of order on my cluttered and chronically maintenance-deferred domicile, I try to fit in some advertising of my various inked wares. 
     I'm almost invisibly discreet when it comes to pluggery, therefore I thank very much the many ebook sites that got the word out and helped me give away ~7000 Kindle copies of Wysard and Lord Brother during my March promotion. I also thank everyone who downloaded either or both books, and the many kind people who purchased copies when the promo ended. Being read is truly a humbling wonder, and I'll never forget to be grateful.
     My latest giveaway is PenTangle: Five Pointed Fables, a collection of short fiction. All of the five stories save one were previously published in ezines; I didn't seek a venue for The Heart's Desire because it wasn't the sort of thing I normally write, although some people might think it the best yarn of the lot. 
     I created the cover of PenTangle myself, using a divine free program called PhotoScape and five of my favorite fountain pens that wouldn't hold still for their photo until I applied two-sided tape. I love the retro snazz of the end result:

The stories in PenTangle: 
     The Kind Gods - Did the old gods really die? A warrior seeks answers at the burial-mound of his greatest enemy. A Norse-themed elegy, first published in Bewildering Stories.    
     The Heart’s Desire - A government scryer's life is a prison until she and her bodyguard discover the ultimate secret language. This story is my first attempt at near-future slipstream, and I loved writing it. 
     Last Laughter - A cautionary tale about a wicked court jester and his comeuppance, first published in Silver Blade Fantasy Quarterly
      Regenerated - Cela always hoped she’d find Jorgen again someday…but was this really Jorgen? A tenderly bitter tale of love and giant lizards, first published in Quantum Muse. 
     Everafter Acres - Happily Ever After isn’t always perfect, but dark knights can be illuminating. A wry autumnal satire first published in Luna Station Quarterly.

The giveaway ends Wednesday, April 18. Namaste and happy reading,