Monday, June 24, 2013

Shaq on a Giraffe Playing Polo (or the pitfalls of upgrading!)

This weekend, before Arizona and I took off for a mountain biking adventure, he raised the seat on my bike, Fang, by a quarter inch.

Now, I ride with my seat very low, preferring to keep my center of gravity close to the ground in the wake of a couple of gnarly crashes. But the low seat robs me of some leverage on the uphills, so we wanted to experiment. Arizona has a “dropper” seat post, which means that he can adjust its height on the fly using a handlebar-mounted switch. Although he has offered to get me one, I have enough trouble simultaneously working the gears and brakes that I invariably picture a James Bond-like ejection seat moment, likely with a thorn bush involved. So, a quarter inch it was.

That doesn’t sound like much, does it? But danged if I didn’t feel like a basketball player riding a giraffe whilst trying to play polo as I careened along the trail, totally discombobulated by the small change. It reminded me of each time Arizona has upgraded me to a new bike, or back when I was a kid and outgrew an old faithful and switched to my next Big Kid bike. Same with horses or saddles. Occasionally computers.

Each time, I’m all excited for the new-bigger-better version, and anticipate showing it off. But when I actually get on it for the first time, instead of the total pop-a-wheelie coolness I was picturing, I feel like I grew an inch overnight and have no clue where my appendages think they’re going. And I long for my old bike/pony/saddle/whatever, where I felt like I knew what I was doing.

I think that happens in other parts of life, too—with new jobs, new relationships, and definitely with new hobbies. The good news is that, just as I found by the end of our ride that I was climbing in a higher gear and starting to regain my balance, that anticipated pop-a-wheelie brilliance can show up after a bit of a burn-in period after an upgrade, whether it be a piece of equipment, a relationship, a job, or a new life direction.

What did/do you have a love-hate relationship with upgrading?

Monday, June 17, 2013

Deadlines and Granny's Green Chili

Hey all! I'm coming to you today from T-minus two weeks and counting until the next Mustang Ridge book is due to my editor, and needing every minute between now and then to Write The Book! Thus, I'm going to re-run a guest post that I did for another blog, in part to buy myself an extra couple of hours of writing time, and in part because I really love this story, and would like to share it with those of you who haven't seen it before!

So, without further ado ...

My new release, Summer at Mustang Ridge, is set at a family-run dude ranch where the cowboys are hunky, the cowgirls spunky, and the kitchen specializes in traditional ranch biscuits made from a sourdough starter named Herman. Which got me thinking about family traditions and food.

One of the pass-it-down traditions in my family is the Joy of Cooking. I learned to cook using my mother’s falling-apart copy, which had been a gift from her mother, and I received my own one Christmas. I might have been disappointed that it wasn’t a model horse (though I’ll deny it if you ask in front of my mom), but these days my copy lives in my kitchen marked up with red and blue pen and puffy from the many loose papers and note cards stuck between the pages.

Though I just celebrated the big four-oh, I’m a relative newlywed, having married into a big, interconnected sprawl of a family that was best described when my then-boyfriend said, “Don’t be nervous about meeting them. They’ll love you because they love me, and I love you.” Which has absolutely proven true. And they not only welcomed me wholeheartedly, there has been a refrain of “Granny George would have loved you!”

Granny George, it turns out, was a shotgun-toting, English-teaching force of nature who went through several husbands and adored the written word, books and authors. I’m sorry I didn’t get to meet her, but I have a feeling she’d be proud of the legacy she left behind. Which, since we’re talking about tradition, includes Granny George’s Green Chili.

For our second date (thank you,, my now-husband made me fresh salsa. And as he roasted the peppers, he told me about the family’s green chili, and how each member might make it a little differently, but it all went back to Mama George (Granny’s mother) learning the recipe in New Mexico back in the ‘thirties. The following summer, at our wedding, I got family points not only for taking his unpronounceable last name, but also asking for the green chili recipe.

Except there wasn’t one.

His brother (I got a brother-in-law, how cool is that?), who is a far better cook than I, did this sort of interpretive dance of “you take a piece of meat about this big” (makes football-size gestures) “simmer it with whatever spices look good …” His father (also an excellent cook, especially if open flames are involved) did something similar. Unfortunately, I cook like a scientist—I need a protocol, darn it!

So I emailed my mother-in-law, who teaches abroad. I think she was in Germany at the time. She responded with “I don’t think we’ve ever written this down …” But, bless her, she sent me meat suggestions, approximate poundages, and some alternatives in case I couldn’t find everything. (She was used to making do with whatever she could get, whether it be Africa, rural China, or wherever.)

Since then, I’ve put a whole lot of miles on my pretty red crockpot and made Granny George’s Green Chili my own. I’ve also eaten several other versions at the big, boisterous family get-togethers that seem to spring up at regular intervals just because. And I love knowing that, like the Joy of Cooking and some version of the name George, I’ve got green chili to pass along to the next generation when the time comes.

So tell me, what’s your most famous (or infamous) family tradition? I’d love to hear about it! 

Monday, June 10, 2013

Four Welsh ponies and an Arnold Schwarzenegger

Sounds like the opening to a really bad joke, doesn’t it? “Four Welsh ponies and Arnold Schwarzenegger walk into a bar …” (And incidentally, I find it amusing that ‘Schwarzenegger’ is a valid word in my spell check.)

But while I’m having fun here, it’s not actually a joke … it’s the weight equivalent of my former book collection!

Once upon a time, I had a lot of books. Like a lot, loaded into a big walk-in closet that I couldn’t walk into anymore because it was stacked floor-to-ceiling with books. Because I don’t know about you, but I am incapable of throwing away a book unless it is mortally wounded and unreadable. And even then it’s a challenge. Thus, the Closet Of Books.

But, lo, the time came that I decided that it was time to lighten the load. I chose a single bookcase worth of keepers, and called one of those “donate your books” organizations to pick up the rest. One large van later, and just under 2000 books went off to their new homes.

Since then, I’ve held myself to a ‘if one comes in, one has to go out’ policy, and the collection has held steady at 50ish. Which brings me to the ponies and action stars.

You see, I’ve finally gotten serious about losing the (cough, cough) pounds I’ve put on in the past few years, and have been using My Fitness Pal. It’s perfect for someone like me, who loves being graded. “Jessica has completed her diary for today and is under her calorie goal!” Yay! Go, me! It’s also helpful seeing how much those little “I’m bored” snacks add up, and how to eat out without blowing my goals.

But I digress. The thing is, there’s a strong (and sometimes very opinionated) community associated with the website, and that’s where I found this awesome list, entitled: I’ve lost a _______, with different equivalents for each pound lost. One pound? You’ve lost a guinea pig. Sixty pounds? You’ve lost an elephant’s wiener. So far, I’ve lost two human brains.

(My apologies to source of this list. I couldn’t find it. If anyone knows, please stick it in the comments and I'll give credit where due!)

Bringing it back to books, a quick Google tells me that the average paperback is 15 ounces, which is close enough to 16 ounces that we’re going to call it 1 pound. Currently, I have a bale of hay worth of books. Or two car tires and a housecat. Or a human leg, a human head, and a rack of baby back ribs.

Back in the Closet Of Books era, I had four Welsh ponies and an Arnold Schwarzenegger worth of books. Or six linebackers and a medium-size microwave. Or … well, you get the point.

So, guess the number of books in your collection (or your TBR pile, if that’s easier), check out the list below, and tell me … what’s your book weight equivalent?

1 pound = a Guinea Pig
1.5 pounds = a dozen Krispy Kreme glazed donuts
2 pounds = a rack of baby back ribs
3 pounds = an average human brain
4 pounds = an ostrich egg
5 pounds = a Chihuahua
6 pounds = a human skin
7.5 pounds = an average newborn
8 pounds = a human head
10 pounds= chemical additives an American consumes each year
11 pounds = an average housecat
12 pounds = a Bald Eagle
15 pounds = 10 dozen large eggs
16 pounds = a sperm whale's brain
20 pounds = an automobile tire
23 pounds = amount of pizza an average American eats in a year
24 pounds = a 3-gallon tub of super-premium ice cream
25 pounds = an average 2 year old
30 pounds = amount of cheese an average American eats in a year
33 pounds = a cinder block
36 pounds = a mid-size microwave
40 pounds = a 5-gallon bottle of water or an average human leg
44 pounds = an elephants heart
50 pounds = a small bale of hay
55 pounds = a 5000 BTU air conditioner
60 pounds = an elephant’s wiener
66 pounds = fats and oils an average American eats in a year
70 pounds = an Irish Setter
77 pounds = a gold brick
80 pounds = the Worlds Largest Ball of Tape
90 pounds = a newborn calf
100 pounds = a 2 month old horse
111 pounds = red meat an average American eats in a year
117 pounds = an average fashion model (and shes 5'11")
118 pounds = the complete Encyclopedia Britannica
120 pounds = amount of trash you throw away in a month
130 pounds = a newborn giraffe
138 pounds = potatoes an average American eats in a year
140 pounds = refined sugar an average American eats in a year
144 pounds = an average adult woman (and shes 5'4½")
150 pounds = the complete Oxford English Dictionary
187 pounds = an average adult man
200 pounds = 2 Bloodhounds
235 pounds = Arnold Schwarzenegger
300 pounds = an average football lineman
400 pounds = a Welsh pony

Monday, June 3, 2013

Smackdown: the Geico gecko versus the cavemen (aka ads you love to hate)

(From Summer at Mustang Ridge)

“Hello, ladies,” said a voice from behind them, making Shelby do a turn-and-tuck, so she was in front of her daughter.

The guy gained points by holding a soda rather than a beer, but lost them by having added another exclamation point to his name, so the tag on his purple rodeo shirt read: Howdy, my name is Brad!! Having gotten her attention, he leaned in too close to say, “I've got a confession to make—it's my first time. How about you?” An eyebrow wiggle lost him another point.

Not that Shelby was interested enough to add up the pluses and minuses, but keeping score was an occupational hazard, as was the propensity to turn everything into a slogan. Tired of being single? Try our new and improved Brad!! He comes complete with a one-bedroom condo, convertible and new caps. Ex wife sold separately.

She gave him a half-watt smile. “I've never been to a dude ranch before, if that's what you're asking… (more)

In my new book (in stores tomorrow, YAY!), Shelby takes a sabbatical from her high-pressure city advertising job to work at the kitchen at Mustang Ridge Dude Ranch for the summer, hoping the animals and change of scenery will work magic on her painfully shy daughter. I had a ton of fun with all the slogans that run through Shelby’s head as she’s doing the fish-out-of-water thing, and it made me more aware of the advertisements that surround us on a daily basis … especially the annoying ones.

Now, I’m a fan of the Allstate Thanksgiving ad (Thirteen thousand people will deep fry a turkey this Thanksgiving. Three hundred of them will set their garages on fire …) and the “We’re Only Human” ads from Liberty Mutual (The song plays in the background as hapless humans chainsaw branches onto their neighbors’ cars and drive into the garage with bikes on the roof rack.). And who doesn’t love the Budweiser Clydesdales? (The 9/11 tribute chokes me right up.)

On the flip side, though, I will lunge for the remote so I can mute the annoying Jimmy Fallon and the Baby Who Says “No” commercials from Capitol One, and when Arizona sees the AT&T “Bigger is Better” commercials with school kids babbling nonsensically about infinity, the conversation goes something like this:

Him: Arrrrgh! Those kids are idiots. (Thus speaks the ex math teacher.)

Me: I think it’s scripted.

Him: I don’t think so. I think our civilization is doomed.

(And, really, what can a girl say to that?)

Me: Cookie?

So tell me … what ads (TV, print, billboards, whatever) do you love? Which ones drive you batty? I mean, I can’t be the only one who doesn’t find Maxwell the Geico pig all that funny.

Or am I?