Finished an Afghan

I finished the afghan I’m giving my mom for Christmas. It’s pretty huge. Which was deliberate — I wanted it to work as a throw on her bed, and not just a lap-blanket sort of thing — but still, I was kind of O_O when I spread it across our king size bed to take pics.

This is looking up from the foot of the bed.

A closeup showing the pattern. It’s a basic feather-and-fan that I worked out on a paper towel, fiddling and swatching and fiddling and swatching till I had something I liked. One thing I noticed is that if you do a F&F pattern with a stockinette ground, which is how you usually see it, the rippled edges will curl up, which looks like a mistake. :/ I experimented a bit and found that if you knit that edge with a garter stitch ground, it lays flat, so the first few inches and last few inches of the afghan are in garter stitch, which you can see more clearly below. The texture is a bit odd, but I’ll take that in exchange for an edge that lays nicely flat.

This took me about six weeks or so to do. I’ve been knitting while I watch Netflix on my computer, and I’ve been watching a lot of Netflix. 🙂


The World’s Biggest Christmas Stocking

If you knit or crochet, or are willing to learn, this is an incredibly cool project for a great charity.

The Children of Fallen Patriots Foundation helps kids who’ve lost a military parent in the line of duty pay for college. Caron, the yarn manufacturer, is putting together a project to make the world’s biggest Christmas stocking, and is asking people to knit or crochet three-foot squares and send them in to be assembled. They’re going for an entry in the Guinness Book, which is also cool.

If you buy your yarn from Caron, they’ll give fifteen cents per skein to the CFPF. If you just want to participate in the world’s-biggest-Christmas-stocking project, you can buy your yarn from someone else, or use yarn from your stash, so long as it’s worsted weight. There are knit patterns and crochet patterns you can download and print out. All the crochet patterns are Beginner or Easy, and the knitting patterns are mostly Beginner or Easy, with a couple of Intermediates that use mosaic colorwork. Even if you’re just learning, you can find a pattern that’ll work for you. It might take a while to do a three-by-three square, but if you use a Beginner level pattern, it won’t be hard. If you have a favorite pattern you want to use instead, you can do that, so long as you end up with a three-by-three foot square.

If you’re worried that you’ll be too slow, note that they’ve been working on this since last November, as far as I can tell. They planned for it to go into this year, and sure enough, they’re only 20% through right now. Looks like there’ll be time for fast workers to do several squares if they want, and for beginners or people who are just busy to do one without knocking themselves out. 🙂

The main page, with a progress meter, is here.

Starting Over

So, it’s January first again — a new beginning. To a lot of writers, it’s a time to heave a sigh of relief and reset your counters to zero. That’s exactly what I’m doing, and it feels pretty good.

One or two of you might’ve noticed I stopped updating my wordcount counter several months ago. My writing crashed, and I never got it back, despite trying a few times. My real 2014 wordcount is a few thousand greater than my counter was showing yesterday, but not enough to sweat over. I made a little over 200K words last year, when my goal was 300K. That’s a pretty huge failure.

Back in 2012, my year-end total was a little over 80K words. I considered that to be a huge failure too. And coming into the last month and the last week of the year, I felt about the same in 2012 as I felt in 2014 — depressed at failing, and eager for a new start. The difference this year is that my horrible, huge failure in 2014 produced about 2.5 times as many words as my horrible, huge failure in 2012. That’s a pretty great failure, if you think about it.

Aim high, miss high.

I have a goal of 300K new words of fiction again for 2015. Hopefully I’ll make it this time. With luck, I’ll pass it. But even if I fail, so long as the failure is up in the six digits, I’ll have done a decent chunk of writing. I’m good with that.

I finished eleven stories in 2014, and no novels. I’m going to shoot for a goal of an even dozen shorts and at least one novel in 2015.

I have stories coming out in four anthologies this year. I’ll finally have a significant (relatively [cough]) number of publications on the SF/F side, and that’ll be cool. I’d like to have at least as many next year, but that’s just a wish; I can’t force someone to publish one of my stories, so all I can do is keep writing and submitting. Putting myself into a position where editors and publishers can decide to accept my work is all I can do on the tradpub side.

I also want to indie pub at least six short stories this year. It’s not a lot, but I’ve been wanting to get into the indie side for a while now. It’s time to take some action, so those six indie shorts are a goal. If I can do more, great.

I’ll be starting up the Anthology Market posts again this month. I apologize for going on hiatus for December; I should’ve announced that. I’ve noticed that a lot of publishers take a vacation in December too, though, and a lot of writers back off to do holiday things. Hopefully we didn’t miss much, and everyone’s ready to dive back into the pool this month.

I started a new blog for Angela Penrose, my SF/F writer persona, at It’s meant to be a resource point for readers, rather than a place for writers to chat. The Anthology Market posts are not cross-posted over there, and I’m keeping that blog very low traffic. That’s where I’m talking about new SF/F releases, and similar things readers might be interested in. I’ll probably mention major milestones here as well, but I wanted an uncluttered place where a reader could find my work without having to take a machete to a lot of writer talk and general blathering.

[Yes, I have a Gmail account for that name. I don’t check it very often. If you need to get ahold of me, angiepen at gmail dot com is still the best general address, or angiebenedetti at gmail dot com if it’s for something romance-specific.]

I had a decent holiday, with some ups and downs. I got a lot of books for Christmas, which is always a good thing. 🙂 I hope everyone else had a great holiday too, and is ready to get back to work.


Looking Forward

Yesterday was my birthday — I turned fifty-one. Which makes today the first day of my second half-century.

It sounds pretty neat, actually. I’ve never had any age hang-ups, and thoroughly agree with this cartoon by The Oatmeal, but being fifty-one feels unusually cool. The Start Of My Second Half-Century sounds like a beginning, and it’s a beginning to something pretty darned big. There’s an excitement in that, like I’m starting a new slate and I can write whatever I want on it. The past is even more past than usual, and this is the first step into the future, like I’ve come to a whole, huge beach of fresh sand to leave footprints on.

That’s what it feels like, anyway, and I’m looking forward to the next chunk of my life.


New Year

I’ve been pretty quiet for the last few weeks, so I thought I’d crawl out of my cave and say hi. I’ve been sick a few times, got to know more of the folks working the local ER. I missed holidays with my family because I’ve been afraid to travel; having to start from scratch to break in a new ER staff, convince a bunch of strange doctors that I know what’s going on and how to treat it, when at times I have to argue with the local ER staff who have my history in their records, just feels like too high a hurdle when I’m already feeling lousy. All together, my give-a-damn broke down about halfway through November, and I didn’t feel like getting it fixed. I’ve read a few million words, played a lot of solitaire, and generally vegged for a while. I’m actually feeling eager to get back to the writing, so I guess the downtime did me some good.

My 2013 writing goal was 250,000 words. Even taking the last seven weeks or so of the year off, I managed 304,169, which feels pretty awesome. It’s the most I’ve ever done since I started keeping track, and I’m pretty sure it’s the most words of fiction I’ve ever written in a year. I had two novels come out this year — Captive Magic and The Executive Lounge — and one short story in an anthology that paid pro rates, another first for me that I felt pretty good about. I finished eight other short stories, which are making the rounds on the pro-pay side. All together, I’m pretty happy with 2013.

My 2014 writing goal is 300,000 words. It’s obviously not a stretch goal, but I know myself; if I push too far and fall behind at some point, I’ll get depressed and it’ll be twice as hard to catch up. Almost a third of a million words is still pretty decent, and if I pass it, that’s a bonus.

I’m looking forward to the coming year, and I hope everyone else is too.


Ten Things I’ve Done That You (Probably) Haven’t

John Scalzi’s been posting these lists on his blog and suggested other people post their own with a link, so here we go. John has obviously done a lot of things most people haven’t, since this is his fourth iteration of the list, but I’ll try to come up with ten.

1. Chaired an SF convention, twice. The second time from a wheelchair after tumbling down some concrete steps at speed and mangling myself.

2. Spent fourteen years getting an AA degree. (I finished that sucker, too! Never give up, never surrender!)

3. Brought a layer cake made of two failed chocolate cakes (neither rose, for completely different reasons) frosted together into one, for an office birthday party, and BSed everyone into believing that 1) I’d meant it to be like that, and 2) that it was really good.

4. Got stitches in my head twice before starting kindergarten — once when our dog bit me for taking its bone away (I wanted to throw it so he could fetch it, hey, I was three), and another time when I was lying up on the shelf by the back window of the car when my mom had to stop suddenly, back when seatbelts were completely optional and kids routinely played all over the back seat area.

5. Spent two hours physically holding up a pair of panels forming one of the stage wings at a convention masquerade, because the tech guy had forgotten the wire needed to fasten them together. They drafted a bunch of gofers to hold them up for the whole show. I was smart enough to grab a chair. 🙂

6. Wrote a personal check for a whole long-weekend convention’s worth of soft drinks, because we didn’t know the guy wouldn’t leave the tanks with us unless we paid in advance. O_O Then got the con chairman to run me to the nearest branch of my bank ASAP so I could deposit the check he wrote me from the convention account so the check I gave the nice soda man wouldn’t bounce. [laugh/flail]

[Yeah, most of my weird-and-unique experiences came from working conventions, what can I say?]

7. As basically a senior gofer at a tech conference, authorized a rather large expenditure I totally didn’t have the authority to okay, because a vital piece of equipment failed during set-up of our premiere evening event, and all the Committee people were up in their rooms putting on their tuxes and evening gowns, and nobody (including the guy nominally in charge of the event) thought it was important to bring a radio up with them. The other senior gofer who was de facto in charge of the tech set-up was about to melt down right there, and wasn’t dumb enough to get the new equipment on her own authority, so I did it. And I was ready to chew a new asshole into any committee member who dared even glance at me about it, ’cause folks, this is YOUR show and it was YOUR responsibility to have someone with signing authority available at all times, and I don’t even want to hear it.

8. Went walking through the woods gathering firewood while wearing three layers of ankle-length skirts, while camping, several times. Whether anyone else has ever done this probably depends whether anyone reading this is or was a woman in the SCA at any point. 🙂

9. Kept a pet spider in a home-made cage (cardboard box with a piece of screening over the top, with a little hinged door cut into the screening and secured with a twist-tie) in my backyard one spring. I caught mosquito hawks in a butter tub to feed the spider. I’m actually rather arachnophobic, and I did this when I was twelve while trying to fight the phobia. It didn’t really work, but I was proud of myself for doing it anyway.

10. As part of my job from back when, got to go climbing around under a large piece of equipment of National Importance, something I could tell you about, but then I’d have to track you all down and kill you, and that’d be a lot of work, so, anyway. Funny thing — Workplace Health and Safety requirements required me to purchase a pair of steel-toed shoes for working out on the floor. I got steel-toed sneakers, which I didn’t even know existed until my boss took me to the store that sold them, just because the idea of steel-toed sneakers is kind of funny-cool. The thing is, I was on my back underneath a ridiculously heavy unit, checking off serial numbers on the underside while it dangled over my entire body on a winch. If said winch had failed, the steel-toed sneakers wouldn’t have really done much to prevent damage to my person. But by gosh, the rules said I had to wear them, so I wore them. Luckily, the winch held. 😛

If anyone else wants to do this, feel free to either comment here, or post to your own blog, with a link back to Scalzi’s post. Or at least, go read his list, which is a lot more interesting than mine.


Culinary Adventures

So last night I made Scotch eggs. For anyone who hasn’t been lucky enough to have one, it’s a boiled egg (hard or soft yolk is debated, and up to the cook) encased in a layer of sausage, then a layer of crumb-breading, then deep fried. (There are oven variants, which are hellspawn. Okay, not really, but if you’re going to eat Scotch eggs, you might as well go for it, right?)

I had a Scotch egg on our last cruise, where one of the lounges had a British Lunch sort of thing going once a week. They were wonderous — eggy and crunchy and sausagey, like the perfect breakfast in one bite — and I’ve wanted to try making them ever since. “Ever since” finally came yesterday, but unfortunately the process wasn’t without its bumps and diversions.

I’m more of a technique cook than a recipe cook; I’d rather learn a technique, then apply it to different foods, than have to memorize a bunch of recipes. When I’m baking I’ll usually have a recipe on the counter, because baking is fussy like that, but most savory dishes are freestyle-friendly, once you’ve accumulated a certain amount of experience. So I typed “scotch egg” into Google and browsed through a few recipes to get the basic idea, then closed the browser and went off on my own.

You need a lot of oil for deep frying, which I’ve never done before. Seriously, if I got into the habit of deep frying, I’d be significantly fatter than I am now, so it’s just as well it’s a major pain. (No, we’re not buying a countertop deep-fryer gadget, no-no-no.) So the husband brought home a couple of bottles of extra oil (just basic canola), and a pound of bulk breakfast type sausage, and a carton of fresh eggs. I had AP flour and panko breadcrumbs (which I used because, crunchy), plus seasonings and such, all on hand.

First, boil the eggs. My favorite way to boil eggs is in the electric kettle. You fill it about halfway with cold water, put your eggs in carefully (up to about four, depending on the size of the kettle) then flip the switch. The kettle goes on, and when the water boils, it turns itself off. If I’m just making hardboiled eggs for egg salad or something, I leave them in until the water’s cooled enough that I can get the eggs out without scalding myself, since I like my hardboiled eggs hardboiled. For Scotch eggs, though, I was going to be cooking the eggs again, so I fished them out with a spoon about five minutes after the kettle shut off, then put them into a bowl of cold water to chill down.

When they were cool enough to handle, I filled a dutch oven (ours is enameled, but I don’t think it matters) to within about 3″ of the top with the oil, clipped a fry thermometer onto the side, and got it heating. I peeled the eggs and set them aside, got everything else out and set up, then checked the thermometer. It wasn’t even registering yet and it’d been about ten minutes, so I left everything and went back to my computer for a bit, figuring I’d check it in another twenty minutes.

Twenty minutes later, the oil was “steaming” and the thermometer still wasn’t registering anything. :/ Okay, most likely a broken thermometer. We have one of those cool, gun-shaped infrared thermometers, and it said the surface of the oil was some ridiculous temperature, like seven hundred degrees. O_O Oops. Okay, turn the heat off, and carefully shift the kettle off the hot burner.

The oil’s clearly past its smoke point, which means it’s technically ruined. In reality, I didn’t have any more oil, so I figured I’d try it anyway. First times are for experimenting, right? Mental note, buy another fry thermometer before I do this again.

While waiting for the oil to cool, I broke the sausage slab into four approximately equal chunks, for about a quarter pound of sausage per egg, and flattened each chunk out. The recipes generally say to roll the sausage out between two pieces of clingfilm (which is British for plastic wrap) but I hate that stuff, so I just put it down on a piece of parchment paper and flattened each one out with my palm. I rolled each egg in AP flour in a little bowl, shaking off excess, then wrapped it in sausage. (Flour before sausage is supposed to help the sausage cling.) Shaping the sausage around the egg, once you’ve got it basically wrapped, is a lot like making meatballs; the actual shaping motion is a lot like that, if you’ve made meatballs.

I broke two more eggs into another little bowl and beat them, then filled a third little bowl with the panko breadcrumbs. I added some salt and white pepper and garlic powder to the panko, and stirred it up. When the oil was back down around 365 (the recipes said you want it around 350 for the frying, but putting stuff into the oil lowers the temp a bit) I took the first sausaged egg, dipped it in flour, then beaten egg, then rolled it in panko, dipped it in egg again, then rolled it in panko again. The double layer of crumbs is supposed to make the coating extra crunchy. Then I slipped it into the oil with a spider, since dropping it in didn’t seem like a good idea. On to eggs two, three and four.

They fried up nicely, and I started taking them out when the panko crust hit a sort of medium-dark brown. Jim and I let them cool off, then ate them like finger food while watching TV.

I couldn’t taste the smoked oil in the fried crust, which is good. But the sausage layer was a bit underdone (we ate them anyway and they were tasty and we didn’t get sick) and I suspect that the smoked oil made the crust brown faster than it would’ve with unsmoked oil. Also, if the surface of the oil was 365 when I put the eggs in, the interior was probably a lot hotter, something I didn’t think about at the time. So I probably fried them at too high a temperature, which would also darken the outside before the inner sausage cooked all the way. I’ll do better in both areas next time.

And there’ll definitely be a next time. Despite the glitches, these things are incredibly yummy. Two was very filling, and makes a good meal, if you’re not fussy about your produce; most people would probably be good with one Scotch egg and a big salad or something. I imagine Travis would be good with just two eggs and call it a meal, which is what Jim and I did.

Good stuff, definitely worth keeping in the repertoire.


At BayCon

Jim and I are in Santa Clara at BayCon. They started giving the different iterations of the convention subtitles a while back, and this one is “Triskaidecaphobicon,” which made me snicker.

Despite living almost a thousand miles away now, I consider BayCon my home convention in fandom. I was a gofer at the first one (in 1982), and was on staff until a few years after I got married in ’96, when I finally admitted that it’s tough to work ConOps, even as a grunt, when you can’t attend meetings during the year. I gofered again a couple of times, but have settled into being an attendee. Hey, I get to see panels now! Whenever I want! 😀

The best part is seeing people I’ve known for a long time, many of whom I never or hardly ever see anywhere else. That’s really what it’s all about — keeping up with the people. Sometimes a person from Back When will vanish for years or decades, then pop up again, and that’s always pretty awesome.

Lois McMaster Bujold is the writer GOH, which is pretty exciting. I’ve seen her at other conventions; she’s a nice person, and gives great reading.

If anyone I know online is going to be here this weekend, drop a comment or an e-mail and we can get together. I love meeting internet people in realspace. 🙂