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So my son and I saw Logan a couple nights ago, and I mentioned on Twitter that I nearly walked out about ten minutes in. What I didn’t add was that I wanted to walk out and throw up. Neither the urge to walk nor the queasiness happened because the film did anything wrong for me. Instead, it was because the film depicted something so incredibly well, I took the gut punch before I even knew it was coming.

So this is not a review. It’s a reaction. Mild spoilers shall follow in this post, and might show up in comments should folks choose to chime in.

First, a review-ish thing unrelated to the gut punch: The fight scenes are incredible, and not because they’re all fancied up with slow-motion or odd lingering close-ups or flashy weapon manipulation that actual fighters won’t bring to an actual fight. No, my darlings, the fights in Logan are logical and smart. They are swift. They are economical. And those are the two traits a fighter who is experienced—and, frankly, plagued by a lifetime of scars and reduced stamina—will demonstrate in real life. Fighters who survive don’t become flashier as they age. They become efficient.

Now for the gut punch.

Many people have mentioned the aspect of abuse and trauma survivorship. I was hit with something else early in the film.

Caregiving.

Spoilers are below the cut for courtesy.

Read more...Collapse )
That’s the movie I saw.

What movie did you see in Logan?

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Even the Deer Are Different

I could go on and on and on about the differences between Colorado living and Indiana living. The landscape, the diversity, the climate, the opportunities...

But I'm going to tell you about the deer.

Indiana has white-tailed deer. Colorado has mule deer. I could go on about differences in their mass and height, but the real difference is in attitude.

White-tailed deer are anxiety ridden things, truly.

If they're browsing at the side of the road and a car comes by, they panic and bolt. They often bolt in front of the car.

If they're browsing in a large field and see or hear something disturbing, they panic and bolt. They often bolt toward a road. Where cars are.

And if they're just moving from one field to another, they leap onto roads. When cars are passing.

If the deer is calmly crossing the road, and a car comes close, the deer will sometimes stand in place, or stutter-step back and forth before bounding off. But—and here's the crazy part—that deer will often trot out of the car's path... then change its mind and dash the opposite direction just in time to get hit by the car whose driver thought the deer was (reasonably) going to stay ten feet away.

I lived just outside the edge of town. I saw this a great deal.

Once upon a time, my late husband was driving on 465, the major highway that encircles Indianapolis. He didn't hit a deer. The deer hit him. Slammed right into the side of the car, buckling the rear door and shattering the window.

White-tailed deer are skittish and unpredictable.

Mule deer, on the other hand, don't give a fuck.

Mule deer browse on the side of the road. And when I say "side of the road," I mean they're right there. Two feet from the pavement. They really
don't care about the traffic. They might look up now and then, but it's passing curiosity and nothing more.

If they cross the road, they usually do it as a mosey, and they'll make eye contact as they do it. "Go ahead, hit me," the even stare says. "Just wait until you see what I can do to your car."

(I should mention mule deer look a damn sight more solid than white-tailed deer, too.)

And before they cross the road, I swear they look both ways.

I've come upon mule deer while driving, and they don't spook like white-tailed deer do. They just give me The Look, and keep on with their mosey.

My oddest mule deer moment came when I was driving home from Tai Chi, on a well-used road with development on one side and open hills on the other. I rolled up to a stop sign, and glanced both directions before moving forward.

And caught my breath.

Out the passenger window of my little Hyundai sedan, I could just see the chest and chin of a huge mule deer. I had to lean over to see his antlers. He was massive. And he was just standing there, close enough I could have touched his muzzle were I in the passenger seat (and dared to roll down the window), waiting for me to get the hell out of his way. Sure enough, as I rolled forward, he strolled across the road behind me as if he had all the time in the world. And he looked at my tail lights as if thinking, "Yeah, you better move along, bitch."

But the most unsettling mule deer moment came last fall, when I'd run away to a local campground for a couple nights. My little Tanner-pup spotted a collection of mule deer, ran to the end of her lead, and barked like crazy. The mule deer looked up from their browsing and advanced on usEven Tanner decided it was best to shut up and back down.

White-tailed deer were annoying and dangerous.

Mule deer... I don't want to mess with them at all.

The Novel Marches On

I know I’ve been rather blog-quiet lately. There are two reasons for that.

First, y’all know I love my job giving whiskey tours. And I’m not working that many hours, all told. But making the transition has been a bit rocky in terms of time management. Some things had to give, and longer online pieces were the pieces that fell to the wayside for awhile.

Second, I’ve been struggling a little with my “online presence.” Frankly, I don’t even like to couch it in that term, but I haven’t another that’s any better. Weighing where I speak about what, and in what terms, and how often or seldom

Y’see, my online presence has always been just… me. Not Me Writer or Me Not-Writer. Just me. At the same time, Online Me has almost always been separate from Real Life Me, mostly because the majority of people I interacted with in daily life had little if any interest in Online Me and related pursuits. And Online Me always felt free to be me, but now that people I know in real life are hooking into Online Me, I feel all weird and exposed.

It’s all mixed up and jumbled and judged, and all the boundaries are smudged, and I’m second-guessing every time I consider posting here (and LiveJournal) because I’m certain you’re not interested in that, and my goodness this used to be so natural and easy, and maybe I’m posting on the wrong day for people to actually have time to read it, and am I really going to use that photo again, and I think I’d be infinitely happier if Facebook went away forever.

*insert flailing arms*

I’m figuring it out, slowly but surely. The closer I get to feeling certain, the more I realize what I’ve posted in the past is exactly what I want to keep posting going forward. It’s my attitude, not my content, that needs to settle down and move forward.

So you can look forward to more writing posts, more fighting posts, more disconnected musings on grief and puppers and wellness and whatever, and when the weather shifts, there will be the return of posts about camping and gardening. (Yes, gardening. My current yard is a sliver given mostly to puppers, so we’ll be experimenting with hay bales and the like.)

In the meantime!

Flesh of Strife has been steadily growing, and as it grows, the plot for the last novel in the series, Ash of Life, becomes clearer. There is fun stuff in there, and hard stuff, and true stuff, and kind stuff, and hopeful stuff.

Another novel, completely unrelated to the Desert Rising series, has taken form. I have been ruthless against its demand to be written right now, though. Flesh and Ash must come first, because that’s what my darlings are reading.

And the cookbook! We’re almost there! Right after Superstars next week, I’ll be sending out a final round of recipes for testing. Other recipes have been adjusted according to the fabulous feedback people so graciously offered. Some of those adjustments were in ingredients, but most were in the instructions, and I’m so grateful folks put a meal on the line to discover my errors.

The Patreon novella is still moving forward, and is in desperate need of a new section or two in February.

And my Patreon is still there, and I am amazed and grateful every month for y’all’s support there. It keeps me going, truly.

So… Here we are. A confession, a meandering, and an update all in one.

And if there’s anything else you want to know about, please tell me because I’m obviously having a hard time figuring things out in isolation these days.

#SFWApro

Merry Camping Ahead...

See that beautiful thing? It’s my Christmas joy, given by my brother-in-law as part of our family Secret Santa exchange.* He joked that he bought me one so I’d stop borrowing his. I told him it was his own fault for suggesting it would be a great camping accessory.

Yes, it’s great for emergencies--it’ll jumpstart a car, forex--but it’s the camping applications that make me love it so.

The last time I took my BIL’s charger along, I tested how much battery power it took to keep my Kindle and phone fully charged over three days. By the end of the experiment, I’d recharged my used-until-dead Kindle three times, and my used-not-as-much phone twice. The charging unit’s battery level had merely nudged down to around 97%.

Coming experiments will include discovering how long it’ll run my laptop, and what affects the power drain. The first attempt got around six hours of active laptop and wireless use (in addition to the two-ish hours I get from the laptop battery).

My writerly camping trips are about to get WAY more productive. Or at least differently productive.

Y’see, the usual writerly camping trip tends to revolve around plotting and editing, with some handwritten first drafting. Truly, I love writing by hand, and part of me misses the days when I wrote first and second drafts with black extra-fine Uniball pens on college-ruled notebook paper in a three-ring binder. But... I’ve also grown accustomed to the greater speed a keyboard allows me when my thoughts start running ahead of my cursive.

This lovely unit will permit me to flip open the laptop at those moments without fear I’ll suddenly run out of power before finishing.

Of course, now I desperately want to hide in a wooded campground for three days.

Alas, January!

On the other hand, March isn’t that far away...



*Our family shifted from the gifts-for-everyone model to Secret Santa many years ago, and I can’t tell you how wonderful it is move into the holidays without massive financial and shopping stress. We draw names at the end of Thanksgiving dinner, keep our draw secret, then exchange the gifts on Christmas Eve. Yes, the kids still get Santa presents, and special presents from parents.

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My Dearest, Darling Patrons

Most of you have stuck with me for an entire year now, and I can't tell you how much your support and faith means to me.

I'm enough of an introvert that I don't experience writing and creating as particularly lonely endeavors, but they can certainly be fertile ground for bouts of doubt and anxiety.

Seeing your support, month after month, turns doubt into confidence and anxiety into determination.

We'll still get an Article of Violence this month, but I also wanted to do something extra for you.

Thus you have a story--not a holiday story, precisely, but one of and for the heart.

May your holidays be wonderful, and the coming year filled with hope.

Love,
Blair

About My Girl




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Cookbook Call!

We're getting closer...

Working on this little cookbook has been a blast. As I've said before, I don't know if anyone really wants it, but I really wanted to do it. This is my way of nurturing myself and y'all.  This isn't a huge cookbook--we're looking at about fifty recipes, and some random chitchat all told--but I hopeful it'll be helpful.

Now I'd love to include you in the process!

I'm on the hunt for recipe testers. You do not have to be a professional cook. You don't even need to be a good cook. I just need someone willing to follow the recipe, and give me honest feedback that includes if and how well the recipe instilled confidence in the cook, and if it produced the desired results. Testers are welcome—nay, begged to—offer any other comments, suggestions, and feedback.

Every recipe tester will be acknowledged in the cookbook (unless anonymity is preferred), and receive the completed cookbook in ebook format. There might be a few tester-comments that'll make their way into the book, toom with appropriate permission.

Below is the list of recipes I'm looking to test, and am looking to have feedback in by December 23. All you need to do is go down the list, choose what sounds good (or ask clarifying questions first), and let me know in the comments what you'd like to test in your own home. I'll email or direct-message the recipe to you within twenty-four hours.

A couple of general notes:

--A couple of the recipes are crockpot-only, but most include instructions for more than one cooking method.
--If you're looking for recipes that'll match certain dietary guidelines, let me know and I'll point out the ones that'll match.
--Most of the meat-containing recipes also include notes on being flexible with meat options.
--Some recipes are far less expensive or more expensive to test than others. If this is a concern but you still want to test, please drop me a private note and we'll make something work.
--If you've cooked one of my publicly-posted recipes before and have feedback—and it doesn't matter if that recipe is included below!—do feel free to pass it along.

Here are your current recipe choices!

Bacon BBQ Chicken
Balsamic Pork
Beef and Cabbage
Broth from the Carcass
Chicken Broccoli Cheese
Cilantro Lime Chicken
Coconut Curry Chicken
Ham and Asparagus Alfredo
Lentils and Rice
Lentil Soup
Peanut Chicken
Potato Nutmeg Soup
Roasted Turkey/Chicken
Sausage Dressing Bake
Spaghetti and Meat Sauce
Spinach Bacon Mac and Cheese
Tortilla Soup

Recipes coming soon:
Soup (Yes, all kinds of soup, in one recipe. Trust me.)
Beef Stew
Chicken Salad Three Ways
Pork Carnitas
Spiced Meatballs
Brussels Sprouts with Bleu Cheese Balsamic
Squash, Summer and Winter
Fried Apples
Sweet Corn Cake
Sloppy Joes

Anything sound interesting to y'all?

This Is How I Nurture

I began the month with great hope of making marvelous progress on the novella I'm serializing at Patreon as well as the third book of Desert Rising. That... became a struggle. Oh, I've made some progress, but not at all what I wanted.

Instead, I've made marvelous progress on the cookbook.

I have no idea if anyone, anywhere, will have any interest in this thing, but wow have I been motivated to work on it.

Y'see, I can't feed y'all from here, so putting together and sharing recipes is the next best thing. A nurturing thing. An attempt-to-give-comfort thing.

Someone asked me the cookbook's "theme."

That would be, "Stuff I Like To Cook and Eat That Doesn't Cost A Fortune Or Take Forever To Make." Yeah, there are a couple more complicated and/or expensive ones, but they're the great minority.

I mentioned on Twitter that I'll be looking for recipe testers pretty soon, and I'll make sure to announce it here in case there are interested folks. And if you've already tried one of the recipes I've posted here in the past and have comments, concerns, problems with it, and so forth, please let me know!

And now I continue, this time with Lentil Soup.

Here's Your Caramel Sauce!

Later today, I'll be "practicing" caramel sauce with my nephews. It's an awesome, easy, and decadent thing to make for the holidays. I started doing it on Halloween when Dev was little because I could easy get him and his friends to eat apples before trick-or-treating. :-)

All you need are five ingredients—water, sugar, butter, cream, vanilla—and you'll want all them measured and at room temperature when you start the process. Caramel is pretty easy, but the cooking process moves quickly. The one way you can almost always ruin a batch is to interrupt the process once you start.

Also, don't use anything plastic to stir and whisk while cooking. It will melt into the caramel. Eww.

And do use a whisk. It's so much easier to get a smooth final sauce.

Okay! Ready?

Ingredients:
1 cup granulated sugar
1/4 cup water
1/2 cup heavy cream (I've used whole milk in a pinch, but the sauce will be thinner)
2 Tbsp butter cut into small pieces
1 tsp vanilla (optional)

Combine the water and sugar in a sauce pan over medium heat, and stir until the sugar dissolves completely. (If you want to be picky, be careful not to let sugar granules cling to the sides of the pan. They can sometimes encourage your caramel to re-crystalize as it cools!)

Now: Once the sugar-water starts bubbling, don't stir anymore. Just swirl the pan now and then to make sure the heat is even. Adjust the heat as needed to keep a steady and, um, non-violent? boil. Then watch the liquid turn a lovely pale amber. It should be about he color of fresh honey, NOT as dark as you'd think for caramel.

It might take about ten minutes or so.

A little at a time, whisk in the room temperature cream. Please be careful pouring the cream into the hot sugar liquid. I don't want you burned by the splatter. Been there, done that, don't want to go there again.

Remove the pan from the heat immediately, and whisk in the butter.

Add vanilla, if you'd like.

If you want salted caramel, now is the time to add your kosher salt. Maybe half to a full teaspoon, depending on your preference.

If your sauce seems too thin, warm it—stirring constantly—over low heat. But keep in mind the sauce will thicken as it cools!

If your sauce seems too thick, stir in a little more cream, a tablespoon at a time.

That's it! Drizzle it over pie or ice cream or sliced apples or cake or popcorn or nuts or just your spoon...

Grounding In Real Life

This article originally appeared for patrons only at Patreon.


Grounding and energy generation—the basis of so many combat and meditative arts in real life, and referred to directly or indirectly in a multitude of fictional magic and fighting systems. In the latter, it’s often described as rooting, or as drawing from the earth, or in other non-specific and spiritual-sounding ways. Gripping the earth with our feet, sinking or connecting, and other aspects of energy use.

I’ve also seen some rather ridiculous demonstrations that can best be deemed Karate Magic or Sensei-Fu—the great and powerful master who uses a pinky finger and hand-wave-um to send faithful students tumbling and sprawling as a demonstration of great power drawn from the earth and channeled into superhuman chi. Here’s an example of what happens when self-delusion walks into reality.

Ahem.

I’m more of a practical gal, I suppose.

Yes, I could say grounding gives you a connection to the earth beneath your feet—and indeed modern research demonstrates an incredible energy exchange when one walks barefoot on soil—but that isn’t extensively useful in a sudden and unexpected fight.

Think about it: the notion of “grounding” as tapping into the earth’s energy means you cannot expect your powerful techniques to work if you’re on a boat, on a plane, in a high-rise, or having to defend yourself within the confines of a spaceship. Or, for that matter, on a yoga mat on the gym’s second floor. Grounding might make one feel connected with the earth or with the universe, but that’s the result of the act rather than the act itself. It’s a metaphor that has, by some instructors and fiction writers, been taken way too far.

Grounding is not a spiritual act dependent upon the Think Method.

Now, I’m not trash-talking fictional magic systems that depend upon inherent elemental power. Frankly, I love elemental magic. (I’ve this little series called Desert Rising, after all!) What I don’t much love is the pseudo martial arts training that presents earthly grounding as a reality-based component of non-magical fight training and skill. What I really dislike is seeing those fictional depictions show up in real-life training folks have paid good money for.

Example: One of my Viable Paradise instructors has extensive Aikido training, and the depth of his skill—and therefore the quality of his instruction—is evident in every line of his body. I recall studying him during one discussion session, when he was merely standing off to one side. I remember thinking to myself, “If I tried to punch him, I’d be the one falling over from the recoil.”

(Is that an odd thing to think? Probably. Unless you tend to think about this stuff all the time. Honestly, I didn’t want to hit him!)

But why did I think that? It wasn’t because he was stiff and stoic. It wasn’t because he played at puffing out his chest and acting tough. It was because he was so obviously balanced, stable, and comfortable. He was both stone and sapling—solid and rooted and flexible.

And when I caught a glimpse of him moving through a couple techniques, that sense of solidity in motion remained.

That’s grounding. For reals.

***

The most bland description, and therefore the most useful and educational place to start, is simple: grounding is the use of biomechanics to choose how and when your body moves.

Grounding comes down to choosing one’s structure—or, perhaps even more basic, one’s posture. If you’re wavering or falling over often, posture is often to blame. If as a martial arts student, you’re stumbling when you strike an opponent or a heavy bag, your posture is again most often to blame.*

Certainly I can tell a student to “sink.” To “connect with the ground.” To “find their stability.” If I’m not a very skilled teacher, I keep repeating those things until the student either finds the right body alignment through trial and error or, as is often the case with intermediate students, quits in frustration. (There is a reason, my darlings, why so many brown belt students drop out…)

So… fix the posture, and fix the technique, right?

Well… yes and no.

Grounding involves the coordination of muscle groups we don’t usually think about. You let your knees bend a little. You take the muscles of your pelvic floor and “lift” them toward your diaphragm. You straighten the outward curve of your lower spine. Bonus points can be earned for being able to tense and relax the upper inner thighs while keeping your knees aligned over your feet. (Just the inner thighs, mind. Tensing other parts of the thigh actually reduces your ability to move quickly.)

Now drop your shoulders (I add that part because the one thing the majority of adult students do when thinking about what the rest of their body is doing is tense and lift their shoulders) and align those shoulders over your hips. Adjust your chin so your eyes are level and your ears are aligned between your shoulders—not in front of them or behind them. Take a deep breath that expands deep in your belly without lifting your shoulders or pushing out your upper chest.

Go ahead and try it. I know you want to.

Those instructions are the bare bones, nothing more, and they are not the only words and actions that will produce results. They are simply the ones I’ve learned. I could toss in koshi and gamaku, chat a bit about the stability of the muscles connecting ribcage to pelvis, talk about the expansion of vertebrae spacing and the shape of the bottom of your feet… There are as many ways to verbally describe the process as there are applications of it.

On the other hand, were you standing in front of me, I could touch your body in four places to help you identify the muscles we’re talking about,** push your shoulders and hips a couple times, and have you grounded. At least in that moment.

Then I’d tell you to shake out your limbs, walk a circle around the mat, and try it again. We’d do this until you could identify the parts of your body that were tense and the parts that were relaxed, with both touch and words. Then I’d have you run kata or spar, and randomly ask you to ground yourself and explain the process. Yes, yes, I know fighting doesn’t involve words, but our intellectual processing does, and though words can get in the way of physical learning at times, deeper understanding and lasting learning usually includes them. The ability to define something physically and verbally ensures your “thinking” brain will eventually get out of the way so your body can do what it must.

Eventually, you’d be able to settle your body into a grounded posture without running a mental checklist. And I’ll tell you now—that feels really, really good.

So… that’s it, right? Grounding in a nutshell!

Nope.

Grounding when you’re standing still is pretty simple, truly. The real learning comes into play when grounding must be done while punching, kicking, blocking, evading… When one must be in motion. When grounding isn’t about connecting with what’s beneath your feet, but about choosing your body’s structure as it moves.

It sounds like a contradiction at first, the grounding while moving thing. But consider what I said above—that grounding isn’t dependent on the physical ground—and it’ll begin to make sense.

If I bump your shoulder, you’ll shift to absorb the force. Do you shift at the waist or the shoulders? The hips? The knees or ankles? If your feet move, where do they go? What happens to your chin? What do your arms do? If your body rotates, how much and in what direction?

Those answers are all part of grounding.

***

Musicians ground themselves with posture proper to their instrument in order to play their best. Backpackers adjust their loads based upon biomechanics in order to reduce strain and injury. Artists know the alignment of their bodies affects the translation of vision into intention. Workers who lift heavy loads learn the importance of using certain muscles more than others. Increasingly, athletics is using science to coach promising athletes by deciphering micro-movements, joint rotation, and ligament/tendon coordination. And there is an entire field of workplace ergonomics dedicated to determining the proper physical alignment for everything from answering the phone to deboning chickens on an assembly line.

There is nothing magical and mystical about fighters doing the same thing.

Accepting—indeed, being excited by the prospect—that grounding is, ahem, grounded in science that can be studied and understood by any average person doesn’t in any way detract from the skill required to achieve it and the awesome results of practicing it. Understanding enhances those things.

Now consider that knowledge in light of writing about fighters and their training.

How long will it take a new fighter to understand and implement grounding if their teacher tells them to feel the earth and sink, and waits for the fighter to figure it out?

How long will it take a new fighter to understand and implement grounding if their teacher demands an exact posture because the needs of war won’t wait upon a student’s soul-searching?

The methods of training depend upon the urgency of the need. Soldiers who have the luxury of three, four, or five years of training without constant threat of deployment will be taught differently than those who have a couple weeks at most before losses on the front line require them to step into hand-to-hand combat in defense of their territory. Ye gads, I’d certainly hope they’d be trained differently!

The same goes for the teaching of grounding. When it’s a more spiritual and internal quest—a personal search for a connection with self and the greater world—we can afford to take our time with ambiguous and interpretive language. When it’s intended to support a fighter’s ability to fight—to survive—practicality rules.

And in real life, there are scant few reasons other than ego or inexperience to withhold specific information from students.

This article originally appeared for patrons only at Patreon. Because they’re wonderful patrons, they support making the articles on self-defense and fight scenes available to everyone within a month of the original posting. But Patrons have access to exclusive content and other benefits as well. So if you find it valuable and helpful, thank the patrons, and consider becoming one yourself!

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