Fiction by Chooch, At Long Last

Author: Vivid Muse  //  Category: Uncategorized

My husband Chooch has been writing fiction for a very long time. When we were dating, he even shared some of it with me. I was shocked and impressed at this creative side and have had growing admiration for him over the years with his music and writing, and his many other talents. To my knowledge, he’s never had his fiction out in the world beyond sharing with one or two people for input.

Now, I’m fairly certain that most of my readers are familiar with the wonderful fiction that Philippa Ballantine has shared with the world. As a part of the launch promotion for her newest book Geist, she invited some folks to write a short story in her world to be released in podcast form. I’m proud to say that my husband Chooch was one of those invited and although I’m a bit biased, I believe he wrote a wonderful story.

Pip has released the podcast version of his story, and it is fantastic. You can follow this link to Philippa’s post in order to give it a listen. Don’t forget to leave feedback if you are so inclined. I hope you enjoy it as much as I do, and don’t forget to pick up a copy (or five) of Geist!

If you enjoyed Chooch‘s story, tune into TuacaCon this coming Saturday as he hopes to do a reading of the first chapter of his original novel, Corsa.

Dessert Hacking, My New Addiction

Author: Vivid Muse  //  Category: Anti-Health, Chooch, Cooking, Dessert Hacks, ExperiMENTAL, Family, Friends

Maybe it’s just boredom with traditional desserts, but since the first planning stages of cherpumple baking in August I’ve been looking at desserts differently.

My immediate thought after the first viewing of the “how-to” video was that I needed to attempt it with one of my cheesecakes baked inside a chocolate cake for the first cherpumple. Sadly, it was a failure on two fronts. First, the chocolate cake batter never completely cooked and was raw in places. This was, in hindsight, due to the density and temperature of the cheesecake. I’m sure I can overcome the issues in future attempts. The second disappointment halted future attempts for now – my husband, son and I decided that you couldn’t even taste the cheesecake as it just absorbed the chocolate flavor. (I’ll get back to those later, as I’ve got some possibly tasty solutions to this problem.)

Even so, they let out cries of horror when I tossed it in the trash.

Another modification to the cherpumple was at the request of P.G. Holyfield, which I surprised him with during his visit this weekend. After trying the cherpumple I baked for BlenderCon, he pulled me to the side and let me know that he would love to try a chocolate cake/pecan pie layer. As expected, it turned out to be extremely delicious. My concern over what would happen to the inner pie layer was unnecessary. It retained its moisture and texture and also added its distinctive flavor to the chocolate in a very tasty way.

Note: My husband coined the term “PiCake” for any cake/pie layers or stacked layers, so that’s what I’m calling those that are not true Cherpumples (cherry/pumpkin/apple pies baked in white/spice/yellow cakes).

Behold the ChocoCan PiCake

Another friend that has not yet experienced the cherpumple, Tee Morris, let me know last week that he wants to try it. He also suggested a chocolate layer with pumpkin pie inside. While I personally don’t like chocolate mixed with pumpkin pie spices, I can’t deny Tee his request and will make him that layer.

Then there’s the layer I’m dying to try, and have already added it to my Christmas baking list. It will have a chocolate cake with a cherry pie inside. I’m a huge fan of chocolate covered cherries, and I think it will be most delicious!

I’ll post updates with the results of those modifications, assuming I don’t forget again. I’ll also post future dessert hacks, as they are attempted, with photos. The list is very long, so it will take awhile.

Oh, and I’m baking the pumpkin pie/spice PiCake for Thanksgiving. Don’t judge me. It’s good enough that it bears repeating.

A Night at the Opera, #85

Author: Vivid Muse  //  Category: AFI's Top 100 Movies, Chooch, Friends, Movies, Uncategorized

This is my first viewing of a complete Marx Brothers movie. I’ve seen pieces of their movies over the years, so was familiar with the basic idea of their comedy. It was filmed in 1935, and is pretty much exactly what I expected — a wealth of puns and one-liners and physical comedy. Yes, there were some “groaners” at the more obvious bits, but overall it was greatly enjoyable.

I watched it with Chooch and visiting bestie P.G. Holyfield. When I mentioned that we had A Night at the Opera, from Netflix, P.G. and Chooch opted to postpone watching The Walking Dead so we could watch it. Chuckles, guffaws and Bah!s were sprinkled throughout the viewing, as we all enjoyed it.

It’s easy to see how present day comedies continue to be heavily influenced by this and comedies like it. Don’t expect a life-changing experience here, just a light-hearted romp that is fun and funny. It frequently makes no sense, much in the same way that Bringing Up Baby did, but in this case I’m really glad to have seen it. The comedic timing of the physical and verbal jokes was impeccable, and kudos to the actors that were able to stay stoicly in character as they watched the antics of the comedians.  I now cannot wait to see Duck Soup, which is reportedly the best of all the Marx Brothers films.

As an aside, Chooch commented on the absurd hat that Groucho was wearing in the ocean liner dinner scene. Now I must have one as it was exquisite in its absurdity.

Exquisite, I say!

Cherpumple Exploits

Author: Vivid Muse  //  Category: Anti-Health, Cooking, Cool Links / Clicky Linky, Dessert Hacks, ExperiMENTAL, Family, Firsts, Friends, Our Kids, Podcast

Fiddle dee dee. I came to post an update on my cherpumple exploits only to discover that I never posted anything about it here. Shocking!

A cherpumple is a dessert phenomenon that I first heard about thanks to J.C. Hutchins, when he tweeted a link to a picture of it either at the end of July or beginning of August. Intrigued by the link, I naturally googled it and found a video showing how to make your own.

Chooch and I were amazed, and discussed possibly making it for BlenderCon, our annual party that was coming up a few weeks later. We got the name BlenderCon from the name of our blended family podcast, Into the Blender. We decided against it because we’d already spent quite a bit on what was needed for our chocolate fountain, which has been a part of the tradition since we held the first BlenderCon in 2008.

A week or so later, I was listening to Jared Axelrod’s Fables of the Flying City and he was discussing the sixth anniversary of podcasting. (No, August of 2010 wasn’t the fifth anniversary as Apple celebrated. It was just the fifth anniversary of Apple listing podcasts in their iTunes store.) Jared felt strongly that something needed to be done in August to celebrate it, and I realized, hey! We’re doing something in August! And Jared’s coming to it! We should make the cherpumple! Sixth anniversary, six desserts in one! Perfect!

I baked it the night before the party, and stressed because it was not as pretty as I’d hoped, mainly because of the cream cheese frosting I used (very sticky and unforgiving), as recommended in the video. In spite of the imperfections, the dessert was a hit. It’s definitely more of a spectacle than a dessert, but was enjoyed by all. Our dear friend P.G. Holyfield even took up the challenge I laid down to combine cherpumple with chocolate fountain. I’m happy to say he survived the sugar overdose and has mostly recovered. Mostly.

For further explanation, a cherpumple is a three layer dessert that includes a cake and a pie in each layer. The top layer is yellow cake with an apple pie baked inside; the middle layer is a white cake with a cherry pie baked inside; the bottom layer is a spice cake with a pumpkin pie inside. Once baked, you stack and frost as you would any layer cake. It was re-named the CakePieCakePieCakePie that night, and our friend Dr. John Cmar announced that 5 diabetics living nearby had just dropped dead because of the amount of sugar in the dessert. I’m pretty sure he was kidding.

Paul Fischer blew out the number “6” candle on top since he was the person in the room that had been podcasting the longest, and then we started carefully cutting slices. It’s as difficult as you might expect. Most people doubled up and really just wanted to taste each of the levels. The best flavor, as we were told by most guests, was the spice cake/pumpkin pie layer. I’d have to agree. The two flavors are perfectly suited and completely enjoyable.

It was such a huge hit, that when we were planning my son’s farewell party a month later we decided that I should make it again. I made a few changes, such as making all the layers 10″, instead of 8, 9 and 10″. More importantly, I dumped the cream cheese frosting in favor of vanilla frosting. It turned out much prettier and the flavor didn’t seem different at all. Besides, most folks were diving straight into the layers without going near the frosting.

When Chooch lifted the cake to move it before the party, he decided we needed to weigh it since it was so heavy. It tipped the scales at 17 pounds. I started to feel really guilty at that point.

It was again, a huge success. Just like before, everyone just wanted to try each of the layers and most ended up in the trash. The majority again held that the pumpkin/spice layer was the best.

I’ve sworn off making the full, three layer monstrosity. We’ll see if that sticks.

Medication Dilemma

Author: Vivid Muse  //  Category: Consumer Info, Dizzy, Health

I’ve had a lot of tests for my health issues, which include dizziness, migraines, fatigue, nausea, impaired cognitive function, stuttering, and did I mention fatigue? I’ve got a few other symptoms, but these are the ones that most dramatically have impacted my life. Only one test came back positive, and that was for something that is reportedly unrelated to all this, indicating that, like about 70% of the population, I’m susceptible to fainting under duress. This adds to what I’m jokingly calling my “delicate constitution.” (This was said by someone in my Tweet stream, and I can’t find the original tweet. Tweetdeck has been unreliable with Favoriting them. Speak up if it was you!)

As I’ve posted before, I’ve got a diagnosis by default, at least in my opinion. I’m on my second and third preventative medication and it’s been wreaking havoc on my system. The second has been ineffective to providing real relief and has given ridonkulous side effects. The third preventative added what I called the “drunkies” as I’ve mentioned before. I have mostly adapted to the meds and am waiting to see if there is improvement, then I’ll wean off the other meds and just take this one.

To be honest, with all the medication in my system, many of them having dizziness as a side effect, I don’t know how much is me and how much is resulting from taking the pills. The neurologist suggested taking Migrevent, which is an herbal remedy that has shown great promise. As my finger twitches over the “Add To Cart” button, I find myself hesitating. If I add it to the mound of pills I’m currently taking, including this new preventative, how will I know which is effective? I’ve already decided that if this latest doesn’t work that I’m going off preventatives for a period of time to get a feel for what my symptoms are naturally. I doubt my neurologist will agree, but it seems foolish after a year not to, since I’ve found no relief.

So my dilemma is, do I follow his recommendation and try the herbal remedy or do I wait until after I see the effectiveness of what I’m already on? If Migrevent does end up being the winner, I don’t want to be taking two other pills unnecessarily. Especially since their side effects are … shall we say, extremely uncool. This is the reason for the dilemma after all – wanting to know that I’m taking exactly what is working without extra meds tagging along.

I’ve always been one to avoid medications because of all the side effects and damage they can cause, and I am currently taking 15 pills a day, 16 every other day. I went from taking two pills a day (vitamins)  a year ago to 15/16 a day! And I have to split them into 4 times a day, so I feel like I’m constantly taking pills. If I add the Migrevent, that’s 2 more. 18 pills a day? No thanks. (Note: Not all of the meds are for migraines. After all this started, I now have high cholesterol and a Vitamin D deficiency so am taking stuff for those issues, too.)

Now, I’m extremely grateful for modern medicine AND my insurance company, but I find this situation to be a bit ridiculous. I even had to break down and buy one of those 7 day pill reminder cases, and as of my last appointment I can just barely fit all the pills in it. It makes me feel older than my gray hair, but I was unable to keep track of things with my memory issues and “brain fog” becoming more and more prevalent.

The end result is that I’ve not ordered the herbal yet. It’s expensive and I don’t want to pay for it before I am ready to take it. Hubby seems to be in agreement, although he just wants improvement for me as quickly as possible. But as long as this has gone on, I also need to think of the big picture and my life down the road.

I know some folks with migraines, has anyone tried or heard of Migrevent? It has CoQ10, Butterbur, Riboflavin and Magnesium. All of them reportedly show improvement in migraines, so I’m hopeful that the quadfecta (is that even a word?) will be even more effective.

Saying Yes to Exercise and No to NaNo

Author: Vivid Muse  //  Category: Books, Dizzy, Exercise, Health, Hobby, No Whining, Work

It’s National Novel Writing Month, which is a program that tries to get folks that want to write a novel motivated enough to put aside excuses and start writing. There are a few general rules, but it boils down to solo writing a minimum of 50,000 words of a new story in 30 days. It’s held every November and you can find much more information and still join at www.nanowrimo.org. And don’t fret about already being behind. There’s no such thing as being ahead or behind, in my opinion. It’s too easy to catch up or fall behind to either beat yourself up or take it easy. Just keep writing and don’t stress about word counts.

It’s a fantastic program, with tons of support, tips and advice available on their forums. I participated in 2008 and 2009, having won in 2009. By the way, winning simply means that you were able to write 50,000 words. I cannot recommend this adventure highly enough. Many write to have a novel to publish or podcast, but mine was purely cathartic. I will never show the novel to anyone other than my hubby, but it is still something I’m extremely proud of having written. It healed some uglies on my inside, which was the point.

This year, between college courses, doing freelance work for Patrick McLean, managing my health issues and a household, my schedule is very tight and I’m very behind on everything. That is why I decided over a month ago that I wasn’t going to do NaNoWriMo. Then I got this idea for a story that has been tinkling in the back of my mind, nearly constantly. I decided to try NaNo, even though knew that I wouldn’t win. There’s just not enough time. I figured any words I got down by tapping into the collective community support would be a win in my situation. Besides, I won last year when I was just starting down the path of finding out what my illness was, so why not?

Why not? Well, in my time calculations, I left out exercise. My work outs take a big toll on my day. The exercise time itself isn’t so bad, but the recovery time after I exercise is the big time suck. I’m dizzy, migraine-y and extremely fatigued so I just grab a tall cool drink and relax until the extreme symptoms pass. It can take anywhere from half an hour to two hours for this to happen before I can resume my day. On rare occasions, it doesn’t pass and my day is shot, other than being proud of myself for the workout.

My total exercise time includes stretching, anywhere from 40 minutes to an hour on the street or up to 90 minutes on the recumbent bike (when I’m too dizzy to run, I just hold on and pedal), stretching after, the Hundred Push-Up Challenge, core stretches and 100 or more crunches. This is every Monday, Wednesday and Friday. After class on Tuesdays and Thursdays I take long neighborhood walks (3 mile minimum), do arm weights and floor work (stretches/crunches/core work). I try and do a long walk at least one day on the weekend, but that rarely works out with our busy schedule of late. If anything is planned for the afternoon or evening I just can’t risk having to cancel if my symptoms don’t clear up.

I follow this schedule as closely as I can. On average, I have to cancel a workout a few times a week because of a migraine or dizziness that has me nauseous. Last week, I only worked out four days instead of the planned six. Because of the unpredictable variable, I give my all when I work out, reminding myself that it may be the last one for several days.

I am nearly ALWAYS dizzy after a workout, sometimes leading to a migraine and/or extreme fatigue and sometimes not. This is the reason I gave up going to the track. It’s not safe to drive after I exercise because of the dizziness, so I only do neighborhood workouts now.

Now, I did attempt some writing on Monday, which was the start of NaNoWriMo. I spent most of the time researching my naming convention for my characters but did manage to get a little over 200 words down. I was happy for that, as I needed to get the image down before I forgot it. Migraine had me put it away at that point.

Yesterday was extreme dizziness and migraine, so I missed class and skipped exercise. No words written as any amount of time on the computer and the bright glow from it spiked the brain pain and the meds were completely useless. I was starting to stress over getting even my reduced goals met. It occurred to me that I could regain some time for writing by cutting back on exercise. When I realized that was the only way to find writing time, I knew it was time to walk away from NaNo this year. Exercise is the only thing that brings me any sense of normalcy right now. Even though it has gotten to extreme levels of illness, my doctor fully endorses it and believes as I do that improving my overall health will make my life better.

I still have some writing to do before I put it away. There are some scenes that I’ve got to get typed up before I forget them. And I would like to name all the characters, as I think that will help give them flavor as I give the story itself time to simmer away in the back of my mind.

As I planned a few months ago, I’ll likely pick a month in the Spring as my own personal NaNoWriMo. November is hell for this type of thing, in my life anyways, with the holidays so close that you can taste them. And plan for them. And clean for them. And decorate, and stress, and… you get the idea.

Reply in the comments if you’d like to write along with me in the Spring. April has thirty days, right?

Taking Back November 1st

Author: Vivid Muse  //  Category: Breast Cancer, Chooch, Exercise, Family, Health, Mom, No Whining, Soulful, Uncategorized

Today is the 8th anniversary of the first date that Chooch and I went on. We were already in love, thanks to our long distance courting, but it was still a first date. Full of nerves and awkwardness in spite of all the times we’d hung out over the previous year.

Today is our 7th wedding anniversary. We didn’t plan for it to be exactly one year later, it just sort of happened and we didn’t even realize the coincidence until some time later. We’re goofy like that.

Today is the 5th anniversary of the doctor telling my Mom that the cancer had won out, and there were no more treatment options available. He gave her six months, at best. She passed away 2 1/2 months later.

In the intervening years, our wedding anniversary has been bittersweet for me. My life changed in ways that I’ll never be able to truly express, and although our life isn’t perfect, it’s perfect for us. My husband has given me strength, confidence and unconditional love. He gave me wings to soar as high and fast as I wanted to, and the confidence in knowing that he will be there to catch me if I fall. I don’t speculate on whether or not he’ll be there, as we’ve done that for each other countless times over our short time together.

In fact, I always have add the years up a couple times, as it seems so short. We joke that we were already married before he even crossed the country to live here, so completely devoted and comfortable were we with each other. We feel like we’ve been together forever, and in a good way. I have complete and utter faith in his devotion, something I’ve never had before.

But since the day we learned that hope for my Mom was gone, it’s also been tinged with pain. I may write about that later, but for now I want to focus on what November 1, 2010 has become, as of this moment.

I’ve now deemed it my day of freedom. It sounds nonsensical, and the steps that led me to it may not suss out on close inspection, but that’s what it is.

This morning, with Chooch fighting some nasty cooties, I headed out for our usual run alone. My back has been bothering me since last week so I didn’t even take Kaylee along. As I headed out the door, I realized to my horror that my iPod battery was dead. No Couch to 5k coaching for me, and no music play list, either. I debated waiting until later when it was charged, but as I was in my gear already, I headed out. I decided on the longer route, because I was alone. It’s my favorite route, but Chooch doesn’t usually have time before work and since it’s over three miles I have to take a water container when Kaylee is with me. I was free to do it, so I did.

Without Robert Ullrey to prompt me, I decided to just run until I couldn’t run anymore, then walk the rest of the way. This is a very hilly route, and I just hoped to run for 15 minutes. When I finally stopped, I had run for just over 36 minutes, passing my starting point. This is my personal best on running time, especially impressive with the size of the hills. And I don’t just mean since I got hit with this weird illness a year ago — this is my all-time longest running time.

As is usual, when I’ve visualized a landmark goal and I start to think I won’t make it, I chant to myself. It’s different things, but usually at the really hard push it’s something along the lines of taking steps that Mom could no longer take, and that she couldn’t take for the last 2 1/2 months of her life, since she lost the ability to walk. It may sound creepy, but it works and I take great pride in taking those steps for her.

Reflecting on this, as I walked in my state of shock at beating my personal best by a significant number, I’ve decided to change my attitude about November 1st. Maybe it’s the approaching holidays, or maybe it was because I so much time working on the interview I did for the Breast Cancer Awareness Month topic for my Girls’ Rules Podcast, but I’ve been missing her and thinking of her so much these last few weeks. While Chooch and I celebrate our marriage, I also grieve this day as when we lost hope for Mom.

In taking back the day, I will instead focus on it being the day that she was granted freedom. She no longer had to worry about the petty concerns of living — her lifelong struggle with weight, managing the household and most importantly being strong for those of us that she loved so completely. She finally let me take burdens from her, as they were no longer her concern. She became focused in the now, and anything beyond the door to her hospital room was not her concern, once she knew that my dad was going to be okay without her there to do almost everything in the running of the house.

Reclaiming this day is already taking a lot of self-convincing to maintain, and I was crying while trying to explain it to my patient and loving Chooch. But it’s something that I need to do, because I know my Mom. She doesn’t want me crying for her on my anniversary. Knowing how much she loved me and Chooch, and how much she loved us being together, I know she wants us to celebrate our love and the unlikely circumstances that brought us together. So I’m letting go of all that pain from that day five years ago. I’m setting myself free, as I know she would do for me if she could.