Monday, January 30, 2012

Chili Dinner

Last night my church had our annual chili dinner. It's one of our most popular events, and over the years I've come to learn a lot about people both from the chili they make and from the chili they eat. There's “the guy with the amazing venison chili” and “the woman who thinks her hot chili is mild” and “the group competing for hottest chili.” There's “the man who samples as many bowls as possible” and “the woman who only eats the healthiest chili” and “the guys who prove their machismo by chugging the hot stuff.”

We had one guy bring chili that had ghost pepper in it. I got to watch who at my table took a bite and merely broke into a sweat, and who at my table started screaming and running for the drinks station.

Then there's me. I don't make chili, and I don't really eat it much either. I'm a wimp when it comes to hot spices. I don't like the texture of beans. And I eat very little beef. So chili... isn't really my thing. Unfortunately, I happen to be married to somebody whose favorite food is chili.

But I go and I eat white chicken chili and I have a good time. For me the event is not about the food but about the people.

We all had name tags, and at my table the names got a bit goofy. (We weren't the only ones—I saw a large family of people who all had Disney character names.) My husband had spent the afternoon playing video games, so he chose to be Link, which meant I got to be Zelda. The very best, though, was the couple beside me. Hers was “Epic.” His was “Fail.”

The kids' pastor and his wife were at our table too. (They're the same ones who, a few months ago, came up with the Cat Hats idea.) In his words, “It's not often we [he and his wife] get to be the normal ones at the table.”

We laughed. We cried (but only because some of the chili was HOT). We hoarded chocolate cake and cornbread before they disappeared. And we all went home happy. It was a good night.

Friday, January 13, 2012

On Aging

If you had to decide right now how many years you'd be alive, what number would you choose?

This is the question that came up in conversation with a friend of mine while he was visiting from California last month. We'd been talking about an article he'd read about slowing the aging process, and the discussion naturally turned to what we would do if we could choose how long to be alive.

To me this question would be very interesting to explore in a book. Various interpretations of it have been addressed in some of the novels I've read, but the particular situation I'd enjoy writing about would be this:

Imagine that humanity has developed a one-time treatment to slow aging, the effectiveness of which depends on the age of the patient at the moment the treatment is administered. If performed on a newborn, the treatment causes the patient to age so slowly that a normal lifespan lasts for centuries, with the length of each stage of life proportional to the current standard. If performed on someone over the age of 80 it has little effect. The efficacy of the treatment decreases rapidly, so around the age of 18 the treatment would increase life expectancy by only double.

A lot of legal and ethical questions come out of this kind of situation. For example, given these conditions, who gets to decide if and when a child receives the treatment?

On the one hand, I don't believe anyone has the right to make that choice for someone else. Some people would not want to change the natural order of their lives. And just consider this: the longer a person lives, the higher the odds that their life is cut short by a tragic accident instead of natural causes. I would personally much prefer to be an 80-year-old woman dying of cancer after a full life than an 80-year-old toddler dying before I've learned to talk.

On the other hand, would an 18-year-old have good reason to sue her parents because they didn't give her the treatment as a child and thus severely limited her potential life span?

And when would a child be old enough to make that decision for herself?

All of these questions intrigue me, and I think they would be fun to think about further in working on a book, though I don't really have a plot that fits with this setting.

What are your thoughts? What part of this hypothetical situation intrigues you most?

Tuesday, January 10, 2012


By the way, I have a tumblr feed now, and sometimes... I even use it!

Blog Design

Since I recently got back into the blogging thing, I've also been trying to catch up on my blog reading and commenting. And there are a few things that have stuck out to me that I wanted to share for my friends who are starting up new blogs, redesigning blogs, and even maybe for those who have been blogging a while and haven't really thought about these things:

1. I'm a lot more likely to comment if I don't have to deal with CAPTCHA. Deciding whether to remove that step is something everyone has to evaluate, and I understand if you're more comfortable keeping it. I don't know what kinds of comments you might get if you get rid of it, but I know what kinds of comments you're less likely to get--the ones that I'm considering posting but aren't important enough for me to bother if I have to do the CAPTCHA too.

2. I use an RSS reader (Google Reader specifically in my case), and I don't like seeing only a preview of the posts I'm reading. If I have to click through to read the whole post, I'm more likely just to mark that I've read it. For a really long time I had the settings of this blog on preview only and didn't even know it. So unless you're sure what your settings are, take a moment to check and make sure you're happy with them.

3. I heard a while back that readers prefer dark text on a light background to light text on a dark background. I was skeptical at first, but now that I've been paying attention, I really agree.

So these are all things that I've learned in the past year. Now what about you? Do you have any suggestions for how I could make my blog better for you?

Friday, January 6, 2012

Book Recommendation: Shatter Me

For New Years, my husband and I spent the weekend with a group of our friends. While the boys played video games, I looked through our friend's bookshelf and was delighted to find a pristine copy of Tahereh Mafi's Shatter Me (and an ARC no less). Around 8pm Friday night I began reading it, intending to savor it over the course of the weekend. By 1:30am I had finished it.

Shatter Me has done well in the month or two it's been out, which is unsurprising. The story is a mix of trends that are currently popular: one part post-apocalyptic, two parts romance, three parts superhero, with a dash of mild psychosis like peppermint in a chocolate chip cookie. Tahereh Mafi is a popular figure on twitter and tumblr, and for good reason—she knows how to be charming and inspiring and make her followers feel included in her successes. So I expected to enjoy my immersion into the world of her story.

What I didn't expect was to sink deeper and deeper into her imagery. I don't remember reading a single cliché in any of the 300 or so pages. The main character Juliette is multidimensional because she's packed full of uniquely-worded thoughts, so full in fact that she's dripping with phrases I wanted to pluck out of the book, prop on my shelf and rub for good luck every time I pass. The book left me saturated with the feeling that I had learned something new about how words might be used.

I know that not everyone will enjoy the writing style in the book. For some it might be a bit overpowering. But personally I'm glad that I didn't let this book pass by as “just another post-apoc novel.”

Monday, January 2, 2012

[Obligatory New Years Post]

[Typical well-wishing for a fortuitous new year]

[Cliché reminiscing over the previous year]

[Trite formation of a resolution for the coming months]

[Repetitive candy-coated well-wishing for this year]

But in all seriousness, I truly do hope for every one of you that this year brings you closer to the deepest wishes of your heart.