When we moved out to the country, we had to give up our internet along with other city conveniences, like brunch, and trash pickup. There's also no cable where we live, so no TV either. Yes, a satellite dish would solve both of these problems, but it just seemed like more trouble (and money) than it was worth. Plus, I kind of liked not having the constant distraction of TV and internet constantly beckoning me.
When we left Durham, I think we'd just finished watching the 4th season of Game of Thrones. It's never been my favorite show, probably because I'm not a big fan of high fantasy in general, but I watched it anyway because it was an addictive soap opera.
Post-internet, I continued to follow GoT by reading recaps during breaks at work. And honestly, the recaps were almost as good, if not better, than the show itself. They also saved me a hell of a lot of time, and told me what I already knew: it's just a soap opera. Not great art. Just a story built on cliffhangers and melodrama.
Anyway, I've been visiting my parents this week and working from home at their place so I can hang out with them in the evenings. Last night they asked if I wanted to watch the season finale of GoT with them, knowing that I haven't been watching the show for the last two seasons. I said sure, why not. I felt pretty up-to-date from the recaps.
And you know what? I understood everything perfectly. Having watched the first few seasons to get myself acquainted with the characters and setting, I was perfectly able to follow along after missing TWO SEASONS of the show by reading episode recaps alone.
And my parents? They had one question, which they repeated throughout the episode:
Thankfully, I was there and able to fill them in.
So can I suggest you save some time by cutting out at least one show from this "golden age" of television and following along with TV recaps instead (if you must)? It's what I did with Downton Abbey, and it's what I'm doing now with Orange is the New Black.
And no, I have no FOMO about it. I just ask myself, when I'm on my death bed, will I care that I never watched seasons 3 and 4 of OITNB? Will I even care if I skip half the recaps? All of them? Remain totally clueless about how Downton Abbey even ended? Nope. I don't think that's going to be on my mind when I die.
I just think there are better ways to spend your time than watching upscale soap operas. Like reading a book, or writing one. Like maybe for once, we should take a break from consuming so much entertainment/media/art, and take a stab at actually creating some.
When I first started researching how to submit fiction to journals and magazines, one of the common pieces of advice was to read back issues in order to better understand what kind of work each market published. Although that advice was well-meaning, I think it also made me needlessly delay on submitting my work for a long time. "I haven't read all the back-issues!" I'd tell myself, "I'm not ready!"
Yes, understanding your audience is key to getting published, but no one who is balancing a full-time job, family, and their writing-habit could possibly read enough back issues for all the major science fiction and fantasy magazines. And if you have a literary bent, that's a whole extra genre of magazines to research. It's just too much to do.
Well, kids, I stumbled upon the solution the other day.
Did you know that many of these magazines have podcasts? Where they read their stories aloud? It's like having an endless book on tape of excellent short fiction, for free too. (Although I do think you should subscribe to your favorite magazines. They're generally inexpensive and it's a great way to support your peers.)
Here are the science fiction and fantasy magazines that I've been listening to lately (in no particular order):
I already listen to a variety of podcasts during my hour long commute. And now, I get to enjoy good science fiction and fantasy while simultaneously helping me to understand each market a little better. If you're of a literary mind (and even if you're pure genre), then you should listen to The New Yorker's Fiction podcast to learn from the greats of short fiction writing, like Cheever, Borges, and Gallant.
Frankly, it's been eye-opening. When you hear the kind of stories that are getting published in the magazines, well, let's just say I'm no longer surprised that mine have been getting rejected. What I have been writing and what gets through the slush readers (or what is invited) sounds completely different.
Based on this research, I've concluded that published authors write with more restraint than unpublished amateurs (like myself). They don't spend pages describing each setting in florid detail. The characters are usually more even-keeled, emotionally speaking. The stories tend to be neither excessively sad, nor do they try to be excessively funny. They sound more like an acquaintance telling you a story about something odd they saw the previous day.
So do yourself a favor, cheat a little, and just listen to the market of your choice via podcast if they have one. You'll hear the difference and it should help your writing and publishing chances. And hey, if nothing else, it's an entertaining way to get through a long drive.
I've talked before about making time for writing; either through the habit of writing every day, or by cutting out certain time consuming activities - like going to the gym.
But there's still so much that eats into my limited time to write and cooking dinner is one of the worst culprits. Now granted, I don't have kids. Feeding my animals is as simple as pouring some food pellets into a bowl. So I'm not going to say that this midweek meal is going to work for everyone. In fact, my recipe is single-serving, but it can be made in less than fifteen minutes with basic Asian food-pantry items that can be purchased at your grocery store, Asian grocery (like Hmart), or even Amazon.
This is my quickie version of ramen noodle soup, made a little healthier for weeknight meals. I suppose it could be doubled for two people if you'd like, but it really works best as a one-pot, single-serving meal.
Here's what you will need:
-First, boil the broth in a small pot. Add your soy sauce little by little and check for taste. Then add the mirin and a shake of cayenne pepper. Let it come to a boil. Taste and adjust these components as necessary.
-Add your dried noodles to the boiling broth. My soba noodles take six minutes. If you are using tofu, add the tofu in with the noodles.
-Subtract 1 min 45 seconds from your noodle boiling time. So for my soba noodles, that's 4 minutes 15 seconds.
-At 4 minutes 15 seconds after I added the noodles, I crack in the eggs into the boiling pot. Don't stir them. You want to poach them directly in the broth. If you prefer a more cooked egg, just add them a little earlier. The goal is to get the egg and the noodles to finish cooking at the same time.
-When the noodles/eggs finish, add the spinach very quickly, maybe even 15 seconds before everything is finished. Poke it into the broth (be careful not to break your eggs). The spinach will cook down right away.
-Remove from heat and pour into a bowl. Careful, it will be hot! So consider putting the bowl on a plate for easier transport.
Then enjoy! Simple, quick noodle soup that has a nice balance of carb (noodles), protein (eggs and tofu), and vegetables (spinach). Yes, there's too much salt, but eh, nobody's perfect :)
If you get the timing of the egg just right, you'll get a nice soft-boiled egg yolk. It's not quite as good as a real soy-sauce marinated egg, but it's a fast approximation.
This instant dashi stock mix would probably upset a purist (and frankly, what part of this recipe wouldn't), but I find it's a nice pantry staple for making an even more delicately flavored broth if you don't feel like using chicken or beef stock (or are out, as I usually am).
So there you go, a tasty, one-pot, Asian inspired noodle-soup that can be made in fifteen minutes or less. Enjoy!
P.S. Also makes a great hangover cure. I made this particular bowl on Sunday after waking up with a headache following a night with friends that involved just two Pabst Blue-Ribbon beers and half a glass of homemade cider - this is thirty I guess!
I've mentioned it before, but there's never enough time to do it all. Here are the things (outside of work) I try, or ideally would like to do every day in order of importance:
-Interact with my husband and animals (talk, hang, play, etc.)
-Clean and Cook
I usually only get as far as Clean and Cook at the end of the day, which is too bad because I really do enjoy playing the piano, I like to meditate, and I miss painting, but clearly I just don't value them enough to make them a priority over exercising or writing.
Some days I don't even get as far as Exercise, others, not even to Write. I try not to beat myself up about it, but I'm always looking for ways to be more efficient so I can make it a little further down the list.
My number one time hack? I've stopped going to the gym and I've stopped running.
That may sound like I've given up on exercise, but it's just the opposite. Travel to and from the gym was just too much wasted time, and frankly, the cardio machines never felt like a very good workout to me. Also, I noticed that the more I was running or working out on a cardio machine, the more weight I was gaining, which sort of defeated the purpose and made me more stressed to lose weight. I'd run more but it only created a positive feedback loop which made me fatter and more over-scheduled than ever. (Why did I gain weight from running? Short answer, it makes me ravenously hungry. I'd run, burn maybe 300 calories, then come home and inhale 600 calories more. That's a net gain that adds up over time. I've never been fatter than when I was training for a marathon).
Realizing that running was not working as a primary exercise tool, I finally stopped and just focused on taking good long walks with the dog. I also got this pedometer and made sure I hit 10,000 steps, but didn't worry about doing any more than that. I'm learning to shoot for "good enough," not super-human. I feel exercised, but my appetite also feels normal and healthy, not famished. Win-win.
Most importantly, I started strength training every day.
I'm always at my slimmest when I strength train, and I finally realized it doesn't have to take very long or be such a chore. You don't have to buy fancy equipment or a gym membership; you just have to do a little bit every day (kind of like the habit of writing).
Each day I do 10-15 push-ups, 24 tricep dips on the stairs, 24 bicep curls with a pair of 5 lb hand weights, a 1.5 minute plank, 30 squats, and 24 overhead side reaches with the weights again. That's it. Sometimes I distribute these exercises more in the morning, sometimes more in the evening, it just depends on my schedule that day. It takes at most 10-15 minutes to do this routine, but I do it EVERY day and I feel stronger than I ever have in my life.
I'll also combine exercise with family time. The dog gets walked for an hour, twice a day between my husband and I. Often, we'll walk longer together. Some evenings, my husband will also do the strength exercises with me.
Anyway, I'm still struggling with this time issue, but making some small progress. Exercise doesn't have to monopolize hours of my week, nor does it have to be totally sacrificed to do the other things I love. An active lifestyle (walking, gardening, a little strength training) is more than enough.
Do you have a good time hack?
Writer, editor, scientist.