Whole30 Woes (Or, Twirly Tries the Whole30)

I have been an exceptionally cranky creature of late. “Why?” you ask. Because I am roughly halfway through my Whole30.

For those of you who are wondering, the Whole30 is a diet that lasts (you guessed it) thirty days–though, for some, it becomes an obsession or, more politely, a lifestyle. On the plus side, it definitely delivers: after two weeks, my husband and I can both see visible results. On the downside…

Twenty One Things I’m Missing On The Whole30

  1. No Gluten (or Grains of Any Kind)
    1. Rice
    2. Bread
    3. Tortilla Chips
    4. Scones
    5. Pasta. Macaroni and cheese, linguini with Alfredo, penne with meatballs… Spaghetti squash just isn’t the same.
  2. No Dairy
    1. CHEESE. CHEESE OF EVERY VARIETY.
    2.  Milk
    3. Proper cream in my coffee
    4. Pumpkin Spice Lattes are in season and I can’t have them! (White girl sigh)
    5. Zuppa Toscana (or any other potato soup like it)
    6. Iced Caramel Latte from Dunkin’ Donuts
  3. No Soy/MSG
    1. Daddy Chicken (Come to my house when this is over. I’ll make it for you. It’s glorious.)
    2. Bulgogi
    3. Chinese food
  4. No Legumes
    1. Peanut butter, I never knew how much I loved you until you were torn from me.
  5. No Sugar or Sweetener of Any Kind
    1. Honey in my tea (this has been a real problem for me)
    2. Brownies
    3. Really, chocolate of any kind
    4. Red Velvet Cake (there’s a Korean bakery up the street that makes one of these; it’s amazing)
    5. Donuts–specifically apple cider donuts
    6. Fall-themed baked goods

The goal of the Whole30 is for you to appreciate the real taste of food. Yay! It’s a great thing, really–but that doesn’t make it fun.

I know I’ll probably be happy when I look back at this. “You can do anything for thirty days,” and all that. And I’ll be relieved when I’m a few pounds thinner at the wedding and Halloween party we’re attending next month.

But, when you’re fifteen days in, thirty days doesn’t seem so short after all.

Twirly’s Titles: Swing Dancing Songs

In case you were not aware, I love swing dancing. And I do mean love it. There’s a student-run swing dancing club within walking distance of my college. That’s where I learned, and also where I taught (seniority; it happens). On Ryan’s and my wedding day, our first dance was–you guessed it–swing.

(Unfortunately, we forgot to tell somebody to record it beforehand. This video misses the cool part, when Ryan flips me over.)

I think that any song with the right beat should be danced to, so my favorite dancing titles range from big band to reggae. Here are just a few of my favorites:

1. “Everybody Needs Somebody,” The Blues Brothers – Yes, since it’s in the video above, this one is a no-brainer.

2. “Planet Jive,” The Jive Aces – Think you’re in shape? Think again. (For bonus points, dance this one in triple.)

3. “Say Hey (I Love You),” Michael Franti and Spearhead – This one is fun, upbeat, and unexpected. Give it a shot.

4. “Umbrella,” The Baseballs – This Elvis-impersonating cover of Rihanna’s hit promises to have you singing and dancing.

5. “Hit By a Brick,” The Atomic Fireballs – It is impossible for me to put the Atomic Fireballs on this list only once. So, instead of clogging all the slots with them, allow me to recommend that you seek out their album Torch This Place. Or, you know, look them up on YouTube. “Hit By a Brick” is excellent for beginners, but don’t be fooled: they have much more to offer.

6. “Minor Swing,” The Boilermaker Jazz Band – A classic played by a band that tours the swing circuit as we know it.

7. “Banana Phone,” Raffi – Just trust me.

8. “Puttin’ on the Ritz,” Taco – Great for solo dancing.

9. “Zoot Suit Riot,” Cherry Poppin’ Daddies – While I recognize that this is one of those bands that makes “real” dancers groan and roll their eyes… I am not a “real” dancer, and therefore feel free to recommend whoever I please.

10. “You and Me and The Bottle,” Big Bad VooDoo Daddy – See #9

11. “So Happy Together,” The Turtles – This one is excellent for triple-stepping.

12. “Sing, Sing, Sing,” BBC Big Band Orchestra – Great for mixers! Make sure you have the short version, or you’ll be going for ten minutes.

13. “Picture Perfect,” Ingrid and the Swing Katz – Good for dancing and self esteem!

14. “Fly Me To The Moon (In Other Words),” Frank Sinatra – My favorite song to Lindy Hop with. Judging by the slow pace, one can assume that I am a novice Lindy Hopper.

15. “Last Train Out of Swingtown,” Dr. Zoot – For those times when you don’t have to go home, but you can’t stay here. (See also Big Bad VooDoo Daddy’s “So Long, Farewell, Goodbye.”)

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And you didn’t believe me.

Honorable mention goes to “Let’s Get Loud” by J. Lo. and friends. Great for line dances.

If you don’t think you’re a great dancer (or good enough to keep up with some of these songs), keep practicing. In the words of Dr. Paul Kilpatrick, “You’re not really dancing until you forget about your feet.”

Black Mass

I should probably be writing about my first week on the Whole30 diet, or being nostalgic about first-days-of-school gone by. But I just found out that a movie about Whitey Bulger is coming out this month, and I could not be more excited.

I recognize that this statement might be cause for concern. After all, Whitey Bulger is is one of the most notorious an depraved gangsters in our nation’s history. Why would a movie about him be cause for excitement?

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1. A++ Casting: Johnny Depp as Whitey. Benedict Cumberbatch as his brother Billy, the crooked politician. I’d go on, but I don’t think I need to.

2. The Story: Whatever else can be said about Whitey (and a lot can be said), his story would make excellent television. I’m surprised this movie hasn’t been made sooner. That said, I’m willing to claim that most of the Boston gangster movies in circulation were inspired by him. (Boondocks Saints is totally what would have happened if the Bulgers had been good guys, and nobody can convince me otherwise.)

3. Timeliness: A little trial took place not long ago, the verdict of which placed Whitey Bulger in jail for the rest of his life. You might have heard of it. The Bulger brothers and the Winter Hill Gang are a part of history, people! Take notice!

4. I’m a Nerd: This bit should be self evident. I like books. Therefore, it should come as no surprise that I own a copy of Howie Carr’s Brother’s Bulger, and that I found it fascinating. It inspired my undergraduate linguistics thesis–specifically, I compared Whitey and Billy’s accents. Which leads me back to Black Mass: I think the actors are going to put on accents, and I can’t wait to see if they get them right! But, really, go read Carr’s book. It’s dark and addictive stuff–especially you consider the danger he was in while writing it.

Obviously, I have very high hopes for Black Mass (especially since it’s reportedly Depp’s favorite movie to have filmed). I can only hope that I won’t be let down.

The Big One

Yesterday, I started a project. The Big One. I’ve started to write a book.

It sounds so pretentious when I put it out there like that. “Look at me, how fancy I am. A book!” But, really, it’s a big step for me. People have told me that I should write a book for years, and I’m finally buckling down to do it.

I have Jenny Han to thank, when it comes down to it. Last week, I read To All The Boys I’ve Loved Before and P.S. I Still Love You, and it hit me: My Idea. (Any writer knows that, in order to write a story, it has to be Your Idea. The right one. Most authors say that you can’t wait for inspiration to strike; you simply sit down and have an idea. But I find that the Big One, the major premise, has to come from somewhere before I can start a major project. Call me an amateur.) It’s been in my brain forever, germinating like a good little idea seed. But Han’s books helped it come to life, blooming into its current half-cocked form.

I already know what at least one of my major challenges will be. I am writing a romance (cue gagging), but I have always had trouble writing boys. There’s one scene in particular (no spoilers) that I know is going to be pivotal, and it hinges on the boy’s reaction. Thankfully, that scene isn’t until late in the plot; I’m still spitting out the beginning. I’ve drafted the roughest of outlines to get me from point A to point Z, and I fully intend to blow it apart in time. (This may even turn into a trilogy like Stephanie Perkins’!)

And it’s going to take a very long time.

Wish me luck!

The Cadet of Tildor

“There is a new king on the throne of Tildor. Currents of political unrest sweep the country as two warring crime families seek power, angling to exploit the young Crown’s inexperience. At the Academy of Tildor, the training ground for elite soldiers, Cadet Renee de Winter struggles to keep up with her male peers. But when her mentor, a notorious commander recalled from active duty to teach at the Academy, is kidnapped to fight in illegal gladiator games, Renee and her best friend Alec find themselves thrust into a world rife with crime, sorting through a maze of political intrigue, and struggling to resolve what they want, what is legal, and what is right.” (Goodreads summary)

Alex Lidell’s Cadet of Tildor is an action-focused medieval whirlwind. The protagonist, Renee de Winter is a cadet of the armed forces and a lady of the court; she’s two parts Joan of Arc, one part Mulan, with just a dash of Merlin for good measure. Korish Savoy, on the other hand, is a sharp-tongued, brusque military leader constantly teetering on the edge of danger. The potential for romance between these two is there, but it never comes to fruition. Instead, the two opt for mutual respect and admiration, a professional friendship built on ties of loyalty.

This is a longer book that inspires contemplation, asking the hard questions: Can one break the law and still be right? Is a woman physically capable of keeping up with the men? Is law more important than life? Which is more important: loyalty to country or loyalty to people? Not to mention Renee’s more mundane struggles with right and wrong, and what to do when she discovers that her best friend is taking an illegal drug for medicinal purposes.

Lidell (who is, by the way, a woman) pays expert attention to backstory, deploying details at all the right moments, yet still managing to spread them out enough to torture us with curiosity. She also employs a bit of visual imagery, assigning certain groups their own colors–for example, Mages are blue, while supporters of the Viper gang wear green. The story is, at times, exposition heavy, but the witty dialogue evens things out in its time. The ending is strong; it left me satisfied, but still hoping for more.

Twirly Tries A Couple’s Massage

I know what you’re thinking: “Why didn’t she title this one ‘TMI With Twirly’? Because, really. Ew.” There’s something about the phrase couple’s massage that makes people uncomfortable. I always felt the same way, so I’m not here to judge. Getting massages together was my husband’s idea.

Ryan and I have gone for a couple’s massage twice, once in Pittsburgh and once in DC. The experience was similar in each place.

Paperwork

So the massage staff know where to focus, what to avoid, and if you’re allergic to any massage oils.

Ground Rules

So that you know what to expect. We were told to undress until we were comfortable (nakedness is an option but not a requirement), to get into our massage beds, and which direction to lay down.Then we were left alone to undress, climb into our beds, and cover ourselves with the bedsheets.

Setting/Ambience

The common misconception about couple’s massage is that you and your partner share a massage bed. You don’t. Each person gets their own bed and their own massage; they simply happen to take place together. The beds are in the same room, but the assumption is that, if you’re getting a massage together, you’ve seen one another naked and can handle yourselves.

The room is always dimly lit, with soothing music in the background (think Enya, but not actually Enya in most cases). Both of the spas we went to had dark wood paneling, some small water fixture, and some kind of Eastern element to the decor.

The Massage

Obviously, if you’re repelled by the thought of physical contact, massage is not for you. However, if you have the ability to trust a professional with your body, it might be. And massage therapists are very professional–all important body parts stay covered for the entire massage, and communication is encouraged. They are receptive to the comfort level of their clients, which means both pressure and physical boundaries. As with anyone, if you are uncomfortable at any time, just tell them. Their job is to give you a relaxing and pleasant experience, not to scar you for life. It’s all about trust.

Ryan thinks that every couple should get a massage together at least once. It’s an opportunity to relax and get pampered together, and it’s an experience you can share. Plus, who doesn’t love smelling amazing and feeling refreshed?

Always Take a Little…

Danielle Ellison’s Salt is a story of self-discovery. Penelope knows that her magic works differently from everyone else’s; it’s “temperamental,” as she puts it. What she doesn’t know is that pursuing her dream job will uncover secrets hidden in her family’s history that will explain more than just her magic–it will explain her newfound need for the mysterious Carter. This story comes brimming with action, intrigue, bureaucracy, romance, tests, “holy magic,” demons, and detailed history. It’s one that you don’t want to miss.

Now. Before I go any further: yes, this book is about magic and demons. It employs things like possession and realm hopping and confronting demons face-to-face. What I’m saying is that, if you like Buffy or Supernatural, you’ll probably like this book. In the Acknowledgements section, Ellison thanks a friend for introducing her to the Winchesters and all things Supernatural; that said, this story has a similar, if less horror-centric, ambience. What I’m saying is that stories about demons aren’t for everyone. If you can think of the demons as monsters–or if demons don’t freak you out–then this book is a good candidate. If this is a sensitive topic for you, then find something that’s more up your alley.

Salt is great, though. I’m a sucker for a backstory shrouded in mystery, and this book’s got it in spades. We don’t know why Penelope’s magic works the way it does, we don’t know why certain people have been blacked out of her family tree–and we know nothing about Carter, who seems to be looking for answers himself.

Ellison has created a complex world, complete with bylaws and government, that manages to be hidden in plain sight. She’s set the story in Washington, D.C.–which is appropriate, as she’s a local–but the government on Capitol Hill is absent from her narrative, opting instead to explore the dynamics of Penelope’s magical government.

Penelope herself is like Willow in early seasons of Buffy: researchy and reserved, her powers as a witch falling in the category of “untapped potential.” But don’t worry, she’s much better in combat. While Penelope ultimately saves the day, Ellison puts a huge emphasis on team dynamic, which makes Carter (and his occasional swoony my hero moments) an essential part of the story. It’s a bit like Rebel Belle in that regard.

With all this in mind, go forth and enjoy–but be warned: There is a sequel! (I couldn’t decide if I was more angry or eager when I got to the end of the book and the story wasn’t finished. This is what I get for buying a book without doing my research.)

Ten Things Not To Say To a Writer

Yesterday, the hashtag #TenThingsNotToSayToAWriter was trending on Twitter. I chimed in with a few suggestions, and it got me thinking.

For a long time, I didn’t think I was worthy of being called “writer.” (I even wrote a poem about it in my journal.) I thought I needed to be published, getting paid, well known. The truth is that I don’t need a novel or a contract with a newspaper to be a writer. I am a writer because I am committed to the art and act of writing. (That said, I’m never going to approach a published novelist and assert that definition. They have more of a right to be stingy with the title than I do.) These are ten things that you should never say in my–or any other writer’s–presence.

1. “So, when are you going to get a real job?” This is my real job. I’m a writer, not a couch-surfer. Remember how much work it was to do writing assignments in high school and college? It’s still that much work; it just happens that I like doing it. Also, half of being a writer is self-promotion. What’s the point of writing if nobody ever reads it, yeah? So, once I’ve written something, I have to get the word out–through social media, word of mouth, whatever. Regardless of medium, it’s time consuming and hit-or-miss in the early stages.

2. “How’s your little blog thing?” Oh, I don’t know. How’s your little teaching thing, parent thing, engineer thing, pastor thing? I’m building something from the ground up; you don’t belittle other entrepreneurs, so please don’t belittle me. P.S.: If you took the ten minutes a week to read my blog, maybe you wouldn’t be burdened with stupid questions.

3. “Would I know your name/blog?” No, probably not. But now you do. Go forth and put this information to good use.

4. “Can you edit this for me?” While I was a writing tutor in college, and I don’t hate editing, it’s not right to assume that all writers are good editors. If you’re asking for this favor, you need to be asking yourself some fundamental questions: Did I offer my services? Are you going to pay me? I don’t solicit free plumbing or electrical work from you; that would be insulting. Don’t assume that my job is any different.

5. “You should be writing [topic/idea/genre]. You know, important stuff.” Oh. My. Word. There is an infinite realm of things to write about. Each writer chooses his or her topic of interest on purpose. Sometimes it deals with talent or passion; sometimes it’s following the money. Regardless, I promise you that, if you are saying this to me, we have very different definitions of what is “important.” So, please, for your well-being and mine, just don’t.

6. “Young adult? Why not pick a real genre?” I recognize that this is similar to number five, but it deserves its own bullet. My full thoughts here.

7. “So, you sit at home doing nothing all day?” No. See number one for details.

8. “I’d read your [blog/books/column], but I’m not your target audience/don’t have the time.” This is the equivalent of saying, “I would have come to your party, but I didn’t want to, so I stayed home and watched Game of Thrones instead. It was a much better use of my time.” Please, don’t make excuses for why you haven’t read our writing–and don’t ask for free books or the like as a way of doing so. If you don’t care to read our writing, then don’t pretend that you wish you did. I will never ask if you read my blog, so you shouldn’t feel compelled to tell me if you don’t.

9. “So, you married rich,” or anything else that implies that I’m a gold-digger. For starters, rude. Are you implying that my husband and I haven’t discussed this, that he wasn’t part of the decision? That you know more about the situation than we do? Because, no. Let’s be honest: This is none of your business. Please don’t.

10. “I’m not a big reader.” I’m not big on people who don’t appreciate the written word. Bye, Felipe. (Okay, maybe this one’s slightly harsh. But honestly, there are so many ways of consuming literature that the physical act of reading is no longer the point.)

BONUS ROUND!

11. “You have a blog? Don’t you want to be a real writer?” Agh! “Real writers” come in a variety of forms: journalists, novelists, biographers, memoirists, technical writers, political analysts, and–yes–even bloggers. And that’s just a few possibilities. What matters is not what we write; it’s that we’re dedicated to excellence in our writing.

An American Girl in Paris

Anna is a Georgia girl, looking forward to her senior year of high school. She loves her family, best friend, and job–and the prospect of what could be with a coworker has her excited for what the next year might bring. But her dreams come screeching to a halt when her Nicholas Sparks-esque father enrolls her in an American boarding school in Paris.

Confession: I am a sucker for a good romance. If you’re in the mood for a romance that’s more than fluff and so realistic that it burns, Stephanie Perkins’ Anna and the French Kiss is the book for you. It’s exactly what’s right about YA romance, in the same vein as Elizabeth Scott (though far superior) and Sarah Dessen (so I’m told; I’ve never actually read any Dessen).

The best part of Anna is how relatable it is. I have been Anna in so many ways. Her first week of boarding school mirrors my experience at college–although I was in small-town Pennsylvania, not France. I have had my share of dreamy St. Clairs, the boy who was always more than just a friend–but most of them didn’t end quite so well. And, let’s be honest, we’ve all had our Daves (the boy you date who is so not right for you), Bridgettes (the best friend who ends up with the boy you thought you wanted), and Tophs (the guy who flirts with you but doesn’t intend to do anything beyond that). Anna’s schooling is more than a fragment of setting; her classes shape her thinking and feeling, as school often does in real life. It’s a story we’ve all lived through, plopped into an exotic, inherently romantic setting. What’s not to love?

I love that Anna’s friends play a central role in her story. St. Clair is her friend from the start, which complicates things. Mer is always a priority, despite conflicts and fallings-out. Anna’s friends in Georgia effect her life in France. Her many friendships and family relationships each give a new facet to her story.

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I also love that I got to read St. Clair with THIS GUY’S VOICE!

Maybe you’re thinking, “France? Whatever. I’m so over the Eiffel Tower being plastered all over stuff at Target. I bet that’s all she talks about, too. The Eiffel stupid Tower.” And I get that. I’ve never understood the allure of France, preferring the idea of England and Scotland (partly because they speak English). But this book wrecked that. Perkins’ characterization of France and its people is so thorough and well-executed that Paris has been added to my list of Places to Visit. I have to go to Point Zéro and that Shakespeare bookstore. I must eat French food and admire Parisian fashion. Perkins has bitten me with the travel bug; my wanderlust has been awakened.

The margins of my copy of Anna have been littered with tiny pencil hearts. I can only hope that Lola and Isla live up to Anna‘s standard.

Twirly Tries a Vacation

I know what you’re thinking: “‘Twirly Tries a Vacation’? Isn’t Twirly Tries It supposed to be for new experiences?” You’re right, of course. But this was a new experience; it was my first real vacation with my husband, other than our honeymoon. Ten days away, with no pager and no blogging. Anything can be a first when you’ve been married less than a year, right?

This was also my first real experience with the American south. I recognize how silly that sounds. I’m twenty two years old, and the furthest south that I’ve ever been (by car) was probably my own apartment in Annandale. But this trip shattered that little record.

We started by visiting Ryan’s extended family in South Carolina. It was a relief for me to interact with them without a wedding going on around us. They’re all sweet and supportive, and they love swapping stories. One aunt even asked me about books!

I once had a professor who said, “Maine is weird. Weird weather, weird landscape–it makes for weird people.” Well, the weird thing about South Carolina, at least in my thinking, is that they like everything sweetened there. Ryan tried an array of sweet teas and lemonades, and I nearly choked on a latte with added sugar. Sugar in a latte! Can you believe it?

We drove to Universal Studios next, stopping in Georgia for gas and supper. I never knew that there were palm trees in Georgia! My whole life has been a lie.

I won’t bore you with the details of our four days in the park or a review of Cabana Bay Resort. I will simply point out that the Wizarding World of Harry Potter is my entire childhood in one location, and that being referred to as “Weasley” might be one of the greatest things ever.

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You can NOT put Aragog in my face and then expect me to look anything LESS than terrible in a picture!

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Butterbeer tastes weird. In case you were wondering.

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I got a fancy pearl ring from an oyster that I chose myself!

IMG_0288 Also, ferris wheels are cool–in the case of the Orlando Eye, literally; the compartments are air conditioned. IMG_0074And Madame Tussaud’s wax figures made me feel very uncomfortable.

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This is the face of a fanboy.

We spent the last leg of our trip in Pensacola, visiting Ryan’s brother and his wife. This was easily the most relaxing part of the trip. We went to a beer festival on Saturday, where everything tasted like urine. (Well, everything except the pomegranate wine sample.) The food was good, so I’ve forgiven that much. And on Sunday we went to brunch and got actual mimosas! followed by a trip to Barnes and Noble.

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On the upside, floppy hats!

If I can get away with it, I’m never going to Florida in the summer again. It is brutally hot and the humidity feels like swimming in quicksand. Even the early mornings and the nights are eighty degrees! I grew up in Massachusetts; you’ll have to forgive me for expecting the dark times of day to be cooler than the light ones.

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The best part about my bathing suit is that it doesn’t make me feel like a fat girl shoved in a bathing-suit casing; I just feel like a normal-sized human in a cute bathing suit. Having an attractive husband helps, too.

The boat ride back from the festival was beautiful. The sun was setting, pregnant rain clouds cooling us from above. The water all around us rippled varying shades of green and blue. When I closed my eyes, the boat swayed and jumped beneath me, soaring over left-behind waves, wind flowing over me. And my whole body slowed down. This is vacation. Lounging in the bow of a boat filled with people that you love. All the right sensations. And a hint of nostalgia, as memories of other boat rides seep in–of cousins and ice cream and summer camp, knee boarding and water skiing, tubing and friends. This is vacation: escaping the constant screaming of pagers and cleaning, and drowning oneself in the thrum of a boat engine, the whooshing of the wind, and the laughter of others.