Tuesday, September 28, 2010

This is Nothing New, But...

For some reason, I wanted to talk about passive voice.

Maybe it's because PV was one of the features on the grammar sections of my nursing school entrance exam.

Passive voice is confusing. I get it.
But most of the time, what people mistake for passive voice is actually just weak construction.

Passive voice is all about whom the verb is acting upon. That's it. Every time.


(Passive): The bone was chewed by the dog.
(Active): The dog chewed the bone.

In "technical" language, passive voice happens when you take the direct object and make it the subject.

Direct object is easily identified by asking yourself "who did what?"

Although she was tired, Janie took the circuitous route home.

I like to think of it as caveman-speak, if you will: if you pare the sentence down to subject-verb-direct object, you will understand the gist without all the frills: Janie took route.

So, to take my example sentence of Janie's route and turn it into passive voice, what would we do?

The circuitous route home was taken by Janie. 

I like to think that for the most part, avoiding passive voice is a natural thing for native English speakers. Most of the time, passive voice just sounds wrong to our ear.

Y'know how folks are always advising you to read your shizz out loud? Not only does it help you listen for pacing and flow and all that jazz, but we're much better at hearing errors in our language than catching them in writing.

You may not be able to write an entirely grammatically correct sentence, but chances are you can say one a lot more easily.

So what about that pesky state of being? 

Ahh...to be or not to be. That IS the question.

A lot of people confuse state of being verbs with passive voice.

Just because your verb is a state of being (am, is, are, was, be, being, been), it is not automatically passive voice.

Dexter was drawing a picture. 

This sentence is not passive, but it is a bit weak.

To be passive, the sentence would have to say:

A picture was being drawn by Dexter.

See the difference? It's all in the direct object/subject relationship.

Stylistically speaking, it's probably better to write, "Dexter drew a picture."

Passive voice isn't wrong, it's just not preferred. 

Got it?

And while we're on the grammar train...

A quick way to remember who/whom usage:

Who = subject.
Whom = in/direct object.

If you have a sentence in which you'd like to use who/whom and you're aren't sure which one it should be, just switch out the who/m for the pronoun.

The way I've always remembered is that whom ends in m just like him. And "him" is the direct object form of the pronoun "he."

If you do the pronoun switch-out, trust me--you'll be able to hear the proper one.

This report goes to she? (<---NO! See, it sounds wrong, right?) 
This report goes to her?
This report goes to whom?

Stepping off the grammar train now.

Go forth and conquer.

Sunday, September 26, 2010

Being Profondo

The basso profondo is the lowest male singing voice. Coming from a family with 3 classically-trained singers (I'm including my husband in this "family" equation, along with Dad and bro), hitting a low note has always been of concern (and debate).

So my brother posted this video on Facebook the other day. Even if you're not the slightest bit musically inclined, you should listen to this and simply marvel:

Dammit, the video won't embed, but follow the linky!

I played it for my husband, who's a baritone/bass, and he jokingly tried at the notes...and was still about 2 octaves higher.

In other news, I've started a new novel. It's a bit of Leverage-meets-Batman-meets-Venture Brothers-meets-...um, Firefly? Trying to write it NaNo-style, throwing the editor out the window and such. So far I've written 10 pages, which I think is around 6k? And I even did some character-view free writing, which was a first for me, but absolutely necessary to wrap my head around this MC.

Also, we're getting rain for the first time in over a month. It's awesome.

How's tricks? 

Wednesday, September 22, 2010

And in the End...

Thanks for all the support and confidence for me, re: my nursing school entrance exam.


My scores put me in the 96th percentile for the nation and my desired program!

This whole totally-new-life-direction thing has been a bit scary. I've always been a good student, but going from an English degree to nursing was a pretty big jump. My application is now complete, so hopefully I'll be hearing back about acceptance as early as February (not early at all, right?)

Until then, I'm back to cruising the blogs all day, writing inanities on Twitter, and figuring out my next great American novel.


Monday, September 20, 2010

Wind whistles...tumbleweed rolls by...

Dear Bloggie friends,

  I will return to the world of Blogger on Wednesday.

 Y'see, on Tuesday afternoon, I'll be taking my nursing school entrance exam. And while I may be somewhat freshly out of college, my poor brain hasn't had to think about A&P, chemistry, and physics since high school. And that's what's on this test.

So. Until then, I'm cramming every last factoid into the dusty reaches of my brain folds.

Wish me luck at 1pm, EST on Tuesday.

Mack is "helping" me study. 

Friday, September 17, 2010

How to: Pumpkin Spice Latte

Alright, my friends: here it is, the most-requested recipe!

The Pumpkin Spice Latte

So, the truth? 

I have never made one of these drinks in a coffee house. We didn't do the pumpkin thing--we did the eggnog thing (which I thought tasted disgusting.) 

However, I've done some digging around, and coupled with my basic knowledge of lattes/mocha, I've come up with what I think will be a reasonable facsimile of this drink.

But you'll have to taste it for me: I hate pumpkin! 

Although this drink is considered a latte, from what I've gathered, it's actually made more along the lines of a mocha--the difference is in the sauce. Literally. From what I read, the secret to this drink is that they actually use a sauce versus a syrup. 

Mochas are made with sauce. 
Lattes are made with syrup. 

This is why mochas taste richer, and have more calories. :) 

So, I did some Amazon-ing, and I found a pumpkin spice sauce. This is the Torani brand again, but you can just search "pumpkin spice sauce" and find plenty of hits. 

The foundation of this drink is identical to all lattes (going with 12 oz proportions again): 
Edit: my lovely friend and former barista has informed me that the Buck used 3 pumps of the sauce in the 12 oz drink! Holy sugar overload, Batman! I'd probably still go with 1 pump, myself, but experiment as you see fit! 

1 shot espresso 
1 pump pumpkin spice sauce
(rec) 1 or 1/2 pump vanilla syrup (depending on how sweet you want it) 
steamed milk 
whipped cream
pumpkin pie spice (which I'm pretty sure you can buy in the grocery store) 

The proper layering technique for a latte is syrup and sauce, then espresso, then milk. I would have your milk nice and hot before you pull the espresso shot--espresso has an extremely short half-life, if you will. The less time between the machine and your stomach, the better. 

I think this goes without saying, but just to be on the safe side...you do want to stir after you add the milk and before you top. 

There is such a thing as pumpkin spice syrup, but I don't think it will taste the same. 

Remember, you go up by one pump per 4 oz; 2 shots of espresso for 16 oz; 3 shots for 20oz. Or more. Depending on how strong you'd like it. :) 

A note on whipped cream: the stuff most coffee shops use is not your store-bought stuff. We use heavy whipping cream, vanilla syrup and N2O and make it fresh. That's why it's so awesome. :) 

If you make this drink, please let me know how it turns out! 

Wednesday, September 15, 2010

How to: Caramel Macchiato

Today's coffee-house how-to is the classic caramel macchiato.

The CM differs from a regular latte in several ways, but the most important is that the emphasis is on the milk, not the espresso.

Also, please keep in mind that I have never worked at Starbucks, and each coffee house has a slightly different spin on their recipes. (Just a personal note: I'm not a big fan of Starbucks drinks, and it's not a loyalty thing. I find them all slightly bland, but then again, I'm a fan of the spice/punch.)

For a Caramel Macchiato, you will need:

This drink will be more difficult to reproduce at home, since it has multiple ingredients. For all the drinks I discuss, I will be deferring to the Torani label of syrups and sauces, as these are the ones I think taste the best. 

But first, a note: 
  • sauce will be used in reference to the thick stuff--chocolate sauce, caramel sauce, etc. 
  • syrup is strictly liquid 

The proportions of all drinks are changed according to what size you order: 12, 16, or 20-ounce. The coffee mug I drink out of is 14 ounces, so you'll have to learn how to play with the proportions at home. 

How to Make Your Own Caramel Macchiato 
for the purposes of this recipe, I will be using the proportions for a 12-oz drink*

  1. 1 pump of vanilla syrup into your cup 
  2. Heat enough milk so it will fill your cup approx 2/3 full 
  3. Retain some heated milk and work into a froth**
  4. Spoon froth over milk
  5. Pour one espresso shot through foam
  6. Drizzle caramel sauce over top in pretty design 

**As I mentioned in my inaugural post, the hardest thing about making these specialty drinks at home is achieving the right kind of foam. The steam power of a home espresso machine simply can't compare with the industrial standard. However, there are a few ways you can get your own foam. The simplest is probably to try and use a hand whisk--never done it myself, but I hear it works (somewhat). What will most likely be more reliable is to purchase something along the lines of a Aereolatte milk frother

I personally use the Bodum Mousse One-Touch Milk Frother. It works surprisingly well, though the foam isn't as dense as the coffee house can achieve. 

My brother-in-law has the Bodum Chambord Milk Frother. Slightly more expensive, slightly better foam quality. 

So there you have it. Caramel Macchiato at-home. 

*For 16 and 20 ounces, use 2 shots of espresso and 2 pumps of syrup

Happy Drinking! 

Monday, September 13, 2010

How to: Chai Latte

During college, I made my money as a coffee house barista. Half the time I worked at an independent store, and the other half I worked at the Seattle's Best in the local Border's bookstore. Best. Job. Ever.

I didn't like the retail side of things, but I genuinely enjoyed making people their drinks. Even during the holiday times, I liked it.

Anyway, I know how to make just about any "coffee house"-type drink, so I thought I might share. We writers love our java (et al), right?

You may wonder what my drink of choice is, after being exposed to every concoction under the sun?

It's today's feature:

The Chai Latte 

Chai is black tea brewed with a variety of spices. As its main ingredient is black tea, most chai lattes that you order are going to have a degree of caffeination--about the same as an English Breakfast, I guess.

Most coffee houses offer either spiced chai or vanilla chai. I prefer the spiced variety, but vanilla will do in a pinch.

The biggest difference among coffee houses is the type of chai concentrate used, being either powder or liquid.  Again, my preference is liquid, but some powdered chais can be very good.

For example, the chai concentrate we used at Seattle's Best was Tazo.
At Java City, we used a thicker concentrate that came with a pump, but I forget what the brand was.

I think that chai lattes made with the powder have a creamier texture, but the liquid gives it a bit more of a kick, and I love a spicy chai.

Making your own chai lattes is simple--pretty much the easiest thing to recreate at home.

You can use whatever kind of milk you prefer, but in my "professional" opinion, soy milk makes the best chai lattes. If you're a fan of foam, order soy at the coffee house--soy milk is the easiest to get a good foam out of, followed by skim, and then whole milk. I love foam on my chai, so I always get soy (I also have a theory that the soy milk complements the slight bitterness in a chai, but that's just me.)

The sad fact is that home espresso machines just can't compare the industrial kind. The steam wand is a poor facsimile of the raging beast coffee houses have, so just accept that now.

If you can live without the foam (sadness), I'd recommend simply microwaving your milk in 30-second increments to ensure no scorching. Once it's reached the proper temperature (140 degrees is coffee house standard), simply mix with your chai concentrate and you're good to go.

What's the best mix ratio of milk/chai? When I used to make my own drinks at Seattle's Best, using a 12-oz cup, I would pour approximately 8 oz of chai to 4 oz of milk. However, that's because I like mine spicy. You'd definitely be safe going with a simple 50:50.

For the cold variety, you can either forgo ice and used refrigerated concentrate and milk, or fill your glass with ice cubes and go to town.

Note: if you use the Tazo concentrate, be sure to refrigerate after opening

Okay. So I realize this was pretty long and rambly, but I hope it was informative. 

Now, here's the question: any requests? If it appears on a coffee house menu, 99% chance that I know how to make it, and can give you a good idea of how to recreate at home. 

Vanilla latte? Caramel macchiato? Extra-dry cappuccino? Americano? 

Tuesday, September 7, 2010


I hope everyone had a fun, relaxing (and maybe productive?) Labor Day weekend. I'd like to thanks all my new followers who came courtesy of Karen Gowen's BBQ festival. Hopefully things will be entertaining enough for you to stick around.

I've recently decided not to commit to any particular blogging schedule. I know that bucks all the "rules" for a blogging "platform," but I'm nothing if not a rule-breaker (except for real ones). I'll definitely be posting once a week, and more likely twice, but only when the spirit moves me.

Say what you will about Mr. Costner's acting ability, but Robin Hood, Prince of Thieves is without a doubt my favorite movie of all time. I remember watching it right after its video release; I was an impressionable young lass around the age of 5 or 6. Even then, I knew it was something special--if only I could get past the hand chopping scene in the beginning!

Don't worry, I was exposed to K.C.'s shiny white butt at that tender age: I just closed my eyes during the scary part (only later did I realize the butt scene is a scary part).

What I'm trying to say is


Oh man. Tell me that picture doesn't make you want to frolic in those leaves, heart fluttering with the anticipation of things that can only be discovered beneath red and gold (not blood-stained doubloons).

I'm barely keeping my head above the revision waters, and I think I'm about to go crashing over a waterfall. Possibly with rocks at the bottom.

Something I've seen repeatedly but have yet to internalize is the wise advice to give yourself breaks during the revision process: work on something new, indulge in other hobbies, watch movies that inspire.

I can't exactly say why I love Robin Hood so much. Maybe it's the woods, maybe it's the season, maybe it's just the legend--I don't know. I've literally watched it over 100 times, and for me that's saying something. But every time I watch this movie, I take away something wonderful.

Now tell me I'm not alone. What's your go-to pick me up? 

Sunday, September 5, 2010

Real-Life BBQ (photos)

In honor of Labor Day and meeting new friends, Karen Gowen is hosting a virtual BBQ party this weekend! The official details are at her blog.

I'd like to welcome all of my new followers who've come over thanks to her! Hope you're enjoying your weekend!

I had a very special day yesterday: Husband Evan and I had the distinct pleasure of brunching with DL Hammons (Cruising Altitude) and Nicole Ducleroir (One Significant Moment at a Time) and their wonderful spouses.

DL and his wife were in town for the LSU/UNC game, which was hosted at the Georgia Dome. (Don't understand that? Join the club. Something about Chick-Fil-A.)

Nicole and I are near-neighbors, as I mentioned from the first post in which we had coffee. But this brunch was special, since it included our spouses. We were at the restaurant for over three hours, so I think it's safe to assume we all had a great time!

And it was a beautiful day to cap it off: in the upper 60's when Evan and I arrived, and in the low-80's when we all left, not a cloud in the sky...

The very sunny entrance to the restaurant. 

DL and Kim, all geared up for the LSU game!

Christian and Nicole

Evan and me, borrowed from Nicole's blog... 

Trying to figure out where to stand to take the 3-Bloggers photo 

Evan told us that the downward angle was a superhero pose, so I tried to look heroic. 

Happy Labor Day!

Friday, September 3, 2010

Things I Learned This Year

Washing your hair with one arm in a cast is next to impossible.

Having a husband who's willing to use his longer fingers to scratch that spot inside said cast that your child-like fingers just can't reach? Priceless.

Sparrows can brighten any day.

Getting back into running is painful, even if you were a trackster in high school.

Don't wear light-colored shorts to the gym if you sweat around your butt a lot. It will, in fact, look like you peed yourself.

Silverfish are the nastiest bugs on Earth.

Sometimes the difference between a black thumb and a green thumb is decent sunlight.

By mid-August, your entire garden will look like a desert.

Walking to the post office is actually kinda fun.

No matter how hard you try, that cute fluffy orange cat is not going to come.

Don't eat grey meat.

If you get an odd sunburn in April, you will have an odd tan all year.

Good flip-flops are worth the money.

Typing a novel with one hand is extremely difficult.

Physical therapy is not glamorous.

The only way I can stop biting my fingernails is if one hand is casted away from my body at a ninety-degree angle.

Grey's Anatomy can still make me cry.

Some new television is worth watching.

Starting a blog was the best decision I've made for myself since I married Evan.

Writing "The End" on your first novel, after 15+ years of never finishing anything, is a feeling yet to be unmatched--even by writing it on the second novel.

Some kittens are very strange. Their hobbies include licking eyes, licking eyebrows, licking sweat off my body--generally licking anything on me that sits still long enough.

This licking is actually kind of soothing.

What did you learn this year? 

Thursday, September 2, 2010

This is Just to Say...*

On The Revision Process:

Action may not always bring happiness, but there is no happiness without action. 

--Benjamin Disraeli

*maybe William Carlos Williams next time