Wednesday, August 31, 2011

Pink Snowbunnies Publication and Giveaway

A sleep-deprived author mixes up her metaphors.

A graphic designer has too much time on his hands.

Twenty writers, fueled by copious amounts of chocolate, dream up quirky, funny, and occasionally creepy stories.

And the Pink Snowbunnies in Hell: A Flash-Fiction Anthology was born.

These are very short stories, under a thousand words each. Some have actual bunnies. Some take rather offbeat trips through the underworld. And some just have a character that shares the sleep-deprived author’s mixed metaphors.

All proceeds from this anthology are going to local animal shelters. Pink snowbunnies can take care of themselves, but thank you for helping us support those animals who do need a little assistance.

My flash fiction story, "Pink Snowbunnies are the New Pink Ribbon," is now available for your reading pleasure. The humor flash fiction anthology includes stories that are "a bit of strange, a bit of funny, and a bit of sweet," as a fellow Snowbunnies author so aptly said. Some take the location literally; I didn't, in a way to which my fellow Texans may best relate.

My story introduces the main character from my pending novel, Dormant. Meet Jackie Davenport on her first day as a reporter for the Chronicle. For those wondering, my story is at Kindle Location 357, and there is a click-able table of contents to make it easier to locate.

Contest and Giveaway
To celebrate publication, I am hosting an appropriately chocolate-fueled giveaway. The person who comments with the most creative chocolate recipe will win a free copy of Pink Snowbunnies in Hell: A Flash-Fiction Anthology, in the format of their choice (MOBI, EPUB, or PDF via email). Consider adding extra hilarity through puns or unusual ingredients, but don't get too crazy; I actually want to make and eat the recipe! Links to online recipes are allowed. This does not have to be your original recipe, but feel free to give it a new name.

The contest starts now and ends on Thursday, September 8, Sunday, September 11, 2011. The winner will be selected and announced here on Friday, September 9, Monday, September 12, so please check back and/or make sure you include an email address. (If you would rather not leave your email address, you can email me at jimiripleywrites @ As a bonus, I will blog the story and photo of my attempt—successful or not—to create the chocolate decadence.

The anthology is available at Amazon, Barnes & Noble, and Smashwords.

Friday, August 26, 2011

Can you learn about Korea through its cuisine?

I am on a quest to learn more about Korea. In a few short days, my parents will fly out to begin a new four-year mission: working in South Korea. Popular wisdom says that you can learn about a culture through its cuisine. I love trying new foods, with a few reservations, so I'm intrigued to try.

"The Kimchi Chronicles" recently caught my eye. Hosted by Marja Vongerichten, the PBS show revolves around her rediscovery of her Korean roots. Can someone married to a professional chef make food that is accessible to the average American, particularly Korean food that I can cook? Having been immersed in a confusing, new world on a few trips to Asian markets, I can imagine the challenge that my parents face.

Has anyone seen the show or read its companion book, The Kimchi Chronicles: Korean Cooking for an American Kitchen? I downloaded a sample of the Kindle version, but I would welcome personal feedback. I want to watch the show, but it airs at at 8am here, and I don't have any way to record for later viewing.

You can expect me to be scarce around here as I soak in some quality time with my parents before their departure. I will be back to blogging on my usual schedule by the beginning of September. Meanwhile, please comment to share interesting facts or links related to Korea.

Wednesday, August 24, 2011

Good news for toddlers getting their flu vaccine

Nasal spray vaccine
Nati Harnik/Associated Press
Good news for children under three years! Toddlers receive the same protective antibody response from the recommended two doses of licensed seasonal flu vaccines administered through any of these methods:
  • Injected by needle
  • Inhaled through nasal spray
  • Provided through one dose of each, in any order

The goal of the study, funded by the National Institutes of Health (NIH), was to determine whether giving two types of vaccines works just as well.

Even better, the researchers found that the toddlers who received at least one dose of the nasal spray vaccine—a live, attenuated influenza virus vaccine (LAIV)—made a wide array of immune T cells. Stimulating broad T-cell responses may be important for protection against many diverse flu strains.

This is good news for parents as well. My son seems to bring home every bug that goes through his daycare, so it's good to know that we can help prevent at least one. Getting your little one vaccinated also protects their playmates, teachers, parents, and other caregivers. Please make sure that you talk to your doctor about immunizations. If in doubt, feel free to read some of my blogs on vaccines, particularly the one titled "Vaccines are a victim of their own success."

Monday, August 22, 2011

Should you drink your fruits and veggies?

This summer, my immersion blender is getting a workout making green smoothies as a breakfast option. My favorite blend includes yogurt, mango, spinach, orange juice, and milk. Ignoring the generous serving of homemade yogurt and splash of milk, would it be just as healthy to pop open a container of a fruit and vegetable drink, like V-Fusion? Should you drink your fruits and vegetables? I went searching for answers.

Pure fruit or vegetable juice (no sugar added) in moderation is a good thing. Real juice is full of vitamins, minerals, and health-protecting phytochemicals, and it's often fortified with calcium and vitamin D, and occasionally eye-, brain-, and heart-healthy DHA. But you do have to watch that you really are getting the twofer that you expect. For an example, I'll keep picking on V-Fushion—mostly because I have V-Fushion Light in my fridge right now. The manufacturer claims that an 8-ounce serving “gives you a full serving of vegetables plus a full serving of fruit.” The label states that an 8-oz serving contains ½ cup of vegetables and ½ cup of fruit, which is the equivalent to one serving each, per USDA. (The Light version contains only one combined serving of vegetables and fruit, not two.)

V-Fushion is made of 100 percent fruit and vegetables juices, but there is a difference between reconstituted juices (juice concentrate) and freshly squeezed. The vitamins C and E do allow the manufacturer to put an “antioxidant” label on the packaging. However, peach juice is not a peach and carrot juice is not a carrot. Even high-pulp juices can't make up for all the fiber and nutrients that get discarded with the skin and pulp during juicing. These are the components that help keep your appetite, blood sugar, LDL cholesterol, and blood pressure down.

That said, vegetable-infused juices are better than no vegetables. At least it's a sweet beverage with fewer calories and more nutrients than soda or fruit punch. Drinking fruity, sweet drinks will not help turn my son into the veggie lover of my dreams, but neither will my beloved smoothies. That said, my immersion blender won't get a rest in the near future. We aren't going to turn into Popeye, but at least I know that we are getting good fiber and nutrition in our morning smoothies.

Friday, August 19, 2011

Homeopathic flu remedies top the list of "12 Things You Should Stop Buying Now"

Here's an interesting flu tidbit that caught my eye today. Homeopathic flu remedies top the TIME's list of "12 Things You should Stop Buying Now." The CDC's recommendations on Preventing Sesional Flu Illness includes the following statement: "There is no scientific evidence that any herbal, homeopathic or other folk remedies have any benefit against influenza."

While I don't know if green tea is used in homeopathic remedies, I believe that the studies are focusing on tea as a preventative versus a treatment. If nothing else, drinking tea can lend a certain comfort factor to help you feel better. That said, I wonder if the ongoing research into green tea as a flu preventative will be included in future recommendations.

Meanwhile, it would certainly be worth your time to review the CDC's guide on Good Health Habits for Preventing Seasonal Flu.

Wednesday, August 17, 2011

Green tea can help fight the flu

A list of ways to avoid the flu: get the flu shot, wash your hands, cover your cough, eat healthy, drink green tea.... What?

Yes, drinking green tea can help fight strains of influenza that vaccines miss. Green tea accounts for only 20 percent of world tea consumption, but it has many health benefits. Green tea is produced by pan-frying or steaming the leaves of Camellia sinensis, to inactivate an enzyme called polyphenol oxidase. This process preserves the molecules epigallocatechin-3-gallate (EGCG), epigallocatechin (EGC), epicatechin-3-gallate (ECG), and epicatechin (EC), which are collectively called catechins and are powerful antioxidants. A typical cup of green tea contains approximately 200 to 300 mg of catechins. Black tea, which accounts for 78 percent of world tea consumption, is produced from leaves of the same plant; however, its different preparation process causes oxidation and polymerization of the catechins.

A study on the effects of green tea catechins plus theanine—another tea component—on healthcare workers exposed to the influenza virus, was performed by Dr. Keiji Matsumoto and colleagues at the University of Shizuoka, Japan. From November 2009 to April 2010, 98 workers were assigned to the catechin/theanine group and 99 were assigned to the placebo group. All worked with elderly patients, and 92.9 percent were vaccinated against influenza. The catechins and theanine were supplied in capsules that provided a 378 mg catechins and 210 mg theanine per day.

The catechin/theanine group had significantly fewer cases of flu than the placebo group—four cases in the catechin/theanine group and 16 cases in the placebo group. Flu was diagnosed as fever plus any two of the following symptoms: cough, sore throat, headache, muscle aches.

Even as an ardent tea fan, I tend to drink green tea only about once a week. I plan to add it into my rotation more frequently, though it sounds like a daily dose would be ideal. This is the perfect excuse to try making Tea Jelly with green tea or baking the even more decadent Green Tea Cake.

Monday, August 15, 2011

How much protein do you really need?

Protein sources
Protein can be a hot topic, particularly when people learn that I grew up vegetarian. "Do you mean you've never had meat?" they ask with widened eyes. "But how do you get enough protein?" The attitude is: that can't be healthy. Actually, just the opposite, which is why I am passing the lifestyle on to my son.

Far from trying to start a heated debate, I am blogging to share my own research into the science of protein nutrition. You are certainly welcome to differ with me, and I won't be offended if you eat meat in my presence. My husband and a couple of other family members are not vegetarian, so I cook meat on occasion. I have even tasted meat, though I find the texture off-putting. I prefer vegetarian cooking, particularly lacto-ovo vegetarian. It works for me, and my husband doesn't complain. Smart man.

A burger and shake McMeal contains two to three times as much protein as people need per day. According to the CDC's National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey, the average American eats about double the amount of protein that their body requires.

Our bodies use protein to repair damaged cells and build new ones. Figures vary, but the amount of protein needed by the average adult is just 10-35 percent of the day's calories, which means 46 grams of protein for women and 56 grams of protein for men. Protein servings of meat, poultry, or fish, should be the size and thickness of the palm of your hand, which is about a 3-ounce portion. Meat eaters should eat no more than two palm-sized servings of meat a day to get enough—but not too much—protein.

What are the best protein sources? Lean animal sources include red meat with less marbling, poultry without skin, nonfat or low-fat dairy products, and fish. Soy foods include tofu, edamame (green soybeans), roasted soy nuts, and meat substitutes like veggie burgers or crumbles.

A few of the many lacto-ovo
vegetarian protein sources
Most people benefit from eating less processed protein (e.g., bacon, hot dogs, and lunch meats) and are better off eating beans and fish a few times a week. Beans and whole grains are some of the healthiest foods on the planet and they're cheap, filling, and easy to make. From black beans and garbanzos to lentils and split peas, plant proteins can be used in soups, chili, spreads, and Mexican dishes. As for whole grains, three protein-rich grains are quinoa, spelt, and amaranth.

Unlike animal protein, most plant-based proteins are "incomplete," meaning they lack some amino acid building blocks. By combining plant proteins, such as rice and beans or hummus on pita bread, they become "complete" with all the essential amino acids found in animal protein. Soy protein is the only plant source that's complete. This means that rice and beans are not only a delicious meal, they are also a complete protein. Recommendations used to be that you needed to combine plant proteins at a given meal, but more recent information reveals that it is not necessary to combine specific protein foods at one sitting to make complete protein. Your body will do the protein combination for you.

Whew! That went on a bit longer than I intended. To think that I didn't like nutrition class when I was in college!

Do I always make the right food choices? Certainly not, but I'm trying. I want my son to continue to be healthy and active, and part of that means modeling good eating behaviors. It can even be fun. My son's very favorite food is yogurt. He goes through so much of it that I've resurrected my yogurt-making skills. Tonight was mommy-son time, so I filled two small bowls with homemade yogurt flavored with honey and fruit puree. As we enjoyed our treat, his enthusiasm made it (almost) as good as ice cream.

For someone who grew up eating meat, vegetarian cooking is an adjustment. It takes a different kind of mindset. If you are interested in at least trying Meatless Monday, I recommend that you start with a book like The Meat Lover's Meatless Cookbook: Vegetarian Recipes Carnivores Will Devour.

Friday, August 12, 2011

Book Review: Cage Life, by Karin Cox

Cage Life, by Karin Cox, is a surprising and beautifully written book comprised of two short stories; the first story takes you into the mind of a young mom who feels like a prisoner in her own home and the second centers around 80-something Basil and the results of his love for a younger woman. It only took me an hour to read the entire book, which I received as a review copy via Smashwords.

I'll admit that at first I didn't know if I would be able to finish the book. The subject matter was almost too adult and definitely too dark. The first story, Cage Life, reminded me of a very dark period in my own life, though the details are completely different. Karin's poetic use of words kept me reading. As I savored the vivid prose and admired the images that she so adeptly painted in my imagination, I was pulled into the story. As the main character grew from girl to young mom, I felt her angst, love, and pain. I still can't say that I liked the story—partly due to the fact that I'm a (not so young) new mom myself—but I do respect it for its portrayal of unintended consequences.

The second story, The Usurper, again challenged my morals. Basil wakes, knowing that "it had happened again." We discover the definition of "it" few pages later as Basil contemplates the fate of an octogenarian at the hands of a much younger mistress in a surprising view of elder abuse. I can't go into detail without giving too much away, but this was the story that made me love the book. The ending contains one of my favorite story elements: in a surprise "aha" moment, reality shifts and the reader suddenly views the story in a completely different way. I wanted to give a standing ovation.

Though I am more apt to read for either entertainment or learning, it is good to be challanged to step out of my comfort zone. I plan to look into Karin's Austrailian wildlife books for my son.

Wednesday, August 10, 2011

Smart pen is a smart choice for writers and students

First we had the smart phone and now we have the smart pen. I love gadgets, especially my beloved Kindle, but it looks like I've been missing out on an important one for writers. Omar Gallaga at The Statesman says, "Livescribe digital pen a smart idea for writers and students." 
"The Livescribe pen can record audio while you write on specially coded "Dot Paper." You can transfer everything you write to software that allows you to see your words on-screen and to hear audio that is synced up. Tap on a part of your notes and the exact point in the audio that matches up with it plays. You can also play the audio back from the pen itself, which has a tiny screen and a speaker."
Not only can you sync writing to audio, you can also send the notes to services like Google Docs, email, or even Facebook. To entice even more, the "pencasts" (audio plus visuals of notes) can be viewed on my iPhone, or on an iPad (for those fortunate to own one of those lovely gadgets). Once your notes are uploaded, you don't even have to keep the paper copies.

Where oh where was this when I was in school? I was never very good at taking notes. It seemed the more detailed my notes the more I missed of what the professor said subsequently. And yet, who wants to sit through the lecture all over again by replaying the entire recording, just to find that brief point you half remember? This would solve that problem. I could jot down important points and use them to reference the relevant part of the lecture.

Today, I could see this as being applicable at work—for taking notes when I conduct newsletter interviews or attend meetings. However, as a state worker I'm not holding my breath. I added the Livescribe 4 GB Echo Smartpen to my Amazon Wish List for further research, or perhaps to be discovered by a hitherto-unknown rich relative.

Users do list a few drawbacks. You have to buy special Dot Paper. Some are not thrilled with how much thicker the Livescribe Smartpen is when compared to a regular pen. Apparently software, sold separately, to convert handwriting to typed text doesn't work very well. You can not use Livescribe to record phone interviews. It does not have wireless capability. The company shut down its app developer program. Hopefully the last point does not mark the death knell for this technology. I would love to see a version developed that addresses many of these issues.

Monday, August 8, 2011

Book Review: Dead Men Don't Cry, by Nancy Fulda

Dead Men Don't Cry, by Nancy Fulda, is an eclectic collection of 10 science fiction short stories. I don't often read short story collections, but I enjoyed this one. I received it as a review copy via Smashwords. Some of the stories took me on adventures while others made me think, even as they made me cringe. Here's a brief rundown of the stories, without giving away too much.

Pastry Run - This was a fun romp of an adventure, all in the name of a fresh morning pastry. Forget Paris to New York and try Charles de Gaulle to the Sea of Tranquility. This story quickly pulled me into the collection.

Dead Men Don't Cry - Whodunit with a science fiction twist and a bang of an ending. It has been a while since I read a mystery, but this took it to the next level by introducing my beloved science fiction. I enjoyed the experience, even though I guessed the solution before the main protagonist.

Blue Ink - Six-year-old Jason doesn't like the funny smells, the scratchy hospital gown, or the idea of being cloned, but all the grown-ups say he's very fortunate. Nancy does a good job of addressing a complicated debate through the eyes of a child. I thought this story was fascinating.

Backlash - Eugene's much-anticipated daddy/daughter dinner becomes too exciting with the addition of an unwelcome boyfriend and a strange fortune. I loved the take on time travel in this story.

Monument - A traveler on the way home from Thanksgiving stops to stretch her legs and finds more than she bargained for. This one made me think, though it almost felt like the message was being shoved down my parched throat.

Tammi's Garden - Tamela lives in caverns that protect her from the bad air above, if you can call barely surviving living, but at least she has her mother. That is until she wakes in an almost idyllic garden. But which is the dream? Read this and let me know if you can answer the question.

All Praise to the Dreamer - A new mom's pleasant day turns deadly serious as she tries to save the life of her two-month-old baby. This one reminded me of The Twilight Zone, but I really disliked it. That might have something to do with the fact that I'm a fairly new mother myself.

The Breath of Heaven - Computers grapple with emerging sentience and how they should follow their directives to establish a human colony. Does the ideal human operator exist? Sacia is an AI with an interesting and surprisingly likable point of view. I loved this story.

Ghost Chimes - Ghost chimes ringing at 3AM make Alicia wish that she had unplugged the machine, even as she settles the glasses on her nose to answer her mother's call. Her mom can be a bit nosy sometimes, but that's not the half of it. I didn't like this story, though the concept was clever.

A New Kind of Sunrise - Young Mikki finds a dying stranger. Her clan chief agrees to take him in, little knowing the profound impact the man will have not only on Mikki but also on the entire clan. This story built a rich and believable world in relatively few pages. I loved it and look forward to reading more in future.

Even though I didn't like all of the stories, even those made me think. Dead Men Don't Cry is a highly enjoyable, well written collection. I look forward to reading more of Nancy's writing, particularly when she releases her upcoming novel.

Friday, August 5, 2011

Turn on your imagination and turn off boredom

In the fainter recesses of my mind, I vaguely remember being bored. Stuck in the house on a rainy afternoon, my siblings and I fidgeted at having nowhere to vent our excess energy. I'm sure that we uttered the words "I'm bored" more than my parents wanted to hear. My parents would turn being house-bound into an adventure by bringing out special occasion toys like Barbies that Mom played with as a child and felts of people and animals that we used to act out stories. We raided the linen cupboard and the bookshelves to build tent cities of sheets propped over chairs and other furniture, pinned precariously with small stacks of books. It's amazing how a little imagination made the boredom melt away.

Now I simply look incredulously at anyone who says they are bored. In my quest to fully accommodate family, work, and personal goals, I pretend that I need less sleep, burning the proverbial candle at both ends. Don't get me wrong, I enjoy candles, but it does catch up with me.

Life just keeps getting more interesting. In a heartbeat, I went from re-inventing myself as a plus-size athlete; to meeting and becoming the adoring wife of my best friend; to awe-struck, occasionally frazzled mother. My guys fill my heart with love and my life with laughter and warmth that balances the inevitable frustrations. From daily chores to playing with my son, my home life is packed to the brim. Sometimes I even get to enjoy the fun of shaping a loaf of bread or creating a family member's favorite cake.

I am also daughter, sister, and Aunt in a close-knit family. As we work toward my parents' departure for a job in Korea, we are equal parts excited for them at the incredible opportunity and mourning the loss of their close presence in our lives. We snatch every opportunity to take what now seems like a short drive to hang out with our beloved friends, holding onto the promise of video chat, email, and phone access after their departure at the end of the month. Marriage brought more amazing roles as daughter-in-law and sister-in-law to my husband's mother and sister who have not only accepted me but also readily taken me in as a beloved member of the family.

I devote the greater part of my week days to a job that is important and interesting. I welcome the intellectual stimulation, though working at a public health laboratory is occasionally somewhat too interesting (such as during the H1N1 Influenza outbreak). I am so thankful for a steady job that lets me play with words.

When my work is done, my family's needs addressed, and my son tucked into bed, I reach for the last scrap of mental energy and write. Sometimes my writing (or re-writing) goes well; I'm in the zone and loving every minute. When I look up and find that it's already one in the morning, I feel a deep sense of fulfillment, though I also know that I will grumble to hear the beep of my alarm in a few short hours. Other times I struggle through the quicksand of possibilities to create a coherent sentence and gladly push away from my desk to crawl in for an "early," 11pm bedtime.

Random moments throughout the day yield opportunity for reflection, prayer, and imagination. As I mention in my blogs, even news stories about scientific advances can provoke flights of imaginative fancy. Of course I also love to read, so I cram that in during my lunch hour or on those nights when, sapped of mental energy, I skip writing and crawl in bed with my Kindle.

We are surrounded by media. Instead of using the internet, radio, television, computers, video games, movies, smart phones, and other media to prevent boredom, I recommend that we turn on imagination. Use the wealth around you to build a few castles in the air. Remember the magic of your childhood. Turn on your imagination and turn off boredom.

Wednesday, August 3, 2011

Scientists Create Space-Time Invisibility Cloak

Scientists have created a real life invisibility cloak. This one doesn't just make objects disappear, it hides entire events.

Physicists have discussed the theoretical possiblity of a space-time "event cloak" to theoretically conceal an event in time. A Cornell team made it happen, for 110 nanoseconds anyway.

The necessary equipment: two time-lenses that can compress and decompress light in time and two electro-optic modulators. Using two of these modulators, you can slow down or compress the light travelling through the first lense. The second lense, downrange from the first, can then decompress (accelerate) the incoming photons from the first lense. (Don't have electro-optic modulators? A nice used model can be yours for a mere $1,499.99, plus shipping and handling, via eBay.)

Stopping the photon flow is like stopping the traffic on the highway. As you sit upstream in your idling car, more than half fretting over the delay, you send up a small prayer for anyone involved in the accident, knowing that if you can just get past this it will be free sailing on the highway. The all-powerful physicist crosses the higway through the gap and then accelerates the traffic to catch up with the traffic ahead, closing the gap. To a driver further downstream, the gap isn't there; from their observation point it might as well have never existed. There is no evidence.

That gap is your period of invisibility. Whatever happens under the "event cloak" goes unrecorded. But you'll have to be mighty quick in order pull off that bank heist. The Cornell scientists concede that the best they could achieve is 120 microseconds. That said, science is always advancing, so who knows what the future holds. Meanwhile, the space-time invisibility cloak is great fodder for science fiction. I feel a story coming on....

For a very readable and more detailed account, I recommend National Geographic's article: Space-Time Cloak Possible, Could Make Events Disappear?

Monday, August 1, 2011

Participating in the Belly Button Biodiversity Project

My July 10 blog about "Your belly button is one of the last biological frontiers" still ranks as one of my favorite science-related blogs to date. I subsequently sent a request asking how to contribute a sample. Today I received a response.

The representative for the Belly Button Team pointed me to their work in general at Your Wild Life and also specifically to this link:

I submitted a request for kits to test my family. Hopefully the results aren't too flocculent. (I just had to work in my new word for today. Feel free to follow the definition link provided.)

Don't hold your breath for the results, though I promise to come back and blog about them. Apparently the Belly Button Biodiversity Project has received a tremendous amount of interest lately, so they may be a little slow in responding. The team's representative assured me that "we will get everything to you as fast as we can. Feel free to share this with your readers!"

Many thanks to The Belly Button Team representative who took the time to respond to my query in the midst of what sounds like a mad rush.