Writing

Have you read “Blow ‘Em Down” yet?

Just a reminder, dear readers, that my most recently published short story is available for free online at Beneath Ceaseless Skies. It’s comes up in conversation several times lately, so I thought a reminder was due. “Blow ‘Em Down” is a steampunk retelling of the battle of Jericho from the perspective of a brass band pressed to take part in the effort to break the city’s glass dome. For me, it’s about how past wounds can blind us to the ways we dehumanize others and how faith doesn’t count until you make it your own.   Here are the first three paragraphs:

From our brass band’s vantage point at the Gilgal plains, the glass dome was impenetrable. An immense central copper tube supported it, using a full city block for its foundation and generating energy for the whole town by absorbing the sun rays trapped within the glass. One skygate operated through the top of the dome, opening only to let merchant airships and their escorts in and out. The ships floated by so high, we could barely make out what was seared into their taut material: giant brands bearing profiles of the cityscape. The same image, embossed in a black pattern, circumnavigated the dome’s bottom edge. A single word in bold typeset appeared above each repetition:  Jericho.

They never sent so much as a volley our way. Who could blame them? We looked a sorry mess after forty years spent crossing the desert, but we were many. Forty days our parents had been told, but as it turned out, solar-powered chariots don’t work so well in the desert. The salt from the Red Sea air had rusted most of their steel frames within days of the crossing, leaving us with only a handful, and those were barely powerful enough to raise one person off the sand at a time. Then there was the pillar of smoke blocking out half the sky. Little sun meant less energy for our solar cells to regenerate. When the pillar lit up like a fireball that forgot to fly at night, we tried to mine the heat, but we never could get the calibrations right.

“The pillar will lead us into the Promised Land. It is Yahweh’s own guide.” That’s how Moses had explained it when it first appeared, before I was ever born. The old geezer had keeled over about a month ago. Paps laughed out loud when he heard, but his heart burst mid-guffaw, and he keeled over, too. Three days later, we crossed the Jordan.

Read the rest of the story here

If any of you happen to be Hugo voters (last day to sign up to become one is this Friday), I would love you to read “Blow ‘Em Down” to consider it for a nomination. It is eligible for this year’s award season, and nominations are open until March 31. I will refer you to this great post at Beneath Ceaseless Skies that details everything involved if you would like to become a voter or you need to know how to go about making nominations.

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Oregon Chai Mocha Latte Concentrate Product Review

I received Oregon Chai’s newest product as a perk from Klout, meaning this is my obligatory disclaimer that I did not pay for it. I’m a fan of Oregon Chai, as they were my first introduction into the world of chai with their sweet, smooth blend of spices and tea found in that signature product. Pretty sure I got my mother addicted to the stuff once upon a time as well. So I was definitely game for this venture of theirs into the coffee world.

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The ingredient list is pretty straightforward: espresso, natural cane sugar, processed cocoa, and natural flavors. It comes in a cute little carton, complete with equally cute illustrated instructions for preparing the drink.

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The ratio is 1:3 concentrate to your favorite dairy product. I doubled the 8 oz. recipe, knowing I would want more caffeine than that in my morning cuppa. My favorite dairy product isn’t dairy at all but unsweetened almond milk from Trader Joe’s. A simple stir and ta da!

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One glass of frothy, lightly cocoa-colored beverage! Now the lightness of that concoction made me pause, because I’m a black coffee drinker, except when I go for a dessert drink like a frappuccino. My worries were founded—the drink basically tastes like chocolate milk. Two thoughts: (1) Yum, chocolate milk! and (2) Chocolate milk is not something I consume on a regular basis, so I can’t see myself using this mocha concentrate often. The coffee flavor was nearly nonexistent. I could only taste it if I squinted and thought really hard about it.

I tried it again, using a 1:1 ratio to see if that increased the coffee’s presence, but it really intensified the syrupiness of the mix, so I wouldn’t recommend it. Thus, I’d call Oregon Chai Mocha Concentrate a tasty, smooth option for people who want a little caffeine to go with their chocolate milk. It’s much smoother than stirring in a chocolate powder or regular syrup. But for those wanting their coffee kick, this isn’t the mix for you. Interestingly, I think it might function best as a dirty chai mix-in, meaning Oregon Chai should think about combining it with their signature product.

Thank you, Oregon Chai, for the perk! Although it’s not a coffee alternative for me, I look forward to my chocolate milks in the weeks to come.

Reviewed 19 December 2013.

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Fair Trade Product Review

Back in October, I received my absolute favorite perk from Klout since agreeing to be an influencer with them. Perks are freebies from companies looking for opinions, usually on new products, and they often come in the way of a small ($5) gift card or trial size sample. But this one was a whole gift pack full of items made with fair-trade practices in mind. It’s taken me this long to write it up because there was so much to try!

Now, fair trade is a cause I’m passionate about. Being a progressive, I feel that people should be able to make a living from their wages for full-time work, and companies that embrace that philosophy take hands-on approaches to ensure that the people who make their products are working in acceptable conditions and that they are fairly compensated for their work, whether done in Ghana or Indiana. Each and every product I’ve tried from this pack is certified by Fair Trade USA, which makes me quite happy. I’m giving a quick review for each one.

That tote bag is from prAna, a company that specializes in sustainable, fair-trade apparel.

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I’ve been using it as a gym bag for months, and it’s quite durable. The quality of the cotton material is great, and I’m going to keep my eyes peeled for where I can find their clothes.

Larabar sent a gluten-free, peanut butter and chocolate snack bar that is way tastier than protein bars, let me tell you.

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It tasted like moistened peanuts, cocoa powder, and tangy dates. Each bar has 220 calories, half of which are fat, and 3 grams of fiber! Not bad for a quick snack at all.

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