Monday, September 26, 2011

Bestest. Ramadan. Ever. by Medeia Sharif

Today I am pleased to bring you a review of Bestest. Ramadan. Ever. written by fellow blogger Medeia Sharif. Here’s the short review: loved it.

Now for the long one:

Where does the love come from? I haven’t read much YA outside the popular Potter/Twilight/Hunger Games books. In fact I was slogging through the fourth mega-long saga of Game of Thrones when Bestest. Ramadan. Ever. showed up in the mail. I decided to put the medieval brick aside for some juicy teen angst with a culture clash twist.

BRE introduces us to Almira Abdul, a fifteen-year-old Muslim/American determined to participate in the month-long fasting ritual in which participating Muslims refrain from eating, drinking, smoking and sex during the daylight hours. (Wikipedia) There is a hilarious scene in which the Abdul family sits down for dinner, anxiously awaiting the sun to set so they can dive headfirst into their dinners with all the grace of a hotdog-eating contestants.

It’s been over twenty years since I was in high school, but things haven’t changed much if Almira is based on today’s teen. This girl agonizes over a muffin top tummy, dreams of her first kiss, and is continuously embarrassed by a mom who lives in exercise clothes. Okay, who stole my old diary?! Man, oh man, can I identify.

After many ups and downs including driving lessons with an accident-prone grandpa to whom all Americans are either ‘infidels’ or ‘prostitutes’, getting her wisdom teeth pulled right before a group date with her secret crush, and other adventures, I started to worry about Almira. This girl was completely consumed by her own friendships and somewhat-crazed family relations. Would she ever have a thought outside of her own life?

Why, yes. Toward the end of the Ramadan season something lovely happens. Almira embraces (part of) her religion and realizes how fasting has taught her to wait in a world of instant gratification. Going without food or water while the sun shines makes her think of those who suffer without food or clean drinking water on a daily basis.

Almira’s thoughts on fasting remind me of a chapter from Stephen King’s The Stand in which four characters set out on a hike from Boulder to Las Vegas with virtually no supplies. The character Glen Bateman says, “The casting away of things is symbolic, you know. Remove all sustenance except what (can be) gleaned along the way. It’s an emptying-out process and also a diminishing of the ego. Your selves, gentlemen—they are turning into a window-glass. Or better yet, empty tumblers.”

I've been feeling a little empty too. Bestest. Ramadan. Ever. arrived at a serendipitous time in my own life. I’ve adopted a water guzzling, low salt/low sugar diet (to avoid future kidney stones), which—at times—has felt like a fast. Having read about a character that succeeds with the daunting task of Ramadan put me in the right frame of mind to tackle my own dietary challenge.

Congratulations, Medeia! I can’t wait to read the next. I should also expand my YA reading list and/or review other blogger books. I know Diane over at Spunk on a Stick has a collection called Circle of Friends. Any other suggestions?

Friday, September 16, 2011

Stoned (And Not Enjoying It)

1-6-10  Kidney Stone Saga
Image courtesy: Patrick Woessner

Last Sunday was not fun. I woke up around 5 a.m. with a sharp pain in my side that refused to go away no matter how many times I visited the porcelain throne (sorry for the TMI) or how much over-the-counter meds I gulped.

By seven, the sharp pain graduated to agonizing pain and I woke my husband to announce that "mommy" was off duty until further notice. There was no way I could face the kids. Instead I put my face on the cold tile of the bathroom floor and moaned.

Husband asked if he should take me to "see someone." On a Sunday morning, that left one option: ER. By now my brain was in hyperchondriatic overdrive. Appendicitis, intestinal blockage, cancerous mass, oh my! I said yes and proceeded to pace around the house puffing like a woman in labor while he coaxed our sleepy girls into clothes and then the car.

Sunday morning turned out to be a great time for a medical emergency. I got into triage straight away and after answering a couple dozen questions, I got an IV, narcotics, and a bed. The painkiller didn't work for long. I ended up getting two more doses before the CAT scan. The doctor kept asking me what the pain felt like and I kept saying, "It's like a stone that just won't go away."

I was more right than I knew. While I was picturing a rock about the size of a deck of cards, the actual culprit turned out to be a kidney stone--a 4mm pebble stuck in the tube between my right kidney and bladder. They sent me home with pain meds and a plastic container to collect the stone.

Luckily the stone passed later that afternoon. It was analyzed and yesterday my primary physician called and said I needed to do three things to prevent another stone. I dropped my lunch--hotdog slathered with mustard and ketchup--and grabbed a pen and paper. There was no way I wanted to experience that agony again.

Number one: drink ten glasses of water a day.

Okay, not too bad. I can handle that.

Number two: Avoid eating foods with sodium.

Crap-snaple. I live for salt! Major suckage. I held my breath and started to pray: please don't let her say sugar next, oh please, please, please!

Number three: Avoid eating foods with fructose or sucrose.


So there you have it. If it tastes good, I can't eat it. After that phone call, I knew my diet would need a complete overhaul so I quickly scarfed down another condiment-laden hotdog.

Bon voyage, packaged meats, snack foods, and salad dressing! I will miss you and your insane sodium content. Sayonara lollipops, brownies, and Froot Loops! I can only dream of your sugary sweetness. Hello fruits and veggies! Hello plain potatoes and pasta! Bring on the bland (and the gallons of water)!

Man, I gotta pee.

Friday, September 9, 2011

Writer's Digest Writing Competitions (and a definition of 'published')

Old Man by the Sea
Image courtesy: elbyincal

Do you have any short stories of 4000 words or less kicking around? (And a twenty dollar bill to spare?) If so, there are several writing contests being hosted by Writer’s Digest with deadlines ranging from September 15 through October 31 depending on the genre. Click here for details. You will also find info on a Short Short Story Competition (1500 words or less) with a deadline of November 15.

I’m going to enter in the science fiction/fantasy contest with a story set 40 years in the future. George Lander, widower, is facing brain surgery. Afraid of losing the memories of his beloved wife, he makes an appointment at Memory, Inc., part of the emerging “brain back-up” industry.

I was going to post the first page of the story, but then a little worm of worry caught me. According to the official rules, you can only enter works that are not previously published or produced. Would posting an excerpt on this blog qualify as publishing? Hmmm.

Luckily I found this website called promptings with the answer. Posting any written work online (including blogs) is considered publishing because it is available to the public. Deleting the blog does not 'unpublish' the work either. However, you can post your work on sites protected by a password and not be considered published. This allows writers to post things on forums for feedback before they are ready to publish. Interesting.

Oh well. The good news is that I and all my fellow bloggers are published! Whoo-hoo. The bad news is that I can't share the first page of A Pain-Free Life.

Have you entered these kinds of short story competitions before?