Sunday, June 24, 2007

Surviving Sunday

So Benjamin woke me to nurse at 9:44 am. By the time we were done, it was 10:33, and church starts at 11:00. Just enough time to dress and go!

So I got the kids up and immediately noticed that Anda's hair was gunky. It looked like she'd been sucking on it again, and had gotten gravy in it at dinner, and then slept on it. It really resembled a birds nest more than a head of hair. And then I remembered that, while Caleb has bathed recently, he hasn't washed his hair in more than three weeks (he hates having his hair washed, and I haven't been up to forcing the issue). So I threw everyone into the shower, including me.

Consequently, we were 45 minutes late for church. We had just gotten settled down to listen to the end of the first talk when Anda announced she had to go potty. Tim was still driving home from Utah, so I had all four kids. And all four had to come with me to take Anda potty, naturally. As we got up from the last row to sneak out the back of the gym, Dan yelled, "NO! Stay here!" He followed us out anyway, and we got back in time to hear the musical number and try to listen to the last talk.

Ben was sleeping, but I'd come with the double stroller (not a car seat), so I had to hold him the whole time. Dan was a good sport about that. I sent the kids to primary and took the babies to nursery, where Dan clung to my leg the whole time but cried when I took him out so I could feed Ben. So we went back and stalled Ben.

When the baby became absolutely determined to eat now, I took Dan and him out and ran into Caleb being taken out of primary by his teacher for being too wild. He promised both of us he would be reverent, and he went back to class, where he immediately started jumping around and flailing his arms and getting all the other kids even more riled up. Mosiah started it, but Caleb fed the fire. Still, when his teacher came back in, he calmed down, so I went to nurse.

I was still feeding the baby when Caleb's teacher brought him to me and said, "I'll see you next week." In other words, don't come back today. Caleb didn't understand that he was in trouble, and that he couldn't come back today. Then he was mad because the other kids promised to play freeze tag with him. He couldn't see that this was the problem! Meanwhile, Dan started bawling because we weren't back in nursery yet, and Ben was mad because I wasn't nursing him and putting him back to bed.

Finally, I took everyone into nursery, where they were reading books, so they all settled down. A new book is Caleb's favorite thing in the world.

Church ended ten minutes later and I collected everyone and then had to wait a bit while Caleb begged to play freeze tag and other boys whose parents were waiting, too, were running and smacking each other with scriptures and yelling. I wasn't waiting for Caleb to finish. I was waiting to see the Bishop to arrange for Ben's baby blessing. But then I discovered that the Bishop's father died yesterday, so he was gone. While I was talking to his counsellor about the baby blessing, a two year old slammed Anda's finger in the church door and held it there and Ben started crying again and Caleb started running again and Dan started begging for an apple (and I didn't have one--Anda was eating the last one).

Finally, we got to walk out into the 99 degree heat to walk home, and Caleb was still wound up. Then his loose tooth fell out into his hand. And right then the lady asked me to do my food order for the next two weeks. Anda gave Dan her apple and Ben fell asleep, so I stood in the parking lot while Caleb whined that we didn't have enough people to play freeze tag and filled out the food order, with the paper resting on Anda's head.

As we left, we noticed that a sprinkler that had been leaking when we arrived was still leaking, so we had to go back and tell the clerk because we didn't know who to call and we didn't want the water to run into the gutter all week.

So I survived Sunday.

But then I thought about my friend the nursery worker, who mentioned in nursery today that she has two sons serving in Iraq and one in boot camp, and her husband just lost his job and they've found that nobody wants to hire someone who is 52, so he got a job that requires him to travel a lot--three weeks at a time across the country--and she still has a couple of kids at home.

And, in the midst of all my chaos, one of my friends stopped to say hi and, in the course of the conversation, I found out that her husband just lost his job, too, their lease is up on their house, her young single mom daughter and toddler granddaughter are moving out into another single mom's house (maybe good, maybe not!), and her other daughter tried to commit suicide because she's bipolar and is just about to get out of the mental hospital (and the family doesn't believe in mind-altering medications and want a homeopathic doctor to "cure" her.....).

So my Sunday was so hard it will be funny in an hour or two, but all together, I think my life is going really well right now. Comparatively, I have nothing to complain about.

Tuesday, June 19, 2007

Mom's Bread

I didn't think it was possible to improve on Mom's bread recipe, but I was experimenting last night and discovered a variation that is even better than the original. So here you have it, the improved on perfection bread recipe:

2 c hot water (not too hot, though)
1 rounded tbsp (or 1 1/2 pkts) yeast
1/4-1/2 c sugar (I was making butterscotch rolls, so I used 1/2 c)
1/3 c oil (vs the usual 1/4 c)
1 1/2 tsp salt

Mix these and let it get foamy to make sure the yeast is alive.

Add 6 1/3 c flour (or so--I always need more flour at this altitude, so go slowly and add as much as you usually do plus a little to counter for the extra liquid in the recipe).

Mix it just a little and then add

2 eggs.

Mix it until it's soft and clinging to the dough hook, but not necessarily smooth. (I tried once "letting the gluten develop" like all the ward members say you need to, and it ruined the bread. Don't do this.). Take it out. Knead it a few times in your hands (not on a breadboard). It's okay if it's a little sticky at this point. You want it soft and tender. Put it in an oiled bowl and microwave 10 seconds. Flip the dough over and microwave another 10 seconds. Take it out and cover with plastic wrap and put it in a warm place to raise. (While I'm microwaving it, I turn the oven on to warm. When it's preheated, I put the dough in, turn the light on to keep it warmer, and turn the oven off. This is for two reasons: it's warm, and the kids don't get at it to get snitches that mess up the raising.). Raise it (or let it rise--which is it?) two or three times for 30 minutes each. Then take it out, form it into three regular loaves (or butterscotch rolls and 1 loaf for me last night), put it into loaf pans, and let it rise again for 30 minutes. In the last 10 minutes of rise time, turn on the oven to 350 (take the loaves out while it preheats to bake) so it's ready to go at the end of the rise time. Bake the loaves at 350 for 30 minutes. When they come out of the oven, dump them out of the pans right away. If you're making wheat bread, make all the 30s into 35s, and use just a little more yeast. Or use half-wheat, half-white (or confectioners, as I call it because anything it makes is really nutritionally a confection) flour.

What was the difference, you ask? The texture of the bread was different--softer, more tender. Also, you've added the nutritional value of eggs, which can't hurt. I suppose you could use milk, instead of water, and add that nutrition (and richness), too. And the extra oil? I don't know what it did, if anything. It was an accident that it got in there.

Allergen Warning

Since many of the people I know are highly allergic to substances you put on skin, I thought I'd pass this along. From, a warning about getting henna tattoos. Follow this link .

It's not natural Henna that's the problem. That's safe. It's adulterated "black" or "blue" henna, which is often mixed up not following FDA regulations and can cause a severe allergic reaction that produces a lifetime hyper-sensitivity to many substances, including antibiotics and analgesics (no epidurals for women with this sensitivity!).

Just an FYI, and verified by Snopes--for once an internet/email-lore that is legit!

Sunday, June 17, 2007

Kid News

Caleb has discovered "Alice in Wonderland." I left my copy of the Philosopher's Alice (a version with sidenotes about philosophy and nonsense) on the floor, and he found it and was instantly enamored with the fact that there was a child named "Pig" who turns into a pig. So I got Caleb the other version I have--one with side notes defining the more difficult words and with pictures of the less-common things mentioned in the book. He loves it, but he says he especially likes the second verse of "You are Old, Father William."

We found a fully-accredited k-12 public school that functions entirely online. It is the Branson School. Branson is a small town in Colorado, .3 miles from the New Mexico border, with a population of 77. No joke. But the Branson School Online provides computers and teachers, curriculum, feedback, etc. The kids stay at home with parents as teachers, but they are enrolled in school and provided with all the "stuff" that public school kids get (books, field trips, etc). Because it is public school, everything is free. Because Colorado supports school choice, the school is filled on a first-come, first-served basis. So we applied. It may be just the right thing for Caleb. Because it's online, it is individualized, and they say they want school to fit in the family's schedule, instead of the other way around. They don't do letter grades, but do have evaluations. I am excited about the possibilities inherent in doing a school all online. I hope we aren't seriously disappointed. If we are, there is another --the Colorado Virtual Academy that is both charter school and virtual school, all online, and based out of a suburb of Denver, so they also have regular outings and stuff. How did I not know about all this before?

Anyway, on to the other kids:

Anda is reading well now. She won't do it on demand, but likes to read to herself, and, when questioned, really is reading. Most days her name is Baby Kitty. Or Becca (then she makes me be Anda or Tim. Talk about confusing!). Sometimes she's Scruffy the Tugboat (remember when Caleb was Soonle Great? Scruffy is a different character from the same movie). Sometimes she's Perdita, and then one of the others of us has to be Pongo (from 101 Dalmations). Sometime's she's Kiki (from Kiki's Delivery Service). Sometimes she's something else. Talk about confusing. To add to the confusion, sometimes the kids go play in their room, and sometimes they go play on the "Highland Sennec Ship"--their bunkbed, I mean rocket.

Daniel is verbalizing a lot of things, and he sees the world in a unique way. For example, when the Baby's binkie falls out, he says, "Oops! Fell Off. Back on..." and he tries to put it back in. Upside down. He's very consistent about that. One day "Benj'nin" wouldn't take the binkie. He kept spitting it back out. I heard, "Fell off. Back on. Fell off. Back on. Fell off." Then Dan came trotting over to me and said, "Fix it," and handed me the binkie.

A few days later, I took off his very soggy diaper (he always says that, too, "Not poopy, mom. Soggy.") and then got distracted before I got another diaper on him. When I turned around, he was just starting to pee on the floor. I shouted, but my arms were full of baby and I couldn't get a diaper on him just that seconds, so I said, "Run outside" (the back door was open) "and pee out there." So he ran outside, and I got distracted again. About two minutes later, I was finally putting down the baby, and Dan ran back inside bawling. I said, "What's wrong!" and he said, "Doesn't work!" and cried and cried. I finally figured it out--he hadn't been able to pee outside after I startled him, and he thought he was broken!

So that's Dan. Cute as ever.

Benj is getting cute, too. He smiles more and more, and loves to have a two-way "Conversation" of goos and coos. He likes to talk to his painting of black and white flowers that hangs over my rocking chair. And he seems to have respiratory allergies. I spent several days trying to pinpoint the one thing it probably was. Then I realized it was probably all of the things--the cottonwood fluff, the pollen, the dog that came to visit, the perfume in Relief Society, the mold that we found in the swamp cooler pads, dust, etc. Poor kid. He's only 7 weeks old, and he's already smashed with hay fever. He'll probably have asthma, too.

Now all the grandmas and aunts and uncles have been duly updated. You can go back to reading your email again.

Monday, June 11, 2007

What Makes a Story Compelling?

I have seriously considered all comments sent by agents who have read all or part of my novel. After all, this is their business, to know what "works" and what doesn't. Everyone agrees that the novel is "fun." They all use that word, and that is exactly what I was aiming for--something that was fun to read. Lightweight. They all say, "It's fun, but....." The comments after the "but" are different, but I've come to the conclusion that the bottom line is Poison Spindle is fun, but not compelling. By that, I mean the first fifty pages don't leave you hungry for more. They don't make you miss your bus stop because you're lost in the story.

That is not to say the entire story isn't compelling. I firmly believe the last 3/4 of the book IS compelling. That's the part I wrote after I figured out two things: how to tell the story so I liked it, and what the story actually was (other than let's get Kate to meet every fairytale character ever so I can tell you what I really think of them). I have already condensed the first 100 pages out of maybe 200. The book is 70,000 words shorter than it started, despite the fact that I added 15,000 words to the last half of the book. For reference, many novels are about 70,000 words long. Total.

So I've been pondering how to fix this problem. But before I can make a story compelling, I have to know what makes a story compelling. This is entirely a separate issue from what makes writing good or a voice interesting. And, despite the fact that my writing is very plot-oriented, I don't know the answer. Research time.

Going to agent's blogs, I found a few things. Miss Snark, before her retirement, advised that writers include the main character and the main conflict in the query letter. She said that to make it compelling, the reader has to care about the character enough that we want them to come out on top in the conflict. Nathan Bransford said that every story must have a quest and a conflict, which I understand to mean the main character has to be trying to do something, and something has to be trying to stop them. The Comic Throughline suggests that there should be a conflict, but that it should be colored by what the character thinks they want and what they really want, or, in other words, there should be an internal conflict and and external conflict that actually also conflict with each other, and both have to be resolved at the end by the character choosing what they really want (resolving the internal conflict) and this magically makes the external conflict possible to resolve as well. Mom, the avid reader and excellent editor, suggested that every main character needs to have something (often in their past, but always internally) that makes them conflicted about solving the mystery/conflict at all--some secret in their lives that is holding them back and colors how they act.

So I've looked at my story. It does all this. Just not in the first 50 pages, which is what most agents read and make a decision based on. Like most first-timers (even though Poison Spindle is number 4), I wrote a slow-starter, and nobody can sell a slow-starter because nobody wants to read a slow starter.

So this is what I think about what everyone else has said about making a story compelling--they're all right. But there is something they missed: mystery. There has to be something the reader doesn't know that they want to know that keeps them reading, beyond just "do they resolve the conflict." At least for my stories.

So, for me, to be successful, a story must have:
a mystery
a character you care about who is round (not perfect)
a quest
an internal conflict
an external conflict

So I analyzed the Poison Spindle Problem:

The character is Kate. I hope she's likeable. She seems rather your normal over-intelligent girl to me, which isn't necessarily likeable. She's a little naive about life. She's a little over-confident in her abilities. She lacks any kind of street smarts or experience at all. Unfortunately, I wrote her as me, so I can't tell if she's likeable. Or if you care about her.

The mystery is what happened to both possible heirs to the throne and their husbands. This is interesting and compelling. It's not really defined well until the 60th page of the book.

The quest is for Kate to get home, at first, and then to solve the problems her grandfather caused when he "lost" Sleeping Beauty. In other words, to restore order to the kingdom.

The external conflict is between Kate (and eventually the princesses she sides with) and the witches (who want her out of the way so they can use her key to reach Sleeping Beauty) and maintain the new order they've established in the kingdom.

The internal conflict is between Kate and her overconfidence and inexperience. Kate understands things intellectually, but when it comes to actually making a decision and acting on it, she just floats. She is out of touch with the practical aspects of being smart, and she has to learn how to act instead of be acted upon.

So the internal conflict probably isn't terribly compelling--but it's something every young college-aged woman actually has to learn. Nobody is born a problem solver.

So my questions that remain:

What do YOU think makes a story compelling?

What makes you care about a character, and how can a writer get you there on page one, instead of page 65?

How much does a reader have to know about a mystery in order to want to know the solution?

I really need to get beyond, "Hey, that's definitely a conflict" to "I have to know what happens next!" How do I get there? What is it that makes a book a real page-turner, or "compelling"?

I really want to know what you voracious readers think. If you put it in the comments on the post, everyone can "discuss".

Thursday, June 07, 2007

Why Dutch Women are happier

I read an article here about why Dutch women are less likely to be depressed. Some of the points were funny--like they determined which nationalities are happier based on a scale invented by (you guessed it) a Dutch man! and they say the people in Holland invented the nuclear family.

But the main points were interesting. The book the article is based on apparently is full of research supporting the claims. The author says that Dutch women are happier because they have more freedoms and more voice in their world than other women. The article mentions more than once that the women are free to be prostitutes or do drugs legally.

But the drugs and sex can't be it. Russians are also free to do these things, and nobody is looking to them as a model of a happy culture. In fact, the drugs and alcohol and promiscuity seem to be destroying the Russian culture. So that can't be it.

But some things they mentioned could be it. Two things stood out to me.

One was that the pressures that depress women in America to a great extent are lacking in the Dutch culture. Hospitality and glamour are minimized. The article says that women dress for the weather, not for sexuality, for example, and if you show up at dinner time, you'll be sent home, not invited in. Removing the need to look "right" and "sexy" and removing the need to make your home up based on visitor's needs (the way we do in America) would eliminate more than half the pressures that depress women. Suddenly weight, and poverty, and messy houses wouldn't matter as much.

The bigger of the two, though, was the emphasis on Family. The article says Dutch women are happier because they are surrounded by supportive families and a culture that emphasizes that. 80% of elderly people live with family still, which, if the elderly are functioning, adds just another helpful adult to the household, and guarantees the retired woman is not left lonely and gets the help she needs, too. There is an expectation that all men help with housework--eliminating the idea that Dadddy should be thanked when he does the dishes, but nobody even notices when Mommy does. Furthermore, while more than half of Dutch women do have jobs, most of them only work part time (25 hours a week or less). Women who work full time are, in fact, stigmatized.

So why are Dutch women less inclined to be depressed? Because their culture is family-oriented. Interestingly, the women perceive themselves as very free. American women have falled prey to the lie that freedom means freedom from family obligations, but if the Dutch women are to be believed, that is the one thing that makes us happy and, in reality, feel free.

As I see it, the women are pressured to be present and active in their families, have talents and interests that they pursue (but not full-time), and not worry about those extraneous things that make it hard to raise a family, like the American emphasis on glamour, big houses, big cars, entertaining visitors, etc.

One thing they didn't mention was that the Dutch don't drive much, so they get lots of exercise. They are also a socialist society, though not an oppressive one, so everyone has health care and a home. Interestingly, they don't really get the kind of freedom of choice regarding their homes--you have to get on a long wait list to get a bigger apartment or a house near a city, if it's still the way it was when I was in the country--but that really takes the pressure off regarding homes. Because of the way it's set up, a home is not an identity marker or a bragging point. It's a place to live. Isn't that how it should be? The article also didn't mention that the people have a well-established education system, and, while children do have to specialize in high school (which I am definitively NOT in favor of), they do get excellent education in their chosen fields. They also have excellent art and music education.

Don't read this to say I am in favor of socialism--I am just noticing that one side effect of capitalism is conspicuous consumption, and that, culturally, is bad for the happiness and success of women raising families because it puts the focus on the wrong things, and puts an inordinate amount of pressure on mothers and fathers to do things that are contrary to the success of families.

So why are Dutch women happy? They are free to do the righteous things that make life worthwhile.

Sunday, June 03, 2007

Knowing your Business

Yesterday, Tim auditioned for a movie. It's a local independent film, a musical comedy being shot in Longmont, so it sounded like it should be fun.

The audition consisted of your usual monologue and solo, which every musical theater actor is familiar with.

Tim is a student of his business. Every aspect of it, not just singing on stage. He studies actors. He studies music. He studies everything.

So when he came back and told me what he'd done with his audition, I was a little stunned. It went against all my instincts. I have only musical theater training--no film. My inclination when facing that situation would have been to sing a musical theater song that showed off my voice best, and then do a monologue that showed off my comic potential. Something written to be funny.

Tim performed Shakespeare, sloooooowly and deliberately, with little emotion, while chewing gum (on purpose). Then he sang a hard rock song about bacon that he wrote for one of his groups.

When I heard that, I have to admit that it all sounded funny but I bet he blew the audition. My first reaction.

But the auditioners kept asking him to read a little of this character, and a little of that character, and more of this one but try it this way, etc. And they told him that, of all the things he could have sung, the bacon song was actually quite like the music that is going to be in the film. Go figure.

Last night, they emailed and offered him a major singing role in the film--one with the hardest songs.

Tim didn't do any of those things haphazardly or from laziness. Instead, he, as a student of the industry, understood not only what filmmakers need, but also what catches someone's eye, what everyone else would likely be doing with their audition (which is what I would have done), how to perform many different kinds of comedy, the balance between restraint and over-the-topness required for film (as opposed to musical theater), how to show off his voice in several ways, etc. He also understood that most film actors probably don't sing, and most singing actors probably don't understand how to act on camera. To put it succinctly, he did his research and nailed the audition.

Goes to show that knowing your job is as important as the talents you have.

Mrs. Fixit

Two years ago, Dad cut a hole in our ceiling and exposed the swamp cooler vent. Then he spent several hours getting it working. The way it was set up, you pulled a plug down through the vent and plugged it in in the hall, leaving the wire draped across the hall, and it went on. There was no way to turn just the pump on, and it was always on low cool. Dad rearranged it so that we could walk down the hall by plugging it in outside. Awkward, but it worked and I was happy.

The next summer, it was hotter, and I was "following the rules" more closely and only opened the windows 2-3 inches, which doesn't work with our cooler. You have to open them all the way to make it work. I didn't know this, so I was always hot. So I went up to the cooler and replaced the pads and the float, and I noticed a wiring diagram inside. So I dug in and discovered the thing was jury-rigged. Someone had wired the "low cool" and "pump" wires right into the hot wire of the power cord. So I took them all apart and wired the "high cool" and "pump" wires into the power cord. It worked okay. I also found a heater intake vent that was the right size and had the screws in the right places. I used it to replace the vent cover we had on (which Dad had made from two heater vent covers--the stores don't carry 14 x 15" cooler vents), so the air blew right toward my chair. It worked, but it was noisy in the house because the front windows, facing the busy street, had to be open, and the cooler was always on high. I also had to replace the motor belt--it was broken.

This year, Dad again serviced the cooler and replaced the float again. He also discovered that you could open just the kitchen window, but all the way, instead of just opening the windows a crack, and the house got downright cold. The trouble was, the thing was noisy, and there are times, especially in the evening, when high cool was way too cold, but no cooler on was way too hot.

I finally got frustrated and started thinking. I realized I could wire the thing properly, to a cooler switch, and plug it in in the hall still, but have the wires all hidden (mostly) in the vent, ceiling, and wall. So yesterday I spent all day (I had the car and Tim had the kids for the first time in weeks) working on it. As with all fixit projects, the parts were not so easy to get. I had to go to more than one store more than one time. (Home Depot only carries $40 thermostats for coolers, not the usual under-$10 cooler switches most people use. Just so you know). I learned that when you buy a length of cable (that's what they call wires that have several smaller wires inside), it has a certain number of wires inside. But if you ask for a cable with five wires, you get one with six inside--five wires and the ground. I had a fairly humorous conversation with the wiring lady at Home Depot as I tried to sort this all out. So up and down on and off the roof, I got rained on, I finally got the right parts, and I then had to take the hall apart, make holes in the drywall, get Tim's help because I was too short, and discover that I hadn't bought a "cut-in" box but I need one because you can't screw the switch plate into drywall. I managed to cut the main power wire by accident twice. I spliced bunches of things. And then I stepped back and said, "It's done!" And then a few minutes later I decided I was brave enough to try it.

It worked.

It's not real pretty. When I get the cut-in box it will look a lot nicer, but you still have to plug the thing into the wall, so there's a long black power cord hanging from the switch to the outlet (I'm not brave enough to hardwire it into the outlet yet, although I did to the dishwasher...). But it works. I had a delightful night with the cooler on low vent. I like that I can turn it on and off without getting bit by mosquitoes. I like that when it rains I don't have to worry that the power cord and extension cord connection is possibly sitting in a puddle on the roof.

I like that I can fix things.

Unfortunately, today all my muscles are sore--especially my thighs. Going up and down ladders, climbing up and down off chairs, crouching and standing repeatedly all get my unused muscles moving. And that hurts.

Saturday, June 02, 2007

Ice Cream and smoothies

I promised to update everyone when we tried ice cream again. And today we did.

I only had enough ice to fill the ice cream maker once, so we made a batch, dumped it out of the container, re-filled the container with another set, and put it back in the ice. Two batches of ice cream with one batch of ice-n-salt!

Anyway, we made your standard vanilla: 2 c sugar, 1 c cream, 1.5 c evaporated milk (poor man's cream), 1 tbsp vanilla, 1/2 tsp salt, and milk to the fill line (about 6.5 cups). It came out yummy! Then we put in raspberry chocolate truffle frozen custard: 1 big box chocolate pudding mixed according to the directions with 4 cups milk, then add 1 can evaporated milk (about 1.5 cups), 2 tbsp raspberry jam, and 2.5 c more milk, and 1 c sugar. Whip it together and chill. Pour into can, add enough more milk to reach the fill line, and freeze it.

I do ice cream the easy way--no eggs, no cooking. It came out REALLY GOOD. And the chocolate version tasted like a raspberry frosty when it came out of the can. We packed it in all the small lidded containers I could find (no more big ice cream tubs would fit in the freezer), and now we're overflowing with really tasty ice cream.

It worked.

Now I'm wondering how would it taste to make vanilla but stir in orange jello mix (mixed up with its water and orange koolaid or tang). Would it taste like an orange creamsicle?

What about pistachio pudding (one of my favorites) made into ice cream?

As for the smoothies: I've finally started making really good homemade smoothies. They feel and taste like the storebought ones, but made at home (cheaper!) with a normal blender. The recipe: 1 c canned fruit frozen with 1/2-1 c of it's juice (from the can), 1-2 c fruit juice or tang or koolaid, 1-2 c milk (to make 2 c liquid all together), 1 tsp vanilla, 1/4-1/2 c sugar, 1 c of a different frozen fruit frozen with 1/2 c of its juice. Put it all in the blender and blend until smooth. You have to use a spoon to help the blender get unstuck because it gets really thick and the fruit sticks to the blades uncut. (I suppose if you diced the fruit and then froze it, it would work better.) We usually make peach-pear with orange tang, or peach-apricot (using leftover fruit from dinner). Sometimes I throw in a tablespoon or two of jam to add berry flavor. Top it with coolwhip or frozen cool whip--very tasty. And you can totally control the amount of sugar (make it with sweetener, berries, and cream and you have a low carb treat!). It comes out so thick that we have to use an ice cream scoop sometimes to serve it. If you froze the mixture until it was a little stiffer, you'd have a good sorbet. We want to try mango, strawberry, fresh peaches, and other favorite fruits (nectarine!). The fruit juice makes a major difference in the texture and in it not feeling like another thick milkshake. 100% white grape juice would make it REALLY good.