Link Dump: Horses!

This link dump is very relevant to what has been consuming my thoughts and energies as of late, which is part of the reason why I haven't been posting in a while. Without further ado:

The Kentucky Horse Park. This is pretty much what it says it is: the Mecca of Horsedom. I've only been to the Kentucky Horse Museum, but as the friend that went with me can attest, I spent most of the time in a paroxysm of geeked-out bliss. On the museum grounds they house some ex-racehorses like Funny Cide and Cigar. Once upon a time, when Cigar was top dog (around 1996-1999), they made a Breyer model of him, which my mother duly bought to quiet my incessant clamor for it. It has occupied the place of honor on in the shelf in my bedroom at home since. Now that you have that perspective, return to the stable at the Kentucky grounds and watch me as I reach out a hand shaking not from fear but from joy, and actually pet the horse that brought in millions of dollars of winnings over his career, raced all over the world in every kind of track, every kind of weather. The only reason he doesn't get as much recognition as Secretariat or Seattle Slew is because he never won the Triple Crown, but he was the better athlete, hands down. Okay. Done geeking out. The website itself does a good job of giving the reader the huge breadth of what the Horse Park is about, and the sheer number of different things you can do there: carriage rides, museums, walking tours, trail rides, etc., etc.

Horse Photography:
Photography by Faith-- This woman focuses more on the western/cowboy side of equine photography, but she has a mind-blowing gallery of pictures that show the natural beauty of the horse.

30 Amazing Examples of Equine Photography-- I was enthralled by this because it shows you the whole range of emotions a horse has and can evoke in people: exuberant energy, unbridled (yes, pun intended) strength, quiet, unconditional love, brotherly camaraderie, childish play, endless patience, etc., etc.

Google image search for George Stubbs-- George Stubbs is my favorite painter besides Salvador Dali. I'll let you figure out why.

Matthew Seed-- I found his name as I was browsing through some of George Stubbs' work, and I was quite impressed. He seems to understand that it's not just the horse, or the lighting, or him or the camera. It's the confluence of all those things. And luck.

Other horse stuff:
Jean-Francois Pignon-- the god of horse training and tricks. He's also hilarious.
Google image search for Bashkir Curly-- Try to find a picture of a curly foal in full winter coat. You'll giggle. Promise.
Marwari horses-- the main reason I want to go to India.
The best for last: The perfect horse.  I could not take a deep breath until after this video was over.


Rant: Girl pants!

Warning: rant ahead.

Up until now, looking like a girl was never high on my priority list. Neither was it something I particularly wanted to achieve. Let me put this in perspective: my first job was at a horse barn. I would call my mother 15 minutes before I got home so she could put on her containment suit and be ready with the hose when I arrived. My shoes were stored outside in a biohazard container. The fronts of my shirts had a permanent green tinge from horse slobber. And I LOVED IT.

Ten years later, I cut my hair. Very, very short. As was proven the last time I cut my hair into a pixie cut, if I am not careful about my appearance, I am frequently mistaken for a boy.  Not for lack of trying; I favor t-shirts and men’s jeans. You’d see Lady Gaga without makeup before you’d see me with it. I never saw the appeal of going with a gaggle of girls to get my hair and nails did. All that artificial enhancement is false advertising. Like fast food commercials. Or push-up bras. Or this.

That’s still my attitude. But I had an epiphany in the form of a lecture from my mother: looking like a cocker spaniel who’s lost a fight with a weed whacker won’t get me very far at this point in my life. I’m a young college graduate in a transitional period in life with the whole world in front of her and if I want to get where I want to go, I need to start looking like I care about something other than everything else but my appearance.

Plus, what are transitional periods for if not experimentation and self-discovery?

So I began a quest for women’s clothing that
1) Would fit me
2) I'd look reasonably good in
3) I'd feel comfortable wearing.

I had NO IDEA what I was getting myself into. NO. IDEA.

Let’s back up. It’s not like I’d never shopped for women’s clothes before. But my method was much like how you’re treated when you get a pelvic exam. (Gentlemen, I can’t say this with certainty, but I expect getting a prostate exam is much the same). There’s no dawdling. Nobody browses the merchandise. One does not stop in the middle of the aisle and chat. It’s in, done and out.

But, since I didn’t know what I was looking for, it was going to take some… hunting. And patience. I decided to start with pants, since I knew they would be most difficult.

Dear women’s clothing companies: You are the only entities on this earth who can make a 115-pound girl self-conscious about her body with a piece of cloth. Come here so I can whup you upside the head.

Let’s be honest about this: I understand I have no reason to be self-conscious. I keep my body fit and I eat right. But I am simply not built like the women who are supposed to fit in those jeans. One size fits my waist and hips but the leg hem is about six inches too long. The other size is the right length but in order to fit into them I’d have to remove my entire pelvis and a few feet of my intestines. So what? Either I’m too short or not hourglassy enough. Okay, I say to myself. Before I generalize, I should widen my sample size. Go to another store. Even I know that sizes vary from company to company.

Speaking of that, guy’s pants don’t do that. A size 30 is a size 30 is a size 30.

But I digress. I expected a little bit of variance, but not at ALL in the degree I found. At one store a size 2 came the closest to fitting. So at the other store, I took a size 1, 3, and 5 off the rack (crap, even the numbers change). As it turned out, it wasn’t until I pulled a size 7 on that I felt any degree of comfort at all. I don’t think I need to tell you that I looked like the bastard daughter of a seal and a mermaid as I flopped around the dressing room.

Why does this happen? I have no idea, but the phrase “vanity sizing” has been tossed around on the internet, and this article explains the phenomenon. For those of you who can’t be bothered, the bottom line is that today’s size 6 would have been a size 12 or 14 ten or twenty years ago. There has been no standard of measurement for women’s clothes, so sizes have been creeping up year by year. The result: women feel better about themselves because they’re able to “fit” into “smaller” sizes than they were ten years ago, even though the scale says they gained 15 pounds.

This does NOT make me feel better. This makes me feel worse, because now I have to spend that much more time hunting for a size that fits every time I walk into a new store, and I have to restart the challenge of finding a balance between waist/hip fit and leg length. There is no regulation. There is no standard. There is just chaos. Denim chaos. Everywhere.

I know I’m not the only one. The graph to the left of the text of this article shows exactly what I’m talking about. The article itself is worth a read too. It mentions a new sizing and labeling system called Fitlogic which makes much more sense than anything else out there right now. That’s probably why nobody’s ever heard of it.

Two hours and four stores later, I was ruing the day of my birth and casting longing, wistful looks at the men’s department. I had found nothing, absolutely nothing, that fit. I had come closest with a pair of 7s (short), but made a horrible, horrible discovery. One that would topple the fragile framework of my sanity and self-esteem like an earthquake in a liquor store.

These pants…

Brace yourselves.

These pants…

Are you sure you’re ready?

These pants…

…had no pockets.

I’ll give you a moment to grab your inhaler.

Then let me clarify. It’s actually worse than that, because they looked like they had pockets, but they were in fact sewn shut.

Oh the inhumanity.

I was lost. Struck dumb. Literally, I gaped at my reflection in the mirror. It, as dumbfounded as I was, consternated back at me (yes I just verbed that noun).  How could I live? Where would I put the crap I carry around with me?

That I didn’t immediately think of a purse shows you how far away from the bell I am on the curve.

But then I did think of it, and grumble like an old man. I may have actually said “razzafrackinkidsandtheirstupidjeans”.

I did emerge triumphant, but at a great cost. I’d spent the past three hours systematically and repeatedly jamming my self-esteem into a food processor set to “liquefy”. It took three hours with my dad’s dog, two and a half glasses of wine and half the kitten pictures on the internet to dig me out of the funk.

Perhaps that’s just a function of the place I’m at psychologically, but I still get an arrow of grief through my heart when I reach down to put my cell phone in my pocket… and there’s a half inch of pocket there. So I sigh, hold my keys, cell phone, iPod and purse in one hand, my jacket, groceries and sanity in the other, walk five steps, and drop everything. Guess which is the first thing to crack open and spill its warm gooey contents like a broken egg?

Like I said: grief.

As soon as my hair grows out, I’m going on a men’s department shopping spree. Low loose boot cut guy jeans, I’m watching you.



Since I did two cookie recipes in a row, it's time for something different. I took a poll on Facebook. Honestly, I was expecting requests for cakes, more cookies, maybe a pie... but what did I get? Croissants, tiramisu, souffles, and baklava.

 I'd never made baklava before. Baklava has never been my favorite dessert, mostly because I'm picky about how and when I eat nuts. Also because I had the pleasure of spending a week in Greece and partaking of authentic Greek baklava almost every day, and nothing I've had since can compare.

Naturally, my next thought was to make something that could compare.

So I pulled on my thick black gloves, my mad scientist goggles and channeled the long-dead fictional ghost of Dr Frankenstein. And by that I mean I took parts from different recipes and put them together to create my own. No I did not exhume dead bodies and dismember them and use their ground-up intestines as filling or use layers of their skin in place of the phyllo dough. Nor did I boil their cerebrospinal fluid with a stick of cinnamon and a dash of bile for the syrup. Why would you even think that. You sicko.

The first thing I did was thaw my phyllo dough. Since it's so thin, it won't take but 2-4 hours to thaw. But you may need to leave it out overnight. Once it's thawed, roll it out onto a clean, dry surface and cover it with a damp towel so it doesn't dry out and break when you breathe heavily.

Next I gathered my nuts. Pistachios were the only common thread across the board. Other options included walnuts, almonds and, oddly enough, Brazil nuts. My recipe ended up using one and a half cups of nuts. Half of that mix was pistachios. The other half was split evenly between almonds and pecans. A big soft spot exists in my heart for pecans. I have this incredibly vivid memory of my little sister and me gathering pecans from under the trees at my grandparents' house. And fighting over who got to roll around with the pecan picker-upper.

They say to pulse the nuts gently in a food processor to get a nice, chunky, even mix. But a blender worked just fine for me. After the nuts were, on the whole, evenly chopped (and I'd eaten the big chunks), I added my sugar, brown sugar, cinnamon, cloves and allspice. None of the recipes online called for allspice or brown sugar, but if you haven't noticed by now, white sugar is not my favored sweetener of choice. Whenever I can, I substitute either honey, dark brown or light brown sugar for part of the white sugar. The honey is a bit better for you as a sweetener, and both it and the brown sugars add another subtle layer of flavor as well as sweetness.

We're all mixed nuts here.
 Next, I melted a cup of butter in the microwave. I took the time to ponder the rumor that the Greeks have a very healthy diet. Then I gazed at the golden delicious puddle of fat in the bowl I'd just removed from the mic, gazed at the sugar, the nuts, the honey...

Phyllo in the foreground and a demon in the microwave.
 Aw, screw it, I said to myself. I'll go eat some olives later.

So now, my nuts are mixed, my butter's melted and my phyllo is thawed. Time to start layering. This is where it gets time-consuming. For this part I would recommend collecting a friend and duct-taping them to a chair in the kitchen so you can have someone to talk to while you work.

Preheat your oven to 350, lightly grease a glass 9x13 pan and gently line the pan with a sheet of phyllo. Using a pastry brush, brush the sheet with butter. Do not fret if your first couple sheets fall apart or wrinkle; this will just add texture. Repeat this process seven more times until you have eight sheets of phyllo in the bottom of your pan, all brushed with butter.

I washed that paintbrush. Whatever's left on there will just give the baklava a little zing.
Next, spoon a layer of your sugary mixed nut deliciousness over the phyllo. After that, spread two sheets of phyllo over that, brushing each with the butter. Repeat this process until you've run out of the nut mixture.

This part took me almost two hours because I kept getting distracted by cartoons.
Lastly, spread eight sheets of phyllo over the top, buttering each one. Sprinkle the top with cinnamon. Pop that sucker in the oven for 30-35 minutes. Again, this varies by the temperature of your oven. I didn't go strictly by time. When the edges of the phyllo start curling up and getting lightly golden brown, I pulled it.

While your baklava is baking, make the syrup. This calls for sugar, honey, water, vanilla, lemon juice and a cinnamon stick. If you don't have cinnamon sticks, half a teaspoon of cinnamon is all you need. Chuck all the ingredients into a saucepan over medium-high heat, bring to a boil and then simmer for about 7 or 8 minutes, or until reduced by about a third. It should be slightly thick when you're done. Remove the cinnamon stick and let it cool for the remainder of the time that your baklava is in the oven. Resist the urge to use the cinnamon stick as a straw to drink the syrup.

Makin syrup. LIKE A BOSS.
Once your baklava is out of the oven, pour the cooled syrup over the hot baklava so it can sink in and the flavors can blend together. Let the baklava cool for about an hour. It really should be longer because you want it to be completely cool before you start cutting it. If it's not, layers go everywhere. I found this out the hard way so you don't have to. You're welcome.

It looks like a bed of deliciousness that I want to crawl into.
The numbers:
For the baklava:
  • 1 1/2 lb. chopped nuts (I use pistachios, almonds and pecans, but most recipes call for walnuts)
  • 1 lb of phyllo dough
  • 1 cup of butter, melted
  • 1/2 cup light brown sugar
  • 1 cup white granulated sugar
  • 1 1/2 teaspoon ground cinnamon
  • 1/3 teaspoon ground cloves
  • ¼ teaspoon allspice
For the syrup:
  • 1/2 cup of water
  • 1/2 cup of sugar
  • 1/4 cup of honey
  • 1 tablespoon lemon juice
  • dash vanilla extract
  • 1 cinnamon stick
Several recipes have the option of garnishing this with some ground pistachios. I eschew garnishes simply because I'd rather spend the time eating than garnishing.

I will warn you: this recipe goes a little heavy on the sugar. The joy of baklava is the balance of flavors: the nuts (I used salted pistachios for this very reason), the cinnamon and spices, the delicate flavor of the dough, and the hint of honey, lemon and vanilla in the glaze. I would actually recommend easing up a little on each sugar to give the other flavors a chance.

Some alternatives I've seen: a teaspoon of orange zest in the syrup; a teaspoon of rose water in the filling; completely removing the syrup and instead using honey in the filling.

Please post questions, alternate recipes or changes in the comments section! Happy baking!


The Snickerdoodles of the Gods

Tuesday is still technically Monday, right?

OKAY SO. These cookies are deucedly simple, but as was not the case with the cherry vanilla oatmeal ones, proportion is key. If you don't get the proportions right, these cookies won't turn out soft and fluffy like they should. Yes, I said it. Soft snickerdoodles. What.

The stuff in the bag is unbleached flour. Because I am ghetto.

Bet you've never seen honey in a snickerdoodle recipe, have you?

Mix dry stuff into a mediumish bowl. Next, cream butter, sugar and honey in a largish bowl. It helps if the butter is way soft, as in nuked in the microwave for 30 or so seconds after having sat out for 30-45 minutes. After that is just incorporated, toss in your eggs and vanilla. You should end up with something super soupy with a few lumps. That is just what you want. Then, and this is very important, pour the dry into the wet in parts. I do it in 3 additions. Once you're done, this batter should be thick enough for you to pick up with your fingers and form into little balls.

Looks like ice cream; smells like God's love.
If you didn't chill the batter for the last recipe, you really should do it with this one. 30 minutes in the fridge will give your dough a chance to firm up even more and be much less sticky to handle. It's not a bad idea to chill the cookie sheet as well. This will prevent your cookies from flattening out too much, as the honey tends to make things ooze. While you're waiting on your bowl of God's love to chill, take 3 tablespoons of sugar and 1 tablespoon of cinnamon and mix them. I pour them into a sandwich bag and shake. This is fun as well as effective. Then I pour the cinnamon sugar into a bowl. Once I tried shaking the cookie balls in the plastic bag like you'd coat chicken wings at home.

I wouldn't recommend it.

These cookies are so godly, even Eddy is amazed by the holy light above the cinnsugar.
 Once your dough is chilled, remove it and your cookie sheet from the fridge. You do NOT need to grease the cookie sheet. If you do, you run the risk of browning the bottoms of your cookies unnecessarily. Dust your fingers with a bit of flour (a bit) and form the dough into 1-inch balls. Feel free to go smaller. Also feel free to watch the Schweddy Balls sketch at this time.

Take your balls and roll them around in the bowl of cinnsugar to thoroughly coat each one. Thoroughly.

Big Sister-Eye is watching you.
 Every once in a while you may need to stop and lick the batter off your hands wash/reflour your hands.

If cinnamon were porn, I'd be Ron Jeremy.
 Bake for 10-12 minutes, depending on your oven. Mine's extra sexy, so it runs hot.

The goddess of cinnamon shines down upon thee.

Store these bad girls (yes, girls: sugar and spice and everything nice, y'all) in an airtight container to maintain softness.

The numbers!
1 cup butter (2 sticks)-- softened
1 ¼ cup sugar
¼ cup honey-- or if you don't have honey, use 1/4 cup dark brown sugar.
2 large eggs
1 teaspoon vanilla

2 3/4 cups flour
2 teaspoons cream of tartar
1 teaspoon baking soda
1/4 teaspoon salt
½ teaspoon cinnamon

The dipping mix:
3 tablespoons sugar
1 tablespoon cinnamon

What else is there to say about these cookies? Other than they are what result from when butter, sugar, cinnamon and vanilla make sweet, sweet love and have about 3 dozen cookie babies.

You like how I mixed the sex metaphor and God metaphor, right? Right?

Happy baking!


Link dump #1: Writing!

So there's this 24-hour stomach flu going around. I thought I had evaded it.

Turns out, not so much.

So in lieu of a post with actual thought, organization and planning, you get links to some websites (with thought, organization and planning) that have helped me become a better (fiction) writer.

The rant on putting your characters through absolute hell
Though it appears on Livejournal, one of two major sources of amateur (and immature) writing on the internet, this piece is actually quite thoughtful. It describes some ways to create conflict for your character and how to bring out your character's flaws. Every main character must have flaws to be relatable. Every main character must be relatable or your story flops.

The Simple Novel-- 9 Questions for 25 Chapters
I actually do not agree with this approach at all, which is why I'm posting it. I never outline a novel like this; I never start with a set number of chapters and "fill in" which part of the story should fit into which chapters. This is too much like writing your first, second and third drafts all at once. But the 9 questions in the beginning are well worth a think, and for a person who's never written a novel before, the 25-chapter outline will definitely help you get the feel for how a story should flow.

Writingworld.com's Guide to Fiction
This is everything that's taught in high school and lower-level college creative writing courses. This is also fourth on my bookmark list, right below Gmail, Facebook and Questionable Content. For every writer, new and experienced, young and old, I specifically recommend "Getting Started VII: Being Realistic About Your Work". I read it thrice or so a month. I also recommend the section called "Victorian Advice for Modern Writers". For everybody. But specifically for those with any kind of background in Victorian literature and culture, it's a jaunt. A wordy jaunt. But when has Victorian literature NOT been wordy?

The most important writing lesson I ever learned:
"Nobody wants to read your shit."

Mythical Creatures List
This is where I go when I need an overdose of inspiration. Some people write stories from prompts; I write stories from descriptions of Crom Cruach and the Lumakaka. This is a fantastic source of inspiration for those with fantasy-inclined minds.

How to Finish What You Started
Though it's written for writers, the wisdom in this article applies to other projects as well, no matter what your goal is; be it a novel, your thesis, a scrapbook, a sweater, a house. This succinct, no-nonsense treatise on and guide to finishing what you started gives you five easy steps to follow. And four of those steps don't even involve DOING any projects at all! It's all about reassessing, prioritization, and holding yourself accountable. I have used this method, with success, on several projects lately. Hopefully it will work for you.

I promise I'll put some effort into tomorrow's entry. After my guts stop their impromptu revolution.


What a car tire can teach

Someone in the oncoming lane ran over a puppy.

I did not see the small puff of black and white until it was already under the other car and rolling like a furry bowling ball with legs.
My reaction was lighting fast; my concern was only for the animal whirling into the path of my car. I slammed hard on the brakes, leaving a couple feet of rubber on the asphalt behind me. Momentum flung my laptop on the passenger seat into the dash and then onto the floor with what would have been an unsavory series of clunks had I been paying attention. Luck would have it there was nobody behind me.

It was not clear to me what kind of animal it was. It could have been a dog or a cat or a skunk. All I knew is that it had been hit. I vaulted out of the car and sped around to the front. Several feet from my bumper was the body of a small dog, a pool of blood so brightly red it reflected iridescent already forming under its head. I knelt and, knowing it was futile, nudged two fingers into the softness on the inside of its front leg. All was quiet.

The little black-and-white patchwork mutt had some Westie around the face and ears; some Yorkie in the coat and who knew what else. But its coat was clean, smooth and bright. It was obviously someone’s, and obviously not an adult. A few milk teeth still nestled in its pink gums.

That’s when the tears started.

I lifted the body as gently as I could, one arrow piercing my heart for how light it was, one for how warm it was, one more for how broken it was, and stepped to the side of the road. On the other side was an apartment complex; on my side, woods. I gazed up at the apartments, wishing for its owner to come and not come at the same time. What was I supposed to do with this little body in my hands?

I sat on the curb asking myself this question over and over for a little while, sobbing, and then began to hate the person who’d hit this puppy. I began to hate its owner for letting it get away. I began to hate myself for being seconds too late to save it.

I thought maybe I should move my car out of the middle of the lane, but I didn’t want to, couldn’t, leave the puppy. I thought maybe I could go find its owner. But the thought of going door-to-door with the bleeding body of a puppy in my arms was macabre enough that I had to laugh. It was a croaking, cracked sound.
So, then, I asked myself as I looked down at its half-lidded oildrop eyes, what was I supposed to do with this tiny body?

I decided to sit with it for a few more minutes. If nobody came looking for it, I’d have to leave.

Nobody came.

With dry eyes I lay the body down on the grass. I stroked its fur one last time, more for my comfort than for anything else, and said goodbye.

I sat in the car for a few seconds longer, willing the puppy’s owner to come out now, please, so I wouldn’t have to leave it all alone.

But I drove the remaining quarter mile from my father’s place to my mother’s, reminding myself that the puppy wouldn’t be the one to suffer once I left it alone.

Life, as we all know but never truly understand, is short. You never know when some great cosmic tire could come rolling along and squish your head. So here is your great cosmic warning: Stop being paralyzed by doubt and indecision. Few people really KNOW who they are and what they want when they’re 18, 20, 25, 35 or even 45. You just have to start trying things. Start talking to people. Be open to where your endeavors take you and understand that plans can change. If you continue to cleave to inaction, your tire will roll along and you won’t have left anything behind besides strings of your own guts. That won’t really make the world any better.


Cherry Vanilla Oatmeal Cookies

The biggest compliment I've gotten on these cookies was the question, "Is it wrong to have cookies for breakfast?"

"Heck no," I replied. "Cherries are healthy. So are oats. And vanilla. The butter and sugar don't count. Especially not for breakfast."

First, gather your ingredients.

The dry stuff (lolkitten not included).

The wet stuff and add-ins.
Mix your dry ingredients in a medium bowl. Cream butter, brown sugar and honey in largish bowl until mostly free of lumps. Since there's honey, it won't be fluffy like a regular butter/sugar cream. You can use a mixer, but I use a fork because I'm hardcore. Mix in vanilla and egg.

Ickis helped.
 Add dry stuff to wet gradually. I do so in 2 additions. Toss in dried cherries and white chocolate chips (or nuts, if you're nutty). Mix until JUST blended. Overmixing will turn your cookies tough and chewy (in a bad way).
Lolkitten can not haz.

I don't measure the add-ins. I just dump until I'm satisfied.
 Chill batter in the fridge for half an hour. This step is very important. This will firm up the honey slightly so that your cookies won't flatten too badly in the oven. During this half hour, you can do Jell-o shots, Riverdance, taste the batter, resist the urge to eat the rest of the batter, fail, and preheat the oven to 350. After what's left of your batter is properly chilled, spoon onto a lightly greased cookie sheet by the teaspoon.

Don't do what I did. Use a good cookie sheet with a light grease. Not foil.
 Pop them in the oven and wait for the longest ten minutes of your life. Give them a minute or two to settle before you remove them to a wire rack to cool. I won't say not to eat them right out of the oven, because I know you'll try anyway. Don't sue me for mouth burns; that's all I ask.

Ickis you are in the way.
Batch yield: 2 dozenish. The smaller you spoon them, the more quickly they will get eaten. True story.

My cookies make lolcats forget about cheezburgers.

I'll be honest; I don't like crunchy cookies, so you won't see recipes on this blog that will yield crunchy cookies. These are soft and moist and chewy and are best stored in an airtight container to maintain that gooey softness that keeps folks rabid for these cookies. And I do mean rabid.

The numbers:
1/2 cup (1 stick) butter, softened
1/2 cup light brown sugar, packed
1/3 cup honey (there is wiggle room for the proportion of honey to sugar; just make sure there's more brown sugar than honey. Honey is what makes this recipe; too much of it will unmake it)
1 egg
1 tablespoon vanilla extract (very important)

3/4ish cup all-purpose flour (don't go over 1 cup or under 2/3; other than that, you're good)
1/2 teaspoon baking soda
1/2ish teaspoon ground cinnamon (I always go heavy, but don't go crazy. For once, you don't want the cinnamon to clash with the primary flavors; instead, you want it to enhance the vanilla and complement the oats)
1/4 teaspoon salt (I often use a half teaspoon, but I like more salt in my baked goods)
1 3/4ish cups rolled oats (don't go over 2 cups or under 1 1/2)

3/4ish cup cherries
1/2ish cup white chocolate chips
or 1/2 cup walnuts, pecans, etc.

Clearly, strict measurement is important to me. This is how I bake. I start with a basic recipe (oatmeal cookies, in this case), and throw stuff into a bowl until it smells good. That kind of experimentation is the best way to learn to bake and to cook in general. Don't be afraid to screw up. It happens to everybody. No recipe is foolproof. Happy baking!

Leave questions and recipe tweaks in the comments section. I'm looking forward to see how folks can improve upon this recipe!