lilacs in bucket

lilacs in bucket

Sunday, November 22, 2009

A Light to Come Home To

The days have gone short; dusk comes early. I have to go out tonight and run a short errand and I feel an eagerness to keep a lamp lit for my return. I want to see its yellow warmth spilling through my window, welcoming me home.


It makes me feel warm. It makes me feel as if I've not left at all.


In these shortened days, when twilight deepens to midnight blue before supper, what small comforts do you take for yourself?


Friday, November 20, 2009

Chicken and dumplings but, more than that

A good friend of mine recently sent out a notification, via facebook.com, that she is a miserable cook and cannot make chicken and dumplings, specifically, dumplings.

Oh haha, come on now. Of course she can. And, she is not a miserable cook. Just review the dang tricks.

Suppose you've already gotten your chicken mixture on the burner; no need for me to reitrerate that here because that's all yours, whatever you want.

Now, for the dumplings:

3/4 c. flour

1 teas. chopped fresh parsley

1 teas. baking powder

1/8 teas. salt

dash nutmeg, if desired and let me tell you, I desire a little nutmeg.

1/3 c. milk

1 TBSP oil

1 egg

Okay, so mix all this up and drop by tablespoons into your chicken mixture. Your chicken mixture should be at a boil at this time. Let it go for fifteen minutes turning down the temperature - DO NOT LIFT THE LID. DO NOT GO THERE, BABYCAKES. I know, everybody wants to but don't. Wait it out.

So, then, your chicken and dumplings mixture should be good. Eat, drink and be merry on me!

Oh, the other thing is, drink good wine with this, maybe a pinot grigio.

Just saying...

At this point, I don't have a photo to share, wish I did but I don't. That doesn't mean there won't be one later on so, please check back.

Let me know how it went for you.


Sunday, November 15, 2009

Olive Kitteridge

I finished "Olive Kitteridge" (Elizabeth Strout) this morning and as I set the book down on the coffee table, a lingering disappointment that I will not know what happens next in her life settled over me. I suspect I do know what happens next but, Olive will not be here to tell me whether I am right or not.

Set in little Crosby, Maine, where the natives don't waste a lot of words on newcomers, and marriages contain cracks and secrets are kept like glass jars of tomatoes in Grandma's cellar, "Olive Kitteridge" made me feel a part of the landscape for 270 pages. The writing is spartan, much like the speech patterns of said natives, but still exudes warmth and empathy. The book is actually a series of short stories about different townspeople, all woven together by one common element, that being Olive herself.

Olive Kitteridge is one of those people who are larger than life, bigger than the room, scary and overpowering but at the same time, suffering and sad. I was determined not to like her at first. Look at the way she treated her amiable husband, Henry, how she alienated their son, Christopher, the way she talked to everyone around her as if no one's feelings were of any consequence whatsoever.

But, Olive, she is a surprise. Olive is funny and perceptive. Her inner rantings and outer ravings are without a doubt, on the money. She can be suddenly kind, although I suspect she wouldn't want anyone to know that. Olive is deliciously enticing, like an exotic treat.
Here's the thing. What Olive doesn't know is that all those years she spent wishing for an end (a quick end) was wasted in that what she really wanted was a beginning.

I miss Olive, now that I have turned the last page and put the book down. I miss her a lot.

What books are you reading?



Pecan Bars


Crust:

1 cup flour
1/4 cup softened butter
1/3 cup brown sugar
1/4 teas. baking powder
1/2 c. chopped pecans


Preheat oven to 350°. Mix the above ingredients together until a crumbly mixture forms. Press into an ungreased 11x9 pan and bake for 12 minutes.

Filling:

4 eggs, slightly beaten
1 3/4 cup corn syrup
1/2 cup brown sugar
2 tablespoons flour
1 teas. salt
2 teas. vanilla
1 1/2 cup chopped pecans

Mix at medium speed until well blended. Pour over crust, return pan to oven and bake for about 25 minutes. Store loosely covered.


Friday, November 6, 2009

A year or so ago, I wrote a piece for our Springfield Writer's Guild monthly newsletter, the Free Lancer, on "Getting Your Joy Back." Encouragement is something a writer craves. We all want to be validated as writers, of course. Sadly, we also can become discouraged and empty. So, I was looking for my draft of this article the other day wanting to share it with you, and I finally found it. As I was working through it again, I realized it was getting longer and longer and longer and well, I hope you don't feel provoked to glance away every so often wondering, "when will this woman shut up?"
Here it is. For you, the one in need, I hope you it nourishes you.

You are a writer. You used to rush to your computer or your notebook with such joy, such anticipation, ready to write the words that would set the world on fire and now, you procrastinate, you pause. You’ll do it tomorrow. You’ll get back at it when this is done or that is finished or, when you get the time.
That zing! feeling is not there anymore. The words do not come easily or at all, and you would just rather go cut grass than sit down one more time and try to write something. You take a deep breath and consider that pile of laundry waiting for you and then, you go work on that instead of your writing.
You have lost your joy.
The diagnosis is easy but, what to do about it? You are still a writer and the dream is still there. The words remain huddled under sheets in the corners of your mind behind the grocery list and the “to-do” list. How to get them out? How to shake off that cloak, that suffocating wool blanket of burn-out and get the fountain flowing again?

The world pulls on us. It moves so quickly these days. We have the so much to do, so little time syndrome. We become exhausted; we may lose faith in ourselves, the business, our lives.
So, quiet yourself now and think back to that defining moment when you first knew you wanted to write. Remember how wildly exciting it was? What was happening? Where were you in your life? What did you imagine a writing career would be like?
Here’s the thing.
Your only job is to show up. Someone said once, “Do what is yours to do today.” Do not put yourself under the pressure to succeed, to be a “real writer;” just immerse yourself in the story and characters you are creating. Give them a voice and let them speak to you.
Do not judge what you write, just write it. Do not worry about “the rules.” That will come later. Do not show your baby too soon. Be a little protective at first. Your work is like a beautiful soufflĂ© rising in the oven and then, one opens the over door a little too soon and it falls flat.
Be a mid-wife to your friends’ books. Cheer them on, read with them. Believe in your own brilliance.

But do the writing. Writing begets writing.

Here is something else to consider. What are the stories you tell yourself? What are the stumbling blocks you put in your road? Because, like it or not, that is what we do. You say, “I’d like to be a writer but …” What are your stumbling blocks? Once you identify those, you have taken the first step to getting back in the business of writing and you are also ready to think about discipline.

There is discipline in writing. I do not believe one can expect the Muse to show up and light the way to success if one is not willing to do the work. This statement is pragmatic at best, I suppose and maybe not all that profound but I believe it to be true. It may be helpful to schedule yourself writing increments. Maybe twenty minutes a day to begin before you pull up the internet, before your read your email, check your horoscope, or before you turn on the television. Write before the distractions start. You can increase the increment later on. Once you implement this strategy, I think you will find that the words flow much more easily, new ideas spring up (you will be surprised), and you’ll feel that blood pounding certainty once again that you were born to write.
You tell the stories you tell because you want to amuse people, entice people, create an escape or a sanctuary. I was asked recently, “Why do you write?” Now, I’m coming from the standpoint of writing fiction. You may write something else and so your response will undoubtedly be different. However, my response was that I want the busy, harried female executive who’s getting on a plane for a long business trip to be able to slow down for a little while by entering into the world of one of my stories. There is a young, suburban mother somewhere who wants a retreat for an hour or two while her baby sleeps. Whatever the greater power is, there is some greater power that’s instigated this drive to drop words out on paper and not because I think I’m all that and a bag of chips. I think of it as a gift to a disjointed world, which has been put into my hands to do.

Someone once told me: you do not have to be the judge to your work; you just have to be the conduit. What a wise woman! This is freeing in so many ways. It allows you to let go of the end result and concentrate on the immediate work. It allows you to make this page, or this chapter, or this paragraph the best it can be.

One last thing. What are your goals as a writer? Think about what they were at the beginning of your work and what they are now. Believe in great things for yourself. Others have done it, why not you? Perfect your craft, polish your work.
So, now you go and begin at the beginning. What was it like when you knew you wanted to be a writer? Identify your stumbling blocks then discard them. Permit, or order, yourself twenty minutes a day to write. Put the distractions out. Think about why you do what you do. Remember your goals. And then let go and allow the words to flow onto paper.
Let me know how it goes.

Wednesday, November 4, 2009

New York Mega-Agent Donald Maass posted a blog on Writer Unboxed about an hour ago as I write this called "The Irresistible Novel." I invite you to read it and be inspired by it. You can find it here, on my blog page. You can also find Donald Maass at www.maassagency.com.

I met Donald Maass several years ago at the Pike's Peak Writers Conference. I was truly surprised by the man I met and I realize now that I was so completely awed by all the agents who attended that I had a vision of a much larger man, taller, broader, something. So, there he was, a slight man, not a lot taller than I am and I am not a tall woman but, oh, the energy! The light in his eyes! And the knowledge he has. I attended several of his lectures and every one of them was meaty and informative and just downright fun.

"The Irresistible Novel" tells me that I am just as entitled as anyone else to greatness and so are you. I can write better, not just better but gloriously. So can you.

So, go pour that cup of coffee and settle in, put your feet up and drink from the wealth of Donald Maass's cup. Enjoy!

Sunday, November 1, 2009

A Work in Progress


Here is a short bit from the MIP:

Jeanne’s discovery that spring left her feeling sad, futile. Why didn’t I see this before? She would come to ask herself the same question over and over again. Who is responsible?
For, just beyond the stone wall, the wall that divided her lawn from the woods beyond, Jeanne discovered a macabre and sad secret.
So tender it was and so unfortunate.
“Why would anyone leave it this way?” she wondered aloud.
In chasing after Jack, the new dog, having lost her old dog, Mallory, to some sort of cancer, Jeanne stumbled upon a tiny alcove of sorts just beyond the stone wall, built of stone, nearly the same stone as the wall itself and inside a tiny cavern, Jeanne discovered some sort of truth.
She drew her breath in sharply. “Jack! Jack!” she shouted. Finally, the black lab responded, only to nudge her arm with his nose. “Stay here,” she ordered, although she knew he didn’t understand and could care less. Such a free, uninhibited spirit. No, more like untrained dog. A brat dog. Jeanne shrugged and turned back to the stone shrine and looked again. Jack decided to lie down in the half-frozen grass beside her, panting, eyes fixated on her and what she might be doing. Would it prove interesting, that was all he cared about.
Jeanne drew the old, dead hay aside, the hay that covered the entrance to the hole in which lay a wrapping of some kind. She drew it forth and laid it in her lap. So small, so fragile, what could it be? She drew the cloth apart and shrieked. The contents fell from her lap to the ground.
“Oh my God!”