January Learning Curve

Ahhhh. I made it. I made it! It’s the last day of January, and I’ve proven to myself I can post every weekday and not shrivel up and die. I’ve come close to it a couple of times, but here I am—cringing at typos, misspelled words, badly structured sentences, etc.—still breathing into my paper bag.

And now you want to know what I’ve learned from this exercise. Right? Right.

  • I’ve learned that it’s a nice to break away from solely novel-writing topics and write about the miscellaneous just for kicks.
  • I’ve learned I can express various moods in my blog. I can write an intensely serious post and attempt to be entertaining in the next. Maybe there’s a Versatile Blogger lurking in me yet.
  • I can scribble something halfway decent about almost anything that piques my interest—except prunes and bathroom talk. Those two just aren’t my thing, and I’m okay with that.
  • I’ve had more interaction with my WordPress friends in January than in past months. It’s nice to be online more often to give and receive little encouragements. Plus, I’m now following more great blogs.
  • The most valuable thing I think I’ve learned this month is to write like I speak. My sister read over my entries and came to my November post, Desperate Times Call for Christmas Card Envelopes. She mentioned that some of my sentences were too long to follow and “paroxysms” wasn’t a word one should toss into a blog post. I’m sure that was Inner Edie’s fault. She tends to go overboard. I forgive her, of course. She tries. It’s possible she’s mellowed a tiny bit since this exercise began. I’m afraid to ask yet.

And now I am dying to get back to my WIP! I’ve missed, missed, missed it! I’ve only allowed myself to edit Dragonfly Prince. I’m on page 206 of 473. I’ve made a good dent, and I’m feeling quite confident in the flow of the dialogue and pace of the story. In February, I hope to set the ending and prologue in order. I feel like everything else is on target.

Here at home I’ve begun a new project: a kids’ newsletter for our co-op group. Once I have that off the ground, I’ll be returning to the sequel to Dragonfly Prince, which is spinning like a top in my head, gathering details. I have the outline and some of the early scenes down already, but the new ending to the first book has changed the characters’ motivations wonderfully in the second.

And guess what I received as an after Christmas present? A new computer chair! (Notice I didn’t snap the picture in front of my messy desk. Uh-heh)

my cushy new chair (Yes, our Christmas tree was still up well after Christmas.)

I’m very happy with my new chair.

Yep, that's me. Yep, that's still my Christmas tree.
Yep, that’s me. And that’s still my Christmas tree.

My goal for the month of February is to post on Mondays and Thursdays. That way I won’t miss you too much. 🙂

Something Borrowed, Something Blitzed

Authors, did you know this is Book Blitz Month? I did. I knew all month, and I didn’t post about it. ‘For shame, Rilla!’ you might be thinking. Well, I honestly wish I had a book to give away because I’m the type to do just that. I’ve often said to myself while reading opinions about $2.99 ebooks versus $0.99 ebooks, “Self, someone actually spent money on an ebook! What if someone spends 99 cents on your book some day?”

Harrison Fisher illustration, from Hearts and ...
Harrison Fisher illustration, from Hearts and Masks by Harold MacGrath, from the Project Gutenberg collection (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

At present I don’t honestly write for the promise of money. I write because I would go utterly mad if I put down my pen. It’s my catharsis, and I’m pleased with that return. Not that I have ever discouraged payment for my work. Tee hee

To celebrate Book Blitz Month, I’m linking a story I found amusing by Harold MacGrath. It’s called Hearts and Masks. Yes, I’m giving away someone else’s book that is now in public domain. Isn’t that generous of me? You’re welcome.

The Soup with a Stone

Have you been slurping soup to stay warm this month? Good, because it’s National Soup Month. One of my favorite soups is Stone Soup. A rather anticlimactic name, eh? Why not a more appealing title, like Chicken Tortilla or Mushroom and Brie? Stone Soup may sound unimaginative, but in my family this soup is magical.

When I was growing up, my brother brought home Stone Soup from the library. He begged my mom to make it. Of course, I had to read the book, too. Any book that can make you ask your mom to make soup from a rock must be incredible.

And that’s where the magic began. If I’d been given the soup without the story, I might have liked it. Maybe. It was the story that made me crave a soup with a stone.

Bringing magic to the mundane often relies on how you introduce it. I remembered this when I made the first pot of Stone Soup for my kids. Toddlers have finicky taste buds, so I didn’t think they’d go for turnip greens floating in their bowl. (How many of us do?) I told my kids the story of Stone Soup just before I served it—my version. Wanting them to anticipate the soup, I played up the flavor with lines like, “Oh, it smelled so good!” and “They took the first bite, and it was delicious!” and “They ate it all up.” I told my kids it was a magic stone. I romanticized the whole experience and then put the bowls of soup in front of them.

It was really funny the first time because they didn’t know how to react to that first bite. It was a wholly new taste, but the story made it wonderful. Over the next few weeks, I introduced the soup again. They brought rocks to me, asking “Dis make S’one Soup?” If I’d cooked a ham recently, then I’d tell them they’d found the magic stone to make Stone Soup! (I never actually put a stone in the soup. In my version of the story, the magic stone disappears when the soup is made.)

Here’s my recipe:

Rilla’s Stone Soup

3 cups of water
1 hambone with some meat pieces still attached

Heat to a boil in pot on the stove. Simmer until the meat falls off the bone. Remove any pieces with gristle and remove the bone. Add:

5-6 potatoes, diced
4-5 carrots, sliced
1 onion, minced (almost puree for tikes)
salt & pepper to taste
3 cups of water
1/4 to 1/3 cup ham drippings

Cook until carrots and potatoes are done. Add:

14 ½ oz can turnip greens

Simmer a few more minutes. Serve with bread or crackers.

And here are two important ingredients for storytelling:

1. Be animated. Use your hands and your expressions. Play the parts. Be vocally dynamic to convey the mood of the story and the feelings of the characters.

2. Use tangibles. Anything that is experienced through the senses sticks in a child’s mind like glue. And it doesn’t have to be food. Stealing out of the house to a patch of woods beside a buggy little pond to share a book like The Witch of Blackbird Pond makes a setting come alive for a young mind.

Essentially, aren’t these the things that make a book magical, too? We write about the physical actions of the characters, how they feel, and their mannerisms. We write about what they see and smell and hear to make it come alive, to make it memorable.

Rilla's Stone Soup
Rilla’s Stone Soup

So, the moral of this story is: Never judge soup by its name.

Heads Up, Little Piggies

school lunch
school lunch (Photo credit: bookgrl)

The first thing I thought of when I read “Be Kind to Food Servers Month” was  ball-shaped instant mashed potatoes plopped onto my plate by a lady behind a cafeteria counter with a hairnet and a mustache. I shouldn’t tell you that because my grandmother was the head cook for a school cafeteria for many years. Before I knew this I had the impression cafeteria ladies couldn’t cook. The truth is: the recipes are strictly regulated by policies and budgets. My grandmother told me she used to cheat, and her food was so good the powers that be overlooked it. And she doesn’t have a mustache, so I believe her.

Not just the cafeteria lady deserves kindness. There are a host of servers who bow to our demands and whims in eating establishments everywhere. And what about the food servers who don’t see a paycheck for their trouble? Remember the mom from A Christmas Story who hadn’t had a hot meal in 15 years? Yeah, don’t be mama’s little piggy; give your food server an extra helping of kindness.

Pinterest Addicts Need Not Apply…Themselves

It’s International Creativity Month. Oodles of noodles, what do I want to create? Wouldn’t it be funny if this one came with the condition that you can’t use Pinterest? Seriously, if I got a quarter every time somebody mentioned something from Pinterest…Wait, Ben Silbermann is doing that already.

Pinterest case in point: Right before Christmas, I had a friend who left burnt bread in my fridge. He said it was a new recipe he’d tried from Pinterest. It was called “Good Bread,” and the recipe consisted of slathering butter on both halves of the bread and broiling it in the oven to blackened perfection. My husband said, “Hey, maybe we can find a recipe on there that tells us how to put meat and cheese on the bread!” Novel thought, that.

English: , a science fair experiment. Utilizes...Actually, I’m kind of out of creative ideas at the moment. This is science project month—to help those prepare who are going to Regional. I decorated for our science banquet by making kits for simple experiments to do at the table. (I didn’t even look at Pinterest. Really.) No, there was nothing chemically toxic to mix and nothing that required flame. We were all able to experiment and eat simultaneously. It made for great conversation pieces at the very least.

So I’m all done inventing. Okay, I’m never done inventing, but I’m finished inventing this post. Have a creative day, friends!

Eat More Pie, Half-Pint

Apple pie
Apple pie (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

It’s National Pie Day—the edible kind with the ‘e.’ Please don’t make me watch another video with a song to memorize 3.14…blah, blah, blah—and what is the point of knowing all those numbers again?

My favorite pie was once Peanut Butter. I had a boyfriend in college who told me he tried to make a peanut butter pie for me but accidentally dropped it while taking it out of the oven. I still think he was lying because any peanut butter pie connoisseur knows it’s a chilled dessert, and the few that touch the oven should only do so at the crust stage. But what do you say to a guy who makes up something he thinks will please you? You kindly say nothing—and then you begin to wonder what else he might be coming up with just to make brownie points. (Looking at it from his point of view, it would’ve been a good idea to get out of a relationship with a paranoid girlfriend.)

My favorite pie is Apple now. Very American of me, eh? My quest for the perfect apple pie began when the kids and I read Farmer Boy by Laura Ingalls Wilder. Almonso’s family ate apple pie for breakfast and lunch. They were always eating apple pie. I thought if they could do it, so could we. So we did. We ate thick servings of mouth-watering, tart Granny Apple slices topped with a beautifully browned lattice crust and cooked in caramel sweetness.

I make one a month on average. I tell myself they are much better than the Oreos and powdered donuts that my husband and kids would eat if I didn’t. When he calls from work to check if I’m still alive, I like tell my husband, “There will be apple pie when you get home!” Then I feel like I have my own Little House on the Prairie.


Is That a Squiggle or a Letter?

This is National Handwriting Analysis Week. I don’t know why analyzing handwriting has always intrigued me, but it has. I’m the same way about dream analysis. But here’s the thing: the more I look into reading things in handwriting, interpreting dreams, and that sort of thing, the more the meanings seem to conflict with each other. Does an open ‘o’ mean someone is generous or just plain lazy? Does that squiggle on the tail of the ‘y’ mean reticence to conformity or someone’s just doing a happy dance on paper? I’m glad I’m not hand-writing this blog. My handwriting is a bit hard to read anyway.

Example of vertical handwriting
Example of vertical handwriting (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

I definitely think one’s handwriting says something about what he/she has experienced. Once, I had a boss who was a liar and had a terrible temper. All of my ‘s’s and letter tails began to take on swirls. The swirls began by going around once, and by the time I got out of that job, my swirls had three rounds in them. I never noticed it until I went back and found them in my journal. I’d never done that before, and I haven’t swirled my letters since. During that time in my life, I felt trapped. My frustration showed itself in that tiny set of rounds. In one handwriting series, a swirl is interpreted as being deceptive. Well, I can certainly stretch the idea of feeling trapped to the idea of being deceptive in the sense that I couldn’t be myself in that situation, but just think if my new employer had studied my handwriting and decided not to hire me because he/she thought I would be deceptive!

Part of handwriting analysis is context. When someone studies another person’s handwriting, already knowing his/her personality, it’s easy to pinpoint certain written characteristics to fit the person’s character. To predict what a person will do is more subjective. When it comes to revealing someone’s personality by the way they scribble their letters, it often feels like one is listening to a psychic. The results of an analysis are bound to touch on aspects that are true. “From his ‘m’s it’s clear he likes to be in control.” Isn’t that a bit vague? All of us have some need to control something in our lives, right?

Yeah, I’m a skeptic. You can tell it by the way I write my ‘s’ ‘k’ ‘e’ ‘p’ ‘t’ ‘i’ ‘c’.

Thoughts on a Great Moral Leader

It’s Martin Luther King, Jr. Day! MLK was an incredible public speaker. He had a profound influence on his community, his state, and his country. In my opinion, history textbooks don’t portray the essence of his message or his understanding of the innate rights God has granted to humankind. King rose up and spoke against cruelty and injustice committed against Black Americans. He believed in acting out of love, and he believed that meant never backing down when an innocent citizen’s rights or freedoms were withheld or taken away.

Martin Luther King leaning on a lectern. Deuts...
Martin Luther King on March 26, 1964 (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

I’ve lived in southern states all of my life. King’s image in my formative years was that of a passionate man of hero status. Growing up, I thought everyone had the freedoms King fought for. I assumed everyone understood it is wrong to treat any man, woman, or child—created in God’s image!—as inferior to another man, woman, or child. Now I know that devaluing one innocent human life is the devaluing all of mankind as a worthless, disposable mass. King explained this within the context of society in a country: “Injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere.” We are all “tied in a single garment of destiny.”

MLK wasn’t a perfect man, but he didn’t let his mistakes stop him from using his influence for good. His Letter from Birmingham Jail is a chock-full example of his heart, his bravery, and his compassion. There was so much he’d seen and experienced in his life to make him bitter and angry, but he committed to acting morally in the face of injustice. His words inspired hope in his listeners, and they continue to inspire hope. It begs the question: If moral leaders inspire hope, what do immoral leaders inspire?

Apple Goodness with an Apricot Twist

Voila! Scrumptious Baked Apples – but next time I’m cutting around the stem of the apple to prevent cracking. 😛

It’s Apples and Apricots Month! I made this cozy, healthy recipe for breakfast, replacing the sugar-free apricot jam it called for with puree canned apricots (adding a little agave nectar). I also replaced the apple juice with frozen apple juice concentrate to make up for the sweetness I took out by not including the sugar.

20130107aMaking this was completely kid-friendly, but it doesn’t compete with Peanut Butter and Chocolate Puffs cereal. The consensus was that it was good, and that’s all. (One would’ve gone with ‘meh,’ but was persuaded to change her vote by the kinder votes of her siblings.)

Warmed the leftover apricot juice and added a cinnamon stick to that, too. The picture wasn’t complete without bunny ears.

My rating system is ever partial to foods that taste a little more real. So I gave it five stars, and my vote counts as ten. It’s a wonderful way to start a crisp January morning—warm and wholesome-tasting. And the aroma of cinnamon and apples that wafted through the house was incredible!