Thursday, December 20, 2012

Lord Have Mercy

I had a several ideas for my next blog post. But after the events in Newtown, Connecticut, I felt silly blathering on about plot and swordplay when so many people were suffering. I know we all must get on with our lives eventually, but I felt it would be insensitive to "move on" so quickly, though I know no one connected with the tragedy and have no ties to that part of the country.

But today, a friend posted a YouTube video by one of my favorite artists, Alex Boye. He and the Soulsaints and the LDC Choir have put together a music video tribute for the victims of the Sandy Hook shootings and their families (and all the rest of us hurting because of the terrible violence). 

I needed some uplifting just about now.
I thought maybe some of you could use some too.

I love the call from olden prophets to be "...willing to mourn with those that mourn; yea, and comfort those that stand in need of comfort, and to stand as witnesses of God at all times and in all things and in all places...even unto death..."

These wonderful musicians have used their talents to reach out in sympathy, love and compassion to those who seek comfort in these troubling times.

If you want a few more positive music videos to give yourself something happy to focus on, may I recommend Alex Boye's version of OneRepublic's 'GoodLife'

Or another corroboration with LDC Choir remaking this gorgeous version of 
Mercy Me's 'I Will Rise" 

May you each find a portion of peace in your hearts during this holiday season as we celebrate Light in the midst of Darkness.

Friday, December 7, 2012

Leftovers, Lunches & Learning Lessons in the Kitchen

I felt so lucky today. I had some leftovers. Not just any leftovers.

Homemade Beef Stew. 
With emphasis on the Homemade part. 

It was sooo tasty! Big chunks of creamy potato. Sweet carrots. Lots of onion and garlic to make it flavorful. And a can each of corn and green beans. Okay, green beans aren't my fave in beef stew, but it gets the kids to eat them more than they do, and I am trying to be a good mom and give the little shavers a well rounded diet. The stew even had barley. I never remember to buy the stuff, but I had found a bag of it amongst my beans and oats in the back of the cupboards the other day. So extra hearty and flavorful, especially when I compared it to the bowl of orangey mac n' cheese in my preschooler's bowl. 
(He didn't want to share and neither did I, so we were both happy.)

As I was enjoying my bowl of soup, I was grateful I didn't have to make it from scratch today. Way too busy. But when I had made it two days ago, the process had started at lunchtime, so the beef would be tender and flavorful by dinnertime. Earlier in the week, I'd made Chicken Noodle Soup. From scratch as well. Again, I started it hours ahead of time.

Now, I'm not  all 'Whole Foods'. Nor do I eat homemade, organic, wheatgerm pasta with sauce made from tomatoes grown in my garden, from seeds I planted nine months ago.

I just happened to have a mom who stayed home and taught me a lot of her homemaking skills. And I lived close to her when I was newly married so I could go over and really pay attention, now that I needed to know that stuff.

I don't make ALL my meals from scratch,either. Heaven help me, I've got 5 boys! I do not have enough time for that! But some afternoons/evenings, it works out to do that. 
Especially since cooking from scratch is so much cheaper than the more fully prepared varieties. And since my dear husband is a school teacher, you can guess why "cheap" is an often used word in our household.

But cooking from scratch has a great side benefit if one is a writer of fiction of any variety earlier than the last forty years. Because every character, though only between the pages of a book, they gotta eat. And if they live before McDonald's existed and don't have enough money for servants or eating out every night, they gotta be able to find their way around the kitchen, even if it's just to make scrambled eggs or make toast (and I'm not taking about in a toaster either!!!).

So far, my stories are set in pre-kitchen appliance times. And food then was never fast or convenient. A medieval guy's version of fast food was a hunk of cheese and a heel of bread. Easy to carry in one's pouch, purse. Easy to grab and go. (Though of course the bread had to be made before hand.)
Or, if the season was right, some berries or nuts off the bushes. Highly convenient when that happens. 
Really not convenient if it's late autumn to early spring. Nothing's available. 
And no corner grocery store.
Or $5 Little Ceasar.

Oh my goodness, we are so blessed! 

As I've been writing these stories and sticking in a few details here or there about feasts, everyday meals, and snacks, I've  pondered how much our eating habits have changed over a hundred years. There is so much preparation that we skip now days. 
Washing and chopping vegetables. 
Browning and slow cooking tough cuts of meat. 
Heck, we don't even have to butcher the animals! 
 For that matter, I don't have to keep my husband and boys chopping wood all year, so I can have a fire in my fireplace/stove to cook my dinner. I don't have to bend over that hot fire.
I don't have to be careful of keeping my skirts from the embers. I don't have to worry about catching fire while cooking my stew. 
(I've read that a hundred and fifty years ago, more women died from cooking related injuries than any other cause of death, except childbirth.)

When writing a historical novel, or historically based fantasy novel (which is me!), one must not only think of the differences in clothes, transportation and housing. But food (and how one gets it or prepares it), is a very important part of a character's life. And if that character is not modern or isn't a child anymore, then a good deal of consideration should go into what efforts they must make to obtain their 'daily bread'.

At my last SCBWI conference, I was in an intensive with Carolyn Yoder, editor for Calkins Creek Books,and a senior editor at Highlights magazine, who spoke about common mistakes she stumbles across in manuscripts. One thing she mentioned three different times in those three hours, was:
"Make sure your characters eat!"
(And make sure it is historically correct.)

Now, if you are looking for help in the kitchen or in your text-only kitchen, I recommend the following resources: 
Better Homes and Gardens New Cook Book or Baking Book
(Lots of side notes, pictures and explanations)

Good Housekeeping Cook Book
(My mother-in-law gave me her old one and I learned much from that tattered copy)
(Lots of great photos from start to finish. Not historical per say, but very good step by step directions for yummy food.)
There are lots of food blogs out there, I just find Jamie's a very easy to follow, simple ingredients, but still good kind of blog.

Or, really the best resource....
Go to your church or synagogue or other organization that has regular 'pot-luck' type gatherings and ask around for the lady who brings the best dishes.
Casserole, soup, rolls, pies, homemade candy, etc.
Find this lady (it possibly could be a fellow), and ask to become her student. Offer to go in halfsies on the ingredients and make/eat dinner together.
 Or invite over some friends. Or a family in need.
 Or a group of starving artists that you've been dying to have an evening with.
Or maybe take candy lessons from one person, bread making lessons from another, and learn to make homemade noodles from yet another.
This will cost little and give so much back to you by way of personal enrichment and expanding of your world, both personally and in culinary matters.
If this person happens to be older and lives alone, this could be the beginning of a beautiful friendship. Start asking questions. Find out where she (or he) learned her skills. At her mothers side? In a cafe? During WWII using ration coupons? Lots of amazing conversations will soon follow. And plenty of inspiration, I am sure.

So, expand your horizon in culinary matters, and see how much your life can be enriched.

I shall let you ruminate, masticate and digest these thoughts with only two more words from culinary connoisseur, Julia Child:

Bon Appetit!

Wednesday, December 5, 2012

Better Blogging... Smarter Blogging... More Cool Stuff

Have you ever said a word so often that it begins to sound strange in your ears? Or taken a second glance at something that you've seen dozens of times a day, and yet suddenly it is a new experience?

I have been pondering my place as a writer in this world the past several weeks.
What is my goal? Where do I go from here?
Writing great adventure/romance (and the goal of eventual publication) continues to be my joy.
I love my stories.
I love the thrill of taking what's in my head and writing (and rewriting) so someone else can imagine my characters and their journeys through  quests, challenges,and romance.

I tried to zoom through NaNoWriMo (National Novel Writing Month) with my newest story...and then was side tracked by familial obligations. True, I had quite a few out-of-town family come visit and I needed to dedicate some intensive time to my children, lately. The zooming happened in a week and half and the rest of the month was a bit of a put-put-puttering. 
(Almost 15k words...not 50k, but still some good stuff and more than nothing!)

I also received a particularly upsetting rejection this month. No hurtful words were given or received. However, I was hoping for a particular opportunity...and it never happened. 

I also broke the biggest rule I had given myself about this blog.
Keep it positive!

I know we can't always write about fluffy bunnies nibbling clover. (Little bit boring.) However, I knew I didn't want this page to become a snark page or a pity party. And I threw a pity party for myself last week. Online. On my blog. How utterly embarrassing and ... can I go crawl under a rock, now?

I did receive wonderful support both in comments, on the phone and in person, but I started wondering about the best place for this blog in my personal life, in my writing life and in my future.

I did read some wonderful information about "Slow Blogging", a movement based on a 2006 'Manifesto' written by Canadian software designer Todd Sieling and in turn based on Alice Walker's "Slow Food" movement. The idea is quality blogs (that people actually want to read) versus quantity (brain vomit that nobody is interested in reading). And these on a regular basis, MWF, TTh, once a week, once a month. 

This sounds like something I can really get behind. And...I seem to be doing this anyway. Ha Ha!

I also read some great information (mostly on blogs) about shaping one's author brand. So I want to make sure that my posts here reflect more of:

My love for Adventure, Romance, SWORDS!

Other stuff that gets me thrilled: political intrigue 
'The Borgias' via Showtime
(many centuries ago...don't mention 2012 presidential politics within my hearing or reading, please!)

Music...that inspires my stories or just plain inspiring.
Fencing and other swordplay, rock climbing, swimming, hand-to-hand combat, survival skills and other skills that I learn/study to help me inhabit my characters and their world.

Cool photos of places, costumes, etc. that inspire my writing, my stories.

So more of THAT fun stuff and less of me whining. 

I won't promise to NEVER whine, ever, because sometimes, hard times are the best teacher, the best motivator, the best cesspool of experience to draw from when we are crafting a story. So a bit of whining, but all in context with story.

So this is my own manifesto: Cool stuff, less whining, blogs at least once a week, on topic and with content.

I hope you enjoy!

What do you think? Less is more?