Write on Wednesday – April 11, 2018

A week ago today Laura Ambler and I met with Julianna Skluzacek, Artistic Director of the Merlin Players in Faribault, Minnesota.

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The Merlin Players produced The Santa Diaries in 2014 and reached out to us about writing another Christmas show for them. Laura came up with the brilliant idea of writing the original cast of characters but five years later.

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We wrote a spec arc in October 2017 and sent it to Julianna.  We began working in earnest on the arc of the play on November.  Julianna put the spec arc before their board and it was accepted as their 2018 Christmas show. Laura and I began writing two or three days a week (for a couple of hours) and by mid January we had a first act. We forwarded it to Julianna just to make sure we were on the same page. She loved it.

Julianna knew she was coming east in the spring and we set a date to meet. On March 5th we sent her the first draft.

When we met last week we read the play out loud. Juliana had a few notes, and some minor suggestions which were easy to fix. Everyone who played the original parts is coming back to reprise the characters. That helped with the writing because we knew the strengths of the actors. One of them hoped there would be another rap song. We had a song but hadn’t thought about making it a rap. Easily done and it made the play better. Julianna said the kid who had played the imaginary Marley dog who was Timmy’s companion hoped he would have a part in the new play. It was a discussion Laura and I had several times and just couldn’t make it work. Julianna had an idea about how to accomplish making sure this character from the first play made it into the second. And it made the play better.

When we were finished we took Julianna to lunch, had a bottle of wine and celebrated. We’ll be going to Minnesota in December to see the premier of A Christmas Wedding, The Santa Diaries 11.

The day after we met with Julianna, Laura and I worked for two hours and made the needed tweaks. The following day I printed out the play again and read it for any necessary typos, etc. Laura fixed those, formatted the script and it was sent off to Julianna.

When I look back on the writing arc of this project I see that steady chunks of time got us to the finish line. Laura and I usually wrote three days a week for about two hours. We quit when our brains weren’t firing on all cylinders. But if we had let this project drift until we were two weeks away from the deadline, we wouldn’t have written the same play. The small changes to dialogue or bits of business for an actor that expanded their character would be missing — those serendipitous ideas that waken you in the middle of the night or while you’re driving.

We are so proud of what we’ve accomplished and can’t wait for December to see it on its feet.

 

 

 

 

 

Write on Wednesday – How My Blog Began

This was my first blog post from April 25, 2012. Hard to believe I have been posting for six years. I’ve gotten more focused recently with a gardening focused post on Saturday and a writing post on Wednesday. Next up — Food on Friday. That may or may not happen. This is the season when writing and gardening vie for attention.

Laura Ambler & Mala Burt 9-19-12

April 25, 2012

Laura Ambler, my writing partner, and I were sitting in a Blogging workshop given by Mindie Burgoyne. Mindie said setting up a blog was super easy. Laura leaned over and whispered, “We should start a blog about our writing insecurities.”

“Oh, you mean like how I see life through a distorted body image lens?” I whispered back. (I used to be a clinical social worker so sometimes I talk like that.)

“You’re just neurotic about your body,” Laura said. “It has nothing to do with your writing.”

“It has everything to do with my writing. What if we sell one of our scripts and it gets made into a movie and we have to attend the Hollywood premier? I’d have to lose forty pounds before I could even look for a gown, ” I said.

“You’re just nuts,” Laura said. “But I bet there are other writers out there who are just as insecure as we are. Let’s start a blog called Does This Font Make Me Look Fat? It would be hilarious!”

Actually creating the blog has not been so hilarious. Mindie lied about the easy part. I spent an hour trying to figure out how to change the tag line. I’m still looking for a new headline font. Something puffy and fat. This font is way too skinny.

So, let’s hear from the neurotic, but talented writing community. Your fears, foibles and how you deal.

Plein Air Jelly

When our lunch at Plein Air was over last Saturday, I brought home all the Sangria fruit plus the cut up fruit that had been served with the crackers and cheese ball. It was a lot of fruit. Cantaloupe and watermelon balls, blueberries, apples, plums, nectarines, pears, and some thinly sliced lemons. I forgot to take a picture of what I had. I just couldn’t stand for all that good fruit to go to waste. #wastenotwantnot

I cooked it up, put it through the food mill and then strained that juice which had a fair amount of pulp in it. I didn’t put it in a jelly bag, but strained it through a colander with fairly small mesh. Some fruit particles came through so the jelly isn’t as clear as It would be if I’d used a jelly bag. I wasn’t going for jelly to enter in the State Fair.

I needed 5 1/2 cups of juice according to the “plum” SureJell recipe. I used that one because it was closest to the amount of juice I had which came from mostly stone fruits. I was a little short so decided to add some Peach Schnapps I had in the cupboard.

I think this was leftover from the year Laura and I rode in the Christmas in St. Michaels parade. It was bitterly cold and we decided we needed a flask. I must have used this for something else since there was only about a quarter cup left. But this stuff never goes bad, right?

I got all my canning supplies ready and put pint jars through the dishwasher.

I followed the recipe exactly as I wanted the best chance to have the jelly jell.

Eight pints went into the canning kettle for a 10 minute boiling water bath.

Several of the ladies from the Plein Air lunch will get a jar. It’s a beautiful claret color and is fruity with a hint of lemon. And it jelled…unlike my strawberry jam in June. Yum!

 

Spiced Pecans In My Kitchen

My kitchen was fragrant yesterday morning with an oven full of roasting sugared and spiced pecans I was making for the card party at the St. Michaels Woman’s Club. Apparently I have become known for my spiced pecans which have graced a number of luncheon salads at the club. These are really good so I only make them when they can quickly be removed from the house. We’ll get a handful and then they’ll be transported to the clubhouse. These are so good that even putting them in my car’s trunk might  not keep me from a stealthy run at them.

I meant to take a photo of the roasted pecans but got them out of the house so fast I forgot. You’ll have to make do with the package photo.

Mala’s Cinnamon Sugared Pecans (from Cookingclassy.com website who stole it from allrecipes.com. My tweaks included below.)

Ingredients

  • 1 lb pecan halves (4 cups)
  • 1 large egg white
  • 1 Tbsp water
  • ½ tsp vanilla (up to 1 tbsp)
  • 1 cup granulated sugar (can be half white, half brown)
  • 1 tsp cinnamon (can add ½ tsp allspice, 1/8 tsp cayenne for kick)
  • ½ tsp salt (can be up to 1-1/2 tsp kosher salt)

Directions

Preheat oven to 250 degrees. (I am now baking them at 275.) In a large mixing bowl, vigorously whisk egg white with water and vanilla until very frothy. In a separate small mixing bowl, whisk together sugar, cinnamon, spices and salt. Add pecans to egg white mixture and toss until evenly coated. Pour half of the sugar mixture over pecans and toss several times, then add remaining sugar mixture and toss until evenly coated. Pour coated pecans over a Silpat or parchment paper lined backing sheet and spread into an even layer. Bake in a preheated oven for 1 hour, stirring every 15 minutes. Allow to cool, then store in an airtight container.

Notes

I use sheet pans to bake. The sides keep the nuts from falling out. Since I remove them from the oven for turning, this is crucial.

The final 15 minutes in the oven is what makes them crunchy. I checked them after what I thought was the final time and they still weren’t dry in the middle, so I put them in for another 15 minutes. The first two times you stir them they will be sticky.

I like adding that little bit of cayenne for a little heat. If you’re planning to use them as an appetizer with cheese and fruit, you could add  more salt as well.

Question: Where do you hide food so you won’t be tempted?

I Cook Calamari

I occasionally try new recipes, but the old stand-bys that I have in my head are now pared down to feed 4-6 so that there are leftovers. (When I was cooking for four hungry teens, I made lasagna in restaurant sized pans.) And the tried and true recipes have been modified for food sensitivities we have. I have several friends whose husbands won’t eat leftovers. If my husband ever started down that road, he’d have to fix himself a bowl of gluten-free cereal for dinner.

My writing partner, Laura Ambler, is an inventive cook and recently told me that she frequently makes Calamari. I often order calamari in restaurants, but didn’t even know where to find it in my supermarket. But recently, on a foray to our local big box store, BJ’s, I found it next to the frozen salmon. Turns out calamari is a fairly inexpensive protein. Be adventuresome, I told myself as I bought a box.

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I went on line to see how to fix it and was glad I did. High heat and short cooking times keep calamari from overcooking which leads to a rubber tire result. This recipe, which  I found on Chowhound.com) made a quick and tasty dinner. Cooking the jasmine rice for 18 minutes took the longest. This recipe will go into my rotation. And since what I usually order in a restaurant is fried calamari, I need to try that, too.

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Calamari with garlic and parsley

  • 1 lb squid, cleaned (it came that way in the package but I rinsed it), cut into 3/4″ thick rings, tentacles left whole
  • 1 tbsp olive oil
  • 2 tbsp unsalted butter (1/4 stick)
  • 2 tsp finely chopped garlic
  • 1 tbsp coarsely chopped parsley (I still had some in the garden)
  • salt
  • freshly ground pepper
  • 1 lemon, cut into wedges

Instructions:

  • pat squid dry with paper towel
  • heat oil in a large frying pan over high heat until smoking. Carefully add squid in a single layer, then add butter, garlic, and parsley. Season with salt and pepper.
  • Cook, tossing frequently, until squid is opaque and cooked through – about 1 to 2 minutes (do not overcook). Season with additional salt and pepper and serve over rice.
  • garnish with lemon wedges

Have you pursued any cooking adventures recently? Successes or epic fails?

 

 

 

 

Why House Tours are Good for My Mental Health

Last weekend I was a hostess at one of the houses on the Christmas in St. Michaels house tour – a lovely big house, on the Miles River, at the end of our street. Twelve years ago the owners demolished the small rancher (probably just like mine) on that lot and built a new house. It’s really nice. Of course all the houses on the tour are decorated – sometimes by the owners, often by professionals.

I had a two and a half hour hostess shift during which I stood near the top of the stairs on the second floor and told people about the three bedrooms and two bathrooms, and the adorable space created when the owner realized what had been in the plans as a storage room had fabulous views. An additional window was added and it was turned into a small fourth bedroom/sitting room. It really was a perfect place to curl up, watch the river or read a book.

When I came home I told my husband that these house tours were bad for my mental health. That’s because when I walk back into MY house with the clutter, the dishes in the sink, the manuscript living on the table where we eat, the bed still unmade and the headboard I’ve been thinking about recovering for three years shouting at me…for a very few minutes I believe I live in a hovel.

Those hovel thoughts doesn’t last long when I look at the overlapping photos of my grandchildren that cover my fridge.

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Or the artwork by my mother which adorns many of my walls.

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That’s when I’m reminded that I love my little one story house that doesn’t hurt my knees with second story steps. I see the only Christmas decorations I have in place. A boxwood topiary tree I made at a Green Thumb meeting and a ceramic Christmas tree that Laura gave me when my husband and I were helping her clean out her mother-in-law’s house. I am beyond grateful that she is in my life with her creative energy and friendship.

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Maybe house tours are to remind me that most of us live in palaces compared to so many people in the world. A reminder that gratitude should be the order of my days. My fridge is full of healthy food and when I run out, the grocery store is minutes away. I hear the furnace go on and am grateful that we had the money to replace it this fall.

During this holiday season, I’ll try to be more present with gratitude for what is already in my life – including my adorable cottage nestled among large old trees and the gardens I’ve created. In my mind it is house-tour worthy.

What are you most grateful for?

 

 

So Much to Do, So Little Time…

The annual Bay to Ocean Writers Conference is 20 years old in 2017. I attended my first conference the year after we moved to St. Michaels, MD – in 2007. The next year I was on the planning committee doing publicity and have been ever since in various roles. I’ve even been a co-chair with Laura Ambler and Diane Marquette a couple of years.

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Currently I (with a committee) find the thirty plus conference speakers we need, update the website, oversee production of the conference program, answer emails sent to the conference mailbox, update the evaluation form and pull together the information, and put down tape on the college floor the morning of the conference to make sure people know how to get to the cafeteria and the second building we use. It’s a  lot and as much as I love this event that brings an affordable writers conference to the Eastern Shore, this will be my last year doing all these tasks. I need to have time to write.

Today I was involved in filming a short documentary about the conference. We talked about how the conference got started and how it has evolved as the publishing world changed dramatically. When the conference began none of us were concerned about marketing on social media and there was no on demand printing. Once the film is available I’ll put it on the website and you can take a look.

I am also going off the Eastern Shore Writers Association board in January. I have been acting as the membership chair but we are transitioning to Wild Apricot, a membership software that will do most of the tasks I was doing. More time freed up.

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This weekend is Christmas in St. Michaels – a 30 year old event that raises money for good causes in the Bay Hundred area.

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The Bay Hundred is the area from St. Michaels down to Tilghman Island that could muster one hundred militia men during the Revolutionary War.

This is a very giving community. People work year round to make this festive event happen. There are so many moving parts beginning with a big party on Friday night. I went with a couple of lady friends one year (there was no way I was going to convince my husband to put on a tux) but after that decided I could donate to the cause and not go to the party. And it wasn’t like I had a closet full of gala outfits. This year they are not calling the event a Gala, but it costs the same. Apparently lots of good food, open bar and music. It will be fun for those who attend and I will be home in my PJs in front of the fire we’re now having every night. It’s very cozy.

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I baked cookies to be sold at Santa’s Wonderland for Saturday and on Sunday I am a docent at one of the houses on the house tour. It’s down the street (on the water) from my house. My house has a water view if you stand at the end of the driveway and squint.

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I am hoping to get out to mulch/mow the leaves still on the yard, but winter temps have finally arrived so I may just move the mower from the garage to the shed and call it an end to fall. Then I can organize the garage and think about painting those elephant ear leaf castings I made in October.

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Our dining out group gathered at our house this week. We’d made a reservation (way in advance) for dinner at Scossa, but they called to say they had double booked the room we were supposed to be in. I knew that meant they had gotten a booking for a larger party than our group of ten. But it all worked out. Some of our group have had health problems this fall and weren’t sure if they’d be able to go to a restaurant. I said come to the Burt’s and if you can only stay twenty minutes it will be okay. If you need to come in your PJs that would be fine, too. Everyone showed up wearing clothes and everyone brought something so it was easy. I did a ham. Another wife made one of those decadent potato casseroles, another a fabulous spinach salad with cranberries and gorgonzola and another green beans with lemon butter. For dessert one couple brought a beautiful trifle that was amazing. It was so light we were all lulled into believing it had no calories.

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I’m looking out the window of my office at the leaves on the grass. I might just have to dress for Antarctica and start up the mulching mower.