Women Who Do Too Much

My friend, Diane Marquette, emailed me after I told her I’d forgotten to do something important. This is what she said…

” ‘Women Who Still Do Too Much,’ like ourselves, cannot keep all the plates spinning all the time. Sometimes stuff’s gonna wobble and break. That’s why there’s glue in the junk drawer.

I appreciated the “still” in what she said. I am trying hard to pare down my commitments so I have more time to write. There are a few more things to do for the Eastern Shore Writers Association and the Bay to Ocean Conference, but then more of my time will be my own. Of course, now that spring is here, the garden is calling…but I am writing every day and the plot for the third book in the Caribbean series is pulling together. I’m thinking about starting to post some excepts from the first book in the series.

Saturday we drove to Philadelphia to take our granddaughter to dinner. She was in town for an Occupational Therapy conference. She lives on the west coast and doesn’t get east very often, so we really enjoyed catching up. I love that we have the same chin! She’s a lovely young woman and we couldn’t be prouder grandparents.

Sunday afternoon I attended a meeting for volunteers at the St. Michaels Farmer’s Market. It’s an important institution in our community for those of us who care about where  are food comes from and how it’s grown or raised. I am excited to see how there can be more linkage between the St. Michaels Community Garden (one of my volunteer activities) and the Farmers Market. Many of us who grow most of our own produce supplement at the Farmers Market. I am stumped by summer squash. My zucchinis and yellow squash never survive squash borers.

Veggie signs went up on Talbot Street this weekend. This is a fun fundraiser for the Farmers Market.Other organizations do similar fund raisers. Before Valentine’s Day we have Hearts on Talbot, we have Jack Russel dog signs before the Jack Russel races at Perry Cabin, and silver stars before Christmas in St. Michaels.

 

There’s always something going on in this wonderful small town on Maryland’s Eastern Shore.

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?

Revisions: Writing, BTO & Gardening

Writing

I’m almost finished with my several passes through the first Caribbean book – A Dream Across Time. It will be republished with a new title. The series will be called An Island Tale  and the titles will be An Island Tale – Dream,  An Island Tale – Circle and An Island Tale – Magic. They will be published under my name rather than a pen name – which seemed like a good idea at the time but in retrospect wasn’t. It seems like a lot of decisions in life are like that, but I’m getting a chance for a do-over with this. Not always the case with some life decisions.

I especially wanted to take a look at the dialogue which sometimes seemed to go on longer than it should. There aren’t any real plot changes so I haven’t had to get out my revision towel…yet. In the next couple of weeks the manuscript will go to a copy editor and then move on to CreateSpace for print and Kindle versions. Laura has proposed a cover series which I really like.

I told my Working Writer’s Forum that I would submit something for the April meeting. That will force me to spend some time on the third book – Magic. Those characters are rocketing around in my cranium and need to get on the page.

Bay to Ocean Writers Conference

Last Saturday was the 20th annual Bay to Ocean Writers Conference. We had good weather which is pretty miraculous in that we’ve never had to cancel because of weather. Anny, in the yellow sweater, is the “face” of BTO. She stands out in the cold and greets people as they come toward the building. It’s a welcome for which introverted writers are grateful.

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After ten years, I’m stepping off the organizing committee. Next year I will attend BTO and actually go to sessions. I’m looking forward to that. The day went smoothly, a tribute to the organization of this conference where 200 writers of all stages in their writing life come to learn about the craft of writing, different genres, marketing and publishing issues. We had a few hiccups with registration which wasn’t as organized as I would have liked, but I wasn’t in charge of that. Once we got people through the line, things moved right along.

We had three presenters who had requested AV assistance and they all had sessions at the same time. What are the odds? Chesapeake College had arranged for three tech people to be on hand. So something that might have been a big hiccup, wasn’t.

It was a long day and I was tired when I got home. I’d already told the husband I wasn’t cooking so we ordered pizza which is something we hardly ever do. Two in the morning I was up hunting for antacids. But that pizza sure tasted good going down.

Gardening

The weather here is very cold and windy, but we escaped the snow the rest of the east coast had on Tuesday. We got lots of rain and frigid temps. The daffodils are down for the count.

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I won’t know about other things (like my camellia) until things warm up. I had raked the leaves (which provide winter insulation) out of my garden beds when we had those mild spring-like days. I knew that was risky, but because things were just starting to poke out of the ground I could actually rake the leaves. If that chore gets put off, I have to “rake” on my knees with my hands.

When I sit at my keyboard I look out over a couple of big silver maples. I asked my husband to make me another birdhouse to hang on one of the trees. We hung four birdhouses earlier this year. He had made then several years ago and I finally got around to painting them. The holes are for small birds. I like the bright spots of color both in winter and summer. The one in the lower left corner was a craft birdhouse that finally fell apart. I kept it for the colors which I tried to replicate.

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We gardeners are always hopeful, and the lilac that I see from the window at my desk is in bud. Time will tell if the buds survived the cold of the last few days. If they did, the lilac will be full of fragrant blooms in another two months.

Working Writer’s Forum Embraces Technology

I’ve belonged to the Working Writer’s Forum for ten years. A few of us were part of the original group which has morphed and evolved over the years. I really value what these folks have to say about my writing. Currently we are nine writers who meet monthly to critique one each others work. We limit ourselves to no more than two submissions of 25 pages.

Recently one of our members moved to Arizona. She is a terrific writer and an excellent critiquer so we didn’t want to lose her. She’s also a really special lady. Someone suggested we bring her in using an iPad. So we did and it worked really well. Another member spends the winter in Florida and we also wanted to include her. So last night we had two Forum members take part using technology.

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I hope this group stays just the way it is. We’ve created a climate of trust that would be difficult to replicate.

I volunteered to submit for April, although I said it might not be 25 pages. This will force me to spend some time on book three in the Caribbean series while I am revising the first two for republication under my name.

 

 

 

Curried Butternut Squash Soup

I get a lot of food and supplement related emails. Our diet tracks toward Paleo and a recent email trying to sell me a new cookbook had a simple recipe that I have now made several times. It’s quite easy which is what I want. If I can make something ahead of time and reheat for lunch or dinner, that recipe is a keeper.

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Here it is:

Set oven to 375

Cut squash in half, remove seeds, and place in oven dish cut side down. Add some water. Cook 45 minutes or until done. When cool peel and puree squash in food processor.

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In saucepan cook (over low heat) 1 tsp red curry paste and 1 tsp cumin for one minute. The first time I made this I was out of ground cumin, but I did have cumin seeds. I ground them as best I could in a mortar and pestle. It worked fine.

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Add 1 can full fat coconut milk. Bring to boil. Add juice and zest of 4 limes. (This sounded like way to much lime for me so I used 1 big lime. Maybe if I was in Key West using those tiny limes…)

Finely grind 1 cup Pepitas in blender. I didn’t use the  Pepitas. They are on my husband’s food sensitivity list so I passed. But I think they would have been good.

Add cooked squash and coconut mixture and blend. I had already pureed the squash in the food processor so just added it to the coconut mixture and didn’t re-process. Add water if too thick.

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This photo is from the second time I made this soup. I opened the Harissa I’d finally found (in Baltimore) to make a more enticing presentation. The pea shoots came from a local farmer who raises greens in her winter fields and in an unheated greenhouse (where the pea shoots grew.)

I like having another easy way to incorporate winter squash into our diet. If you wanted to make this even faster, you could buy cubed squash. I wonder what this would be like with canned pumpkin? I’m going to try that and I’ll let you know.

What is your favorite fast recipe?

Introspection and Self Doubt

A number of the young women bloggers I follow write a lot about self doubt. Do I write well enough? Am I a failure if I give my kids pizza for dinner from time to time? If they don’t grow up to be good people, it’s all on me. I need to make the world a better place – today! How can I be a good mother and an interesting marital partner? And then, after awhile, they ask – What happened to me? Where did I go?

Those last two were things I used to think about. I married the first time when I was twenty and had two young children by the time I was twenty-three. This was well before the internet where I might have found help for how overwhelmed I felt. It was even before there were many self-help books. My husband probably was as overwhelmed as I was, but he turned his insecurity into verbal abuse and because I’d never lived on my own, had never earned a salary or paid my own bills, or really been responsible for my own life, it was easy for me to buy into his views of my worthlessness.

I felt like I had been erased. Where was the secure, smart, motivated person I’d been? The young teen who had thought about choosing between being a ballerina and a brain surgeon. Okay, the ballerina thing was delusional, but medical school not out of reach.

It took eleven years for me to get out of that first marriage. My two children were only part of the reason I stayed so long. I had a college degree but had never had a real job. If I left, how would I support myself and my kids?

I look back on 41 years of a second marriage to a lovely man who still thinks I’m smart and talented and beautiful. But it took me a long time to believe him. And it took him being injured in a catastrophic automobile accident thirty years ago for me to understand that I could make it on my own. The scared child inside me got pushed aside by the need to take care of my husband and our four children. It wasn’t easy, but at the end of six long years of his recovery, I no longer doubted my ability to take care of myself and my children. It put a lot of things in perspective.

Maybe it’s the process of aging, but my worries today are about our country and the world, not so focused on self. My kids are adults and make their own decisions and the consequences are theirs. They are good, responsible, caring people. The kind of people I hoped I would raise. The occasional pizza I fed them didn’t seem to inflict lasting harm.

AWP Is a Writing Conference

The American Association of Writers and Writing Programs – people have been telling me about this conference for years – that if it ever came close to my geographic area, I had to go. This year it was in DC. I could stay with my brother in Georgetown, so I registered. The conference welcomed between 12K and 14K people in the Washington Convention Center and the Marriott Marquis Hotel. Just a few more than our 200 plus at Bay to Ocean Writers Conference at Chesapeake College.

I arrived at my brothers on Wednesday, and went to AWP on Thursday. I was delivering a poster for the Bay to Ocean Writers Conference and some conference rack cards. My Uber ride took only 15 minutes so I was early.

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I dropped off my items at the ESWA booth and scoped out the bathrooms and the location of the first session. The convention center and the hotel had lots of big bathrooms. They didn’t skimp on stalls in the ladies’ rooms. For a conference with a lot of ladies, this was a big plus!

All the sessions I attended were panels – four to six participants. These folks had impeccable credentials, MFA (Master of Fine Arts) degrees and multiple publications. MFA’s seem to acquire a special language with that degree. I had to think hard about fictive culture, breaking the fourth wall, distant third and character maps. Most of the authors who spoke about fiction, write literary fiction. A couple of sessions I attended had authors who wrote Middle-grade and Young Adult fiction, but there was not a Paranormal Romance (or any kind of romance genre for that matter) session to be found.

I did think I was going to get close with the session titled “Writing Female Desire.” But my notes only indicate the title of that session, not that I got anything helpful from it. Now, a week later, I can’t remember anything about it. Maybe I bailed and went to lunch.

For the most part the presenters were accessible and self-deprecating and regardless of the topic listed in the program, they talked a lot about their writing process.

Here are some of my favorite take-aways about process:

  1. Write for good friends first and, then, the rest of the world.
  2. Write “your” book, not what is currently in vogue.
  3. “I have a turtle tattooed on my back” was what one writer said about the pace of her process.
  4. If the door is stuck [in the plot of your book], don’t bang your head on it, go around and jimmy a window.
  5. What is the “river” that is pulling your book forward? In other words what is the book really about.
  6. Failure is part of the process!
  7. Be prepared for multiple rewrites of drafts. Not three or four but sometimes as many as forty. (That made me want to take a nap!)
  8. Several presenters had taken 10 years to complete a book, although they may have had other things published along the way.
  9. On the panel about women publishing after age fifty, one of the presenters said the pub date of her first novel was a week before she was eligible for Medicare. The room erupted in applause. This session was packed, standing room only and part of the discussion was how women find time to writer with career, kids, family, aging parents, etc. #womenwritingafter50

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On Friday night I attended a Joshua Bell concert at the Kennedy Center with my brother and sister-in-law. It was fabulous. He’s the rock star violinist.

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All in all, I’m glad I went to AWP. But truthfully, I get more that is helpful to me in terms of writing craft from the Bay to Ocean Writers Conference at Chesapeake College.