Arguments are for the birds!

I had an argument with myself this morning. I really wanted to spend some time writing, but Christmas baking was beckoning. You know how it is … reason arguing with desire. If I’d just get off my fanny and go bake something, I’d have time to write later. If I write first, however, I’ll never get to the baking. I know that for a fact.

Still, there’s this tantalizing thought begging to be recorded. It would take but a moment to jot it down. Of course that moment might stretch into several as the one thought leads to another. I know myself too well.

While I argued, a similar scene played out on the back deck railing:

“Hi there, little guy. I’ll be out of your way in a moment, but I’m trying to decide whether I want millet for a snack, or sunflower seeds.”

“Okay, but get a move on. I’m hungry.”

“There’s leftover millet on the deck if you’re in such a hurry.”

“Oh sure. Expect me to eat leftovers while you get the choice stuff? Forget it. I’ll just tuck my wings behind my back and wait my turn for the buffet.”

“Suit yourself, but this might take a few minutes. Let’s see … mmm, there’s cracked corn up there, too. And peanut bits! I looooove peanut bits but the jays usually steal them all. So, yeah, maybe peanuts. Ah, but the black oil sunflower seeds have the higher fat content that I could use. I burn a lot of energy on these frosty days.”

“Oh, for pete’s sake, make up your mind! Do you have any idea how much energy I’m wasting while I pace back and forth waitin’ on ya?”

“Quit bugging me! If you’re starving, go hit the neighbour’s feeder, why don’t you? It’s just a hip and a holler beyond those trees.”

“WHAT? Do ya think I’m stupid?”

“Hey, lady! (peering back at me as I watch from the window with my camera) Will you remind this guy that your neighbour has CATS!”

“Cats, shmats. This place has a dog and you don’t see me worrying, do ya?”

“But the dog only eats the seeds left on the deck. He’s not interested in eating you, like the cat is.”

“Shows how much you know. The dog is a Labrador Retriever. Mean anything to you, buddy?”

“Oh. (gulp) Um. I get your point. Maybe I’ll just hop over to the rhoddie and check for iced bugs while you sort out your menu, but speed it up, will ya. The missus is waiting out in the hemlock for me to bring home a few groceries, too.”

“These decisions take time. Let’s see now…. Oh, by the way, did you know that if you wait until sunset the little lights around here come on. Warm toasted seeds! Now that’s a gourmet touch, I’ll tell ya.”

“Well, I’m not waiting that long. Huh? Where’d you come from? Go ‘way, chickadee! I’m next in line for the feeder when thrush is done. There’s a pecking order around here, remember?”

“Ah, drat! Now where’d YOU come from?”

“I guess it’s leftovers tonight after all.” (sigh)

“Fresh or leftover, it’s all the same to me. I don’t share with nobody, kid. So scoot!”

“Aghhh! I’ll risk the cats. I’m outta here!”

“Yeah, I think I’ll sit this one out, too. It sounds like sparrow’s feeling peckish.”

Nobody wins in an argument. Which means I’d better make up my mind about the writing versus baking thing. The baking wins out as I need to set a loaf of cheese bread to rise and make some shortbread. On the other hand, I’ve been writing, haven’t I? Isn’t that called compromise?

What excuses do you come up with when faced with something that tries to eat into your writing time?

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Showing, not telling: a sensual taste experience

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‘Sweet 100’ cherry tomatoes are ripening and I can’t resist plucking one from the vine and popping it into my mouth. My tongue teases the curves and presses them into submission. Warmed by sunshine the globe bursts into juices that dribble off my chin and give my taste buds visions of Tuscany.

There’s no resemblance to the meek store-bought varieties that do nothing more than garnish a salad. No, this rich scarlet morsel explodes with all the fulfillment of summer’s nurture, provoking my taste buds and enticing me to tug another from the vine.

I see a writing application emerging – demonstrating the difference between telling you that these tomatoes taste good, and showing you the sensual experience of eating them. Mmmm. 😉

Now it’s your turn. How else could you describe their taste, or the taste of another favourite food? Give it a try!

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“Every good gift and every perfect gift is from above, and cometh down from the Father.”
[James 1:17a KJV] 

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Beware of the writing expert!

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Since I’m not an expert on the craft of writing, you don’t get many how-to posts from me. Generally I share my personal writing experiences and observations, or perhaps point you to someone else who has posted something brilliant. That’s what I believe aspiring writers can accomplish with their blogs – offer experiences, opinions and referrals, along with support and encouragement.

Photo credit: Graur Codrin

I’m always a little leery of what I call ‘instant experts’… people who may be self-taught and either self- or traditionally-published or still unpublished, but have made many discoveries during the process.

Writing isn’t a science. Yes, there are hundreds of books, blogs and gurus to expound on the dos and don’ts of good writing. But what one promotes as gospel, another dismisses as garbage. There are guidelines, some of which are important to know, but there are also best sellers written by people who have never followed them.

As I read the many comments on my post about cookbooks last week, I was impressed by those who suggested the value of recipes lies in the experience of those who developed them. The best cooks adjusted quantities, added pinches of flavouring, taste-tested, lowered or raised oven temperature until the product was exactly right.

Photo credit: Carlos Porto

I have a recipe for scones given to me by a member of one of our churches. Kay often brought us a bag of her fresh-made scones, along with a jar of homemade raspberry jam. Oh, what a wonderful treat that was! Those scones were indescribable! (The jam was wonderful, too.) I begged the recipe from her and carefully followed it, but I absolutely cannot get scones to taste like hers. Others have shared their not-quite-as-good recipes and offered advice, but nothing I make is quite the same. I don’t have Kay’s touch, or her knack of “not really measuring” or knowing the exact moment when they are ready to leave the oven. I wish I could intern in her kitchen… be her baking apprentice on scone-making days. I’m sure it’s the only way I could hope to learn how to make perfect scones. Either that, or spend years developing my own unique recipe.

There’s a writing analogy here. I’ll bet you can figure it out, too.

How do you distinguish between useful writing advice and advice you should ‘take with a grain of salt’? What makes a writing mentor valuable?

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That’s Not a Real Book!

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“But that’s not a real book. It’s just a cookbook.”

Excuse me? Have you looked closely at the cookbooks that spill from shelves and display tables in your favourite bookstore? Not long ago I went hunting for one with recipes for my bread-making machine and was stunned at the selection.  The one I chose has just under 500 pages, three hundred recipes, each adapted for up to three different sized loaves, plus glossy pictures, and on every page, extensive adaptations and tips.

Cookbooks are part of our heritage. The first ones I remember were compilations of family-tested recipes. One in my mother’s drawer was a black three-ring binder with recipes handwritten for her by my aunt, on lined paper, containing additional blank pages on which my mother taped in newspaper clippings. When she ran out of pages she stuffed the clippings inside the covers and between the pages. It was well used!

Another was a more formal volume edited by my aunt, and bearing illustrations by my uncle.  The cost was subsidized by advertising, meticulously hand drawn. Each recipe was carefully typed on a stencil, and pages duplicated on a Gestetner machine. Remember those?

In 1975 the women of the church I attended concluded a year-long project to mark the 100th anniversary of the Presbyterian Church in Canada – a cookbook of recipes from three generations, appropriately titled, “Grandmother, Mother and Me: Recipes and Remedies.” I had the pleasure of providing the simple artwork.

It contained recipes bequeathed by mothers, grandmothers and their friends, old remedies and anecdotes that were like family heirlooms. It is visible proof that good recipes are like hand-me-downs… never discarded, but lovingly shared between generations.

Three generations of our family also treasure another three-ring black binder… a cookbook created by our youngest daughter who collected all her favourite recipes to give to me and her siblings, and to take with her when she left home. At the time she had no idea that they would want copies to pass on to their children years later. Each recipe was keyed into the computer with added graphics and an index, and saved, so it has been easy to add to it and reprint new copies when needed.

So no, cookbooks aren’t novels, but they can take just as much research and writing to produce, and extensive editing. In every way they are definitely real books.

Do you have a favourite recipe passed down from earlier generations? Please share it in the comment section. Here’s mine:

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Crystallized Orange and Grapefruit Peel Candy

Cut fruit peeling into strips and soak in salt water overnight. Wash thoroughly in fresh water, and boil in fresh water for five minutes. Change water and boil twice more for five minutes each. Drain off water, and to each cup of peel add a scant cup of white sugar. Cook over a slow fire until it crystallizes, stirring all the while. Separate pieces on a plate to cool. This is most successful when only two or three cups of peel are done at one time. (Makes a tasty Yuletide confection.)

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Food for Thought… or, Taking Care of the Writerly Body

I adore the fragrance of baking bread. I also inhale with enthusiasm the aroma of fresh coffee and frying bacon. But bread? That’s in a category all its own. Mmm!

Yesterday I admitted to a fellow blogger that because of arthritis in my hands I haven’t made homemade bread for many years… at least, not the mix-and-knead-by-hand version. I do, however, have a bread-making machine so I often wake up in the morning to that heady fresh-from-the-oven smell. This morning’s olfactory treat came in the form of cinnamon fruit bread.

The starving artist in the garret is an image many of us can relate to, if only because escaping to a secluded locale for uninterrupted writing time appeals. Maybe the starving part doesn’t, since more often than not we joke about our need for sustenance… for chocolate, pots of tea or grande lattes, Diet Coke or glasses of wine.

We’re human, so of course we need food. But when I’m on a writing binge I hate stopping long enough to create a full meal. At those times, if my dear, considerate husband is around, he usually does the cooking. If he’s away, I survive on bread and peanut butter or bowls of popcorn. It’s not ideal but at least it keeps the growlies at bay.

If it’s possible to plan ahead (oh, sure… how good are you at predicting when the muse will appear?) there are comfort foods and other meals that I find quick to prepare and reheat, such as macaroni and cheese – I love macaroni and cheese – or stew – that’s my husband’s favourite – or in the summer (the what? Will it ever be summer again?) potato salad and cold meats are easy. I also like having lots of fresh veggies prepared in the fridge, ready for snacking. Yes, I actually like raw vegetables.

A writer’s life isn’t conducive to good eating and fitness habits. We sit on our butts for hours at a time, reluctant to leave our characters in the midst of a story for anything so mundane as eating and exercising. But we owe it to ourselves and our families – and perhaps to good writing itself – to stay healthy. God also reminds us that our bodies are his temple. That puts a whole new perspective on why we should take care of it!

Be honest now. How do your eating and fitness habits fare during extensive stretches of writing? What’s your favourite ‘writing meal’?

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Do you not know that your body is the temple (the very sanctuary) of the Holy Spirit who lives within you, whom you have received [as a gift] from God? You are not your own. [I Corinthians 6:19 – Amplified Bible]

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Distractions


You know how it is. Good intentions get you started and then distractions interrupt. You hold out against them for a while, but eventually you figure, hey, just give in and get them out of your system.

Wednesday it was the outdoors beckoning. Welcome sunshine urged us outside. DH decided to put up the Christmas lights and I couldn’t resist a bit of long-overdue fall gardening followed by a wander down to the marsh.

Thursday morning was for Remembering, while the afternoon was for baking. In our family November 11th is also the traditional day for baking Christmas fruitcakes. You just can’t ignore a tradition.

Christmas fruit cakes

Even when I settle down to write, distractions come peering in the window, begging for attention.

Raccoon at the window

So, you see, it’s easy to rationalize why my NaNoWriMo efforts aren’t staying quite in line with the daily average required. I should be in excess of 21,600 words as I start in to write again this morning. My 17,800 fall considerably short of that.

It’s those darned distractions.

Are you a disciplined writer and make your daily word count goal without any excuses, or do distractions sometimes de-rail you? What kind of distractions tempt you the most?

Fat Chance

If you’ve ever stood on a scale and cringed at what it told you, it’s possible you’re among the millions of overweight people who struggle with dieting. Ali Vincent, in her book Believe It, Be It: How Being the Biggest Loser Won Me Back My Life, says, “It’s a bigger issue than just calories in, calories out.” I understand that. A very long time ago I lost 80 lbs. and through the years gained it all back. I belonged to T.O.P.S. for seventeen years, getting moral support for that battle. Support is a big motivator.

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Knowing that others with a similar problem have waged and won the weight battle is also a big motivator and is one of the reasons that I am currently backing the weight loss and fitness regime that Joseph Dulaney is undertaking.

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It is also why I am looking forward to reading a new book by another of the Biggest Loser TV series participants.  Julie Hadden has written Fat Chance: Losing the Weight, Gaining My Worth. You can read about how Julie initially connected with WordServe Agent Rachelle Gardner here. The book’s release is timely – who doesn’t face the dilemma of what to do about those extra holiday pounds?

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I hope to be one of its early readers and be able to post a review here before the end of January. I also hope not to have too many additional pounds to cope with at that point!

Serving Up Omelets for Virtual Breakfast

Have you ever been at a late night party and found yourself inviting everyone over to your place for breakfast? In the blinding brightness of the morning sunlight you look around and suddenly realize what you’ve done. Holy moly… when are they likely to start arriving? What if they all show up? Let me check the fridge. How many eggs will it take to feed 170+ people. I don’t have enough cutlery! Then I remember. It’s “virtual” breakfast. ::big sigh of relief::

 

Explanation. Over at Rachelle Gardner’s blog, Rants and Ramblings, readers were invited to her Friday Blog Party. By means of comments we mingled and munched (don’t ask my opinion of pop tarts with cheese dip) and introduced ourselves. It was an innovative approach to a blog roll – an opportunity to get to know each other and make a few new connections.  I’m looking forward to visiting all sorts of new blogs.

 

But you’ll have to excuse me now. I have to get started on those omelets. If I don’t answer the doorbell just come on in. You’re welcome to look around. The coffee should be ready in a moment.

Today’s Musings

 

MUSINGS – 1

Rain slashes across the sky obliterating everything but a vague view of the nearby trees. Am I complaining? Definitely not! Every time I peer out the window I can tell there is less snow on the ground. I’ll be happy if the rain continues until the last vestige of snow disappears. I’m hoping that will happen tonight. Tomorrow morning at 4:44 a.m. Spring arrives and I can’t fathom saying “spring” and “snow” in the same breath.

 

MUSINGS – 2

After two months of replacing fried electronics compliments of our helpful insurance company, then initiating computers, installing software and finding lost data, I thought we had finally reached the point of being able to get back to work. Not so. Murphy apparently has a relative that lives in our attic and takes delight in piling one catastrophe on top of another.

 

While working on a chapter edit last weekend my ancient iBook laptop suddenly flickered into oblivion. You have to understand that it has been the indispensible extension of my hands when I’m in writer mode so its demise is truly devastating. We booked an appointment with a computer guru hoping for resuscitation but he pronounced it DOA.

 

After covering his ears against my moans for a couple hours DH decided life without a laptop was going to be unbearable and suggested we might juggle finances enough to buy a replacement.  So another new computer has entered our lives… an aluminum-clad MacBook… and my office desk sports mother/baby lookalikes while I record the serial number of what I realize is our thirteenth Apple computer in the span of about twenty-three years. How did that happen? I seem to recall that thirteen is considered an unlucky number. Maybe our present computers will outlive us.

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MUSINGS – 3

Chocolate chip cookies, when made with dark chocolate chips, are a healthy snack. I’m not kidding. Chocoholics everywhere have always known what the medical profession has finally confirmed. Dark chocolate contains nearly eight times the number of antioxidants than strawberries. So go ahead… dip those strawberries in yummy dark chocolate and lower your blood pressure at the same time.

 

Enough with the musing. Time to meander away from these computers and see if I can find a chocolate chip cookie.