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Allowed to Mother

Quite frankly, I don’t even have the ability to focus enough to know what to write about. I’ve just returned from being on the road traveling with my husband for the last 3 weeks. It’s been glorious and strenuous at the same time. The sites we’ve seen, the things we’ve done, the food… oh the food… the hotel rooms, the people: It’s a bit of a blur, albeit a glorious blur.

The writer in me wants to create a succinct article about travel and discovery that could be useful to readers. But there are many kinds of writers in me, I suppose. This is the nature of writers, to openly admit we have split personalities. (You’d think we’d keep that bit of information in the closet, but no, we hang that dirty laundry right on the clothes line for all to see.)

One of the writers in me wants to wax poetic about the beauty of each individual vista we’ve seen. Another inner-penner, wants to tap on the keys to tell about the food because I love restaurants and food so darn much it’s ridiculous. Yet a different variety of prose seeks escape to describe hotels and customer service dos and don’ts I’ve observed.

The angry writer in me wants to scold humanity because I’ve seen such ugliness. Animals and children being ignored or frightened; rudeness; rule breaking; slovenliness; selfishness. I want to put on visors and only see the wind in the leaves of the palm trees, the sunsets sparkling on the rippling waters of the ocean, and the designs the incoming tides leave in the sand. But I can’t shake my finger at anyone because I’m a lowly human, too, subject to anger and fear and my own need to survive. But again… that’s just one writer in me focusing on one area of observation I’ve come upon during these travels.

What I’ll choose to share is something I wrote in the second week of our trip. We met our daughter in San Diego and had several wonderful days of discovery and fun, but the last day brought the mother out in me; a part of my being that’s been shushed for the last ten years or so. I had one opportunity to nurture and care for my daughter like I did when she was little because she fell ill. Here’s what I wrote that day.

Where to start is at this moment, I suppose. At this moment, I’m worrying about my daughter, something I don’t get the opportunity to do anymore as she’s a 30-year-old, competent adult who lives nine hours away from me in St. Louis, Missouri and travels the country and even the world: she’s just returned from a visit to China. She’s far more capable than I am, yet this morning she woke up feeling poorly—a sore throat, tummy ache, and general body aches.

I immediately went into mommy-mode. I wish I could pick her up and cuddle her, but even as a baby, she didn’t much enjoy any kind of smooching or squishing from me. She’s always been one needing to control her environment and be free of restraints. Her most common utterance as a small child was, “I will do it by my own self!” usually yelled… at me.

She’s always known exactly what she wanted and settled for nothing less. I’ve tried to respect it, but it’s been a journey of me wanting to mother her and her cringing at my outstretched hands. I’m Pepe Le Pew and she’s the poor cat just trying to get out of my grasp.

Truth be told, I wouldn’t have wanted her to be clingy or needy. I like strong, independent people, and can’t stand whiners or indecision. I enjoy and respect people who are leaders and survivors, probably because I am that person… right up until I’m sick, at which point I become a ball of whining needfulness. It isn’t pretty. But we were talking about my daughter, weren’t we? She’s feely “puny” today. (A word my friend uses.) Or I could say, she’s feeling “punk”. (A word my sister uses.) Love both those words.

It could be the rich foods, constant driving, walking, exploring, climbing and learning we’ve been doing. It could be that she’s just worn out as she goes full-throttle through life. She’s done more with her 30 years than many do in their whole lives. OR… as a mother’s worried nature wonders… she could be coming down with something and we should figure out where the nearest urgent care is so, if need be, we can rush her there!

I’m a problem-solving sort of gal and am always searching for the emergency exit in crowded spaces, or watching for that one trouble maker who could be dangerous. (Unless I’m drinking, and then I’m basically a toddler wandering off and getting into trouble wherever I can find it.) But that’s not my daughter’s nature at all. She’s a serious sort. Driven. Focused. Intense. Her motto could be, “I get shit done.” She’s a force to be reckoned with and although I’m a bit of a force in my own right, I generally cede to her because I know she’ll argue until she gets her way and I’m more amused and amazed by her fierce nature than I am in need to defend my own.

I adore her, yet am so frustrated by her… it’s an incredible conundrum I’ve been trying to figure out for 30 years now. So, back to topic, she’s not feeling wonderful today and although we’re in Southern California, amid beaches, zoos, parks, amazing sights and sounds, I still feel the need to stay in the hotel and fuss over her. She needs a day of rest. We all might be better for it, but this insane California weather is perfect every day. How can these people living here stand it? Sunshine, moderate temperatures, light breezes. Every. Single. Day.

I’ll finish this story to tell you she spiked a fever of what must have been 104 that night, and the next morning, still feeling very very sick, attended the meeting her company had flown her to San Diego to attend. She kicked that meeting’s ass, we drove her to the airport, she flew home, zonked for the night, then went to the doctor in the morning to find she still had 101 fever and an ear infection causing all the problems. Antibiotics have done the trick, and it’s a good thing as she hosted a major gala for Support Dogs, for which she is the current Chairperson, and then attended her company’s Christmas party. (Sounds like it wouldn’t be a big deal, but they rented Busch Stadium for the party, so…”

Still, I think she appreciated a little mothering and I was thrilled for the opportunity to once again play one of the roles in my life that gave me great purpose: caring for and loving my kids. I’d prefer they didn’t have to be sick to allow me to do it, but I’ll take what I can get!

 

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A Short Story Contest

I believe competition is healthy, so I’ve hosted a couple of story contests this past year. I like giving writers an opportunity to stretch their writing muscles in a local competition.  All the better if there’s money involved. Who doesn’t want a little extra cash in their pockets and some bragging rights, to boot.

I have a website called Indie Book Trailers & More, where I host these short story contests. This link will take you to the site, and give you information about how to enter your story. CLICK THIS LINK  What you’ll find out, if you follow the link, is that submissions are now open for short stories (no longer than 3,000 words) in any genre, and about any topic. I’m taking up to fifteen entries and the submission fee is $10 per entry.

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The Winter contest sponsor is Prairie Land Press, owned by Nancy Sharp Wagner. She has contributed $50 to the prize. There is only one winner, and the cash prize is the total of all entry fees plus the sponsor’s contribution. Therefore, if there are fifteen entries, then the prize will be $200. If there are only five entries, the prize will be $100.

I won’t personally participate in the judging of this competition, but will seek out four or five individuals who work in the field of writing. They will work independently of each other to read the entries. I’ll send these judges (yet to be selected) the stories sans the author’s names. The names of those who enter the competition won’t be listed until after judging.

When the winner is selected, he/she will be contacted and sent the prize money via Paypal. Then, I’ll announce the winner on the Indie Book Trailers & More website, and post a link to a PDF of the winning story. I’ll leave the story on the website for a month or more, giving the winner ample time to promote their win, and tell their readers where to go to read the story.

So, look through your work to see if you have something you’d like to enter, or send a link of this blog post to a writer you know who might be interested in entering one of their short stories. I looking forward to fifteen wonderful entries by talented authors from anywhere in the United States.

Many, many thanks to Prairie Land Press for sponsoring this competition. Nancy has wonderful books and resources for teachers on her website. She and I are proud to support and promote Nebraska authors!

marketing

Dreams… Hugh Hefner… Newsletters…

I stirred from my dreams and opened my eyes to the morning, then tried to drift back into the story playing in my head. In my dream, I was hurrying through the streets of a city with my father. We’d left a large Catholic church and I was taking him to my car. We hadn’t left through the same door we’d entered, and I was a disoriented—couldn’t identify which side of the building we were on, therefore, couldn’t find my car.

In the dream, Dad walked briskly beside me. He was telling me how we had to get to the butcher to order his beef, and for my troubles of taking him, he wanted to give me half the beef. I told him a few steaks and some burger would be all I wanted. He gave me his smile… the one that belonged to only him. God, my dad had a great smile. I lingered on that moment in my dream… a moment of his generosity, my delight in helping him, his genuine joy.

Then he told me we had to go faster because he really had to pee. We were crossing a street, cars stopping for us, we were laughing, yet a little worried we wouldn’t make it in time. I felt bad I’d gotten us lost, and here the old man was doing his best to keep up and having to go to the bathroom to boot. I guess that’s when I woke up.

Never did get the man to a bathroom.

Oddly enough, right after I woke up, I started thinking about Hugh Hefner. What’s up with trains of thoughts when you wake up… am I right? No correlation whatsoever. Just had this weird and detailed mental epiphany about The Hef and his magazine, Playboy.

Well, after I toyed with the notion brewing in my brain, I got up, put on my silk robe, then took to my bed with my laptop to write it all out to see if indeed my thoughts did make sense because often, things prove or disprove themselves on the paper.

So, here’s my epiphany. Hugh Hefner was a journalist, albeit, a horny journalist. I’d even venture to say, a genius journalist. Maybe even a genius journalist with an agenda. An agenda to —

  1. Create a magazine that would achieve notoriety and a massive male readership.
  2. Sway the thinking of the male-driven world with articles, and ensure they were read. (And maybe even, ensuring women DIDN’T read them.

The whole, being a millionaire, wearing silk pajamas, and hanging out with beautiful women while living in a mansion was no more than the benefits thereof.

I imagine Hugh pondering how to go about achieving these goals. I can see him tapping his finger against his temple as he lolled about in bed, much as I was when this scheme occurred to me. Hugh thought, what kind of magazine can I publish that will ensure men will read my articles? Articles about politics and race and religion that could potentially sway their thinking… even their votes. 

Now, as a writer, I know it’s not easy to get people to read what you’re writing. I can pound out all my deep thoughts, my bright epiphanies, my dark wonderings, and here they sit on the stark white page just waiting, like a homely girl with a bad personality on prom night waits for a phone call.

So, there’s Hugh, and he thinks. Hey. What if I scatter articles throughout a magazine filled with pictures of naked women? 

Freaking genius.

Basically, he discovered this scheme which would instinctually make every man want to buy his magazine. Nothing sells like something taboo. In the same token, all the proper, upright women of the world would NOT buy the magazine, nor read the articles.

This is where I imagine Hugh steepling his index fingers and putting them to his lips. Hmmmm. My magazine would be like a men’s agenda, hiding in plain sight.

Of course, I’m having these ideas about Hugh Hefner’s clever ruse to rule the world and, quite honestly, I’ve never as much as read one article from Playboy. Maybe the articles were about how to properly trim a mustache, or how a fellow really knows when a girl loves him, or the quickest way to clean a rain gutter.

But I’m guessing that’s not the case.

After all, it was known far and wide that men only bought Playboy to read the articles. The old joke had to be founded in something concrete, right?

Now… keep in mind, it’s me thinking these thoughts. Keep in mind, this epiphany took maybe two minutes. I was dreaming about my father, I flashed onto Hef, I thought to myself, what a genius way to get your target market to read your articles! What a way for a writer to start a magazine!

Then poof! I thought, THIS. THIS! This is how I do my newsletter!!!

I make a Playboy of sorts, and hide my thought-swaying articles amidst pictures that will lure my target market to buy the magazine!!

And no. Not pictures of naked women. My target market isn’t men. It’s women. Mature women.

Stay with me…

I’ve long thought older women are who should be running the world. They’re caring and compassionate, yet resourceful, set on collaboration and solution, patient, kind. They’re grandmothers!

And what do Grandmothers love to look at!?!?!?!

Well, recipes, yes. Little poems, yes. Babies, yes. But above all… older women love CATS!!!

So, not Playboy. My stories will be buried like poo in a litter box among pictures of cats! I’d call it… Catlady!

As always, dreams and morning epiphanies seem like such great ideas. Pure genius. Right up until you write them down. Then you realize they were just silliness. Fluffy thoughts, breaking up like morning mist. Yet, I can’t help but wonder if there isn’t something here I can use. Maybe, eventually, it’ll come to me. Until then, The Hef can rest in peace. I won’t be trying to capitalize on his genius. But I’m going to continue to wear my silk robe. It’s just damn comfortable! And there’s no denying. I really do like cats, and they do seem to be willing to pose provocatively.

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Opine and Ponder

Today I spent a couple of hours at a reading by an author friend. The events are monthly, and take place at an art gallery and wine tasting room. Cool setting. Each month I learn something new from authors. I’ve been so impressed with the areas of knowledge and new ideas brought forward. The authors and their guests, in turn, have discovered this art gallery and tasting room, which they might never have done. Unfortunately, but not surprisingly, the number of people who attend these events are scant. There were six of us today.

Here’s where a bit of levity may go a long way. Attendance at readings, and artist events in general, is usually hit and miss. Cue the old, “Signing in the Waldenbooks” video.

Today’s speaker, Nebraska author, Margie Lucas, began with a story about an author who was to present a reading where only one person showed up. But knowing one person might just make a difference, the author gave the best speech he possibly could… to that one person (then went on to win the Pulitzer because of it). Today’s speaker did the same for those of us present. I assure you, it was not a waste of her time. Her words made a huge impact on all of us and the ideas she introduced were things I’ll be thinking about for a very long time.

We live in a world where we’re bombarded by ideas, information, and things to do. Yet, it wasn’t so far back in history… within my lifetime… when to learn the news, you watched it on TV at noon and six, or read it in the paper or magazine articles. If you wanted to know about an author’s ideas and insights into writing books, you might learn about it in a library book, or an article, or go to an event where the author read from their work, signed their books, and spoke to the people there.

But now? We can google an author’s name and find their website, their amazon page, read articles they’ve published, read their blog, their Facebook page, follow what they’re tweeting—so, when an event comes around on a Sunday afternoon where one can actually go meet the author and hear them speak… well, hey, it’s Sunday… there are many reasons not to go.

No one understands this more than I do.

What little spare time we have is precious. After all, we work all week, then on Saturday, often, we catch up on house and yard work. Sunday is the one day we can do whatever we want! We can watch football, take a nap, take grandkids to the zoo, see a matinée, have family over for dinner, go to a museum… we have that one day to relax. And people need that day of freedom from obligations. Who of us doesn’t relish a quiet Sunday?

So, who ends up going to the reading or signings? Usually, it’s the friends and family of the author; the people who love them. But, that’s not a writer’s target market, is it? It’s the proverbial “preaching to the choir.”

Maybe people would come if it weren’t on a Sunday. Yet, my Saturdays are almost always busy with football games, making food for Saturday night gatherings, or weekend projects.

Let’s face it. There is no magic day of the week. Even if one wants to go to an event, there are often other obligations, or illness, or church, or being out-of-town…

…honestly, excuses aren’t required or expected. You come or you don’t. It is what it is. Everyone who plans an event must understand the size of the audience cannot be guaranteed. This blog post’s intention is absolutely not to cuss people out for not attending events.

This post is to opine and ponder, ‘cause that’s what writers do.

So (here’s the pondering part), what is the point of even having events such as this? Are speaking events relevant anymore? Do we just keep having book signings and readings because it’s what’s always been done? Or do we keep racking our brains trying to figure out the magic combination of how to get people to the events we create. Librarians, book stores, and those of us who try to promote these events make posters and post cards, Facebook event pages, we send press releases to the newspapers, we post about the event on blogs and websites and group pages. We email it, we invite friends and do everything we can that doesn’t cost money, (because it’s a free event and spending money on advertising would have to come from somewhere and probably wouldn’t bring in but a few people anyway.)

This isn’t my first foray in planning events which feature artists in small town America. It’s always a trick to get people to come. One can offer food, drinks, music; one can encourage community involvement, try hard to plan it for a time that works for most, talk about it until you’re blue in the face… and in the end, there will still only be a handful of people who attend.

So, why do it? What’s the point?

Well, here’s the point. Today I sat in a group of six intelligent women and had a mind-stimulating conversation about the history of women and how religion has swayed the way cultures all over the world have come to treat them. How we’ve come to treat each other. And how we feel about ourselves.

And we talked about how to affect positive change.

Now those are some big ideas for a Sunday afternoon. The coolest part was we discussed it all without whining or male-bashing—our conversation based on ideas and facts. It was educational and, well… very cool because of the way the speaker lead the discussion. I love solution oriented conversations, but they’re often hard to find. Positive energy is powerful. It’s like sunshine breaking through the clouds. Such a treat.

So, what will come of that small conversation? We shall see. But I know this: it was worthwhile. A small group of quality can be plenty… or as a friend of mine likes to say, enough is a feast. And in the end… everything is food for thought.

 

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Zucchini and Squash Epiphany

If you don’t enjoy cooking, feel free to skip this post, but, if you have a garden or have gardening friends who bless you with fresh produce, and enjoy spending time in the kitchen cooking, read on.

Today I had an epiphany about turning garden goodies into delicious sauces, so I dove in to a counter-full of yellow squash, zucchini, tomatoes, jalapeños, onion, and green pepper.

I have a teeny-tiny bit of cooking knowledge, and one thing I know is if you can make a sauce, you have a fundamental cooking skill that allows you to do many things. The French, of course, figured this out in the early 19th century, then refined the idea in the early 20th century when they created: The Mother Sauces.

The gist is, if you can make a mother sauce, you can then make many things. The everyday cook uses a can of mushroom soup in the same way: to pour on pork chops, or use it in a casserole, or as the base of a soup… or more likely, they use it when a recipe calls for it. In the same way, cooks know a basic béchamel sauce can become any kind of cream soup, or cream sauce, or creamy base for any casserole. No need for a recipe. Just make the sauce and go from there.

I’ve had zucchini bread and zucchini brownies, and found that the zucchini blends nicely; you don’t really taste it. So why not let it blend into a sauce? I did some googling and so indeed… others have already thought of this, and although I didn’t find tons of recipes, I got the general idea. Make a sauce, add cooked zucchini—viola!

Therefore… here are my end results should you be interested in using your squash and zucchini in a new way.

I started by making a big batch of béchamel sauce… just butter & flour in equal amounts, add milk with salt, pepper (I used white pepper), and nutmeg. Stir, stir, stir… yummy, delicious, smooth delightful creamy sauce you could basically put on a shoe and it would be well-worthy of licking off. I set that aside.

Then in two different pans I sauté sliced zucchini and squash, respectively, with onion and garlic, in olive oil and butter.

Once cooked, I put a batch at a time in the food processor and zapped it nice and smooth. I took each batch out and to this I added 1/2 the béchamel sauce. Then to each sauce I added 1/2 cup of grated fresh parmesan cheese and stirred it until it melted. I like spice, so I also added some red pepper flakes to each of these batches of sauce. The squash sauce is golden and the zucchini more green.

I plan to use the yellow squash sauce in scalloped potatoes, but of course, it would be a great base for mac and cheese, or potato soup, or chicken pot pie, or an Alfredo style pasta sauce just for a few ideas. I put it over eggs and ham for lunch like a hollandaise. Technically, you could serve it as a soup as it is with a nice piece of bread. It’s extremely yummy!

I added roast chicken to the zucchini sauce and I think it will be great over pasta, by itself as a soup, or as a sauce on potatoes or even rice. If you didn’t add chicken, I think many meats would play well with it.

Then I took those jalapeños, several ears of corn from our garden, a lime, a can of coconut milk, and some Thai seasoning and made a kick-ass curry sauce. Chicken or shrimp can be added and it’ll be good over rice or noodles. Very spicy, but rich and delightful. The lime made it very fresh. It’s pretty too. I can see instead of using Thai spices, using Mexican spices like cumin and cilantro, then putting a dollop of the sauce on enchiladas or tacos or a taco salad or anything Mexican, really. I’d think it’d be nice as a base for tortilla soup, too.

Still in a playful mood, I took the tomatoes and green pepper with what was left of the onion and finished everything off with a small batch of red sauce. I think all of these sauces will freeze just fine. 

And now, I have at least four meal starters and I’ve used up my vegetables in a unique way.

Now. What to do with those butternut squash…

I think I have an idea!