Monday, November 30, 2015

Gratitude for Writing Mentors--by Ellen Jensen Abbott

I am in the middle of an experiment. I have been given an 8-week sabbatical from my teaching job and my plan during that time is to write a sh*itty first draft (ala Anne Lamott). It’s going pretty well. I have close to 100 pages after three weeks, and though I need to step it up a bit, I’m making decent progress.

The experiment is that I’m writing in a totally new way. Usually, I write, revise, write, revise, write, reimagine, toss out most of what I’ve done, write, revise, etc. You can see the problem. There’s nothing wrong with tossing everything out, but why polish it first? (One of my friends calls this “polishing the turd.”) My theory is that by pushing myself through the first draft without stopping to polish, I will know better what is turd and what is a diamond in the rough. I’m hoping for a far more effective revision process.

But it’s scary as hell.What I’m writing is really terrible at times. Most of the time. Luckily, I’m not alone on this journey. There are lots of folks out there who support this style of writing. One of the books I’m consulting, Alan Watt’s The 90-day Novel, is one. For example, on Day 28 he told me: “Let’s give ourselves permission to write poorly so that we can create a space for our imaginations to soar. Our first draft is rough. It may not always even make sense. That’s okay. We are writing quickly in order to stay ahead of those sensible voices that want to keep us in our place.”

Another voice that I can totally relate to is Anne Lamott when she says in Bird by Bird, “I’d obsess about getting creamed by a car before I could write a decent second draft. I’d worry that people would read what I’d written and believe that the accident had really been a suicide, that I had panicked because my talent was waning and my mind was shot.”

Another book I’ve turned to in the throes of this experiment is Art and Fear: Observations on the Perils (and Rewards) of Artmaking by David Bayles and Ted Orland. Each day I begin my writing session--I shoot for 6 pages a day--with a snippet of this book. Today, they reminded me that  “People who need certainly in their lives are less likely to make art that is risky, subversive, complicated, iffy, suggestive or spontaneous. What’s really needed is nothing more than a broad sense of what you are looking for, some strategy for how to find it, and an overriding willingness to embrace mistakes and surprises along the way. Simply put, making art is chancy--it doesn’t mix well with predictability. Uncertainty is the essential, inevitable and all-pervasive companion to your desire to make art. And tolerance for uncertainty is the prerequisite to succeeding.”

So at this time of year, I am grateful that I’m not alone, that I have folks like Anne Lamott, Alan Watt, David Bayles and Ted Orland who have gone before me and experienced the doubt and worry that I’m experiencing. The experiment will continue at least through my next post. I’ll let you know how I’m doing!

Sunday, November 29, 2015

We give thanks.... (Brian Katcher)

I'm thankful that I have an eight-year-old daughter who uses words like 'simultaneously' and 'hypothetically.'

I'm thankful I have a wife who doesn't plan her holiday around black Friday, and whose Christmas wish list is made up of books.

I'm thankful that my father understood I was never going to be a football hero.

I'm thankful that my mother took me to the library so often.

I'm thankful that I have a job where I get to read to children all day.

I'm thankful that our house, with its impossible drains, bad foundation, and tendency to flood, is still OUR house. So many people don't have one.

I'm thankful that America is still a country that people strive to move to, even though we have a tendency to be unwelcoming.

I'm thankful for the chance to write books, and more thankful for the people who read them.

I'm thankful for Holly, who will understand that this post needs to be short, as I lay down and hope this is only indigestion...

Friday, November 27, 2015

An Armchair Explorer's Gratitude List (Jennifer R. Hubbard)

At the time I’m writing this post, I’m in the middle of reading Valerian Albanov’s true-life survival story, In the Land of White Death. This cheery tale describes the mostly-fatal adventures of a group of sailors and hunters in the Arctic in 1914. After their ship was locked in ice for more than a year, they decided to leave the ship and try to make their way, via hand-made sleighs and hand-made kayaks and with minimal gear, across sea ice and open water to the nearest land. Did I mention they had only the most rudimentary maps and navigational aids, so they were never certain exactly where they were and which of the local islands really existed, and which were just explorers’ rumors?

Suffering from scurvy and snow blindness, infested with lice, they have just come within sight of land, only to find a big old glacier blocking their way.

Yeah, good times.

I am an armchair explorer because, as gripping as such stories are, I have no desire to experience them for myself. I have lived vicariously through Himalayan mountain climbs and Himalayan disasters (Jim Curran’s K2: Triumph and Tragedy and Jon Krakauer’s Into Thin Air). I read about such things, but I keep my own true-life hikes on a smaller scale.

I will never know the thrill of reaching the North Pole or the summit of Everest, but neither will I lose my hands to frostbite, nor my companions to avalanche, hypoxia, or an overdose of polar-bear liver. Now I am trudging and paddling through a frigid wilderness, but I can shut Albanov’s book any time I want and raid a well-stocked refrigerator. In the Land of White Death reminds me to be grateful for things I currently take for granted: central heating, warm clothes, a full pantry, vermin-free clothes and bedding, fresh water at the turn of a faucet handle.

Thursday, November 26, 2015

Eighteenth-Century Antacids

If you're reading this on Thanksgiving Day, my guess is you've already eaten your dishes of choice and have a fridge stuffed full of leftovers, so I won't give you recipes for any more heartburn-inducing dishes. Instead, I thought I'd share a recipe from one of my favorite writing reference works. I write historicals set in the eighteenth century, and I always enjoy spending time with Hannah Glasse, author of The Art of Cookery Made Plain and Easy. First published in 1747, it was a bestseller for more than a century. Take that, Food Network. Thanksgiving didn't become an official American holiday until 1863, but our colonial ancestors—at least those who could afford it—were no strangers to excessive feasting. If you'd lived in the eighteenth century, you might have needed this.

Lozenges for the Heart-burn
Take one pound of chalk, beat it to a powder in a mortar, with one pound and a half of white loaf-sugar, and one ounce of bole-ammoniac; mix them well together, and put in something to moisten them, to make of it a proper consistency or paste; make them into small lozenges, and let them lie in a band-box on the top of an oven a week or more to dry, shaking the box sometimes.

NB: If you plan on making any historical recipes, always check to make sure none of the ingredients are poisonous. These are the same people who often thought a dose of mercury was good for what ails ya. Especially if what ails ya is syphilis.

Hannah herself.

On that note, I wish you all a happy holiday season. And if, as I do, you grow weary of the annual bickering about why and how and when and what we celebrate this time of year, just remember that bickering about how to properly observe this festive (unless you're a Puritan) season of the year is a proud American tradition. Celebration of the holidays in Colonial America varied from colony to colony, from town to town, and even from household to household, depending on the traditions, beliefs, and culture of the people residing there. Much as it does today. People even wrote hilarious (to everyone else) letters explaining why their way was the only right one and posted or read them aloud in public. Some things never change.

Frontispiece for the 1747 edition. Note that the subtitle is "Which far exceeds any Thing of the Kind ever yet Published." Eighteenth-century people are awesome. I'm going to insist that this be the subtitle of all my future books.

Wednesday, November 25, 2015

Time to stuff the Thanksgiving manicotti -- by Jen Doktorski

Recently, my daughter asked me an important question about Thanksgiving.
     "Does everyone eat pasta before the turkey on Thanksgiving?"
     Poor kid. I'm not sure how long it had been weighing on her. But it was time for the truth.
     "Is it because we're Italian?"

 I also told her our Italian heritage accounts for the large antipasto brimming with five different cheeses, three types of olives, and at least four types of cured meats that we eat before the pasta, turkey, and seven different desserts. It’s baked into our DNA and sealed with a layer of melted mozzarella cheese.

“It’s best not to fight it,” I told her before offering up my best advice. “Wear Lycra from head to toe so your body has room to expand during the eight-hour eating marathon. Remember, it’s better to put your eating clothes on at the onset. That way, you won’t have to pass up a cannoli and cappuccino later on.”
Yes, it’s that time of year again. Time when Italian Americans everywhere stuff the Thanksgiving manicotti.

It’s also time, apparently, for some straight talk about how our family celebrates a national holiday. Or any holiday for that matter. It was best that my daughter heard it from me.

Truthfully, I don’t cook nearly as much as my grandmothers did on holidays. I don’t cook as well either and I’m worried many of their signature dishes won’t survive my generation. That’s why I’m thankful a relative on my dad’s side of the family took the time to gather recipes from any family member who wanted to contribute and had them bound into one collection. Three of my grandmother’s recipes are in this cookbook.

This holiday season I’d like to pass along two of my favorites to you. On a side note, some Italian Americans call red sauce, or marinara sauce, “gravy”. This is not to be confused with actual gravy that gets poured over turkey and stuffing.

Buon appetito!

Manicotti with Red Sauce (a/k/a “gravy”)
1 can whole tomatoes
1 1/2 lbs. meat loaf mix (ground meat)
20 manicotti shells
1/4 cup olive oil
1 10 oz. package frozen chopped spinach, thawed, squeezed until dry
1 tbsp. dried parsley
1 tsp. oregano
1 lb. mozzarella cheese cut into 1/2" cubes
1/4 tsp. pepper
1 clove garlic crushed

Sauté onions and garlic in heated olive oil until tender. Add meat and brown. Remove from heat and add remaining ingredients. Mix well. Stuff manicotti shells.* Put an adequate layer of tomato sauce on the bottom of an oblong casserole dish. Layer stuffed manicotti shells on top of the sauce.

Cover stuffed shells with more sauce. Cover the dish tightly with aluminum foil. Bake at 350 for about 1 hour until shells are cooked. Check occasionally to make sure the sauce has not dried out. Remove from oven and let sit for 10 minutes before serving.

*Note: Manicotti shells can be boiled beforehand until they’re just shy of al dente then rinsed in cold water, covered, and set aside. However, this recipe did not call for boiling the shells first, but I had to trust these ladies knew what they were talking about.

Sunday Gravy (a/k/a marinara or red sauce)

3 boxes Pomi strained tomatoes (Imported)
1 can Cento crushed tomatoes
1 can imported tomato paste
2 bay leaves
12 leaves fresh Basil chopped
Salt and pepper to taste
1 tbsp. sugar
2 tsp. minced garlic

In large 12 qt. stock pot cover the bottom with olive oil and turn heat on low to medium. Add minced garlic and cook until golden brown. Add 1 can tomato paste and 1 can water and blend with garlic and oil. Next add Pomi tomatoes, Cento Crushed tomatoes, basil and bay leaves. Stir thoroughly. Add salt, pepper and sugar and bring sauce to a boil. Lower gas and simmer with lid covering the pot at an angle. Do not completely cover. Simmer sauce for 1/2 hour to 45 minutes, stirring occasionally.

Tuesday, November 24, 2015


A conversation Mom and I had last spring:

Me: "Why's this measuring cup gray inside?"
Mom: "Oh, yeah. I used it to spread grass seed."

Which pretty much sums up the way Schindler women feel about baking. Or cooking in general. We're not exactly domestic, frankly. I mean, folding's a word you could use to describe the process of putting clean clothes in our drawers. Cramming's another--and far more accurate.

But that doesn't mean we don't do it up for Thanksgiving, celebrating our gloriously non-domestic selves over a store-bought pie...

Here's to celebrating the perfectly imperfect people in your your own way.

Happy Thanksgiving!

Sunday, November 22, 2015

No words (by Patty Blount)

The irony of this is so poignant, it almost hurts...

Last month, I was depressed about turning 50, wishing I could just skip birthdays from now on.

Last month, YA Outside the Lines shared a theme of "Monsters" to align with the Halloween holiday and this month, our theme is "Gratitude" to honor the US holiday of Thanksgiving.

This month, terror attacks in several countries have left us all numb.

So I find myself returning to monsters, the word repeating on infinite loop in my mind following the horrible events of November 12 and 13 around the world, not just in Paris but Lebanon and Syria as well -- for monsters they must surely be. I'm not a political analyst and do not pretend to understand the depth of hatred that can motivate men to cut down other men in the most heinous possible ways. I know only that they intend to spread that hatred by sowing fear.

And I'm afraid.

I'm afraid for us when we thrust our fists in the air, demanding 'these people' be nuked off the face of the planet, or rounded up like cattle and 'shipped back to where they came from'. I'm afraid for us when we shake our heads and lament the gun laws that surely would have resulted in a different outcome if 'only one person was carrying' in that restaurant or concert hall. And I'm afraid for us when we point to the minor and ridiculous things like red cups (and turning 50) and make them into major but still ridiculous fictions like a War on Christmas.

But mostly, I'm afraid for us -- for humanity -- because we are surely at war and it's a war against humanity, only we're too caught up in our fear and in our outrage to realize we've become hypocrites, screaming for retaliation and justice and action that expresses the same hatred and fear we vow to stop...

I'm afraid, deeply afraid that there's only one way this war will ever stop.... and that's when all of humanity is extinguished.

So, yes, that gives me so much to be grateful for....for the service men and women who faithfully carry out the orders that protect us, for the government officials whose every action isn't just scrutinized, it's second-guessed and criticized on Saturday Night Live and every social network account across the world; for the clergy who remind us that our faith should NOT be used as the basis for hate and vengeance, but for love and acceptance; for people -- every day, ordinary people who go on with their days, refusing to cower in fear and hate entire groups of people because some cowardly group of radicals pulled some strings to make us do so.

I'm grateful to you for reading these words because I'm nobody -- I'm not a world leader or a diplomat...I'm just somebody on a blog whose words can't fit inside her heart right now. I mourn with the rest of the world for the innocent lives murdered and I am grateful, so profoundly grateful for all the people who refuse to hate.

Wednesday, November 18, 2015

Everything That's Wrong with Thanksgiving (Alissa Grosso)

I know from the anecdotal evidence offered up by social media posts that I'm in the minority on this, but I love Christmastime and am quite happy with the Christmas season beginning on November first. Sometimes I feel like the only person in the world who loves to hear a Christmas song playing in a store the day after Halloween, but I'm sure there must be more of us.

So, that's my first beef with Thanksgiving. It's timing is all wrong. It's this holiday that's awkwardly placed between Halloween and Christmas that gives people a reason to complain about seeing Christmas decoration in stores, even though, let's face it, Christmas decorations are pretty, happy and festive whereas Thanksgiving decorations are ugly as sin.

The second problem with Thanksgiving is that the story behind the holiday is, like much of this country's history, a whitewashed, rewritten version of what actually happened. European exploration and colonization of the Americas decimated the population of the region. Most of this decimation was completely inadvertent as European diseases wiped out a population that lacked the proper antibodies. Some of this decimation was deliberate with the European settlers maliciously gifting the locals with smallpox infected blankets or, in countless other cases, resorting to more violent means to murder the so-called Indians.

If, you're looking for a fascinating history book to properly get you in the Thanksgiving spirit, I suggest 1491 by Charles C. Mann.

So, anyway this glorious image we have of Pilgrims and Native Americans does sort of gloss over the fact that the Pilgrims were a bunch of religious extremists who invaded another country and were participants in one of the largest genocides in history.

Now, for the third thing that's wrong with Thanksgiving. The food. Thanksgiving is the only holiday where a meat dish is pretty much the focus of the holiday. It's so much a part of Thanksgiving that some people even refer to the holiday as Turkey Day. The way some people feel about hearing "Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer" on November first is how I feel about the phrase "Turkey Day."

I am a vegetarian for moral reasons. If you want to undersatnd why I don't consume dead animals, read Jeffrey Moussaieff Mason's The Pig Who Sang to the Moon: The Emotional World of Farm Animals

This book convinced me to stop eating meat.

A lot of people in my life are carnivores, and I love them dearly, and I'm not the sort of vegetarian who reminds them how many animals had to suffer for the meals they consume. I don't wear a Tofu Saves Lives T-shirt to Thanksgiving dinner.
Still, I wish the holiday didn't revolve around the consumption of a dead animal. Ironically, Thanksgiving is a holiday that's filled with suitably delicious vegetarian food (except sweet potatoes - ugh, grossest vegetable ever!) thanks to it all being about celebrating the bountiful harvest, and harvests, as a rule, tend to be pretty vegetarian. But then there's the whole turkey element that fits with the rest of the holiday about as well as Thanksgiving fits in the calendar between Halloween and Christmas.

In closing I'll leave you with one more book recommendation. This one's suitable for all ages.

'Twas the Night Before Thanksgiving by Dav Pilkey  is a Thanksgiving picture book that even a vegetarian can appreciate, though, parents be warned, your kids may ask to skip the turkey this year after reading this tale, which is just fine by me.

Monday, November 16, 2015

On the Gratitude that Comes from Working at a Crap First Job

We were not grateful at the time.

We were sullen and annoyed and bored. The $3.25 an hour was cool with us though. Too bad we had to wait on customers to earn it. 

We were sixteen and running a restaurant-- the cashier and the cook, the busboys and hostesses--led by the manager, who was twenty (and ancient).

We figured out fast that people were rude and demanding and slobby. Also, they were sweet and helpful and forgiving. 

We burned our arms taking trays of baked potatoes out of the oven. We sliced our fingers cutting lemons. Our hands got pruny from dragging damp dishrags over tabletops. Once we slipped and fell when we were carrying a container of French dressing and the French dressing dumped down the front of our ugly flowered polyester uniform blouse and spattered all over the floor and we landed in it and were humiliated and also thrilled that we were allowed to go home and change without having to punch out first. 

We learned how to flip steaks and chop iceberg lettuce and arrange dinner plates and count change and speak nicely to strangers even though we were shy.  

We understood that the customer was always right even though we knew for a fact that 99.9% of the time the customer was actually wrong. We learned to shut up about that and not argue. 

We wouldn't forget for the next thirty years that the abbreviation of sour cream is scrm, that kale is a lovely garnish that will liven up any dinner plate, and that a frozen chunk of breaded fish takes 20 minutes to bake. 

We hated the pathetic older couple that came in every Friday night and always ordered the baked fish and complained every damn time that it took twenty minutes. Why was it even on the menu if it was going to take fifteen minutes longer than every other meal to make? We didn't know the answer to that question, but one night we saw the couple coming through the doors and we called to the cook to put two baked fish in the oven and when the couple made it to the cashier, they were so happy when we presented them with their baked fish that we decided not to hate them anymore.  

We pilfered fried clams and made out in the walk-in cooler.

We shrank back in disgust whenever the smelly homeless man wandered in off the street and dug fifty dirty pennies from his pocket to buy a cup of coffee. 

When no one was looking, we gave him a slice of cake.     

The summer before we went to college, the regional manager (truly ancient at age 30) urged us not to go to college but instead consider attending restaurant manager training school. We laughed and laughed and thought in our heads: No fff-ing way, but said, nicely, that we would consider it.

We didn't.  

But when freshmen year was over, we came home for the summer and asked for our job back. Why not? If we had to have a job, we could do worse than that place. Plus, we had friends there. And enough seniority that the manager generously gave us raise. 

A whole quarter an hour. 


Saturday, November 14, 2015

Gratitude and Grief (by Nancy Ohlin)

I had a blog post all ready to go about the things I’m grateful for: our new kittens, a recent wedding anniversary, the health and happiness of our children.  Also a rundown of our upcoming Thanksgiving festivities and a recipe for sage and butternut squash ravioli.

But.  All I can think about is what happened in Paris yesterday.  My heart grieves for the people of France.  

As I write this, my husband and our daughter are in the next room watching Food Network shows and eating popcorn.  Later today, we’ll walk down the hill to a children’s book fair at the high school, where we’ll make crafts and buy books and pet llamas.  My son is in his apartment in NYC, sleeping in after a long night of playing Mario Kart 8 with his roommates.

So much gratitude.  And so much grief. 

Paris, je t'aime.

Friday, November 13, 2015

Thankful for a new home (Stephanie Kuehnert)

It's been a busy fall for me--one that has even caused me to miss blog posts here! I've been teaching an undergraduate Young Adult Fiction course on top of my regular full-time job and just three weeks into the quarter... we moved! Moving sucks any time, but when you've doubled your workload, well I really don't recommend it.

It's been a stressful couple of months, but I am finally getting settled in to our new home and new neighborhood and I am very thankful to be here. I'll show you why:

We live half a mile from a beach... the rocky, gray Seattle sort, but it will be blue and super refreshing come summer!

This is my first time living in a house (rather than a townhouse or an apartment), so we had a porch to decorate for my favorite holiday, Halloween, and we actually got trick-or-treaters!

 I really loved the running trail I lived near in my old place, but now I live a mile from one of my favorite parks in Seattle, Seward Park which juts out into Lake Washington. The views from my new running route are pretty incredible.

From Mountain (a mostly cloud covered Mount Rainier):

To skyline:

Just Wednesday on a much-needed day off, I finally got the living room and dining room mostly in order. And yes! We have a fireplace!!! That is going to be cozy this winter!

But of course this is my favorite place. My office...

And here is the best part... It's so big that my bookshelves fit in there!!! It's like working in my own private library! A childhood dream come true!

(My husband and father-in-law built these great black bookshelves!)

I can't wait to really settled down and get to work on my next project. Because of teaching, it might not be until December, but I know that wait will make me extra thankful for the time to write when it comes.

In the meantime, I am looking forward to a Thanksgiving visit from one of my long-time writing buddies who just moved to California. She'll be our first guest and we'll have a vegan feast and maybe put that fireplace to use!

I hope your home is a warm, cozy, and happy place this holiday season!

Wednesday, November 11, 2015

A Different Kind of Thanksgiving

by Tracy Barrett

The theme of blessings in disguise really works for me this year.

Thanksgiving is, hands down, my favorite holiday. My father’s birthday was November 24 and I got married on November 26, so there’s always the chance that Thanksgiving Day will have two celebrations instead of just one. Years ago, when my sister and I were both about six months pregnant, our mother mentioned that the huge turkey we were about to eat weighed 24 pounds, and my brother-in-law told my sister, “That’s how much weight you’ve gained!” so I also celebrate Thanksgiving as The Day Laura Didn’t Kill John.

When my daughter was preparing to go to Bangladesh for a year she was so sad that she was going to miss Thanksgiving that we had the entire feast in August right before she left.

But this year we’re not having a Thanksgiving dinner. We probably won’t be marking the day in any way at all. And that’s okay.

Our family is far-flung and neither of the offspring will be here. My mother died last winter so there’s no gathering around her. My brother and sister are celebrating at their own homes. My husband is an only child, and both his parents are long gone.

We could still have our own celebration, perhaps inviting friends in similar circumstances, but there’s a catch. I’ve been looking at a hip replacement and was planning on doing it next year when things suddenly got bad and the orthopedist managed to squeeze me in on Monday of Thanksgiving week. My husband has been having odd symptoms of something or other that turns out to be spinal stenosis so he’s having surgery on that tomorrow.

So instead of feasting on the traditional dinner we’ll be hobbling around, heating up the things that I’m filling the freezer with right now. But we’ll definitely be thankful. A generation ago, we both would have been facing greatly diminished abilities within a very short time. Even a few years ago we couldn’t have looked for as much improvement as is forecast for both of us now.

So, thank you, modern medicine! We’ll toast you as soon as we’re off the opioids and able to drink wine again!

Tuesday, November 10, 2015

Happy Thanksgiving To Writing! (Sydney Salter)

This November I've been contemplating my life in transition. Aging parents, one grown daughter, and another eagerly investigating college choices, have me thinking about how the comfortable roles I've held for so long are shifting.

I've become a mere advisor to my oldest daughter, and a nag to my youngest (but she'll have to suffer through it--mothering a teen being vital, if under-appreciated). I've been arranging my life around the school day and soccer games. So what's next--?

How I'd love to ask my mom--she used to give the best advice--but my role has flipped from child to caregiver. And I'm still struggling with the frustration of the situation.

I'm not unique. Most of my friends are caught up in some combination of antagonist teens, nutty or ill parents, and children *sob* grown and gone. Too many of them seem to be coping with lots of white wine.

And that's why I'm grateful. Writing is always there to help me work through stuff, figure out complexities, repurpose crappy experiences, imagine various possibilities--or simply escape!

Thank you, writing!

Monday, November 9, 2015

Food for Thought - Jenny O'Connell

Much about Thanksgiving revolves around food - the planning, shopping, cooking, hosting, eating, cleaning up. As much as I love turkey and mashed potatoes, I am not a person who cares very much about food in general. I basically eat so I don't die. Not that I don't appreciate really good food (I could eat out every night at a restaurant and be very happy), I'm just not someone for whom food has mattered much (nor for whom a balanced diet has ever been a great concern).

Last night my husband asked me to name five foods I would eat all the time if it meant I would never gain weight or feel bad about it. I rattled off the five without even thinking: chocolate ice cream, chocolate chip cookies, cheese, bread and filet mignon. That's what I'd need to be culinary-ily happy.

But for some reason, food plays a role in all of my books. In Local Girls, one of the characters works in a bed and breakfast and comes upon a co-worker who loves to bake. I so enjoyed writing about the muffins and pancakes and special syrups and desserts the girl made for the B&B guests. In the course of my research I looked up menus for B&B all over country, learned where the character would shop (mostly farmer's markets) to get the freshest ingredients, and had a blast doing so. The main character's parents even own a deli, and once again I got to create the sandwiches that they sell (and the names of the sandwiches, which was fun).

In my adult book The Cake Whisperer, I spent time in an actual French patisserie learning how pastry chefs create - from the mats under their feet so they don't get fatigued, to the tools they use to ice a cake, and the different types of frostings a wedding cake can have. I bought books about wedding cakes, and selected each cake that would appear in my book (there are about 15 cakes in the book, complete with various flavors of batters, fillings and frostings).

In the sequel to The Book of Luke, a summer ice cream stand plays a big role, and so do the ice cream creations that are made there.

For someone who doesn't really care all that much about food, I sure do enjoy writing about it. And I think that one of the reasons is that food can convey a lot about a person (much like the pastry chef in The Cake Whisperer believes she can predict if a couple will be happy or break up based upon the wedding cake they select). It can also convey a lot about a situation, and the way characters interact over a meal or snack. The girl who bakes in Local Girls? She is not a soft, sweet person. In fact, she's the opposite, and the last person you'd expect to be selecting blackberries for scones at a farmer's market.

I expect food to always play an important role in my books, even if at home I'm as happy eating cookie dough as I am a roast turkey and gravy. In fact, I'm eating cookie dough as I write this blog.

Sunday, November 8, 2015

Thankful for the Crappy, Unfair, Hurtful Things

Put on your running shoes or your walking shoes. I'll even take your hiking boots if you want to dust them off. Just get ready to move.

Now, it's up to you if you want to pack a drink and a snack. This might take awhile.


OK. It's time to head out and keep moving until you reach perspective.

Yes, you heard me right. 

And no, I haven't prematurely gotten into the holiday wine. 

What I'm suggesting is that sometimes, with enough distance, we may be surprised to learn we are thankful for some (or even all) of the crappy, unfair, hurtful, things that have happened to us.

*Note: Being thankful does not have to mean those crappy, unfair, hurtful things (or the people that inflicted them upon us) were good. 

What I'm really saying is that life is often out of our control and it often has the ability to upset us. On a good day, we can adequately manage most of the nonsense. But even so, there are still things that will make us feel bad.

Sometimes for a really long time.

Until one day we've put enough distance between ourselves and the crappy, unfair, hurtful things. And then, at the end of a long and twisty road where there was no previous visibility...we might find something to be thankful for. 

Those moments always surprise me. They happen all the time, but they still have the ability to take me off guard. So, this month, I'll try to put on my running shoes and sneak up on them for a change.

What is the darkest moment you've walked away from, only to later find out that you're thankful for it?

Saturday, November 7, 2015

"It's Ritual Sacrifice…With Pie."

I love Thanksgiving. Why? Because it's still more or less pure. We get together. We eat. We give thanks. That's pretty much it. For those who follow it up with a shopping marathon as soon as the last bite of stuffing is swallowed, well, I prefer not to. I say, sit still. Eat another sliver of pie if you are lucky enough to have some. Play a board game. Watch a movie. Talk. Gripe about who's going to clean the table. Turn off the screens and go for a walk. Let the kids get bored. It's good for them. Maybe one of them will become an artist or writer. You can't do that unless you have quiet time to stew and brew ideas. No really. You can't.

When I was about eight, I taught myself how to make pumpkin pie. My mother always refused; she said it looked like baby poop. (yes, really, she did. Make of this what you will. All families have dysfunction. Mine included pie refusal.) So I read the recipe on the back of the Libby pumpkin can and figured it out. It's not rocket science, pumpkin pie making. But I knew that if I was going have some, I would have to make it myself. Same thing with homemade cranberry sauce. Mom had never met a convenience product she didn't embrace. And it wasn't that I was like this pint-sized Luddite. I just wanted to make cranberry sauce from real cranberries. Just like those Pilgrims, you know? Turns out you pour a bag of fresh cranberries into a pot with water and sugar and boil it for awhile. Yeah, that's it. Then it congeals and there you have it. My family still prefers that slimy canned stuff you slice. There's no accounting for taste.

Anyway, I was the eight year old making pie and sauce and watching the Macy's Parade and wishing I could see it in person someday.

Here in Texas, we had to cobble together our own family for many years because we were far from our relatives. Turns out that's possibly the very best kind of Thanksgiving. Friends who are like family are a rare and wonderful thing. And they eat your pumpkin pie and your cranberry sauce and tell you it's the best ever.

The first year I attempted a turkey, I didn't know you had to defrost it fully enough to get the plastic sack of giblets out of the cavity. Well, you do. That bag cooked inside the turkey. I never told anyone. Well, until now.

This year, my daughter in law is making the turkey. She is an organized sort because she works in the ICU. Last time she hosted, she had a clipboard. She is a brilliant and wonderful crazy danger, that girl.

Finally I shall leave you with a line from the Buffy Thanksgiving episode, the one where Buffy insists they all have a real Pilgrim Thanksgiving with yams and mashed potatoes and she asks Giles if he has a ricer and Angel is lurking and also some Native American spirits and Spike is tied to a chair. But it's Anya who defines Thanksgiving as 'ritual sacrifice… with pie.'

And so I leave you.

Wednesday, November 4, 2015

Thank you, Bobo ~ by Delilah S. Dawson

A few years ago, we flipped the table on our suburban life and moved to the mountains. Certain sacrifices were involved, mainly that the grocery and restaurant selections up here are decidedly smaller. If I want to go indulge at Target, for example, I have to drive 37 miles. But the most part, living in a rural area on a bigger plot of wilder land has been a major blessing to the entire family's mental health and happiness.

One of my favorite things about the mountains is Bobo. Bobo is a turkey--a big, white, ridiculous looking turkey. To get from my house to civilization, we have to drive over a one-lane bridge and past a house that keeps pigs, turkeys, hens, and something calves. Bobo is their #1 turkey tom, and he often leads his harem across the road and onto the bridge because he is a complete moron with absolutely no danger sense. It's pretty common to find a car wedged onto the one-lane metal bridge, honking at this ridiculous, beach-ball shaped bird who's inexplicably preening on a bridge over a river that contains no food. I've even seen policemen get out of their car to try to chase him out of the street.

If you stop your car near Bobo and roll down your window and say GOBBLE GOBBLE GOBBLE, he utterly transforms. His gobbler expands with blood and turns bright pink, his tail fans out , and he suddenly looks less like a sodden white football and more like a very confused peacock. GOBBLE GOBBLE GOBBLE, he shouts, strutting back and forth in sexy turkey style. And I lose it and laugh all day.

Bobo makes me realize that life is better when it's slowed down. When you can stop your car on the street for five minutes and talk to a turkey. When instead of honking at deer and swerving around them, you stop and watch them. When, as shown in that photo up top, you can lie down in the road for five minutes pretending that you're dead, and not a single car threatens to mash you into a pancake. My suburban life was so stressful, so fast, so high-anxiety that I didn't recognize how much I was missing, zooming through every day. Now I go outside and sit on the hammock, just thinking. I go explore in the backyard. I go for walks down the street, and neighbor dogs or cats or chickens trail behind me like baby ducks. I watch the trees change color in my backyard and look for our resident foxes and deer, all of which I've named. I wake up at night delighted to find opossums and raccoons on the porch, and they stare at me like I'm a god.

This year, I'm thankful for a slower life full of gobbling turkeys. Just don't tell Bobo that I'm going to roast and eat one of his brothers soon.


Delilah S. Dawson is the writer of HIT, Servants of the Storm, the Blud series, Star Wars: The Perfect Weapon, and most recently, Wake of Vultures, written as Lila Bowen.