1,000 Words

Is it true? Is a picture worth a thousand words?

Here is a picture I cherish. This was taken nearly 20 years ago: my sister and my youngest son.

Here's what I love about it:

Isn't my baby beautiful? Even at a few days old, he scrunched up his face like that when he was kissed. It was so damn cute. Look at that miniscule hand and the feathery eyebrows.

Isn't my sister beautiful? I love the tenderness in her gesture. She only just met this sweet, tiny little person and loved him instantly. The light shining on her fair hair is gorgeous and the blush of her cheek is so fetching. She always has been a beauty, and not just because she looks the way she does.

It's only a fleeting moment in the whirlwind of a child. He was new and fresh and smelled so wonderful, wrapped safely in the arms of one of the few people on earth who would love him always, no matter what: his Auntie.

Sisters are treasures. Have you hugged your sister today?




lovelinkin.com

Tips for Feeding a Crowd of People With Strange Diets, Food Allergies, Lactose Intolerance and Weird Ideas About Food

Yeah, I know that title sounds a little snarky and judgmental. But seriously. I eat what I eat and what you eat might seem strange to me. More likely, what you can't eat might really trouble me. How do I cook for you?

People will be showing up for holiday dinners with newly-trim bodies, health problems, food sensitivities related to their religion, opinions on the morality of certain foods or just plain quirky preferences. Heaven help you if they all show up to the same dinner and you're the host.

The food allergy that does NOT fit these tips is a serious, anaphylaxis-inducing allergy. Some people who are allergic to, say, peanuts, are not just being fussy. Take that seriously.

I am speaking to you from the point of view of both the one with dietary problems AND the hostess. I am lactose-intolerant and I have IBS. (TMI, sorry.) It can be extremely awkward to be a dinner guest of someone who knows these two things because A. They tend to trot that information out for everyone to hear, and B. They fuss over me and my plate. Please don't and Please DON'T!

So here are my tips for feeding someone like me.

  1. Find out before you even plan your menu if anyone has a life-threatening allergy. If you're lucky, you'll get a lot of answers like, "Well, James doesn't care for olives. Is that what you mean?" If someone has an allergy to nuts, peanuts, shellfish, be extra-vigilant to not accidentally kill them. You'll ruin your dinner party, your reputation as a host, and it won't do them any good, either. 
  2. Serve the dinner buffet-style. If you prepare a plate for the guest, you are basically telling them what they will eat. Just let them choose what to eat and how much for themselves.
  3. Try to serve both a raw vegetable, such a salad, and a cooked one. There are a lot of vegans who prefer their veggies raw, and some of us with digestive issues who can't eat the raw stuff.
  4. Don't slather everything in cheese and/or cream sauce. I was once invited to a dinner where I was served a wonderful lasagna, garlic bread with cheese broiled on top, a salad with loads of fresh parmesan curls and then a cheesecake for dessert. Ouch. It was delicious, but ouch.
  5. If the main entree is meat (prime rib, turkey, ham) let that be the star of the show and don't throw ham into the potatoes, and bacon in the green beans and broil pancetta on the garlic bread. Give the vegans a chance. HOWEVER, it's not a bad idea to serve two kinds of meat if you have a big crowd to feed. A small ham beside the turkey, or a roasted capon next to the prime rib can be much appreciated by the people skipping red meat or who have abnormal fears about poultry.
  6. Similarly, don't make everything rich, or sweet. If everything on your table is swimming in butter, glistening with glaze and loaded with fat, the people who are dealing with a blood sugar or cholesterol problems are going to be a mess.
  7. Let your dessert table offer both traditional, scrumptious, sweet desserts, and also a nice little plate of cheese and fruit.
  8. You're the host, but that doesn't mean it's all about you. Let your guests choose from the dishes that appeal to them and fit their needs. This is true for the beverage you serve, too. If a guest refuses the wine, accept it gracefully! They could be a recovering alcoholic or allergic to sulfites or maybe they just don't like wine. Remember that your guest's food choices are not a reflection on you. And honestly, it really isn't your business why they make the choices they do. Don't bully them into trying "just one" or having a little bit more. And while we're at it, when they're full, they're full! It is not an insult to you if there is food left on their plate. As long as your guest is not so rude as to throw a biscuit at your head, screaming that it isn't like momma used to make, what they eat and what they leave should not be considered a comment on your cooking.
  9. Please don't call attention to the dietary restrictions or preferences of your guests. It embarrasses us to have you say in a loud voice, "Oh that's right, you can't eat salad." The exception to that is again with the life-threatening allergies. If you include ground nuts in your innocent-looking fruit dressing, quietly point that out to the one with the allergy. Best plan is to make sure your menu doesn't have anything on it that will kill them.
  10. Serving a wide variety of dishes and having the good grace to let your guests choose without any input from you is the simple key. If you are a vegan hosting a dinner party where omnivores like me are likely to show up, you don't have to break your ethics in order to feed me. Just have a nice menu that includes a hearty, savory dish, too. I promise. I won't draw attention to the absence of meat at your table, and I trust that if you eat at my house, you will not try to embroil me in a conversation about "shooting Bambi" if I serve elk meat. I will have made sure that there were options on my menu for you.
Of course, all this changes for small, intimate dinner parties. If you only have six guests, you need to have a good idea of what to serve that everyone can eat. Even then, my gracious friend, serve the food and be quiet about why you're serving what you're serving. Bob and June don't need to know that you made a fabulous vegetable Minestrone and served it with rustic 7-grain artisan bread, because Trish is lactose-intolerant and Betty is a vegan.

A Grinchy Year

I admit it. I'm feeling a strange mixture of Grinchiness and Christmas spirit.

I want to love Christmas. I loved it once. Now that I'm older and more cynical wiser, I'm learning how to tell the difference between the real Christmas I love and the Christmas that is being crammed down my throat.

The parts I love:

  • I love the closeness of my small family on Christmas morning. It's one of the few days a year that we are all together in the same room, in our jammies, in the morning. 
  • I love the feeling of hope and wonder that comes from The Birth of The Savior. Even these 2000 years later, to stop to think that a Savior was born is awe-inspiring and beautiful.
  • I love to cook a feast for my dear ones and have them enjoy it.
  • I love the warmth that permeates the town, the result of everyone's combined Christmas spirit.
  • I love to find a perfect gift for someone: something small or large that will be meaningful to them and make them happy.
The parts I don't:
  • The competitive decorators. Oh. My. Gawd. There's a street a few blocks over that is absolutely friggin obnoxious. Drape your house in lights, folks, I don't care. It doesn't matter to me if your electric meter is turning so fast it smokes. But the music? That is too much. I know it sounds Grinchy, but seriously. Your Christmas music blasting in the front yard, tormenting people three blocks away, is obnoxious. The part that kills me is that these are the same people who will bitch about some kid driving by with his woofers blasting, and THAT only lasts a couple of seconds! When I want to hear Christmas music, I will choose my own, thank you very much.
  • Judgement. People who actually feel entitled to judge if I am giving to the "right" charity. Which, of course, means the charity THEY like. I am sorry, to all you good causes out there: I do not have the funds to donate to everything. Being a person of limited means, I try to choose wisely where my charity dollars go. Friends, family...leave me alone, OK? You'll just have to trust that I'm not donating to a fund dedicated to freeing Zombies Wrongly Imprisoned.
  • You do this. You know you do. I do it. Everybody does. You say it every year. "Here, have another cookie." Please stop, now. Thank you for the plate of cookies. I appreciate it very, VERY much. I do. It's just that I can't eat them all (with you watching me). Please don't try to make me eat more than I want to. And I promise, I will stop trying to make you eat everything, too. Deal?
  • The Grinch said it. "Maybe Christmas doesn't come from a store. Maybe Christmas, perhaps, means a little bit more." Dr. Seuss nailed that one. I don't need the next, newest, fancier, shinier thing. Really, neither do you. I think Christmas gifts should be meaningful and personal. That isn't to say that a cool new tablet can't be meaningful. That's what my youngest son is getting. (Sorry, son. But I doubt you'll read this anyway.) For him, it is a gift that is a vote of confidence in his recent decisions. Christmas gifts are a lovely way to express your affection and thoughtfulness. They aren't meant to be an expression of your bank account and your shopping stamina.
Merry Christmas, everyone. I really do love this time of year....warts and all. :D

*********

Timelessness

Timelessness. Beauty. Class. Grace. Some people have it.

One of my cherished clients has it. That warm, interested and engaging light in her eyes, a spark of humor in them always.

I have a friend who makes me feel valued and treasured every day. She adds grace and beauty to my life.

There is a quality in some people that surpasses time, place, education and finances. It gives them an air of timelessness. Like they would be a beloved person anywhere, at any point in history.

My own Grandmother had that, too. She had a compassionate, witty, good-bearted wisdom. She was welcome everywhere, loved by everyone and her opinion was always sought...and valued.

When I think of beautiful people, I don't think of pageant queens and lingerie models. I think of real people. People with kindness, people with a sense of humor and good grace. People with a generous heart and tactful filter on their speech. Insightful, cheerful people. I think of people with the qualities that give them timelessness and grace.




I Am Easily Amused

You know I love to watch people. It's better than any nature show on PBS, IMHO, because people are so surprising. I'm always so interested in the things that people do! That interest reached a new level of amusement and amazement the other day. I stumbled across fiverr.com. Be warned. You can lose an entire morning, your coffee will get cold and you'll still be sitting there in your pajamas, laughing. It is a website where people post the things they are willing to do for five dollars. Seriously.

Break up with your girlfriend for you. BE your girlfriend on facebook for a couple of weeks. Write your message on their body and send you a picture of it. (No, I don't mean they'll write it on their forearm, either.) They will photoshop a picture for you or do other feats of technological wonder.

I'm intrigued! "Dude. I'll pay you five bucks to call my girlfriend and tell her I'm through with her." I am so curious how much money the breakers are making doing that. And I'm curious what the girlfriend thinks when she gets a call from some guy in another part of the country (or world), telling her, "Hey, your boyfriend is done with you, but he's such a chickensh!t he paid me five bucks to tell you so."

Lots of girls will send pictures of their attributes to you five bucks. Other people will be your reference on a job application. I'd have to wonder, if I interviewed you. Your last jobs were all here in town, but the reference is from a guy in Bangladesh? Huh.

There are interesting listings that are less scuzzy, too. One lady will send you a video of your message, in sign. Cool. They will turn your message into a little rap song. Or  write your message in calligraphy or Chinese or Cyrillic? Although, cynic that I am, how would I know? I think about that with tattoos. If I had a Chinese character inked into my skin that I thought said "Balance", and really said "Dumbass"? I mean, really. If I could write Chinese and people wanted messages, it might be awfully fun to mess with them. Wouldn't you be tempted? I would.

The ones who will be your facebook GF for a few weeks? That was interesting, too. They all looked pretty darn hot in the thumbnail next to their listing.  Is facebook the new way to play headgames with your GF? Are those pictures even the actual girl? You probably pay her five bucks, thinking she looks like Carrie Underwood, but when she posts the picture as your GF, she really looks like Fiona in her ogre phase.

I have to admire the creativity and courage of the people who are doing these things. I don't know if they actually make any money at it, but I wouldn't be surprised if they do. That isn't to say I am convinced of their wisdom or their honor.

While we're at it, did you ever stumble across the listings on ebay where women are selling their worn socks, pantyhose or high heels? I had no idea there was such a ... such a.... such a.... demand for those kinds of things. I must really be ignorant.

Or at least, I was.

Playing along at LoveLinks!

Writing is Therapeutic

I completed the NaNoWriMo challenge! I did it!

My story is a loooonnnggggg way from finished, but I ended the month with over 58,000 words written. Of course I am pleased with myself for having achieved that much...now I need to finish the book. I love to meet a challenge, complete my goal and all that good stuff, but that isn't what is so therapeutic about writing fiction.

I wrote an earlier post that compared writing (for me) to playing Barbies when I was a child. I had my characters and just played at what their storyline was. Fiction writing truly is a lot like that. The fun part comes in when you get to create conflict and then resolve it. In fiction writing, you can create a character you don't like, and then deal with them however you want to. If you want to have your antagonist eaten by a grizzly bear, you can do that. If you always wanted to live on an island in the South Pacific, you can write yourself there. You can be a race car driver or a turtle farmer, and anything in between. If you are lonely, you can write a love life. If you are happy, you can recreate that again for a reader. It doesn't matter if the conflict is between people, or within a person chasing their own dreams, or maybe with nature. You are the one in charge of everyone's destiny and you can solve their problems or leave them dangling.

You can write the life you want, you can write a story that is the realization of your own dreams. You can relive the happiest moments in your life, or a create a kind of script for making new happy moments.

Writing can be very therapeutic.

Shopping

What a CHALLENGE!

I'm shopping for new cookware. My current cookware was given to me as an engagement gift. I've been married for almost 27 years. It might be time to add something non-stick to my toolbox? Yeah, baby!

Considering my recent commitment to only buy American made goods this holiday season, the cookware is turning into a bit of a pickle. (Har har har....I crack me up.)

I love love LOVE Kitchenaid, but I read that Kitchenaid COOKWARE is not made in the USA, like their appliances are. I was looking at a set from Costco: 14 pieces of nice, hard-anodized aluminum non-stick cookware in configurations that are perfect for someone who really does cook. Where is it made? Taiwan.

So I found a couple of companies that do make their cookware in the good old USA. One set I really liked was $800 !!! Eight HUNDRED dollars. Oh. My. Goodness.

What to do?

NaNoWriMo Halfway

We are just over the halfway point in the insanity that is the NaNoWriMo challenge. I feel like I'm doing pretty well, being at just over 33,000 words at this point.  The writing is going well. My Sweet Hubs is wonderfully supportive, assuaging my guilt about not paying attention to anyone except my imagination and my qwerty keyboard.

I have a confession to make. I am a pantser. I know this is not the way a professional writes a novel, but I can't help it. It works for me. I figure out who my main characters are, the time and place for the storyline to evolve, and I put my hands on the home row. There may or may not be a general idea of where a story is going. For my NaNo project, I had a myriad of ideas, but settled on nothing. I just sat down and started writing.

For me, writing this is a lot like playing Barbies when I was a child. I didn't have a whole life figured out for them. I just put Barbie and Ken together and imagined what they would do. And what they would do next, and so on. Except, here I am not limited to how many dolls my parents could afford. I can put my dolls anywhere in the world and make them anything I want them to be. (What was that one episode of the Twilight Zone where the people find out that they are really just the playthings of some enormous child?)

Don't think that this means I just dash off whatever comes to me and that's all there is to it. My first draft is pretty much pure writing-by-the-seat-of-my-pants. Then comes the work of revision, revision, revision.

With that in mind,  I'm going to share a small excerpt from "A Light In The Mountains", my NaNo project.
If you'd like to see the first chapter, click here.

June, 1861

     It was three more weeks before Genesis Nash pulled up his courage and spoke to his father about going off to war. Exodus waited to see what would happen before he considered it further.
    Abram was pitching hay to the milk cow when Genesis came to him. “Pop,” he began. “Um. Uh. Did you know that George Yeager and Amos McNeeley both went off to join the war?
    Abram put the pitchfork aside, leaned against the stall and took a deep breath. “And.?”
    “And... They’re both my age. Well, Amos is younger.”
    “And?”
    “And they’re going off to fight the Rebels.”
    “And…?"
    “And I’m thinking about going, too.” Genesis hurried to continue before Abram could say anything. “I know you both think I’m too young. But I’m almost old enough and they won’t ask anyway. I’ve heard they don’t ask.”
    “Why do you want to fight the Rebels?” Abram asked.
    “Well. They shouldn’t be trying to break up the union this way. And they shouldn’t have fired on Fort Sumter.” Genesis’ answer lacked fire and he knew it. “Pop. If I don’t go off and see this, I might never get another chance. It will be the adventure I’ll remember all of my life. I’m a man now. I’ve got to go and join.”
    “What can I tell you, then, son? It won’t be an adventure. Oh, it will seem like one at first, and then when you get in your first fight and have to look a man in the face and kill him, the adventure will be gone and you’ll know that it’s hell on earth to war.”
    “But they’re Rebs! They’re the enemy! What’s so bad about killing an enemy?”
    “That’s what a young man thinks: that it’s easy to kill an enemy. But when you look right at him, and you see a face not unlike your own, and he speaks your language and maybe his father went to school with yours… and when you kill him and see the life evaporate from his eyes and you know you did it. Then you will know." Abram said, then continued.
   “I know you don’t believe me now. That’s alright. It’s just important for you to hear me so that you will remember my words on that future day when you will need them. Call him ‘enemy’ now, son, but remember always that he is a man. He is someone’s son, brother, husband… and to him you are the ‘enemy’. Never forget that whatever you are fighting over, he is still a man, just like you.”
    Now Genesis sat down and took a moment to collect his thoughts. “Did you kill anyone in the Mexican War, Pop?”
    “I did, and I will never forget it. I doubt I’ll ever get over it, either. He couldn’t have been more than 16. The way his eyes changed when he died…the light went out behind them, and he was gone. And it was me that killed him.” Abram’s voice trailed away.


Always....feel free to comment!

Playing along at lovelinks today....




An American Holiday

At least, a holiday NOT made in China.

My Sweet Hubs and I made a pact: we are not buying even one thing that was made in China this holiday season. The same for products made in Taiwan, Pakistan, Korea....or any of the other countries who are glutting the American market with their cheaply-made goods and undercutting American companies.

I don't have anything against folks making a living. Of course not. But I AM a big believer in making wise financial decisions. We need to protect our own economy, and one place to start doing that is to buy American-made goods.

So, I don't guess we'll be buying any Christmas lights. What we have will have to do. (Unless you know of a place to buy lights made in America?) We'll be reading the labels on every product we buy.

We also have a pact with our sweet boomerangs: Christmas is paring down. It is a holiday for family, for remembering the birth of the Savior. We're all grown ups. We will spend the day together, and have a feast, and be grateful that we are all together. Gifts are superfluous.

Only a minor rant here. I hear you groaning. All the way over here, I hear you saying to yourself, "But my kids are still young enough to get toys for Christmas, and those are mostly made in China."

It's a crying shame if all the cool toys are made in China. It will be an even bigger shame if more breadwinners lose their jobs to the China trade.

Choose American-made goods and buy them locally whenever possible. Buy gift certificates for LOCAL services instead of a gift card for more online buying. Choose gift certificates for locally-owned restaurants instead of another one to the Olive Garden, which they didn't use last year, anyway.

Just a thought.



Chapter 1: A Light In The Mountains

For my NaNoWriMo challenge, I am working on the sequel to "A Gathering of Light". This is the rough draft of chapter 1. Comments absolutely welcome!! (Just bear in mind it IS a first draft!)




Outside of Hellgate Trading Post,
Idaho Territory, May 1861

Abram Nash was rousted from his sleep by the dog tugging on his hand. She had his hand firmly, but gently, in her mouth and was trying to pull him out of bed.
“Peaches, what is it?” Abram said in a sleepy whisper. The dog pulled until Abram’s feet were on the floor. She waited in the hall until he slipped his boots on and followed her. Peaches trotted to kitchen door and looked back.
“Can’t you wait ‘til sunup like the rest of us?” He grumbled, thinking the collie-mix dog just needed to do her business. Abram opened the door and turned to go back to bed, but Peaches darted back and grabbed his hand again.
“What? Girl, are you smelling things again, or what?” But Abram followed Peaches, anyway, in spite of his grumbling. The whinny from the barn startled the sleep from his brain and Abram Nash figured out what his dog was trying to tell him.
The buckskin mare was having her foal. She was confined to her stall in the barn and the Nash family was keeping a close eye on her. This was her first foal and she was Geneva Nash’s favorite mare. Abram was anxious to see this foal, with a buckskin dam and palomino sire, it was sure to be handsome. It wouldn’t matter. Geneva would love it no matter what it looked like.
Abram whispered in his sleeping wife’s ear, “Geneva. It’s foaling time. Gen. Genny. Wake up Gen. We have work to do.”
He brushed the caramel strands from her face and waited for her green eyes to open. Geneva was a ranch wife and woke early every day with never a complaint; she worked cheerfully until the day’s chores were done. But when she slept, she slept like a dead thing. Hard, quiet and damn near impossible to rouse.
At last, she rolled to her back and opened her eyes.
“Wake up Mrs. Nash. There’s going to be a new mouth to feed this day.” Abram said.
“Is Cupcake having her foal?” Geneva was awake and on her feet in the same breath.
Abram smiled at his impulsive wife, running out to the barn in her bare feet and nightgown. Thirty-six years old and she still had the exuberance of a girl. The moonlight shining through her nightgown showed still had the slim, supple build of a girl, too, except for the softness of her belly, so newly after childbirth.
The early May morning was chilly, and within just a few minutes, Geneva was back inside to start the coffee and get dressed. First foals, like first babies, generally took a while.
When the bacon was fried and biscuits ready to bake, Geneva Nash rang the bell, waking her brood and starting the day. One by one, their sleepy faces appeared around the kitchen table. Daughter Patience helped Geneva get breakfast on the table and the oldest sons, Genesis and Exodus milked the two dairy cows before it was time to eat.
It was Leviticus’ job to fill the wood bins, and Deuteronomy had to bring in enough water to fill the reservoir on the wood stove, plus two buckets besides. On wash day, he had to fill the laundry tub, too.
Judge Nash was ten years old, and he helped Abram feed the stock. Temperance made the beds and Faith, Hope and Charity, ages 7, 6 and 5 respectively, fed the poultry and gathered the morning eggs. Joshua and Samuel, only 3 and 1, sat in their high chairs attended by Patience, while Geneva put the newborn twins Isaiah and Ezra to breast.
Morning in the Nash family was a whirlwind.


“I heard that George Yeager joined up to fight the Rebs.” Genesis Nash told his brother Exodus. Their milking chores gave them a little time for confidential talk.
“But George ain’t old enough to join. He’s only seventeen.” Exodus said.
“He told them he was eighteen, and nobody checked to make sure.”
“So? What are you saying?” Exodus knew it wasn’t just conversation.
“If he can get away with it, I can, too. I look older’n seventeen, don’t I? I know I look older than George. What you think Pop would do if I lied about my age and joined up?” Genesis asked.
Exodus thought a while. What would Pop do? “I don’t know what he’d do, brother. He might be mad, but then, he might understand, too. If I was you, I’d be more worried about what Momma would do.”
Genesis sat up on his milking stool and pictured what his Momma might do. She was only about five feet tall and maybe a hundred pounds, but the thought of crossing her gave him a sick feeling in the pit of his gut. The streaks of red in her caramel hair were a comment on her personality. Most of the time she was cool headed and warm hearted. But get crossways of her, and the red showed itself.
Thinking back over his seventeen years of life, Genesis couldn’t remember her ever actually doing anything in particular when that crimson fury showed up behind her green eyes. It was just that the feeling of having Momma displeased with you was so uncomfortable. She didn’t say anything, or whup up on you like some Mommas did. She wasn’t mean when she was mad. That just made it all the worse. She was always so patient and cheerful, that when she ever did get mad, you took notice. To have been the one who made her mad made you feel like a real snake. Momma didn’t have to do anything about it. You beat yourself up, feeling terrible that you could be so bad that you made Momma unhappy.
Now, Pop: he was different. Genesis could picture the way Pop’s black eyebrows came together in a frown, and how his almost-black eyes snapped with anger. He might use the bible to teach you the lesson he wanted you to learn. He might show you the verse that told you what was wrong with what you did. He might make you copy down that verse many times, depending on your transgression. You might earn yourself a long lecture that sounded and felt a lot like a sermon. Or he might just make you go out to the creek bottom and cut a switch from the willow tree. You could never tell with Pop.
“What about you? You’re sixteen. Ain’t you tempted to go join up and fight them Rebs?” Genesis asked.
“I don’t know. I’ve thought about. But it such a hard decision. I’d have to lie, and I hate to lie. Pop needs us both here. With all the little ones, he needs us bigger ones to work. Anyway, I bet that fight will be over by the time we can get all the way from the territory here to South Carolina. But then, we might never have the chance to have such an adventure again. We’d see places we might not ever see otherwise, and meet people from all over. Plus, those Rebels, firing on Fort Sumter: it makes me mad. It’d be like slapping Pop. You just don’t do that. They need to be punished, that’s sure. But I don’t know about us being the ones to do it. We’re just ranchers. What do we know about fighting wars?”
Temperance bounced her little blond pigtails into the barn and told the boys that breakfast was almost ready. At nine years old, she was already growing into a beauty and was so sweet that even her big brothers never picked on her. She didn’t flounce or priss around, but was such an angel child that no one could ever be cross with her.
“Mommy says the biscuits are brown and coffee is hot. Are you done with the milking, yet?” Temperance asked.
“This old cow is just about played out.” Genesis said. “We’ll need to get her freshened before long. Here, walk on this side of me, little cookie. Sometimes that cow kicks and her big foot would kick a little nubbin like you into next week.”
Temperance took his hand and bobbed along beside him like a kite on a string. Walking with her big brother was one of her favorite things in life.
The rest of the family was already at the table when the oldest two and Temperance walked in.  She slid into her chair, Genesis and Exodus plunked the milk buckets down and sat, too.
“We’ll bow our heads”, Started Abram. “Heavenly Father, King of the Universe, we thank Thee for the food on our table, the health in our bodies and the strength of our family. Forgive us our sins and make us worthy of Thy bounty. Amen.” The morning prayer was usually short and to the point with Abram Nash. He was homesteading a big spread and had a lot to do every day. God would understand.
“I think we’ll have a new foal around her by nightfall, youngsters.” Abram told his brood, while he slid four eggs from the platter onto his plate. Ten of his fourteen children were old enough to understand what that meant. The girls all squealed with joy, provoking a quick hush from their father.
“Piglets squeal, not girls.” He said.
They ducked their heads, but were still smiling, because Pop was smiling, too. The clinking of forks on plates and blowing on hot coffee replaced the chatter and giggling, until newborn Isaiah howled. He wasn’t quite full when the biscuits were done, but had to be put in his crib for a moment, anyway. He was not a tolerant baby. By the time Geneva could put him to breast, he was purple mad and hiccupping in his howls.
“Oh, are we all going to have trouble with this one, family.” Geneva smiled. “He is going to be the one to punch sweet Patience here in the nose, when he gets bigger.”
“And he’ll spit in Faith’s eye.” Patience said. She looked at Faith like she was passing the ball to her in a game.
“And he’ll pinch Deuteronomy on the arm!” Faith said, and looked at him to give him his turn.
“He’ll twist Judge’s ear!” Deuteronomy said.
“He’ll slap Genesis upside the head” Judge took his turn at the game.
“He’ll bite Hope’s finger!” Genesis said.
“He’ll pull Charity’s pigtail!” Hope said.
“And he’ll give Temperance a horse-bite!” Hope said, but she lisped it ‘Tempwance’.
“He’ll trip Exodus and make him fall down!” Temperance said.
“He’ll poke Leviticus in the eye!” Exodus said.
“And then what will he do?” Leviticus asked. “He’ll take little Joshua here and squeeze him until he sneezes all over Samuel, and Samuel will only have Ezra left to pick on.” Leviticus took Ezra out of his crib and cradled his baby brother in his arm. “And nobody could ever pick on Ezra because he is so handsome”
Geneva and Abram looked across the table at each other and smiled.
“I never heard such a bunch of silly children in my life.” Abram scolded, though he wasn’t really mad. “Now eat your breakfast and get to your chores. And I don’t want to see you all hanging around Cupcake’s stall and making her nervous, either. She has a big day ahead of her and it will just be harder on her if you make her nervous. You hear?
“Yes, sir.”  Even 3-year-old Joshua said it in unison with the rest. Game time was over, and Pop was serious.


NaNoWriMo

I took the plunge. I'm trying it. Close my eyes, hold my breath and jump into the deep end. Which is an especially appropriate metaphor because I don't know how to swim. Honest. I don't.

Do you know about NaNoWriMo? It's a competition with yourself. The National Novel Writing Month, to write almost 1700 words every day for the month of November. At the end, if I do it, I will have my sequel.

So until December 1st, my dear ones, don't expect to see a lot of new posts. I have a deadline!

Would you like to read my first chapter? I'll post it next.

Stamppot - My Modern American Version

Here is a recipe for something I threw together on Saturday night. It's a little American twist on a Dutch comfort food from my childhood, which I think Mom called "Stamppot", or something like that. It sounds more like her word if you clear your throat while you're saying it. This will feed four, or makes terrific leftovers.

Preheat oven to 375
(cube everything bite-sized)
  • 3 white or red potatoes, scrubbed and cubed
  • 2 cups of cubed other potatoes: I had some lovely red-fleshed fingerling pototoes, but a couple of larger Yukon golds would work. Whatever you think looks good.
  • 1 sweet potato, peeled and cubed
  • 1 sweet onion, sliced
  • 1 tablespoon minced garlic
  • 1 good-sized bunch of kale, washed super-well and chopped. Cabbage would also work, but kale is better.
  • 1/4 cup grated cheese. I had extra-sharp cheddar on hand, but smoked Gouda would be DEEE-vine.
  • 1/4 cup of crumbled feta. I think blue cheese might also be tasty, but I haven't tried it.
  • butter and olive oil
  • salt and pepper
  • a smidgeon of Montreal Steak Seasoning, if you have it.
  • Optional: meat. I used 4 chicken sausages with red pepper and garlic, sliced. It's what I had on hand. Cooked bacon or diced ham would be more traditional, but this dish doesn't really need any meat if you're shooting for vegan.
This could be a one-pan meal with a little tweaking, but I love the roasted flavor I get by preparing it this way.

Put the potatoes in a large roasting pan and drizzle with olive oil. Sprinkle them with salt, pepper and the steak seasoning. Stir to coat all the cubes, and roast for 15 minutes. Then add the sweet potatoes and stir again. Meanwhile:

In a large skillet, melt a tablespoon or so of butter, and saute the onions until they are just getting brown on the edges. Add the garlic and saute a few minutes more. If you're adding sausage or ham, add it now and get some brown yummy goodness going on that too. If you're using bacon, wait. You'll add it later.

When the onions and meat are brown and good, add the chopped kale. Cook it down until it's wilted, but still bright. Stir this mess into the mess in your roasting pan. Add the bacon now, and add the shredded cheese. Stir it all together, sprinkle the feta on top and roast for 15 more minutes.

This is bright and colorful comfort food. I think it would be wonderful alongside a cup of creamy soup, with a lovely salad, or just with a chunk of hearty bread. And of course, as always....serve with wine!

OK, I lied. I had this with a nice stout beer: Slow Elk from Big Sky Brewing Company.

Pumpkin-Corn Chowder

I made this pumpkin soup for dinner last night. Even Sweet Hubs and Boomerang #1 liked it. Neither of them are very soupy people, either. I read the recipe for Pumpkin Soup with Mint-Pumpkin Seed Pesto (in cute little pumpkin bowls, no less!) in this month's issue of Sunset magazine. And true to form, I altered it. Kind of a lot. Mine is just like theirs but entirely different. So here's my recipe. I hope you like it!

1 Pie Pumpkin. Don't get a carving pumpkin for this recipe. You won't like the texture of the soup.
1 quart of good, commercially-prepared chicken stock, or a quart of your own good homemade chicken stock (here's a recipe). Not broth. Stock. Entiendo?
2 Leeks, chopped fairly fine. Or 1 medium onion, chopped.
1 tablespoon chopped garlic
4 tablespoons of butter or bacon grease. (Quit whining! It's just 4 tablespoons!)
1/2 teaspoon cumin
1/4 teaspoon ground ginger
1/2 cup grated sharp cheddar cheese
2 cups frozen or fresh kernel corn.
1/4 cup of half and half. Or milk.
1/8 teaspoon cayenne, ground red papper, red pepper flakes.... something hot.
salt and pepper to taste
1/4 cup of quick grits, masa, polenta, or even some shredded corn tortillas. OPTIONAL.

Cut the pumpkin in half, scrape out the seeds to roast and eat later, cover the halves with foil and bake at 350 until tender. (I also make little foil nests to both hold the squash steady and keep the bottom from burning.)

While the cooked pumpkin cools enough for you to handle:

Melt the butter or bacon grease in a large sauce pan and saute the leeks until completely translucent with some browning flecks of yumminess. Add the garlic and saute a few minutes more. Add the cumin and ginger, and when this mess is fragrant and tempting, remove from heat.

Scrape the pumpkin flesh out of the shells and drop it in your blender with the leek-garlic mixture. Add enough chicken stock to puree this very smoothly. Add this to the rest of the chicken stock in your sauce pan. When it come to a simmer, add the cheese. When the cheese is melted, toss in the rest of the ingredients. I added quick grits to give the soup a very satisfying and substantial body. If you like soupier soup, leave it out. It's your call.

We all agreed we liked this very much. The men thought that some crumbled bacon on top would be oh-so-good. I agreed. I also think some green chilis in there might be pretty dang wonderful. Next time, I think I'll use roasted corn, too.

I served it with some homemade bread and a glass of wine.

Well, OK. I was the only one who had wine.

I earned it.

***

Never Say Never

My FIL, who has been married three times and divorced three times, tells me that "never" is not a word to be tossed around lightly. I agree. Even so, I've done some things in my life that I would really like to include in a list of "never again".


  • Being pregnant. Don't get me wrong: I loved being pregnant and I cherished my babies. Now I'm almost 50 years old, though. Even though I get a powerful baby urge from time to time, I never want to be pregnant again. It would be a miracle on the order of Elizabeth, mother of John the Baptist, but still. No thank you, Lord, on that particular miracle.
  • Roller coasters. Been on two. Done with with two. Done with that. Thank you very much.
  • Hunting Coues' Whitetail Deer. Done that, too. Honestly, America. I'm not tough enough. The little grey ghosts only live in rough, rocky, cactus-ridden, straight up-and-down, rugged country. I admit it. I. Am. Not. Tough. Enough.
  • Speaking in front of a group.
  • Martinis. Yeah. No more of those for me. I had never tasted a martini. Sweet Hubs and I went away for a few days. It was something on my bucket list, so (with the helpful advice of my dear friend Karen, who knew I was making plans) I ordered a Gray Goose dirty martini. Blechhhhh. I'd rather drink the olive juice or plain NyQuil. Things that make you go "Bleeechhhh". I am a sweet-wine girl. Case closed.
  • Raising turkeys. We had a good experience raising turkeys. We did. But have you ever plucked a turkey? It might be unfair of me to mention this so soon before Thanksgiving, but picking turkeys is just plain gross. Turkeys smell much worse than chickens this way. The pinfeathers are G-R-O-S-S. Like squeezing giant, stinky blackheads. Next time I raise a turkey, it will be raising it OUT of the freezer at Safeway, and into my grocery cart.
  • The size I used to wear. It's gone forever.  
  • Going bra-less (in public).
  • I know that I can never eat a whole, raw, unpeeled apple again. IBS. 'Nuf said.
  • Bikinis in public. Gone forever. No need to thank me, America. I am opposed to pollution of all sorts, including visual pollution.
I wonder what I'll giving up ten years from now?

************

My Next Book

I've been thinking about it, and decided maybe I should shelve the sequel I've been writing and focus on a new project.

You know those "For Dummies" books? Astronomy For Dummies, Windows For Dummies, Investing For Dummies, etc? I think I want to write one called "Life For Dummies". It will be all about daily living inside a home, applicable to apartments, single-family dwellings, condos and even a single-wide in Tornado Alley. Also applies to any kitchen, bathroom or work space shared with others.

I want to cover the important tips for living that somehow were neglected when people were growing up. I am, I admit, part of the problem. My own two grown sons did not learn all of these lessons. I don't know where I went wrong. Some of the chapters might include:

  • Toilet paper holders. How to identify an empty one. How they work. How to replace a roll of TP, once you've determined the holder is empty.
  • Garbage. What is it and where does it go? How do you know when to take out the garbage? Does it magically disappear, or do you have to do something? This chapter will help the reader to decide if that empty carton of ice cream or box of cereal should be thrown away, or returned to its point of origin. How much cereal can you ethically throw away? Four Froot Loops does not qualify as tomorrow's breakfast.
  • Dishes, Part I. If you know where to find a clean dish when you want one, then you DO ACTUALLY know where to put the clean ones in the dishwasher. And dishwashers do not empty themselves.
  • Dishes, Part II. Which items need to be rinsed and why. Water glasses? No rinsing necessary. Milk glasses, oatmeal bowls, plate of eggs: please rinse. Well.
  • Leftovers as a science project. What happens to an Egg McMuffin if you leave it in the fridge in its paper wrapper for more than 2.5 minutes. Also: this has black spots and green fuzz. What should I do with it? Also: Saran Wrap. More than just a Halloween Costume.
Part B might include an Outdoor Section:
  • The dog is whining pitifully and looking at her feeder, the door, her water dish..... What does this mean?
  • More dogs: how to identify the dog poop in the yard, and what to do about it.
  • Anyone can pick up trash. It's true! Did you know this? A Wendy's burger wrapper blows onto your front step. The original owner might not actually know that it is here. How will it find its way to the dumpster. This is a logic problem.
  • Just for fun, and to grind my own personal axe, I want to include a chapter about Your Barking Dog. My family worked very diligently to teach our blue, OCD, Australian Cattle Dog that she was expected to bark at some things and not permitted to bark at other things. It IS possible to teach a dog to hush. It is! Honestly. If our OCD dog and her 3 predecessors can learn, your dog can, too. Neighbors walking on the sidewalk? No bark. Guy in a black ski mask trying to get in your back door? Bark!!! OK. We were a little vague about when to bark or not bark at elk, since our OCD dog let the elk in without a peep, while they consumed my entire garden. But we can't blame the dog. She is officially retired, anyway. In any case, dogs barking at..... air? NO FRIGGING BARK!!!
Who knows. Maybe it will be in stores soon. !

I have to be fair, here. My own men, Sweet Hubs and my two Boomerangs, are not guilty of all the offenses. I gathered the ideas from many places. 


I Have to Know

Please explain it to me? Please? PLEASE!!!

My dear friend is going to have back surgery tomorrow. People. ranging from our letter carrier to the checker at the grocery store, are telling her their horror stories about back surgery. "Oh, it was awful. He had to be caged for 2 months..."

Strangers will tell expectant mothers that they were in labor for 100 hours. When people find out that someone has cancer, they tell the most frightening tales about what someone else went through.

Why do we do this? Shouldn't we all know better?

Fleeting Moments

I like to watch people. If you've been reading me for any little while, you'll have noticed that I write about my people-watching obsession from time to time. Last week, I enjoyed four days of some very exceptional people-watching. It was exceptional because it was a great cross-section of people. Young and old, many cultures, many different economic levels.  Today, I'm going to tell you about one person in particular.

She was a young-ish mother, with one child about 3 years old. Mom was probably about 25 - 30. I saw her every day for four days.

The first day I saw them, they were among several people (me included) who were waiting for a class to get out. She sat, with her toddler, at a small table. Mom was texting, and Toddler was bored. Mom scolded. Sit still. Be quiet. Just wait. Hush up. Stop whining.

Toddler was bored. Apparantly, Mom hadn't packed a single toy or a couple of crayons with a sheet of paper or anything for Toddler to do. She sure as hell didn't forget her cell phone, but Toddler was empty-handed. She seemed to be expecting Toddler to sit like a gentleman for half an hour with nothing to do and just wait quietly. Let me tell you, folks, it wasn't working.

The next day, I saw them in a store. An lingerie store, no less. Not even the kind with hoochy, shiny mannequins in colorful lingerie. It was a plain bra store with racks and racks of nude, white and black bras. What a thrill. Believe it or not, Toddler was bored. Mom was trying to look at bras, but Toddler just would NOT stand still and play statue.

The third day, they were in the food court. Toddler sat on the pub-height stool, swinging his feet and slurping loudly on his empty soda cup. Mom was texting. He asked Mom for more soda, but she waved him away like a troublesome mosquito. Toddler was bored. He stood up on the chair and reached over to take a drink from her cup, and she swatted his little rump lightly and made him sit down again.

I understand that children are demanding. I understand that sometimes we have to use creative discipline. My youngest son was a talented interrupter, so he often found himself on the other side of whatever door was handy. Like out on the back porch or in the coat closet. A few seconds without the attention he was clamoring for realigned his attitude. But four days of being bored is a lot to ask of a small child. I don't know many adults who could handle being ignored for four straight days.

I wanted so very badly to go talk to Mom. To tell her that her child's young years would be gone in a flash, never to be recaptured. I wanted to tell her that she was expecting more than is reasonable of a toddler child, to think that he could hang out in a casino, a mall, a hallway and little hotel room for four days with NOTHING TO DO and not get cranky.

I wanted to tell her to read Galit Breen's blog and get some frickin' inspiration about what a joy motherhood can really be.

I wanted to tell her to put her cell phone down, look into the big brown eyes of her little boy and give him a few precious crumbs of her attention.

Honestly, I don't know why I didn't.

Where I Am From --- a writing exercise

I came across this writing exercise template, and just for fun, I thought I'd give it a try. I did take some creative license with a few of the prompts. :D

I am from sweet wine, from a white Kitchenaid mixer and salty tortilla chips. I am from a qwerty keyboard and a lifelong love affair with language.

I am from a small house, with a big yard and warm yellow light streaming in my windows at day's end. I am from pots of glossy, sweet basil, mint, lavender and lemon thyme on my back porch.

I am from tall pines, blue granite boulders and dancing aspen trees.

I am from Delft Blue, klompje, shotguns and stubborn, opinionated determination. From Grietje, and Franciscus Jacobus and an Alice who lived in her own wonderland.

I am from even-tempered, curious, anxiety-filled and deeply loyal. From Brer Rabbit, the lives of the saints and the names of the constellations.

I am from the Latin Mass, from incense and holy water, old stone chapels, stained glass and hymns. I am from those who clung to the old ways and refused to change. I am from dissidents. I am from lead-crystal rosary beads on a silver chain.

I'm from the warm sands and crashing surf of the Atlantic, from enormous mosquitoes, miserable humidity and tan lines (I'm a summer baby); I am from an old farm with rats in the barn, and the brick-paved streets of a busy sea port. I am from cool streams, glassy lakes and green meadows dotted with brown-eyed susans. I am from pasque flowers pushing their purple crowns up through the snow.

I am from the remote mountains of the Rockies and the polluted waters of the Passaic River. I am from aged Gouda and fresh fish. I am from green chilis roasting on the grill, tomatoes warm from the sun and creamy Chicken Tetrazzini with a cheesy crumb topping. I am from venison, and quail and blue crabs caught fresh from the sea.

I am from a diminutive, light-hearted baker who helped his Jewish neighbors escape the Nazis, where bombs turned brick houses into dust that stained the snow red. I am from the hard-working, profane, immigrant boilermaker and the dark-eyed beauty with the dreamy expression on her face. 

I am from a treasure trove of history: of sepia portraits of serious-faced people, passenger lists, census records, draft cards, marriage certificates and death certificates. I am from passage on an ocean steamer, fishing the backwater for eels, Ellis Island and starting over in a new world.

I am from flickering reels of old movies, tea-length gowns, delicate lace caps and chambray dresses. I am from olive drab uniforms, waltzing in the living room, a stained jeweler's apron, sweeping crinoline petticoats...and bare feet on the kitchen floor.


Scary

I don't know how to tell you this story without revealing to you that I haven't been very good about the housework lately. Judge me if you feel you must. :D

In early July, I bought a loaf of "soft wheat" bread.

You see, we can't agree on bread in my house. I like rye and pumpernickel and 12-grain and all that jazz. Sweet Hubs likes white bread. Soft, fluffy, tasteless, gut-wadding white bread. Not that I'm judging, either. Very much. Out loud.

I bought a loaf of soft wheat. Several days passed and I hadn't opened it, so I put it in the fridge. It's hot in Arizona, after all. Then life got away from me. We went on vacation. We put in a lot of hours at work. And nobody cleaned out the fridge.

So, here we are in September and I was going to throw together BLTs for dinner at the end of a very long and trying day. I looked at that loaf of bread and the expiration date said July 8. Best if used by. JULY 8!

That bread expired two months ago. And there isn't one speck of mold on it.

I realize, of course, that refrigerating it is going to slow the mold. But two months? Really? My homemade bread is fuzzy before the week is out if we don't eat it all.

What could possibly be in that bread that even mold can't live on it? It's scary to think about!

I think I'm starting to remember why I make homemade bread.

***********

Beautiful

Sweet Hubs and I were at a fundraiser some years ago. It was very crowded, people milling about everywhere. Later on, we were chatting about the evening and realized that, even in that crowd, we had both noticed the same woman.

She was beautiful.

She was probably just over sixty years old. Very short gun-metal gray hair. She was fairly petite, with smooth skin, a bit of a tan, makeup done to perfection. GORGEOUS smile, she was dressed like a woman with confidence and class.

She was so put together, she made the rest of us look like old house fraus.

And yet, there wasn't any one thing that made this lovely woman such a stunner, except maybe her smile. She had an overall air about her that made you notice her....and like her immediately. She looked like a woman who was witty and fun and kind and intelligent and spunky and wise and all-around amazing. She carried herself like a woman completely in charge of her life.

Did you hear me? She was somewhere around sixty. She may have been the most beautiful human being I have ever seen (after my own darling men, of course). She just exuded a sense of amazingness that drew your eyes to her again and again. With all that awesome wow going on, she still behaved as if she was unaware of how damn lovely she was. She was just walked around, supremely comfortable being her.

That right there might be why she was so breathtaking.

My Prayers

I remember asking my Dad how he could say that God always answers our prayers, when I knew for sure that I had prayed for things that I did not get. Dad said, "God always answers our prayers. But sometimes, the answer is 'No'." A-ha.

My prayer today is for guidance. You know my heart's desire. You know what is best for us. Is that a sign You sent to us? Is that Your message to me to take a step forward? Are You telling me that I'm stuck in a holding pattern, afraid of that future unknown? Could I have just a little more of a hint from You?

You know, Father, that I cherish my marriage and my children above all things. Keep them safe for me. Help my oldest son in his current quandary and protect his heart. Help my youngest son achieve his potential. Whatever that is.

Help me reach my potential, too!

Amen.

My Oldest

Oh, my oldest boy. He was an angel baby. Sweet. Smiling. As cool as the center seed in a cucumber. He woke up smiling, he fell asleep smiling. He loved his Daddy and his Grandpa and he liked everybody. He talked early and was completing sentences well before he was two. He was the sweetest little guy.

If all babies were like him, we'd all have dozens. He was that sweet. He seldom cried, and when he did he had good reason. He made me feel like the most amazing Mom.

Then he started to grow up. At twelve, he became the grumpiest person on the planet. ("That's just silly. Have you met everyone on the planet?" Name that movie.) He was seriously The Grouch. Oh. My. Goodness. I wanted to pinch his head off about half the time from his age 12 through 18.

He came home from 5 years in the army recently. And guess who is back? He smiles. He's sweet. He's relaxed and happy to be wherever he is at the moment. The grump is gone and here again is a charming person who wins you with his smile and warm heart.

It comes full circle.

And once again. God works in mysterious ways.


My Youngest

When I was carrying him, I knew he had a temper. If I was lying in some position that was uncomfortable, he didn't just flutter about in there and let me know. He did a Bruce Lee kick to my innards and by-golly I moved! He got the hiccups all the time when I was carrying him. As in ALL. THE. TIME.

He was so beautiful as a baby. Tow-headed, with big, round gray eyes. And then. Then.

He had colic. The only way we could get his screaming down an octave into the nearly-bearable range? We put Eddy Arnold on the stereo (loud), and rocked him like we were trying to power the city. His colicky screeching started at about 3 weeks old and continued, every night around 5:30 - 8:00  until he was 4 months old. By then, my rocking muscles were in tip-top shape. And he still hiccuped. He hiccuped when he cried. He hiccuped when he ate. He hiccuped when he laughed and he hiccuped when he burped. He hiccuped.

He was a clinger. He could handle being at home, or with Mommy. Daddy was marginal, at best. I kid you not here, we did not hire babysitters. We were convinced that we'd find him in the trash can when we came home, and the sitter intoxicated and wondering how she could get on with her life after the experience of sitting our child. Gawdamighty he was a challenge. Grandma wouldn't watch him.

He could go from smiling to purple-pissed-off in the blink of an eye. He had a vein in his forehead that bulged and pulsed when he cried, giving strangers the urge to call paramedics.

Somehow, that screaming, hot-tempered, demon-spawn baby turned into a handsome, calm, funny, even-tempered, witty and cheerful man. Who still gets the hiccups all the time.

I can't begin to guess how it is possible. But it's true. If he'd have been our first baby, there probably wouldn't have been a second, he was a baby that terrible. And now? He's a joy and a ray of sunshine every day.

God works in mysterious ways. :-D


Wow!

I'm on iTunes!

A Letter To My (Someday) Daughters-In-Law

Several months ago, I posted an only-half-kidding list of commandments for Mothers-In-Law. You are entitled to call me out on that list, if ever I break one of my own commandments. It's here, in writing, for all the world to see. Dangerous ground, yes?

But since I don't even know who you are, yet, (Maybe we haven't even met, yet!) I'm going to take this opportunity to give you some advice about marriage. It can't be considered meddling, can it?

Men are simple. Really. My sons are as simple as the rest of them. You will drive yourself insane if you try to deduce what they really mean by what they said all the time. The only way to interpret what a man says: take the most positive spin on it that is possible, and the least complicated possible message, and assume he means that. When he says that Bubba's new girlfriend has the prettiest brown eyes, that's all he means. He isn't saying that he wishes your eyes were brown, that hers are prettier than yours, that he wants to get her in the sack or that Bubba said something unkind about your baby blues. Bubba's girlfriend has pretty eyes. That's it. OK? If he says his Mom made meatloaf different, that doesn't mean anything except that mine is different. Not better, just different. In fact, mine is almost guaranteed to be different, because I cook with elk meat and I make it different every time. Don't read a big, fat criticism into it. Trust me on this.

Men are simple. They think about sex all the time. It is always at some level of their consciousness. This does not demean them, it isn't a negative comment. It simply is. This...pay attention! This is important! This is your key your feminine power. Don't use sex as a weapon against him. Don't think of it as being vulnerable. If he is excited by what might happen next, if he feels like you are passionately present in your love life, and if you make sure to ... um..... admire him in the ways that are most important to him, he will be yours. He will be more agreeable about everything else if his equipment is happy. Oh, and by the way: Victoria's Secret is not a making a bazillion dollars every year for no reason. Lingerie works.

Don't assume that just because they are big, strong men that they are callous. They are tenderhearted and have fragile egos. Let them be strong for you. Let them show you their masculine pride. Let them open the stupid pickle jar, OK? I'm not asking you to manipulate them. At least, not very much. But let them do things for you, ask for help sometimes, and express your appreciation for the help when you get it. Be careful with his pride. Never hold him up to ridicule, don't criticize him to or in front of others (especially me, for heaven's sake!), don't try to get his friends on your side. Your issues, your love life, mistakes, his moments of thoughtlessness should all remain private territory in your marriage. The two of you should build a wall around your private matters and both of you guard that like a castle full of treasure.

OK. Sensitive area here. If you ask for his help or if you are sharing the household duties, you will have to learn to accept a few things. He is not likely to ever do some household chores to your standard. If it's his job to do the laundry, you will need to accept the job he does on the laundry. You don't get to correct him, redo, or be resentful that he did it wrong. Either live with it or do it yourself, but either way, do it happy. You can't be mad at him for having a different standard on the whiteness of socks.

I am sorry to tell you that I did not manage to raise perfect children. You're going to find out that this lovable, intelligent and capable man is also stubborn and opinionated, with a talent for frustrating you to within an inch of your desire to stay married. He will do the most exasperating things for no apparant reason. He won't do what you want him to do, probably more often than not. You aren't going to change him. Oh, he will most definitely change over time, but that will be his own doing and will have little to do with your plans for him.

As smart as they are, neither on of my sons is a mind-reader. They will not get your hints. For many years, I tried to get my own Sweet Hubs to not put his hat on the table. It bugs me. I moved his hat every day. I sighed when I did it. I mumbled. I threatened to throw away the hats. You know what I didn't do? I didn't say, "Honey, hats on the table really bugs me." When I finally did, he made a real effort to stop putting his hat on the table. No fights. No struggle. Wow. I should have mentioned it years ago. Now I will have to also explain that a hat on the kitchen counter is just as annoying. One thing at a time.

Try to see the love in the things he does for you, hard as that might be to find. He is unlikely to bring you flowers every day. He'll forget important occasions. (News flash! You will, too!) You will have search for his loving intentions in everyday acts. If you ask him to put the toilet lid down and he actually does it? That is a supreme act of love. Roll with it.

Be strong for him, and vulnerable for him. He needs to know that you are strong enough to be a true companion to him, but he still wants to be protective of you. He will be your champion if he knows that he is THE ONE who always has your back. Save some of your secrets and tell him instead of your best friend. Let him see the soft, vulnerable belly that you hide from the rest of the world. Be strong enough that he knows that you will always protect his soft, vulnerable belly.

This one might be the biggest one of all. Learn how to pick your battles. When you are tempted to correct him or criticize him, hold your words for just a few moments and ask yourself, "Does this matter? Is he doing it on purpose? Have I told him how I felt? Does this negate all the good things?" and frame your thoughts from there. Some things need to be brought out. Other things will go away without any intervention from you. You will save a lot of tears and yelling and hurt feelings (yours, mostly) if you can decide early on how to pick your battles.

He has a good heart, my son whom you love. He had a good teacher, because his daddy is a wonderful husband. We had our struggles, to be sure, but we also always had eachother's best interest at heart. Treat his heart as the tenderest of treasures and protect it whenever you can. With him, you can build a strong, lasting marriage that will be the hub of your lives together. Nurture that relationship. It is the foundation of all the good years, yet to come.

Love,
Your Someday MIL.

PS. You don't have to call me "Mom" unless you're comfortable with that. I know you already have one. But, please, call me something!

A Letter To My Sons

I have loved you and have been worrying about you since the moment I knew about you. I watched what I ate, took my vitamins, made sure to do all the right things so you would be born healthy. Then I fretted and stressed over every decision, wanting to give you the best upbringing I could. I tried to teach you to be strong, happy, independent, honorable men, and I think it worked. You're both wonderful men. Dad and I tried to be the best examples we could be, showing you a strong and loving marriage.

I want you to have a strong and loving marriage, too. I want for you that kind of tender and abiding love that will warm you all of your life. You'll need to find the right woman to achieve that.

Look for a real woman, boys. Look for a woman with a mind of her own, but a heart that she'll give to you. Find one who is strong enough to be loving and tender. Be strong enough to be tender with her, too.  Find a real woman, complex and abstruse as she might seem to you, because it takes a real woman to build a life and a family with.

Be a man who is respectful and respectable, and look for a woman who will be respectful of you. Find a woman with integrity, discretion, empathy and tact. She should be the one who knows your secrets and holds them close, never revealing things that you wish to remain private.

Choose a woman with a light heart, who finds the joy in every day. Choose a woman who makes you feel like the future with her is the brightest sun. Choose a woman who makes you laugh, and who you make laugh, too. Choose a woman you can talk to, and whose opinions you value.

Attraction is important. You should never focus only on her outer beauty, which is so changeable, but you need to be attracted to the one you plan to spend your life with. She doesn't have to look like Katy Perry. If her eyes sparkle when she laughs and that makes your heart race, if she has great legs or an awesome rack or whatever, she needs to appeal to you. Son, I don't care if your preference is for a tall brunette, a short redhead, a curvy blonde or that bald green girl from Star Trek. You're going to be looking at her almost every day for the rest of your life. You need to like what you see.

Take a good look at a woman you're serious about. Can you live the rest of your life with her, with her flaws just as they are? Never marry someone with intent of "fixing" them. If she changes, it will be her own development as a human, and has nothing to do with what you want to change about her. When you know her better, you will know more flaws, too. And always remember that you, my darling son, are not perfect either. Every time you are tempted to open your mouth to criticize or correct her, ask yourself two questions: "Could I do any better than she is doing?" and "How many things would she like to correct about me that she is not saying?" Then decide if it's worth going there.

You must learn how to see the love in what she does. Remember that everything she does for you is probably at the expense of something she could be doing for herself. It is a demonstration of love for her to do things for you, whatever they are. Teach yourself to notice those things, and appreciate them.

Your great-grandma told me that marriage was like two stones rubbing together. Eventually you rub each other smooth. She was right. 100%. Knowing that, learn how to pick your battles. Decide if a thing is really worth fighting about, and if it is...FIGHT FAIR!

When you find this angel woman, who treats your gentle heart like the most valuable and fragile treasure, who respects you and plays with you and makes your heart go pitter-patter, be all that you can be to deserve her.

Pay attention when she speaks to you. She merits your attention.

Don't wait until she has to ask you to do something. If her tire is going flat, don't wait until she is stranded on the road side. If you see her struggling to open the pickle jar, just open the damn thing for her. OK? Give a little advance thought to what she might need or want. Anticipating her needs is a wonderful way to show her your love.

Never make fun of her, embarrass her or hold her up to ridicule. Be sure that if you are teasing or playing with her that it's a game in both directions and not sport at her expense. Make sure that you always, always, always treat her like the most beautiful girl in the room, even if Katy Perry really is there. She won't mind half as much if you look at other women, if you make her feel like she always looks better than "her" to you.

Speak well of her behind her back and to her face. Treat her with the honor and respect she deserves. Regard her love for you as a tender and fragile gift that you must nurture, support and earn.

Take care of your health and your looks. You want her to be attracted to you, too, and you want to remain healthy enough to do something about it when her eyes tell you that you are looking hot. 'Nuf said.

My wish for you is to have the kind of marriage that is the nurturing foundation on which you can frame your life. It can be the shelter against the world's cold winds, and the greenhouse to grow your family. Your marriage can be your hiding place, your showplace and your safe place every day of your life. You must build it to be that. Together, you and she can create it.

Love,

Mom.

__________________________

Lovelinks!







Vacation!

We had two lovely-dovely weeks in our faraway dream spot.

Our two boys joined us for four days of that and had some much needed brother time.

We saw cherished friends, beautiful scenery, wildlife up the wahoo. It was wonderful.

I am trying very hard to make peace with squirrels. You know how I feel about them. I'm trying to get over my revulsion to the creepy little bastards  little critters. I made myself sit for a while and watch one while it did its squirrelly little things. While I haven't quite managed to get over the willies about them, I am at least conquering my desire to get the .22.

The Sweet Hubs replaced the facia and barge rafters on the house; he didn't like the engineered product, MDF or NDS or something like that... that was there before. If you don't dig construction jargon, let me just tell you that it meant he got very high up on a ladder that looked dang wobbly to me. But he looks so darn sexy swinging a hammer, I had to watch.

I wrote a while, sewed a while, read a while and got in some serious wine time. Huckleberry wine sipped on that porch right there.

Life is SWWWEEEET!!
_________

My Prayers

I am better at writing my thoughts than speaking them. Words that come from my brain or my heart seem to flow better through my fingertips than out of my mouth. With that in mind, I decided to add a category of posts for my prayers.

I pray a lot. Not in the traditional Catholic sense of the word, as in reciting the Lord's Prayer or an Ave Maria. I often find my mind and heart reaching out to that Great Unknown, seeking a connection with my Creator, asking for help, guidance, asking for someone else's comfort or healing....a myriad of things. I very often just stop for a moment to thank Him for a beautiful scene or a lovely person.

Today, I'm praying for a sweet child, only 3 years old and fighting a terrible disease. Lord, heal her body, comfort her and her family and make her well.

I'm praying for a dear friend who just found out his cancer is back. Give him strength and health, Father. Give his darling wife the strength to help, faith in Your wisdom, hope for their future together and preserve her health, too.

I'm praying for a client who passed away unexpectedly, and for his dear wife left behind. Give him a place in heaven, and give her your loving attention to heal her heart.

My prayers go out for another friend, about to have surgery. Let it be simple, fast and effective, with a quick recovery.

Last, Father, help my friend and neighbor. Take away her pain, make her surgery fast and effective. Help her through the trials she is facing with her health and her family, and guide her.

Great Balls of Fire!

Sweet fancy Moses, it's been two months since I've posted! Where did the weeks go?

Oh, yeah. I know. They went to work and chores and plans and problems, ups and downs and fun and not-so-fun. They went to teaching and learning, doing and don't-ing. We went to a wedding that was a pure joy. We spent some time waiting in a hospital room, to talk to a surgeon.

The weeks did NOT get spent on any writing, traveling, lottery-winnings, massages, mani-pedis or wine tastings.

I learned some good things. I learned I am not an SUV. I'm just not. I tried, I really did. And in the end, I went back to my little sports car. I'm all about horsepower and fun, I guess, and the heck with practical. I saw a sign that said, "I should come with a warning label." I'm tempted to buy it.

I learned our soldier boy should, hopefully, be OUT OF THE ARMY tomorrow! Can I hear a big WOO HOO????? I would promise not to cry, but that would be a promise meant to be broken.

I learned that sometimes, a sunflower plant can recover from being eaten down to the nub by a visiting elk. And sometimes not. That same morning, I also learned that my dog is officially retired.

I learned that mosquitoes suck. (har har har. get it?)

I learned that my sweet hubby still makes my heart skip a beat with... um.... conjugal anticipation. Well, I knew that, but I like being reminded regularly.

Mom is getting up there. She's getting quite forgetful, and according to reliable reports, she's also as recalcitrant as a two-year old. I thank God and ask Him to bless my darling sister. I had the children, and she got Mom. Thanks to her, I can rest easy, knowing that Mom is in good hands. Bless her patient heart....my sister is an angel. And so is her dear husband. He treats our Mom like he would his own. He deserves a medal for his tolerance and kindness. He does admit that, between Mom and sister, he hasn't won an argument in 14 years.

I got a phone call from my father-in-law, wishing me a happy birthday. On my birthday. Re-read those two sentences a few hundred times, and you may also start to feel a little shocked. It was a treasured surprise.

Not everything that has kept me so busy has been a joy. But that's OK. I'm blessed. I got out of bed this morning under my own power. I spent my lunch hour with my darling husband and my youngest son. I still have a job, and a roof over my head. I have enough dirty dishes to prove that I eat well.

Life is good.

*****************

The Ultimate Blog Swap

Today I’m participating in the Ultimate Blog Swap. You’ll find me posting over at The Shubox about my advice to younger women. And I’m excited to welcome Lulo at Lucid Lotus Life to Contemplating Happiness:

I am so excited to welcome my first guest blogger! As part of The Ulitmate Blog Swap, I present (da-ta-ta-da...!!) Lulo at http://lucidlotuslife.com/ . I love her shoot-from-the-hip style. The topic was achieving happiness, since my blog is mainly interested in that. Lulo's fresh take on it made me smile and nod my head a lot. Thank's Lulo, for playing along!  Here's what she has to say about achieving happiness:
__________________________________________

So yeah, happiness. I like it. Happiness is pretty dope. I have known some happy people. I have even been happy myself on occasion. It's pretty much the mission of all living beings from like birth, although what you or I might find a lovely and amazing bit o' happy is probably not in the same stratosphere as what Lady Gaga or the raccoon rooting around in your garbagio is on the lookout for. Although Lady Gaga and that raccoon might share an interest or two.



But how is a girl, or guy, to get her, or him, some? Eternal and question come to mind. Just what is the correct dose of this and that to fill 'er up the old heart and soul, to lift and separate them and make them perky as all get out? Check the list and get that head in the clouds.


10. Curiosity killed the cat, but satisfaction brought it back - Do you watch House? Because if you don't then you really should. Because smart, funny, bad-ass screw-ups are hot. At least when they live inside your teevee for only an hour a week. But if you do, you already know that House gets through a miserable, pain filled existence only by being so intrigued by a case that every other issue is obliterated by the intense need to solve the case and assuage the curiosity. Find something that catches you up in it and time will literally disappear. (This writer is not to be held responsible should time not actually disappear)


9. Fever in the morning, fever all through the night - Get your mind out of the gutter. Or get it all up in the gutter. Pole dancing, reading obscure Russian science fiction, volunteering to carry homeless orphans with medical issues on your back ten miles to school every day in three feet of snow, blogging. It doesn't really matter what path your passion takes as long as there is a path. Something that gets your special bits all a tingle and that you would do, or do do (heh, do do), without any compensation except the (yep, I'm saying it) happy, happy, joy, joy of the act.


8. Don't Stop Believin' - You gotta believe that there is something greater than you out there. It can be God, science, your family, the universal connection of all human souls. Once again, the path doesn't matter as long as you have a path. We all need something to cling to when the lights get low and something to spiritually slap skins with during the awesomes that life can bring.


7. An Attitude of Gratitude - C'mon y'all, you've heard it a million. Thanks begets thanks. Change your attitude, change your life. It is one of those simple, not easy thangs that seem to be so plentiful in life. What is easy is saying/writing/tweeting/posting/texting three gratefuls a day to help uncover all of the awesome you already have lying around in the corners of your life just waiting for you to remember and fill you up with the old happy shinies.


6. Reach out and touch somebody's hand - Make this world a better place, if you can. Volunteering, random acts of kindness, and activism are all good ways to get out there and get you some of that sweet, sweet soul satisfaction. The warm and fuzzies are nothing to sneeze at. And they feel so nice against your skin.

5. Dream On - And on. And on. Reach those fingers right on up through the clouds and into the great abyss and dream until your dream comes true. Then get another dream. This is why we hop on the hamster wheel day after day. This is what hurls us into action. And getting our grubbies around the edges of those dreams, or dyin' tryin', is the bacon on the cheeseburger of life - it just puts it right over the top.


4. Just Dance - Or sing. Or fly a kite. Or play the ukulele(but only if you're truly awesome). Just make it light and take it breezy. Be silly, be weird, get all the wacky inside of you out. Let it sending you soaring head over heels, cattywampus like Fizzy Lifting Drink sent Charlie and Grandpa. Jump on the bed, blow bubbles, twirl until you fall in a heap. Laugh until you snort and then laugh some more. Life can be fun, make sure you're in on that action.


3. They call me the seeker - Of knowledge, that is. Continuing on the quest after all the years of school run out and you have to *gasp* work at an actual job, makes your mind strong like bull, sharp like tiger. And then there's the whole issue of zest. Which apparently is added to your life when you keep up with lifelong learning thang. Plus, you kick major boo-tay at trivia games. Which I heard can really increase your chances of getting an entirely different kind of boo-tay. Not really, but do it anyway.


2. The New Workout Plan - Oh yeah, it's the oldest of all the chestnuts for a reason. That reason be three fold. 1) It will amp up your self esteem in a major way because you will look different, feel different and act different. 2) Energy begets energy. Expend some at the gym and you will be rewarded with an extra boost to be used later for your own purposes. 3) You get a totally honest, and earned, high. All those endorphins are doing good, good things for you. And? Totes legal and consequence (read: hangover) free.


1. Two fine people should love each other - People are strange 'cause people need people. Rainy day people need shiny happy people. Power to the people - the short people, the party people, the everyday people. Up with people! What it all boils down to in this mad, mad world is going balls out for the stars and doing it alongside our very own peeps. Your mother, your brother, your other brothers sisters mother. Whoever would lift you up on their shoulders to give you a better chance at touching the moon - honor them, respect them and lift them right up there too. Because people who have people are super dee duper lucky, yo. And I consider myself lucky because I have Y-O-U.




Check out the other terrific Top Ten Tuesday lists hosted by the lovely Oh Amanda, you won't regret it!









Visit Life...Your Way to see all of the Ultimate Blog Swap participants!

Passion

It's about passion. You knew that, right? Passion for life, for people, for self-expression...passion for joy.

Passion is what makes me go brush my teeth and "fluff the girls" before my husband comes home. It's what makes me really pay attention to the people I see. I love the unexpected things they do. Passion is why I keep a blog, and why I'm writing another novel (the sequel). I love to write and if I don't make time to write, it starts chafing at me. Like a grumbling stomach or being very sleepy, the need to write is physical. Passion is what gives you the added patience with your children. It's why you can answer "Why?" a bazillion times a day, and how you can love them so very much, even when they are impossible. At least, that's how it was for me.

Passion is what makes me stop in my tracks at a beautiful sunset or a hummingbird at the feeder. I got to hold a new baby the other day; passion is why I simply HAD to smell his hair, and why it was hard to give him back.

The thing that makes life so delectable is the passion you feel for it. Enormous pleasures lie in the little moments. All we have to do is dedicate ourselves to discovering the passion.

Snapshot

At a business function yesterday, one man said that he knew where every woman in the room would be very early this morning.

Blank look. ???

Oh, it's the Royal Wedding? Who gives a rat's patootie? Sorry. Not me.

Me

It took a lot of courage for me to post a recent picture of myself on my profile. Why? I don't know the answer to that. I dislike having my picture taken. As in despise, hate and detest. Why? I don't know that either. I'm quite comfortable in my own skin, and yet I dislike pictures of myself. I resist having a picture of me shown anywhere. Posting that profile photo made me feel BRAVE, and a little ridiculous.

Maybe it's the desire to get on a soapbox and yet be non-confrontational. You can do that so much more easily if you are anonymous. LOL. (Can anybody tell me the origin of the phrase, "get on your soapbox"? I'm curious where that came from.)

But there I am. Gray eyes, fair skin and fine hair. My oily skin has kept the wrinkles at bay pretty well, and the occasional ZIT contributes to an illusion of youth. And then you see my elbows and my age is quite apparent.

I'm a girly girl who like dresses and stilettos, and yet I can pluck a chicken and I can shoot straight.
I'm a country girl who likes the symphony and Hank Williams, too. I'm opinionated and judgemental, but patient. I can be tolerant past the point of reason, and I can be jump to a conclusion like a gold medalist. I love my children with all of my being, but I might not be that crazy about your kids. I want to have my novels published by a traditional press, but I don't want to ever speak in public. I strive for wisdom and compassion, and consistently find myself falling short on both counts. So I keep trying.

Me.