Monday, November 30, 2009

Thanksgiving Weekend by the Numbers

Total of people fed at Thanksgiving Dinner: 16
Pies: 5
Turkeys: 2 (one smoked and one deep fried)
Quarts of Soup Stock from boiling the bones: 7
$ raised for the Library Expansion Project in with the group performance of "The Christmas that Almost Wasn't" by Ogden Nash: 500
She was Nell in the reading and I was the Tree.
Volleyball Games: 3 (wins)
New-To-Us Red Vans: 1
Lbs. left until I reach my self-imposed Holiday Weight Limit: 0

Wednesday, November 25, 2009

Pumpkin Oatmeal Cookies with Cinnamon Chips

Here's the recipe (with my modifications). The original comes from Esther Shank's Mennonite Country-Style Recipes & Kitchen Secrets. Although I'll just let you in on the Mennonite kitchen secrets right now. First, when in doubt, add dough. Second, Miracle Whip really is a salad dressing. However, that second one should be kept a secret.
Now for baking the cookies I crave every fall and can rarely have because of the elusive cinnamon chips.
Cream together thoroughly.
1 1/2 c margarine
1 cup of sugar (I used 2/3rds)
2 cups of brown sugar (I used about 1 1/2)
Isn't everything better with real butter?
Add, beating until fluffy.
2 eggs
1 tsp vanilla
Yes, I use half whole wheat and it turns out fine. The pumpkin's added moisture helps to mitigate the crumbly dryness that often accompanies whole wheat cookies.
Sift dry ingredients together (except oatmeal) and add alternately with pumpkin.
(I never sift anything... but I do add it alternately.-- it makes it much easier)
4 cups flour (I used 1/2 whole wheat)
2 tsp baking soda
1 tsp salt
1 1/2 tsp ground cinnamon
2 cups quick oatmeal
1 3/4 cups canned pumpkin (I use an entire small can rather than measuring)

Stir in 1 cup of chocolate chips -- but this
is where I use the cinnamon chips! (and I add more...)
Drop by spoon onto greased baking sheet. Bake at 350 degrees for 10 to 12 minutes.
Makes about 7 dozen (She says 10 dozen, but those'd be some tiny cookies.)
We made a double batch and have been eating them like crazy. They're really not so bad for you, as far as cookies go. The plate in the picture is for Darell, the manager of our local Ingles Grocery, who was kind enough to special-order several cases of cinnamon chips when I repeatedly asked him if they were going to get any in this season. THANK YOU!

Tuesday, November 24, 2009

Book Binge

Um. 750 pages in the last 2 or 3 days. I've had a hard time pulling myself out of the clouds and areal dragon battles enough to write blogs. I'm a new Naomi Novik fan.
Coming soon... the Ingles Grocery here special-ordered cinnamon chips for me and a friend let me know they were in... so I've made my favorite Oatmeal-Pumpkin cookies with cinnamon chips!

Saturday, November 21, 2009

Comment Oversight

I realized recently that I had my comment settings set for "only people with a google id." I've changed that now so that more of you can leave comments if you'd like. : ) Oops & Sorry.

Friday, November 20, 2009


The idea rearranged my thinking when I read over the preschool Sunday School materials last month. Our prayers need to match our actions and our actions must match our prayers. In the children’s story, the parents pray every evening with their sick daughter that she will get better. Meanwhile, they help her rest and stay calm, take her to the doctor and give her the prescribed medicine. Their prayers were answered.
Again, last week, reading about Huna and Hawaiian/Polynesian spiritualism, I ran into their concept of prayer which is always hyphenated with action: prayer-action. In their system of thought, through meditation, their thinking-self must communicate the prayer or desire to their physical bodies. Then, through the energy created in their physical selves and with the cooperation of the body, this idea can be sent to their spiritual selves – the part that is connected to the life-force of the universe. Once this is done, the physical self, the thinking self, and the spiritual self all work together in bringing this desire/prayer into reality. (I find some interesting parallels to Parent/Son/Holy Spirit in all this.)
The author of the book postulates that many Christian prayers go unanswered because they are only thoughts without actions. In her view, many Christians “turn it over to God” after only formulating the wish or desire and then wait to see what will happen.
Prayer-action also reminds me of Julia Cameron’s anecdote from The Artist’s Way: You are late for the bus. Pray that you are able to catch it, and run!
The passage from Thessalonians “pray without ceasing” also comes to mind. If our actions are the physical manifestation of our prayers, then indeed, we unwittingly pray all day. We may simply need to be more mindful of what prayers we send into the world through our actions.
But, you may say, might not the daughter have gotten well without the prayers her parents said every night? She had gone to the doctor, was resting, and taking her medicine…
Does it matter how a prayer is answered?

Thursday, November 19, 2009

Much Better Today

I've been taking it easy (thanks to my mother-in-law who took the boys for the day). So, I was able to stay horizontal most of the morning, thus keeping my back relaxed.
Balance seems to be a reoccurring theme for me of late, and I've been working on being balanced and relaxed in my body today. Align my spine and relax my shoulders... and that should keep me from developing compensating knots. Plus ibuprofen and the occasional muscle relaxer.
From what I've heard about whiplash, today and tomorrow are supposed to be my worst days. But I'm not so bad right now -- better than I'd expected.

Wednesday, November 18, 2009

New Plans

Everyone is OK. I'm the worst off with side whiplash, because I was turned around, looking at the kids when we got hit. My husband had to come to a sudden stop, enough to make me turn forward and put my hand on the dash, but he stopped in time.
I remember thinking, Whew. He's a good driver. And turned back to look at the kids.
Then bam and the airbags exploded. I recall pushing it down so that I could see... but thankfully I must have removed my hand from the dash when it deployed, or I likely would have broken my wrist or arm. Then I was out of the van, forcing the sliding door open and getting kids (who were all crying and moving (good signs)) out and over the guard rail. I think I've watched too many action movies where vehicles explode after accidents. I just know I saw fluids leaking out of the bottoms of several of the cars involved (there were six) and I wanted everybody O-U-T.
I don't think anyone in the six cars was seriously injured... it was our car that was hit first, and therefore the hardest, and we're fine. The child in the back-right of the van is fine, wasn't even hit with any flying debris from the shattered window. (We did find someone's blinker plastic in the front seat of our van and could not locate our garage door opener anywhere.) Our children did shed a lot of tears, but most of those were motivated by our inability to go bowling after the accident.
Now, it's shopping for a new van, insurance companies, sore ribs, and a stiff neck. Any of which could be contributing to this headache. But there is ibuprofen for that!

Tuesday, November 17, 2009

Preparing for Winter

My body seems to want to put on 15 lbs. I'm nibbling constantly and craving highly processed starches--namely toast. I figure this is to keep me warm in the winter, but my husband tells me this is flawed logic and 15 lbs. wouldn't be enough.
But I'm preparing for winter in other ways: books. The only thing better than ordering a big batch of used books from is getting them in the mail a weeks or so later. Yes, I'm conflicted about ordering a box of used books because the author receives no royalties, but at least I'm doing it through an independent bookstore, right?
Question of the Day:
What makes me a bigger geek?
a. I ordered 7 dragon books
b. I owned the complete set of Harry Potter books except #2
c. out of all these books, I picked up Radical Pacifists in Antebellum America first
d. I seem to have ordered 2 of the same book
e. this stack of books joins 13 other to-reads on my nightstand

Sunday, November 15, 2009

A Writing Weekend: Do the Work

To answer a question from a commenter, this is what my writing weekends are like:
Some people like to go visit friends or exotic locations, see movies or tour historic sites. All I want is peace and quiet and the chance to have sustained thought. Raising three kids, saying yes to too many other obligations... all of it leaves me little chance for introspection and that's something I need. So occasionally, I take off for a weekend. (This is all pre-arranged with my husband, of course.)
I get a hotel room close to home (so I don't waste time driving someplace) with wifi (so I can use my laptop), and I book through Hotwire (so it's not too expensive - though I realize the ability to do this kind of thing is a real luxury). Then I hole up, meditate, and write.
This is all very "To Room Nineteen" (by Doris Lessing), I know. ("To Room Nineteen" is what Michael Cunningham alludes to in The Hours, in case you were wondering. Aside from Mrs. Dalloway.)
I use this time to knock out a big chunk of writing. It is hard to sustain momentum at home when I pick up an idea or train of thought only to put it right back down to fix another snack or meal, play Uno, unload the dishwasher, sweep the floor, negotiate for three arguing children, or wash sheets. By the evening, I'm drained enough that the thought of sitting down to do some hard thinking and writing... well, it just doesn't happen very often.
I don't really need organized writing retreats or conferences right now... I just need the time to get my ideas down on paper. I'm sure there will come a time and place for such events. Right now, though, I just need to do the work.
Progress report from the weekend, Part 2: I have nearly finished revising the first 30 pages of the book and have renamed all the characters that needed renaming.

Saturday, November 14, 2009

12 Bones on my writing weekend

One of my favorite parts of being "away" on a writing weekend is that I get to eat wherever I want, whenever I want. No negotiating with anyone! My first choice for lunch was 12 Bones. I'd never eaten there before (despite hearing fantastic things), because I'm not often in Asheville during the hours it's open M-F 11-4. But for some reason, I had a mental block about all that when I showed up today, on a Saturday, determined to eat there.
Sweet serendipity! Today was one of the two Saturdays in a given year it is open. (Thanks to the River Arts District tour.) Smoked serendipity, might be more accurate too. I ate every morsel on my plate. Yum.
As for the writing part of the writing weekend: I have completed the "treatment" for the play-in-progress. Now onto revising the first few old-old-old chapters of a book. Current challenge: deciding on names.

Thursday, November 12, 2009

pacifist government leads to overturned stones

I'm doing a little research about pacifist governments-- if they really existed--what they might have looked like, what principles guided them, how such ideas played out in the reality of a war-prone world. Are these governments/groups necessarily religious? Naturally, I'm starting with William Penn and Gandhi.
Reading today, I ran across this quote by Penn:
If you would know God and worship and serve God as you should do, you must come to the means he has ordained and given for their purpose. Some seek it in books, some in learned men; but what they look for is in themselves, though not of themselves, but they overlook it. The voice is too still, the seed too small and the light shineth in darkness; they are abroad and so cannot divide the spoil. But the woman that lost her silver found it at home, after she had lighted her candle and swept her house.
It's the last line in particular that fascinates me. I'd never really considered this interpretation before, for some reason. I always thought about it as the same parable as the shepherd with the 100 sheep who won't rest until he has found the one lost one... I thought of God as the shepherd always searching for us... and appreciated very much that Jesus told a parallel parable featuring a woman as the personification of God searching for us (the lost coin) until we are found.
But Penn turns this on it's head. The idea that we must search for God within us by cleaning house. I like it. I like it very much.
Of course, this calls to mind my favorite Bible verse that's not in the Bible, but from the Apocryphal Book of Thomas. And the Doresse translation is best:
Jesus says: "I am the light which is on them all. I am the All, and the All has gone out from me and the All has come back to me. Cleave the wood: I am there; lift the stone and thou shalt find me there!"
Lifting stones and cleaving wood. That's hard work. But God asserts God's presence is in all things--living or no. The work is my job.
I also ran across this poem today...
Cleave a piece of wood, I am there -- by Tom Hansen (published in Literary Review, Fall 1993)

They decided to take Jesus at his word and got a piece of wood (it happened to be shaped just like a head) and planned to do exactly what he said, but first they sat it on the floor and stared at it for days ... Nothing happened. No God there.

"Well, what the Hell!" they said and got an ax and cleaved it hard and heard it all at once explode. But all they saw inside was splintered wood. Then faint and aromatic, as if from far away: a scent not quite familiar yet not strange ...

Outside they nailed the head together, bored in eyes and tamped them tight with toilet paper soaked in cedar oil. Then touched a match to each and watched. The spiritus snaked up - and after dark they saw them ... Red and staring. Burning blind.

All night long they sat there almost willing to believe: what they saw before them must be true. Above them wheeled the galaxies. Within them atoms hummed. Compacted knots of energy set free by some strange wind.

Tuesday, November 10, 2009

World Series of Poker

I'm about to watch the final table of this year's Main Event in the World Series of Poker. These players never fail to amaze me. They must simultaneously input all kinds of mathematical information: odds of catching the cards they need, pot sizes, odds of their opponent catching the card he/she needs based on what the player thinks they have... And then account for all the other social information: how the opponent sits, blinks, bets, shifts... how they played in the last hand... It blows my mind.
Lately, my husband and I have even been getting a pack of beef jerky to nibble on during the Tuesday night airings, since Jack Links is one of the sponsors. We can only watch so many of those Sasquatch commercials before the cravings start up... I'm ready to open the pack now.
My personal fave at the final table: Phil Ivey.
(Though Jennifer Harmon is my all-time favorite. Did you know she's a mother of twins too?)

Monday, November 9, 2009

Swift Kick in the Pants

This is a public thank-you to the editors of WNC Woman Sandi Tomlin-Sutker and Julie Savage Parker. Twice in the last six months they have pushed me to write essays for their publication when I would have thought I was too busy to produce. It's a lesson I'm learning through experience, but not one I would have accomplished without their prompting.
Western North Carolina Woman
The first piece was on The Design Gallery in Burnsville. And the second will appear in their fashion-themed December issue about my daughter's Fashion Birthday Party. Keep your eyes open for it. The publication is free and can be picked up countless places in the Western North Carolina region.
I am also very thankful that I have writer friends who are willing to proof-read at a moment's notice! (I'll confess, too, I suppose I'm begrudgingly appreciative for a grammar-freak brother who loves nothing better than to point out his older sister's errors from half-way around the world. Ha!)

Thursday, November 5, 2009

some VERY basic volleyball passing technique

This is for a former student of mine who is now doing some teaching... and is trying orchestrate a recreational-level volleyball game. HAVE FUN!

First - the HANDS - the most important part is to have the fat part of the thumbs together and the thumbs aligned and parallel. This means that your "platform" for passing is even. If, say, your left thumb is higher or over the right thumb, this will inevitably make your left wrist higher than your right, and your left forearm higher than you right. Subsequently all of the balls you passed will shank off to your right. Having bad hand positioning can make all your anticipation and ability to move fast be for naught.
You can see that my preference is to ball my left hand into a fist and cup my right around it.

Second - the ARMS - hold them straight out in front of you. Hunch your shoulders a little. Believe it or not, you're not really going to swing your arms at all. Whatever you do, don't swing your arms higher than your shoulders.

Third - the FEET - place them just a little wider than your shoulders with your right foot a bit further forward. (If you're left-handed, it'll come naturally to put your left forward.)
Fourth - the LEGS - bend them. Get low to receive the ball and extend your back leg and come up through the ball. The ball should go the direction your hips and shoulders are facing.

Of course... you have to do this each and every time you pass the ball... AND that ball is not going to come right to where you're standing every time. So, you're going to have to move to get yourself into this position so that you can pass it. If you have to run, run with your hands apart and then put them together at the last second. If you have to go to one side, shuffle over there to keep your hips and shoulders facing where you want the ball to go.

Passing is the absolute key to the game. Nothing happens without it. Though sadly, it's the passers on the team who never get enough credit for their skills. They're the ones who start the offense. They're the ones who prevent the other team from getting a kill. It all depends on them.

Tuesday, November 3, 2009

Barbara Kingsolver reading from *The Lacuna*

She has enough class and clout that when Barbara Kingsolver's editors presented her with her book tour schedule for The Lacuna and asked her if there were any cities they'd missed, she added Asheville. (After all, the latter half of the book takes place there.) Not only did she add Asheville, where I heard her read last night, she added it first, before the release date.
Apparently this caused some consternation and hyperventilation on the part of the marketing department, but it happened, because, really, who is going to argue with Barbara Kingsolver?
She appeared on stage in red boots, and dark clothing accented by a bright red scarf decorated with shiny silver somethings that made it glitter--and all the poise in the world.
Do I have to tell you she is one of my favorites?
She tried not to give too much away reading carefully selected parts of the story, frequently saying things like, It's complicated. You'll figure it out. Though she did call attention to the fact that parts of it are written as journal entries by a boy/man who wants to disappear, so never uses the first person. This feat caused her to rewrite some scenes close to one hundred times she said, trying to find the voice, to make it sound authentic and not contrived or stilted.
She read with a fantastic Spanish accent the parts that happened in Mexico. She no doubt learned that during her years in Tucson, where I first met her at a book signing while I was nannying between college years. And the parts that happened in Asheville were read with an authentic southern Appalachian lilt and sway that she would have learned in her youth and hear now where she lives in Virginia.
She told us we were the only audience she would read the Asheville part to. She wouldn't give that much away at other readings. We clapped and cheered for her and our good fortune.
Though I could have listened to her read the whole novel, I particularly liked the question and answer period.
Unlike some authors who begin with a period of history they're fascinated with, or a voice that starts speaking to them, she begins with a big question. A "big question so compelling that everyone would be compelled by it." Then she begins to write her way to "some sort of illumination" for herself and her readers.
She likened it to taking walk with her "favorite kind of friend" who lets her talk and talk about her problems and then at the end of the walk turns to her and says Good. Now what do you think you should do?
The book, then, should do that for the reader, once they are done. It should be that friend asking the reader, Now what should you do?
For the past 10-20 years, she said, the Big Question that had been getting at her was the tension between art and politics in America and America's discomfort with self-examination (which is what art does -- prompt examination and reflection) of itself as a nation. The idea that self-examination of our country is un-patriotic or un-American seemed absurd to her. "How can you be un-American?" Other countries laud their political-artists. "Have you ever heard of someone being called un-French?" she asked, then laughed. "Well, they do call people un-French, but that has to do with food!"
In the 1950s the US created a committee to examine un-American behavior and subsequently censored artists, so this is where she began to look to answer her Big Question. She also wanted to examine why some people get erased from history, why their contributions are forgotten.
These were the questions that led her through the writing of The Lacuna which means two things. First, it can be a cave, and one that is under the water. The other meaning is more literally "the missing part of a story." While she admits it's not the greatest title for someone who doesn't know the meaning of the word, it really was the right title, so she insisted.
Each novel she writes, she tackles a different Big Question, because, she says, "I wouldn't trouble you if it weren't important." I think that sums it up well, why her work resonates with so many people.
The best part of the evening for me was her insistence that mothering and being a writer were the perfect balance. When she wakes up, she heads first to the coffee pot, takes her daughter out to the school bus (she jokes the school bus is her Muse), and then it's to her office. "When I get to my desk, I don't waste time," she explains. She loves the revision process best, how she can "fabricate" -- make fabric -- by weaving together the sentences so that they are all connected to each other. In fact, she claims never to have had writers block, because she never had any time for it.
Then, after a day of talking to imaginary people she is pulled back from "barely controlled lunacy" by her mothering obligations, namely making dinner. Thus there is a balance that allows for both a grounding in reality and time to lose herself in her imagination.
One more year until the school bus muse visits my house. Until then, I can start re-framing the way I think in a more positive way: motherhood and being an author are the perfect balance.