October 12, 2019 • No Comments
“I’m so glad I live in a world where there are Octobers.”
– L.M. Montgomery, Anne of Green Gables
There are lovely aspects to every season, but autumn is by far my favorite. The cooler weather sharpens my mind and ambition and brings back so many good things.
- Soft, comfy sweaters. Here’s Glamour’s 23 Best Sweaters Under $50
- Beautiful boots. I love Fleuvog’s Gladstone boots
- Notebooks, erasers, calendars–I’m a stationery junkie, and this is prime shopping time
- Comfort Food. It’s soup season!
- Turning leaves.
October 8, 2019 • No Comments
Break out your saucepans, drill bits, and knitting needles—the latest trend is to do-it-yourself like our grandparents did. With so much information online, it’s easier than ever to find instructions on everything from dollmaking to drywall. Or for those seeking to connect with actual humans, knitting circles and crafting afternoons are trending. Still others may not dive into fray themselves, but appreciate the individual craftspeople and small businesses in their local community. And then there are those—like Ren Faire and Steampunk enthusiasts—who take the entire business to extraordinary lengths. The reasons for embracing DIY vary, but there are common themes: environmental concerns, stretching a dollar, and personal creative expression.
Ever heard of a repair café? This is a growing trend where, for a few hours, the public can bring everything from wonky toasters to ripped shirts to a room full of volunteers. There, crafters will teach the skills needed to make their wounded possessions whole again. Besides providing a boost in confidence, learning basic repair skills is good for the pocketbook and the landfill.
The DIY philosophy doesn’t stop with repairing zippers. These days, “artisan” or “craft” products are in vogue, along with farmer’s markets, pottery shows, and fancy micro-brews. As with all trends, results vary from delightful to silly, but the movement speaks to a need. Consumers want options beside the anonymous experience offered by the big box store.
Why? For some, the pull is purely emotional. With the move toward mass production, we lost the experience of having a unique item made just for us. There’s a world of difference in a custom-knit sweater versus something bought at a warehouse store. On the flip side, there’s the creative experience of making something for another person—every stitch or stroke of the brush is an expression of pride, affection, and the personality of the giver and receiver. Family recipes and workshop war stories are made of this.
For others, DIY is a simple way to protect the environment. Our throw-away culture has generated mountains of waste, so whatever can be repaired, reused, or created without tons of packaging is better for the planet. Along the same lines, whatever food we grow or make from scratch is tastier and more nutritious than a frozen meal shipped across the planet in a plastic tray.
And while DIY saves money by extending the life of a toaster, that’s not the only economic impact. Buying from other local independent crafters means supporting the economy close to home. We can stretch our dollars by learning to do things ourselves, but when we do shop, we can vote for quality, creativity, and our home community—so go ahead and buy the delicious cinnamon rolls at the farmer’s market. You’re preserving someone’s job.
Then there’s independence. It’s one thing to opt for convenience, and quite another to be helpless because we don’t know how to sew on a button or hang a picture. Surprisingly—or maybe not—there have been a number of recent reports about a loss of manual dexterity in young people who don’t grow up measuring ingredients, sewing, or building things in their dad’s workshop. This is causing problems for those entering the trades or even medical school.
So call up Grandpa and ask about learning to tie flies, or get some bread-baking lessons at the local community center. We don’t just want to learn how to DIY—apparently, it’s good for us.
June 2, 2019 • No Comments
Nothing quite says modern hustle like burger joints, food trucks, and grabbing junk food for that night’s Netflix binge. Fast food answers the problem of our hectic lives, where there’s places to be and work to be done and absolutely no time to spend crafting artisan eats in the kitchen. Plus, many so-called kitchen nooks in new apartments are barely big enough to comfortably butter toast, much less mess around with stock pots and canning jars. Picking up something to go is the obvious answer.
This need isn’t new. As long as there have been hungry people, there’s been food for sale in easy-to-eat forms. Ancient Roman thermopolia provided affordable take-out. Street vendors have been around as long as hungry urbanites have existed. Pretty much every culture has the “stuff wrapped in bread product,” whether that’s samosas, Cornish pasties, or the Czech klobasnek/kolaches. In the old days, if you were out harvesting in the fields or heading down a mine shaft, you wanted food that can be stuffed in a pocket to eat later. We might have better health regulations, but the principles behind fast food remain the same.
The pedigree of some current favorites is fun to look at. Hamburgers and hot dogs immediately come to mind, since they follow the meat-in-bread pattern. Speculation has it the essential ground meat that makes up the hamburger patty was introduced to Europe by invading hordes in the thirteenth century. Tartar horseman stashed raw meat beneath their saddles to tenderize it, a practice that was happily abandoned by later chefs. In the seventh century, Russians brought their version of the dish, steak tartare, to Hamburg, Germany, where it morphed into the cooked version we know now. In the early 1800s, the “Hamburg steak” was well-enough established to be included in the Oxford English Dictionary. The dish emigrated to America in the mid-1900s and eventually appeared with a bun at the 1904 St. Louis World’s Fair. The first burger chains appeared in the 1920s and the cheeseburger debuted a decade later.
Hot dogs followed a similar path. Sausages have been around since the ancient world, ultimately establishing themselves in the German cuisine that came to America in the mid-1800s. Around 1870, a German immigrant named Charles Feltman set up a food cart on Coney Island and did a brisk business selling sausages in a bun. From there they were introduced at ball parks as a snack to go with beer.
What about sides? The history of French fries is contested, with origin stories dating back to the seventeenth century. Belgium is petitioning UNESCO to endorse the fry as an icon of Belgian heritage. The story goes that in 1680 the River Meuse froze over, preventing citizens of Namur from catching and frying the small fish they were used to, so they fried potatoes instead. American soldiers, evidently confusing French-speaking Belgians with their neighbors, encountered the fried treat during WWI, taking so-called French fries back to the US.
There are other contenders for title of fry inventor. Spain has a claim. After all, they introduced the potato to Europe in the late 1500s after learning about it in the New World. France maintains an eighteenth-century street peddler on Paris’s Pont-Neuf bridge introduced French fries to the world. Canada has a special affinity since fries are an integral ingredient in poutine (invented in Quebec the 1950s). Without argument, America eats the most per capita.
The first recipe for onion rings is more certain. It’s generally agreed to have been published in John Mollard’s 1802 cookbook, “The Art of Cookery Made Easy and Refined.” Mollard was a cook and proprietor of the Freemasons’ Tavern at Lincoln Inn Fields in London. However, the dish did not become popular until it emerged in its full cholesterolific glory in twentieth century America.
Speaking of fried food, the potato chip was invented by the appropriately-named George Crumb in 1853, a chef in Saratoga Springs, New York. Originally called Saratoga Chips, they were eventually made and marketed by a company in Cleveland, Ohio. Herman Lay introduced potato chips to many customers from Atlanta to Nashville by selling them from the trunk of his Ford Model A. He eventually founded H.W. Lay & Company, which merged with the Frito Company in 1961, which eventually merged with Pepsi-Cola.
Naturally, we want something to drink after eating all these salty foods. Mineral waters have been consumed since Roman times, as they were believed to have curative powers. Readers of Regency novels will be familiar with invalids “taking the waters” at various spas. A man-made version of carbonated beverages was first produced in the 1760s by adding chalk and acid to regular drinking water. Initially, wine was added as flavoring, but various sweet syrups followed and by the 1840s, soda fountains began appearing in pharmacies.
In 1876, Philadelphia pharmacist Charles Hires concocted a mixture of herbs, roots and berries and added it carbonated soda water to produce the first root beer. In 1886, another formulation containing coca leaves and the caffeine-rich kola nut became Coca-Cola. Marketed as a tonic, the original formula contained extracts of cocaine, which wasn’t illegal at the time. In 1893, Pepsi-Cola was introduced as a digestive aid. Soon bottling facilities replaced soda fountains and, by the 1920s, soft drinks were available via vending machines. The medicinal claims surrounding such beverages were dropped and as early as 1942, the American Medical Association was specifically mentioning soft drinks as it recommended consumers limit their intake of sugar. As the saying goes, the more things change, the more they stay the same.
The Slow Food movement aims to recover the joys of delicious home cooked cuisine, along with traditional methods of preparation. However, as the hipsters rush to rediscover bone broth and artisan sauerkraut, it’s worth remembering that food is as variable as the people who eat it. Our cuisine has a complex family tree, along with a few crumpled food wrappers tucked in the branches. Fast food—despite the overwhelming corporatization involved—is equally traditional, with a centuries-long story of its own.
February 4, 2019 • No Comments
Sometimes the most important things in life are comfort food and a house that smells like baking. In honor of those moments, I give you a new recipe I adapted.
3 mashed ripe bananas
½ cup yogurt
2/3 cup melted butter
4 beaten eggs
2/3 cup sugar
juice of 2 limes
In a separate bowl, sift:
1 and ½ cup flour
2/3 cup oats
1 cup shredded coconut
1.5 tsp baking soda
½ tsp salt
Slowly fold the dry ingredients into the wet mixture. Spoon into greased muffin tins and sprinkle extra coconut on top. (Makes about 20 muffins). Bake at 325 F until golden on top.
Note: these freeze well
December 5, 2018 • No Comments
Christmas wouldn’t be Christmas without the truck parade that passes at the end of my street. It gets a little longer each time, a few more of the growling monsters donning antlers and lights and transforming into glittering wonders for the crowd. I love the ridiculous, joyful, contrariness of it all. I love that these big dirty workhorses can be the belles of the ball once a year, and that hundreds stand in the cold to cheer them on.
December 4, 2018 • No Comments
Every so often a nifty toy comes my way, and this very simple video maker (Lumen 5) thrills me to bits. Some of the photos in this are mine, too, which adds to the fun. The content is self-explanatory–nothing profound here, just an applesauce recipe in pictures rather than a boring old index card. Visit https://lumen5.com/ a try for yourself! I bet it would make a great virtual greeting card, too!
November 25, 2018 • No Comments
I like order. One glance at my desk would make you think otherwise, but I geek out on diaries, lists, schedules, planners, and post-it notes. It is no surprise that the Black Friday sale I fell prey to was for social media scheduling software.
Facebook, Twitter, Instagram and the rest…I suck at them all. It’s not that I don’t like spouting off in public. I just forget, get busy, chase squirrels and a week goes by in radio silence. Hence, I need an internet butler. He keeps things running while madam chases virtual butterflies. I still have to check up on things throughout the day, but my odds of success improve when I get to do the fun bits and the software does the heavy lifting.
We’ll see how this goes. It’s all part of my author business refit, which started with a new website and newsletter platform. Every improvement I’ve made has seemed a little overwhelming at first but ultimately made outreach to readers easier. Here’s hoping this works just as well!
• No Comments
November is National Novel Writing Month aka NaNoWriMo. I signed up for it, but seem to be having a NaNoNot. Yes, I started out strong on my 50K word count but then I had to get on a plane and …
Of course I have excuses. I’ve been busy at work and getting home late. I’ve been doing research. I have a number of projects on the go. I’ve been learning new software. I had a book release. I’ve been out of town for the job.
Sadly, the page only cares whether there are words on it or not. That’s the bitter truth of being an author. No words, no cookie. I’m doing my best to make up for lost time, but I must be honest. The 50K goal is out of reach.
Disappointments occur when we’re juggling too many things. I get mad at myself for not rising above circumstances. Perhaps I’m lazy? I’ve lost the magic? I don’t have the right stuff? Ah, the Drama Queen moment! That’s the kind of self-destructive wallowing that leads to actual writer’s block. My only real fault here is biting off more than I could chew.
What can I salvage from this month of chaos? I wasn’t lounging on the couch watching TV. I did do all those other things, many of which were necessary if I wished to continue being employed. Since I like regular paychecks, oh well. Plus, the book I’m working on is calling me in a way that only comes from NOT getting to a project (perverse but true). There’s a delicate balance of approach and denial that whets my imagination during the first few chapters, and maybe it’s working. What I have written to date hints that this book is going to be my best. Of course every new book is an author’s current darling, so make of that what you will.
I’m mad and sad, but whining won’t change anything. I’ll have to save the lace-edged hankies for another time.
May 22, 2018 • No Comments
We all know the past has a pull on us. We write about literal ghosts, but there are plenty of metaphorical ones as well. Some are even more powerful and/or frightening than a chain-rattling specter. These haunts are the echoes of past selves that—for good or ill—we’ve somehow left behind. Memories, emotions, past selves we’ve given up for a higher good or a harder road—nothing is ever truly gone when it’s a part of our soul. Sometimes that’s a relief, or an ache, or both.
Dreams delayed are the strangest of these shades. This weekend was full of open-air concerts and sunshine and the first flush of the festival season. I took time away from my desk to bask in the warmth and watch one of my favorite bands. As a creative, I had two loves—writing and music, and I had to make a choice between the two. I could only nurture one properly and still hold down a full-time job. I chose storytelling, in part because it was an easier fit with a workaday schedule, and I still believe it was the sensible choice. I can’t say that music is a road not taken, because I took that path as far as I could go at the time. I think of it as a road with a bridge temporary closed for maintenance. That doesn’t mean I don’t feel the ache every time the ghost of my musical soul stirs.
I’m not alone, of course. The demands we face as creative entrepreneurs aren’t easy, especially when responsibilities tie us to corporate jobs and all that reality entails. Creativity in that context is an extraordinary quest—one that takes us through feats of time-bending, identity-shifting, and fiscal sleight-of-hand. We transform in metaphorical phone booths, unleashing our true selves in the privacy of hidden spaces. We might not conquer literal armies, but we defend our kingdoms all the same. There are precious things inside us, and creatives fight to keep them alive.
We live in hope for eventual freedom, of a victory before it’s too late. Only then can we be whole again, returning all those lost ghosts to the hearth of our souls.
It’s a dream, but we have to believe it.
April 9, 2018 • No Comments
I confess to being something of a time management junkie. If someone has a system, I want to know about it because I cling to belief in a magic bullet. You know, the secret journal/app/diary that will magically enable me to do everything at once without once mussing my hair. Dream on!
It’s hardly news that most adults are too busy. Authors, while arguably worthy of being committed, are more overcommitted than most. Not only do most of us have day jobs and families, we have a creative life. On top of that, we have all the duties associated with being entrepreneurs. That fills up a timetable pretty fast—hence my interest in scheduling miracles.
I haven’t found one yet. What I have found is that trying too hard can cause paralysis. The longer the list, the less gets done because of overwhelm.
I came nose-to-nose with this phenomenon a few years ago when I was changing jobs, taking classes, and meeting writing deadlines. I froze up, unable to do much more than stare like a deer in the headlights. Needless to say, the longer I dithered, the worse I fell behind.
Out of self-defense, I created my one task system. Beyond going through the basic motions of the day, I had to accomplish one thing. Read one chapter of the text. Complete one exercise. Finish editing a certain number of pages. If I had just one job to focus on, there was a goal post I could realistically reach. If I made it, I could let myself off the hook and sleep well that night.
It was a simple but lifesaving discovery. Did that one thing accomplish enough? No, because my to-do list was endless. Yet it moved me forward and, as long as I inched along, I was no longer stuck. Somehow, that small amount of momentum got me through that rough patch with all deadlines met and assignments complete.
Why? The truth is, things happen one at a time. Workaholics like me don’t want to hear that, but it’s true.
So here’s the miracle cure: Focus on one thing. Just one. And then the next. And then the one after that. Quality of energy, rather than quantity of action, frequently wins the day.
NB: there is no app for that.