Category Archives: Life in the Day Camp

Starting Over ~ Life in the Day Camp

I AM NOT JULIA CHILD!

 

But on Sunday, I wished I were. Last time I struggled to make pecan pie. This time it was crepes. Crepes!

Two months have passed since the last neighborhood dine-in where several people host a dinner for eight or ten followed by all participants having dessert together. Everyone is expected to contribute something to either the main meal or dessert. Assignments are made by the “committee.” Very fair. But here’s my question:  Why, oh, why do I get the assignments that challenge my sanity?

Last night’s dinner had a French theme. I could have provided an hors d’oeuvre of assorted French cheeses–Brie comes immediately to mind–and fruit. Grapes, kiwi, raspberries…But non-non, I got crepes. Made from scratch. With nutella, chocolate sauce, sliced bananas and whipped cream. So let’s take this piece by piece.

A recipe was provided for the crepe. Eggs, flour, milk, salt, oil. Everything processed in a blender. So far, so good. Then came the actual “pour 1/4 cup of batter into pan, tilting to coat surface. Turn once until golden.” Friends, when the blender is filled with batter, you can’t really read the amounts on the side of the glass. So, I estimated. I poured a little oil into my non-stick 8 inch skillet and then poured some batter. Oops.

Pour, tilt, flip, Oy!

Pour, tilt, flip, Oy!

Did I say a little oil. Non, non, my friends. Too much oil! Now I realized what “brush with oil” meant. I hurriedly searched for a basting brush while the first crepe became “golden”  on one side. When I thought it was done, I took two spatulas and turned this poor little pancake over. A minute later, I slid it onto a plate. This prototype crepe had ragged edges, “golden” was questionable with all the shades of brown, and the thickness was uneven.  In essence, the crepe looked awful. In fact, it looked like another word that starts with c-r–.

My stress immediate jolted skywards. Fifty people would be looking at these crepes later on, eager to culminate their French style meal with the quintessential French dessert. Oy. Trying again, I poured off a little oil into a small dish and dipped in the ends of my non-stick brush before brushing the bottom of the pan. This time I poured a bit more batter and tilted, tilted and tilted that pan, cursing under my breath the entire time. With each crepe, I wished Julia were in my kitchen, at my stove, relieving my stress. Since I couldn’t have Julia, however,  I turned to music.

I hit random play on my CD player and immediately  BARBRA, NEIL, BILLY, ELTON and Susan Boyle had me dancing and moving, spatulas in hand. Instant stress relief!  As I continued to estimate and pour and tilt and “turn once until golden,” I began thinking the crepes looked pretty good. I stacked them, paper towel in between, until I

Crepes 002

had enough batter left in the blender for just one more crepe. Images of TV chefs deftly handling their pans filled my mind. Wasn’t I supposed to be a French chef? My crepes deserved a grand finale.

I looked up at my kitchen’s the high ceilings. I looked at the 8 inch pan. I brushed it with oil, poured the last of the mix, waited a minute and carried it to middle of the room. I hefted the pan a couple times to get the feel of it, glanced once more at the ceiling, then at the pan and…I tossed that sucker straight up. Then watched it come down and land.

Perfect!!  I’m taking a bow. Thank you, thank you, thank you. I never could have done it without Julia at my side. With confidence returned, I attacked the chocolate sauce.  But that’s another story.  Maybe next time… Crepes 004

As always, thank you so much for stopping by.  A heartfelt thanks to those of you who’ve picked up a copy of HOPEFULLY EVER AFTER. If you haven’t gotten it yet, I hope you’ll consider it. And I certainly hope to see all of you for the next edition of Starting Over.

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OCTOBER CONTEST:  To celebrate the release of Hopefully Ever After, I’m awarding prized to two people. Gift certificates for $25 and two books from the choices below. All books have been recently released from the authors of On Fire Fiction. Just post a comment and your name will automatically be entered for October’s drawing.

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ARe DEBRA SALONEN 7-1

 

 

 

 

 

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Starting Over ~ Fingers on the Keyboard

CHOICES, CHOICES…hands on keyboard

“I wish I’d started earlier.”

That is the lament of many authors, usually women, whose writing careers started beyond the first flush of youth…hmmm…let’s say, beyond the first flush of marriage, motherhood and other careers. This is the lament of those who had never really considered professional writing as a career until later in life.

I clearly remember several conversations with my own mother when I was a teen and thinking about the future. College was definitely on the agenda. But careers?  “Teacher, nurse or bookkeeper,” she’d said. She was not the bad guy. Her attitude was simply a sign of the times.  Four years after I graduated, my cousin Ilene started a pre-law major. So much for me being on the cusp. I’d chosen teaching and was starting my first job when Ilene began her legal journey.       nurse_cap1.gif, cuter

So, I became a teacher on the grammar school level, and soon developed Sunday night stomach-aches at the thought of Monday morning. I was a good teacher, and the kids were happy and learning, but I could not bear the thought of spending the following 25 years stressed on Sunday nights. I was definitely miscast for this important role.  But to have become a writer instead? Never thought of it. Even though I was an avid reader and my own teachers had encouraged my written work. Anyway, what kind of career was writing? No salary. Nothing to count on. I guess either the undeniable “itch” to write just wasn’t there yet or I’d never allowed it to develop.

Instead, I adapted my teaching skills to adult education and flourished. Loved it, loved it, loved it! The programs I ran helped disadvantaged adults get their GED’s, learn computer and other office skills, and successfully interview for jobs. I was doing good deeds all day long! Could any job be more rewarding? In fact, I so enjoyed seeing the these women flourish, that I felt guilty taking a salary. When I mentioned this unease to my rabbi, he just laughed, patted me on the shoulder and told me to keep on with it. So I did. And anytime I had the writing itch–which was becoming more often–I took a yellow legal pad and wrote at night and on weekends.

We make decisions every day. Some are so automatic, they barely qualify as a decision. Should I have tuna or turkey for lunch? Chocolate or file0001694764223vanilla?  On the other hand, we often make decisions with greater consequences, ones which require long thought because of those consequences. My car is old and needs repairs. Should I buy a new one? Should we relocate for the sake of a new job opportunity? The family is growing. Should we buy a bigger house?  Sometimes our decisions are gut wrenching ones which put our emotions in overdrive: Do we need a nursing home for our elderly mom?

Fortunately, most decisions are not life-and-death ones, yet some have a huge impact on our lives. In an alternate universe, I would have begun writing seriously as a young woman. The advantage of more time cannot be overstated. Time is needed to develop excellent craft skills in order to provide a reading experience so engrossing, that a reader exclaims, “I couldn’t put that book down! Finished it at 2 a.m.”  This is the reaction all authors aim for. But that kind of writing doesn’t happen overnight. The apprenticeship doesn’t pay the bills, either. So I’ll pretend that in my alternate writing universe, that money doesn’t matter 🙂

I take comfort in the fact that James Michener didn’t write a word before he was forty years old. Why? According to him, he didn’t have anything worthwhile to say!  Imagine that. Now there are libraries in his name at the University of Texas and Colorado. I guess he made up for his “late” start.

I admire Janet Evanovich. She didn’t start her terrific and hugely successful Stephanie Plum series until she was past fifty. She’d written other works–romance novels under a pen name–before bringing Stephanie, the bounty hunter, to life in One for the Money. I really identify with her timeline!

In the end, however, I have to believe that for everything, there is a season. Whether it’s the season for raising children, maintaining a secure day job to pay bills or writing full time. When I measure my writing journey, all my experiences seem to fit in. I loved doing those “good deeds” with my students while having the energy to be a weekend writer. Maybe my earlier years were not wasted after all. Everything is working out just fine.

Are there decisions you would change in your life?  Leave a comment and we’ll share with each other.

As always, thank you so much for stopping by. I hope to see you for the next edition of Starting Over.

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P. S.  For the curious –  here’s a picture of the cover of my very first book, published in 2001:

Debut novel - very exciting time :)

Debut novel – very exciting time 🙂

 

Starting Over ~ A Book Club Evening

IN THE SPOTLIGHT–                

From my own book shelves, authors Emily Giffin, Bridget Asher, Barbara O'Neal

From my own book shelves, authors Emily Giffin, Bridget Asher, Barbara O’Neal

“I just love this type of book!”

When I heard those words at my book club Tuesday night, my heart sang. I felt myself smile. The woman was talking about MY kind of book. The kind I read and write. The type that appeals to women, explores family relationships, and provides an emotional ride based on a what-if reality. What if your child isn’t on the school bus at the end of the day?  What if you discover your husband has been having an affair? What if you find out you and your husband can’t have children?  What if a couple decides not to have children but one of them changes their mind? (Baby Proof by Emily Giffin).  What would you do in these situations? You can safely find out in the pages of a book as you struggle along with the characters who are facing these issues.

I love the James Bond stories. But, c’mon. Half the fun of James and his ladies is the eye candy. As for the plot – we  ride in the most nifty cars escaping the bad guys. It’s a hoot to watch, but then we go back to our everyday issues in our ordinary world.

Except sometimes a woman’s ordinary world is rocked, and that is the premise for the genre I’ve been talking about here: Women’s Fiction. In these novels, we follow the female protagonist’s journey through rocky waters as she navigates to her next plateau. Sometimes, a love interest might surprise her. ( Open House by Elizabeth Berg). She might be surrounded by a “cast of thousands,” — relatives, neighbors, co-workers — but it’s basically her story.

More from my shelves: authors Kathryn Shay, Barbara Delinsky and Elizabeth Berg.

More from my shelves: authors Kathryn Shay, Barbara Delinsky and Elizabeth Berg.

On Tuesday evening, I had a special interest in the book club discussion. The group–about twenty participants–had read Family Interrupted. My novel.  Disclaimer: the choice was not my idea. A few months ago, a new book list was being developed and boom! It was included. On the other hand, I didn’t nix the suggestion. As the proverbial fly on the wall, I thought I’d get some insights and discover how readers truly reacted both to the story itself and to the writing. Maybe I’d learn lessons I could apply to my next book.

Well, the fly-on-the-wall idea worked for about the first fifteen minutes. I kept my mouth shut, didn’t make eye contact with anyone, and actually wondered for how much longer I could play the part of a robot. It’s really hard trying to avoid eye contact for that long especially when sitting in a big square formation with people to the right, left and across.

I had wanted to disappear, have the gals to forget I was in the room and just listen as they talked about book. What a dumb idea that was! First of all, it didn’t work. After fifteen minutes, I joined the conversation. We were talking about family issues, after all, and I have opinions, too. I’m used to participating every month. Second of all – and this is more important – I sensed that these readers wanted me involved. This seemed logical to me. After all, how many times would a real, live author be present at these meetings? How many times would these readers be able to ask questions directly to the author of a book they’d just read?

So away we went. Some of the discussion followed the questions I’d provided at the back of the book. Why did the characters do this or that? Questions were raised about the story couple’s marriage. Readers wanted to know how I came up with the idea. And one admitted, “You made me grab for tissues several times!” Good. An author wants to tap into a reader’s emotions, wants the reader to care about the characters.

The question that came from me, the one  I always love to ask is, “What do you think happens after the book ends?” We actually talked about a sequel which amazed me because I’d never had that in mind! As an author who worries about everything, and who knows the issues I had to confront when writing the book, I asked a question that no one else considered important at all. “Did the verb tenses work? Did you get confused as time flashed back and then back again?” Verb tenses ate my lunch as I wrote the book (which is one reason I hire an editor). And yet,  here in front of my eyes, these gals laughed at me.

So I learned once more that a good story wins every time. And that I worry too much. I don’t think, however, that I’ll ever stop.

This one's also on my shelf! And in my e-reader.

This one’s also on my shelf! And in my e-reader.

As always, thank you so much for stopping by. I hope to see you for the next edition of Starting Over.

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P.S.  I’ll be sending out a newsletter on October 3rd.  If you’d like to get it–right into your in-box–you can sign up for it here on the website.

 

 

Starting Over ~ Dive Right In

I’m one of those people who eat to live, not live to eat. So I wouldn’t call myself a foodie. Niko's counterBut there are definite exceptions to my take-it-or-leave-it  eating habits. Why is it that I find the very best meals, meals that I would become a foodie for, in the small, elbows-on-the-table kind of places. You know the ones I mean. No tablecloths. Order at the counter. Grab your own plastic utensils and drinks. And then wait for your order to appear on giant paper plates.

When I discover a dive that sets my taste buds singing, I’m in heaven. At that moment, it’s all about the food. These place don’t depend on ambiance because there isn’t any. But the food…? OMG!  Whether ethnic, American, breakfasts, lunches or dinners, I don’t care. When I find an eatery that makes we want to keep it on my list of “regulars,” I’m so happy.

I love Greek food. In Houston, I ate at Niko Niko’s, which i think I mentioned in an earlier post. I lunched there every week, never minding the wait to order. You can imagine that I sure wasn’t the only one in the place at lunchtime. The meal was worth the wait. Eventually, long after I discovered it and long after the owners enlarged it, the Food Network discovered it, too. It was featured on Drive-Ins, Diners, and Dives. But I get a kick out of know that I was there first!

Niko's

I never, ever thought I’d find another Niko’s in Florida. But…drum roll please — I did!

Leave it to my golfer guy to drag me to this little place where the restrooms are in the outside of the building. What the H…?  But clean inside. And the gyros…freshly sliced meat, and oh, oh, oh! The homemade tzatziiki sauce..(picture me kissing my finger tips). Delicious! The Greek salad, always one of my choices was delicious, too. So, now I’ll got to Peck’s for a real gyro and Greek salad. A new great dive. Maybe one day, it will be discovered by the Food Network. In the meantime, they’ve opened a second location – same family ownership – and everyone who goes there raves about it.

Just for the record, I’m picky about Italian food, too. There’s Italian and then there’s ITALIAN–when that first forkful of lasagna almost melts in your mouth, and you know you’re in Italy. This goes for pizza joints, too. I will try any pizza joint once. But it’s got to be way above average to land on my list of regulars.

Now, let’s switch gears and talk about pancakes. Why? Because I love them! I had a place in Houston called Frank’s. For $5.75, you ordered from a big breakfast menu…which was available throughout the day. Frank’s pancakes with a side of thick bacon slices got me through the weeks of chemo and visits to the plastic surgeon when my expanders were being filled in order to get me ready for implants. That experience was worse than the chemo, which in hindsight wasn’t too bad. I really looked forward to my pancakes at Frank’s as my reward for the fills. The portions of food were bigger than my stomach could hold. The pancakes, themselves, were the size of the dinner plate. But again, I was in heaven. Have I mentioned that I love pancakes?  French toast, too. And Belgian waffles.

Once more in Florida, my sweetie took me for a ride. First, of course, we have to accomplish something. We never just “go for a ride.”  In this case, we dropped off donations at Goodwill, which was a bit self-serving as we got to clean out the garage a bit. After unloading the car, my golfer guy says, “I know a place…for pancakes.”  Well, he didn’t have to ask me twice. Off we drove to Poppi’s.

Pancakes and sausage at Frank's.

Pancakes and sausage at Frank’s.

It might have been Franks. It looked so similar with the casual booths and tables–no cloths–and with the efficient and friendly waitstaff. Windows all around.  But the true test is always measured by the food. The pancakes matched the circumference of the plate. Oh, yeah. Three strips of bacon sat on the side dish. My heart started doing a tango. I drizzled the maple syrup just on the part I would cut. My fork slipped through the two layers, and I ladled it into my mouth.The outside of the pancake had a slight crispy coat–unusual and delicious. Rapture! Another OMG moment for me. I’d found home. In Florida.

I won’t embarrass myself in a high class French restaurant. But I’m basically a low maintenance gal who appreciates quality in the basics. I can usually take it or leave it in regard to food. Truly, I’m not a foodie. But if I visit some good dives on a regular basis, I just might become one.

How about you? Do you have a favorite inexpensive restaurant that sets your palette singing? A favorite food style that you MUST have from time to time?  Let me know in the comment section.

As always, that so much for stopping by. I hope to see you for the next edition of Starting Over.

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LEAVE A COMMENT AND YOUR NAME WILL BE ENTERED INTO MY JULY CONTEST. Prizes are a choice of two books written by the award-winning writers of On Fire Fiction, plus a $25 gift certificate to Amazon or BN. Remember, some of these stories are hot, hot, hot, while others…not so much.  Your choice!

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Starting Over ~ Life in the Day Camp

The chorus presentation on July 4th, 2013

The chorus presentation on July 4th, 2013

WASTING TIME? OR BURNING THE CANDLE AT BOTH ENDS?

“Age puzzles me. I thought it was a quiet time. My 70s were interesting and fairly serene, but my 80s are passionate. I grow more intense as I age.”

The above quote is from the best known work of Florida Scott-Maxwell, The Measure of My Days which she wrote in her 80s. She was a practicing psychologist and playwright who studied under Carl Jung. She lived to be 93 years old. Her book explores how to make meaning out of our later years.

Now, I’m still a long way from being 80, but I think I get it. I look around at my new friends in this community, and I see active, vibrant people who finally have the time to explore their creative sides. Perhaps, their passions.

On July 4th, I attended a celebration in honor of America’s birthday. On stage was the community chorus. It is composed of residents who not only like to sing, but can actually carry a tune! They and their director have given untold hours preparing the program, practicing the songs and arrangements and making sure to show up for every rehearsal. The audience, including moi, filled the large social hall with barely a seat remaining empty. Our applause brought such words of appreciation from the choir director as though WE were doing THEM the favor. And then I realized that a vocal performance was similar to writing a novel. They both need an audience to gain closure. The passion, however, resides in creating the art. It’s hard work, and no one volunteers unless driven to it. Is it worth the effort?  In my view, the satisfaction is immeasurable.

Another dream deferred...until now?

Another dream deferred…until now?

Along the walls of the clubhouse are glass cases displaying the creative side of other people. The Photography Club, for example, often shows pictures so well crafted,  I would pay for them. They’re of professional quality, and I know that learning the skills to produce those photographs had to have taken infinite amounts of time, attention, and practice. The names of the photographers are in small print, but I take note and compliment the creators when I see them.

In addition to photography, displays of the Woodworking, Quilters, and Ceramics Clubs make a passer-by pause to browse the offerings. Not every item is of professional quality, but I can see how some artists have improved over time. They’re taking their work seriously, haven’t gotten bored, haven’t given up. When I spoke to several in the art class, all I heard was the word love. They love what they’re doing, learning. They’ve always wanted to try. Never knew they could be as good as they are. Sure, some laughed…or snickered. But no one quit.

In the Life Long Learning program, speakers cover  topics from the stock market to the solar system. From early philosophers to logic theories. To my own offering of Writing Family Stories.

Exploring the swath of ideas and activities that we promised ourselves we’d do “one day” provides an opportunity to make meaning of these years  when our responsibilities are fewer and we finally have the time. I sincerely hope that I grow more passionate as I age. I don’t want to miss the sweet satisfaction of jumping in deep and trying something new or revisiting a long held dream.

How about you?

As always, thanks so much for stopping by. I hope to see you for the next edition of Starting Over.

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LEAVE A COMMENT AND YOUR NAME WILL BE ENTERED INTO MY JULY CONTEST. Prizes are a choice of two books below, written by the award winning authors of On Fire Fiction plus a $25 gift certificate to Amazon or BN. Remember, some of these are hot, hot, hot while others…not so much. Your choice:)

MA25EC~1Brashear, Texas RootsDire Distraction_lo resARe DEBRA SALONEN BANG 2Release-MeNewJpgLINDA BARRETT (2)