Wednesday, November 22, 2017

Staying Sane Amid the Frenzy


It’s starting… The holiday frenzy is about to engulf us. I’m not ready. I’m never ready.

Don’t get me wrong.  I love the holidays! I revel in the costumes and fun gew-gaws of Halloween, relish the family get-togethers and great food of Thanksgiving, and sink with joy into Christmas decorations and greetings and gift-giving.

I don’t like the pressure of it and I don’t like the extreme commercialization. I hate the whole Black Friday thing.  You won’t find me venturing anywhere near a shopping mall or a big box store on the Friday after Thanksgiving.  And I really hate, hate HATE the incursion of the shopping frenzy into Thanksgiving day!  It cheapens the whole idea of the holiday.

In fact it seems to me to be the antithesis of what Thanksgiving is supposed to be about. Instead of being grateful for all the many blessings we’ve been given, all those retailers opening on Thursday promote greed and hunger for things we don’t have. Yes, they disguise it as buying gifts for others, but come on…

And then there’s Christmas. I have to find appropriate gifts for so many people. There are cards, decorations, food, parties, and a gazillion other details that need to be handled.  There have been years when I got to the day after Christmas and could nothing but draw a huge sigh of relief that is was over.  And that’s so, so wrong!

Rant over. I feel better now that I’ve got off that my chest. And I’ve decided to focus this year on what I can do about it.

Here are a few things I’m vowing to try this holiday season:

1. Cultivate gratitude. Not just on Thanksgiving day but throughout the season. I’ve been blessed in so many ways. I’m not wealthy, at least not in money or worldly possessions, but I have enough to eat, shelter from the weather, clothing to keep me warm, reasonably good health, and a wonderful family. I want to take a few minutes each day to remember that and to be grateful for all the gifts I’ve been given.

2. Keep it in perspective. The holiday season is supposed to be about what’s best in us: joy, peace, sharing, and showing our love for others. We’re not doing that if we’re stressed out because the to-do list is too long and the expenses bigger than our budgets. I’ll be taking another look at my lists and asking myself about each item – Is this necessary? Am I doing this because it gives me or someone else pleasure? Or am I doing it because everyone says you have to or my mother always did it this way?

3. Simplify. Of course, I have to buy gifts for my children and grandchildren. And my spouse. Do other acquaintances need gifts from me? Does everyone I’ve ever met need to get a Christmas card from me? Does every surface in my home need to be thoroughly decorated? Are there things I can outsource? I’m trying to consider everything and decide why I’m doing it. Does it make me happy? Does it help others? Or is it just something I feel obliged to do?

That’s my plan.

Whatever yours is, I hope you have a wonderful Thanksgiving (if you’re in the U.S.) and a peaceful, loving, and joyous holiday season!

Saturday, November 18, 2017

"I walk with beauty around me."



The Navajo people have long shared the concept of walking in beauty, the idea of being at peace within oneself and in harmony with the world around us. Here in Kayenta, in the middle of the Navajo Nation, the lines of the Beauty Way can be taken quite literally. Since we moved here at the end of September, we have been surrounded by a rare kind of stark, raw beauty that can be breathtaking. 


In our "side yard" is the famous Black Mesa--famous (at least in this part of the country) because the Navajo and Hopi have both claimed it as a holy place for eons, black for its rich seams of coal. "With beauty before me, may I walk."


With Monument Valley only twenty miles away, we are very near one of the world's beauty epicenters. These images were taken just a few miles from our home:


"With beauty all around me, may I walk."









"I walk with beauty around me."






"With beauty above me, may I walk."











"I walk with beauty above me."


 "I walk with beauty around me."









"With beauty all around me, may I walk. In old age wandering on a trail of beauty, lively, may I walk.  ...My words will be beautiful."





Susan Aylworth and her husband, Roger, are full-time missionaries serving in the Navajo Nation. They have recently moved to Kayenta, Arizona where they run addiction recovery programs. Susan is the author of fourteen novels with a new series beginning early next year. Find her work at Amazon or on other e-book platforms, also at www.susanaylworth.com. You may reach her @SusanAylworth on Twitter or at susan.aylworth.author@gmail.com. 

Tuesday, November 14, 2017

Thanksgiving and "Dirty Rice"

by Fran McNabb

 
It’s November, but in some stores you’d think it was already Christmas. Shelves are lined with Christmas decorations and trees and toys.
But it’s still November so I wanted to spend my space here thinking about the holiday before Christmas. Thanksgiving is usually a pretty low-keyed holiday except for the cook in the family who has to come up with a menu for the meal, do the shopping and then the cooking. Most families have their own traditions so coming up with the menu is usually not that hard. When I had family close by, I usually did the cooking for everyone after my mother got too old to do it. I’d always say I was going to come up with something new. Never happened. I’d always do the same spread every year.

When I look back at those years, I realize how enjoyable they were, not just because we had a huge meal and way too many desserts, but because the family was together. Now that it’s just my husband and me in town, we travel to one of our sons to spend the holiday with his family. We try to continue some of our traditions, but I want them to create their own as well.
I wanted to share a favorite recipe from our family meals. Seldom did we have a traditional bread dressing with our meal. We usually had mashed potatoes and a rice dressing we called “dirty rice.” If you’ve been in the south Louisiana area, you may have heard of it. My father was Cajun so it was one our Sunday and holiday staples.  I’ll share the recipe below.
What were some of your favorite dishes at Thanksgiving? Do you ever include them in your books?

DIRTY RICE
1 c. vegetable oil                                                                                                                                                  1/2 bell pepper, chopped                                                                                                                                      1 lb. ground meat                                                                                                                                                  1 stalk celery, chopped                                                                                                                                        1 lb. ground pork                                                                                                                                                     1 lg. cooking spoon roux (browned flour)                                                                                                          1 lb gizzards                                                                                                                                                           
1 T. Kitchen Bouquet browning sauce                                                                                                                1/2 t. cayenne pepper                                                                                                                                       1/2 c. green onions, chopped                                                                                                                          Salt and pepper to taste                                                                                                                                        5 c. cooked rice                                                                                                                                                       1 to 2 lg. onions, chopped

 Wash and grind or chop gizzards. Heat oil in large pot and add beef, pork and gizzards. Cook over medium heat until all meats are cooked. Add salt and pepper. Stir occasionally. Add vegetables and simmer until they are soft. Cover with water and cook down until mixture thickens. Add roux if mixture is too thin. Add browning sauce and cook about 1 hour. Add green onions. Cook about five minutes. Mix with cooked rice. TIP: Gravy, without the rice, can be frozen.        

FRAN MCNABB grew up along the Gulf Coast with a Cajun father and a Croatian mother. Fran writes traditional romance and sometimes mentions foods in her stories. Recently she published a cookbook COASTAL COOKING. Visit her at www.FranMcNabb.com or email her at mcnabbf@bellsouth.net        

 

 

 

Saturday, November 4, 2017

NaNoWriMo Tips and Encouragement


by Victoria M. Johnson

Dear NaNoWriMo writers, it's a few days in,  I know, and some of you are thinking, Why didn't she write this post sooner?  Well, it's because I knew that more of you would be panicking by now and seeking some help.  This post contains that boost of direction, a few tips, and that dose of inspiration you're seeking.  Hold on for just a moment.

Dear Non NaNoWriMo readers, you may be wondering what all the online banter is about.  National Novel Writing Month, more affectionately known as NaNoWriMo, kicked off on November 1st and runs through November 30th.  During that time the 400,000 or so people from around the world who signed-up (for free) commit to write a draft of a 50,000 word novel.  Now in it's 19th year, the event has gained in popularity every year.

The fun part is the online sharing through facebook, twitter, and instagram of the participating writers and others, like me, who are supporting and rooting for them.  For example, on twitter: advice and encouragement tweets are mixed in with tweets of word counts, excuses, and lots of lamenting.  I felt bad for those who are already stuck--and it's only four days in--so I gathered some help and wrote this post.

I found great NaNoWriMo tips that are helpful for all writers whether you're participating or not. 

Reedsy gathered up editors and agents to get these great pointers.  For those of you panicking perhaps this one will restore your confidence:
"All you need is two 15-minute bursts of writing each day," says editor Lindsay Schlegel. "Sit down, do it, and move on. Don't worry if you don't write enough words the first few days. The creative juices will start flowing, and you'll make up for it by the end." 

Jessica Strawser provides this gem, "Always end a writing session only when you know what’s next." 

Preparing for NaNoWriMo: Your Guide to Outlining Success

K.M. Weiland has ten parts to her very useful NaNoWriMo guide.  The part containing key ingredients for participants: Click Here
"Start your outline by writing down everything you already know about the story.  Put it all on paper in a short list, so you can evaluate what you already have."

Photo by Christin Hume

Joanna Penn says, "When people ask for tips on getting their book written, my number one tip is to schedule time for writing as you would schedule any other appointment."

How a Month of NaNoWriMo Can Lead to a Lifetime of Better Writing

Grant Faulkner offers this wise observation, "To write 50,000 words in 30 days, you have to write 1,667 words a day.  That means banishing your inner editor and showing up to write on good days and bad days, on hard days at work, on lazy and uninspired days, maybe even on sick days."

24 Books that Won NaNoWriMo

Marie (no last name given) gives participants hope by citing books created during NaNoWriMo that went on to publication.


Are you participating, if so, let me know in the comments below.  Good luck, I'm cheering for you.

NaNoWriMo Tips by Victoria M. Johnson
Victoria M. Johnson knew by the time she was ten that she wanted to be a writer.  She loves telling stories and she's happiest when creating new characters and new plots.  Avalon Books and Montlake Romance published Victoria's fiction debut, The Doctor’s Dilemma.  Her other fiction book is a collection of romance short stories titled, The Substitute Bride and a novella, Hot Hawaiian Christmas. She is also the writer and director of four short films and two micro documentaries.   Visit Victoria's website at http://VictoriaMJohnson.com for inspiration and tips and find her Amazon author page or connect with her on Pinterest and Twitter.



Thursday, November 2, 2017

Confessions of a Book Collector

by Janis Susan May/Janis Patterson

Somehow - no one is quite sure how - I learned to read before turning three. My parents found out by accident, for no one taught me. I wrote my first 'book' when I was four. It was a deathless tale of some children playing in a park who captured an escaped lion - yes, I had a melodramatic turn of mind even then - before going home for supper. There were about a dozen copies as I remember, each hand-printed and illustrated on white typing paper taken from my father's desk and lovingly signature sewn - Daddy had told me that was the best kind of binding - with white cotton thread begged from my mother. I think there may still be a copy or two extant buried somewhere in my mother's papers.

I was very fortunate. I was raised by parents who loved books and revered the English language. We played word games as much as board games in those antique, pre-TV times. I was rewarded when I mastered some esoteric form of wordcraft, such as tracing a Greek root word through several English incarnations. I could hardly wait to begin school where I could indulge in such linguistic and literate pleasures all day long instead of having to wait until my parents had the time.

School was an incredible disappointment. Somehow being stuck in a room with a bunch of children who could not even read Dick and Jane (no advanced classes in those days!) was on a par with a death sentence. I hated school with a passion from the second day on. Books became my only friends.

And I have amassed a LOT of friends. Three libraries full, with the possibility of a fourth looming on the horizon. My parents inherited my grandfather's extensive library and added to it liberally. Instead of fashionable shoes or make-up or other girly teen-age things, I bought books. When I married and moved out of my 1,000 sq ft flat, I had 19 floor to ceiling bookcases. (And my husband had half a room devoted to books... we're pretty evenly matched in the book-ish department.) What we have spent on books over the decade would, if totaled, probably be equal to the purchase price of a small private island. When my mother passed away and we had to clean out her house, I stopped counting when the total of books passed 12,000, but we only ended up keeping about half that number. I remember bursting into tears when, while packing up the house, I thought I had found and properly packed all the books - then found BOXES of books under the double bed in the guest room. I was so upset I had to quit for the day.

We have sold books, donated books, given away books... and bought more. They accumulate under the furniture and form drifts in the corners. Lucky people have cobwebs; we have books.

But I wouldn't change it. We still head for one bookstore or another every few weeks, sternly telling ourselves we're just going to look and not buy anything. I'll bet you know how that turns out! (And I'm not going to say a word about my bulging e-reader. If we had hard copies of all the books on that lovely device the house would be so full we'd have to move into a tent in the back yard!)


They say addiction is an ugly thing; in many cases it is. In the case of books... not so much. As the FB meme says, "It's not hoarding if it's books!"

Monday, October 23, 2017

The Mystery of History

My most recent novel is set during the American Civil War. The idea sprang from a visit we made to Virginia for a family wedding and I had the opportunity to visit some of the many Civil War battlefields and to hear some of the stories of the valiant men and women who lost their homes and their lives in this tragic period in our history.

Though my ancestral family is almost entirely Northern, my extended family includes members with historical links to the South. I doubt there are many families whose ancestral links go back to the 18th and 19th centuries in the United States that don't have close family members somewhere along the line who took a different side in the conflict that has so deeply defined our national character.

One of my sisters married a charming young man from Oklahoma. As soon as he joined our clan, he was subjected to hateful abuse from another sister's Yankee husband. Seeing this, more than 150 years after the end of the conflict, made clear to me how deep the scars have been embedded in our collective psyche. Although my Southern brother-in-law had taken no part in that war, my Northern brother-in-law took great offense at the welcome extended to him, as if the Oklahoman carried the guilt of his ancestors by virtue of his place of birth. 

Seeing for myself how deeply hatred had infected one brother-in-law actually opened my heart and mind to discovering more about the history of my own country, from both points of view. Not long ago, I was confronted by a colleague who informed me that I "must" take the correct side if I was going to write about the Civil War. 

Is there any such thing? Aren't there always, at least, two sides to any story? Yes, there were terrible atrocities committed against other human beings but, as in all wars, the truth is somewhere between the two sides of the conflict. We demonize whichever side is opposed to our worldview but are we right to do so?

When I undertook to write Pavane for Miss Marcher, I thought long and hard about 

  • the ancestors of my own family who fought on both sides; 
  • the teenage cadets of the Virginia Military Institute who gave their lives to protect their homes; 
  • the freed and runaway slaves who fought for their freedom putting their families at risk; 
  • the enslaved men, women and children who never escaped;
  • all the kind and generous people I've known of all races whose roots are in the South; 
  • the black Americans I know who have served in the military; 
  • my father as the training officer of young men about to go into war; 
  • the heroes of the American Revolution who were considered traitors when they opted to fight for the Constitutional  Rights of States; 
  • the citizens of California who are considered courageous for considering secession when their fellow citizens were called traitors for taking the same action 150+ years ago;
  • the 600,000 Americans killed in the Civil War on both sides who all believed they were doing the right thing.
After all these many years, can we accept that, because we are all human, we are flawed? That our thinking processes are tainted; that we inhabit an imperfect world which we strive, as a nation and as one people, to make "more perfect"? And, isn't writing with an open heart and mind critical to writing truthfully?