Finding Love in Unimaginable Places

Remember that heart-wrenching sensation when a beloved grandparent died, or that excruciating pain, like a vise around the head, after a parent succumbed to a long illness? We’ve all lost someone important. Time moves on. The sharp sting of that separation surprisingly begins to ease. Unfortunately, some of the good memories may disappear along with the pain. Mementos, such as pictures, or favored objects, like books, furniture, and even recipes, may help to hold a dear one’s essence close. I’ve recently discovered another unexpected avenue.

I’m currently working on a revision of my picture book, “Rhus Juice”. The tale is based on a true story my dad shared with me from his own childhood. It tells of a hot Michigan summer and a little boy’s fears that the lemon-flavored drink his father plans to make with sumac might be poisonous! When I began composing this some years back, I looked through pictures from that time, referred to a list of names and dates in an old family Bible, and even listened to a recording of Dad recounting the events.

“Life” got in the way, work and other writing took precedence, and “Rhus Juice” was set aside. I love the story, though, and it recently pulled me back. Now looking at the book with fresh eyes, the lives portrayed seem much clearer than before. Through it, I revisit my hometown of Tawas City, Michigan, and ride my blue Schwinn on bumpy sidewalks once again. Peeking into my dad’s childhood home, Grandpa’s voice booms and Grandma’s sweet smile lights up the room.

How wonderful, to see Dad’s ten-year-old grin and to anticipate his thoughts. The act of writing has done this for me. The love flows from all of them, bringing me closer than I’ve been in years!

*****

Memorial Day through the Lens of a Small Town Girl

trumpet

From childhood, I remember when adults still called it “Decoration Day” and how I loved the festive parade in my hometown, longing to be brave and join in with my own blue bicycle. I recollect feeling delighted with the day off from the classroom, wondering which members of the high school marching band would faint in the heat and sensing a chill when the lone trumpet played taps.

As a teen, I recall that holiday spent at the lake and how I suffered the sharp sting of summer’s first sunburn, worrying with the knowledge that a pal was leaving soon, to be stationed in Vietnam. I remember the shock, hearing a friend of my family later died in that place and believing we were lucky that many showed enough bravery to serve.

 

All the Right Ingredients: Living, Writing and Cooking in Texas

soup bowl blueFiestaware dishes

After spending the winter in the Lone Star State, spending time with my two daughters and their families, this “Michigander/Michiganian” is ready to take the Texas-sized leap and move back here for good. We lived in this area years ago, while my girls were growing up, which is basically how they found themselves settling in this portion of the U.S.

Now that I’ve picked my spot and found a great apartment, it’s time to resume my writing and my cooking in earnest. Being in Texas got me thinking about making chili, recently, but tomatoes and I haven’t been getting along that well. Although white chili may not be original to this state, its popularity seems to be gaining force. I’ve enjoyed a few versions in the past and have recently done some research about “white vegetables”.

I found that these options sometimes are referred to as the “forgotten vegetables”, partly due to the negativity brought on by the selections with the “starchy” connotation. Granted, a few are rather high in carbs, but in moderation and with careful planning, white vegetables can be important sources of fiber, calcium, potassium, and a wide array of vitamins and other nutrients. I don’t have a “favorite” recipe, yet, so I’m going to present the possibilities for you to consider when designing your own!

“CHOOSE-YOUR-OWN” WHITE CHILI RECIPE

Broths: chicken, vegetable, or water; slug of white wine

Beans: Cannellini, garbanzo/chick peas, Great Northern, and navy (canned or dried; follow the package directions for dried)

Meats: Chicken or turkey (cooked and cubed), or ground chicken/turkey (browned); vegetarian version is great without meat

Vegetables (canned or fresh, cut to bite-sized pieces): Potatoes and white corn (staying aware of the carbs); turnips (lower in carbs and a consistency and flavor very similar to potatoes); parsnips and jicama give a slightly sweet flavor (parsnips cook quickly and jicama stays a bit crunchy for a long time); cauliflower; white asparagus; daikon radish; white mushrooms; peeled zucchini or summer squash; onions, shallots, and garlic

“Zip” (add in moderation and to personal taste): Cumin, white pepper (ground or whole corns), prepared horseradish, ginger, white habanero pepper (extra hot), yellow jalapeño (pale in color and medium heat), Santa Fe Grande (pale yellow pepper with mild heat), and salt

Toppings: Shredded white cheese, sour cream, and the white portions of green onions (sliced)

Accompaniments: White corn chips, bread, or crackers

Throw your choices together in a pot, bring to a boil, reduce heat and simmer. Enjoy with your favorite beverage!

Dealing with Personal Issues through Our Characters

 

head

Spring is the season of renewal and new growth. It can also be a time to reflect on pleasant memories or to revisit excruciating challenges that still haunt us. I recently read an intriguing article, “Dangerous Writing: Go to Your Battlefield”, by author and teacher, Tom Spanbauer. (Poets & Writers, January/February 2016). At the risk of being too general, he speaks about digging deeply into ourselves, to address difficult topics that are important to us, in order to shape our fictional works. His words certainly opened my eyes.

Throughout the course of Spanbauer’s piece, I realized some important facts about my own work. As most writers of fiction, I borrow from reality and include snippets of this person and that individual in the characters I attempt to bring alive. What I hadn’t faced is that some of their problems, issues, and challenges are my own, and I may be using the writing to work through them.

Unfortunately, I don’t think that I’ve brought any of these  scenarios full circle to solutions. Guess that I’ve danced on the edge of danger, but haven’t really dived in. I plan to revisit my own “dangerous writing” and push it to the limit, getting everything I can out of the telling. I hope that the resulting characters will appear even more realistic and some personal answers will materialize, as well.

Spring beckons, along with buds erupting on trees, flowers poking through dark earth, and birds singing new songs. We don’t have to “start over” to begin again. Whatever we face might be just a little easier, a touch sweeter, or a bit brighter by giving in to the season and wringing it for all it has to offer. Use it to the extent of its worth. After all, we don’t have forever…do we?

Outdoor Gardening in the Winter: Juxtaposition as a Handy Writing Tool

jasmine
Jasmine

~Hot sun formed a cap for my bare head. Warm, rich earth felt heavenly, flowing between my fingers like coins of gold. As I plucked a catnip plant from the basket, the citrus odor pleasantly tickled my nose. After deciding on its resting place near the brightly blooming yellow jasmine, I turned to my favorite, the mint. Probably my herb of choice because I could usually coax it to grow anywhere, I imagined how its refreshing aroma would deliciously waft in through the open window. As I reached for the next plant, I felt a bead of sweat break free on my back and begin its trickle downward. How many months had it been since I’d experienced that not-unpleasant sensation?

Movement caught my eye, and I worried for a second that Mildred had made a successful escape. In relief, I discovered the merrily blinking pink lights snaking around the stair railing and the sleek tortoiseshell safely perched on the other side of the window screen, happily batting at red and white, heart-shaped decorations.

“How in the heck did I end up here this winter?” I thought for the thousandth time, feeling that familiar, magnetic pull back toward the north.~

 Readers on the west coast or in southern locations wouldn’t see the weather described in February from this opening scene as juxtaposition, but many of us hailing from colder climes certainly would. Setting up this type of contrast is a handy strategy for grabbing the attention of readers from the beginning. Try it, in your next piece! Meanwhile, since this snippet is from my own personal journey, I’ll be adding to the story as my life unfolds…

Why I Liked Trixie Belden More Than Nancy Drew (and why it still matters)

Trixie Belden

Let’s face it…books about both characters have withstood the test of time. As a kid, I wanted not only to immerse myself in stories ABOUT Trixie, but I also desired to BE her. Why Trixie and not Nancy? I enjoyed books about them both and still have a wonderful memory of sitting in my classroom at Zion Lutheran Elementary, in Tawas City, Michigan, reading a version of The Hidden Staircase that was “vintage” even at that point in time, in the early 60’s.

I don’t really remember a specific place where I read about Trixie…it just seemed, once I digested the first episode of her life, that “she” was always there with me…at home, in school, riding my bike, walking over to a friend’s house, or worrying about something in bed at night.

Why, indeed, did Trixie grab my imagination and thoughts more than Nancy? I’ve given this some thought, recently, and here are several ideas and memories:

  • A bike was her common mode of transportation, which I could relate to, given my age. She sometimes rode horses, also, which I was always too apprehensive to try. Trixie sometimes envied her friends who owned those animals.
  • Her hair was cut short, which was how I wore my own (by default…it’s a long story), after early childhood. I always imagined that Trixie would have liked longer hair like her friends, Honey Wheeler and Di Lynch.
  • She had a best friend, Honey, who she could count on, through thick and thin. They did have a few misunderstandings, as I remember, but always worked things out. My “bestie” changed a few times over the years, and although I tended to be a loner, that relationship was always very important to me.
  • Completion of certain household chores was always expected of Trixie, which she often disliked. I hate to admit that I was sporadic in my organizational skills, and ranged from “pig-like” qualities in my bedroom to obsessive repeated vacuuming of our living room.
  • She had some trouble in math, to which I could relate after I hit long division!
  • Jim seemed like the model partner to me. He was dependable, nice looking, and gave Trixie plenty of space to be her own person. In several of the later books, Trixie seemed to struggle a bit with just how to deal with her feelings for Jim.
  • She was very brave and actually solved mysteries, which I could only imagine someone doing in real life. I admired that Trixie and Honey already knew what they wanted to be when they “grew up”, with their goals of co-owning a detective agency.
  • She dealt with some fears and worries, to which I could always relate (and still do!).

What does my list tell me? Why do I care, and how can this make me a better writer? It appears that I celebrated our similarities AND our differences. In the end, I think that believable characters are the answer. Some people might want to read about individuals like themselves, while others may be attracted to the more fantasy appeal of characters who are very different or exotic. Either way, REAL is the key word, in my opinion.

I didn’t know just what it was at the time, but I realize after all these years that Nancy seemed more wooden and too perfect. I want to peek into the life of someone with positive qualities and faults, and I imagine that’s true for many readers. I’m planning to keep that in mind, from now on, when fashioning my own imperfect characters!

Definition of “Holiday”

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hol-i-day   /ˈhäləˌdā/
noun
  1. 1.
    a day of festivity or recreation when no work is done.

I found this amusing definition for “holiday” on the Internet, giving me a bit of a chuckle. Many of us are observing holidays, but I’m guessing that a great deal of work is still being done! In fact, I’m under the impression that many writers feel even more inspired at this time of year, due to the changing seasons, observance of religious traditions linked to childhood memories, and emotions carefully hidden that struggle to resurface.

Holidays can also highlight certain literature-related behaviors. Many of us purchase books as gifts to please others (maybe those are volumes we’d actually rather read ourselves?), seek out other cutesy presents for the bibliophiles on our lists (often significantly over-priced), or finally resort to life-saving gift certificates when all else fails (whew!).

Books set during the holidays are widely popular. To meet her readers’ desires, Janet Rudolph yearly presents an extensive list of mystery books set during the holidays on her blog, Mystery Fanfare. I’ve happily tried new titles discovered there, and been pleasantly reminded of vintage offerings I’d enjoyed in the past.

Whatever “holidays” meant for you, I hope that yours were pleasant, safe, and productive!

As a small New Year’s gift, I’m offering my short story, “Romantivores”, free for Kindle through Amazon, from January 8-12. This is a perfect way for readers to meet Jonathan and Solveig, the main characters of my still-to-be-published book by the same title!

To learn more about my “writerly life”, check out the author interview with me, found at “Tyree Tomes – Here There Be Dragons!”