Thursday, October 20, 2011

The Soup Pot

Is there anything more satisfying than a good bowl of soup? That is especially true on these getting-colder days.

I started to think about it, and realized my approach to soup and writing is in some ways the same. Here are some of my rules of thumb:

1 - Preparation is important. There is nothing worse, when about to make soup, than finding out you are missing some key ingredients. And so it is with writing. You must be prepared, so if you're not sure of your spelling or grammar or other skills, do your homework!

2 - Take your time. Soup stock needs to simmer. I always take at least two days to make the stock for turkey or chicken soup, because nothing can replace the flavor you get from long, low simmering. Writing is the same. Don't rush your ideas; let them simmer and develop that full-bodied flavor that only comes from time.

3 - Skim the fat! I let my broth chill, and skim most, but not all of the fat off the top, or the broth will be too greasy. But fat is flavor, so leave in some! With writing, trimming the fat is just as important. Long passages of description need to be skimmed, but some description enhances the reader's experience, so don't take it all out, or you risk losing the flavor.

4 - Choose your ingredients wisely. I know some folks who just throw anything into their soup and generally... well, it can end up looking and tasting like dishwater. A good broth, long simmered and reduced, with bits of the meat and what the cooks call 'mirepoix' (onions, celery and carrots, diced) makes a wonderful soup in which the broth is the star. Throw in some pasta (noodles, broken spaghetti, elbow macaroni, or whatever you fancy) if you like, but it is not necessary. Writing is the same; do not try to throw everything at your story, or you'll end up with a dishwater book in which no one ingredient is dominant. Choose wisely, and limit your characters, plot devices, themes and conflicts.

5 - Learn from your mistakes. Over the years I've learned what doesn't work, with soup. One important tip: don't add salt or seasoning until AFTER the broth has reduced, or it will be too salty! And in your writing, pay attention to what others say, and take it in. Don't put up walls, but listen and decide if they have a different take on the 'flavor' of your writing than you do! Yes, you are the boss, but what good is that if no one enjoys the end product but you?

There is nothing more honest than a homely bowl of soup, or a good book, well written. So enjoy, both the process of making soup, and writing your book!

Saturday, October 15, 2011

The Climb...

 The climb is worth it...

When at the top, is something this lovely to behold...

A place that has flowers this beautiful...

I may never own a property this gorgeous, but looking and photographing is free, right? 

And I can go to this little hole-in-the-wall antique shop!
And I can walk past here and look at the gorgeous colors of fall.
These are some of the things I was thankful for this past weekend, Canada's Thanksgiving. And now I have over a month to find more to be thankful for for America's Thanksgiving!!

Saturday, October 8, 2011

The Good, the Bad and the Fugly

Okay, hands up, anyone who is keeping something really ugly in their closet.

Okay, that didn't come out right.

The topic for today, boys and girls, is, why do we often keep things that have no real purpose, and that we don't even really like? I'm talking about the knick knack so ugly babies cry when they see it.

I know... I know the answer!!

1 - My favorite auntie made that for me in pottery class and... I can't get rid of it!
2 - I've had it since I was a wee little baby and... I can't get rid of it!
3 - I bought that in Rome (Venice, London, Istanbul, Kalamazoo, Timbuktu) while on my (honeymoon, vacation, year abroad, lost weekend) and... I can't get rid of it!
4 - I bought that with so-and-so, and now they're gone to (heaven, rehab, the opera, the dark side of the moon) and... I can't get rid of it!

Well, that's me in a nutshell. I think I got in this fix because when I was young and moving house a lot, (four times in one year, once!) I got rid of some things that still, to this day haunt me. Among those things are: Most of my grandmother's set of everyday dishes... I'm talking about a complete placesetting for twelve, Johnson Brothers, I think, Jonquil pattern. They weren't practical, and they were really heavy and took up a lot of space, and I did give them to family but... well, marriages break up, and those dishes are gone forever. Sigh. I have the veg dishes and gravy boat, at least. And on the gone but not forgotten list? My pajama puppy!! I had, when I was a kid, a pink and white stuffed pooch that I loved. Somewhere along the way I got rid of him and... I miss pajama puppy!

And lots of other stuff. If I still had everything I regret getting rid of, though, I'd probably have to move and surrender the house to the junk. But still... now I'm afraid to get rid of some things, family things, especially, with sentimental value.

Now, this little item in the photo is something my mom made... the rotten picture doesn't do it justice (!), but it is a pomander made from a tea ball and glammed up with lots of beads. I know, right? Whoa, kinda.... weird!! Why have I kept it? I suppose I know no one else in the world will look upon the poor ugly little thing with any affection, and so, like the runt of the litter, the plain child, I will clutch it to my bosom and keep it. Forever. When I'm gone, someone else will have to deal with it. I may put a note in it, like a message in a bottle: To Whom It May Concern; "I may be ugly, but I was made with love and enthusiasm. Think of that before pitching me!"

So, kids, is there anything at all that you regret getting rid of? And part two of this question is, are you now holding onto some things that are just plain fugly (freakin' ugly), but you can't let go?


Saturday, October 1, 2011


It really feels like autumn this morning. I thought that, as I stood outside in my nightgown and a windbreaker, watching firefighters work on the second local housefire in two weeks.

Oh, yeah, and I thought, 'I need to get a new battery for my smoke detector.'

I'm always of two distinct feelings as autumn closes in, days getting shorter and nights getting longer and colder. On the one hand, I hate to see nice weather leave because I love sitting out in the garden with a cup of tea or glass of wine. 

On the other hand, autumn and winter bring their own joys. I like 'autumn' foods, heartier fare and yummy holiday treats. Oh, and roast turkey... yum! I also get back to crafting: crocheting, painting, needlework, etc. But most of all, autumn brings with it a 'back to work' mentality that really helps me get a lot done. I don't feel like I'm missing out on outdoor activities when the weather is as cold, windy and rainy as it has been the last few days.

What do you like about autumn?

(By the way... no one was hurt in the fire, the second in our neighborhood in two weeks, but what an eye-opener at five in the morning... standing outside in 6 Degrees Celsius... brrrrr!)