Thursday, September 23, 2010

Crazy Chutney Recipe

Jean served this absolutely fabulous chutney at our last Bookworms Anonymous meeting and I feel compelled to share it with the world:

Jean's Absolutely Fabulous Chutney

12 cups yellow squash
4 large onions
2 red peppers
2 green peppers
2 tsp salt
6 cups sugar (yes, 6 cups!)
2 1/2 cups white vinegar
1 TBLS mustard seed
3/4 tsp tumeric
1 TBLS celery seed
1 tsp black pepper

Peel (if necessary) and cut all veggies into small bite-sized pieces. Mix all ingredients together. Bring to boil and reduce heat; cook slowly for 20 minutes.

Seal in jars and immediately turn each jar upside down. Serve with everything. Makes 8 pints.

Jean served this alongside her fabulous smothered whitefish fillets, which were basically a bunch of pan-fried fillets layered in a casserole dish, then covered with gently cooked cherry tomato halves, garlic and Kalamata olives, with a few grinds of fresh black pepper. So good you'll fall off your chair.

Monday, September 20, 2010

UP Living

Some days it's easier to remember why we live here, and today was one of those days. Autumn is just peeking through, painting random leaves and gracing us with bright sunshine and cool, crisp days. The tourists are gone now so there's no traffic, no need to lock anything, and I can leave my purse in the truck without worrying whether it'll still be there when I return. The temperature is perfect for light activities, there's no wind and everything smells of earthy, rotting leaves. I spent the day designing five different electric services, driving from one beautiful hunting camp to the next, from the hardwoods to the rocky beach of Lake Huron.

Then I came home and sat on the porch, reading my book (remember, reading outside is an extreme sport) in the sun with a cup of coffee. Heaven.

Today was the kind of day I want to tuck into my back pocket and retrieve next February when we're buried beneath six feet of snow and the newscasters are advising us to stock up on supplies (every good Yooper is always stocked up on supplies, so this dire announcement usually doesn't inspire any action, just humor).

Friday, September 17, 2010

Superfluous Apostrophes

My  new job entails driving to a lot of remote camps and summer homes on roads with no posted names too narrow to pass another truck unless one backs up to the nearest wide spot or driveway to allow the other one by. I've always had a pet peeve for superfluous apostrophes, but this peeve has blossomed into a full-blown affliction, rapidly approaching syndrome-class. It seems of the obviously-wealthier-than-the-locals summer people, able to afford a second home on the water in the pristine Upper Peninsula and bent on plastering their name on every sign post at ever intersection, at least 95% of them put an apostrophe before the S to pluralize their surnames. For example, the sign might say "Welcome to the Harrison's" or simply "The Mason's". These signs were created with posterity in mind, painted brilliantly or carved, and are very difficult to correct. I'm thinking of carrying an entire palette of paints with me, and a portable router or sander so I can paint over or buff out the glaring apostrophes. My only other option would be to carry a selection of slabs and replace each incorrect sign I find, and see if the owners ever noticed the difference. Or maybe I could make up little laminated notes explaining the apostrophe's purpose and its straightforward rules for use and post them near the offending signs. I suppose I'll go on tolerating the blatant apostrophical abuse and occasionally vent about it here and at Bookworms Anonymous meetings.

Why would you want to advertise your punctuational ineptness to the world? Vexing.

Thursday, September 16, 2010

Improve your reality--read a book

I don't know who this woman is--she appears in a few of my great-grandmother's photos, none with any clue as to her identity, but she always looks the same. Her facial expression inspired me to create a few different bookmarks in the fashion of Maxine, the saucy old cartoon lady of Hallmark fame.

Right now I'm escaping from reality by reading Julie and Julia, by Julie Powell, about the year she cooked every single recipe in Mastering the Art of French Cooking. It's fabulous! I love the way Julie writes, and although we would probably not be friends (she makes no secret about her democratic political leanings, and although I have plenty of democrat friends, it works because we don't mention politics), I am really enjoying this voyeuristic view of her life in New York City and her flashbacks to various childhood scenes. I've read a few memoirs in the past year, and a few books about cooking in the past year, and these two subjects may be my current obsession. I had a long-lived fascination with all things Jewish for a while and read everything I could find about Jewish families and their intricate rituals (Bee Season by Myla Goldberg comes readily to mind, but there were many). Even though I'm not Jewish, will never be Jewish, and don't even know any Jewish people, I was compelled to read novels populated with Jews. Now it's cooking. I don't like to cook and cook only to prolong my life and avoid headaches from low blood sugar, but I'm fascinated for some reason by people who like to cook so much they actually write about it. And, it's interesting when they do it! Way more interesting than when I'm cooking.

So, if you haven't read this one yet, I recommend it for the reading pile. If' you're cooking-obsessed, you may also like The Sharper Your Knife, The Less You Cry which is another cooking-themed memoir by a woman who was lucky enough to lose her job at a point when she was able to move to Paris and attend Le Cordon Bleu for a year. I'm sure now, if there was ever a doubt, I do not want to go to cooking school, but her journey through it will improve reality, at least for a short while.

Sunday, September 12, 2010

Historical Event at Bookworms Anonymous

I just returned home from the monthly Bookworms Anonymous meeting and I'm proud to announce we had a historical event at the meeting: THREE books were granted the Bookworms Anonymous Stamp of Approval, and we voted to further categorize the award-winning books so we can have several lists of similar-style books. So far, the categories are: High Literature, Mainstream Literature, Historical Fiction, Non-Fiction and Fluff.

The books we stamped tonight, and their respective categories, are:
This book was granted the Stamp of Approval for a few reasons:
1. It's by Anna Quindlen, one of the few authors we read that require no book review. When someone has a new Anna Quindlen book to pass around, we simply hold it aloft and say in a singsong voice: "It's the new Anna Quinnnnd-lennnn," and everyone reaches for it.
2. This particular AQ book caused everyone reading it to gasp aloud at a certain juncture. If you've read it, you know exactly what I'm talking about. I can't say anymore about it.
3. We are all mothers and this book is a heart wrenching tale of motherhood and the worst fears realized.
4. It has an attractive cover. Superficial, I know, but nonetheless important when deciding whether or not to buy or read a book (unless, as mentioned above, it's written by Anna Quindlen).
5. Every Last One, by Anna Quindlen (yes, I like her name and feel obliged to keep mentioning it) was granted the Bookworms Stamp of Approval in the Mainstream Literature category.

This book was granted the Bookworms Stamp of Approval mainly for its vocabulary and the well developed, complicated characters who populate the book.

Keep a dictionary  handy when reading this tome--even a reader with an unnaturally large vocabulary will need to reference at least two words. The writing is rich and distinguished and the speediest reader will find themselves halting mid-paragraph to reflect on a well worded passage or enjoy a turn of phrase.

The Elegance of the Hedgehog, by Murel Barbery, was granted the Bookworms Stamp of Approval in the High Literature category (this category features highly intellectual themes and/or superior vocabulary).

This is the book that precluded the need for Stamp of Approval categories, and the first book in the Fluff category.

It's a story about a family in the Pacific northwest with three children, all with shades of green for names: Olive, Forest and Jade. The mother is experiencing a midlife crisis and handles it by painting pictures of withered raisins enjoying various human pursuits such as sunbathing and shopping. Forest is living in the wilderness in a primitive shelter and Jade frequently provides food and clothing for him.

It's a light, engaging story perfect for sandwiching between two heavier subjects populated with delightful characters and funny incidents.

Go ahead, start reading...

Thursday, September 9, 2010

Ready, Set, Change Career

All my life I've worked inside. I've been a waitress, a grocery cashier, a credit union teller, accounting clerk, accounting manager, internal auditor, and an electric utility company member service representative. Now I wear work boots (!!) and have a company truck with a tool box to accommodate my sledge hammer and brush axe. I still have a clipboard. It helps me recognize myself when I picture myself in my mind's eye slogging through the brush, jumping ditches and annihilating small trees and branches that have committed the crime of blocking my vision from one stake to another.

I'm a staking technician: the person (no longer the 'guy') who travels to potential job sites, usually alone, sometimes meeting a homeowner or electrician, to design new electric services, service upgrades or power line extensions or rebuilds. Luckily, I do this in Michigan's Upper Peninsula where the most likely potential threats aren't man or machine, but wolf or bear. Or domestic dogs, unchained and salivating, rushing to defend their patch of crabgrass decorated with their own leavings. This is where my brush axe becomes a multitasking defense implement that so far I haven't had to utilize beyond brandishing it in a threatening manner. Dogs are easily impressed with long, swinging sticks with gleaming metal ends.

I'm the first woman to hold this position in my 72-year-old company. I don't feel as if I'm breaking down barriers, just quietly enjoying the challenges of a physically and mentally demanding job. I'm 40, and I've convinced myself it's a good time of life to drastically switch careers and also to do something outside with the hope of  maintaining my slowly ebbing physique. My education is not in engineering but in business management, with very little math, which turns out to be a regrettable disadvantage. But I'm having fun. Each assignment is its own project, much like a puzzle or mind-boggling riddle, and merits its own file filled with color-coded documents and drawings (I'm no artist but my sketches are improving--should have taken drafting as well as trigonometry) with a clear end, when I can close the file and stash it away in the 'finished' section of the drawer.

Every day brings a new puzzle requiring a creative solution and I approach it with interest and intensity.

Monday, September 6, 2010

Another Gloomy Day in Paradise

Yes, it's raining again. The three day holiday weekend, at least in the easternmost tip of Michigan's Upper Peninsula, featured two rain days and a day of wind. A great writing weekend, but not useful for many outdoor activities. It doesn't seem time yet to wish summer a happy retirement, but the immediate forecast is bleak: rain, rain and more rain.

I finished reading Little Bee by Chris Cleave and it is truly wonderful. If anyone out there hasn't read it yet, make it a priority! I can't say what it's about, but one passage in the beginning of the book stuck with me. It's paraphrased here, but the general idea is when you see a scar on someone, it is a sign of beauty because scars don't form on the dying. Scars indicate the storyteller is still alive to tell the story. What a great way to look at scars! Cleave says the same thing about tears. There are many profound lessons within the covers of his book but to impart them would ruin the story for other readers.

The Little Giant of Aberdeen County by Tiffany Baker is my current read and it's another great one! I put off reading this one for several months because the cover is disturbing--but I discovered reading the first page was enough to consume my interest for an entire rainy morning. Grab a cup of coffee and get comfy in your favorite chair. Prepare to meet some interesting characters!

Now, to turn my attention back to my work in progress...must keep slogging through the first draft of my newest book (straightening back, cracking knuckles, transforming expression to one of concentration and intense focus).

Saturday, September 4, 2010

Writing Weather

It's a grand day for writing. The wind is whipping the trees around (no power outages at our house yet, but there's still hope) and the rain comes and goes so it's impossible to conduct any outdoor activities. The clouds are cruising west to east so fast they look like the time release camera shots on reality TV shows, the sun only winking at us now and then. It's sweatshirt weather, and it's about time! We've had a long, hot summer but it's been so nice for so long, I'm ready for a stormy day.

The muse likes days like this. It's easy to motivate oneself to write, to work on the latest story or novel, when the air is calm and comfortable inside and I can draw energy from the invigorating weather outside the window. And it's a three day weekend! Maybe we'll have three days of crazy weather and I'll finish my entire project and arrive at work Tuesday morning full of energy.

The only other appropriate activity for days like this is reading. I'm currently reading Little Bee by Chris Cleave, and if you haven't read it yet, get yourself a copy today. It's fabulous. I'm only on chapter three but I'm totally sucked in. The back cover reads: We don't want to tell you what happens in this book. It is a truly special story and we don't want to spoil it. Nevertheless, you need to know enough to buy it, so we will just say this: This is the story of two women. Their lives collide one fateful day, and one of them has to make a terrible choice, the kind of choice we hope you never have to face. Two years later, they meet again--the story starts there... Once you have read it, you'll want to tell your friends about it. When you do, please don't tell them what happens. The magic is in how the story unfolds. 

Sorry, but I have chosen to honor the author's (and marketer's) wishes and not reveal any further information. Go get this book and read it yourself, but if it's a nice day outside, you'll have to carry it outside with you because you won't want to put it down.

The Word That You Heard

I've been so lax in promoting my new book I ought to be arrested by the publicity police and charged with a marketing misdemeanor. I did bring my new book, The Word That You Heard, to the presentation I held last week and it was well received. This morning I woke up and thought, "The book isn't even on my blog!" How lame is that? I need to create posters, post cards, rack cards and a press release. I should probably be working on that right now instead of sitting here writing about it.

I've sold about a dozen copies so far and it's available on Amazon with a Search Inside the Book Feature. Check it out! I've had rave reviews so far and plan to bring it to the next Bookworms Anonymous meeting. (To learn more about our Bookworms Anonymous meetings, check out the website at

Friday, September 3, 2010

Writing on the Fly

Since I've determined the worst part of writing something new is putting the first draft on paper, whether it's with a pen or a laptop (I've been using a combination of both on my third work in progress), I've decided to approach it with a guerrilla attitude. This is just about slogging through the mud of the first draft; crawling beneath the barbed wire fence of irrational, unreasonable reasons to justify procrastination and constructing sentences with a somewhat cohesive theme. So, I write at least one sentence per day. This commitment is supposed to ensure I write more than one sentence, but some days that's enough for me.

It's rather ridiculous how difficult this is.

When I read through what I've written so far, I like it. It shows some promise; a glimmer of originality and possibly enough style to entice readers other than myself and my mother. Shouldn't this be motivation enough to keep going? Apparently, it's only motivation to say "there, I've finished chapter three" without much of an idea how chapter four is going to appear.

The fun part, at this stage, is seeing the notebook grow. Each time I write a few more pages to insert, or type a few and print them out, my cup of satisfaction overflows a little.

Back to work now; must keep slogging.