Sunday, November 30, 2008

Like many others in the blogosphere, I am utterly smitten by Margaret and Helen, the elderly ladies from Texas whose blog was created as a way for them to keep in touch when one of them moved far away. Largely due to the outrageously funny and flamboyantly liberal posts from Margaret during the presidential campaign, the old gals have become something of a cyber-phenomenon. I gotta tell you Margaret is about to bump the cartoon character, Maxine, from her place as the embodiment of "who I wanna be when I get old."

Margaret is not exactly Sarah Palin's biggest fan [cough, cough]. Margaret actually loathes and despises Sarah Palin. She seems to have the same general level of disdain for Governor Palin that I always reserved for Phyllis Schafly, and for almost all the same reasons. Granted, Margaret gets carried away with her prose from time to time, but to be honest I could come uncorked thinking too much about Schafly or Gov. Palin, too.

The calculated use of hyperbole and satire are almost sacred obligations for any writer who wants to lampoon politicians. What Margaret may lack in the area of satire she more than makes up for in the area of hyperbole. She does get nasty sometimes, but her writing is so crisp and funny, I forgive her when she gets carried away. That's a large part of her charm.

The other day she wrote a post about Gov. Palin's trip to Georgia to campaign for Senator Chambliss. To summarize: Margaret was not pleased with Gov. Palin for making the trip and she is not a fan of Senator Chambliss. Margaret's post generally seemed to be along the lines that the Guv needs to go back to Alaska where she can screw up the lives of only a few people, and the people of the state of Georgia need to get real ... and get rid of Chambliss. Both of those things seemed like perfectly reasonable suggestions to me, although even I will acknowledge that Margaret was in something of a fine fettle when she wrote the post.

I usually don't read the comments on that blog, mainly because there are too damned many of them. For some reason, I scanned the comments to that post and came across some horrible evangelical screed. I haven't seen anything that nasty since I quit reading Episcopal Church-related blogs.

It would appear that, even though the election is over, the crazies are still lathered up. I would love to think that the Obama Administration will have support from a wide spectrum of America. I would like to see us join together to make the changes that are necessary in order to restore America's soul, repair our damaged relations with the rest of the world, and move toward a new future together. My fear is that the far right wing racists and Christianists will not let that happen.

I appreciate Margaret's humor, just as I appreciate the humor of Al Franken, and other liberal humorists. I see it as HUMOR. It makes me sad (and frightened) to think that so many people in our country are so narrow-minded, short-sighted and bigoted that they (a) cannot acknowledge that someone might have another point of view and (b) they get pissed off when somebody pulls their leg.

Come on, people: LIGHTEN UP!

Thursday, November 27, 2008

Thanksgiving Evening

We had a wonderful Thanksgiving! In recent years (because I'm a fanatic about my weight), I over-eat only about once a year, and that day is almost always on Thanksgiving. I hate the feeling of being so full, but I love all traditional Thanksgiving foods so much, I just can't help myself. I love cooking them (and tasting along the way), and I love eating them. I especially love watching my family enjoying the food I so lovingly prepared for them.

Daughter Dear elected not to help cook the meal. For one thing, I started my preparations at the ungodly early hour of 10:30 a. m. Heaven forbid that she should get up at such an hour. Moreover, she's reading a good book, which is why she stayed up way too late last night. She slept late today and then spent most of the day sprawled across her bed reading. I would have been inclined to throw a hissy fit because she didn't help with Thanksgiving dinner as she had promised, but I just don't have it in me to interrupt a kid who's actually reading a book. [She did notice the "timetable" hanging on the refrigerator door and remarked, "You write out a schedule?" That gave me the opportunity to explain the theory of the timetable. As a "teaching moment," that was better than nothing.]

The upshot was that I made the entire dinner all by myself, except for carving the turkey, which is DH's job. [Well, to be honest what DH does to a turkey can't exactly be called "carving." I've watched Julia Child and Emeril Lagasse and Food Channel chefs actually "carve" a turkey. What DH does to it is more like a massacre. But, it gets the meat off the bones, and I sure as heck could not stomach getting my hands in all that grease, so I would never never complain about how he goes about it.] Quite honestly I enjoyed the whole process.

I did all the prep work for the side dishes while the pie baked (thanks be to Mrs. Smith's). After I put the turkey in the oven, I had a few hours of downtime, so DH and I went to the beach for an hour or so. When we returned I had just enough time for a shower before the turkey was done. While the turkey was setting and then being "carved" [ahem] by DH, I baked the side dishes, finished setting the table, and made the gravy. Dinner was finished and ready for the table exactly 20 minutes ahead of schedule, which gave me a chance to sit down and have a glass of wine before putting the food on the table.

We ate and ate and talked and talked. It was wonderful. There was not one argument or cross word. I am very, very thankful for that.

Now the carcass is simmering away on the stove, rendering a stock that I will use for for soups, gravies and sauces in coming weeks.

My favorite Thanksgiving side dish is Corn Pudding. My mom gave me the recipe years ago, and I've made it every Thanksgiving since. It's one of those Methodist Church-lady recipes that could not possibly be easier, but it soooooooooo good. I would skip the turkey on Thanksgiving, but not the corn pudding!

I share it with y'all:

1 package Jiffy Corn Muffin Mix
1 can creamed corn
1 can corn (drained)
8 oz sour cream (I use a little more sour cream and less butter)
1 stick margarine (I usually use 1/2 stick of butter)

Melt the margarine/butter in a glass baking pan while preheating the oven. Add the rest of the ingredients and mix thoroughly. Bake, uncovered, at 350-degrees for 30-45 minutes.

This stuff is absolutely fabulous warm. It's almost better cold the next day. It pairs perfectly with fresh cranberry sauce.

Thanksgiving Morning

I am enjoying the calm before the storm. Everybody but me is still in bed (a common occurrence). The house is absolutely silent but for the clacking of my fingernails on the computer keys. (That is also a common occurrence in our house.)

I just mapped out the cooking schedule for today. I grew up in a household where cooking and entertaining were almost the raison d'etre for my mother. She's a great cook and until recently she loved to entertain. She is also a great home economist: organized and amazingly frugal.

Thanksgiving in our house usually involved days of advanced preparation. There was not just one Mrs. Smith's frozen pie from Target. No. There were homemade pies: pumpkin, mince meat, apple (from our tree), and, usually, pecan (if we received the box of pecans from the Southern relatives in time). Depending on the size of the crowd and how many of the Southern relatives were coming, there might be several pumpkin pies or maybe some sweet potato pies as well.

Bread was my department. I baked homemade rolls and breads on Wednesday evening.

Mom always had snacks galore so people could load up all day. She worked on snacks and hors d'oeuvres for days.

Thanksgiving day was a frenzy in the kitchen. She normally cooked at least one very large turkey, plus a ham. There were always mashed potatoes (real ones not the boxed ones from WalMart that my family thinks is the only way you can get mashed potatoes) and sweet potato casserole. Due to a diversity of family tastes there were always three bowls of dressing: one with giblets (yuck!), one without giblets and not cooked inside the bird (that was my dish), and one cooked inside the bird (I don't know if that one had giblets or not; I never ate it). Sides included three different kinds of cranberries: smooth, chunky and a cranberry salad with nuts and citrus, plus an ambrosia salad to die for. Vegetables? You name it, she cooked it. Mostly I remember there were always Lima beans because they are my favorite vegetable. Other than that, I don't remember. Who eats the veggies on Thanksgiving anyway? She made gravy both with and without giblets. I'm sure I'm forgetting something, but it was always an amazing feast.

We also used the good dishes for Thanksgiving, whether it was just the family (which happened rarely) or whether we were feeding the masses. We did not have a dishwasher and I wasn't much help in the kitchen, so doing the dishes was my job. Mom was one of those wash-as-you-go cooks. Therefore, I was usually washing pots and pans and mixing bowls pretty soon after I dragged my ass out of bed. (Which tended to be hours after she had started cooking).

The kitchen looked like the aftermath of a hurricane all day long until about five minutes before we sat down at the table. At that point, it all came together like a magic spell in a movie. There were a few minutes of total chaos while we tried to get all the dishes on the table while they were still hot, then peace reigned by the time we said Grace.

It never ceased to amaze me, but it happened every year. She never forgot anything, and everything came out done at the same time. Her secret was not magic. It was hard work, done according to a rigid timetable. A week or so before Thanksgiving she would sit down and work her way backwards from the Zero Hour, scheduling every single task she had to do to make it come out. Making that schedule took a long time, but she always said if she stuck to the schedule, she knew she could pull it off. She stuck it to a cabinet door with a magnet, and it was her Bible and road map from the moment she hung it up until she sat down to eat.

The "timetable" was one of the many wonderful valuable lessons I have learned from my mother. I use it for every large meal I ever make (even though the largest and most elaborate meal I make today barely rises to the level of Mom's normal Sunday dinner). I use a "timetable" for packing for trips, and anything else where I have a deadline to finish multiple tasks.

This week I had conversations with two different people who said they would have absolutely no idea how to go about preparing a Thanksgiving dinner. I find that sad. I have eaten out for Thanksgiving and I have been a guest in other peoples' homes, and it's just not as good.... because you don't have the best part of the Thanksgiving dinner: THE LEFTOVERS.

So, I'm cooking this year, just as I have every year since we moved to Florida. My meal is much simpler than my mother's and I have done absolutely no advance preparation ... other than to make my timetable. I used my menu to generate the shopping list and also to generate my timetable. My Zero Hour is 5:00 p. m. According to my timetable, have until 10:30 a. m. to mess around, and get in a good long walk.

This year, Daughter Dear said she wants to help make the meal. I am not very good at sharing my kitchen, but I'm going to try to make the effort so she can learn how to manage the process. I don't want to think that someday she might stand around at work lamenting that her mother never taught her how to organize and cook a Thanksgiving meal.

Happy Thanksgiving! (I gotta go... I have two hours for a walk before I have to organize my ingredients and get out the pans...)

Monday, November 24, 2008

The Mother Letter Project

I mentioned this in my last post, but decided to bump it up in the chain to emphasize it.

I thought I had a wonderful husband (and I do). This guy may be the grand pooh-bah of great husbands. He's putting together a Christmas gift for his wife made up from letters to a mother from other mothers. See the mother letter project.

What a kind and wonderful idea. I'm in!

So Very Thankful

I am back from my Continuing Education seminar. I think I passed my test, which will give me a professional designation, complete with a bunch of random alphabet soup letters behind my name. Aren't you impressed? I thought so. To be honest, I didn't do it for the letters behind my name, I did it for the money I was promised by way of additional compensation if I completed the program. To put it bluntly: I did it for the money.

It will be several weeks before my grades are posted and my completion of the program is official. We'll party then, but for now the important news is that I survived 100 hours of continuing education without murdering anybody or standing up in the middle of a lecture, tearing at my clothes and screaming obscenities. Not that I didn't consider it. Numerous times.

Anyway, one of the most important things I am thankful for this year is that I am FINISHED with this ordeal. Thanks be to God!

I just got off a two hour phone conversation with my mother. I usually talk to her over the weekend, but we missed connections this weekend and we apparently needed to catch up. Tonight, we mainly talked about politics. We agreed on some stuff. In fifty-four years that has never happened before!! At a very minimum, my mother and I haven't agreed on any thing political since before the Vietnam War ended. Turns out that, amazingly, these days my mother and I agree about a lot of things.

The number one thing we agree on is that we are willing embrace a president who seems to have a clue (and care about) civil liberties. We got there by seriously different routes. My mother is basically a Dixiecrat who could probably do a pretty good five minutes on the subject of States Rights, which is something I don't much give a hoot about. I, on the other hand, am a borderline socialist at least in the eyes of most of the people I know. We got there by different routes, but we agree that protecting and defending the Constitution and, in particular, the Bill of Rights is perhaps the most important issue facing our country today. All that other economic, environmental and military stuff is subordinate to the protection of the very most fundamental principals on which our nation was founded.

We had a wonderful conversation that lasted more than two hours. It only occurred to me AFTER we hung up that I didn't wait until after 9:00 p.m. (when our cell plan switched over to 'unlimited calling') to call her. I reckon I'll catch hell about that from DH when we get the next bill. Oh, well....

I tend to write blog posts and read blogs from other people at the same time, so while I was writing this I came across the Mother Letter Project. I am definitely in for that. I'll be working on that in a little while.

I gotta go. I have a letter to write to my mother......

Friday, November 21, 2008

Bitching and Moaning (cont'd)

Okay, so I can't wait until next week to get this off my chest. I am not a happy camper. I hate professional seminars!

They make me stay in a hotel away from my family, which I do not like.

They put me in a classroom that is approximately the same temperature as a gynecologist's examining room. I had on three shirts today. I guess I'll go for four tomorrow.

One of the instructors insisted on standing in the BACK of the room. I always sit in the fucking front of any classroom so I can see and hear. I do not appreciate the instructor wandering to the back of the room where I can't see or hear him! It really drives me crazy when he has side conversations with people in the back.

The instructors tend to be
pompous windbags standing up in front of the group showing off about how smart they are and expecting us to be impressed by their knowledge and tickled by their lame attempts at humor. I work for some really, really smart people. They make these guys look like a bunch of yokels.

To make matters worse, there are too many pompous asses among the students who just must keep interrupting the proceedings to ask questions or make comments designed to demonstrate to the pompous windbag teaching the class and the rest of the participants how unbelievably smart they are... Half the time they just look stupid because of the inane crap that comes out of their mouths.

All I want to do is get through the curriculum and end the class on time so I have plenty of time in the evenings to study. Students who ask lengthy questions during class or who buttonhole pompous windbags during breaks, thereby causing breaks to run long, and class to run over.... well, they just piss me off.

I do not like being cooped up in hotels under the best of circumstances, but this hotel has very uncomfortable desk chairs and too little lighting, which makes it tough on an old bag like me to study.....

... so I gave up and decided to blog. At least my computer is self-lit and I can hold it in my lap.

I feel better now. At least until tomorrow when I get to do it all over again.

I'll try to leave this subject for now. I promise.

Thursday, November 20, 2008

Bitching and Moaning

We are in the run-up to my least favorite time of the year.

I hate cold weather. I know that it doesn't get as cold in Florida as it does in other parts of the country, but it feels cold to me. And I hate being cold.

Worse than the coldness of winter is the darkness. It is dark in the morning when I go to work, dark at night when I come home. Too dark to take a walk in the evening.

I need light and heat and outdoor exercise in order to be happy. Wintertime is clearly a problem for me. It is better in Florida than it was in Ohio, because I can at least get outside some on the weekends and the sun shines in the daytime (as opposed to Ohio where in the wintertime the sun can hide for days and days on end). Even so, winter is a huge problem for me! I think the name for the condition is appropriate: SADD.

So, usually from about mid-November until the middle of March, I am depressed. Sad. Grumpy. Miserable to be around (for myself and anyone who is unlucky enough to have to deal with me).

Worst of all, my "SADD" period coincides with the season cheerfully referred to by many as "The Holidays." Over the years, the period made up by "The Holidays" has changed. It used to run from Thanksgiving to New Year's Day. That was bad enough. Now it appears to start with Halloween and end with the Super Bowl. It seems as though everybody I know is excited about "The Holidays." There is endless chatter about meals, parties, gifts and (shudder, cringe, tremble) decorations. Yikes!

The next time somebody asks me if I have started my Christmas shopping, I'm gonna deck them. I refuse to even think about Christmas until after Thanksgiving. And I don't mean the day after Thanksgiving. I mean sometime in the middle of December!

In almost every other aspect of my life, in particular my professional life, I work far ahead and plan, plan, plan. In my personal life, I take each day as it comes and try not to think ahead. That goes double at this time of the year when it is all I can do to get through the day at hand. If I think too much about the upcoming string of Thanksgiving, Football playoffs, Birthdays, Anniversary, Christmas, New Years, Football playoffs, etc., it makes me want to run away and hide until it is all over and all that cheerfulness dissipates.

So, I am in denial. I'm pretending that The Holidays are far away and I don't have to worry about any of it.

In the meantime, I am off today for a four day continuing education seminar. Yuck. I have to leave in three hours and I haven't even pulled my suitcase down from the closet. I guess I've sorta been in denial about going to this seminar, too.

I'll be back to bitch some more next week.

Novel Update - 3

Naturally, I couldn't resist working on the book some more, filling in some detail, but now I am finished! Well, sort of. At least the first draft is done. I'm going to put it away for a while and let it rest. Then I'll take it out again and work it over some more before deciding whether or not to submit it to any prospective literary agents. What a dreadful ending to the magnificent process of writing!

I stuck to my outline and discovered that writing to a plot was a lot easier than just letting the story meander along at the characters' whims. That did not mean the characters didn't throw me curves. The ending turned out to be very different from what I originally expected. I started out with three possible endings. Naturally, the actual ending was none of those, and it all happened because I could not convince the male protagonist to put down the phone!

Anyway, it was a totally fun way to spend a couple of weeks, and I think I really did learn some valuable lessons about "loosening up" a bit.

Friday, November 14, 2008

Novel Update - 2

I have written over 60,000 words and already have a more-or-less complete first draft. And it's only half-way through the month! I guess I accomplished the goal of writing a complete novel of 50,000 words in a month. It is time to put it away for a while, let it settle down and then start the editing process after a few weeks.

Frankly, I knew I wouldn't have any trouble getting to 50,000 words in a month. I wrote more than 20,000 words the first weekend. I probably crank out up to 50,000 words-a-month on various projects on a fairly regular basis.

In this exercise, I focused on letting my imagination go nuts and not worrying about sticking with only "what I know" -- as in what I have more or less experienced first hand or can at least extrapolate from first hand-experience. That is very limiting and keeps the stories small and, perhaps, very narrow in their appeal.

For the purposes of this story, I concentrated instead on "what I can imagine." That was a huge breakthrough for me. I have a wild imagination that can spin off all kinds of wild tales. I've never really let it loose in a novel before, preferring simple stories about "real" people. Wildish characters are a lot more fun to read about. It turns out they are also a lot more fun to write about.

The other "breakthrough" was that this was the first time I have started out with a plot. Usually I start with characters and let the plot come out of their interaction. This time I started with the idea for a plot and let the characters emerge to fill the roles necessary to further the plot. It was totally amazing how easy the story was to write. Quite honestly, it wrote itself. All I had to do was to transcribe it. Some days the characters raced ahead in their adventures so fast, it was all I could do to keep up.

I can't wait to try using that technique for my next story, just to see if I can do it again.

A Thought Provoking Bumper Sticker

It read simply:


I had to think about it a minute. I like it!

Saturday, November 8, 2008

Novel Update

After a marathon writing session beginning last night, I hit 50,000 words (50,146 to be exact) in one week!!!

And that includes working a full 50-hour work week at my day job as well as sort of, attending to my family.

I am not finished with my story, but I'm coming down the home stretch on the first draft. I have to say this blitzkrieg writing stuff is loads of fun.

Thursday, November 6, 2008

Novel Update

SP asked for an update on the novel. I'm about 2/3 to the 50,000 word mark and the story has taken on a life of its own. The event that I thought was the ending turned out to be the final scene of the first half. An entire second story emerged that wasn't part of the original outline.

Too much commotion chez nous tonight for me to write more than a couple of hundred words, partly because I wanted to debrief the election a bit.

I have planned a big weekend writing blitz.

I'll make an effort to check in with updates periodically.

Thanks for asking!

Tears, Fears and Hope

I really did not believe Barack Obama had a chance to win the election. Not because he wasn't qualified. I think he may be the best qualified president we have had since Franklin Roosevelt (and a good thing too because our country is in the ditch almost as deep as it was in 1932, in different ways).

I thought he didn't have a chance because, somewhere along the way from the Nixon administration to now, I stopped believing that America could really be "united." I hoped for it; wished for it; prayed for it. I lamented the absence of unity and a sense of common purpose. I talked a lot and wrote a lot about the need to find a common purpose, the need for We The People to take back out country. That has been a mantra for me for at least the last eight years.

The problem was (and I only realized this when the election was over) that the insidious messages of fear and hate with which we have been bombarded from our government officials for years had seeped in. I had stopped believing it was possible.

In the final days running up to the election, my heart began to pitter with the smallest stirrings of hope. My mind kept talking it all away. As late as Election Day, I still could not believe he would win.

I didn't believe it until he walked out on that podium and gave one of the most wonderful political speeches I have ever heard. It was the first time I actually listened to him speak. (I typically read the transcripts of the speeches.) It was wonderful. I stood up in front of my TV and applauded when he referred to We The People. I stood up and wept.

But I did not dance around in joy. There is too much at stake. Too much to do. To much danger still out there.

I was gratified to know that our next president, too, is steadying his nerves and steeling his will for a time of intense work.

We are far from out of the woods, but at least now I think we have a leader who owns a Compass, and knows how to read it.

This is a wonderful week in America.

Hell, it's a wonderful week on Planet Earth.

Saturday, November 1, 2008

Taking Another Break

Starting now, I am going to take a break from blogging for the month of November in order to focus on my National Novel Writing Month project (unless I freak out over the election and have to break in and say something).