Thursday, November 21, 2013

Giving Thanks

Thanksgiving is coming, and it’s never too early to make a gratitude list. Here are a few of the many things for which I’m grateful:

(Whoops! I started to type “Things I’m grateful for,” but my brain and fingers rebelled. Why? Number ten on my list explains the temporary paralysis.)

10.) The teachers who taught me grammar. (All mistakes are my fault, not theirs.) I’m especially grateful for Sister Grace Anthony and Sister Frances Johannes of the now-defunct East Orange Catholic High School.) For fun, try Colin Falconer’s Grammar Quiz.

9.) Animal friends and would be/could be animal friends. If you haven’t seen Twenty-Two Words' gone-viral photos of a little boy napping with his puppy, here they are. (Oh, go ahead and click. You won’t be sorry.) 

8.) The Texas Hill Country is the place I go to catch my breath. Often, in the morning and evening, a purple haze rings the hills.

7.) Lemons from my tree. For the second year in a row, my little Meyer lemon tree has borne fruit, and Thanksgiving will be zestier for it.

6.) My hearing. I will never be matter-of-fact about it. Two+ years after my first cochlear implant, I’m gushingly grateful for every sound.

5.) Rain. The drought in Texas continues, but parts of the state, including Houston, have moved from severe-drought status to near normalcy. That said, it will be a long time, if ever, before I take rain for granted.

4.) Blogging friends and supporters. I’m thankful for you every day of the week, month, and year. Your posts enrich my life. Your comments on my posts make me laugh and think.

3.) Writing friends. Not all my friends are writers, but the ones who write understand there’s a time for the writing cave, and a time to come out and mingle. Two of my critique partners live in another part of the country, and we’ve never met in person. Nevertheless, because we share our first drafts, we share ourselves. My two in-town critique partners are my best pals.

2.) The joy of cooking. I do housework grudgingly and leave clothes in the dryer for days, but interesting recipes make me swoon. I’ll prepare Thanksgiving dinner without complaint. Yes, the rush-rush of multiple tasks will leave me panting, but chopping and stirring will bring moments of zen. I put dinner on the table night after night and take plenty of shortcuts, but cooking’s my therapy, and holiday cooking is therapy on steroids.

1.)  Family. I lucked out in the parents-and-siblings department and chose well husband-wise, but I don’t discount luck there, either. How much do any of us know when we say, “I do?” I, for one, didn’t anticipate the upheavals caused by relocations, job changes, and children. I’ve learned a lot. Today, my adult children are fun and interesting to be around. I’m not, however, one of those moms-of-grown-kids who swears she’d do it all over again. There’s no way I’d relive my children’s teenage years.

Happy Thanksgiving to you and yours and thanks for stopping by and reading. I'm grateful to and for you. 

Thursday, November 14, 2013

What's in a Name?

"What's in a name? That which we call a rose
By any other name would smell as sweet." - Shakespeare

My life’s been uneventful of late. How uneventful? I count a recent colonoscopy as an adventure. Fear not. I won’t share details except to say any day without a colonoscopy is a good one.

At dark-thirty on the morning of my procedure, the nurses at the outpatient center buzzed with excitement over what they considered a strange coincidence/eerie convergence: four out of eight female patients scheduled were named Patricia. Spooky?

In fact, there’s a logical explanation. Most Americans (those of us lucky enough to have health insurance, anyway) are urged to get our first colorectal-cancer screening at or around age fifty. In other words, the female patients who showed up that morning likely were born in 1963 or earlier.

In the 1960’s, Patricia was the sixth most common name given to girl babies. Don’t believe me? The Social Security Administration keeps track of these things. In the 1950’s, Patricia was the third most popular name for baby girls according to the SSA. 

Those SSA charts come in handy when I’m stuck for a character name. But that’s not all, folks. Here’s a fun infographic of THE most popular girl’s name, state-by-state in the U.S. every year between 1960 and 2012. I'm amazed at how fast a name catches on and how far its popularity spreads.

If that infographic’s right, a lot of women named Lisa soon will make appointments for colonoscopies. Meanwhile, I think about all the Sophias born last year. Forty-nine years from now, will they await colonoscopies at dark-thirty in the morning, or will medical advances make the procedure obsolete? I’m betting on the latter.

Is your name commonplace or unusual? If it’s commonplace, do you secretly long for a name that sets you apart? If it’s unusual, do you yearn for one that doesn’t cause heads to turn when the barista at Starbucks calls your name?

Thursday, November 7, 2013

Links for Writers, Mac and Cheese for Everyone

This post is a salute to the writers participating in National Novel Writing Month, or NaNoWriMo. I’m not, alas, one of them. (For me, a good week’s output is is 6,000 words on the work in progress. I know, I know, for some of you, that represents a day’s effort. )

One of my favorite bloggers on writing is British author Matt Haig. In a recent post, he shares what he’s learned over twelve years as a published author. Number 11 speaks to me: “We like stories because time moves us forward, when what we want to do is move sideways. We want to live every possible life, not just ours. Stories are how we can window shop other possible lives without committing to them. They teach us everything.”

As you gulp coffee to fuel your NaNo-inspired writing frenzy, think about the post you’ll write when you’ve been published for twelve years.

Haig’s number 19, though, worries me: Being published makes you paranoid. Bookshops stop being bookshops and start being ‘Writers Doing Better Than Me Shops’.” Oh, no-o-o-o! Let’s not lose our love of bookstores. To ensure we don’t, here’s a GIF-happy list of reasons we love bookstores. (NaNo writers will be able to visit a bookstore on December 1. On that happy day, you will order a latte, sink into a comfortable chair, and congratulate yourself on jumpstarting a novel and maybe a career.)

Before the month’s over, NaNoers will curse the work in progress many times. That’s normal, so push past self-doubt. Next month, before you settle in to revise, read agent Joelle Delbourgo’s post on common reasons editors turn downfiction manuscripts. Your December task is to make sure your revised novel doesn’t give editors a reason to say no. 

Sadly, the laundry doesn’t do itself during NaNo, the day job’s demands continue, and someone has to vacuum. To add insult to injury, kids expect dinner to appear on the table sometime between five and nine p.m. Every night.

Here’s an easy and quick recipe to the rescue.  A friend gave it to me the year our kids were peddling jars of salsa as a Future Farmers of America fundraiser. (Turns out Texans are picky about salsa, and most families already have several jars of their favorite kinds in their pantries.) We FFA parents ended up buying a dozen or so jars apiece and needed ways to use it up. I’ve since learned this recipe in famous in some circles. Here goes:

Salsa Mac and Cheese with Beef

1 pound ground beef (or ground turkey)
16 ounces salsa (Me, I like salsa with a chipotle kick and medium heat. If you have picky eaters, try a mild salsa. If you like it hot, go for the fieriest salsa you can find.)
2 cups water
7 ounces elbow macaroni
I-2 cups cheddar, grated. (It’s NaNo, for pity’s sake. Buy a bag of already grated cheese. If you’re a Velveeta fan, cube a quarter pound of it.)

1.) Brown meat in large skillet. Drain.
2.) Add salsa and water. Bring to boil.
3.) Stir in macaroni.
4.) Reduce heat; cover. Simmer 8-10 minutes, or until macaroni is tender.
5.) Stir in cheese until melted.

Serves four to six

Happy writing and eating!