Hello, it’s been a while

I’m usually much more present in this space. A lot has been happening; a lot more is due to happen soon, and ongoing. The novel currently going by, The Pen was picked up by Rachel Kahan at William Morrow (an imprint of HarperCollins.) I’m ridiculously happy and a little starstruck. I’ve been around the block a few times, but this is a new block with new people, and I imagine a new experience. Time will tell, and then I’ll tell you.

In a couple of weeks, I’m off to Europe with my parents, my brothers and their spouses. And Frankie D, of course. When I get home, edits from my editor will be waiting for me, so that’s actually something to look forward to leaving Rome for. Heroically Lost is nearly finished, first draft. Beloved Agent Janna will be sending feedback on our second round for Entangled soonish, and another new story with another new set of characters is already banging at my brain-doors. As my daughter, Jamie, has said–I poop books. I hope that’s always so.

And today is Christofer’s birthday.

Thunk, right in the middle of all the excitement, there it is. Of course, it’s no surprise. It didn’t sneak up on me. As it usually happens, there was a week of threatened rumbling on my horizon, but nothing to fear. Just a storm. Another storm. It would pass.

The anticipatory tension was worse than the event, to be honest. I’ve been okay. Not without tears, but okay. He was born today. Eleven hours of labor. The only time I gave birth without surgical intervention. And then I got to keep him for twenty-five years. A loaner. Part of me always knew he would be. I’d been telling myself from day one, with Chris, once he was gone, he was going to be gone. I never thought it would be quite so literal, but, there you have it.

Today marks one of the happiest days of my life; the day my second son was born. He was the linking piece in two families blended into one. He was loved. So loved. He still is. How, then, can I lament this day in any way?

I can’t say happy birthday. It just doesn’t feel right. Instead, I’ll offer him a smile instead of tears, and tell him his Turtle loves him so much.

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Johanna’s Hot Cocoa

This is for ONE cup of cocoa, which is never enough. Double, triple, quadruple as you see fit.

Melt 1 tsp butter in a saucepan. Add to it 5 ounces of good milk chocolate (you can use any chocolate, but the darker the chocolate, the more you might need to add some sugar.) Stir until melted and creamy.

Stir in a splash of vanilla, cinnamon, nutmeg–all, none, or some. Personally, I love a little sprinkle of cinnamon and a dash of vanilla.

The milk to cream ratio is 2:1, so 1/2 cup milk to 1/4 cup cream.

Stir constantly or the chocolate settles and sticks to the bottom. Once it’s warmed through, pour into mugs. Top with whipped cream, maybe marshmallows or crushed peppermint sticks.

Enjoy! Before hot cocoa weather is behind us.

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Almond Joyful Cake

Almond Cake

  • 1 1cups granulated sugar
  • 3cup almond paste (not marzipan)
  • 10 ounces unsalted butter, at room temperature
  • 6 large eggs, at room temperature
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla extract
  • 1 cup all-purpose flour
  • 1 teaspoon baking powder
  • 14teaspoon salt

(Double the recipe if you want a two-tier cake)

  1. Preheat the oven to 325 degrees.
  2. Line the bottom of a 9-inch cake pan with parchment paper, or butter the pan and dust it lightly with flour.
  3. Beat together the sugar and almond paste until the paste is finely broken up. A mixer works best–easier on the arms. 🙂
  4. Add the butter and beat for a few minutes until light and fluffy.
  5. In a separate bowl, stir together the eggs with a fork; slowly add it to the batter as you beat.
  6. Add the vanilla.
  7. Whisk together the flour, baking soda and salt.
  8. Stir the dry ingredients into the batter until incorporated–no more.
  9. Transfer the batter into the prepared cake pan and bake for about 1 hour, or until a toothpick inserted into the center comes out clean.
  10. Cool completely before icing.

Chocolate buttercream icing

Simplest thing in the world. A one pound box of confectioners sugar, a stick of SALTED* butter at room temperature, at least a half cup of powdered baking (DARK**) cocoa, (more, depending upon how chocolaty you want it) and 1-2 tablespoons of milk.

Cream the butter, add the sugar and cocoa a little at a time (so it doesn’t puff up in your face) and the milk a few splashes at a time. You want it stiff enough to hold a peak, not so stiff that it tears your cake apart when you ice it.

I usually double the recipe, because I like lots of icing.

After the cake is iced, while the icing is still tacky, sprinkle the whole thing with coconut flakes.

Enjoy!

*If you don’t use salted butter, add about a quarter tsp when you cream the butter.

**You can can use regular baking cocoa, but it is a very sweet cake, and the dark offsets the sweet a little better, to my palate.

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Roasted Garlic Paste

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Before you say, “I can get that in the grocery store.” No. No you can’t. Not this. I tell you now, it’s worth the little bit of effort to have on hand, because, as we all know, garlic makes everything better.

Roasted garlic has a much more mellow flavor. The caramelization is key. The natural sugars get pulled out, browned and gorgeous. The flavor, while more mild, is concentrated. Though the kind of roasted garlic–jarred or in a tube–found in the grocery store has that golden brown look, the stuff used to preserve it kills that subtle flavor and ruins the texture. Sometimes, believe it or not, that coloring is artificially added.

Roasted garlic adds an amazing finish to mashed potatoes, mushrooms, sauces of all kinds, in dips. A little goes a very long way, and you’d never want to use this in something that has to cook a long time. Roasted garlic will lose most of what makes it so yummy if cooked over a(nother) prolonged period of time.

Added bonus of roasted garlic! It’s less apt to cause heartburn in those sensitive to it.

The above picture is about a pint, and represents a dozen whole heads of garlic. Doesn’t seem like much, I know, but this will last me at least three months.

Very simple to make:

12 heads of garlic. Whole, with papery skin left on, though you should take off the stuff that’s flaking.

place them on a baking sheet lined with parchment paper*, points up (like you’d plant any bulb) and drizzle with a little olive oil.

put it in the oven at 350 for about an hour; then take it out and let it cool.

The bulbs will be very squishy. *This is why the parchment paper is very important! Some of the sugars from the garlic will be crackled and brown like caramel under the bulbs. You want that stuff! Save it to add to the paste.

Now, the tricky part; extracting the paste. There are all kinds of ways to extract the now-roasted garlic. The easiest way I’ve found is to separate all the cloves and line them up on another sheet of parchment paper, all facing the same way. Cover with another sheet of parchment paper, and then roll (one way only!) the paste out with a rolling pin. It gets a little sticky, but it’s easy to scrape all the yummy paste off the parchment paper.

Once the paste is in a container, add the caramelized bits, a little salt and about a tablespoon of olive oil, stir it all up and store it in the fridge. Though the natural preservative qualities of garlic, olive oil and salt make it unnecessary, garlic is plant matter and will break down. Storing it in the fridge keeps the flavor, longer.

Never freeze it!

Want an amazing, wintry soup? Saute a small onion and a handful of sliced mushrooms in a little butter. Add 3-4 cups chicken stock (or vegetable,) a heaping tablespoon of the roasted garlic (more or less to your taste.) Bring it to a simmer–never a boil! Take it off the heat, stir in about 1/2 cup of cream. Salt and pepper to taste. Divine.

 

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One Nation, Indivisible.

     You know when the first, hard death knell for democracy was tolled in America? When McCarthyism succeeded in adding “Under God” to our pledge (and soon after made it mandatory on money. *see below)
     Look at the placement–“One nation under God, indivisible….” Dividing one nation, and indivisible with the very thing that divides us most completely. There is no denying the overwhelming influence of Christianity on the United States at inception, and in the present, but religious freedom is one of the prized tenets of Americans as a people. It’s being used as a weapon of mass destruction, and no one seems to get it.
     I’m not blaming God. Not yours or anyone else’s. Don’t get all twisted up thinking I’m disdaining your faith. I’m disdaining those who saw, as history has always seen, that you can control a whole people by controlling their god. That is something all people of faith should disdain. Religion is being used, repeat–AS IT HAS ALWAYS BEEN USED–for power, and political gain.
     This is where most of the strife comes from, whether it’s a Muslim ban or anti-abortion advocates demanding their beliefs dictate the choices of all, the misuse of “God’ has divided this nation. It’s no secret that the Republican party, that proud and respected entity, has dug too deeply into the pocket of the Christian Right, and now can’t seem to get out of it. Every other party in existence can rant and rage and protest, but the power to actually fix anything lies in the hands of Republicans who have the courage to say enough is enough, to take their party back from the dark places it’s gotten lost in.
     I’m not a fan of Russel Brand, nor do I have any animosity for him. I have no real opinion of the man, actually, but he said something I feel deep in my core–this thing is done. (Speaking of Trump as well as Brexit.) What we need to concentrate on is how it was allowed to happen. We need to know why it did, and take measures to see that it can’t happen again.
     Under God…You may say, “So what? They’re just words.” But words have power. It’s subtle, and it’s insidious, but it is very purposely done.
*It was stamped onto coin currency starting 1864 and has appeared on paper currency since 1957. A law passed in a Joint Resolution by the 84th Congress and approved by President Dwight Eisenhower (who also approved the change to the pledge) on July 30, 1956 declared IN GOD WE TRUST must appear on currency.

 

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First Contact

I’ve dreamed of you…

At first, the joy of freedom; and then

the sorrow for the grief you brought segued into

a smile, a nod, a shake of your head

to speak much more than words allow.

Always silent, yet I understood your conflict,

the push and the pull of wanting

to be here and there all at once.

*

Time, that human construct, is nothing.

A way to measure the span between

then and now; between

you breathing your first and

sighing your last; the span that

doesn’t measure in tears but in

click-ticks on a numbered face that become

hours in a day and days in a week,

weeks in months and years; in decades and centuries.

The sun’s path across the sky, chased

by Mother moon.

*

I dreamed of you…

They brought you to me, not your infant self

swaddled and seeking points of reference in your new world; but

fully grown, the man you were when you left.

You smiled at me. I wept my joy and

you held out your arms. You held me against your great chest,

in those strong arms heavy on my shoulders. My ear

pressed and listening for the heartbeat

once a whooshing jump-rope sound; once

a steady thump to reassure me through

the darkest of the dark.

There was only your weight,

your solidity, your smile. My trembling joy.

“Can you stay?” I asked. “Will they let you?”

“Yes, I think so.” But you shook your head, your smile saddened.

You stepped away, back into my brain wishing or the conduit

breaking; the connection unexplained, undiscovered

except in dreaming. The first contact in the span

measured only in tears.

TLD

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This Cold January Day

Where are you now? Drifting through

another realm, a plane more suited

to who you are? Truly are, and not who you

were forced to be. The entity of thought,

of indefatigable brilliance. The one

whose darkness mingled and melded inside, yet

never dimmed the light.

*

Were you here at all? I see

your bows displayed on the wall,

the roof you built, covered in snow; I listen

to you sing inside my head, your song leaping synapses,

pulsing in my blood. The blood we shared

for a little while.

I put your boxing gloves on this morning,

to feel where your hands had been, knowing

the sweat still seeped inside. And then

I put them away, in the armoire storing

the blanket that still smells faintly of happier days.

*

Your influence is everywhere, still

helping those you loved, and those who

you never knew, but owe you a debt; because

they’re pain-free, they understand what was

formerly incomprehensible, they know how to soothe

the demons inside. Those demons you never could

vanquish completely. But you taught them.

You showed them how.

*

Sorrow grips me, this cold January day.

I pry its fingers loose, one at a time;

Peel them back like orange skin that leaves

bitter pith behind, the sweetness

still another layer deep.

It cannot swallow me whole.

I must allow its place, its space or

have it implode and hollow me of words, my joy

my solace, and sanity. Sanctity. Sanctuary.

TLD

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That will be me

(Thoughts this morning led this to that. I am in a contemplative mood, nothing more. I don’t want anyone reading this to fear for me. Once again, I thought about keeping this private, for exactly that reason, but I made a promise and I aim to keep it, so this stays public. That alone should put you at ease.)

When you find hair in the drain, whether

black, white or blue, you’ll wonder if it could be;

I tell you now, that will be me.

Bite at the inside of your cheek and feel

a tap on your hand, “Stop that,”

you’ll hear. That will be me.

Whenever you feel the urge to cut your hair

and hear a voice inside your head, “Let it grow,”

it wheedles. That will be me.

And when you see a turtle, or a camel,

in fact or in illustration, you will add a heart to it

and again, that will be me.

 

When words froth at your brain and you feel

the need to catch them,

by heart or by hand;

When you see a dragonfly and call it fairy, a baby dragon

in an anole; when a beam of sunlight becomes a path to another world,

That will be me.

When friends drop by and you need to feed them, when baby monkeys

make you cry; when you smell onions sauteing in olive oil, and fear choking on pudding.

Me, me, they are all me.

 

Such ties don’t break when life does.

They simply change shape and form.

It won’t matter if whatever is left of me once life has spit me out

is riding the ether of some astral plain, Or

simply the echo of what once was, what I was.

It will be me, like it is him.

 

I hear him whistle;

and sing. All the time

I see him smile;

and shake his head.

I feel his joy, and his despair that

share time in his space, even now.

Spirit or memory, there is no cognitive difference when

love is at the core. Love,

and need; love and

the hubris to believe there is

more to existence than life.

~TLD

 

 

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I wear his slippers, every day.

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I can’t walk in them. They’re way too big. Instead, I keep them at my desk where, at the start of my writing day, I slip them on first thing. Chris always had a pair of these slippers. This was actually a fairly new pair, at the time they became mine. He hadn’t worn them down, or out, like the other pair I keep with his things. He’d worn these when he came home to visit, after he left home, and then when he moved back because things had gone so wrong.

He always had this particular kind slippers, because they cushioned the pain in the bottom of his foot. Walking barefoot was like walking on razor blades, so he never did it. Recently, I’ve had some issues with the bottom of my foot; that first step was excruciating. The rest weren’t quite as bad, but bad. While Frank and I were in Virginia, it hurt so much that he had to go get the car. I couldn’t make it back. And though I knew my son’s pain on an intellectual level, I was finally faced with a small portion of what he felt every day for ten years, what he would have always felt.

Instead of seeing a doctor about this sudden and inexplicable pain in my foot, I bore it knowingly. Purposely. It was my penance for getting it all wrong. I wanted to feel his pain. I deserved it. I owed it to him. I know–kind of sick. Terribly sad. I don’t care. It made me feel better somehow. Not just penance, but solidarity. I understood the draw of flagellants to the whip, the Albino monk in the DaVinci Code and his cilice.

I do have an aversion to seeking assistance when I’m in pain. I always have. It is partially because I have such a high tolerance for it, and things have to be really bad before I truly feel it enough to seek help. It drives my kids mad. But it’s also because I see myself as tough, able to take it. And I am. A point of pride. I’m also aware of just how insane that is.

This time, I wanted the pain. And I’ll admit that out loud now that it’s mostly gone and no one can make me go to a doctor. I was in no mortal danger, so it’s not like I was risking my life or anything. I don’t advocate this sort of thing. If any of my kids were doing it, I’d be a wreck. Funny, how that works, right?

Peace.

 

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Well, yeah, it does matter

Frankie D loves his Hallmark Christmas movies. I DVR all the new stuff and those we haven’t seen so we can watch one pretty much every night from Thanksgiving to Christmas. It has become a tradition for us. Like most holiday traditions, there’s a fair bit of schmaltz involved. The movies aren’t great, but some are cute. Some are awful, but we can laugh at that. And then there are the ones that piss me off, because they could have been really good, and failed miserably.

Journey Back to Christmas. Even I was looking forward to this one. That darling of Hallmark Holiday movies, Candace Cameron Bure starring as a post WW2 nurse whose husband didn’t make it home. A “Christmas comet” sends her forward 71 years to 2016 and into the lives of a small town cop, his family, and various others.

Time travel. Christmas. World War 2. All the elements were there, and yet, egads, it was awful. Plot holes and tropes and ridiculous dialog that sounded like it had been written by a high school student who really wanted to be funny or dramatic or touching, but wasn’t. The worst was a cardboard busybody character whose only role was to forward the ludicrous notion that Bure’s character was somehow a threat to the town, a character who then vanished in the middle of her “coming around” scene, only to arrive at the end with a changed tune. Few of the little details matched up–like the Christmas star that so importantly tied the gazebo lights to the story being colored in the past, yet white in the future. And the ending was just so…what’s the word? Trite? Ill-conceived? Flat? Completely predictable? How about…stupid? Yeah, really, really stupid. I won’t put up a spoiler. Suffice it to say it was the most ridiculous ending I think I’ve ever seen in my life.

I growled at the television through most of this movie. Frankie D couldn’t even do his fall asleep after the first ten minutes and wake up for the last ten thing, because I kept waking him up. “You think too much about this stuff,” said he. “What does it matter? It’s mindless.”

What does it matter? What does it matter?! It does matter! Shouldn’t we expect a cohesive story that doesn’t require a whole lot of, “It’s okay, it’s just a Christmas movie,” to get through? Why is mediocrity aspired to? Why is a poorly executed product okay? Because it can be? Because people don’t notice? The ones who don’t, won’t, whether it’s done well or not. So why are those who don’t care catered to, instead of those who do?

I don’t like this “mindless” business. Mindless doesn’t mean poor quality. It means being able to just go with it without having to parse things out, without finding the message within. A Christmas Carol isn’t mindless. A Christmas Story is.

As you can guess, it’s not just my rant against Hallmark Christmas movies. This phenomenon is rife in the publishing industry, and very much so in the romance genre. Now it’s spreading to Women’s Fiction. I simply don’t understand why, when it can be done well, and also appeal to all kinds of readers, the industry isn’t insisting upon it?

This is nothing new. I’m aware. Drek has made millions for eons. I just don’t get it. I mean, I do, but I don’t want to believe the implications I’m forced to acknowledge. And now, before I get political, I’ll say–it matters. Quality matters. At least, it should.

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