Wednesday, September 13, 2017

Writing About Writing

As you may have noticed, I spend a lot of time posting updates about the collection of stories I'm working on. I call it "writing about writing". It's not the most productive way to spend my time when I'm trying to get the collection done, but posting gives me a break from the hard work of writing fiction.

I was talking to my best friend today and had to tell her how I am almost literally eating and sleeping this book. Well, at least I sleep with it...

Presenting the "boudoir-office":

I don't like my living room messy so...

Seriously. I can't risk jump starting my brain back to task every day so I just leave my notes and copies of the manuscript in place every night. Last week, after taking my meds, I almost got sick on one of my notebooks. That was an especially bad day. Still, I sleep with my work spread out from one day to the next.

See, I have this cognitive issue that make it hard for me to focus. When I am able to focus on a task, I struggle with a lot of fatigue and confusion. The first draft of my book was done to the point of polishing up a proof copy. There were major problems with that proof though so I ended up almost reworking the entire manuscript. And then my move happened.

When you have almost constant "brain fog", it's hard to work on any project. With fiction writing there is the issue of continuity. When I was moving to this new location, I had to shelve the book. Once I got settled in the new place, my laptop went into a coma. Ask me how fun it's been to retrieve files from my online storage cloud. None of my work is as familiar to me as it should be.

Long story short (or shortened), I am back working on the collection. What I mean by that is, I am piecing all my completed files together and trying to flesh out a couple of unfinished stories. Sometimes, I feel like I'm swimming through an avalanche of words. There are days when I have cried and wanted to give up on the whole project. But I won't because my writing is the one good and uplifting thing going on in my life.


I am going to finish this book if it kills me. And it might,


Monday, September 11, 2017

Cookbooks and Memories

It is said that smells trigger memories. I believe that. I can smell a fresh-baked cinnamon roll and I instantly transport back to primary school days. We were staying temporarily near family in Arkansas while Daddy was overseas. One of my aunties worked in the school cafeteria and (this is back when they served a great breakfast in schools) she made sure that I always got a cinnamon roll and the chocolate milk.

Certain sights can also send me back into my vault of memories. This can sometimes work in a strange way. If I see an elderly woman posturing in a particular way - holding her purse just so, or fanning her face with a piece of paper - I think of all the church ladies from my childhood. Don't even let me see some old lady wearing a bad wig! I immediately remember a specific church sister who I'll leave unnamed.

My biggest memory tweaks come from food and cooking. My mother was a wonderful cook. She was a natural in the kitchen. I don't think I ever saw Mama measure anything. Many years back, one of my sisters-in-law decided that she was going to write down Mama's recipes. The only way she managed to do so was to wait until Mama visited. My sister-in-law would stand by with pen and paper while Mama cooked just so she could eyeball the measurements Mom used in her dishes. Thankfully, my sister-in-law did get down a lot of the recipes and I have a copy that I left behind with the nieces in Anchorage. I'm going to need them to send me another copy!

I was thinking of my mother the other day when I unpacked a cookbook I bought a long while back. I had to order another copy because I want to share it with some relatives. Going through this cookbook is like flipping through a mental photo album of memories.

 I tell people that this is not just a cookbook for African Americans but a cookbook, history course, and cultural gem for all people. The collection is from the Tuskegee Institute and there are a lot of historical photos and little anecdotes included. But it's the recipes that stir my memories...

My mother was from Texas and she and her Mexican friends would joke about the blacks and Mexicans boosting the rice economy every time they shopped. I myself preferred (and still do) pinto beans and rice.

I love neck bones. I can skip the rest of a  meal and just eat some neck bones. When I was in Anchorage, I'd pick some up at least once ever couple of weeks. It was such a habit of mine that whenever I took my little nephew  DJ with me to the store, he'd ask if we were going to get my neck bones! 
 Salmon croquettes was never a favorite of mine, but all the rest of my family really likes them. You can bet that the Alaska fam makes croquettes whenever they snag some fresh salmon.

 I have tasted pickled pig. Can't remember if it was a foot, tail, or toe, but I did taste it. I'm not a fan, but I have an uncle who will make a sandwich with pickled pig parts. Ugh.

The whole "Aunt Bay Bay" thing made me do my Jeff Foxworthy imitation. "If you've got relatives named Bay Bay, Peaches, or Skint, then you might be a black Southerner." I'm being silly, but I bet that barbecue sauce is the business though!

One of my favorite "Mama dishes" was navy beans served with hot water cornbread. Another was smothered potatoes and onions with hoe cake. I know how to make the navy beans and hot water cornbread, but trying to find a hoe cake recipe made the way mom did it is driving me crazy. Most recipes I've seen use cornmeal or cornmeal and flour. Mama's bread was made with flour, no cornmeal. Basically, Mama's cakes were similar to Naan only a bit heavier. I don't ever remember eating a cold hoe cake; Mama always served them warm right out of the skillet. As a child, I ate hoe cake with those potatoes or with gravy or even with just some butter and syrup.

Probably good, but it's not
 my mama's recipe...
Mama's hoe cake recipe was simple, from what I recall. Just flour, water, and some lard. I always thought they should have been called "Po' Cakes" as in cakes for poor people. Here's a fact about military families of the past: a lot of us were just as poor as some civilian families.

My mother was truly a genius at feeding 6 kids and 2 adults. We ate a lot of greens - collard, turnip, mustard - and potatoes fixed in more ways than you could imagine. I remember a lot or meals where the main dish was cabbage or one of the "greens" and a ham hock or smoked neck-bone was the only meat. When we did eat meat, it was mostly chicken - smothered, fried, baked, or boiled with some dumplings. I do not remember eating very many hamburgers unless we were having a backyard cookout. (I also didn't eat McDonald's until I was in my mid-teens. What-a-Burger was my childhood "fast food" treat.)

Anyway, I was going through that cookbook and feeling all emotional until I remembered that it had no recipe for my mama's style of hoe cakes. (The one thing it does get right is the way hoe cakes got their name.)

Just like my mama told me

I've recently ordered a vintage cookbook and it's taking 2 days short of forever to get here.  I don't mind the wait though because I snatched up a spiral-bound first printing copy for $17. One day, you won't be able to get near a copy for under around $100-$150, I bet. I don't even want it for the potential future value. The first reason I wanted it was because the cover photo reminds me of my aunt (the one with the cinnamon rolls and chocolate milk!).

The other reason is because of the title. I remember my mother saying something similar - not about food, but life and people in general: "Be of a good heart and a light hand."

My best and favorite memories of my mother are those of her in the kitchen. If she wasn't cooking, she was sitting at the table, sometimes with friends, having coffee. Or she'd be reading her Bible while waiting for a cake or pie to come out of the oven. I used to tell people that my mother's Christian ministry was in feeding people. She would feed anyone. As poor as we sometimes were, my mother could stretch a meal. It would seem she had just enough food for us until someone dropped by, then she could feed twice as many people. I don't know how she did it.

A couple of days ago, I made some chicken and dumplings. I don't even particularly like chicken and dumplings! As the food cooked, I'd take the lid off the pot every now and then just to smell the memories.


UPDATE: The other cookbook arrived today (A Good Heart and a Light Hand) and I am so happy I could weep. There are 2 hoe cake recipes: one with flour and one with cornmeal. The flour hoe cake recipe sounds exactly like what my mother used. Others I found would use cold water to make the dough...

 When I cook some, I will be sure to let you all know how they turned out! And, you know what, I 'm going to go ahead and post a photo of the recipe. Couldn't help myself.

The book is a little beat up, but it is a first printing from 1968 (and a from the "Educational Materials Center Tucson Public Schools") so I'm lucky it held up as well as it did. I notice that it was originally meant to be priced at $3. So $17 isn't that bad all these years later. I am going to hold this book precious until the day I die.

Saturday, September 09, 2017

Amazon's Prime Wardrobe

If you guys have NOT heard yet, Amazon really is about to take over the world.

Remember back when we were just ordering our books from Amazon? And then they started selling all that other stuff - stuff to use with our cellphones, stuff to get our kids for holidays, stuff to organize and clean our houses, etc.? Remember that?

When I moved here, I actually ordered a bed and mattress from Amazon and a sleeper futon from Walmart. The mattress, by the way, came in a freaking box no bigger that could have fit in the back seat of a mid-sized sedan! You think I'm kidding?

The box
The mattress

THIS mattress, yes

The bed frame
(and my nephew's leg. Don't even ask)

All this - frame, bed, pillow, sheets, comforter - delivered to my front door!

Pretty soon, Amazon is going to be selling tiny houses that come in a box and self-construct...

Just yesterday I was telling my social networks about Amazon's Launchpad service. That's where you can find products from various startup companies. In my opinion, most of it is a bunch of pricey hipster stuff. There was a cool product that was a kind of grow-in-a-can thing for herbs and vegetables. And there's a super tempting kit that lets you build a computer and learn to code. The price is cheap for what's offered but it's still out of my budget. And, speaking of...

I came to post about just how Amazon is trying to make me give Bezo's all my money - not just the dollars I spend on necessities. See the latest Amazon thing is called Prime Wardrobe.

Shut. UP!

Prime Wardrobe lets you pick out some clothing and have it delivered so you can see if it fits (or if you like it). If it doesn't (or you don't), you get to send it back. That is NOT the best part of this. What's so genius is that you don't even pay or the items until you decide you're keeping them!

Oh, and if you decide not to keep the stuff you can have UPS pickup right from your front door.

Do you know how much I need this in my life?

Listen, right now I get pretty much everything I need online: cleaning stuff, eating stuff, drinking stuff... Between Amazon and Walmart, I only have to trek over to a store for my meats and vegetables. I don't have a car yet so this is handy. Winter is coming soon so, even if I have a car by then, guess what? Still handy.

If I end up liking Prime Wardrobe, the only downside is I might get too lazy and never leave my apartment. But at least, I'll be able to order my Plus size clothes in private! (Just kidding. I will still get my exercise where I can.)

So, I'm just passing the word along. If you want to know more, here is a nice non-Amazon link explaining Prime Wardrobe and a link to Launchpad. Now, if you will excuse me, I've got to go look at some jeans...


Friday, September 08, 2017

My New Old Neighbors

This new place I'm living in is just fantastic. It's a beautiful hotel-style building that's entry-secure, and clean. Living here, I'm  close to shopping and banking. I can get basic groceries from a store that is literally less than a 5-minute walk away.

If I were a more social person, I could stroll down to a couple of nice bars and restaurants. If I were social! If I could swim, the lake and a beach are a block and half away. Of course, people who know me know that I'm most certainly not a social butterfly. I am a hermit crab of a woman.

So, yes, I love the building I live in.


Okay, see here's the thing. I live in a building that's for seniors. The minimum age is 55. I'm 56. The median age for the residents currently living here? Oh, I'd say that would be about 75.

Now, I'm not an ageist. How can I be? I'm 56, which is not young but it's also not exactly "middle age" - unless I expect to live to over a hundred. (I don't, by the way.) The oldest person I've met here is 93. And she's not the only 90 year old here. I bet there are a couple of centenarians. (And I can't believe I had to look that word up!)

One of the things I've learned about this Iowa (or at least the Northern part I live in) is that the people live a looong time. Not only that, these old folk are pretty healthy. There's one woman here (I'll call her Lucy) who usually walks everywhere. Every day. Granted, 'everywhere' is close by like I mentioned before but, still, this woman is ninety. To look at her and the way she gets around, you could guess her age to be somewhere in the early 70's. She moves better than I do.

 Of course, some of my really old neighbors don't get around as well as Lucy. There's one old lady who still drives and that scares the crap out of me. She uses both a cane and a walker. She uses the walker to get to the car. She puts the walker in the trunk, then uses the cane to get to the driver's seat. It then takes her a couple of minutes to get in and get situated. And then the nightmare starts because this slow-moving nonagenarian (yeah, I looked that one up too) drives like she's in a police chase on an L.A. freeway. I've never seen anyone not headed to an emergency back out and take off that fast.

Thankfully Maria Oldretti doesn't drive that often. This town is small enough that most people probably recognize her car and know to get the hell out of the way... I won't even go out into the parking lot when she's anywhere near her car, bless her heart.

There are a lot of benefits to living around the elderly. They are like walking history books. First-hand history at that. I've heard some of them talk about growing up on farms. A few of them come from places outside of Iowa. I don't spend as much time with any of these people as I should - ironically because of my health issues - but I am getting a glimpse of what could possibly be my future.

I was talking to one of the older gentlemen the other day, telling him that I'd be soon looking to get a used vehicle. He said, "I wish I'd met you a month earlier because I just gave my car away." (He is pretty much bound to one of those motorized chairs for his mobility.) I asked why he gave away his car. "They took away my license. I couldn't use the car so someone might as well have it."

The first thing I thought was how nice it was that he gave away car to someone who needed it. Then I saw how sad he looked when he talked about losing his license. (Another resident told me that it was his kids who lobbied for him to lose his driving privileges. I want to know if Maria Oldretti has kids I can contact!)

See, the thing I'm noticing is that we look at the very elderly as if they aren't whole human beings. We sometimes only notice the stooped postures and sagging skin and voices that creak a little. That's all I used to pay attention to. Now I'm learning that no matter how old a person lives to be - 80, 90, or even 100 - they still possess the soul they had from birth to the present. I know for a fact (because I've heard them talking) that some of the old folk are still having, um, intimate relations. All I can say is they are getting more action than I am!

What's sobering to me is that their are younger people who look at me the way I've looked at older people. And I've learned something about myself: I'm not sure how long of a life I want to live. I say that and worry that I'm offending God, so I want to clarify what I mean.

No one wants, I don't think, to be old and lonely and forgotten. That's the one thing I didn't understand when I was married to a pretty decent guy. I think that's why you should get a good mate and hang on for dear life. Some of these people have been married for 60 and 70 years. Then again, some of them have been married for less than a decade.

Then there are the widows and widowers. Those are the ones I feel the most pain for. I can deal with being an old single - because I was a young single - but I don't know what it must be like to lose someone you spent many, many years with.

I'm a loner but don't ever want to get to the point where I feel lonely. Some of my neighbors seem to be forgotten by family and friends. There are a couple of people here who never come out of their apartments. They don't come down and sit on the lanai (or whatever you call our front porch area) or use the common room. For some of them, if it weren't for the personal housekeepers, they'd never have company inside their apartments. And that is very sad to me.

When I was in my teens, I thought anyone over twenty was 'old'. In my thirties, I couldn't imagine being fifty. I'm in my fifties and I look at the 80 and 90 year old people and realize they aren't simply old, they are survivors. I don't know how long I want to be in the battle of being mortal. Then again, every time I attend a funeral, I am always glad to still be alive.


Thursday, August 31, 2017

Life in the Sidebar: Archived Re-posts 1

Like I mentioned in the last post, I've gone through some changes as a blogger. My life has been through a lot of changes so, of course, my blogging style has changed. Here's the thing: I think I was a better blogger when I first started. I was more spontaneous and honest. Since those first good days, I've become more self-conscious and long-winded. I have to get back to the best part of me!

Hereare some of my favorite posts from ago...

For some reason, readers really loved a couple of post A LOT. One of them is the Devil Is a Liar post (my fave), and the other was one on Bailey Quarters (you know, from WKRP?) Wow. That one surprised me. 

What I have learned from looking back over my old posts these last few days is...
  1. I need to get back to basics when it comes to blogging and leave the weighty stuff for the books.
  2. I need to start having fun again with the blog.
  3. I want to start connecting with other bloggers the way I used to.
Actually, I am thinking of leaving this blog as is (for the reviews that I do), and doing a FreeBeingFree revamp for everything else. I'm kind of undecided as of yet but, when I've made up my mind, y'all will be the first to know.


Wednesday, August 30, 2017

Life in the Sidebar (Part 3)

One of the sidebar items I think most people overlook is the Blog Archive listing. That's a shame because that's like a blogger's personal Wayback Machine. Every now and then, I look over some of my own older posts and I realize that the archive is a timeline of my life changes.

In prep for doing this series of posts, I glanced through some of my earlier ones. What I realize is that I was a better blogger when I wasn't trying so hard. Starting out, I wasn't really thinking about writing for anyone but myself. I need to get back to that. My older posts were funnier and more 'real'.

For people who do read my blog on a regular basis now, I think they would like the 'old' me. After I finish this Sidebar series, I'm going to literally copy/paste some of my favorite posts from the past.

If any of you do go back and check through the Archives, I'd love to know what you think about the way I used to write compared to now. For myself, the main thing I noticed is that (like everybody does), I've gone through stages that affect my attitude, outlook, and joy.

When I first started blogging - 11 years ago! -  I talked more about relationships and family. I guess that's because I was more interested in having a relationship back then. WAY back then (when I was ~gasp~ 45!), and I hadn't lost so many members of my family.

I did a lazy search and found out (on another blog, of course) that the average lifespan of a blog is around 100 days. I don't know how true that is. I told you I did a lazy search! But I know that most of the bloggers I started out following have since gone away. That's sad. I really, really loved a lot of blogs that are defunct now. I always wonder what happened to the blogger. Maybe they moved on to bigger projects? Only some of them still have Blogger profiles up. (When I looked up an old fave called The Brutha Code, all I could find was a page all in Japanese...??? So, WHERE are you, Brutha?)

I guess I should feel like a blogosphere survivor.

Anyway, if you get a chance, click back through the Archives. Like I said, I'll be re-posting some favorites soon.


Monday, August 28, 2017

Life in the Sidebar (Part 2)

The sidebar items I personally like the most are the ones showing what I've been reading and watching. When I checked the other day, I realized that my Read & Loved List makes me appear more intelligent that my Watchlist.

My Reading list is varied and thoughtful My Watch list is that of a teenager...

Why it is that I tend to read like a more mature adult and yet, more often than not, watch some of the shallowest things on television?

I only remember right off the last thing I read (well, listened to) because the book had the most unusual narrator ever. It was Nutshell by Ian McEwan, By the way, I want to hate McEwan because he made me feel like such a hack as a writer. "Nutshell" really is a brilliant work. Damnit. Seriously, if you want to read something that kind of breaks the mold, read (or listen to) Nutshell.

Now the last thing I watched was the whole first season of "Riverdale". I binged every night for a week until I was done, Now I can't wait for the next season. I'm caught up somewhere between criticizing portrayals of most characters and delighting in the others. I'm undecided about Archie, but I love the way Jughead is played - all moody and dark. The actors playing the teens (except for Jughead) look way too old! Veronica and Cheryl wear so much makeup that I want to wipe the screen when they are on. But how cute is it that teen stars of ago (Luke Perry and Molly Ringwald) are playing the parents of the kids? 

I'm curious to know what kinds of things my readers are checking out in books and film. Are any of you watching Riverdale? If you are, you're probably either older (like me) and remember the Archie comics, or you're younger (like my 20- and 30-something nieces) who always liked teen operas.

So, what is everybody else watching and reading? Did anything on my list make your list? I hope you'll let me know. And, no, you don't have to identify yourself in the emails.


Featured Post

Shalimar (the fragrance) Has a Brother & I Love Him

Shalimar perfume was once my  scent. Not just the perfume, but even the EDT and the lotions smelled amazing on my body. Shalimar, my sweet S...