I don’t like tofu-dogs, nor do I want to be one.

My friend and fellow author, Kieran York, posted a quote the other day that touched a chord with me.

“Literature is a place for generosity and affection and hunger for equals—not a prizefight ring.  We are increased, confirmed in our medium, roused to do our best, by every good writer, every fine achievement.”  Tillie Olsen, Silences (1978)

This quote helped to free me from the writer’s funk that I’ve been in lately.  I’ve been working on a manuscript that feels like swimming in quick sand.  I’ve been trying to slog through it because it concerns topics that I think are important to write about, and that would be well received by readers.  Both are good reasons to write, but not enough to be able to reach deep into that well from which the best writing comes.  The well is that spring of ideas in the soul that one touches only by pulling back the layers of misplaced motives and perceived expectations.

The reality is that we’re all human and desire encouraging feedback that affirms us.  For the author that often means positive reviews and maybe even a few awards.  It feels good to receive to accolades.  It motivates us to keep writing and lets us know that our writing makes a difference.  There’s a huge danger, however, in allowing accolades to play any role at all in driving one’s motives to write.  It allows the competitive side of our human nature to cloud the soul’s well from which our best writing comes.  I liken it to what happens to lawyers who make winning or being the best their highest priority.  They spend so much time looking over their shoulders at who is gaining on them that they fail to see what’s important in front of them.  Eventually, they slam into a brick wall because trying to be the best rather than do one’s best is a recipe for personal failure on many levels.  The worst of it is that it takes one’s eyes off of what’s really important, makes us into someone who we can’t recognize and ultimately corrupts “the system.”

The same can happen in the context of writing.  I’ve been thinking so much about what I should, rather than what I want to write about that the view of my soul’s well has been clouded over.    That’s why I’ve decided to put the manuscript about a wounded soldier coming home from war that I’ve been working on aside for now.  The topic is too important for me to write about simply for sake of writing it.  I’m not ready to do the subject justice.  I hope that other authors who are ready to tackle the subject will do so sooner rather than later.  If at some point the voices of the characters from My Soldier Too begin to whisper to me from the well of my soul for a sequel, I’ll dust the manuscript off and finish telling their story to the best of my ability.  I owe it to myself, readers who have come to care about the characters in My Soldier Too, but most importantly the real wounded warriors for whom the story is dedicated.

Having put the manuscript aside, I woke up this morning ready to write a fresh new story with characters who I really like.   It’s so fun to just write from my heart the best that I’m able to rather than try to create something that simply isn’t there or ready to be conceived.  Trying to force it is bit like eating a tofu-dog when what I really want is a hotdog.  When I take a bite of a tofu-dog I know in an instant that it’s contrived.  I don’t like tofu-dogs, nor do I want to be one.  What I want is to tell authentic stories from the well of my soul and to always improve my writing.  A very awesome editor, Nann Dunne, told me that writing is a lifelong learning process.  I absolutely agree.  That’s why honest critical feedback is every bit as important as the positive.  It’s how we learn and grown.  I approach it from the stand point of having yet another opportunity to improve.  I don’t want to be the best.  I want to be my best.  If I can achieve that, I will be happy and content to count myself among all the amazing authors who inspire us in so many ways with the stories they tell.  Writing is equal parts soul and skill.  Staying in touch with one’s soul and always improving on one’s skills are the keystones of good writing.

To all of you have encouraged, appreciated and helped me to become a better author through both positive and critical feedback, thank you from the bottom of my heart.  You’ve inspired me to keep writing.  My second novel, Step into the Wind, will be available in early 2013 from Blue Feather Books.

Peace.

 

 

 

Swimming in a Sea of Prudish Absurdity

I typically don’t have time to watch the news after work.  By the time I finish exercising and then making our supper, the evening news is over, and I’m fast asleep before the news comes on again at 11pm.  However, the universe aligned itself on Wednesday night such that I actually had time to catch the evening news.  We grabbed our supper, a glass a wine and headed upstairs to my office where the television is kept.  Holy wow, what a difference a week makes.  When did we go from talking about weighty issues such as the election, economy, climate change, equality, and education to what has been referred to as, “the Pentagon Place?”  The CIA director’s extra-marital affair and the web of players involved in the unfolding drama were THE hot news topic.  Men in very high places have fallen, and like Humpty Dumpty, won’t be able to be put back together again.  It’s a tabloid-esque scandal that includes infidelity, thousands of pages of “flirtatious” emails by a four star general, and internet photos of a shirtless FBI agent.  Seriously?

Two things strike me as absurd about this whole drama.  First, why on earth with all the serious issues that we face in this country and around the world is an extra marital affair by the CIA director news of such magnitude that it’s cause for his resignation?  I get that it’s a national security matter when the person who holds the strings to the purse that contains our country’s secrets has a secret of his own to keep.  One of the excuses used to prevent gays and lesbians from serving in the military before the repeal of DADT was that we were security threats.  Because of the negative stigma attached to being gay or lesbian (which thankfully, is diminishing around the country) there was a fear that we could be black-mailed in order to keep our “secret.”  Thankfully, the country has come to its senses on that issue.  Being gay or lesbian is not a dirty little secret.  It’s simply a fact of life for some of us that in no way impairs our ability to be good members of the military.  Notwithstanding all the harm to the CIA director’s family that may arise out of his infidelity, I don’t believe for a second that it would in any way interfere with his ability to do his job if we didn’t make such a big deal out of it.

As for infidelity, I’m not condoning it, but enough already with the high stakes drama of it bringing down a president and now the CIA director.  We need to just grow up and stop being so bogusly prudish in our view of ourselves.  The collective “we” makes sex into this taboo thing that is considered bad unless it fits within the confines of a very narrow view of what is acceptable.  The delusion we cling to is one in which sex only happens between a married man and woman missionary style.  Please, give it up already.  Make no mistake, even our so-called religious leaders are coloring way outside the lines of the rules they prescribe for the rest of us.  We’re a country obsessed with sex because we spend so much time trying to repress it.  The reality is that we’re human.  Sex is as natural as breathing, eating and sleeping.  And, we really like it.  Just look at the success of the book “Fifty Shades of Gray” for evidence of that.

I visited Copenhagen a number of years ago.  I remember standing in the check-out line of a grocery store and being shocked by magazine covers with naked bodies on them.  My prudish American attitude was to look away.  Not because I didn’t want to look, but because it wasn’t “right” to look.  Phew, I’m glad I got over that ridiculous lie.  There are few things in this world as beautiful as a woman’s body.  Why wouldn’t I want to look?  As for sex, it’s a pleasure to be grateful for when it happens between consenting adults.  What a liberating experience to engage in it without the confines of someone else’s definition of “right” and “wrong.”  Only my spouse and I get to have say about what goes on in our bedroom.  The same should be for the CIA director as well.  It’s none of our business what he does behind closed doors so long as it’s not a crime.

To be clear, I’m not talking about society looking the other way when it comes to sex in the context of rape or manipulation.  I wouldn’t call those things “sex” anyway.  They’re crimes that we have a stake in and responsibility to prevent.  But, sex in the context of infidelity, even for all the harm it may cause within a family, is still not a crime.  Moreover, if it leads to divorce, there are laws in place to protect the family unit.  That should be our only business in the matter.

Maybe if we stopped being so prudish and paternalistic about sex, less bad stuff would happen and we’d have a much healthier view of it, however it happens between consenting adults.  I personally don’t think our obsession with the CIA director’s affair is healthy, especially when it’s the cause of his resignation and all we can talk about.  Some paparazzi style photographer went to a lot of silly effort to get the photo of the CIA director’s mistress holding a glass of wine while hiding out at her brother’s house.  Thousands of people in NJ and NY are still without homes or power after Hurricane Sandy and this photo is news?

While I suspect that the CIA director’s wife has been hurt by this, it shouldn’t be any of our business.  Human relationships are complicated and I don’t think politics and social mores should be meddling in his bedroom any more than the bedrooms of gays and lesbians.  If we didn’t make it our business, it wouldn’t be a national security issue and the director would still be running the CIA.  I suspect that the real security issue is that while we’re spending all of our time trying to further investigate his affair, we’re not paying attention to the real threats that are out there.  When are we going to stop being our own worst ridiculous enemy?

The second absurdity in all of this is how shockingly careless some of the players in this whole drama have been.  They’re players who should know better than any of us how dangerous it is to put damning things such as topless photos of one’s self into the bottomless pit of the internet.  And wow, 30,000 pages of emails in two years.  When did the four star general have time to do his job?

After watching the news Wednesday night, it sure felt like we were swimming in a sea of prudish absurdity.  I sincerely hope that the next time I turn on the news we’re back to talking about stuff that actually matters.  There are too many important things that demand our attention.  We ignore them at our peril.  Peace.

Every second counts. That’s why this Thanksgiving, I’m honoring the holiday grateful for time.

We took a trip to Wisconsin this past weekend to visit K.C.’s cousin, Rita.  Rita recently celebrated her 94th birthday and is without question one of those angels who walks among us.  She’s open-minded, forgiving, funny, easygoing, and energetic.  She’s an inspiration in how to be grateful for life.  Despite over the past decade having broken both hips, her wrist, battling two cataract surgeries and the passing of her beloved husband, family and friends, she just keeps moving and smiling.  We are so blessed to have her in our lives.  She never wastes a second of time.

Speaking of time, on our way back to the airport, a car in front of us swerved from the middle lane into the right almost sideswiping another car before swerving back into the lane in front of us.  Thanks to KC’s quick reflexes, we skid to a stop before hitting the car.  There were several breathless moments as we held our breath hoping the truck behind us wouldn’t slam into the back of us.  Thankfully, what could’ve easily been a three car pileup on the highway with us in the middle didn’t happen.  If we had been a second ahead or behind, it would’ve been a very different outcome.  Instead of one or both of us waking up in a hospital far from home, or worse, we woke up safe and sound in our warm bed with Ms. Lilliput sleeping soundly at our feet.  The fates gave us that extra second of time and another beautiful day to wake up together.  That’s why this year, I’m grateful for time and the simple pleasure it brings like getting to hug K.C. good morning, and listening to Ms. Lilliput purr when I scratch her behind the ears.  With Thanksgiving less than a couple of weeks away, it’s perfect time for the reminder of what I’m most grateful for.  My precious girls.

I love Thanksgiving.  It’s by far my favorite holiday.  It didn’t used to be though.  There was a time when it meant eating totally unhealthy food until I felt awful and spending the day with blood relatives who I had nothing in common with and really don’t like.  Not anymore.  Now, we rotate hosting dinner with some good friends whose company we enjoy.  Family members are invited provided they check their negativity and drama at the door.  When it’s my turn to host dinner, I make the same usual classics, but modify the recipes to avoid unnecessary fat, sugar and salt.  We also incorporate exercise and stress management into what is typically a busy bustling day.  Here are a few of my ideas for transformed Thanksgiving Day recipes, exercise and stress management.

The Recipes:  I love to cook.  Good food is both a gift and artistic endeavor.  My biggest piece of advice is to modify the things you like to eat at Thanksgiving so that they’re more health versions.  I avoid processed foods, excess fats, refined sugars and salt.  They simply are not necessary to make a beautiful delicious Thanksgiving dinner. Trust me, its fun to try and totally doable.  Essential things that you’ll need are a high quality roasting pan, turkey baster, fat separator and meat thermometer.  To lesson stress and have time for exercise on Thanksgiving Day, I make most of the dishes ahead of time.  In the couple of days before Thanksgiving, I make the turkey dressing, cranberry sauce, squash, parsnips and pumpkin custard.  Dinner is served with one of my favorite wines, pinot noir.

  • Turkey:  There are loads of different recipes out there for how to cook a turkey.  Mine is pretty basic.  I always order a fresh free range bird from our local farm stand.  Yes, it’s more expensive, but it’s fresh and not pumped up with salt and chemicals in order to make it artificially juicy.  Plus, a free range bird didn’t have to live its life inhumanely cramped in a filthy cage.  To cook the turkey, preheat the oven to 450.  Mix chopped fresh sage, thyme and rosemary together.  Rinse and pat the turkey dry.  Then rub olive oil lightly over the turkey, sprinkle the herbs on top and sparingly add salt and pepper.  Add an onion cut in half, a stalk of celery cut into pieces and a bunch of unchopped sage, thyme and rosemary to the cavity.  Place in the roasting pan on a rack and fill the pan so that it has about ¼ inch of water in the bottom.  Roast for 30 minutes and then turn the heat down to 325.  Baste the turkey often to keep it moist.  Cook for the prescribed amount of time on the turkey packaging.  You can also use a meat thermometer to test for doneness.
  • Turkey Dressing:  Rip a loaf of good crusty bread into small pieces and place into a large bowl.  Drizzle with olive oil and mix together.  Place the bread on a cookie sheet and bake in the oven at 250 until the bread is dried out.  Sauté 2 chopped leeks, a small onion, 2 celery stalks until soft then add a cup of finely chopped mushrooms.  Continue sautéing until the mushrooms have released their liquid.  Beat two eggs in a small bowl.  Add the eggs, sautéed vegetables and dried bread to a large bowl.  Add in lots of chopped fresh sage, thyme, rosemary, flat leaf parsley, 3/4 cup of dried cranberries, and 2/3 cup of chopped roasted chestnuts.  Mix together and add in 1-2 cups of low sodium chicken or turkey broth in order to moisten the stuffing.  Bake at 350 for 30 to 40 minutes.
  • Cranberry Sauce:   Place a bag of fresh cranberries into a saucepan with 1 cup of apple cider. Bring to a boil and simmer until the cranberries are popped.  Add either ½ cup of honey or ¼ of stevia, the quarters from two tangerines, ½ cup of chopped walnuts and 1 tbls of instant tapioca and continue to simmer until thickened.  Cranberry sauce is one of those dishes that you can get really creative with.  The key here is to avoid adding refined sugar.  As I mentioned, I use either honey or stevia, and not too much.  The apple cider helps to add natural sweetness as well.  The instant tapioca helps to thicken the sauce without all the sugar in typical recipes.
  • Mashed Parsnips:  Peel, chop and steam a large bunch of parsnips until very soft.  Mash with ¼ cup of olive oil, salt and pepper.
  • Vegetable sides:  (1) Steamed fresh green beans and (2) a tossed salad.  For salad dressing, blend ¼ olive oil with ¼ cup red wine vinegar, 1 crushed garlic clove, 1 tsp of mustard and a dash of stevia or honey.
  • Winter squash:  Peel and cut a butternut squash into ½ chunks.  Drizzle with olive oil and roast at 375 with one large chopped shallot until soft.  Add in 2 tbls of chopped fresh sage, ½ cup of dried cranberries and ½ cup of chopped walnuts.  Continue to roast until browned, but take care not to let the walnuts burn.
  • Gravy:  After removing the turkey to a platter to cool, pour off the juices from the roasting pan and separate the juice from fat.  I use a fat separator.  Place the roasting pan over the burner of the stove and add in 4 cups of low sodium turkey or chicken broth, add the turkey juice back to the pan and bring to a simmer scraping up the caramelized pieces at the bottom of the pan.  In measuring cup, dissolve 2 tbls of cornstarch into ½ of water.  Add the cornstarch mixture to the simmering broth and whisk continuously until the gravy is thickened.  You may need to add another tbls of dissolved cornstarch depending on how thick you prefer your gravy.  The key is to make sure the cornstarch is dissolved in water before adding it to the broth and continue to whisk to avoid clumping.  You can also add in more fresh herbs and replace one of the cups of broth with a cup of dry white wine to jazz things up.
  • Pumpkin custard:  This is an incredibly easy and versatile dessert.  I use a typical pumpkin pie recipe except that instead of evaporated milk, I use unsweetened almond milk.  I replace the sugar with either honey or stevia (in this case either ½ cup of honey or ¼ cup of stevia) and I leave out the crust by very lightly coating a glass baking dish with butter and adding the pumpkin pie mixture directly to the dish.  Bake as usual.  Apple/Pear stew:  Mix 1 chopped granny smith, 1 chopped pink lady, 1 chopped honey crisp apples with 2 chopped pears into a large bowl.  Add in 1 tsp of lemon juice, ½ cp of apple cider, ¼ stevia or ¼ honey, ½ fresh cranberries, 1 tbls cinnamon, 1tsp cloves and 2 tbls of instant tapioca.  Mix together and add to a baking dish and bake at 350 for approximately 45 minutes until the fruit is softened into a stew.  Serve warm.  You can make ahead of time and then place into the oven to bake while you are eating dinner.

Exercise:  Don’t forget to make exercise part of your Thanksgiving Day.  It will help work off the calories and keep stress at bay.  We always start the day with exercise such as a run or hike, and finish with a leisurely walk after dinner.

Stress Management:  The biggest thing that has helped me to avoid stress at Thanksgiving is to give myself permission not to spend the day with people who I don’t like just because they’re blood relatives.  Life is too short and the day is too special.  Just before we eat dinner, we go around the table and have everyone give at least one example of something they’re grateful for.  After dinner, we all go for a walk.  Clean-up is a tag team effort with me directing the show since it’s my kitchen.  Post dinner, we play board games, drink more wine and enjoy each other’s company.  We keep dinner simple by avoiding an over the top number of dishes, as I mentioned, I make as much as possible ahead of time, and we require that negativity and drama be checked at the door.  I like to have fresh flowers for the table and I always give myself some quiet alone time the night before.

I wish you all the best Thanksgiving Day.  I’ll be enjoying the precious time sharing a great dinner with people who I love and am so grateful to have in my life.  Peace.

 

“A simple field with some trees.”

My friend, Larry, who is wise, recently wrote to me that “the most profound moments in our hectic lives can oftentimes come from the most unexpected and seemingly mundane places, like a simple field with some trees.”  He was speaking of the times in his life when he most felt the presence of his “Creator.”  It got me thinking about my own spirituality and awareness of a higher power.

My story begins with having been raised in a home that worshiped in a hell-fire and brimstone kind of Baptist church.  I grew up believing in an angry God that would strike me down for the most innocuous failing, and that heaven was for only those few who managed not to color outside the lines dictated by the church.  Needless to say, trying to come to terms as a teenager with my sexuality and a faith that condemned it was confusing, frightening and lonely.

The good news for me was that I was strong enough to choose love over an angry church.  I turned my back on the faith that I had grown up with and been so influenced by in order to find my happiness.  Notwithstanding, I felt empty no longer having faith in something bigger than me.  The thing about faith is that it gives us comfort in an unpredictable world.  It’s the assurance that everything will be okay no matter how bad things get.

There was also that troubling matter of having been indoctrinated with the notion that because I embraced my lesbianism, I was on a fast track to hell according the church that I grew up in.  It wasn’t something that I cared to dwell on because I was busy working on being a decent person happy here on earth.  So I decided to ignore it, and simply focus on living life to the fullest.  I might as well get the most out of the here and now, if hell was my destiny.

That is the moment when I discovered my higher power, or in the words of my friend, Larry, I discovered my “Creator.”  Simply put, I found my faith.  It had always been with me.  It’s far more powerful, resilient and true than anything that came from the church I grew up in.  It has its genesis in the core of my being and makes me who I am.  What I believe in is Mother Nature and the life she creates here on this amazing earth.  Even my happiest memories as a child are those from when I was playing outside with the sun on my skin and the trees all around me.

There is so much beauty in the here and now.  This life is my heaven and I embrace it fully.  That’s why, just like Larry, I’m moved beyond words by a “simple field with some trees.”  Life on this earth astounds, humbles and makes me grateful that I get to be here to experience all of its grandeur, as well as subtleties.  I believe in the goodness of humanity, especially as we struggle through difficult times.  I find my comfort and faith in things like the kindness of a fellow human being, that the sun always rises in the morning, being on top of a mountain and knowing that the life Mother Nature creates around us is resilient and sweet in its simplicity.  I don’t need to wait until I die to find heaven.  Heaven is all around me.  That is my faith in a higher power.  Peace.