Monday, October 31, 2011

NaNoWriMo Starts TOMORROW!

Today is Monday, 31 October. So what? Tomorrow is Tuesday, 1 November. If you're a fiction writer, that means something.

November 1 kicks off National Novel Writing Month. For those scribes who participate in NaNoWriMo--a competition that pits the writer against herself and the calendar--it means writing through blocks, persistent ringing telephones (leave a message, for crying out loud!), stomach cramps, raging fevers, the Black Death, hunger pangs, super sales at Kohl's, birthdays (you'll get a stinkin' "belated greetings" card on 3 December, okay?), baths (which cuts down considerably on folks' dropping by to chat), dogs clawing and whining at the kitchen door, and firemen using a battering ram to break down the front door. It's not that the writer isn't concerned about his house burning. He cares. He just doesn't notice. He's in the moment, immersed in the story.

Fifty thousand words in 30 days: that's the goal. That's pressure. So don't pop in with a casserole. Don't call. Don't send email. Don't die. At least not until 1 December.

Happy NaNoWriMo, writers!

Friday, October 28, 2011

SOUPer Simple Comfort Food for Writers

In the 2009 film Nim's Island, Jody Foster plays an agoraphobic writer of middle-grade adventure novels whose diet consists of Progresso soup. She has it delivered to her door. I suppose as canned soups go, Progresso is as good as any, but nothing beats a bowl of steaming homemade soup on a crisp autumn day.

Since my writer's den can be on the airish side, I'm often huddled over my keyboard cocooned in a brown crocheted shawl with a mug of hot tea to my right and an earthenware bowl of soup at my left elbow.

To help you gear up for winter writing, I'm posting soup recipes that call for no more than four ingredients (excluding salt and pepper). Delicious doesn't have to be complex.

Amish Beef Rivvel Soup
1-1/2 to 2 pounds of beef (use chuck, round, or stew beef); cook in water until tender (I use a pressure cooker). If using a solid cut of meat, dice it up in bite-size pieces or pull it.

3 large eggs, beaten well. Add salt and pepper as you would if you were going to fry them. Stir in as much unbleached flour as possible. (I begin with a fork, but switch to two knives to cut in more flour.) Continue adding flour and cutting it in until most of the dough is the consistency of navy beans.

Bring the beef broth to a boil and, while stirring constantly, drizzle the rivvel into the boiling broth by the handful. If you don't need all the rivvel, seal the remainder in a zipper bag and store in the freezer, to go in another soup later on. Once you've added as much rivvel as you need, turn the heat down to low. Salt and pepper to taste. Simmer until the rivvel is done, as you would any other pasta. This soup goes well with crusty bread and a salad.

Beef Barley Soup
Cook 1-1/2 to 2 pounds of  beef, cooked as for Beef Rivvel Soup above.

Rinse 1/2 pound pearl barley well. Add to boiling beef broth. Reduce heat to medium. Cook until barley is tender, about 20 minutes. Salt and pepper to taste. This soup also goes well with crusty bread and a salad.

Kickin' Tomato Soup
1 can tomato soup
1 can Ro-tel diced tomatoes and green chilies (I prefer mild, but suit yourself.)

Mix together in a heavy saucepan and heat. Serve topped with toasted home-made seasoned croutons and a generous dollop of sour cream. 

Okay. Okay. The next recipe uses two times four ingredients, but if you make it, I think you'll agree it's worth the effort. Enjoy!

Fried Potato, Bacon, Corn Chowder
8 slices bacon, cut into 1" pieces
2 cups cubed potatoes
1 cup chopped onion
1 cup sour cream
1-1/4 cups milk
1 can cream of chicken soup
1 can whole-kernel corn, drained
1/4 teaspoon pepper.

Cook bacon over medium heat for five minutes in a Dutch oven. Add potatoes and onions. Cook until potatoes are tender (15 to 20 minutes). Add remaining ingredients. Cook until heated through (10 to 12 minutes). Amazing!

I've shared some of my favorite soup recipes. Would you  reciprocate with one of yours? Click "Comments." Also, if you try one of mine, let me know how you like it.

Write on!
Because of Christ,

Saturday, October 22, 2011

Reclaiming All Hallows Eve

[Note: Whenever I refer to the Church, I mean the regenerated followers of Jesus Christ, not some brick-and-mortar structure.]

The Church has allowed Satan, the ancient enemy of Creator God, to steal, or at least taint, many of our celebrations. The man Saint Nicholas, Bishop of Myra, who gave his all to follow the Savior, has morphed into a jolly, rotund, caricature we call Santa Claus, and the Easter Bunny continues to try to usurp the position of the resurrected Savior. Children are taught erroneously that Thanksgiving was a time when the Pilgrims thanked the Indians for helping them to survive in the wilderness.

All Hallows' Eve also has suffered at the hands of the enemy, though not as much as the afore-mentioned, since it was never purely Christian and has clearly pagan origins. Most agrarian cultures celebrate significant events in the seasonal growing cycle: harvest time, solstices and equinoxes, and planting time, for example.

The origins of All Hallows' Eve--Hallowe'en (don't forget the apostrophe)--go back 2,000 years to the Celtic festival of Samhain (pronounced sow-in). The word means "end of summer." Pumpkins, apples, and various gourds were a significant part of that event. The Celtic new year began on November 1.

By 43 A.D., the Romans had conquered the Celts, and within the following 400 years, had integrated their own pagan festivals into Samhain, including Feralia, occurring in late October. Feralia was a day to commemorate the dead.

"Christianity" spread through the Celtic lands by the 800s. In the eighth century, Pope Gregory III established that November 1 would be All Hallows' Day. According to Roman Catholic belief, All Hallows' Day was when souls were released from Purgatory and allowed to wander the Earth for 48 hours. Apparently, Pope Gregory was attempting to supplant Samhain with a Christianized version. That was Pope Gregory's M.O. He often claimed pagan celebrations and buildings and imposed a "Christian" significance on them. For example, he claimed the Pantheon (which was dedicated by the Romans to "all gods") for a Christian purpose. His All Saints' Eve was celebrated much as Samhain had been, with bonfires, parades, and people wearing costumes of saints, angels, and devils.

Today, many people claim that Hallowe'en is an innocent harvest festival, but a quick trot through the costume section of the local Wal-Mart tells a different story. With a glance backward to Samhain, Feralia, and, yes, All Hallows' Eve, one can see that the culture of death lives and thrives in today's celebration. It amazes me that many Christian parents continue to celebrate this time of ghosts, ghouls, goblins, and witches, labeling it "innocent fun." What is innocent about rubber masks that portray people who have been maimed, disfigured, frightened out of their minds, or murdered? Parents who encourage such "innocent fun" are opening the creaking door on the occult and nudging their wee ones over the threshold. Hallowe'en always has flirted with the macabre. May our All-wise God grant to those children the wisdom that their parents and grandparents lack.

Jesus says that He Is the Light of the World (John 8:12). As His followers, we are commissioned to reflect that light in today's dark world (Matthew 5:14).

As for Hallowe'en, we need not reclaim it; we never owned it.

Friday, October 14, 2011

First Draft, DONE!

Sunday is my older grandson's birthday. To celebrate, I finished the first draft of my second middle-grade novel manuscript.

He stood at my elbow and looked expectantly at the computer screen. "So now you're done with it, Gran'ma?" I hated to burst his bubble, but I had to be honest.

"No, sweetheart. I'm just beginning."

"What do you mean? I thought you said it was done."

I explained that only the first draft--the raw writing of the thing--was done, that now came multiple revisions. "And I need to cut approximately five-thousand words."

"That sounds boring, Gran'ma," he said, as he walked out of the room. I decided not to overwhelm him by describing my search for an agent. After all, he's just turning eight. 

Happy birthday, Reuben!

No, that's not a picture of my typewriter. I use a computer (though much of my initial writing is done in a Moleskine notebook with a good-quality pen or mechanical pencil). I just love pictures of old typewriters and other "writerly" schtuff.