Dry

Over the last few weeks, it seems I haven’t been able to motivate myself to do anything more creative than match socks or find a weak-ass substitute for eggs in a cookie recipe. I’d pop in here, fully intending to post something, when the realization I had nothing worth writing about would slap me upside the head like a very large salmon. Sure, we had a couple of snow days to distract me. Sure, we had a kitty death in our family which deflated me faster than the marriage of a push pin and a balloon. But are those enough to derail any smidge of creativity?

I dunno.

When I’m deep in first-draft writing, I find it fairly easy to stay on track, even if I don’t keep up with whatever word count goals I’ve set for myself. Yet when I set editing or revising goals, I find it much easier to stray. Much, much easier. Like so easy you could do it with eyes closed and hands tied behind your back. Okay, I’ll ‘fess up –  editing and revising are my least favorite parts of writing. Why? Because I think I’m not very good at them. Major suckage. Suckier than a really sucky thing. Suckier than a Dyson.

editing grammarly

And that brings me to an interesting thought… am I really enormously bad at editing and revising, or am I flogging myself needlessly because I have some misguided notion of other writers being ‘magic’ at their second, third, or fourth passes through a book? I can’t tell you how many times I’ve heard, ‘get the words on the page’, and ‘you can fix anything but a blank page’, and ‘you’ll fix that when you edit’. But what if I can’t? What if I don’t know how? Do I have those skills tucked somewhere in my writers toolbox? Do I possess the natural abilities to edit, revise, and look at my story with an unbiased eye? And if I do, how do I find them, because they sure as hell aren’t making themselves easily apparent.

*sigh*

This dry spell, this self-flagellation, must and will pass. In the meantime I’ll watch the closing ceremony of the Olympics, have a cup of tea and ponder all the characters who live in my stories. They deserve a life outside the craziness of my brain.

Oh, Wilbur

It’s funny how small things can mean a lot. Take for instance, the animals in your life. It’s not like we don’t know they have limited life spans, communication, and intelligence (though I think their brains are plenty smart, just a different kind of smart, you know?). We interact with our animals for only a few minutes each day, and we co-exist peacefully (as long as you hand out food and treats with some semblance of regularity). It doesn’t take long for them to become part of your life, part of your routine. Soon you have a snuggle-buddy each time you watch Dr. Who, or a playmate if you bring home a cardboard box, or a companion for a brisk walk outside.

They leave us too soon.

Wilbur, the cat who adopted us, was suffering from kidney failure, low body temperature, dehydration and other assorted issues. We think he was roughly 17 years old, though we aren’t completely sure. Because of his poor health, we made the incredibly hard decision to end his suffering on Friday, in the middle of a snowstorm. My eyes have just now stopped looking like jellyfish, and I was able to keep mascara on for most of the day.

With no commentary but a heavy heart, swollen eyes, and an empty spot next to me on the couch, here are a few shots of Wilbur, the green-eyed kitty who adopted our family.

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October 31 2009 007

December 2 2009 006

January 16, 2010 011

December 12, 2010 005

December 20, 2010 009

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Rest in peace, cranky old man. I hope you’re warm and safe and dry.

Flat Stanlia

A guest arrived a couple of days ago – she’s small, and flat, and has a jaunty flower in her hair. Her name is Flat Stanlia, and she lives in Michigan with beautiful girl named Riley. When Stanlia unpacked her bags, the first thing she wanted to do was bake cookies. I have no idea why, but what Stanlia wants, she gets.

2014-01-28 18.13.51So we baked cookies.

Next on her list was meeting our pets, because she loves pets. Just loves ‘em.

2014-01-28 18.14.42Wilbur-kitty loved her right back, but Casey-dog wasn’t a fan.

2014-02-01 12.56.28Maybe it’s because it was a lovely, sunny day – spring was popping out all over, and the birds and squirrels were out, too. It’s hard to concentrate when you’re a Springer Spaniel and there are BIRDS nearby.

Stanlia and I checked out all the pre-spring plants growing in the yard:

2014-02-01 12.54.50My oldest son planted these daffodils when he was little, and Stanlia couldn’t believe they were already so far out of the ground. I had to tell her that Oregon is very balmy, and we don’t get much snow or winter weather. While the rest of the country was being strangled by the Polar Vortex, we get… well…

2014-02-01 12.53.01We get this. Sunshine and blooming camellias.

Stanlia has to pack up and leave tomorrow, and we’ll be sorry to see her go. She checked up on her itinerary on my computer -

2014-02-01 08.28.03(I had to help her type things, since being relatively two-dimensional makes it hard to press the keys.) She’s off to New Jersey next, then Pennsylvania and Florida before she heads home to Miss Riley.

Goodbye, Stanlia! It’s been lovely having you here, but I know your small pink shoes are itching to get on the road and meet more people. Say hello to everyone for me, and for Wilbur, too.

2014-02-01 12.56.55Wilbur will miss you most of all.

**Come inside the first comment for more information about Flat Stanlia. :-)

I Think January Is Infected, Too

December gave us one dying car, then another, then very cold weather which killed a number of my plants. I’d hoped the New Year would begin to look up.

*sigh*

One always hopes for better things. Our ability to remain hopeful is what keeps us from running into the woods and frolicking with the skunks and the squirrels. But when the hope goes, what is left?

Booze? Yes. Lots of booze. But that’s not what I’m talking about…

A windstorm hit the Portland area Friday night. Warm, wet weather +  high winds =  bad things at the castle. One of my beloved aspen trees, the biggest one, blew over onto the overhead power/cable/phone/evil-overlord-spying lines. This is what we woke up to on Saturday morning:

2014-01-11 11.18.41I’m not sure I’ve ever mentioned it, but I love my trees. Really and truly. We planted the three aspens right after we purchased the house in 1999. (The exact date is a little fuzzy, much like Kevin the kitten, but I digress…)  We selected the trees very carefully, planted them in a small grove, and watched them grow. I love the leaves emerging in the spring, gently shaking and waving with every breeze. My mother (who gifted us with these lovely specimens) calls them ‘celebration trees’ because of their constant enthusiasm. They give shade in the summer, and lovely color in the autumn. I’ve even used the fallen leaves as mulch around our less hardy plants.

October 31 2009After seven or eight phone calls Saturday morning, and a lot of time spent on hold, the local power company said they’d be out to look at the tree ‘sometime during the day’. I couldn’t get angry at them, they were dealing with trees down and power outages all over the metro area. Poor people were working around the clock to restore power – I can’t imagine what it must be like. Darling husband and sprogs used a few handsaws to try to lighten the load on the overhead wires, but they could only do so much.

When the power company guy got here, he told us the overhead lines weren’t theirs, so the tree wasn’t their problem. He then proceeded to climb in the bucket, raised himself up, and cut the tree free of the lines. Darling husband said the power guy could have walked away, but he didn’t. He helped us. By the time he left, this is what remained:

2014-01-11 12.41.13I wish we could have staked it up, but the tree was too big and too heavy for us to secure. Aspens have shallow root systems which spread out and send off clones of themselves – those shallow roots were the problem in the heavy winds and rain. There was too much tree with not enough underground to hold it up.

And so we (meaning darling husband) will clean up the fallen tree with chainsaw and broom, handsaw and rake. We (meaning me) will weep over our beloved lost aspen. And we will wait for the spring, to see if the dormant roots will sprout a clone – a new tree to replace its fallen parent.

We will hope.

Whimper

Great googly-moogly… it’s a New Year! Did it go out with a bang? And what have I been doing with myself for the last two weeks, you ask?

*crickets*

No one? Bueller? Well, that’s okay. We all know I’m talking to myself, anyway. Just to mix things up, I’ll give you a list of excuses and you can choose the most likely cause of my blog absence. Winner gets a big air-hug sent in their direction, with maybe a few air-smooches thrown in for good measure.

1) I was kidnapped by pirates and spirited away to the Caribbean, but only to do their laundry.

2) After sipping on some home-made nog, I had a prolonged bout of narcolepsy and have been passed out in my comfy chair for two weeks with the cats. (I’ll accept ‘mild coma’, too.)

3) I got bogged down in the drifts of animal fur in my house, and just now surfaced to find a snack.

4) In a ‘that’ll shut her up’ move, my children sent me by FedEx to the middle of Saskatchewan, since I never stop whining about our lack of snow.

5) My absolute and paralyzing fear of zombies has made the Zombie Apocalypse actually manifest, and I’m hiding in my attic with a cricket bat. Still. (Side bar – we get surprisingly good WiFi in the attic.)

6) I poured all our holiday cookies and candies into my bathtub with me, and didn’t leave until the last one was digested. *burp*

 

What do you think? Feel free to comment and let me know which one you guess is the most likely reason I’ve not written anything in over two weeks. And as a hint, here’s a few of the ingredients of my home-made nog:

2013-12-24 15.13.08No, seriously. It’s awesome.

 

Best. Cookies. Ever.

Lace Cookies.

Crispy, caramel-y, pecan-y goodness. With chocolate on top. As close to the perfect cookie as you can get. My wonderful mother-in-law gave me the recipe so long ago I don’t think any of the sprogs were born yet.

2013-12-23 09.32.16The original recipe I use came in a booklet put out by the Quaker Oats company. The date looks to be 1954, but I can’t really tell. Here’s the ingredient list:

3/4 cup flour

1/2 teaspoon baking powder

1/2 teaspoon salt

1 cup sugar

1/4 cup milk

1/4 cup dark corn syrup

1/2 cup melted butter

1 teaspoon vanilla

1 cup rolled oats

1 cup chopped pecans

Sift together flour, baking powder, salt and sugar. Add milk, corn syrup, butter and vanilla. Beat until smooth. Blend in oats and pecans. Drop by small teaspoons onto parchment or Silpat lined cookie sheet. Bake at 375 degrees for about 6-8 minutes (Here I deviate from the recipe – I lower the temp and cook them longer… usually 360 degrees for about 9 minutes… you can decide what works best for you!) Let cool on cookie sheet for at least five minutes, then remove and cool thoroughly.

2013-12-22 15.37.02This is what you’re shooting for – crispy and brown on the edges, and thin and bubbly in the center. Ideally, I like the whole thing to be crispy, but it’s hard to do without making the edges too brown. Gotta watch them closely.

When completely cool, melt about 8 ounces of semi-sweet chocolate chips (I use the microwave technique… heat on high for 30 seconds, remove and stir, heat another 30 seconds, stir. If not completely melted, heat in 10 second intervals.) Spread the melted chocolate on the back of each cookie.

2013-12-22 21.22.04It takes some space to frost a billionty cookies. Make sure you take that into consideration.

Addenda:

1) The recipe above makes roughly five dozen cookies, or almost enough for one person. *g* Yesterday, I doubled the batch and made eleven dozen. I usually make a triple batch and it works out fine.

2) I usually go light on the oats and heavy on the pecans. ‘Cause I like more nuts.

3) I also go heavy on the chocolate. Anyone who’s seen me in person will not be surprised.

4) You get to know exactly how long it takes to get the batter to spread out and get lacy.

5) With a cup of coffee or tea, these cookies are perfection. Always. Even if I overcook them. So. Damn. Good.

2013-12-22 21.21.50When they’re cool and the chocolate has set, you can stack them or line them up like this for storage. You probably won’t need to store them for long. Anyone with taste buds will be scarfing them down like potato chips.

Let me know if you make these, and how it goes!

Love, Merry Christmas, Happy Holidays, and all kinds of fluffy bunnies and puppies to you and yours!

Julie

A Recipe for Delicious

A few days ago, I posted a picture of cranberry-orange bread on the Book of Faces. Here it is:

2013-12-17 09.49.04It’s a quick bread – really quick, if I’m perfectly honest about it. If you like cranberries and orange, and don’t mind a little tart with your sweet, try this.

 

1 cup fresh or frozen cranberries, coarsely chopped (I put them in my mini food processor and give them a quick buzz)

1/2 cup chopped nuts (I use walnuts and pecans)

1 tablespoon orange zest

2 cups flour

1 cup sugar

1 1/2 teaspoons baking powder

1 teaspoon salt

1/2 teaspoon baking soda

2 tablespoons butter or shortening (do you have to ask which one I used?)

3/4 cup orange juice

1 egg, well beaten

 

Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Generously grease and flour a loaf pan. Prepare cranberries, nuts, and orange peel. Set aside. In a bowl, mix together flour, sugar, baking powder, salt and soda. Cut in butter. Stir in orange juice, egg, and orange zest, mixing just to moisten. Fold in cranberries and nuts. Spoon into prepared loaf pan. Bake 60 minutes or until a wooden pick inserted into the center comes out clean. Cool for 15 minutes, then remove from pan.

The recipe makes one loaf, so I always double it. This bread is MADE to be toasted. It’s sublime. It’s everything toast should be. Add a little butter onto the toasted slice and you will be weeping with joy into your tea cup. I kid you not.

*Recipe courtesy of a 1989 Ocean Spray Cranberries bag. No kidding. I have the little plastic bag in my hand right now. That’s how weird I am.

 

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