Tuesday, May 20, 2014

Step by Step

Many writers get asked, “When did you know you were a writer?” Or, “How did you know you were a writer?” Or, “When did you start writing? Were you good in English as a kid? (I just got that one the other day). Some writers have an answer for some or all, and some don’t have an answer for any.

But I have yet to hear the question, “Where did you become a writer? Where did it all start?” Meaning “Where were you when...” Everyone has a poignant place of personal change that will stay with them forever.

The curious might ask the question ‘where did it start,’ as if becoming a writer hits like an epiphany out of thin air, to which the answer could be: “While bathing in the Ganges River (not advisable) a Mahseer fish (a fish found in those parts) bit me and the over-whelming revelation to be a writer coursed through my body.” Nothing wrong with swimming or fish, but if I was in the Ganges River, no matter how holy or bucket-list-completing the event might be, I don’t think I would be thinking about writing right at that moment. Or maybe I would be? Who knows. Mysterious, unexplainable things happen all the time.

Or some might respond to the “where were you when...” question with: “I was in my stained once-pink housecoat in my laundry room surrounded by piles of laundry when I got ‘the call’ from a publisher offering me an eight book deal. That was where and when I knew I was a writer. It was only after the call, despite my excitement, that I noticed the laundry room was in dire need of painting and there was a Cheerio in my hair. Thank God I wasn’t on Skype!”

Or better yet some might, while wearing a tweed jacket coupled with a cravat loosely tied at the neck, point at you with their pipe (a perfect prop) and answer in the most uppity, smooth voice, “Well, my dear, I got my start while studying 18th century German Literature at ‘Hoity-Toity University.’ I wrote my twenty-two theses in the same dorm I occupied for twelve years overlooking the garden commons, all while transcribing Elder Futhark, the ancient Germanic runic alphabet.”

Alrighty then.....

So obviously the question is open to interpretation. But for me, I actually DO know the exact place where my early writerly start began. I can quote the spot, right down to the step: fourth step from the bottom on the back stairs of my childhood home.

The back steps of the house where I grew up was a central, common area to my sisters and I. It was a place to play dollies, chat and gossip, have a good cry, or lace up our roller skates. But mostly, for me, it was a place to sit and read in the sun during the summer months. Over the years I read countless books on the forth step up, and it was there where I not only took-up sketching (epic fail), but where I wrote a ‘thriller’ short story about an acid-spewing spider which attacked me in my sleep. Seriously. (It was also there, in the summer of ’83, where I discovered I had chicken pox).

I still have the sketches but the countless, numerous, infinite number of books I read, along with the story I wrote, are long gone (oh how I wish I still had the books and the story!).

I sat there day after day, reading book after book (in between roller skating, of course), unknowingly fuelling my inner-writer. Adventure books, mysteries, teen romances, and then all too soon, mature romances. And while I was building my writerly muscles that wouldn’t be put to use until later life, I was also building up a good base tan. Sunscreen wasn’t ‘in’ back then.

I had friends, don’t doubt, but I was, and always have been, a bookworm at heart.

It was during a recent down-memory-lane trip with my dad to the old house that I was able to capture on film where it all started; where I became a writer.

The house, now owned by someone else, has been going through some renovations. The open-air, covered patio you see to the left (your left) of the stairs was where I played as a little kid. A few years later that area was transformed, my dad using the space to build an addition to the house. It was perfect as for many years I had a wall to lean against while I read. The new owners have since removed the addition, and the space has been reverted back to the open-air covered patio it once was. Seeing it like that, back to its original state, sent me on a weird time-warp: I hadn’t seen it like that since I was about six or seven years old.

I realize now the whole ‘old house’ visit was a bit of a revelation in itself – and I didn’t need to be bit by a Mahseer fish in the Ganges River to have that revelation, either. Not only was it great to see where it all began, but it reminded me that things change, I’ve changed, and so will my writing, change. No, I’m not currently writing about acid-spewing spiders, but who knows – maybe one day, I will.

Going back to where it all began was an inspiring reminder of how far I had come – one step at a time.

Thanks for reading!


Sunday, May 11, 2014

I Love Baking - Mother's Day Giveaway

I have a passion, but it’s something I have no time for - I love baking. Not just eating it, but actually DOING it. As a mom, for me at least, baking comes with the territory.

But I wish I had more time to bake. And I wish I had better tools like fancy mixers, fancy pans, and gizmos and gadgets galore to make the most perfect-est, Frenchiest of baked delights (what ‘French’ has to do with it, I’m not sure, but really good baked goodies always seem to be French). And I wish I had a huge kitchen with an island with pots and pans dangling from the ceiling, the kind you see in magazines. And I wish I would always have great hair when whipping up the most perfect cheesecake/soufflĂ©/flan, and I wish I would not ever make a mess, and I wish...

Aw, heck - I don’t really wish for all the extra pots and pans because then that would mean I would have to cook more, like meals and such. And at this point in my life I’m sick of cooking. I wish I could order take-out every night and not have to wash any dishes.

Because all I want to do is just bake – and not have to clean up the mess in my tiny kitchen. That part’s no fun.

But despite my love and adoration for baking I have to admit, however, that I sometimes hate it. Stupid, I know. I hate having to bake out of necessity or urgency, like needing to make 3 loaves and 2 dozen cookies for a school-do and a work-do the next day – and the only time to do it all is in the evening after I have already worked all day and cooked dinner upon coming home.

That’s no fun, and sometimes that’s when problems arise.

Finding time to do anything extra special, and do it properly, is a constant quest.

And lately, my time has become more and more scarce. I have a full-time job outside the home, three growing men in my house to feed and referee, and a writing career I am trying to maintain with what limited time I have. And so, lately, my baking and cooking has become somewhat, subpar.

One time I cut open a perfectly baked banana bread, only to find a chunk of eggshell. Another time the cookies were taken out of the oven just a tad too soon (raw cookie dough tastes good, anyways). Then there was the time I forgot to put the chocolate chips into the chocolate chip cookies. The worst was when I failed to grease and flour a cake pan, resulting in the pan needing to be soaked in soapy water for the next two days, only to still require a knife to chisel away at the baked-on cake batter. (The missing chocolate chips episode was the most traumatic of them all)

But it’s usually when I’m in a flurry – hair flying, flour all over my clothes, a Band-aid needing application (and hopefully not finding its way into the batter) – that something gets forgotten.

So, like I said, lately my baking has become subpar

Like the other day.

The other day, or should I say night, I made a pumpkin loaf. Simple and straightforward, a traditional recipe straight out of the red-and-white gingham ‘Better Homes and Gardens New Cook Book,’ I have made this recipe, and other loaves like it, a zillion times before. I know the recipe for those loaves like the back of my hand.

So when I pulled it out of the oven after it’s required baking time, it just looked....flat.

Like, flat FLAT.

I know I put in the baking powder, and I KNOW I put in the baking soda – two ingredients necessary for leavening. I KNOW I put in the eggs – the eggshells were still in the garbage when I checked later. Knowing how rushed and tired I was, I had made sure to slow down and follow all the steps extra carefully, ensuring I didn’t miss any ingredients.

The toothpick-test showed it was fully baked, but....something wasn’t right.

It was for work the next day, and time had run out. I didn’t have any more eggs to make another.

So huge dollops of cream cheese icing was spread on top, a ploy to add height and mask it’s ‘flatness.’

The next day at work I explained my concerns about my flat loaf to anyone who would listen. One person did some baking research and we had a great lengthy discussion about testing baking powder and baking soda for freshness, uneven oven temperatures and the use of an oven thermometer, what kind of pan I used, did I mix it long enough, was I having a good hair day when I made it...all factors were analyzed.

I made big plans to later throw out the baking powder and soda, call the landlord about the oven, get an oven thermometer, buy a new loaf pan, call up Better Homes and Gardens and give them a piece of my mind, and do something with my hair – all in the name of baking a better loaf.

Later that night as I was nodding off, chin to chest, upright on the couch while watching a TV show, I ‘woke up’ with a sudden revelation. Where the thought came from when I was half-comatose on the couch, I will never know.


Did I....did I forget...?

I stumbled to the kitchen and flipped through the red-and-white cookbook to the pumpkin loaf recipe. A possible reason for my flat loaf sparked through the foggy synapses of my brain, and I realized....

The recipe calls for two cups of flour, one cup added at the beginning of the mixing process and another added at the end, right before going into the oven.

I had forgotten the second cup of flour at the end.


No wonder everyone commented how moist the dense the loaf was!

In summary, no one died, everyone liked me ALOT for a day (it was the cream cheese icing), and I learned that lack of time and baking don’t go hand in hand – a steadfast rule of a good baker.

All good things take their own sweet time.

To celebrate Mother's Day and those who do last-minute rushed baking jobs, I am hosting a giveaway - comment below and I will randomly draw a name - the winner will receive the anthology 'Not Your Mother's Book - On Being a Mom' (Publishing Syndicate) which features 64 fun and often outrageous stories by moms about raising their families. Inside you'll find my story 'Rules' - a story about loving the landlord's 'rules' for the greater good of my family (you can read about it more in a previous post called 'The Great Reveal'). Giveaway only open to Canada and US - sorry :( Winner will be announced on Monday, May 12th, in the comments section, so be sure to check back!