The Family Meal Has Been Hijacked

Mac 'n Cheese with tomato slices before it goes into the oven. Trust me it beats Kraft.

Mac ‘n Cheese with tomato slices before it goes into the oven. Trust me it beats Kraft…oh,there’s bacon on top too.

 

 

 

 

Cooking is fun. It must be. Millions watch cooking shows with regularity. In fact more watch cooking shows than actually cook.

 

 

 

Christmas Eve in my family has traditionally meant a meatless meal.

Christmas Eve in my family has traditionally meant a meatless meal.

 

 

One of the things I loved about my childhood was sitting down at the dinner table which we did every night. I particularly loved the holiday table at my grandmother’s house. It was so comfy, Uncle John told the funniest stories, and the food was great. There’s really nothing quite as good as the aromas coming out of a kitchen when a home cooked meal is being prepared. When you’ve eaten a good home cook’s Sunday friend chicken with homemade mashed potatoes and gravy, Kentucky Fried Chicken just doesn’t cut it.

 

I recently read that in 1900 the average American family ate only 2% of meals out of the home. By 2010 Americans ate 50% of their meals out of the home. When they were home eating “together” it was quite usual for each family member to microwave their own frozen meal. If they actually sat down at the table together with their individual nuked food, it would be for less than 20 minutes.

 

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I cook. I love to stand in front of the stove and stir what I’ve got simmering in a pot. I love to open the oven to check on my baked chicken and revel in the garlic and onion aromas wafting over my kitchen and into the rest of the house. That’s wonderful and pleasurable to me. Sitting down at a set table and eating a well prepared, home cooked meal is pretty close to heavenly. It warms the cockles of my heart hearing: “I’ll have another helping of sweet potatoes” or “Wow, these carrots are good, can I have more?” or “pass the grated cheese.”

 

I could tell you studies show that kids who regularly sit down to a meal with their families are more well-adjusted than kids who don’t. I could point to research suggesting children who eat at home with their families have better grades and get into less trouble. I could ask you if you knew eating meals at home protects girls from anorexia and bulimia. But what I really want to tell you is how much fun it is to eat together. How great it is to cook together in the kitchen, and carry the platters out to the table.

 

Watching cooking on TV is fun. I do it all the time. But cooking at your own stove is more fun. Trust me. Shopping at the supermarket should be a wonderful sensory experience. There are red, round, ripe tomatoes waiting to be sliced and added to a sandwich. Yum. Anyone can do that. There’s a package of chop meat that would make a few hamburgers to share with family and friends and they won’t taste like the cardboard burgers you get at a fast food place. Put it on a good roll you got in the bakery section and plop one of those fresh cut tomato slices on it. Then eat! Eat! Enjoy the people at the table eating with you. After all, community starts at the dinner table.


I’m So Tired of Angry, Bullying Cowards!!!

BullyAngry, bullying people get a kick out of being terrorizers who intimidate others into doing their bidding. I refuse to see them that way, refuse to give in to their pressure. I think of them as stud-muffins (super cool in their own minds but with a soft, cowardly core). Jerks, is another term that comes to mind. They’re infantile, and this game of theirs is so played out.

 

They splatter their anger all over others
Anger isn’t the same as becoming or feeling angry. We all experience anger, much of it justified. Life is hard, we get knocked around and we become angry. Mature adults learn to control it, to get over it, and not let it rule them. What is disturbing is the trend in our post-modern world is to live angry, to have anger as the premier emotion. We see this on the internet, individuals blasting away at others, literally trying to destroy reputations and lives.

 

The Bible, a book of great wisdom and inspiration, that uplifts and enhances my life, says: BE ANGRY, AND yet DO NOT SIN; do not let the sun go down on your anger. [NASB, Ephesians 4:26] Here we see that anger is not a sin. Well, what is sin? The word sin literally means missing the mark. The emotion of anger is natural, but rehashing it, nursing and feeding it until it becomes a monster is definitely missing the mark. (Note: the italicized yet was not in the original Scripture text. It was added by editors.)

 

Why do anger-mongers do what they do? The payoff to over-the-top anger is intimidation. In their own minds, bullies feel like big shots…powerful. Many times, those wielding intense anger like a sword find they tend to get what they want. So, they ratchet up their anger to even higher decibels to get more of what they want. In the face of this type of outrageous anger, others may quake in fear and give in to them.

 

This is a societal problem and it’s becoming one of great magnitude. So, what can individuals due? First of all, we can refuse to sink to their level. We must raise the bar, not lower it. We must not allow their anger to goad us into debasing ourselves. If possible, ignore the bully when he/she is in intimidation mode. They feed on attention, deny it to them. Do nothing to reinforce the image they have of themselves as powerful and commanding. When forced to deal with their tirades, do so in a calm and rational manner.

 

How about, don’t give the anger-monger status within your group? Don’t give him/her standing. When an innocent member of your group (work team, neighborhood, etc.) is verbally attacked by a bully, stand up and give the injured party moral and verbal support. It takes a little backbone to set things right. Should the bully engage in physical confrontation, call the police.


When a Crime Fiction Writer Throws ‘Bait and Switch’ at the Reader

Bait

I got an interesting email response to my last post from fellow Christian writer Mary Vee. She stated she hated it when an author broke my “rule #5 for writing detective novels.”

 

Rule #5: The criminal should be introduced early in the story, amidst a field of plausible red herrings.  There’s nothing worse than having the criminal sprung on the reader, out of the blue, at the last minute. There could be more than one culprit. So, secondary culprits can be introduced later. Still, it’s sort of cheating to wait till the very end even for those to be brought into the story line. Don’t want to give the reader a bait-and-switch feeling. Finding out who the killer is at the end ~ good. Introducing the killer at the end ~ bad idea.

My author friend said she’d read several novels that had done that (dropped the killer into the story at the  end and then wrapped it all up neatly) and she disliked them terribly. She felt as if she’d been robbed…cheated. Then she got even stronger saying perhaps “embezzled” was the word she was looking for because the author has set her up and then let her fall.

Tipped Hat

She went on to say that if the clues were there and she got caught banking on the wrong killer, if she got caught in a “red herring snare,” well that was just pure fun. Hats off to the author.


Writing A Detective Novel ~ The Rules

Investigation

 

 

As in life…some rules can safely be broken, others can’t. Determining which is which often demonstrates who is the proficient writer and who is not.

Quite a few of the rules for writing detective stories are similar to those for writing murder mysteries, suspense novels, and thrillers. Others are very different.

BASIC RULES:

1. The story must have a detective, or detective partners as its main character(s). These can be duly sworn police detectives, fire department arson investigators, licensed private investigators, FBI special agents, homeland security investigators and the like, or military police officers of high enough rank to be investigating crimes. They are law enforcement professionals on the case to solve a particular crime or series of crimes.

2. The story must have a victim or victims. Usually there is a dead body, preferably more than one. But the crime could be kidnap, or arson that did not result in murder, or perhaps eco-terrorism resulting in corpses or not. The crime could involve the brutalization or killing of animals (especially if the detective is a park ranger). Most often there is a human murder or murders.

3. The detective story is an intellectual game, much like solving a puzzle or playing chess. There are opponents in this game. The detective is pitted against the criminal. They must be equally matched for it to be a good game. Although the reader knows the detective is going to win, for it to be a compelling story,  it has to feel at times, as if the criminal might triumph over the detective. The criminal must be clever enough to inflict some mental, emotional, and/or physical damage on the detective(s).

4. The old axiom was that the criminal’s identity must be unknown to both the detective(s) and the reader until the very end. This is still largely true. If the criminal’s identity is know the story becomes suspense. Lately, there’s been some line blurring in this area. In the modern market place, many genres have blurry lines.

5. The criminal should be introduced early in the story, amidst a field of plausible red herrings.  There’s nothing worse than having the criminal sprung on the reader, out of the blue, at the last minute. There could be more than one culprit. So, secondary culprits can be introduced later. Still, it’s sort of cheating to wait till the very end even for those to be brought into the story line. Don’t want to give the reader a bait-and-switch feeling. Finding out who the killer is at the end ~ good. Introducing the killer at the end ~ bad idea.

6. The crime should also be introduced at the beginning. It’s been said within the first three chapters. The first chapter is best. Opening up in the very midst of it, helps grab the reader’s attention. The specific crime must fit the criminal’s psyche and personality, and he/she must have had the know-how and ability to commit said crime.

7. Supply plausible and understandable clues that both give hints as to the identity of the criminal, and also clues that point to others who are merely red herrings. Also leave clues as to the motive for the crime(s).

8. In days gone by, it was almost written in stone that the detective story is simply one of detecting, that no social issues must be brought into it and certainly no romance. This is no longer the case. Readers enjoy a detective protagonist with a social conscience, or definite lack thereof. It makes him/her more interesting. In the same way a love interest for the detective often gives her/him an Achilles’ heel which the crafty criminal can take advantage of. The Christian detective story must have inspirational or redemptive elements to it. However, in the detective sub-genre, the overwhelming majority of the plot must be about the protagonist detective(s) detecting and solving the crime(s), or else it’s not a detective story.

9. The crime must not be solved by super-natural or extraordinary means. The criminal can’t be caught via psychic powers, magic, assistance from ghosts, aliens from another planet, or the like. Those scenarios make the story speculative fiction, not a detective story. Although in today’s world, it’s entirely possible to have a spec fic detective story, but that book would not be shelved with detective stories in a book store. Then again, you might hit a bookstore where it would be. Go figure.

Murder


Overcoming the Fear Factor in a Dangerous World

Barbed Wire

Courtesy of FreeImages by ilco

 

It seems the world is more dangerous than it’s ever been. ISIS is beheading and burning people. Boko Haram has been busy kidnapping school girls. In fact, the Middle East seems as if it’s about to explode. We are warned of the threat of nuclear expansion to ominous and to unstable countries. Then there’s Ebola, not always in the news, but still destroying lives.

 
As far as America’s own national security we keep hearing disturbing things. Internal threats and homegrown terrorists. Protests that turn into riots. Porous borders. Our system of banking on the verge of total collapse.

 

Even in our own city, village, or neighborhood we face drive-by shootings, muggings, and even something as unthinkable as the sex-slave trade going on in the seedy part of town, or the not so seedy part of town.

 

What should we do? Some are stocking up on food, firearms, and ammunition, as well as subscribing to survivalist magazines. Those with the means, install high tech security systems. Others simply isolate themselves behind barred windows and multi-locked doors. They have become afraid. Fear is dominating their lives.

 
What is fear? You might say that it’s an emotion. I’d disagree. Fear itself is not a feeling. It is a spiritual force. And even the most intellectual, scientific, psychological- minded people know that on a visceral level. If you were in an airplane with severe engine trouble and someone in the next seat said, “The fear in here is so thick you can almost touch it,” you’d agree. The same would be true if you happened to be in a bank during an armed robbery. The fear would be palpable.

 
Though fear is a force, it can and does affect our emotions and in many instances can cripple individual lives. Yet many have absolutely no anxiety about the threats of this world. These are believers who have moved past fear and into the Lord’s promise of peace, protection, and blessing

 

Hebrews 13: 5a-6 [NASB] ~ for He Himself has said, I WILL NEVER DESERT YOU; NOR WILL I EVER FORSAKE YOU.” So that we confidently say, THE LORD IS MY HELPER, I WILL NOT BE AFRAID. WHAT WILL MAN DO TO ME?

 
When I look at this Scripture I see what the Lord has said, but there’s another part. I see that we are supposed to say something. I’m supposed to say: The Lord helps me and I’m not afraid of what man can do on this earth to me. It plainly tells me to say that. Not only to read it, no just think it, but to say it aloud.

 
What we say, shapes our feelings, especially what we say about ourselves. If I ever catch myself saying about some event, perhaps on the news, “That’s so scary.” I immediately say to myself out loud, “Quit that fear talk.”

 
In fact, I talk to the news reports. I even point a finger at the TV and shake it. I really do, and as a recovering news junkie, it makes them less powerful in my life. If there’s a report on the news about anxiety on the increase in the nation as well as an increase in pill popping to cope with it, I say, “Not in my house! Not in my life!” But that wasn’t always so. At one point, a few years ago, I had great anxiety. Things were going hay-wire in my life and I found I could not cope with the destructive actions of some people in my life. But I literally talked myself out of that situation. Words have power, after all. I began saying words of power and faith. Of course the words I choose to say come from the Bible. If God said the words first, there’s more power in them than in something I make up on the spur of the moment.

 
Another very practical thing to combat fear is to realize is that fear is the anticipation of something bad happening. In actual fact, that feared thing rarely comes to pass in the individual’s life. Another practical tactic to combat fear is to laugh a little. Laughter dispels fear. Doctors tell us deep belly-laughs releases marvelous feeling endorphins. So, go to a comedic movie, or play a tape of an old one on your TV. Do something, anything that will make you laugh which will in turn decrease your anxiety and fear. And that’s the key. Don’t be passive and let fear overtake you. Combat it.

Flower, White and Pink Rose

Courtesy of FreeImages by BeverlyLR

 


Gotham, Awash In Snow Again ~ hopefully for the last time this year

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On the first day of Spring NYC had yet another snow storm, albeit, this one a minor one, only three to four inches. But it came down steadily and it stuck. So, the Department of Sanitation had to get its trucks out sanding and salting once again. This after a series of horrendous snow storms this winder.

By morning the city had the roads cleared. They are real good at that, real good. With all the traffic on Avenue U (a busy thoroughfare), thankfully by morning the pavement was clear.

 

 

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Jailhouse Hooch ~ a recipe

Oranges

Courtesy of FreeImages by Gabriel77

 

Nancy W. came to my mind today. I knew her many years ago, when I was a single working girl living in Miami. (Trust me, a looong time ago.) She was a loyal member of Alcoholics Anonymous (AA). She’s passed now, and I suppose I could use her last name, but I won’t.

Nancy W. was a blue blood, truly. Her ancestors came over on the Mayflower. Her family is in the social register. I went to several open AA meetings (open to non-alcoholics) with Nancy. That was in the 1970s and members came to evening meetings from work dressed in polyester pantsuits, or well worn-in dungarees, depending upon the type of job. This was south Florida, so some came in shorts, some in short-shorts. Nancy wore a pleated skirt, white or pastel blouse, and pearls.

Nancy told me about the highlight of one of her trips to Manhattan (NYC). She accompanied her chic socialite friend to an AA meeting in the East Village. Both women always sat in the front row when they’d been in boarding school, and they did so at this meeting. They didn’t want to miss anything. Her friend was decked out in a fur coat (animals lovers, please don’t judge). It was a small meeting place, and the meeting had already begun when an obviously inebriated man walked, or careened in. The only seat left was in the front row, right next to the lady in the fur coat. The speaker kept on with his story about getting sober. All of a sudden the drunk threw up on the floor smack-dab front of the podium and in close proximity to Nancy and her friend. The speaker didn’t miss a beat, kept on talking. Nancy and her friend sat there unfazed while someone rushed forward with a mop. Another member guided the drunken man to the back to feed him some strong coffee. When retelling this story, Nancy remarked, “That man is a drunk, just like me.”

Nancy was one to write down recipes. While watching a TV morning or afternoon show, if a celebrity demonstrated how to make something scrumptious, she would write the recipe down on the back of a stray envelope or a piece of scrap paper. One evening, Nancy attended an AA meeting where the now long-sober speaker had once done time in prison. He gave the recipe for jailhouse hooch and, naturally, Nancy grabbed a piece of paper out of her handbag and wrote it down. While joking one day, she showed the “recipe” to me and I wrote it down. Here it is…

Jail House Hooch a/k/a Pruno

1. Take one empty paint can, wash well. [Note: Nancy copied this recipe in the 1970s. I have on good authority that inmates use huge Ziploc baggies now.]

Courtesy of FreeImages by loungefrog

Courtesy of FreeImages by loungefrog

2. Combine in the can 10 peeled oranges and one 8 oz can of fruit cocktail (stockpiled from lunches or filched from the kitchen). Mash well. Add 16 oz of tap water, mix, and reseal can (or baggie). Wrap can in a towel and store in a warm place hidden from the guards. Let sit 48 hours.

3. Open the can (baggie). The mixture should have ballooned and there should be a smell of fermentation. That would be true in wineries, in this case it’s more like rotten fruit. Add 50 cubes of white sugar,  5 tsp (or 5 packets) of Heinz Ketchup, must be Heinz. Mix to stir ketchup through and to dissolve sugar. Put the cover back on the can and seal. Wrap it up in the towel again and store in a warm place (if you used a baggie, run it under hot water for 30 min.) and be sure to keep it away from the guards, but a place that is accessible so you can let gases out. Don’t want to be cleaning this stuff off the walls.

4. Twenty-four hours later, open can and let some fermentation gasses escape.

5. Twenty-four hours later, open can and let some fermentation gasses escape, place it near a heat source (oven or radiator) for half an hour (or run the baggie under hot water) to keep the fermentation going.

6. Twenty-four hours later, let gasses out, sit near a heat source (oven or radiator for half and hour), reseal, wrap in towel and put away again.

7. Twenty-four hours later, open can and let gasses out, sit near a heat source (oven or radiator for half and hour), reseal, wrap in towel and put away again.

8. The next day open the can, fish out the rotten fruit and the yukky mold. Strain the liquid carefully through a wire, mesh strainer. And it’s ready to drink.

Does it taste like Scotch, bourbon, Irish Whiskey, or brandy? In a word, NO! It tastes like a mixture of rot-gut and gasoline, and only gives a measly, minor buzz. It’s more sickening than inebriating, but it does, in fact, inebriate somewhat.

Here’s a spiritual thought. You might consider asking for Last Rites before drinking Jailhouse Hooch

Coourtesy of FreeImages by KodakGold

Coourtesy of FreeImages by KodakGold