Sunday, May 31, 2009

A Raisin Chronicles First: Asparagus Soup Recipe

There are two things you should know about me:
1) I seldom cook
2) I hate seeing food go to waste
The two were bound to collide eventually.

On Memorial Day, I discovered some asparagus in the crisper drawer. There was too much to simply steam and serve and it didn't look like it would make it to the weekend. Then I remembered seeing a recipe that used asparagus in my recipe box. It was a gamble (past-its-prime produce combined with an untested recipe) but did it ever pay off. The soup was incredible. I'm starting to drool just remembering.

I emailed the recipe to the Raisinette (aka my daugher), who's vegetarian. Later, when I was over visiting Rachel, also a veggie, I offered it to her and she said, "Why don't you just post it?"

I started to explain that I have a reputation to protect as a non-cooking person, but I knew she would not be impressed.

Asparagus Soup

Serves 6

2 Tablespoons unsalted butter
1 tablespoon canola oil
3 cups chopped onions
2 tablespoons finely minced garlic
6 cups defatted chicken broth (veggie broth works just as well)
3 pounds fresh asparagus
2 carrots, peeled and chopped
1 cup chopped flat-leaf parsley
1 Tablespoon dried tarragon
Salt and pepper to taste
Pinch of cayenne pepper
½ cup sour cream for garnish (optional)
1 large ripe tomato, seeded and diced, for garnish

 Melt the butter in the oil in a pot over medium-low heat. Add the onion and garlic. Cook until tender, stirring occasionally, about 15 minutes. Add the broth and heat to boiling.
 Trim woody ends off the asparagus. Reserving the tips, cut the stalks into 1-inch pieces, add to broth. Add the carrots, parsley, tarragon, salt, pepper and tarragon to broth. Simmer, partially covered, about 40-50 minutes.
 Puree in batches in a blender or a food processor, then strain soup back into the pot.
 Add asparagus tips and simmer over medium-low heat until tips are tender and soup is hot, about 10 minutes.
 Serve with a dollop of sour cream and a sprinkling of diced tomatoes.

Per serving (w/o sour cream)
184 calories
23g carbohydrates
10g protein
7g fat
10mg cholesterol

Saturday, May 30, 2009

A Bit of the Old In and Out

Well, that brought you here in a hurry, didn't it?

The purpose of this post is to apologize to everyone whom I haven't been getting around to see much lately, and to let you know that I will probably be popping in and out over the summer. My plan is to visit a given blog weekly, but then go back and read the full week's posts. I'm hoping the efficiencies gained this way will let me keep up with all my bloggy buddies. If there's something you'd like me to give a timely reading, drop me an email.

In addition to all the graduation/weddings/ barbecues/ballgames/yardwork/etc. that everyone wrestles with as the days grow warmer, I've started work on a new novel (my 3rd or my 5th, depending on whether you count the miserable failed attempts in my 20's and 30's that petered out after 100 pages, or only the miserable failed attempts from my 40's and 50's that at least went the full distance).

I do not know why I'm sigining up for this grief yet again, other than I just never know when to let it go. I've decided to take the advice of many brilliant (i.e. published) writers and not talk about this one while I'm working on it. When I have a crappy first draft finished, hopefully along about September, I'll shout it from the rooftops.

Thanks for your patience.

Friday, May 29, 2009

Fiction Friday - Last Week's Winner and Prompt V

First, I want to take a minute to pimp my own short story, Tangles, which I posted last week. I've gotten some great feedback, but I would love more input. In particular, I'm interested in the answer to this question: Why does Melissa refuse to take the shampoo? Several people have said, "Guilt," and while that seems like an appropriate response on the surface, I'm going to suggest that her body language doesn't convey guilt. What do you think?

Next Friday, I'll share What the Author Had in Mind.

Okay, on to what everyone really came for. The entries were even stronger this week, and no broken rules, so I was forced to judge all 8 entries. Each story was very different, and each had a lot to recommend it. In the end, I chose this one because, even after reading it a second and third time, the ending gave me a little chill. So, congratulations to this week's winner, AnnieKay.

Since it only ran 98 words, I took the liberty of adding a title.

Signature Dish

It was not what it seemed.

From her kitchen window Melissa could see straight into Sam’s dining room. They met three months earlier when he moved in. He was single, a former chef; a friendly new neighbor.

Over time Melissa observed six different women dining with Sam. “Why not me?” she wondered.

Then unexpectedly, Sam called. “I’m making my signature dish tonight and hate to dine alone; care to join me?” Melissa agreed.

Upon entering Sam’s place, her knees weakened. The six previous “dinner dates” were still there…motionless. “Melissa,” Sam smiled, “you’re my next ‘signature dish.’ Be seated.”

Next week's prompt: As neighbors go....

Wednesday, May 27, 2009

Of Neighbors and Fences

You already know that I have a fix-it drive, so it won't surprise you to hear that it also appears at home.

This is what the view from the back door looked like when we bought our house eight and a half years ago:

In 2006, we tore down the old garage and put up a replacement. (Which, by the way, has soured me on EVER having major construction done around my house again. If you've dealt with contractors in the past, I don't need to go into detail, so I'll boil it down to three words: broken leach field. That was, in the most literal sense, the shittiest day of my life.)

Over the weekend, with help from our neighbors and our kids, we installed a privacy fence. (You'll be happy to know that my marriage to Old Dog is intact.) The people who live behind us helped every step of the way, and the fellow across the street, who is a cement contractor, brought over BOTH of his Bobcats to help us dig through a stubborn tree stump.

This is what the view from the back door looks like now:

I still don't know if it's true that good fences make good neighbors, but I do know this: good neighbors make good fences.

Monday, May 25, 2009

War Stories

In honor of Memorial Day, I thought I’d share a couple of stories that my dad, who served during WWII in Afghanistan and Burma, used to tell.

Dad was the best cook at our house, a skill he learned in the Army. During the war, food sometimes got so scarce, he said, that even C-rations tasted good. One day he was summoned to the kitchen, where he found the carcass of a huge animal with a hump on its back.

“Oh, Gawd,” he thought, “they’re feeding us a camel.”

It proved to be a water buffalo someone had shot, and after weeks of C-rations, it tasted pretty good – a lot like beef, only stringier, he said.

While he was in Afghanistan, living in a tent city on a rocky plateau, a plane crash-landed. The propeller sliced through those canvas tents like a child’s scissors through paper, slaughtering half a dozen soldiers who lay sleeping. Fifty years later, as Dad recounted that story, tears rimmed his eyes.

It was in Burma that he got his ticket home, when the Jeep he was riding in hit a land mine. Dad didn’t remember much about the accident, so I don’t know whether the explosion or the impact broke his spine. He spent the next six weeks crossing the Atlantic, sweating inside a full-body cast as the pre-air-conditioning hospital ship chugged its way across the Equator. He didn’t receive a Purple Heart, because Burma wasn’t in the war zone, but he did get a disability pension - $25 a month -- for the rest of his life.

Because of this injury, he learned to use his abdominal muscles to hold himself straight to spare his back any stress. This gave him a lifelong six-pack. Years later, my sister went to buy him a shirt, selecting his favored European-cut.

“This is for your father?” asked the salesman. “Do you mind if I ask how old he is?”


“Oh, he won’t be able to wear that,” the salesman said, starting to take it from her. “Older gentlemen are too thick through the waist.”

She snatched it back. "Not my dad," she said.

He died 8 years ago, at the age of 87, and the horror of the things he saw during the war haunted him right up to the end. Back then, they called that "battle fatigue." Today it's "post-traumatic stress disorder."

So, thanks to my dad, and to eveyrone else's dad, brother, sister, mother, cousin, neighbor or whatever for being willing to fight to keep his or her country safe.

And to President Obama, and all the other leaders around the world, I'd like to send a reminder that war is a terrible thing, with consequences we can never fully predict.

Please use it carefully.

Friday, May 22, 2009

Fiction Friday -- A Winner and Prompt IV

And now, the moment you've all (okay, the 8 of you who submitted entries) been waiting for: the winner of this week's Raisin Chronicles Flash Fiction Competition is: Jeff

If he lived to be a hundred, he would never forget late May in the park. The solid feel of the earth under him, the warmth of the sun pushing his skin to lobster red. The electricity flowing through him when they were together, her arms holding him so tight. His joy was such that he was sure he felt his heart burst and his soul release.

She dabbed her misty eyes and wondered what last thought had put such bliss on his face as the prison chaplain led her from the execution gallery.

The whole contest thing turned out to be a lot harder than I expected, because all of the stories were so great. Four were eliminated for breaking the rules (which sucked, because they were really good), which still left me with 4 -- all very strong. I finally chose this one because the sensory impressions in the first paragraph generated so much empathy/sympathy and then turned out to mean something completely different than the first impression. Great twist!

The (strictly enforced and slightly clarified) rules are:

1) Has to be 100 words or less, including the prompt and the title, if any. (I copy them into Word, then go to File/Properties/Statistics to verify the word count.)
2) Has to be a story -- that is, the protagonist must undergo some kind of change.
3) Has to use the prompt verbatim
4) Has to be posted as a comment on The Raisin Chronicles Fiction Friday post by midnight Wednesday, Eastern Daylight Time. (Note extended deadline, to give more people time to enter.)
5) First post by a given writer will be considered his or her entry (so don't delete your entry because of a typo).
4) Decision of the judge is both arbitrary and final.

This week's prompt: It was not what it seemed.

Thursday, May 21, 2009


This is a short story I wrote a couple of years back. For anyone who can find the time, please read and comment (and don't feel like you have to say nice things -- I'm more interested in knowing how I can improve my work than in being patted on the head).

Also, after you've read it, please answer the following question: Why does Melissa refuse to take the shampoo?


The woman whose husband I’d had sex with the week before pushed my head back under the water. Clouds of melon-scented steam curled around my face. Across the aisle, a row of hairdryers craned their necks, as though eavesdropping on the conversation at the sinks. Above the dryers, on a 20-inch TV set, Kenneth Starr barked “no comment” as reporters swarmed him, demanding a preview of the document that might unseat the 42nd President of the United States.

“Too hot,” I said to Tina, thinking she had every right to want to scald me, even if she didn’t know it.

“Sorry.” Tina’s penciled eyebrows drew together as she adjusted the tap. “Better?”

I nodded. She scrubbed at my scalp with her neatly trimmed fingernails. Beneath my neck, the rim of the sink was hard and unyielding and I bunched my shoulder muscles against the discomfort.

“Relax,” she said.

To read the rest of the story, please click here.

Monday, May 18, 2009

The Yoke's On Us

Old Dog and I do not work well together. Although our socio-economic backgrounds are similar (Appalachian/working class), our working backgrounds are very different. I’ve been in computers most of my life, most recently as a manager; he’s a union electrician in a factory. Sometimes, if a task requires we both participate, we can pull together for the duration, but it’s not easy. So, a couple of years back, when we spent a week of vacation stripping our deck, we knew it would be a challenge.

The previous owner elected to put a semi-translucent redwood on the deck. It didn’t look took bad when the house was Hershey’s Cocoa Brown, but was pretty awful after we updated it to Current Fad Tan.

We rented a floor stripper, which scraped off most of the stain, then used a strip sander, an orbital sander, a Mouse® and sheer elbow power to get the rest of it.

It’s still not a thing of beauty, but at least it isn’t the stuff of nightmares anymore.

For seven days we worked along, two happy elves in pursuit of the American Dream of Home Improvement. Below is an actual snippet of conversation from late in the week:

Me: Those boards under the railing need more work.

Him: They look okay.

Me: They look like shit.

Him: If you want them done again, do them yourself.

Me: Fucking union labor.

Him: Fucking management.

This year we’re putting up a privacy fence. Robert Frost said, “Good fences make good neighbors.”

Any bets on what it will do for a marriage?

(Note: We're heading out to Georgia for a few days. See you on Friday (when I'll be announcing the winner of this week's Friday Fiction competition.)

Friday, May 15, 2009

Fiction Friday - Prompt III

Before I provide this weekend's prompt, I want to talk a little about the concept of story. A description, a conversation, a set of random observations, while they may be interesting, even fascinating, do not automatically qualify as a story.

In the world of fiction, to meet the definition of story, the protagonist must change in some way. In the flash story "In the Confessional," the protagonist goes from suspicion to murderous certainty. In "Better Living Through Chemistry," the protagonist progresses from a murderous irritation that blinds her to the signficance of her actions to the realization that she needs legal council.

This week, I'm going to launch a contest. The winner's entry will be published on next week's Friday Fiction post.

1) Has to be 100 words or less, including the title, if any.
2) Has to be a story as defined above.
3) Has to use the prompt (so far, everyone has done that, but I figure it's good to set boundaries).
4) Has to be posted as a comment on The Raisin Chronicles Fiction Friday post by midnight Sunday, Eastern Daylight Time.
5) First post by a given writer will be considered his or her entry (so lighten up on the publish button there, Steven G).
4) Decision of the judge is both arbitrary and final.

We'll see how this goes. If it attracts thousands of new readers and worldwide fame, I'll probably keep it. If it just pisses people off and garners hate mail, probably not.

So, without further ado, this week's prompt:

If he lived to be a hundred, he would never forget....

Wednesday, May 13, 2009

Just Call Me Ms. Fix-It! (But What If It IS Broken, Part 2)

The above is a Process Flow Diagram (aka SwimLanes) for the check-in process at the clinic. (See this post for a description of the challenges we face.) I built this in Excel because the money we'd spend for a tool like Visio will buy 8 bottles of insulin. And it's okay, because Excel actually worked pretty well.

Each band on the diagram represents a role -- patient, front-desk worker, charge nurse, doctor, etc. -- in the process. We've been using it for a couple of weeks now and things have gotten a lot smoother. On Thursday night (which is always the worst, for some reason) we had completed check-in and triage by quarter after six. I'm pretty sure that's a record.

Not sure why I'm sharing this with you, other than I LOVE doing this -- taking something that's broken and crappy and making a thing of beauty from it. A lot of people like new stuff -- new houses, new furniture -- but I'm a sucker for reclaimable junk.

The need to fix things: just one more form of co-dependency.

Tuesday, May 12, 2009

Monday, May 11, 2009

8 Things

Catherine at HiHo Ohio tagged me with this meme.

8 Things I look forward to

1. Time with my sweetie

2. Vacation

3. Weekends

4. Dinner with girlfriends

5. Universal healthcare in the USA

6. Spending time with my grandkids

7. Springtime and getting to plant and nurture

8. Autumn and not having to water any more

8 Things I did yesterday

1. Fed breakfast to Old Dog’s youngest daughter and her 2 kids

2. Went to a Columbus Clippers game with my daughter and her partner and their 2 kids

3. Walked from my daughter’s house in the German Village to the new Clippers’ stadium on the other side of downtown – a walk she claims is 2 miles, but felt like the Bataan Death March. (Note to self: Never go for a stroll with a woman who is training for the Boston Marathon.)

4. Dropped off a card to Old Dog’s middle daughter & saw her 3 kids

5. Came home and absolutely crashed, taking my weary old body to bed at 8:30.

6. Slept

7. Slept

8. Slept

8 Things I wish I could do

1. Get about 50 more doctors to volunteer to work at the clinic so we could see all the people who show up every week.

2. Afford to complete the deferred maintenance on the house

3. Get a novel published

4. Read every blog I’d like to without having to give up sleeping.

5. Spend more time with the grandkids because, having watched one child grow up so fast it took my breath away, I KNOW how fast it’s going to go.

6. Travel more

7. Hire a cleaning lady.

8. Read more.

8 Shows I watch

1. The Daily Show

2. The Colbert Report

3. Scrubs

4. House

5. Krod Mandoon

6. Chuck.

7. That’s it. If I spent any more time on TV, I’d have NO time to read blogs

8 Fruits I love

1. Blueberries

2. Peaches

3. Banana

4. Clementine Oranges

5. Strawberries

6. Grapes

7. Apples

8. Watermelon

8 Places I would like to travel to

1. New Zealand

2. Australia

3. Maine

4. Prince Edward Island

5. British Columbia

6. Paris

7. Florence

8. Athens

8 Places I have lived

1. Dayton, Ohio

2. West St. Paul, Minnesota

3. Yellow Springs, OH

4. Fairfield, OH

5. Eagan, MN

6. Cottage Grove, MN

7. Huber Heights, OH

8. Riverside, OH

8 People I challenge to try this

1. Anyone who’d like to give it a shot….

Friday, May 8, 2009

Fiction Friday - Prompt II

A great many people seemed to enjoy this last week, me especially, getting to see what creative and out-of-the-box followers I attract, so I thought we'd try it again.

Rules are the same: Flash fiction, 100 word maximum

All comments come to my email, so feel free to take your time. If you're set up to receive emails, I'll drop you a line to share my thoughts.

And now, without further ado, this week's prompt:

The voice on the phone....

(BTW -- NEVER use this as an opening for a novel. I've heard at least half a dozen agents and editors say this is the most cliched opening they can think of.)

Wednesday, May 6, 2009

Children Live What They Learn

Phinneaus is two. The other day, his mother was cooking dinner and he came into the kitchen and said, “Get out of that cabinet! There is nothing in there that you need!”

Samuel turned 3 in December. The other night, after he got up for approximately the tenth time, his mother walloped him. He grabbed her face between his hands, looked her directly in the eye, and said severely, “How many times do I have to tell you? You do NOT spank me!”

Kylie, pictured below, is a fashionista.

Gets that from her grandma.

(Okay, maybe not the fashion thing, but she did get the hat from me.)

Monday, May 4, 2009


My sister Robin and I look a lot alike, but we live very different lives. Even when we're in the same place at the same time, doing the exact same thing, we end up with very different experiences.

It was 1986, and my eldest sister, Carla, was getting her MBA from Jacksonville U, so three of us sisters went to Florida to whoop and holler as she got her diploma.

On the day before the graduation, Robin got the idea that we should make a sisterly day of it by going to a spa and getting our nails done. Lelane and Carla agreed. As a pedicure virgin, I wasn't so sure.

"I can't believe you've never had one," Robin said. "You have to try it, your feet will be gorgeous."

So we descended on Carla's local salon/spa. Carla got the works -- color, cut, manicure, pedicure -- while the rest of us settled for a mani-pedi.

My nail tech, a Vietnamese woman of mature years, smiled and said hello as I climbed into her chair and sank my feet into the bath of warm water. It was the last time that afternoon that either of us would widen our lips to express pleasure.

During the remainder of the session, she shared with me what a miserable life she had. Giving pedicures made her hands and arms ache. At night, the pain kept her awake. During the long, long hours of the day as she slaved over smelly feet, she wanted to break down and weep.

With each stroke of her emery board, I felt less like a woman pampering herself with her first pedicure, and more like an evil exploiter of underpaid immigrant labor.

Finally, as she applied a coat of pearlescent polish, Granny Sunshine made her closing statement: if she'd known what her life was going to be like in America, she would never have left Vietnam.

This was a country which, just that year, would finally begin to recover from the devastation of a multi-decade, multi-national war. Where starvation was a common cause of death, but only for those who survived the dengue fever.

I stuffed my newly-gorgeous feet into my tennis shoes, gave her a gigantic tip, and got the hell out of there.

As we walked to the car, Robin preened her pretty red toenails in her adorable little sandals.

"See?" she said. "Wasn't that incredible?"

It certainly was.

Friday, May 1, 2009

Fiction Friday: Calling All Writers

A few weeks back, when I posted a piece of "flash fiction" I had written, a 100-word story, Lilly over at Lilly's Life suggested I post a prompt and challenge other writers to create a similar piece.

After mulling it over, this is what I came up with:

"The room was silent except for...."

Your challenge: create a short story of 100 words or less that begins with this phrase. Post your story in the comments, including a title (flash fiction often relies on the title to help tell the story).

To see the original post, with a couple of examples, go here.


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