Is it Christmas yet?

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My favorite part of the holiday season is driving around and seeing homes and shops decked out wonderful displays of light: All white, multi-colored, static light, twinkling lights, and moving lights. Last night as we were driving over the hill to my husband’s company party, we passed a white truck covered in strings of lights. It was wonderful and the owner of the truck enjoyed our happy reaction as much as we did.

What I don’t like, of course, is the traffic, having to stalk people for their parking spots, long lines at the grocery stores and department stores, and well, pretty much everywhere I go. But, even though I grump and groan about it all, it’s still the best time of year because somehow, all this holiday madness still tends to bring out the best in people. We give more to charity. We go out of our way to spend more time with our families. And, in my experience, we’re just generally nicer and more friendly to our fellow human beings.

I think it has something to do with those lights I love so much. Jesus birth is celebrated in December because that was the early church’s best guess. We know the date is not accurate, but it is appropriate because it is believed Jesus Christ is the light of the world and what better time to bring light into the world than in the middle of winter.

Pre-Christian pagans who suffered through long, dark, cold winters often had mid-winter celebrations. One important aspect of those celebrations was to encourage the Sun with it’s life giving warmth and light to return in the Spring. It was also a reminder that the Sun had always returned and as long as we keep faith in that, we can survive the longest, darkest night of the year. So, what better way to enjoy the month of December than by decking our halls with light, no matter what your religious beliefs happen to be.

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When Fantasy Becomes Reality

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Casa Kavanaugh

At one time I used to have this fantasy about living in a cabin in the woods. I would live a simple, self-sufficient life far from any city, surrounded only by nature with my nearest neighbor at least a mile away. I lived alone, of course, because as a serious introvert I tend to avoid situations that require more than the polite minimum of social interaction. As most of my employment reviews noted, I lack “interpersonal skills.” I prefer the term “socially awkward.”

Therefore, in my daydreams, the cabin would be difficult to find and access which would insure that only those people I wanted to see would go to the inconvenience of visiting me. In my mind, my son, his wife and their children would make the trek once or twice a year and they would spend most of their time trying to convince me to give up my hermitage and live with them. To which I would answer, bah! Or something equally crotchety.

Forgetting that God has a sense of humor, I felt safe indulging in this fantasy because, at the time, I could not imagine it coming true. I was a single working woman with no savings, mediocre credit and neither the skills nor the knowledge to find and survive such a place.

Little did I know I would marry a man who would make that fantasy come true. Almost.

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I call it “The Burrow.”

We now live in a small house set on the side of a hill outside the small town of Felton, California. Like my fantasy we are smack in the middle of a forest surrounded by trees with lots of wildlife to enjoy and there’s even a creek nearby. The roads snaking through the area are narrow, winding, and in bad weather somewhat hazardous. We don’t get a lot of visitors.

However, because of the tree cover growing our own food is out of the question, which as it turns out, is fine with me. At my age vegetable gardening doesn’t live up to the romantic ideal in my head. It’s a lot of hard work that my back can’t handle. Fortunately, there are four grocery stores within a 20 minute drive from our place.

We have other conveniences that never appeared in my fantasy such as Internet and Cable, hot and cold running water, a flushing toilet, electricity and a propane stove and oven. What we don’t have is central heating. We have a single wood stove that in a cold snap such as they one we are experiencing right now, works overtime trying to keep the living room/kitchen area warm.

In my fantasy, my cabin was about half the size of this house so a small wood stove was enough to keep me warm on cold winter nights. In reality, we have a very small living room, larger kitchen, two bedrooms, my office (which is always cold), and a small bathroom that, in winter, could substitute as a meat locker. One centrally located wood stove just doesn’t cut it. Besides, wood heat is a lot of work. My husband spends his weekends chopping wood and I spend a good chunk of time everyday managing the fire.

In the summer, it’s hot. Not as hot as it would be if we didn’t have a tree canopy blocking much of the sunshine, but it’s still hot. And dry, and dusty. In the evenings, we like to spend time outside on our deck. Problem is, so do several thousand mosquitoes. These are things we never think about when indulging in nature fantasies.

But, we do get to feed hummingbirds, listen to ravens croaking, and watch young deer, some so young they still have their spots, walking down the road. I’ve encountered possums and raccoons around the house and we’ve become the benefactors of two feral cats that were living under our shed.

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Goldie and Little Bit

One other thing: our nearest neighbors are three feet away. Actually, we’re sandwiched between two houses. Fortunately, our neighbors are lovely people who respect our privacy even if their weekend parties do get a little loud in the summer.

Fantasies and day dreams are fun and a great way to stretch the imagination, but the cold truth is, reality can never measure up to those ideals. But, for me, that’s okay. Real fantasy is a mixture of both and as a writer I’ve found that reality provides more material that is rich in the sensory details that make a story come to life. Things like freezing in winter and being eaten alive by mosquitoes in the summer, for instance.

Happy dreams and Merry Christmas!

 

 

 

Fictional Vegans/Vegetarians

There is, of course, Mr. Spock from Star Trek, Lisa Simpson from The Simpsons and Bella and the vampires from Twilight. Goodreads has a list of 102 books with Vegan or Vegetarian characters. There’s even a publishing house that prefers novels with Vegan/Vegetarian lead characters. Ashland Creek Press has eco-fiction, books about animals as well as VegLit. So, I’d say there’s definitely a market for books, movies and television that features characters who do not consume animal products.

In my book The Demons We Cherish, the main character, Gemma Leighton, is Vegan. Here’s an excerpt:

“Very funny.” She shook out a packet of sugar, tore off the top and poured it into her tea careful to avoid eye contact with Ken. “Is the menu still the same?”

     “We made a couple of changes.” Ken turned in his seat and shouted ‘number twelve’ to the cook behind the counter. Turning back to face her he said, “You’re here for the funeral?”

     Gemma snorted. “I am the funeral.”

     A silent laugh shook Ken’s amble belly. “I don’t know. I’m betting the whole town shows up for this one.”

     Her eyes went wide. “No. Are you serious?” The last thing she wanted to deal with was a town full of busy-bodies.

     “Honey, nobody’s been able to talk, or think, about anything else for the last 48 hours. Thanks to the Pidgeon sisters most of the town showed up at the mansion the morning they were found. I heard the Sheriff chased everyone off by threatening to arrest ‘em.” He slapped the table and collapsed into a fit of laughter.

     The sheer joy on his face and in his voice was infectious. Gemma forgot her troubles for a minute and laughed along with him.

     When they had both calmed down, she wiped tears out of her eyes and took a sip of tea. “They made me executrix of their will.”

     Ken leaned forward. “Oh-ho! Executrix, huh? That can’t be good.”

     “No.” She thought about telling him about the second will, but decided to wait until she knew more about it. Gemma moved her glass as the waitress placed a large platter of creamy noodles and mushrooms with a side of steamed broccoli in front of her.

     “You’re still, Vay…vegh…you don’t eat meat, right?”

     Gemma laughed. “Vegan, yes.” She rolled up a forkful of noodles and ate. “It’s delicious.”

     A huge smile spread across Ken’s rumpled face. “With an almond milk cream sauce.”

     “Damn, Ken, I never would have believed it.” She popped a brown cremini mushroom into her mouth delighted that she hadn’t had to settle for a salad and a side of fries.

And another:

“Maddie then. It suits you.” Ken crossed his arms over his chest. “So, what can I get you two?” He snatched Gemma’s menu out of her hands. “I know what you want. It’s a new recipe. You’ll love it. What can I get for you Maddie? Anything you want. It doesn’t have to be on the menu.”

     “Ken likes to show off.” Gemma grinned at her old friend.

     “Hey, when you’re as good as I am, you have to share it with the world.” He held out his hands like he was granting a blessing.

     “He’s modest too.”

     When they finished laughing at themselves and each other, Ken asked Maddie again what she would like.

     “What’s Gemma having?”

     “It’s a surprise, and it’s delicious, but I should warn you, Gemma here’s a Veejun.”

     “Vee-gun. Vegan.”

     “What’s that?” Maddie asked.

     Ken jumped in before Gemma could answer. “That’s someone who doesn’t eat meat, or cheese, or milk, or eggs, or honey, or anything at all that comes from animals. It means she’s a pain in the neck, is what it means.”

     “Oh really? Is that why you have a whole section on your menu now for vegetarians and vegans?”

     “Yeah, well, the world is changing and I can’t stop it. So, what’ll it be, Maddie?”

     “I’ll have what Gemma’s having.”

Not all the characters in the book are Veggies, but there are no icky descriptions of cooked animal carcass either.

So, if you’re Vegan or Vegetarian I think you’ll enjoy The Demons We Cherish.

Available on Amazon, IBooks, B & N, Google and Kobo.

 

 

Vegan Split Pea Soup

There was a time in my life when I wouldn’t eat split pea soup. It was too green. Yes, I know that’s weird reason for not wanting to eat something, but there it is. I refused to eat pesto for the same reason.

Then I got married. (Well, there was the whole dating and courtship thing that in our case took way too long, but eventually we said the “I dos.”) My husband it turns out loves pesto and split pea soup and at some point I decided to cook up a batch of the dreaded icky green soup. Now I love the stuff. As long as it’s homemade.

Vegan Split Pea Soup is so quick and easy to make and so filling and nutritious there’s really no reason not to make up a batch once or twice a month.

But, before I give you the recipe there’s a couple of things you need to know. First off, even when I’m following a recipe I don’t follow the recipe. For me, cookbooks are more for inspiration than actual instruction. So, I change things. For instance, many recipes call for a medium size onion. That’s too much onion for me. I love onion, but I also want to taste other stuff. So, I usually only add half.

Also, when I cook I add ingredients in dashes and pinches and “that looks about rights” instead of teaspoons and cups.  So, forgive me for not providing exact measurements. In my opinion, baking is the only time you need to be exact.

The most important part of cooking is tasting as you go. That’s how you know if it’s right. So, here it is:

Vegan Split Pea Soup

8oz package green split peas. (The fresher the better)

1/2 medium yellow onion, diced

1 medium carrot, diced

2 or more cloves of garlic, diced (if you love garlic add lots, if not stick to 2)

2 tablespoons olive or canola oil

Bay leaves and dried Oregano (optional)

Vegan chicken flavored bouillion (Orrington Farms Broth Base & Seasoning, Superior Touch Better Than Bouillion, or Edward & Sons Not-Chick’n cubes are all good. I like Orrington.

4 cups water to start

Dice onion and carrot. Peel and dice garlic. Add oil to large pot and heat on medium. When oil is hot add onion and carrots, reduce heat to low, and sweat. This means cook until the onion releases it’s juices. They will be soft and almost translucent.

Add water, peas and garlic. Add bouillon according to package instructions. You can also use vegetable broth, but you’ll get better flavor with the bouillon. Stir, cover pot and simmer on low heat.

At this point you can also add bay leaves, oregano or other herbs and seasonings that you like. Sometimes I do, sometimes I don’t. I don’t recommend adding any additional salt. You’ll get all you need from the bouillon. My husband likes some pepper, but he adds it to his bowl.

Continue to cook soup on low, stirring occasionally and adding more water as needed. Taste as you go. This is very important. As the peas absorb the water and as is it evaporates through steam, you will need to add as much as 4 more cups of water. This means you might need more bouillon. Add a bit more. Taste. Needs more? Add a bit. Cook, stir, taste until it’s just right.

When the peas are cooked through and soft get out your immersion or stand blender. Immersion blenders are best because you can plop it right into the pot. If you don’t have one, then let your soup cool a bit and pour into your stand blender processing until smooth and creamy.

Serve with french, ciabatta or other loaf bread. Enjoy!

Goodreads Giveaway

A huge Thank You to everyone who entered my Goodreads Giveaway for The Demons We Cherish.

The 10 winners chosen from 1,475 people who entered are:

Steve Kemp, Maria Doktor, Scarlett Murphy, Kris J. Kaminski, Heather Rosengren, Sinad Mcardle, Rose Vommaro, Joanne Hetherington, Stacy Oseas, Emma Farquharson.

Thank you for entering. Your books are on the way.

 

Deepwater Horizon

My husband and I saw the movie Deepwater Horizon yesterday. I cried for the men and woman who suffered the terror of that catastrophe and for the 11 men who lost their lives.

The movie recounts the 12 hours prior to the worst oil disaster in United States history and one of the world’s largest man-made disasters. You might remember it as the Gulf of Mexico BP oil spill that occurred in 2010. It took the company 87 days to get it under control.

The Deepwater Horizon itself is a semi-submersible oil rig.

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Deepwater Horizon oil rig

At the time of the explosion, 126 people were on board. Eleven of those people were never found after the explosion, fire and sinking of the rig.

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Coast Guard ships trying to contain the fire

I believe greed and criminal negligence were the cause of this disaster. The U.S. Department of Justice agrees:

“Numerous investigations explored the causes of the explosion and record-setting spill. Notably, the U.S. government’s September 2011 report pointed to defective cement on the well, faulting mostly BP, but also rig operator Transocean and contractor Halliburton.[22][23] Earlier in 2011, a White House commission likewise blamed BP and its partners for a series of cost-cutting decisions and an inadequate safety system, but also concluded that the spill resulted from “systemic” root causes and “absent significant reform in both industry practices and government policies, might well recur”.[24]

In November 2012, BP and the United States Department of Justice settled federal criminal charges with BP pleading guilty to 11 counts of manslaughter, two misdemeanors, and a felony count of lying to Congress. BP also agreed to four years of government monitoring of its safety practices and ethics, and the Environmental Protection Agency announced that BP would be temporarily banned from new contracts with the US government. BP and the Department of Justice agreed to a record-setting $4.525 billion in fines and other payments.[25][26][27] As of February 2013, criminal and civil settlements and payments to a trust fund had cost the company $42.2 billion.[28]

In September 2014, a U.S. District Court judge ruled that BP was primarily responsible for the oil spill because of its gross negligence and reckless conduct.[29]

In July 2015, BP agreed to pay $18.7 billion in fines, the largest corporate settlement in U.S. history.[30]” (Wikipedia Deepwater Horizon Oil Spill.)

The movie is a superb retelling of the events leading up to the disaster and a fitting tribute to the men and women who survived by sticking together and taking care of each other. It is well worth your time and money.