a puddle of spilled thoughts about writing and time (with no pictures of pies)

When you sing or paint or dance or write, you express yourself from a well of creative feeling. To live, you need oxygen (still free), water (clean, must purchase), and food (still locked up, need a source of money (aka job)).

If you rely on your creativity for the money required to buy the stuff needed to live, you must consider what will sell. You need a brand. Marketing. A fixed and clear genre so some publisher or producer can fit your art into a predetermined slot. This economics of art may surely influence the art you share, but I hope this reality does not stop you from producing the art of you heart–for your own soul.

I love to think, so I am a chemist. I love to feel my heart and pulse slow back down while my temperature drops to normal, so I run. I love to sing, so I do so when I’m alone and with a group of harmonizing voices one night each week. I love to laugh, so I search for funny things. I love to imagine, so I read. I love to create so I sew, and crochet, and design, and bake, and reupholster furniture. I love to create, so I write.

My writing began in 2005, when I had the summer off from teaching and wanted to do an experiment–to investigate what it took to write a book. I wrote 1500 words every day sitting on the rug in my bedroom with the door closed. No phone. No internet. No people. Just me and the old computer on the rug. After reaching the daily word quota, I printed the pages and added them to the growing stack. At the end, I read it all, wrapped it in a bow, and stored it in a box. Experiment complete. Time well spent. Now I knew how to do it.

But something happened about halfway through. I became addicted to the story, like a reader. I wanted to know how it all ended (and I did not). I fell in love with my characters. I realized a critical plot point and had to revise the first 100 pages. I thought about the story all the time. I became a writer.

Lucky for me, I have a paying day job, so my novels do not have to fit on a specific shelf at the bookstore. Unlucky for me, my novels don’t fit in any prescribed slot, so they are not marketable by traditional publishers. But somehow I have found readers and have not shaken my addiction to creating.

That notion of spending your time is apt. Once spent, there is no refund, no mulligan, no do-over. The time is gone. A day is gone. A week, a year, a decade is gone. Time, the currency of a life, must be carefully budgeted on a prioritized list of needs and people and tasks. Time spent creating can touch the future.

“What an astonishing thing a book is. It’s a flat object made from a tree with flexible parts on which are imprinted lots of funny dark squiggles. But one glance at it and you’re inside the mind of another person, maybe somebody dead for thousands of years. Across the millennia, an author is speaking clearly and silently inside your head, directly to you. Writing is perhaps the greatest of human inventions, binding together people who never knew each other, citizens of distant epochs. Books break the shackles of time. A book is proof that humans are capable of working magic.”

― Carl Sagan, Cosmos

 

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>20 Pies in 2018 (and why setting goals is a bad idea)

I made more than 20 pies in about 40 weeks. I didn’t set a goal. I didn’t feel bad when I didn’t have time to bake or blog. I simply enjoyed baking and sharing these beauties, while messing up and learning.

In other decades of my life I have set goals–to train for a half marathon, to plan a new course, to lose weight, to finish a first draft of a novel. Routine and habits help me eat the elephant. But in every case, after days and weeks of making myself do the thing I used to enjoy, I’d hit a time when I just didn’t feel like doing the thing, but I’d kick myself into guilt for not doing it, and then feel bad about myself while I was doing it. In the end I always felt good that the thing got done, the elephant eaten, and all that jazz. There was just no need to make myself feel bad about something I was supposed to enjoy.

So, with this series of pies, I found my way to have a hobby that I love without feeling bad about the time it takes from my obligations. Sharing the pictures, the fun, the mistakes, the mess, and the taste of these pies from SUGAR BUTTER FLOUR was a highlight of my 2018 year. Here are my pies, and if you keep scrolling, I added a set of favorite pictures and bloopers.

When it can’t get any worse, you might as well smile and eat some pie.

I got a new cookbook yesterday as a gift from my daughter. It’s a bread cookbook, so someday soon stop by for a peek at Bread 1.0.

Pie 20.0

Pie 20.0

This is it. The absolute end of my pie blogging. (I think.)

Pie 20.0 is the first pie in my beloved SUGAR BUTTER FLOUR cookbook (so I made it last) and it’s called “Sweet Victory Pie.” I made this cherry delight because of its beautiful lattice crust and to bring to a party where the hostess said not to bring anything. When I’m the hostess and I say that to my guests, I mean it. Other hostesses say don’t bring anything but hope you’ll bring something. Turns out this hostess was in my club and she really didn’t need (or want) me to bring anything. (Remind me next year, ok? ‘Cause I’ll forget.)

The double crust dough was the normal recipe, made ahead and chilled in round disks. If I read ahead I would have seen a square disk would’ve been smarter. Next time.

The filling was just cherries and starch and sugar. I used frozen cherries because it’s December. They look kinda’ like meatballs, don’t they? I had a pot of meatballs and sauce going on the stove. Luckily, I didn’t mix them up. Unfortunately, I didn’t learn my lesson from Big Guy Strawberry Pie–I didn’t cook down the fruit and this one came out soupy, too. There’s only one slice left, so my pie eater has not become a connoisseur. Good thing.

I’d never made a lattice crust before. The directions had some laid-back comment about just cutting random widths, straight or curvy, just WTH… or be more precise, depending on your personality. Right. Just chilling in the kitchen. They suggested cutting 8 slices from a 10 inch square, and said the slices should be 1.5 inches wide. Apparently math is hard for laid-back folk: 10 divided by 1.5 will not produce 8 lattice pieces. I got out my tape measure and slide rule and pencil and paper, my pizza cutter and straight edge and log chart, and I measured my little engineer heart out.

I whipped the egg with water and brushed it on. Then I sprinkled on way too much of the expensive sugar. I’m just chill that way.

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I baked Pie 20.0 for a very long time. She came out pretty–I did hold her sideways over the sink to drain out a flood of juice. (Another benefit of the open lattice, dear novice bakers. I threw myself on the sword for you again)–and tasted fantastic with coffee.

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I LIKE TREES LIKE THESE

My first children’s book is available in time for Christmas!

I LIKE TREES LIKE THESE is full of glorious images and playful verse to delight young readers and old tree-huggers (like you and me).

front cover I LIKE TREES LIKE THESE

Published by LMNO Press and available on Amazon.

P.S. If your initials are S.D. or J.M., check your mailbox for your absolutely-hot-off-the-press first-edition-ever copy. It is printing right this minute and on the way!

Pie 18.0

Pie 18.0

Let’s cheer up this black Friday. The turkey drippings and butter have been wiped up, the pies cut, and the Alka Seltzer and Pepto consumed. We slept off whatever we overdrank or ate. Coffee pot is gurgling, dear husband (DH) still snoozing, and it’s time to blog a pie.

Pie 18.0, chosen by my DH and called “Life’s a Rocky Road Macadamia Mousse Pies” on page 141 in the SUGAR BUTTER FLOUR cookbook, was constructed in three dozen easy to follow steps side-by-side with Pie 19.0 (coming soon). I told you I can juggle.

First step: SHOP. Publix had everything I needed, including (to my delight) a dozen 4 ounce jelly jars.

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Second step: CHOP. Macadamia nuts are soft. I chopped a couple of cups to begin the mess.

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Next, I made a cookie dough, and baked 50 macadamia chocolate cookies. The chocolate was supposed to be white, but I used semi-sweet regular old chips. Only 15 cookies were actually needed for the “pies” so the cookie jar is full. DH declared them “really good” so the cookie recipe is on my short list now.

The cookies cooled, got crumbled, pulsed in the ancient blender and met up with some melted butter before they were squished in the bottom of the little jelly jars and baked for a few minutes.

I do try to use only the finest ingredients, but I am inherently frugal (aka cheap). I could not resist this grandiose claim on the cheapest vanilla bottle, reassuring me I wasn’t purchasing mere brown water.

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I’d like to add that my novels are presented by special request and are excellent quality products. Just FYI. In case you needed reassurance before spending a week reading them. They are not merely brown water either. But, really, why can’t authors self-promote when it’s acceptable (and even effective) for cheap vanilla distributors to do so? My books cost less than a bottle of brown water, they took decades to write, were revised and polished dozens of times, and painstakingly proofread and tweaked. And I can’t even claim they are excellent quality products? So silly.

OK, down from my soapbox now. The air was cool and refreshing up there. Read on if you will.

The filling had a whipped component folded into a creamy white chocolate concoction. Absolutely dreamy, but ruined (to my taste) by introduction of more chopped nuts. I might be nuts, but I don’t like ’em.

This white fluffiness got spooned over the double-baked cookie bottom in each jar. More crushed cookies and nuts were sprinkled on top. The jars were sealed closed and stored in the fridge.

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We took a few jars to a dessert gathering after Thanksgiving dinner. They were a hit. Another win in the record book of my virtual bakery.

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Pies 18.0 and 19.0 were created in parallel. That means I chopped nuts and sliced bananas in a concerted fashion. (My orgo students know “concerted” means “at the same time” and can imagine what my transition state looked like.) Alas, although I can make two concerted pies, I cannot blog them in unison. Pie 19.0, pending permission from two bakers/sisters/photographers, is coming soon. You won’t want to miss that story–it will be high quality as promised in black and while indelible ink, just like that indisputable non-fiction claim on the vanilla bottle.