Monday, May 11, 2015

A Reminder to Writers of the Importance of Details

Image result for the second best exotic marigold hotel

This past weekend my husband and I saw the movie The Second Best Exotic Marigold Hotel. After we returned home, I couldn't quit thinking about the movie even to the point that those thoughts reached into my dreams. Usually this kind of reaction to a movie comes because the movie was outstanding, or it moved me deeply. Such was not the case with this movie. The movie's blatant lack of attention to detail left me feeling cheated as to my movie-going experience. Major writing mistakes, that stuck out to me like a sore toe, was the reason I couldn't quit thinking about the movie. My husband didn't care for the movie either, though he could really pinpoint the reasons why. So I proceeded to share my writerly views with him and they clicked in place as to why the movie didn't work for him either.

I'll share some of the major detail mistakes I noticed. I'll try to be brief because I don't generally read long blog posts either.

The movie started out with actress Maggie Smith riding in a convertible driven  by a young man of East Indian decent. I found this detail intriguing, and it pulled me in, especially when the young man mentioned they were traveling down Route 66. The desert landscape confirmed this. The young man obviously enjoyed the trip whereas Maggie Smith's character did not.

All these were great details. Unfortunately, the greatest facet to the art of good detail in writing was omitted: the details have to make sense. Maggie and her young companion ended up in San Diego where they met with some big wigs of whom they were soliciting money to help them acquire a second hotel. Here's the red flag: why on earth would they travel all the way from India via plane to land in some south west city and then drive for hours to get to their destination when it would have been cheaper and easier to fly into San Diego? My husband offered the reasoning that maybe the young man wanted to experience route 66. If that was indeed the case then that should have at least been addressed--though it still would have nothing to do with the story line.

The second swishing red flag of poor detail was Richard Geer's attraction to this young man's widowed mother. No reasons were given as to why he was attracted to her. His being drawn to her felt as though it was turned on like the director had simply flipped a switch. There was no build up, no emotion, no reason for this "romance." At the end of the movie this couple held hands, and Richard Geer often had his arm wrapped around her waist. That only communicated to me that the director was trying to "tell" us that these two were supposed to be a couple. I certainly didn't feel it. I had been given no reasons believe why these two unlikely people would end up together. That's because the details were missing--good, believable details.


Wednesday, May 6, 2015

Book Review: The Winter Sea by Susanna Kearsley

Image result for the winter sea susanna kearsley

I chose to read The Winter Sea after receiving and  reading Kearsley's, The Fire Bird at Christmas time.  (The Fire Bird was actually written after The Winter Sea, so I read them out of order, but it didn't affect my reading. Though they are both set in Scotland in the late 1600's, and share some of the same characters, the stories are not dependent on each other).

 Kearsley's unique skill of intertwining real events from history in with a modern day love story captivated and inspired me as a historical fiction writer. It was like reading two separate stories, both with their own vivid characters, their own engaging romance, and captivating settings, but they were connected together in a most creative manner. And just when I was ready to accept a sad ending to the historical portion of the story--because I knew it was based on actual events, the author gave the story a twist that not only surprised me, but left me pleasantly satisfied.

My only complaint about the book was that it had a slow start. The author spent more time than I cared for setting up the historical background. I found myself skimming though the information until I recognized the story showing through.

For readers of historical fiction and/or a good clean romance, I would highly recommend The Winter Sea by Susanna Kearsley.

Thursday, April 30, 2015

Blogging from A to Z: Z is for Zombie

Blogging from A to Z April Challenge

is for Zombie

(I'm going to cheat on this last blog of the challenge and re-post what my sister wrote. I figured I could get away with it since I was the impetus for her putting pen to paper--or fingers to keys.
Plus it made me smile because I can certainly relate--and that's the theme of my A to Z blogging: things that inspire or uplift me, or just make me smile.

Carolyn has been blogging A to Z this month. She is about to Z so it inspired me to write a blog for Z.
Z is for Zombie
Which I don’t want to be
But I am told,
When you get old,
Your body falls apart.
Skin starts to sag,
What a drag!
Lost more hair,
What a scare.
Will I keep my teeth?
What a fright!
Where is my sight?
And I will cheer
If I still hear
I think I lost my mind!

Wednesday, April 29, 2015

Blogging from A to z: Y is for Yogurt (and yogurt maker)

Blogging from A to Z April Challenge

is for Yogurt,
the kind that's homemade,
flavored with vanilla and honey,
and a high price is not paid
because I make it myself
in my oven with a lamp
that keeps it at 100.
P.S. you don't need the clamp.

(here is a picture of my latest innovation: a super cheap yogurt maker that really works)

I have made and enjoyed my honey vanilla yogurt for years. Until recently, when we moved from our old home, I had the luxury of an oven that could have its temperature set down to 100 degrees (it had a drying feature). However most ovens only go down as far as 170 degrees. I think it has to do with liability or something like that, for that is the temperature that kills most bacteria. When I went shopping for ovens for my new home, I tried to find a set of double ovens that went down to 100 degrees. I couldn't find one--at least not in my budget.

My husband bought me an expensive Cuisinart yogurt maker to take the place of my old oven. I used it a few times, but I was disappointed in it for a variety of reasons. First of all, I could never get the yogurt to come out as firm as the batches I made in my old oven. Secondly, the yogurt was not consistent in its consistency. There were spots that were somewhat hard, almost like they were overcooked right next to the heating element. Thirdly, I was restricted in the amount I could make. It only made a quart at a time. I went through that much too quickly. I usually always made two quarts at a time. Plus, there were times when I made a gallon at a time when I was taking my yogurt to share at a writers retreat. Once I made gallons for a friend's daughter's wedding reception.

So I started brain storming. I wanted to make myself a yogurt oven. I concocted in my head, some sort of insulated box I could form into an oven with some sort of heating element. Then it dawned on me: why not just use my existing oven and create some sort of heating element that I insert inside. I can just run the cord outside the oven and plug it into the wall. It wouldn't hurt the cord because it only needs to heat up to 100 degrees. One day a light went on--literally. I noticed a metal clamp light that I used in my sewing room. Why wouldn't that work. I remember from my childhood days, the old Easy Bake ovens used a standard light bulb to cook those little cakes.

So I used my oven, inserted my lamp that held a 75 watt bulb, and placed a thermometer in the oven and tried to make yogurt. I quickly found that the 75 watt bulb was too hot. I had to constantly watch my thermometer and unplug and replugged my lamp to keep the temperature consistent. Next I tried a 60 watt bulb. It was like a match made in heaven. It worked.

If you want to try this method of making yogurt, here's another tip I found that is helpful. I first turn my oven on for a minute or two, just to where it feels comfortably warm to my hand, and then turn it off. Then I place the thermometer inside. I let the temp fall a bit if it's above 100. If it's below, place the lamp inside and plug it in. The fact is, I try to get my oven at 100 degrees before I place the yogurt inside. I fiddle with this while my yogurt is cooling down to the right temperature.

Below I've included my recipe for my Honey Vanilla Yogurt from a previous post on this blog for your convenience.

It's healthy, tasty, and easy. You just need a candy thermometer, a good sauce pan, an oven that can maintain a temperature of 100 degrees, and the following ingredients:

8 cups of fresh milk
2/3 cup powdered milk
2 tablespoon cornstarch
2 teaspoon unflavored gelatin (1/2 envelope)
2 scant teaspoon instant pectin

Mix together in a heavy sauce pan with a wire whisk.
Turn the burner to low-medium low and let the milk slowly rise in temperature up to 170 degrees, but DO NOT let the milk come to a boil. Stir occasionally to prevent a film sticking to the bottom of the pan.

When the milk mixture reaches 170, remove from heat and stir in:
3/4 to 1 cup honey
1 teaspoon vanilla

When the mixture reaches a temperature between 112 and 108, add:
1/2 cup of yogurt starter. (Use plain or vanilla. You can reserve a 1/2 cup from your previous batch of yogurt).

Mix well with wire whisk. Strain and pour into containers. I like to use Pyrex bowls that come with lids, but I have found that used yogurt containers work, as long as they have snap on lids.

Put the lids on the containers and place in a pre-heated 100 degree oven for 8 to 10 hours. Turn off the heat and let remain in the oven for another 1 to 6 hours, depending on how strong you want the yogurt flavor.

Refrigerate and enjoy.

Tuesday, April 28, 2015

Blogging from A to Z: X is for Xylem

Blogging from A to Z April Challenge

X is for Xylem
it's the part of the tree
and all other plants you see.

Like all God's handiwork,
it does more than one or two things.
Most importantly,to the leaves, 
the root's water it brings.
But it also brings nutrients
so the plant can grow like it should,
and gives trees rigidity
when it turns into wood.

It's an unknown hero
that goes on without praise,
but without it there'd be
no food you could raise.
All plants would die
the air would die too,
and there'd be no world left
for me or for you.

Monday, April 27, 2015

Blogging from A to Z: W is for Waffle

Blogging from A to Z April Challenge

W is for Whole Wheat Waffles,
I eat them every day,
with yogurt and fresh fruit,
because they taste best that way.

Here's my easy recipe. I usually only fill the waffle iron half way, as a whole one is too big for me. I then store my leftover batter in the fridge. When I go to use it the next day, I simply skim the top off the batter that has turned dark. The batter underneath is still good, I just give it a stir and pour it into the waffle iron. The batter last 2 to 3 days in the fridge. 
I love to pile them high with fresh fruit and homemade honey vanilla yogurt. (That recipe will be posted on Wednesday for the letter Y).

Whole Wheat Waffles:
1 cup whole wheat flour (freshly ground is best)
1 teaspoon baking powder
1/2 teaspoon baking soda
1/2 teaspoon salt

Mix dry ingredients together in a mixing bowl.
In a liquid measuring cup add:

3/4 cup milk
1/4 cup oil
1 tablespoon yogurt
1 egg

Add to dry ingredients, mix well, and pour into heated waffle iron.

Saturday, April 25, 2015

Blogging from A to Z: V is for Voice

Blogging from A to Z April Challenge

V is for Voice.
If I had a choice
I would have one 
that sung
as beautiful as birds 
in the spring.
But since I don't
I certainly won't
sing for you,
'cause you'd have a clue
that my voice is like
a rusty spring.

I wrote this poem in the point of view of my daughter Allison. She is inspiring to me. When she was thirteen she contracted a virus that paralyzed her vocal chords. For over a year her words came out as mere whispers.  The doctors told her there was little they could do to help her. My husband gave her a blessing and called upon the powers above to help heal  her voice. Shortly thereafter her voice returned. It was slight at first. She didn't let it hold her back from being the bubbly, talkative teenager that she had been before her illness. Now she loves to talk. However, she can not sing. At all. 

(above is a picture of her and her son, Hunter).