I hope everyone is staying well and staying sane these days. It seems everyone is finding new ways to stay busy. Personally, I have found myself spending many hours in a comfortable chair in our den, ostensibly writing, but often looking out the patio door at the birds and squirrels in our back yard.
I must have mentioned this to my son and his wife a time or three, because they not only surprised me for Mother’s Day last Sunday, but they also managed to give me something to help with my new hobby.
The surprise came into play when they called me Sunday afternoon and asked me to come into our den. (My husband was in on the surprise, and made sure I was nowhere near that room until they were ready.) When I walked into the room, I saw a large card/sign taped to the outside of our patio door, facing me so I could read it. My son and his family were standing on the patio, grinning at me. I opened the door, and was able to talk with them while I opened my gift.
The gift bag included, among other things, some handmade bird food, shaped and put on a string so I can hang them on tree branches. I suspect our granddaughters had a lot of fun patting the bird seed mixture into cookie cutters to make the shapes. I will hang them where I can sit in my chair and watch the birds enjoying the food. Once we are able to do things together again, they have promised to help me identify locations for additional feeders, bird baths, etc. and then help me pick them out in a store.
I suppose that is one positive which has developed while we are all stuck in our homes. We are not just finding creative ways to fill our time. We are also finding clever ways to stay connected with the ones we love. While I cannot wait to have the quarantine end, I hope we all remember to stay in touch once it is lifted.
Some days, we just need a little chocolate. These days, people are hunkering down and are rediscovering how to survive. Instead of eating out every night and going to gyms, they are baking their own bread and planting gardens. I think it is wonderful people are learning how to become more self-reliant. However, I also recognize (because I also feel it at times) people are under a great deal of stress these days. Sometimes, only a good dose of chocolate will get us through.
Therefore, I decided to share one of my favorite chocolate dessert recipes this week. Brownie Pudding is easy to make, and produces an ooey, gooey, chocolatey dessert which will have you scraping the bowl. If you have any ice cream or whipped cream to plop on top when you serve it, even better. Enjoy!
1 cup all-purpose flour
½ cup sugar
1/4 cup unsweetened baking cocoa
2 tsp baking powder
¼ tsp salt
½ cup milk
2 Tbsp butter, melted
1 tsp vanilla
½ cup semisweet chocolate chips
½ cup firmly packed brown sugar
another 1/4 cup unsweetened baking cocoa
1 ¾ cups boiling water
Preheat oven to 350o. Combine the first five ingredients in a bowl. Stir in the milk, melted butter and vanilla until smooth. Stir in the chocolate chips.
Spread mixture in an ungreased shallow 1 ½ quart casserole dish. Sprinkle the brown sugar and remaining ¼ cup baking cocoa on top. Pour the boiling water over everything.
Place dish in oven and bake 35 minutes. Remove and allow to cool for 10 minutes before serving. Serve warm with ice cream or whipped cream.
Yield: 6 servings.
In these days of social distancing, we are all getting a bit more creative about how we stay in touch with the people we love. For me, it feels especially important to find ways to keep close contact with our granddaughters. After all, we moved halfway across the country to be close to them, and they got used to seeing us frequently. Lately, I know it is difficult for the girls to understand why Grandma and Grandpa don’t visit them anymore. We periodically drop off games or books for them on their porch, but it isn’t the same thing. And when we try to video chat with them, it only confuses and frustrates the younger one.
Luckily, my son and his wife have found clever ways to help us stay in touch with our granddaughters. Last week, we had a “social distancing dinner” outside. My son’s back yard is fenced, with the garage and driveway outside the fence. So they set up two tables, one inside the fence for the four of them, and one on the driveway for my husband and I. We each had our own food, so weren’t sharing anything, but we were still able to eat together and talk together, with the fence keeping the girls from getting too close to us. We hadn’t seen each other for weeks, so it was wonderful to see all of them in person, even at a slight distance. (And luckily, the weather cooperated by being sunny and warm enough. Unlike this week.)
This week, we are trying something new. My husband and I received an invitation from them for a “virtual tea party.” We are going to dress up on Sunday and have a tea party with them via video conferencing. We’ll each make something suitable to snack on with tea ahead of time, and we’ll have “tea” together. I’m a little worried that that younger girl will still be confused and upset, but hopefully the novelty of the tea party will get her past that. I know they like having pretend tea parties when they are at our house, so I’m sure they (and we) will enjoy the real thing.
Hopefully, we won’t all have to find creative solutions like this for much longer. While I am constantly amazed by the ingenuity and innovation the pandemic has brought out in people, I am looking forward to the day we can all return to normal. In the meantime, if anyone has any additional suggestions for how we can stay in touch with our granddaughters, I would love to hear them.
I love serendipity when it occurs. It happened for me yesterday, as a happy, unexpected consequence of the current need to stay at home.
It happened during a phone call with my mom. I had called to check in with her, and casually mentioned I was doing some research on WWI. She perked up and asked, “Well, did you know you have a relative who was awarded the Medal of Honor during WWI?” It was a family story she had forgotten about, until her local “stay at home” order had her spending more time sorting through boxes of old papers and documents. The other day, she found an article about her mother’s cousin, Samuel Woodfill.
Samuel Woodfill was the most decorated soldier in WWI. General Pershing called him the “greatest single hero” of the war. In addition to the Medal of Honor, he was awarded France’s Croix de Guerre as well as their Legion d’Honneur, Italy’s Meriot di Guerra, and the Order of Leopold from Belgium. He was so well-respected that two years after the war ended, Poland presented him with two more medals.
Samuel grew up on a farm in southern Indiana and became an excellent woodsman and marksman, skills which served him well later in life. He was eager to follow in his father’s footsteps and join the Army. He tried to enlist during the Spanish American War, but was turned away because he was only 15 years old. Samuel was finally able to enlist in 1901 when he was 18. He served in a variety of locations, including the Philippines, Alaska and the border with Mexico before WWI.
However, it was his service in France which cemented his place in the history books. On October 12, 1918, during the Meuse-Argonne Offensive, he single-handedly captured three German machine gun nests, using his rifle and then his pistol, and then a pick axe to eliminate many enemy soldiers. By this point, he was also suffering from the mustard gas he breathed in during the fighting. He spent ten weeks in a hospital recovering. (According to lore, he first retrieved the pack he had abandoned when the fighting started, and was upset to discover that some “yellow-bellied son of a sea cook” had stolen a jar of strawberry jam out of his pack.) Samuel retired from the Army with a small pension in 1923.
Although Samuel was a modest man and tried to live quietly, he was not forgotten. In 1921, General Pershing selected him to be one of the Body Bearers for the Unknown Soldier when the soldier was entombed. When the U.S. entered WWII, Samuel (along with Alvin York, another Medal of Honor winner) was asked to serve again. Although Samuel was 59 at this point, he was still an excellent marksman and served as an instructor. He died in 1951 and is buried in Arlington Cemetery near General Pershing.
It is hard to describe how I felt when I heard about this amazing relative. The more I learn about my own family’s participation in WWI, the more connected I feel to the story I am working on now. I am so glad I happened to call my mother when I did. It is humbling to read what men like Samuel endured, and I feel honored to share their story and to hold them up as the heroes they were.
I am trying to keep moving forward with my writing, in spite of the pandemic occupying our minds lately. To that end, I spent some time this week researching WWI. The hero in the historical romance I am currently working on fought in the war, so I wanted to have a better idea of what he might have experienced.
In the course of my research, I learned several interesting things, some related to the fighting and some to the home front.
There you go. I hope you found these snippets of history as interesting as I did. Some of what I learned gave me ideas for future stories – something I am sure many writers can relate to. Until next week, stay safe and keep reading.
With so many people staying home currently, I suspect it won’t be long before some will be climbing the walls. I thought today might be a good day to make a list of fun things children (or adults) can do to stave off boredom. Some are old classics, some might be new to you, but all of them use materials you probably already have around the house.
Enjoy the activities, and stay well.
How to Play Children’s Card Games
How to Play Dominoes
How to Play Charades
Musical Instruments to Make at Home
How to Make Shadow Puppets
How to Make Paper Airplanes
Quiet Games for Children
More Indoor Games for Bored Children
I have been sitting here looking out the window, and thinking about the various indicators of spring. Anyone who lives in a place with four seasons knows what I am talking about – the little signs we look for, in a bid for reassurance that winter will end and spring will eventually arrive.
One of the first I notice was the group of daffodils popping up in our front flower bed. (Which also reminded me that we should have separated the daffodil bulbs last fall, but I digress.) The flower stems are quite tall now, and I can’t wait to see cheerful yellow blossoms bobbing on the stalks.
I also saw my first robin of spring hopping on our back lawn last week. Robins are a sure sign of warm weather coming. Of course, the robin sighting was followed a few days later by six inches of snow, which is another common occurrence. Seeing a robin doesn’t mean winter is over completely, but it does give us hope to hang on.
Even now, I am watching snow fall on green grass. I was thinking there was something not right about that particular contrast, and then it dawned on me why I found the sight so unsettling. Our grass never turned brown over the winter. It stayed a nice, healthy-looking green. If I were still in Wisconsin, one of the spring indicators would be noticing the brown winter grass turning green again, but not here.
Most of the signs of spring involve what we see out a window, but one of the biggest spring rites is done indoors. What am I talking about? Going to a fish fry. We recently discovered a church near us which offers a fish fry on Friday nights during Lent. I think we will check it out. A good fish fry will make me think not just of spring, but of home as well.
Do you have favorite authors? Is there someone you automatically reach for when you are tired, or had a bad day, or are celebrating something?
I have several favorite authors, but who I reach for depends on my mood at the moment. If I am not feeling any particularly strong emotions, I might stand in front of my keeper shelves and wait for something to jump out at me. If I am tired or worn out, and don’t want to read something which requires deep thought, I often reach for one of my old Barbara Metzger books. Her regencies, especially the older ones, are light and frothy and just the thing to take me out of my world for a short while. If I am looking for something to cheer me up, Janet Chapman usually does the trick. Her stories have enough meat to not be boring, yet also have a fun, irreverent attitude. If I want something with more depth and expertly drawn characters, then Jodi Thomas or Anne Gracie or Julie Garwood is a likely possibility.
I can read books by my favorite authors over and over again. I vaguely comprehend that some people exist who refuse to read any book more than once, but I cannot wrap my head around that concept. To me, it’s like having a good friend you choose to never speak to again. Why deny yourself the pleasure?
I have also discovered another benefit of re-reading old books. Some of the books on my keeper shelves have sat there so long since I read them, I don’t remember much about the stories. When I read one of those books, it’s like discovering a great story or author all over again. And it didn’t cost me a dime!
I feel sorry for anyone who has not discovered the joy of reading. Books can take us to so many other places or times or to meet so many interesting people. And when we re-read a book, it’s like taking a good friend along on the trip. I hope you have many similar good friends, and I wish you bon voyage on many pleasant journeys with them.
I learned something new today. Did you ever hear of “vinegar valentines”? I first saw a mention of them earlier today. While the sweet valentines we normally think of have been around for hundreds of years, the Victorians came up with the idea of vinegar valentines to send to people they disliked – anyone from a mean landlord to a spurned lover.
Sending valentines in general became more popular in the Victorian era because cards were mass-produced, cheap, and easy to send. While many of the vinegar valentines attempted to be funny, some of them sank to being cruel. I suppose it was the social media of the day.
I certainly don’t want to sour anyone’s Valentine’s Day. However, I thought some of the vinegar valentines were amusing, and offered an interesting historical perspective on how people thought at the time. I couldn’t resist sharing some of my favorites.
A new year often brings a surge in energy and optimism, and this year was no different. I shook off the holiday malaise, and found a renewed focus on my writing. Since it was the start of the year, it also seemed like a good time to get a little more organized with my writing.
As a result, I spent some time over the last few weeks developing a business plan for myself. I read a couple articles I had saved on strategic planning for writers, and looked online until I found a free plan template which looked as if it would fit my needs. The end result is not complete – not by a long shot – but it is helping to remind me of my goals and keep me focused.
As the articles suggested, I started with some big questions when creating my plan. First, I thought about my vision for my writing future. (Who do I want to be as a writer? How do I want to be described?) This was followed by my mission statement. (What I want to do as a writer? What do I want to achieve with my writing?) I also spent some time thinking about my values. (What traits are important to me, and what will I do – or not do – as I strive to make my vision come true?)
Then, it was time to think about my goals. These are the milestones which I will need to pass on my way to achieving my vision. I began with the larger, long-term goals. Though many people suggest creating five-year goals, that felt like too long of a time frame for me, so I developed three-year goals instead. After that, I created goals for the next year, the next quarter, and so on.
Based on my list of goals, I have plenty to do in the coming months! One of my goals is to get back on social media again, so you should see more activity from me in the coming weeks. Another goal is to be more consistent with posting a blog each week. I am still annoyed with myself for letting these activities fall so completely by the wayside in the last 1 ½ years. Yes, I moved twice in ten months, but I shouldn’t have allowed that to become such a long-term excuse. So…, new year, new commitment.
These are on top of my more writing-specific goals. Some of these you can probably guess – finish revisions on my current manuscript, get an agent, get my first book contract, and the list goes on. I have started taking some of the smaller steps toward being ready to query agents, and I will keep you posted on how that goes.
All of this has made me curious about something. Do other writers feel the same sense of renewal each January? Have any of you also spent time thinking about your goals and your vision for your future? If you have any tips or suggestions for how to approach this process, I am sure the rest of us would be glad to read them. Please leave your tips in the comments section below.
And in the meantime – back to my writing!
I write historical romances, and I invite you to share the journey to published author with me.