Thursday, October 29, 2009

“I Give Up!”

Every reputable author I’ve heard interviewed lately has said that he or she gets up at three or four o’clock each morning to get a jump on writing before the phone starts ringing and other members of the house are up to begin distracting. So when I woke up with a coughing attack for the fifth time since midnight at five o’clock this morning, I thought: “I give up! You win, who needs sleep?”

What better time, I thought, to begin feeling like a serious author? It was dark as midnight out and our morning heat hadn’t come on yet so it was about sixty five degrees in the house, which feels cold in socks and thin jammy pants.

I heated up my rice pillow to stop the spastic coughing fits, got some water, revved up the old laptop and climbed in bed to write.

It was great! It was quiet and I worked for an hour on my novel whose problems and sticky issues just recently opened up into this brilliant new avenue. I can’t talk about it yet because it is still a fetus of an idea but it was a huge break through and writing pages in this novel lately has been much more of a treat than a chore. Every spare second I can find I begin hammering out pages of dialogue between these new characters who have entered the scene. I write their stories and their feelings and private thoughts as I see them come through in their actions. Sometimes I can even read their minds.

Much like in functioning in real life, it requires intuitive patients to witness and write a novel. Just like in real life, things don’t go as expected, the plot rarely follows your exact hopes or intentions. Sometimes there is disappointment in story writing, but sometimes it unfolds in ways you could never have imagined let alone made to happen on your own merit and brain power.
So much of my life is like that. Since I started paying attention to my existence ten or twelve years ago, it has been apparent, over and over again. To say that things go better when I let go of control and stop manipulating the outcomes of problems and sticky issues would be a massive understatement. The synchronicities I have seen unfold in my own life when I have thrown up my hands and said, “I don’t know,” is simply miraculous.

It’s like there are all these thousands of miracles waiting in the wings of your life to happen, but they can’t happen when you’re taking up all the space with your micromanaging and control-freakishness. They’re just waiting there to leap in and make your life easier, no, magical, if only you would get out of the way and let them.

I’m seeing that just like in novel writing, in life too, there is immense power in saying, “I’m stuck; I give up; help!”

Tuesday, October 27, 2009

Winter At Hand

As October wraps up, it occurs to me that it has been a cold and grey month. I like cold grey weather, I really do, but I worry as I look out over the lake day after day as the semi-dark day gives way to total evening darkness by 5:30, that this hibernation suited weather may get old after a few months.

This fall has felt more like winter in Northern California: wet, grey and cold. Again, it’s not that I mind this kind of weather. I like the peace it brings. The coolness of fall seems to insist that we slow down. It turns down the rapid pace of summer and eases us into the gentle lethargy of winter, it’s a good thing; it’s why we Minnesotans live so long, I’m sure. We get the animalistic hibernation of long winter months to rest and recharge our batteries. And in the spring, we wake up again, come back to life.

However, living in Minnesota, I know that if this weather is the start of our inevitable decline into winter, we are in for a very long haul. Winter doesn’t leave us here in Minnesota until early April…at the earliest. So we’re looking at half the year gone to darkness, cold, and hibernation. It may (as it often does in Minnesota) become the classic case of “too much of a good thing.”

We also need sunlight, oxygen, exercise and fresh air. All of which I have been very short on these past weeks. I pushed out my first prenatal with a new midwife yet again because I am still coughing. And though I feel immensely better than I did a few days ago, all it takes is a trip out into public to realize just how sick I still am compared to healthy people. I can’t control my cough and desperately need to blow my nose every minute-and-a-half or so.

But I’m pushing through, Twila is pushing through. It seems like a small miracle to feel healthy after experiencing that level of discomfort. There were moments I thought we might never again feel like ourselves. But we’re close now. We’re close to Wellness.

And the Tapestry team and I are close to getting my book ready for publication. It’s great to have a ‘team’ working on it. I feel supported at this final stage of the editing process and that small fact feels glorious.

I began to feel, in the process of this project, that I was at the end of a very long relay race. I had sent my manuscript to a number of publishers, spoken to countless professionals: editors, agents, publishers and adoption professionals, and everyone seemed to have different advice about how to make the book marketable to a broad audience. I was so dizzy by the time I met Tapestry’s president that receiving his sound advice that eventually unfolded into a year-long relationship full of valuable guidance and industry wisdom felt as full of relief as passing a baton at the end of a relay leg.

So it’s going well. It’s a project wrapping up and that feels incredible. It feels almost as good as being in the thick of the first draft process of my first fiction novel. That process is not wrapping up but is getting deeper and stickier and feels like walking through quicksand as I get more deeply entrenched in the characters and their plot twists and the overall difficulty of making a story interesting. I guess I’m at a bit of a stalemate to be honest. It started to feel last week like the fast-paced excitement was waning into boring stagnation. But I love it.

I love the challenge that’s being extended to me to listen to the characters, to get to know them better and more deeply and hear how they would lead this story on, how it will unfold at their hands. And in that regard, the prospect of a very long winter sounds thrilling.

What better time to get intimate with my laptop, missing keys and all, and just wrestle with the story that is trying to be born. What better setting to be pregnant with and eventually give birth to a fully developed, fully cared-for story than the deep freeze and dark afternoons of a long Minnesota winter?

Friday, October 23, 2009

Weekend Edition: Dr. Ziments Garlic Chicken Soup

Because, well you know why.


1. 2 cans Low-sodium chicken broth

2. Garlic head (abt 15 cloves), peeled

3. 1 medium Onion, quartered

4. ½ teaspoon Parsley, minced

5. ½ teaspoon Cilantro

6. 1 teaspoon Mint, minced

7. 1 teaspoon Basil leaves

8. 1 teaspoon Curry powder

9. ¼ teaspoon Red pepper flakes

10. Salt to taste

11. 1 tablespoon Fresh lemon juice


1. Put all ingredients except the lemon juice in a saucepan and bring to a boil.

2. Reduce heat and simmer, covered or uncovered (*), for 30 minutes.

3. In a blender or food processor, puree the cooked garlic, onions and herbs with a little liquid and stir back into the soup.

4. Add lemon juice.

5. If you want a clear broth, filter out the solid constituents.

*Omit the cover if you wish to inhale therapeutic cooking fumes.

NOTE: An effective dose: As little as 1/2 cup, but for a better response, take 1-2 cups, Zimert says. He advises sipping slowly to get the most benefits. THE UCLA EVIDENCE: No wonder chicken soup is a fabled remedy for colds: It contains drug-like agents, similar to those in modern cold remedies, says Irwin Ziment, M.D., pulmonary specialist and professor at the UCLA School of Medicine. For example, cysteine, an amino acid released from chicken when cooking, chemically resembles the drug acetylcysteine, prescribed for bronchitis and other respiratory problems. Pungent ingredients often added to chicken soup, such as garlic, cayenne pepper and curry spices, all are ancient treatments for respiratory diseases. They work the same way as expectorant drugs and cough medicines, thinning mucus and making breathing easier. The more garlic and hot spices added to chicken soup, Zimert says, the better the soup will be at clearing your lungs. His bottom line: "Chicken soup is probably the best therapy there is for a cold."

Thursday, October 22, 2009

This Too Shall Pass

Well we’ve been fully struck down by the flu. I rarely get sick so I was clobbered not only by the physical ailments but by the emotional trauma of something in our natural environment wanting to hurt me that bad! There really is a certain amount of hurt feelings that go along with getting sick. Why me? What is going on inside my body that could possibly cause this much discomfort?

Over the last few days I’ve pictured a World War II type battle raging on in my body. With every chill and body-racking cough I would think, Uh-Oh we just took a hit! Each time I took 1,000 IU of Vitamin D or would chug an Emergen-C I would think HA—Take that, you Nazi germs!

But slowly, oh so very slowly, we seem to be winning the battle against this horrible flu. I got the go-ahead from my midwife last night to take a dose of Tylenol to reduce my fever. Actually what she said was, “Tylenol is safe for your baby, a fever is NOT safe for your baby!” It felt odd to take a pill being pregnant. I’ve never in my three pregnancies ever taken a medication, and then again, I’ve never been sick when I was pregnant either.

It was a turning point for me. I took the Tylenol and went to bed. I didn’t sleep—really that would be asking too much. But at least I was comfortable. My nose was so jammed plugged that I couldn’t possible breathe through it and I could only breathe through my mouth for so long before I would dry out and have a total coughing fit next to my sleeping daughter who is so past the “fever-and-coughing-stage” now and has moved on to the much more pleasant looking, “catching-up-on-sleep-stage.”

But we’re on the mend. I panicked when on Tuesday I developed the fever I thought I was avoiding. What with the mass media coverage of H1N1 these days, if you’re pregnant and start displaying flu-like symptoms, you feel like a idiot, or worse, a crunchy granola hippy for not heading straight out to get on IV fluids and Tamaflu. But my level headed midwife reminded me that it is “STILL JUST A FLU” miserable and gross and long, yes, but it is not, as I think some fear mongers would have us believe, the virus from Outbreak that will cause bleeding from your eyes and certain death within 24 hours. She said, “Unless you are dehydrated or struggling to breathe, rest, drink fluids, and this too shall pass.”

Monday, October 19, 2009

Still Fighting the Good Fight

Twila and I have had the flu since last Wednesday evening. Or at least that’s when she got it and I watched her feverish sleep with fear and worry. A day or so later, I contracted the terrible deep cough that accompanied her full blown flu. Somehow I have staved off the other symptoms: the fever, the runny nose, the headache, the vomiting. Last night the sore throat developed but probably just from all the intense coughing, which shakes my frame, makes my muscles ache and threatens to further weaken my already compromised PC muscle. I can only imagine what the baby inside thinks of the thunderous coughing shaking her whole universe.

Last week even before we got sick, I special ordered elderberry syrup from our local co-op to help support our immune systems as we entered this flu season. When Twila was struck down, I praised my own foresight and went to pick it up. Oops, hadn’t been ordered. So I reordered it. As of last night it was still not in. So it seems appropriate to post a recipe for this syrup. If I knew where to harvest elderberries I would certainly make my own. Maybe next year. If this seems too ambitious, a product that has been very popular at my local co-op is Sambucol.

Elderberry Syrup
Makes 1 quart (1l)

Make sure the cookware you're using is non-reactive and your clothes are stain-friendly. If you use an aluminum pot, it'll get stained and the next batch of mashed potatoes you make may come out pink. Ditto for spatulas and anything else to plan to use to stir the syrup while it's cooking.

2-pounds black elderberries, woody stems removed and rinsed
4 cups water
1½ cups sugar (feel free to substitute honey or other natural sweetener)
one nice-sized squirt of freshly-squeezed lemon juice

1. Put the elderberries in a large, non-reactive pot with the water. Bring to a boil, then reduce heat to a low boil and cook for 15-20 minutes, until tender and soft.

2. Pass through a food mill, then discard the skins.

3. Pour the juice back into the pot, add sugar, and cook at a low boil over moderate heat for 15 minutes, until the syrup has thickened. Add a spritz of lemon juice. Cool completely.

4. Pour into a bottle or jar and store in the refrigerator.

Note: Some varieties of elderberries are not meant for consumption and none should be eaten raw, especially the leaves. I remove all of the hard, woody stems as well before cooking. For more information, Cornell University's Department of Horticulture has guidelines, noting the fruits are used in "...pies, jellies and jams." If you're unsure if your elderberries are edible, consult your local cooperative extension before consuming.

Stay healthy!

Recipe was borrowed from David Lebovitz's Blog Living the Sweet Life

Wednesday, October 14, 2009

The Liquid Brain

I’m working on a new round of edits for my non-fiction book, which, with pregnancy brain, feels equivalent to deciphering the Rosetta Stone.

No it’s really not that bad, I got some very good, clear direction from my newest editor and the work is going remarkably quickly, especially on Twila’s school days. It’s just that I am having another one of those weeks where my brain feels slightly less solid than an over-easy egg and I can’t seem to remember more than half a thing at a time.

I missed another chiropractic appointment despite the fact that they are on the same day and at the same time every week. I think I may be on the verge of being fired as a client. I also have the unsettling feeling that I am constantly forgetting something really important. My brain was really clicking about a week or so ago when I was taking cod liver oil, but then I heard from several sources that cod liver is a big no-no in pregnancy so I thought I should stop until I’ve researched it a little more and perhaps invested in a slightly more quality product than the $5.99 bottle of 120 I got at Target. My brain was even okay when I was taking fish oil but I overheard a woman sampling vegetarian essential fatty acid oil at the co-op saying that all fish oil has mercury in it. *Sigh* So I backed off to one fish-oil caplet a day and two flax caplets but it doesn’t seem to provide a sufficient amount of DHA to keep my brain focused.
Is nothing safe in pregnancy?

It can feel downright disheartening to always be tinkering with the proper herbs and supplements, vitamins, minerals, essential acids and amino acids, proteins and grains to make a baby. Is pregnancy supposed to feel like a full-time job, a full time job without benefits, and the help of caffeine in the morning, or the relief of a glass of wine or a beer after a long day?

Monday, October 12, 2009

The Early Morning Joys of Pet Ownership

I’ve mentioned before that we own three ‘Cornish Rex’ Cats, which roughly translated, means ‘King of Cornwall England,’ which may explain their severe inferiority complex. It may explain why over the ten years I’ve owned them (my husband had them for about three years before we met) they have made their life work perfecting the art of puking in the most inopportune locations. I do not heart these cats.

We’ve really gotten on well considering the circumstances under which we were thrown together. They were my husband’s babies. Not that he took much pleasure in the daily tasks of caring for them: cat box cleaning, dental care, brushing (their modest waify waves of fuzz), and most of all with this particular breed, vomit clean up. But he loved them; and they him. He would play with them for hours at night, let all three of them pile up on his legs while we watched movies and slept in bed at night, though their collective weight used to make his legs go numb.

All that changed when Twila was born. As many couple can attest, the animals in the house often get pushed to the distant back seat when a child is born. Many faithful family pets accept this demotion graciously. But many cats are not King of Cornwall England. The indignation remains thick in our home. The three cats have stooped to new lows when finding their daily and sometimes twice daily place to vomit. The back of the couch has been targeted, the top of the washing machine, my husband’s pillow, my shoes, the bathroom vanity, the kitchen counter. Nothing is sacred with these aging tyrants. Like Shakespeare’s Lear, these kings will not go gracefully.

Friends gently ask, “So, how long do these types of cat normally live?” Our daughter has begun to pick up on our frustration with them though we make strong efforts to set an example of love and responsibility. But even she moans and puts the pillow over her head when, like this morning at five am, one of the three looks at their pre-arranged calendar of duties and begins to yowl in a way you can only imagine if you have owned a scorned and aged cat who once was the ruler of your roost and now gets shuffled off to various quarantined locations so everyone else can enjoy dinner, or the movie, a nap or a restful night of sleep.

If you’ve owned such a cat you know the incredible holler one can produce at just the right time in the middle of the night and in just the right acoustically advantageous place in the house so as to wake you from the deepest of sleeps from the most soothing of dreams and make the hair on the back of your neck stand up as you wonder in bed if the apocalypse has arrived.

Last night in her sleep, Twila rolled over and mumbled, “Mr. Sebastian is scaring me.” Mr. Sebastian. So there’s some intimidation going on when I’m not looking. We really have tried to give them attention, change their cat box (an almost daily chore with three) and show Twila what it means to care for pets, even when they have...trying personalities. Isn’t that the point of having pets with kids? But she is remarkably perceptive and I don’t believe we have fooled her into thinking we like them. Or maybe she has simply formed her own unbiased opinion of them. Maybe that’s why when we were on our way to school last week and discussing the distant dream of getting a dog (something she has been pining for almost since she was born) she very gently suggested, “Maybe we should just give the cats to heaven cause…I don’t like when they yell at me.”

Friday, October 9, 2009

Weekend Edition:BBQ Sauce (without corn syrup)

If you’ve been getting up on your nutrition reading lately, you already know that high fructose corn syrup is detrimental to your body’s organs, especially your liver, which is incapable of breaking down corn syrup. And if you’ve started reading lables, you also know that high fructose corn syrup is in a LOT of stuff. I find that prepared sauces, especially barbeque sauce is nearly impossible to find without corn syrup. So I just experimented with making my own by merging a couple of popular recipes I found on line. And best of all, it is corn syrup free!

Melissa’s BBQ Sauce
· 1 tablespoon butter
· 1/4 cup finely chopped onion
· 1 1/2 cups ketchup (make sure to get organic ketchup—it doesn’t have corn syrup!!)
· 1/4 cup chili sauce
· 3 t o 4 tablespoons brown sugar
· 3 to 4 tablespoons molasses
· 2 tablespoons prepared yellow mustard
· 1 tablespoon fresh lemon juice
· 1 tablespoon Worcestershire sauce
· 1 teaspoon garlic salt
· 1/2 teaspoon ground black pepper
· 1 teaspoon chili powder

1. Slowly sauté onion with butter until just softened and slightly yellow
2. Mix in the remaining ingredients, stir to combine
3. Bring to a gentle boil
4. Simmer for ten minutes

Serve with pork sandwiches, ribs or your favorite barbeque items