Category Archives: the writing life

FRESHLY PRESSED? IT FEELS NICE

Freshly unemployed (ok, by choice so no pity here), I was lying on the couch for a post lunch nap. The dogs made me do it. Sitting at my desk, gathering jumbled thoughts on what to write, their snoring inspired me to get up and take a breather. Sliding into this unusual siesta, I was pondering whether writing about home-made lemonade and pasta would help me ease into this long week-end, purportedly the last week-end of Summer, the one that will turn LA beaches into ant hills, clog all freeways and that will give me even more ammo than needed to veg between the couch and the patio.

My eyes already closed, gentle snoring lulling me into sleep, the beeping sound of e-mails emanating from my iPhone started to jar with my impending dreams. Wait. That is too many e-mails. I am not that popular, not even with telemarketers. Certainly not at 2 in the afternoon.

Because I am a curious monkey and because I felt slightly guilty about the whole napping novelty, I reached for my phone and saw a long sequence of WordPress e-mails. The first comment was from Simply Om, congratulating me on being freshly pressed! WHAT?

The now welcome sound of more e-mails coming in completely jolted me awake. The dogs were duly informed but were not duly impressed. As soon as I started coming down from this very nice high which happened at a time when I am giving my life a makeover, I started thinking about the day I felt the need to publish blog, over two years ago.

The freshly pressed post on my mother’s voice was my 700th and one of the hardest to write. It all began because I wanted to see if I could develop the discipline of writing between 500 and 700 words five days a week, how hard it would be to make some of my thoughts public and to take criticisms. Working full-time, I had little time to publicize what I did, I don’t even have a Facebook page and I never gave much thought to what a blogging community was.  What I most vividly remember of my first post is how long I hesitated to press that “Publish” button, as if nuclear destruction was at my fingertips.

Yet, what started as a selfish endeavour turned out to be an eye opener on the generosity of other writers, an exercise in supporting each other, in making new friends, virtual and otherwise. In unexpected ways, it has even shaped some of the decisions involving my future working life. There have been some nasty comments along the way, a couple of threatening crazies who were quickly confined to the permanent junk, and even those taught me some welcome lessons.

Well, but enough gloating and pondering on the meaning of blogging. Tomorrow it’s back to the drawing board. Thank you WordPress editors and happy labour day week-end everyone.

Back on Tuesday

8 Comments

Filed under blogging, humor, the writing life

OF DUTCH DESSERTS – The actual recipe

After my Dutch reminiscences, let’s get down to the real work.

The ingredients of this Dutch concoction belie simplicity but not blandness. The overall effect is subtle, creamy and unexpectedly grown up. Sour cherries, instead of raisins, would add a touch of refinement and I also imagined shaved dark chocolate on it. The tanginess of the buttermilk is  nearly gone but it adds an element of depth to the end result. Let’s just say, I had two helpings.

RECIPE – Drained Buttermilk with Soaked Raisins or Hangop met Boerenjongens

4 C Buttermilk

1 1/2 T Sugar

1/4 C Raisins, possibly golden

1 1/2 T Brandy

1/2 C Heavy Cream

  1. Put a colander over a large bowl. Wet a kitchen towel or cheesecloth folded at least four times and wring out as much water as possible. Fold the towel in two and line the colander with it. Pour the buttermilk in the colander, wrap with plastic and refrigerate 24 hours.
  2. Dissolve the sugar in 3 T of boiling water and add raisins and brandy. Let the raisins soak at room temperature for an hour and then refrigerate until ready to use.

    Let the raisins soak

  3. Remove the buttermilk from the fridge – using a spatula, scrape the thickened buttermilk from the towel (or use your hands). Stir – it should be really smooth.
  4. In a separate bowl, whip the cream to soft peaks and fold it into the buttermilk. I didn’t add any sugar but  you can, if you want a sweeter dessert.
  5. Spoon into individual bowls and top with raisins and a bit of the juice. Having become a fully fledged Californian, instead of adding more sugar, I swirled some agave syrup on it, which lends a gentle sweetness to the overall effect.

 

Leave a comment

Filed under desserts, food, the writing life, Travel

RANDOM THINGS I LEARNT BLOGGING

There are days I question why on earth I am still blogging, five days a week, with an unprecedented and uncharectiristic zeal. Some days  I struggle to come up with a topic, any topic, that will fill my quota, little notebook notwithstanding, the ones where ideas are scribbled when they strike. I always blabber about how life is too interesting to run out of things to write about  but, as curious as I am, my life can be dull or, worse, my ideas sometimes feel too derivative.

It all started as an exercise in proving to myself that I could write around 500 words a day and, surprisingly, it turned out much easier than expected. Christopher Hitchens says that if you can talk you can write – that might be the case but most of us don’t have his eloquence or his command of the English language, spoken or written.

Still, as soon as I sit in front of my trusted Mac, even on days when my head is empty and I have just a flicker of a thought, the fingers start tapping with surprising ease, giving life to whatever muck has lodged in my brain. It goes to prove that discipline does count for something.

The second part of the exercise was overcoming the fear of having my muck read by others, be they my well meaning friends or strangers who happened upon my words  looking for something specific or while killing otherwise invaluable time. Those who linger, click on the “like” button or take the time to leave a comment, are my personal encouraging elves who prod me along, oftentimes on  days when my mind goes blank, or I feel too tired or too busy to cram 500 extra words into my day.

Learning to take criticism has also been a lot easier than I thought, partly because I am my harshest critic – half a life devoted  to reading other people’s words makes me painfully aware of what is passable, forgettable or downright terrible. On occasion, I surprise myself by re-reading bits and pieces that could even be, dare I say it, good.

The hardest part was learning to stay true to myself. Every time I am skirting a subject or a comment or a thought for fear of offending somebody, known or unknown, I rein myself in, thinking I have to own what I put out there, at least within the parameters I set for this blog. I will not discuss people who do not wish to be discussed nor would I let every aspect of my private life fly out in the ether, as if anybody cared anyway.

When I look at the search terms random people typed an got to my blog, I am left to wonder if they found anything I wrote remotely useful or if they quickly moved on. But I don’t wonder for long. These two years have been sometimes fun, sometimes therapeutic, sometimes satisfying. Above all, they have been filled with writing. My writing.

 

 

Leave a comment

Filed under the writing life

A SMILE TOO MANY

At the risk of sounding likean old crank, which I am, will you let me rant about the need of perfectly capable, smart and educated human beings to add smiley faces to their text messages and e-mails? Don’t they trust the power of their words enough to convey their happiness/unhappiness/anger and whatever gamut of emotions they are writing about? Is it supposed to be endearing, encouraging or is it aimed at taming or underlining a message?

Emoticons are bad enough – smiley faces drive me to the brink of annoyance(in case you forgot the difference, emoticons are faces created with punctuation while “smiley” is our yellow friend).

I am not exactly longing for the times when running to the mailbox could yield the welcome surprise of a letter written in long hand; I am perfectly happy to hear from all and sundries by e-mail or text, just not accessorized with “smiley”. We are all too old for that level of cute.

If you feel the need to punish me with a deluge of smiley messages, I will understand. But I do know you are smarter than entrusting your feelings to somebody else’s drawing. Unless you are plain lazy – but as we are already in the danger zone of words losing their meanings, can my generation, at least, get back on track?

 

 

 

1 Comment

Filed under the writing life

THE BLOGGING SEINFELD

My mind was drawing a blank. After nearly two years of blogging 5 days a week, I was surprised it hadn’t happened before. Life and food always seem too interesting not to entice my curiosity about something or other. It’s not like I couldn’t think of anything to write about (you dodged a post on Spaghetti Puttanesca or whore’s spaghetti – I was intrigued as to how they got their name), it was more like not finding anything I wanted to write about. Like most habitual bloggers, I keep a list of ideas I might want to write about and, when the time comes to sit down at my trusted laptop, something flows rather quickly. It gets revised 24 hours later and then posted – it’s become a ritual of most of my evenings.

But, tonight, nada. Until I checked my e-mails and found a message from WordPress that let me know that a lady in North London, who works for the Camden School District and sings in a choir liked one of my posts. There was the girl from Vietnam who commented on the Indian temple and the man in Hawaii who explained some facets of Buddhist philosophy to me in an exchange of comments. And what about the Australian ladies who own a house in Tuscany and not so long ago visited my hometown and blogged about it and told me how lucky I was to come from there? And on it goes.

As a teen-ager who had travelled a bit of Europe but yearned for larger boundaries, I was enamored with the idea of pen-pals. I can’t quite recall how one acquired pen-pals, maybe ads in magazines? I had a few over the years but they all petered out quickly, after 3 or 4 missives because, let’s face it, how likely is it to find common ground with complete strangers who live across the world and aren’t necessarily budding Nabokovs?

Blogging, on the other hand, immerses you in a virtual community with instant access – to other people’s ideas, photos, recipes, individual and sometimes original takes on the world. An exchange happens in a matter of hours and, because it’s faceless, it tends to be honest (aside from the lunatic who wrote vitriolic epithets about one of my posts and just couldn’t stop himself until I junked him). Polite criticisms force you to look in the mirror and fortuitous and generous support keeps you going.

I started to see if I could have the discipline to write about 500 words a day and it has become such a pleasant habit I can’t even think of an evening without my blank page anymore. It turns out that it’s possible to even pull a Seinfeld – write 500 words about absolutely nothing.

1 Comment

Filed under the writing life

THE BLOGGING LIFE

A professional writer asked me, 8 months into my nearly daily posting, how I was finding  so much material to write about. Well, how could you not? I replied. Life is so interesting. Not so fast….Life might indeed be interesting but writing after work as I do can be tiring, ideas don’t light up at the turn of a switch and, let’s face it, I don’t lead as interesting a life as Mata Hari.

On January 1 WordPress issued a challenge to all its bloggers, inviting them to try to blog once a day or once a week. Flurries of e-mails followed packed with suggestions on how to sustain a blogging life, including daily topics one could pick from in the absence of inspiration. That is when I realized I had developed mechanisms to help me stay on track, for no other reason than needing to assuage my incredibly stubborn streak.

 

  1. Keep lists – Ideas strike at inappropriate or un-blogging moments. Write them down because they will never present themselves again in the same form. If I remember to be incredibly organized, I will jot them down on my i-Phone, otherwise it’s bits of paper thrown in my purse. I might not use all of them but they have become a security blanket I can draw from.
  2. Posting is a little bit akin to going to the gym – I might not always feel like it but I stay focussed on the bigger goal, whatever that might be for you. A smaller ass or a creative outlet – not much of a stretch.
  3. Once you start having subscribers, even if just one, you don’t want to let them down. I get so pissed off when I miss my New York Times delivery! Not that anybody waits for my postings with bated breath but I feel like I entered a little pact with my readership.
  4. Take a vacation from your blog from time to time and recharge your brain.
  5. If you are particularly inspired, write multiple posts and keep them in your back pocket.
  6. If you are shy or fearful, it’s an excellent way to put yourself out there and receive criticism. Only once did I come across some nutcase who started bombarding me with offensive and threatening comments but as we are the ruler of the comments we receive he was quickly spammed.

 

Most of all, have fun. As a literary major and a non native English speaker I am painfully aware my writing is often not up to snuff. But whose snuff anyway? I am not aspiring to a Jane Austen pantheon. Just fulfilling my words addiction.

 

 

 

 

Leave a comment

Filed under the writing life

THE WRITING BATTERIES

A professional writer asked me, a little while ago, “How do you find something to write about every day?” and my answer was “How could you not? Life is too interesting, especially when you look closely”. He then proceeded to read my blog and unprompted and unasked, I may add, sent me a long e-mail with his (not terribly kind) well written thoughts. And the funny reaction I had was that I that I didn’t much care – I knew full well that a 60-year-old professional writer who stopped writing years ago for a multitude of reasons wasn’t really my audience.

But today, on a lazy Sunday that is pleasantly stretching longer than usual, while mulling over a bunch of topics (I do really believe life is too interesting to run out of ideas) ranging from Michelle Obama to unwanted house guests, I did ask myself why I was still writing and letting my words be carried out there, for faceless strangers to read. Sometimes personal and sometimes fluffy, sometimes original and at times not so much, these words have kept on coming. Even on nights when I am particularly tired and the bed seems way more attractive than a laptop screen, I know that the moment the fingers touch the keyboard, they find a life of their own, even without my will. I might start a piece with an initial idea in mind and end up in a completely opposite or, at any rate, unexpected direction. It hasn’t been hard and it hasn’t been a burden. And it hasn’t always been good. As an inveterate reader and a lit major I know the limitations of a language that I claim my own now but that doesn’t fully belong to me.

The challenge of it and the connection I have established have been a tremendous amount of fun. Which is why I kept it up. It all started as a dare to myself, after decades of journalling – at a particular difficult juncture in my life, it became a different way to organize my thoughts, a therapeutic device which didn’t involve writing cheques to strangers I could no longer afford and to prove to myself I could indeed write everyday, between 500 and 700 words, should I ever wanted to take this endeavour a step further. I didn’t expect many people to read it, certainly not many beyond my circle of friends – I am not particularly good at advertising myself. Yet my friends stuck with it and then people whom I don’t have the foggiest idea of who they are or where they live started reading and every comment, whether shared on the blog or personally delivered, has been constructive.

Amongst the most meaningful was “I love the way you look at the world” from someone who has been nothing short of spectacularly supportive. The unkind comments and the argumentative ones have been particularly useful because I do love arguing, sometimes just for the sake of it which, I know, can be terribly annoying. The food blogs have been the most widely read, simply because they pop up in search engines more often than, say, this one will.

At the heart of it all, what I am trying to achieve is to make sense of the passing of time, of the ways to reach grace and contentment (am still working hard on the latter) and to share the perspective of a not terribly wise but terribly curious woman of my generation.

To recharge my writing batteries I have decided to send the blog on vacation for a couple of weeks. I will keep on writing but will start posting again on Monday, August 23. I will be getting close to my trip to South Africa then, where I am planning to post from, as much as wilderness and wi-fi will allow me to. In the meantime, happy Summer to all of you – or what is left of it.

Leave a comment

Filed under aging, the writing life