May everyone have a safe, blessed, happy Memorial Day as we remember those who died to give us the liberties and freedoms we celebrate today and every day.
May everyone have a safe, blessed, happy Memorial Day as we remember those who died to give us the liberties and freedoms we celebrate today and every day.
Monday’s post is a day early because it’s Mother’s Day. I want to send a shout out to all the wonderful women I know who are celebrating today.
I happen to have a fabulous mom. If you want to read all about her, check out my post from last year here.
But Mother’s Day isn’t just about my mom. It’s about all types of “moms.” The mother-figures in people’s lives. Continue reading
Well, I haven’t been online since Wednesday (except for a brief check-in here and there and the occasional recipe double-check), but we managed it. Another full family holiday put together with just the four of us. Honestly, if it wasn’t for the importance of keeping up with traditions, I wouldn’t go through the trouble. We always have way too much food to eat it all. We cook so much, you’d think we’re still feeding the extended family, but it’s just the four of us. (And the two dogs, who wait impatiently for any scraps that might fall.)
Thursday was ham and potato salad night. Two potato salads, American (mayonnaise) and Italian (olive oil and vinegar). And a full ham. I know… why do four people need a full ham? Because I need the ham for the Pizza di Pasqua (Easter Pizza) and we like ham bone soup and ham and scalloped potatoes, so we might as well get the big one. Continue reading
Yesterday the US officially celebrated National Tartan Day. It’s observed on April 6 every year in commemoration of the signing of the Scottish Declaration of Independence on April 6, 1320. In the US, we acknowledge it because the Scottish Declaration of Independence was the document upon which we based our own Declaration of Independence, and almost half of the signers of our declaration were of Scottish descent. We also want to recognize people of Scottish descent because, let’s face it, they’re great people and they’ve done some wonderful things.
To celebrate National Tartan Day, major cities host parades with bagpipers playing Scottish music. Many of the marchers wear kilts in traditional Tartan plaids to represent the clans from which they descended. And many special events are held during which awards are given to people of Scottish heritage for outstanding achievements or accomplishments, the most noted of which is hosted by the American Scottish Foundation.
A lot of nationalities get months devoted to them for observation, or have well known holidays that everyone celebrates. Very few people are aware of National Tartan Day. I am part Scottish on my father’s side, and I have to admit, I didn’t even know about it. In fact, my alma mater, Carnegie Mellon University, was founded by one of the country’s most famous Scots (Andrew Carnegie), and we never celebrated the event on campus.
It’s a shame the day isn’t more well known.
If you read my blog frequently, you know I think it’s imperative that we embrace our heritage. It’s impossible to own who we are if we refuse to acknowledge where we came from. (Agree? Tweet it.)
I may not wear Tartan kilts, play bagpipes, eat haggis, or drink whisky (well, I’ll let you guess which one of those I do), but you can bet my ancestors did. And every buckle that was fastened, every note that was played, every morsel that was eaten, and every drop that was drunk eventually led my father’s family to Pennsylvania and to me being born.
I believe in the butterfly effect. One less shot of whisky in my family tree, and I might not be here. That’s a sobering thought. (Sorry. I had to write that.)
So, to my actual family, to my Carnegie Mellon family, and to my Scottish family around the world… Happy National Tartan Day!
Lang may yer lum reek!
May you live long and stay well.
For Writers: Are you considering the butterfly effect in your WIP? I’m not talking about writing a time-travel story where you change one event and everything ends up different (although you could, but that’s been done). I’m talking about plotting out your WIP and asking the “What if” question. Not just at the beginning of your work, when you’re working on a concept, but the whole way through.
The butterfly effect isn’t just a concept for a book or movie, and the “what if” technique isn’t just a question to ask when you’re looking for a premise for a story. Consider employing this method throughout your WIP to ramp up the tension and the action, or to throw in an unexpected twist to the plot.
So, did anyone celebrate National Tartan Day? Is anyone asking “what if”? Let’s talk.
I’m part Irish, although I know more about my Italian heritage than the other side of my family. But today, I happily claim my Celtic roots. Happy St. Patrick’s Day, one and all!
I don’t know much about how my dad’s side of the family celebrated this feast day. I’m pretty sure there was beer involved. (There was beer at all Smith family functions, so that’s a safe bet.) But I can tell you how my mom’s side of the family celebrated it: with Italian food. My grandmother made all sorts of Italian meals for my grandfather. St. Patrick’s Day wouldn’t have been an exception.
I make an effort to expose my kids to all cultures (yes, I’m partial to our Italian heritage, but I’m not rigid). My children studied martial arts for several years (my son holds a second degree black belt and my daughter a first degree), and on Chinese New Year one year, their Master had them participate in the dragon dance… a smaller version re-enacted in their school, but the parade was still something to see. We also had traditional dishes that I still make every Chinese New Year at home. On Cinco de Mayo, I make enchiladas suizas and tres leche cake. And of course I make something Italian on Columbus Day.
It probably goes without saying that I’d make an Irish meal for St. Patrick’s Day. (What can I say? I teach in the kitchen.) We have friends who grew up in Ireland. (You should hear them speak. Such lovely brogues!) We’ve learned a lot about Ireland and Irish history just from their stories.
Last year we were blessed to have my husband’s parents here with us. They are full Italian, just like my mother. Not only did we get to enjoy their company that week, I got to share a little bit of my heritage with my in-laws.
I didn’t just have my kids in the kitchen with me, I had my mother-in-law, too. We made Irish soda bread, Guinness stew, mashed potatoes, and cabbage. Dessert was Irish coffee, which the kids didn’t get, but it was Lent, and we all have to make sacrifices. The meal was delicious, and the company was even better. As we ate, we discussed the fact that just a generation earlier, a meal like that would have been difficult to have. When my parents started dating—an Italian Catholic girl and an Irish/German/Scottish/Swedish Lutheran boy—some in our hometown frowned on mixing cultures. Luckily my grandparents could see past the labels to what great people my parents were. Are.
If they hadn’t, I might not be here today.
And my kids wouldn’t be here, learning about the Irish culture.
Today, my in-laws aren’t here. Our meal will be smaller, less festive, but just as poignant. We’ll discuss my heritage—my children’s heritage—and how important it is to celebrate our differences. And accept them.
St. Patrick was kidnapped from Scotland as a youth and after escaping, went to Ireland where he lived in poverty, worked many miracles, and preached and converted the people for forty years. His tool of choice? The shamrock (three leaves on one stalk), which represented the Holy Trinity (God the Father, God the Son, and God the Holy Spirit all in one entity). St. Patrick wasn’t always accepted, not even in his own country. I’m grateful to live in a land of tolerance and diversity, and although we’re celebrating a day when everybody is Irish, I’m proud of my heritage, proud of my differences. We shouldn’t be afraid to show who we are or where we came from.
It’s our differences that make us unique, make us interesting, make us inimitable. (like that? tweet it)
We should all be Irish today, and then we should all celebrate our heritage, because then we’d be celebrating what makes us who we are.
Just as we as families have different heritages we can draw from for different experiences, as authors, we need to capitalize on different incidents in our lives to get the most out of our writing.
It’s time to stop playing it safe. They say “write what you know,” and that’s fine, but that doesn’t always mean “write what you’re comfortable with.” (like that? tweet it)
I’m not necessarily telling you to change genres, or switch from fiction to nonfiction. But is there some hidden story, some dark truth in your past that you’ve been itching to explore? Something that you want to talk about, a story begging to be told that the world needs to hear, but you’ve been putting it off because it’s ugly, or uncomfortable?
Now’s the time.
If your writing seems ho-hum, it’s because you aren’t being true to yourself, to what you really want to say, to what’s really inside. (like that? tweet it)
Open up that cookbook and see what it has to offer. There’s a whole world of palates to explore, flavors to discover.
Rise to the challenge. You might surprise yourself.
Irish Soda Bread and Other Traditions:
Here’s something, literally from the family cookbook.
If you’re looking for an easy Irish recipe to celebrate with today, here’s one to try. It’ll be gracing our table tonight.
Maybe you’d like to share a tradition or a recipe in the comments below.
Irish Soda Bread:
4 cups all-purpose flour, plus extra for the dried fruit
4 tablespoons sugar
1 teaspoon baking soda
1 1/2 teaspoons kosher salt
4 tablespoons (1/2 stick) cold unsalted butter, cut into 1/2-inch dice
1 3/4 cups cold buttermilk, shaken
1 extra-large egg, lightly beaten
1 teaspoon grated orange zest
1 cup dried currants, raisins, or cranberries
1) Preheat the oven to 375° F. Line a sheet pan with parchment paper.
2) Combine the flour, sugar, baking soda, and salt in the bowl of an electric mixer fitted with the paddle attachment. Add the butter and mix on low speed until the butter is mixed into the flour.
3) With a fork, lightly beat the buttermilk, egg, and orange zest together in a measuring cup. With the mixer on low speed, slowly add the buttermilk mixture to the flour mixture.
4) Combine the dried fruit with 1 tablespoon of flour and mix into the dough. It will be very wet.
5) Dump the dough onto a well-floured board and knead it a few times into a round loaf.
6) Place the loaf on the prepared sheet pan and lightly cut an X into the top of the bread with a serrated knife. Bake for 45 to 55 minutes, or until a cake tester comes out clean. When you tap the loaf, it will have a hollow sound.
Cool on a baking rack. Serve warm or at room temperature.
Lent starts in ten days. We discussed it at Mass this week. Apparently we should already be preparing. I find that funny, because the Season of Lent is a season of preparation. So I’m supposed to be preparing to prepare? I get what they’re saying, but I’m really having a hard time suppressing the sarcastic brat in me. Here’s hoping I can do it for the rest of this post. (Maybe that’s me preparing to be a better person. Or preparing to prepare to be a better person…)
Several countries celebrate the day before Lent. In Italy, the most well known celebration is the Venetian Carnival. It began to celebrate the victory of the “Serenissima Repubblica” against the Patriarch of Aquileia, Ulrico di Treven in the year 1162. In the honor of this victory, the people started to dance and make reunions in San Marco Square. The festival was outlawed in 1797, but made started to make its reappearance in the nineteenth century for special occasions. In 1979, to embrace Venice’s heritage, the Italian government brought the Carnival back. Masks are worn from the Feast of St. Stephen through Shrove Tuesday, and to highlight the fine craftsmanship of Venetian artists, there is a contest for la maschera più bella (“the most beautiful mask”) which is judged by a panel of international costume and fashion designers. Over three million visitors attend Carnival every year.
In my country, the most well known celebration is called Mardi Gras and the biggest event is held in New Orleans. It’s a full season that starts on Epiphany and culminates on the Tuesday before Ash Wednesday. It’s marked by parades, costumes, masks, beads, music, and the all important consumption of unhealthy foods and beverages before the sacrifices of Lent begins. I don’t like to call this season “Mardi Gras” because it translates to “Fat Tuesday,” and that term always bothered me. That’s not what the day (or the season) is really about.
The Catholic tradition calls the day before Lent begins Shrove Tuesday. “Shrove” comes from the word “shrive” and means “confess.” The term is sufficiently explained by a sentence in the Anglo-Saxon “Ecclesiastical Institutes” translated from Theodulphus by Abbot Aelfric about A.D. 1000: “In the week immediately before Lent everyone shall go to his confessor and confess his deeds and the confessor shall so shrive him as he then may hear by his deeds what he is to do [in the way of penance].”
Some people call Shrove Tuesday “Pancake Day,” a name that likely came about because of the English custom of making pancakes to use up the eggs and fat which were, at the time, prohibited dietary items during the forty days of Lent. Religious laws have relaxed a little, (and I don’t think people make pancakes with lard anymore), but in many parts of the world, next Tuesday is still Pancake Day.
My family always had a big meal on the day before Lent. And we always had dessert. Because we have modern day conveniences—like refrigerators and freezers—we don’t have to worry quite so much about using up our food before Lent starts. But we still have traditions. My husband’s family always made Fritole before Lent. If you think those fried donuts are good at Chinese buffets, you have to try these! My mother-in-law has fond memories of these from her childhood with her grandparents, and my husband and his siblings have great memories of their grandmother and these from when they were young. I love them so much, I asked for them to be made when my kids had their communions (just so I’d get them twice those years). I’ll share the recipe with you here, and I’ll include it just as it’s written. I hope you try them and like them as much as my family. (By the way, when it says to fry in really hot Crisco, it means to drop by rounded tablespoons into the melted shortening.)
I don’t know if you are preparing for Lent, or preparing to prepare, but I hope you take some time in the next ten days to spend some quality time with your family, make some wonderful memories, and think of some ways you can try to affect change—in your life, in the life of a loved one, in your work life, or in your community. We can all do a little more to make our relationships better.
Preparing… Preparing to prepare. Preparation is no joke. There is a lot to do before you sit down to write.
Even you “pantsers” who don’t like to plan things will find it easier if you know who you’re writing about and and have your preliminary research done in advance. Benjamin Franklin once said, “By failing to prepare, you are preparing to fail.” We have enough going against us already, don’t we? Why not invest a little time an effort in the front of our projects so we can start off strong and build momentum rather than run into the dreaded writer’s block part way through?
So anyway, everybody, we’re on our countdown. Lent is just ten days away. We’re all preparing. Do you have a Shrove Tuesday tradition that you’d like to share? We’d love to hear it.
I didn’t think I was going to watch the Olympics. Not because the athletes and the games don’t interest me. They do. I’m a sucker for a good competition. I’m just not crazy about the coverage, and I haven’t been for the last several games. The announcers try to make drama where there isn’t any (and we all have too much of that in our lives as it is, especially those of us with teenagers in the house), and this whole tape delay business is annoying. I already know the results; why bother watching?
Because I love the competition.
And because these athletes deserve our support. They worked so hard for such a fleeting chance at glory, why not give them their fifteen minutes? After all, these are the heroes of our generation, the ones we tell our children to emulate.
When I was a child, I saw Nadia Comaneci score the first perfect ten in gymnastics, and I was hooked. (Yes, I know she wasn’t then an American citizen, but I was young at the time, what did I know, or care for that matter? Her performance was amazing!) That same winter, when Dorothy Hamill took gold in figure skating, I was begging for her haircut, along with the rest of the girls in America. *Clears throat* years later, my kids share that fascination with the Games and the athletes, waiting to see which of their heroes are going to climb the podium and claim the gold.
The thing is, heroes don’t always win. (tweet this)
Shaun White trained for the last four years for the Sochi Olympics. And for many years before that. Everyone expected the “three-peat” in the halfpipe. Shaun was the reigning champion, having won the gold at the last two Winter Games. He had stiff competition, sure, but come on, he’s Shaun White. He’s untouchable.
When you lift your heroes to lofty heights, they have a long way to fall. (tweet this)
White came in with high expectations on his shoulders, placed on him by the world and by himself. That’s a lot of pressure. He was prepared, and he continued to train while he was in Sochi. Maybe he trained too much. He doesn’t usually show up as early as he did. Maybe breaking his routine messed him up. Maybe the conditions of the pipe (less than stellar) conspired against him. Maybe he psyched himself out. Maybe his competitors were just better than him on that given day.
It really doesn’t matter. The event is over. Our lives go on.
It matters to Shaun White, who placed fourth.
It matters to Iouri Podladtchikov, who won gold.
The rest of us realize that sometimes, heroes fall. Sometimes at the worst possible time. (tweet this)
In the Olympics, there are no second chances. Just a lifetime of if only and what if.
In real life, there are second chances. If our heroes fall, we can watch their reactions and see if they get back up and rally (true heroes) or give up and go home (fair weather facsimiles). Everyone falls at some point. Let’s make sure we’re only emulating people with the courage to get back up.
You’re going to face adversity in your journey. You’ll hit writer’s block, you’ll get rejection letters, you’ll receive bad reviews, you’ll be ignored. What are you going to do about it?
You can give up. Obviously you weren’t supposed to be a writer.
You are a writer because you have a passion for the craft, a burning desire to share your stories with the world through the written word. If you stumble, if you fall, you don’t stay down. You get back up and keep going, clawing your way if you have to. I know, because I’m a writer, too. I’m with you. And if you can’t get up on your own, let me know. I’ll help you.
And this desire to succeed? Don’t forget to instill it in your fictional heroes, too. To be interesting, characters have to face adversity. To be realistic, they have to fall. But to be heroic? They have to get back up again.
Today Americans “celebrate” Presidents’ Day. What used to be a celebration of two presidential birthdays has been consolidated into a day to honor all US Presidents. Love them or hate them, agree with their policies or not, this “holiday” began because of our first president who fought to establish this country and our sixteenth president who fought to keep it together as a single nation while liberating all its citizens. These are true heroes, and we shouldn’t forget or belittle their contributions.
Athletes, leaders… maybe family members, military personnel, or public servants. We all have heroes. Would you like to share a hero’s story here? Or maybe you’d like to discuss your favorite heroic moment of the Olympics? Let’s chat.
I suppose everyone knows what Friday is… Valentine’s Day. In my family, we always made it a point to call it St. Valentine’s Day. February 14 is such a Hallmark Holiday that we did what little we could to preserve the intent behind its inception.
St. Valentine’s Day was not even commemorated in the church until 1969 because it is uncertain if there were one or two (some say perhaps even three) saints by the same name. All that was known for certain was that there was a Valentine who died on February 14 in the High Middle Ages in Rome on the Via Flaminia.
There are several accounts of Saint Valentines and works that led to their martyrdoms, but the most common (and most romantic) version is that of the Roman priest who was caught marrying Christian couples during the reign of Claudius II. He was sentenced to death for crimes against the state and was beaten with clubs and stones. When that didn’t kill him, he was beheaded (dates range from 269-273). Because he “died for love,” lovers everywhere celebrate romance on the day of his death, St. Valentine’s Day, February 14.
The church never really recognized St. Valentine’s Day as much of a holiday. My family didn’t have a special meal for it, and come on. We’re Italian. We have a special meal for everything. So it must not have been a huge deal. But my mom always baked a heart-shaped cake and we got little gifts. (Again. We’re Italian. We don’t pass up chances for parties. So it must have meant something.)
Now that I have a family of my own, my husband and I are continuing the tradition. I don’t happen to have heart-shaped pans, so my kids don’t get the special cake that I got when I was young. But my husband grew up getting cream puffs. So my kids get some kind of treat. Sometimes it’s cream puffs. Sometimes I’m busy and it’s something a little easier. It’s the thought that counts. And they get little gifts. Because they are our Valentines.
My husband and I don’t go overboard on gifts for each other. We consider it a Hallmark Holiday and don’t think it’s worth the money. We think if we can’t show our love for each other every other day of the year, we shouldn’t be pressured by a greeting card company and the FTD man to do it on one particular day. And you know what? We do pretty well all 365 days, not just February 14.
Some people put great importance on that day. I hope they aren’t let down. Some people get quite depressed. I hope someone lifts their spirits. I hope I can be someone who can lift someone’s spirits that day. Every day.
I don’t know if there was one St. Valentine or two or three. Zero or ten. It doesn’t matter to me. I just want to take a lesson from the spirit of the man and spread some love.
Isn’t that what St. Valentine’s Day is all about, anyway?
No matter how you view the holiday (religious or secular, authentic or Hallmark), I hope you have a happy one.
What are your plans for Friday? Why don’t you share them with us here? You might give someone a good idea.
We celebrate Martin Luther King, Jr. Day today. You’re going to see “I Have a Dream” speeches all over the web. And I guess that’s okay. I mean, that’s a really powerful speech. There’s a reason people will be talking about it. It’s stood the test of time and inspired countless people. And will continue to do so for years to come.
But King said many other things, too. Things people either don’t know about, or have forgotten, or gloss over because “I Have a Dream” is more popular and memorable. One of the things he said that really resonates with me is this:
In the end, we will remember not the words of our enemies, but the silence of our friends. (Like that? Tweet it.)
He delivered that line on November 7, 1957 at Dexter Avenue Baptist Church in a sermon titled “Loving Your Enemies.” King was all about nonviolent resistance.
I have a niece in the US Navy. My father also served, as did members of my husband’s family. I’m proud of my family’s service to our country. I’m humbled at the sacrifice our military men and women make every single day to guarantee our freedom and safety. (Like that? Tweet it.)
How in the world can I possibly justify those two views?
I look to my grandmother for inspiration.
To know her is to love her. She has more friends than all of her children, grandchildren, and great-grandchildren put together. If you need cheering up, she’s quick with a joke. If you need advice, she has a relevant life story for perspective. She has no enemies, and in the end (God willing, a long, long time from now), her friends will not be silent. There will be nothing but an outpouring of love and support from them.
King recognized that sometimes you needed to fight for what you believed in. Yet still, he was a peace-loving, God-fearing man. My grandmother had her own battles throughout her life, too. And now, at ninety-five, she lives each day believing it’s not the words of her enemies (she has none) or the silence of her friends that matters. It’s her own conscience that counts. And because she appreciates any sacrifice made on her behalf, she leads a peaceful life.
And isn’t peace all King really wanted for us, anyway?
This is the last week of the Advent Season. That means we light the last candle. We now have one rose and three purple candles lit; the circle is complete. Four candles representing the four thousand years from Adam and Eve to the birth of the Savior are all illuminated, and Christmas is almost upon us. We will be completing our last week of preparations.
The last candle we light is the Angel’s Candle, and it represents Peace.
As a matter of faith, I can think of no time of year more suited to peace than the Christmas season.
As a romance writer, Christmas is a wonderful time of year to incorporate peaceful elements into my writing.
What are you doing in this hectic season to add a little peace to your life? Why dont you share your secrets with us?
Christmas is just a few days away. For those of you who celebrate, have a very Merry Christmas. And for those of you who celebrating something else, I wish you the Happiest of Holidays. The rest of you are wished the most joyous of winter memories as this year draws to a close. I will be spending time with family and won’t be posting again until January. Until then, friends, be safe, and I’ll see you in the new year!