I’m not dead! And I’m holding a contest

It’s been a while, I know. And I’m sorry about that.

The good news is that I’ve been writing!

The bad news is that I’m slow. Of course, that’s not news to anyone who actually follows me. ;-)

So. About this contest. I’m a member of a mom’s website called CafeMom. It’s geared towards women and families and all that stuff, but there are small groups that focus on any number of different interests – from healthy eating, to varying beliefs, to writing and reading.

Well, I like hanging out in one of those small groups called The Book Cafe and I’m running the easiest contest ever. Comment on my thread and you’re entered for a random giveaway for an e-copy of one of my novellas.

Boom. That’s it. Simple, yes?

The contest runs through the month of March and I’ll announce the winner on April 1. So stop by – you probably have to become a member of CafeMom (free registration) – and comment to win one of my stories!

See you there!

The Book Cafe Join Us! @ The Book Cafe

 

Why I trust Morgan Freeman

Have you ever noticed that those moments right after your brain realizes it’s awake are a fertile breeding ground for bizarre thoughts? My first thought this morning was about Morgan Freeman.

It occurred to me that it’s no surprise when he gets cast as father-figures or God or god-like figures. We trust him. Do you know WHY we trust him? Because he taught us to read.

I actually remember his voice sounding out words on that long-ago show, The Electric Company. He and Rita Moreno were shadow silhouettes, sounding out phonemes together until they blended and made a word. And for serious? I would totally lay down my cloak for Rita Moreno to walk over a puddle.

But if Morgan Freeman ever runs for God or Guy Who Makes Gotham An Awesome Place to Live or something like that, I’m in.

I can hear them laughing

Ah, those goofy gods. My life is a major yuk-fest. Like the Keystone Kops where I’m the only Kop.

Monkey Boy is on his 2nd day home from school. He has the kind of sore throat that makes breathing an exercise in agony, and a slight fever. But his tonsils aren’t swollen and I didn’t see any white spots or even angry red when I looked down his throat this morning. Still debating whether it’s worth a call to the pediatrician. For now, it’s warm tea with honey and the occasional squirt of Chloraseptic.

But he’s napping now, so it’s time to write!

Homeschooling

I don’t know if I’ve posted about this, but I’m homeschooling my 15yo daughter this year. Long story short, high school is hell, but she’s getting much stronger. Anyway, we’re doing American Lit concurrently with US History and we’re a weee bit behind due to some earlier schedule conflicts. So we’re just starting the Revolutionary War, which has thrown off our Lit studies. We’ve read The Scarlet Letter (I loved it, she hated it), Legend of Sleepy Hollow (she was bored and I kind of was, too), and The Masque of the Red Death (we both enjoyed it).

Since we were supposed to be coming up on the Civil War (I told you we were behind), the plan was to start The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn. We’re so not ready. Instead, we’re going to read a different Revolutionary War novel. I’m seriously considering Laurie Halse Anderson’s YA novel, Chains, which is the story of a slave girl sold to a Loyalist household in occupied NYC. It’s got good reviews and there are several study guides and discussion questions available, including some from LHA’s website.

We’re also watching John Adams, the HBO series, and reading Founding Mothers by Cokie Roberts, as well as Common Sense and chunks of The Federalist Papers and all that good stuff. Reading novels and watching movies is fun, but unfortunately not enough.

We’ll get to Huck Finn in due time.

NaNo? Please. I’m edjikatin’ my kid.

The gods conspire against me

Seriously?

It’s Nov 3 and we all know what that means. It means that I’m trying NaNo again. My goal isn’t to win NaNo officially. My goal is to get 25K, so I’m doing a half-NaNo. Like a half-marathon, except without the weight loss and increased muscle tone.

The other night, I settled in to write in the kitchen after dinner, which is usually abandoned. The dishes were done, everyone was scattered to their various screens and entertainments, and it was just me and my laptop. And every single member of my family who decided to wander through and try to chat with me, despite the fact that my headphones were in and I was answering in grunts. When the grunts began to verge into snarl territory, they went away.

This morning, I got up nice and early. Before anyone else in the house. Ahhh, bliss.

The dog rolled in deer crap.

I had put him out for his morning snuffle around the yard and he returns ecstatic, covered from shoulder to flank in smears of cervidae feces. Because now, you know, they won’t be able to see him coming. He’s camouflaged. He smells just like them!

So after standing outside in the cold in my nightie, scrubbing him down with a warm soapy washcloth, he’s laying in front of the fire and I’m writing a blog post and not my wip for NaNo. It’s okay. I don’t want to write about deer-reek in my wip and I had to get it out somehow!

Disproportionate interest, or lack thereof

Oh. My. God.

This is nearly as bad as Twilight. I cannot go anywhere right now – online or off – without someone gushing over these books and/or this movie. And I’m one of those backwardsly obstinate people who will resist in direct or greater proportion to the amount of encouragement I receive to get in on whatever the latest craze is.

So if you, too, are sick of this nonsense, you may find a safe spot on this blog for getting on with your life without Katniss and Peeta (really? All the names in the universe and that’s the one she chose?) and whatever else is up with this story.

 

Mythology Monday: Beauty and the Beast

It’s no great secret that Beauty and the Beast is my favorite fairy tale. It has themes of transformation, sacrifice and redemption, plus one of the smartest fairy tale heroines ever. What’s not to love?

Beauty and the Beast appeared in its current (or relatively current) form in 1740, when it was written by Gabrielle–Suzanne de Villeneuve. It was a critique on the sale of women into marriage, never knowing “if they’d find a beast or a lover in their marriage bed.”  Since then, it’s transformed from a tale in which the genuinely fierce and beastly hero must change for love, to one where the heroine must learn to love despite appearances, to, well, the Disney version. (God save us all.)

The story takes its cue from myths that were told centuries before, when Hades kidnapped Persephone. A powerful man, a pariah, banished to a solitary realm. A girl taken from her loving family to alleviate his deep loneliness and perhaps save his soul. While the story can certainly be related as one of violence and rage, there are versions that are more sympathetic to Hades’ desperate act.

*sniffle* I’m getting all emotional just thinking about it!

Sacrifice is one of my favorite themes – a tangible demonstration of what love is worth and what we will give up for its sake. The Beast knows the his heart will break and he will die without his Beauty, yet he lets her go so that she can rejoin her family. And Beauty, torn between love for her family and her growing love for the dangerous monster who needs her, knows that choosing one will irrevocably harm the other.

Redemption is another element of the story. The original Beast is truly a beast. Dangerous, vicious, threatening to the heroine both physically and sexually. Yet under for influence and for her sake, he puts aside the animal and reclaims the man he once was.

Transformation is the heart of Beauty and the Beast. The Beast is the obvious character for this transformation, but in Robin McKinley’s second interpretation of the story, Rose Daughter, the change is not the one we’ve learned to expect. Nonetheless, the animal is rendered human by love for his Beauty – not mere desire or animal passion, but a heart fully given to another’s keeping.

In the best stories, Beauty isn’t always perfect, sweet, forgiving and saintly. She must change from a young girl occupied with her own thoughts and plans into one who is capable of seeing what lies beneath and beyond the surface. To facing up to danger, and being willing to both stand for what is right, as well as bend to what may be. There are no easy choices for her in this story and it requires a strong, smart, steady heroine.

There is no shortage of Beauty and the Beast stories and each one brings something new to the table. I can’t think of another fairy tale that can handle so much revision, yet remain true to its heart.

What’s your favorite version?

Friday Foodie: Black Beans and Rice with Papaya Salsa

I finally remembered to take pictures as I was cooking!

This is a staple at our house through the spring and summer. One of the few dishes I make that can actually be done in 30-40 minutes, especially if you’re faster with a knife than I am.

Here are the ingredients. Ok, it took 2 pictures because I forgot some the first time. Keep in mind that I cook for leftovers. This will feed 5 people for dinner once, plus lunch and a side dish the next night.

You really want to make the salsa first so it has time to blend while everything else cooks. Papayas are ripe when they’re yellow, but you can’t let them go too far or they just taste funky. So grab your papayas and … ok, there’s a dirty joke in there somewhere … anyway, peel, seed and chop two ripe papayas into bite-sized pieces.

Put them in a glass bowl to marinate because the acid from both the papayas and the limes will etch the heck out of plastic.

Grate the zest of two limes, then squeeze them for juice. Add lime zest and juice to the bowl, along with a sprinkle of kosher salt. You’re going for a balance of flavors here – sweet from the papaya, sour and bitter from the lime, and salty. Mmmm, perfect..

Now pop the bowl into the fridge and we’ll start cooking.

1 onion, chopped
3-5 cloves of garlic, minced
1 bell pepper, chopped
olive oil

Heat the olive oil in a heavy-bottomed saucepan and add the chopped veg until onions are translucent and on their way to golden. I add the onions and peppers first, then the garlic because if the garlic hits the hot oil, it’ll burn immediately. Waiting a few seconds gives the temperature time to even out a little.

 

 

Drain and rinse the 3 cans of black beans, then add to your base veg.
Add in your spices:
red pepper and/or ground chipotle pepper (smoky awesomeness!)
cumin
chili powder
It’s tough to give exact measurements because honestly, I just wing it. We’re big cumin fans here, so I always add more than a recipe calls for.

(I forgot to take a picture of a couple of ingredients, so you here go.)

Now add 2-3 cups of chicken stock. I go on the skimpy side because I don’t like my beans soupy, but other folks do. So to paraphrase Denethor: “Go now and add chicken stock in what way seems best to you.”

Stir in a bay leaf, bring to a boil, then reduce heat and let simmer for 20 minutes, stirring occasionally.

While the beans are simmering, make a pot of rice to serve along with it.

When the beans are done, add the merest sploosh of red wine vinegar to the pot to give it a little wake-up. And serve! Rice, then beans, then salsa over the top.

Healthy and cheap. Even with the papayas, this whole dish won’t be more than, say, $7. Feeding 5 people, plus leftovers for $7? A total bargain!

Mythology Monday: Slavic Mythology

Sure enough, there be gods in Eastern Europe. From Macedonia (just above Greece) all the way to Latvia (just south of Finland) and including more than a dozen countries both large and small with ever changing regimes, borders and dialects.

In fact, there is a movement in the Baltic (Northern Slavic) countries to return to an ethnic polytheistic pagan religion called Romuva, which worships the old gods and is important in preserving Baltic folk traditions.

If you remember, we talked about Basque mythology recently and one of the problems in researching is that Christianity had been around for so long that many of the traditions were forgotten. You know, what with the Inquisition burning thousands of Basque pagans and all. The issues surrounding research into Slavic mythology have some of the same issues. Not necessarily due to the Spanish Inquisition – totally unexpected – but because of centuries of Christian influence in the area. In addition, the Slavs had no written language prior to their Christianization, and many stories were no doubt lost in the mists of time.

One thing that struck me in my study was the recurrence of a World Tree, which we’ve seen in Norse mythology and in Central American mythology. As in other cultures, the tree – an oak this time – was symbolic of the different levels of existence. The crown represented the heavenly deities, the trunk was the realm of mortals and the roots of the tree stretched into the underworld.

As opposed to many of the cultures we’ve studied, the underworld of Slavic mythology was actually very nice – not a world of fire and judgment, but of eternal spring. The tree was also organized along the four cardinal directions of the wind (horizontal axes) and the various levels of the tree (vertical axes). To correspond, there was the three-headed god, Triglav, the god of prophecy and soothsaying, and Svantevit, the four-headed god of both war and harvest. An unusual combination.

As to major gods, there were a few. Perun was the top guy. The god of the thunder, lightning and fire. He was also a dry god. This is important in a minute. He drove a chariot across the sky (Apollo, much?), hurled a hammer (Thor, much?) at evil spirits and lived at the top of the World Tree. His opposite number is Veles, the god of the underworld. Naturally, they were enemies. Veles was a god of peasants, cattle and wealth. He was a wet god. Represented as a dragon or serpent, he would steal Perun’s cattle. Dry periods were the result of Veles thievery and trickery of Perun. When Perun went after him to get his cattle back, a great battle would ensue – big storms with lots of thunder and lightning. The battles would result in the defeat/death of Veles – when his body was split open by Perun’s sword, the great rains would fall and order could be restored.

There are a number of smaller deities who controlled or symbolized other aspects of life for the Slavs. Czernobog represented the darkness of winter and was accordingly a bleak and forbidding god. His position was overtaken in the spring by the other half of himself, Bielobog, a god of sun, light, and life. The Czernobog/Bielobog deity, however, is unsubstantiated by modern research because of the dearth of proof. Indeed, while Czernobog is fairly certain to have existed within the pantheon, the only theory of Bielobog’s existence is merely the conjecture of a 12th century priest who assumed that the evil of Czernobog *must* have some balancing force – not necessarily true.

The Zorya were a trilogy of sister goddesses who symbolized the passage of the sun and moon. They are the Morning, the Evening, and the Midnight Star, guarding the gates of heaven for the passage of the sun. They also stand guard over the doomsday hound, who, if he ever breaks his chain, will eat the constellation of Ursa Minor. If he ever does, the universe will end.

The Slavs also have a rich and varied folklore consisting of goblins, fairies, witches, dragons and firebirds. For more information on that, see this University of Alberta link and this one from the University of Alabama. Those are also good sources for the mythology we’ve discussed here. See also the Slavic Pantheon. Wikipedia, as always, is a good jumping off point for further research, but my other two favorite pantheon sources, Godchecker and Encyclopedia Mythica, are sadly lacking in this area.

This article is reprinted from my original posting at Beyond the Veil on Aug 31, 2007.