21 Sep

Rewards of Reading

It’s been a while since I’ve lost myself in a book, ingested the writing style, and finished with the proud feeling of ‘this is what writing is all about’. Over the summer, I read three books that I fell in love with for the writing styles, the stories, and characters. Fiction writing isn’t as easy as most assume. One must understand language, create a plot and setting where the reader can join in the journey, and flawed characters that you either fall in love with or hate. In my opinion, these books achieved and went beyond the fundamentals of writing fiction.

First Recommendation (Literary Fiction)

The first book I read was The Book of Speculation by Erika Swyler. Now this woman knows how to write. Mermaids, tarot card reader, contortionist, a mute, and many other odd characters spun into a magical story. First line: “Perched on the bluff’s edge, the house is in danger.”


About
: The Book of Speculation is about a young man, Simon, who is lost to a past. His parents died and his sister, Enola, is on her own destructive journey. Simon struggles with the guilt of not being able to save his childhood home on Long Island Sound. His job is teetering on non-existent. One day he receives an old book from Martin Churchwarry of Churchwarry & Son; sent because he cannot sell it due to damage, and thought the family of Verona Bonn could use it. The book turns out to be a journal of Hermelius Peabody, the head of a carnival. While researching the book, Simon learns about his history and the fate of the women in his family.

Writing: I loved Swyler’s writing style—distinct, avoiding the regular verbs and comparisons. I’d like to share a few sentences that I highlighted. These are surreal descriptions. A reader can feel the emotion from the first one, and visualize the others.

  • Paperback, page 14
  • Paperback, page 108
  • Paperback, page 284
  • Paperback, page 317
“Hunger, his enduring companion, was all that kept him certain that he lived.”
“She is frenzied motion, elbows flinging, hips shimmying, dancing and detonating.”
“The bald back of his head shone in the moonlight as the river coursed over it like a stone”
“The house is in silhouette, hanging off the cliff’s edge, tilting like an Irishman’s cap.”

But her style of writing wasn’t the only thing that captured my attention. Her story and characters were quirky, awkward, and weird, something you don’t find in many books. The past winds up colliding with the present, exploding secrets, bringing understanding and release to the characters so they could move on.

Second Recommendation (Young Adult)

My second book is Love Letters to the Dead by Ava Dellaira. I’m not one for young adult books, but this one is an eye-catcher. It doesn’t have the immature feel or regular subject matter I often notice in young adult. Famous dead people, teenager, letter assignment weaves a story of loss and recovery. First line: “Dear Kurt Cobain, Mrs. Buster gave us our first assignment in English today, to write a letter to a dead person.”

About: As the first line reveals, this is about a girl, Laurel, whose first assignment in a new school is to write a letter to a dead person. What was supposed to be a one-letter assignment, turns into a year of writing to dead people to help her overcome the loss of innocence, the death of her sister, and her mother moving away. Laurel speaks to the dead about her experiences, falling in love, grappling with her mother’s departure and her sister’s absence. In turn, her search into their lives answers some questions, and in the end, lets her forgive and heal.

Writing: Even though the story is told through a teenager, the style of writing is poignant. Of course, this might have affected me more than others since I recently lost my sister, but it doesn’t change the fact that Dellaira knows how to grasp a reader’s emotions. Here are a few descriptions I highlighted:

  • Paperback, page 9
  • Paperback, page 26
  • Paperback, page 101
“You used your voice like glue to keep your family together.”
“Each word felt like its own stone, falling to the bottom of a lake.”
“…how there is something fragile like moths inside of him, something fluttering, Something trying desperately to crowd toward a light … Even if I am only Sky’s street lamp, I don’t mind. It’s enough to be what he moves toward.”

Dellaira delves into feelings as her character, Laurel, researches and tries to understand a famous dead person’s actions or words. It’s touching and therapeutic to know that others struggle with depression and hardships, and Laurel connects with the dead through her writings. The letters are her survival manual as she finally learns to stop blaming herself and begins to mend.

Third Recommendation (Literary Fiction / Humorous)

The third story is The Storied Life of A.J. Fikry by Gabrielle Zevin. I hadn’t even heard about this book when it was chosen by my book club. To date, not one of the book club choices heightened my love for words and writing. In fact, majority of the books we read were angry or depressing, so the opportunity to read something funny was refreshing. Books, baby, reading, infidelity, death, romance create this funny, eccentric story. First line: “On the ferry from Hyannis to Alice Island, Amelia Loman paints her nails yellow and, while waiting for them to dry, skims her predecessor’s notes.”

About: The title says it’s about the storied life of A.J. Fikry, but it’s so much more. A.J. Fikry owns a struggling bookstore on Alice Island. A lifelong curmudgeon, his misery increased after the loss of his wife. He lashes out at the community and publishers’ sales reps. Love of drink and little money, sarcastic A.J. has a priceless book stolen from him, and is given a small gift with ten fingers and toes. His interactions with Amelia, the new sales rep, and the baby girl left in his bookshop tilts his sorry world. A.J. acquires feelings for Amelia, a romantic, raises baby Mia, and soon finds that there is life beyond books.

Writing: Zevin has a way with humor. Her peculiar characters add zest to the story, and I found myself laughing aloud. Several secondary characters clash yet compliment A.J. Here are a few highlighted lines:

  • Paperback, page 72
  • Paperback, page 77
“…despite the fact that A.J. does not believe in God, he closes his eyes and thanks whomever, the higher power, with all his porcupine heart.”
“His breath smells like socks wet from snow.”

A.J. is not your typical bookworm. His pretentious, judgmental attitude doesn’t bode well with many. Recently losing his wife, thinking everyone is stupid, his circumstances are met with humor and hope. Behind A.J.’s disgruntled fits reveals a man with a big heart.

Reading and Engagement,
Baer Necessities

 

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14 Sep

The Writing Gene

Another special guest today, who has lived in some beautiful parts of the United States, and submerged herself in reading at an early age. Please give a warm welcome to Lenita Sheridan.

Describe yourself in 150 words or less.

I moved to Washington state from Alaska when I was in my twenties. I had graduated from the University of Alaska with a degree in English. I substituted in the Puget Sound Area and went to the University of Washington to study creative writing. I graduated with a Master of Fine Arts in Creative Writing.

Later, I moved to an island in the Puget Sound. I am now an active lady, interested in writing, reading, singing, listening to music, crafts, and walking my dog, a Japanese Spitz named Haley.

Has writing changed the way you read? Explain.

No. I was always writing from when I was old enough to read. I wrote a picture book in first grade.

Tell us about your published works.

I have published a trilogy. They are Guardian of the Gauntlet books. The books are about a special gauntlet, which only works if one has faith in a higher power and the young Princess Camari’s adventures with it.

Most authors dislike selling their books. To practice the art of selling, how would you try to sell me a box of tissues?

I would tell you that the tissues are incredibly soft and wouldn’t make your nose sore in the severest of allergies. I would also tell you they have the ‘flu vaccine in them, so you would be immunized.

In regards to writing, what are you working on now?

I am working on a story about my dog for Guideposts.

Are you a confident or anxious writer? Explain.

I am confident. I wouldn’t have made it through the MFA program at the University of Washington without confidence.

What is your writing process?

I make notes first. Then I compose them into cohesive chapters with pen on paper (I usually write one chapter at a time.) This is my first draft. Typing the chapters into the computer, making changes as I do so, is my second draft. Then my writing group edits it. After using their editing notes to change my chapters, I come up with a third draft. Then I hire a proofreader. After going over the proofreader’s tracking changes, I come up with a final copy.

What specific moment or situation made you want to become a writer?

I made the decision to become a writer in fifth grade. I had been reading a lot of science fiction and wanted to be a published science fiction writer like my grandfather, Maxwell Sheridan, who worked with Ray Bradbury. I later changed to fantasy to utilize more of my imagination.

When you’re not writing, where can people find you hanging out in the virtual world?

They can usually find me on Goodreads or on Facebook. I also have a Twitter account: @lenitasheridan.

I requested a picture from Lenita of a place nearby where she has or lives now. The below is a picture of Mount Baker taken from Whidbey Island.

Lenita
Reading and Writing,
Baer Necessities

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07 Sep

Plenty to Do—Plenty to See

Today’s a continuation to our summer vacation in South Wales, UK. If you didn’t get a chance to stop by last week, you can check out Oh How Lovely to start at the beginning of our journey.

Not far from our cottage was the Carreg Cennen Castle. I never tire of castles. While I roam the ruins, I think back to those difficult times, how much manpower was needed to build and protect, and how easily one fell prey to punishment.

This castle was one of the more impressive ones. At the site of the castle, remains had been uncovered dating human activity to prehistoric times. It’s assumed the first structure built here was around 1197. Due to feuds and wars, including the Wars of the Roses, for control over England, the castle endured damaged. During the Roses’ War, the Lancastrian (House of Lancaster) took hold of it, but a York (House of York) force won the battle and demolished it with 500 men.

We had to keep Shakespeare outside the fenced in area or he would have gone after every lamb. This is a result of his carrying on, wanting to get to them. They ran up on the hill and looked down at the little crazy creature barking at them.

An interesting bit of information about the Carreg Cennen Castle. The second Earl Cawdor owned the castle and began renovations in the 19th century. Ownership shifted to the Morris family, who owns the farmland near the castle. In the 1960s, Cawdor’s legal team worded the deed wrong, including the castle as part of the farm. Today, Margaret and Bernard Llewellyn privately own the castle as they collect 5 English Pounds for every person interested in seeing it.

Our next big adventure was through the Brecon Beacons National Park. These are mountain ranges within the central Beacons and the Black Mountains to the east and west, which make up the National Park.

In the 2000s, on one of the hills, a barrow was excavated. Using Carbon dating, they tested the ashes in the cist, which dated to around 2000 BC. The Beacons have many walking paths and roads that curve in and around the hills. Livestock wanders and grazes.

Here we visited the ruins of Talley Abbey. The White Canons (Premonstratensians) Order was established in 1120. They founded this monastery in 1185. In 1193, the Cistercians began an unholy war because they were envious of the Talley estate. Due to the order being broke, the church wasn’t completed; only the graveled area of the church.

The rest of the pictures were taken in the car, driving back to the chunnel. The first is a tree with feet and the others are from a town called Mayfield.

And that wraps up our vacation pictures.

Where did you vacation this summer? Or do you have any trips planned in the near future?

Outdoors, Old, and Preserved,
Baer Necessities

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31 Aug

Oh How Lovely!

That’s how it was in the UK. It also is what a Welshman said to me when he asked the name of our dog. When I said, “Shakespeare,” he responded, “Oh how lovely!” I couldn’t help but smile after that response.

Between my husband and me, we took over 500 pictures during out South Wales vacation. Instead of putting you to sleep, I thought I’d share only a few pictures with you. This will probably turn into a two-week share.

For those who don’t know, we went to South Wales, UK for vacation this summer. Unfortunately, the weather wasn’t the best but we still enjoyed ourselves. My husband is so wonderful. He did all the driving since I don’t know how to drive a manual (which I hate) car. I’m hoping we get an automatic car next year. Anyways, we drove from our place through the Netherlands, Belgium, and into France. From there, we took the Chunnel from Calais, France to the Cliffs of Dover, UK.

Before arriving at the Chunnel, we stopped at a coastal town in France called Escalles. The first picture is of a WWII bunker in a field. The next is a cross on the side of the road in Escalles, and the third is the beach.

We finally made it to the Chunnel—the 31 mile train that runs underneath the English Channel from Calais, France to Dover, UK.

Once we arrived in the UK and a good night’s sleep, we decided to explore before arriving at our destination. We drove through the Cotswolds known for its villages and historical towns made of stone. Take a peek at a few towns we stopped by; Burford and Lower Slaughters.

On our first full day in South Wales, we went on a waterfall walk. The area was beautiful, but extremely muddy. Good thing we brought our boots, although Shakespeare looked like he was dipped in ink.

We traveled to the coastal area to Cardigan Bay and walked along the Ceredigion Coast. There were several rainy days on our trip.

While driving around, we came across several reservoirs, and browsed a few towns. The first two pictures are by a reservoir, and the second is the Brecon canal in the town of Brecon.

I thought I’d end this post with another beautiful waterfall.

Stay tuned for next week, when we explore a castle and the Brecon Beacons.

Nature and Appreciation,
Baer Necessities

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24 Aug

Gosh! It’s Squash, How Posh

I recently turned 48, and through the years, I’ve recognized the importance of healthy eating. But it better taste good! 😀 Today, I’m going to introduce you to a new spin on squash. Fall is approaching, which is my favorite time of year. All the autumn delectable foods will be arriving soon, including squashes. I love me some squash, whether it be butternut, acorn, spaghetti, etc.

This recipe was inspired by the Tasteful Venture site with a few modifications. Of course my blog isn’t a food blog, nor do I have a fabulous camera, so I apologize in advance for the pictures. Fortunately for you, I didn’t take as many pictures of this recipe. They really don’t do the food justice, but believe me, you’ll be in heaven without feeling the blahs.01 - Spaghetti Squash with Italian Ground Beef fillingTo start, you will need an oven, along with these ingredients:

1 large Spaghetti Squash
1 lb. of ground turkey (beef or pork)
½ red pepper chopped
½ onion chopped
1 large garlic clove
2 stalks of fresh basil
2-1/2 cups of Marinara sauce or Denise’s homemade sauce (Recipe below)
½ to ¾ cup of ricotta cheese for both halves
¼ cup of grated Parmesan cheese for each half
Olive oil
1-1/2 to 2 T. Butter (depending on the size of squash)
Sea salt
Cracked black pepper

Instructions

1.  Preheat oven to 350 F (176 C) degrees
2.  Wash and cut Spaghetti Squash in half, lengthwise
3.  Scoop out the seeds, place the halves cut side up on a foiled line baking sheet.
4.  Brush melted butter over the insides of the squash and season with sea salt and pepper.

I use non-salted butter instead of olive oil because I believe it’s healthier and tastes better. It’s debatable, but from several articles (here’s one) I’ve read, butter is not processed like olive oil, which makes it better, and it has more vitamins. But the debate goes on…

5.  Bake the squash for an hour. While it’s cooking, prepare the filling.
6.  In large pan, add olive oil, red pepper, onion, and garlic. Cook on medium heat until the pepper and onion is softened, and then add the ground turkey until it’s cooked. Season with salt and pepper.
7.  Add in the marinara sauce, cook at medium heat for 5 minutes, and then turn low to simmer.
8.  Remove squash from oven and scrape the insides of each until it forms a spaghetti texture. Scrape as much as you can.
9.  On top of the spaghetti, add half of the filling to each squash half, and then put a layer of Ricotta cheese.

I used Ricotta, but you can use shredded Mozzarella, Gouda, or whatever other cheese you want.

10.  Then add about 3 to 4 large fresh Basil leaves, and top with grated Parmesan.
11. Bake for another 12 minutes and Voila! Dig in!

Denise’s Homemade Marinara Sauce

12 to 16 small to medium tomatoes
1 large fresh basil sprig
1 fresh Thyme sprig
1 large garlic clove
¼ cup of fresh Parmesan cheese
Olive oil
Salt
Cracked black pepper

01 - Tomato Sauce1.  Preheat the oven to 390 F (200 C). Cut the tomatoes in quarters and put in a large mixing bowl. Using a garlic press, squeeze in the garlic clove, salt, cracked pepper and olive oil.

Now I didn’t put an amount for the olive oil, because it depends on each person. I swirl the olive oil around the top of the tomatoes a few times. I don’t like it too oily.

2.  Mix everything together, and then add the parmesan cheese, mixing again.
3.  Put the tomato mixture on a lined cooking sheet and bake for about 35 minutes.
4.  While it’s cooking, wash the basil and thyme, and then remove the basil leaves and the thyme from the sprigs, throwing away the sprigs.
5.  When it’s done, take it out of the oven and cool for about 15 minutes.
6.  Take the large food processor container and add the tomatoes (with all the juice left on lining), basil leaves and thyme. Blend it on low at first to get it somewhat mixed. Remove for taste. If needed, add more salt and pepper. Blend higher for another minute and then put in a container.

03 - Tomato Sauce (2)I use some and then freeze the sauce for future recipes. 🙂

Hope you enjoyed today’s DEE-LISH recipe!

Love of Food and Cooking,
Baer Necessities

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