HALF-A-KNOT BEAN STEW

To celebrate cooking a recipe I had made since the year 2000, I’m posting this excerpt from a chapter of my first memoir, IF THE SHOE FITS (print ed.) I ONLY CUSS WHEN I’M SAILING (e-book ed.) Recently I had some friends over to share this dish, served with corn bread. The next day, one guest reported that at 2:30 a.m. he was awakened to sibilant sounds — and, as he put it, “the rise and fall of my comforter.” What can I say. It’s a fun, tasty recipe. This essay appeared in the Jan/Feb 2000 issue of LIVING ABOARD Magazine, in a slightly different form.

A SIBILANT SYMPHONY

“Ah! Wind, the sibilant symphony,” Tom says as a gust of wind tips us over sideways to 20 degrees.

“Sibilant?” I ask, bracing my legs against the opposite cockpit seat. I’m all too familiar with the halyard chorus that sings through the harbor during a howling wind, when hundreds of halyards clang against their masts–but now a sibilant symphony?

“Yes, it means having or making a hissing sound,” he announces.

“Oh,” I say, wondering why I’ve never heard of the word sibilant before. Where have I been? Obviously not in the wind. What am I doing out here sailing during a small craft advisory, wearing four layers of wool and my rain gear? I don’t even like drafts. I’m glad my mother will never know about this.

“Why use a bunch of little words when one or two big ones work so well?” Tom asks.

On this same outing–a long, cold evening passage across Bellingham Bay–I tell Tom, “You know, I’ve got to start cooking beans from scratch. They’re a cheap source of protein and they store well on passages even longer than this one.”

“What kind of beans?”

“Oh, lentils, split peas, garbanzos, black beans. They come in all colors. I’ll just paint us a meal or two with some beans and we’ll see how it goes. I want to learn to grow sprouts, too. You can’t go buying lettuce in the middle of the Pacific. Then there’s yogurt. And we can grind our own flour and make pasta.”

Tom continues his gaze over the bow toward the lights of the harbor.

“Are you listening?”

“You’re right,” he says. “We should start soon.”

We already eat tofu occasionally in stir fry. Tom and I had tried to introduce this delicacy to Jeff and Lee while we still lived in Montana. One evening, when this hare-brained sailboat scheme was in its infancy, we invited them to dinner to share the news. As my son pushed pieces of tofu off to the side of his plate we told him of our plans to buy a sailboat and sail to the Caribbean.

“First the tofu, now this,” he said earnestly. “You guys are losing it.”

“Lots of people do it,” I said. “You’d be surprised.”

“Just promise me you won’t go sailing in the Bermuda Triangle.”

“How fast do you go when you sail on the ocean?” Lee asked.

“Oh, six, maybe seven knots,” Tom said, as if they’d have a clue about a knot.

“That’s seven or eight miles an hour,” I said.

Jeff laughed so hard he cried, and we all joined him. “But you’re in your fifties!” he said through his tears, “You’ll never get there at that speed.”

As we amp up our diet to include home-made sprouts and bean dishes, we get wind of a previously unnoticed law of physics–that smells and noises expand to fit the space available. This is an unfortunate turn of events for someone who, in a former life, was quite possibly a canary used in gold mines to detect carbon monoxide. It doesn’t take long to realize that we need a much larger sailboat–preferably one the size of a barn. Thirty-seven feet just isn’t big enough.

I’ve been checking with other liveaboards on this topic. My local research has been lively. One woman tells me that when she and her husband were first married she held her discomfort, but her husband refused to do this because he feared it would make him sick. They almost got a divorce over the issue. Why don’t more people talk about a topic that has such potentially high stakes? Marriages could be saved. She finally decided she wasn’t going to suffer the pain of holding it in while enduring his free-for-all flatulence. So now she just lets fly and it’s no big deal. Their two little liveaboard doggies do it, too. That’s the consensus of all the couples I’ve interviewed on the subject. You become very tolerant and lower your air quality standards or you don’t live on a sailboat with another person, and certainly not dogs.

We find that the best defense is to go sailing immediately after eating beans or sprouts. It’s a sibilant symphony out there anyway and we’ve discovered that our cruising speed picks up about half a knot.

HALF-A-KNOT BEAN STEW

2-1/2 cups     Beans (garbanzo, pinto, black, red, etc.)

1                                  Onion, chopped

3 – 4                            Garlic Cloves, finely chopped

1 T.                              Canola Oil

2 tsp.                           Salt

Dash                           Pepper

1 can                           Tomatoes, diced, in juice (16 oz.)

1 can                           Tomato sauce (8 oz.)

4 T.                             Brown sugar

2                                  Carrots, cut up

1 – 2 lbs.                     Lean Ground Beef (or lamb or goat) – optional

Sort and clean beans, rinse.  Cover beans in crock pot with 6 cups water.  Simmer approx. ½ hour.  Set where it is cool over night.

Next day, saute meat and dispose of any fat.  Saute onion and garlic in oil.  Place in pot with beans and all other ingredients.  If using a crock pot, cook 4 hours on high; 4 hours on low. On stove top simmer until done. Prior to serving, adjust salt, pepper and brown sugar to taste.

Serve with corn bread and a salad (be sure to include sprouts).

 

The Stump Ranch Chronicles

I had the good fortune of growing up on what was called a “stump ranch.” A stump ranch is a parcel of land that has been logged by an individual or company and then sold to a private individual for a low price. In our situation, the parcel of land was 80 acres and only the trees in the valley had been logged. The slash was burned. After a few years, the grass and wild strawberries flourished among the fire-blackened stumps, and the steep hillsides that surrounded us on three sides were conifer covered. My sisters and I had many adventures on this large piece of land. Later, when I attended the University of Idaho, I saw aerial photos of the stump ranch and it was plain to see the valley was an ancient oxbow of the Priest River.

Now my granddaughter, Madison, is 10 and reads a lot. So I have been sharing my childhood stories with her. We do not live near each other most of the year, so this has been a fun way to communicate. As I send them to M, I’ll post a few of them here. The first one was inspired by stories I read in Roughing It by Mark Twain.

THE FASTEST LITTLE WAGON IN THE WEST

The boss chose me special to make the delivery from Deadwood and I was traveling alone on my stagecoach wagon.  No passengers, no mail, and no one riding shotgun. There was just enough room for me, riding high on a powder box, and with a bag of the biggest gold nuggets in all of Idaho Territory.

This was dangerous work. The route was infested with robbers, those heathen pirates of the old west.  To make things worse, my wagon was painted bright red and you could see me coming for a mile.  But boy could we fly.  When I’d shake the reins and yell YE-HAH, the frisky little rusty-haired filly pulling my wagon would go, W-H-I-N-N-A, shake her mane and speed up.

Yep. I sat high on that box and raced toward the sunset over the hard, dirt road to Squirrel, where I planned to grab a bite to eat and rest the night. You could get the best fresh bread in the west, at the Squirrel Stage Station. The wheels purred along, but would my horse hold up at this breakneck speed? My six-guns rested easy in their holsters, and I wore my hat low to keep the afternoon sun out of my eyes. Just then, as if on cue, two robber’s ripped out of the bushes up ahead next to the road, cap guns blazing, black and white dog barking its head off.

Stop! Stop! They yelled. Can’t you see this is a hold up?”

Whoa! Whoa! I said, bringing the stage to a halt.I could see it was no use trying to outrun them. Not this time.

OK, OK. Just don’t shoot me, I said, my hands reaching high into the thin Idaho air.

They holstered their guns and threw their sorry stick horses aside.

Now, give us the gold. We know you got some.

Find it yerself! I said.

Git down off that wagon, said the bigger outlaw, followed by, Patsy, you guard that rotten gopher so she won’t try anything funny.

I did what I was told. What can you do, when there=s a gun at your head. I watched the head goon lift one corner of the box on my wagon and grab my sack of gold.

This is more fun when you play fair and stop so we can rob you, the younger outlaw said.

Well, if you’ll split the gold with me, I’ll stop next time, too. With no more loot, my horse spent, and my wheels awhobble, it was a good time to make such a promise.

It’s a deal. Now git back up on your wagon and we’ll all ride slow and easy to the station.  

As we pulled up next to an old gray pickup in front of the stage station, our mother stepped out onto the porch and yelled, Girls, time for dinner.

bufforpingtons

NOTES ON WRITING A SCREENPLAY

Here’s how it went down. A good friend with a cousin living in L.A. (a screenwriter), sent him my two memoirs, I Only Cuss When I’m Sailing and its sequel, the award-winning, My Next Husband Will Be Normal – A St. John Adventure. Months went by. I forgot about it. And then she called to say that he thinks the memoirs would make a good film, but he couldn’t take on a spec screenplay because he’s busy with other projects. For a six figure amount, however, he would eventually have time to work on it.

Since a writer friend had taken a workshop and burped out a screenplay, and since I don’t do Christmas, I thought, Hell, I’ll just write it myself over the holidays. What do I have to lose? I had no clue. If you are toying with the idea, I can tell you that writing a screenplay might look easy but is tremendously difficult. Basically, my screenplay needed to be a haiku version of 600 pages from two memoirs. 105 pages tops, with lots of “white space” on each page. Hah! It’s relatively easy to write crappy haiku, but just try to do what Rumi did!

You will need screenplay writing software, because the format is excruciatingly specific. Whether you take a workshop or not, you will want to read books on how to do it. I read The Art of Adaptation: Turning Fact and Fiction into Film by Linda Seger, and Your Screenplay Sucks! – 100 ways to make it great by William M. Akers. Both were helpful. You will want to read screenplays and watch the films, but don’t read the screenplays written by a film’s director, because he gets to take liberties you can’t afford with a speculative screenplay. You will spend hours reading online forums about what works and what doesn’t, and about the contests you can enter along with the thousands of others who write screenplays, many with degrees specific to writing screenplays.

You will perform minimal housework. You will decline social opportunities. In terms of your story, you will create composite characters and rearrange the truth. You will leave out scenes of major importance. And even with the significant drama and humor in my story, key events must be on steroids. This is Hollywood. Once you do all of that, you need feedback. I emailed my Act 1 of 36 pages to the friend who’d taken the workshop. Okay, so you only get 10 – 15 pages for Act 1, and no one would care about most of what I wrote, but I prefer my feedback with a touch of sugar.

And then, in this remote, curious little town of 800 inhabitants, I found a young man writing screenplays. M. G. Garrison — a UCLA grad, no less — who agreed to work with me for a pittance, compared to what he’s worth. He turned out to be a miracle worker, I swear. After his encouragement, professional notes, and line-by-line comments on my new first 50 pages, I was able to finish the entire draft. Hooray, he said. Not everyone’s able to do that. He then repeated his performance on this draft, and while I have a few major overhauls to take care of, I believe I can end up with a screenplay I will be proud to pitch. This talented young man is moving to L.A. Watch for his name on TV shows and films. And someday I wouldn’t be surprised to see him at the Academy Awards.

Jellyfish Stew – poem

In looking around online, lo and behold I discover there’s a poem called Jellyfish Stew. And here I thought it was a new term, invented by friend, Radha, when she found herself swimming at a bay on the island of St. John — She said, “There were so many jelly fish, it was like swimming in a jellyfish stew!”
I found this information about the author of this poem: In 2006, the Poetry Foundation named Prelutsky the inaugural winner of the Children’s Poet Laureate award.  He appeared on the popular animated television series Arthur, in the episode “I’m a Poet.” His book Behold the Bold Umbrellaphant and Other Poems (illustrated by Carin Berger) won the 2007 Scandiuzzi Children’s Book Award of the Washington State Book Awards in the Picture Book category. Jack Prelutsky lives in Seattle.
JELLYFISH STEW

Jellyfish stew/I’m loony for you/I dearly adore you/you’re creepy to see

revolting to chew/you slide down inside with hullabaloo.

You’re soggy, you’re smelly/you taste like shampoo,

you bog down my belly/with oodles of goo,

yet I would glue noodles/and prunes to my shoe,

for one oozy spoonful/of jellyfish stew.

By – Jack Prelutsky

 

Where’s the love?

I am participating in the Where’s the Love Blog Hop

WHEN

  • The hop goes live February 14th & 15th

 WHAT YOU GET OUT OF IT

  • Free feedback on your scene from readers, plus the fun of being enraptured by all of those love-ly scenes. Meeting writer friends is a bonus!
  • There will also be a random drawing for a chocolatey and delicious prize.

This is an excerpt from my novel The Bluebird House — A Brothel. A Diary. A Murder. And in this Valentine’s Day piece, A Rescue!

RAETheBluebirdHouse

Ben removes his parka and folds it around my feet and legs before he unbuttons his thick shirt, lifts me onto his lap and holds me against his chest, wrapping his shirt over me and covering my face. He bows his head and I feel his hot breath on my face and the furnace warmth from his huge chest.

“Molly, Molly,” he says, rocking me like a baby. “Started out as soon as I heard Chug barking. Ran as fast as I could. You’ll be all right. As soon as you’re warm enough, I’ll take you home to my cabin.”

He picks me up and carries me out of the tree well I had skied into, and wraps me again, this time in each side of his open parka. I rest against the warmth. As he steps forward on each snowshoe, I move with his body—a rhythmic, swimming motion. My legs dangle, lifeless and numb, off to the side like loose ropes. At one point he walks so fast that the motion is jerky. I groan, and he slows down again. And then I remember—when Ben first arrived, he called me darling.

The creak of a door stirs me. The sudden warmth of a room flows over me and I feel myself being laid out onto a bed. My ski boots are being unlaced, my ski pants unzipped and pulled off. As if I’m a small helpless child, I feel Ben’s large hands fumble as he removes my jacket, my sweater, my pullover. Wearing only my wool socks and silk long underwear, I am rolled to one side and covered, head to toe, with blankets and quilts. My teeth are chattering. Ben lies down beside me. What is happening?  But I am too cold, too weak, to resist. Wrapped in his arms, as if in a cocoon, Ben holds my body against his, against the warm thin wool of his long underwear.

He caresses my hair as he speaks. “I’m so glad I found you. You’re safe now. You’ll be all right.”

I’d appreciate any feedback! And please also go and visit other these other awesome Blog Hop participants: Candie CampbellKris WaldherrTonia Marie HarrisJanet OakleyDonna BarkerJulianne DouglasBetsy AshtonJess ShiraArabella StokesMegan HennesseyBarb Taub, Janet B. Taylor and Laura Kenyon

Happy Valentine’s Day to all you beautiful bloghoppers.

One Indie Author’s Flash of Insight

In an attempt to post more often to my blog without worrying that it “ain’t gonna change the world,” here’s a mini rant/blurt from a writing practice session I did with Nancy Canyon:

I sniff my armpits. My deodorant has failed again from the stress of trying to “indie” publish my second novel while promoting the three books I already have “out there,” books hardly anyone knows exists.  A writing pal with time on her hands drops by. She has some suggestions on how to work smarter, not harder.

“Oh,” she says. “Just get 15 good reviews. There are websites that will post interviews with you.”

That’s easy for her to say. She writes fantasy, and you know those readers. They don’t work; they just sit around all day writing book reviews.

Well, let me tell you,” I say, but she’s already out the door, headed for her brand new Prius that’s parked in the driveway behind my old white Toyota pickup with its 237,000 miles on it. And that was before the odometer broke some years back.

And I wonder, How hard could it be to write fantasy instead of regular old books, mostly inspired by my errant choices in life?  When I ask google about the difficulty angle, I end up clicking from one excerpt to the next, and orderg eight e-books to complement my research. “I’ll show you smarter.” I read the books to see how it’s done. This takes ten days. Now I think I’ll just change a few details about my life, like the century, locations and names, and I’ll write me some fantasy, too.

A Sawmill. A Tragedy. A Few Gutsy Women.

Excerpt from CHEATING THE HOG – a novel.

My new boss, Leroy, walks like a robot as he leads me across the mill yard, past snow banks taller than we are, and around the side of a metal building. He stops and points up. “Your first job’s out here.”

I strain my neck to look into the darkness, about twenty feet up. I can’t say what I’m thinking, and that is, Yer shittin’ me.

“Logs get sent up that ramp and through the debarker,” he says, hands on hips. “See those L-shaped teeth up there?”

The yard light is dim. I can almost see what he’s talking about.

“Those are called dogs,” he says. “They stabilize the logs on their way up the debarker ramp. At the top, the cedar bark peels off in long strips. Gets all tangled up. Freezes in the debarker and the dogs.” He points to a steep metal stairway, more like a ladder. “Need you to climb up there and remove all that frozen bark.” He studies me. “Okay?”

“Sure.” I say, hoping this is one of those initiation gags, like the one where an old lumberjack asks you to go find the knot-puller, that he’s counting on you.

Leroy hands me a heavy round metal bar about three feet long and yells, “Here’s a chisel.”

I guess the foreplay is over.

Gripping the chisel in my leather gloves, I climb the narrow metal stairs up two flights, and creep along a catwalk in the dim night sky, gripping a handrail with my free hand. Dead woman walking. I step onto the debarker ramp and don’t stop to look around at the stars. With the chisel end of the bar, I stab at a clot of tangled, frozen cedar bark, then lay the chisel down on the ramp and, with both hands hanging on tight to the big tooth called a dog, I kick at the loosened bark. I crawl to the next dog to jerk at strips of bark with my frozen fingers in my stiff gloves, grunting and cussing clouds of steam. Frozen bits of bark break loose and fall to the ground. Only rapists and murderers should have to do this job.

If I’m going to reach the frozen cedar bark underneath the dogs, there’s only one way to do it. I’ve gotta hang from the steel I-beam. If there’s an easier way, I can’t see it, and the job didn’t exactly come with instructions. I lock my left arm around the beam, wrap my legs around that same cold hunk of steel, and lock my ankles together. Might’s well be hanging onto a capsized boat out in the ocean, sharks circling. With my right hand gripping the chisel, I stab at the ice, grunting steam in the frigid air. My safety glasses fog up.

While I wait for my glasses to clear, I think about the stages of hypothermia. Then I ponder the uses for cedar—like cedar siding, cedar chests, a trunk to store your valuables in . . . yeah, like a hope chest. All I ever really wanted was to settle down with Dwayne. Except he’s dead, and now’s not a good time to think about that.

I chisel, claw, and pull until I score another loose tongue and let it, too, drop to the ground. Sore, strained body parts are one thing, but now my imagination runs wild. I picture the muscles of my left arm exploding and ripping out of the socket. My legs fail. Down I go, and since I’m frozen stiff, I bounce when I hit the ground. Pieces of me shatter.

Aren’t there laws against jobs like this? Hell, even circus performers have safety nets. Now there’s no feeling left in my arm, the one holding tight to the beam. If I fall and survive, I’ll end up in a wheelchair. I yell into the dark at my new boss, at all my old bosses, at my life, “I can do this job, don’t think I can’t.”

WHAT DARWIN SAID ABOUT MUSIC

This post relates to a choice I made that prompted me to write my novel, THE BLUEBIRD HOUSE.  Future posts will reveal other choices, and how there’s a fine line between bravery and foolishness–but also how “bad” choices can result in “good” books.

“So, do you make bad choices so you’ll have something to write about?” a new acquaintance once asked.

It was an honest question, one that set me to thinking about my life.  I had made some bonehead decisions.  When any sane person would “just say no,” I’ve often said, “Oh, why not? What the hell.” Maybe it’s because I grew up in rural northern Idaho in the 1950s, where there were no fences, and very few boundaries. Besides, how do you know what works or doesn’t work for you unless you don’t try new things?  It’s a good way to evolve.
In the 1990s I worked in Helena, MT, for the U.S. Forest Service. During this time, I made several choices that would come to haunt me.  Or, as a former boss would say, “We’d better watch out what we do here, or this is gonna rise up and bite us in the future.”
One choice that turned out to have real teeth was this:  For the price of a used car I bought a collection of derelict buildings in an old mining camp about sixteen miles southwest of Helena. You can see ramshackle buildings like these all over Montana, slowly returning to nature. My two log cabins and one-story timber frame structure sat without foundations on the banks of Ten Mile Creek. It was May, 1992, when I first saw the place. The sun was shining and the birds were singing.
I scratched my head and said, “Oh, why not? What the hell.”
Soon after signing the papers, I learned that the two-story building had been one of the seventeen brothels in the Rimini Mining District. I found a newspaper article in the walls, How to Turn a Hotel into a Brothel and Break All Ten Comandments in One Night.  Oh, the novelty.  And the old girl needed me. If she didn’t get a new roof before winter, the whole shitteree would fall to the ground in a pile of kindling.
A new boyfriend said, “What this place needs is a can of gasoline and a match.”
I stopped dating him.
I found a local carpenter, one with vision.  He entered the building, stepped carefully over the rotten floor boards, looked around and announced, “First you’ll need all new rafters to support a new roof.  But see here? The walls are wowed-out half a foot on each side. Before we can do anything, I’ll have to use winches, chains and pulleys to see if we can square the building.”
It worked.  Then after the roof, complete with skylights, was installed, he said, “Now you need a foundation to support the weight of the roof.”
“Oh, why not?  What the hell,” I said.
But I learned you can’t get a home improvement loan on a pile of boards. I’d have to pay cash for all materials and labor.  As I poked around my old building, pondering my dilemma, thoughts of Darwin and his theory of evolution kept entering the picture.  I found another article in a tattered magazine, stuffed in the wall:
WHAT DARWIN SAID ABOUT MUSIC 
“If I had to live my life again I would make a rule to read some poetry and listen to some music at least once every week, for the loss of these tastes is a loss of happiness, and may possibly be injurious to the intellect and more probably to the moral character by enfeebling the emotional part of our nature.”
That sealed the deal.  However, in order to afford my project, I had to give up my nice apartment in town and move into the brothel.  Friends helped me move my bed upstairs under the skylights. I brought my stereo system, an antique rocking chair, and my two cats.  Winter was coming on, so I had a wood stove installed and bought firewood. Only a few amenities were lacking–indoor plumbing and running water.
Soon after moving in, the spook factor kicked in.
This tale of choices I’ve made that resulted in three different books will continue.

For more info on THE BLUEBIRD HOUSE at Amazon:  http://tinyurl.com/7yansvo
For print edition see:  http://createspace.com/3772762

What choice have you made that some might call “bad,” but turned out to be good, or at least prompted you to write a book?