life between the pages

“I spent my life folded between the pages of books.
In the absence of human relationships I formed bonds with paper characters. I lived love and loss through stories threaded in history; I experienced adolescence by association. My world is one interwoven web of words, stringing limb to limb, bone to sinew, thoughts and images all together. I am a being comprised of letters, a character created by sentences, a figment of imagination formed through fiction.”
Tahereh Mafi, Shatter Me

Monday, December 14, 2015

Review: A Place Called Rainwater

A Place Called Rainwater (Jazz Age, #3)A Place Called Rainwater by Dorothy Garlock
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

Sometimes this author really nails it with a story, and sometimes she falls a bit short. Elements and characters I loved were Blue & Radna, Hunter & Laura, Justine, and the setting in a small town undergoing great change due to oil fields nearby. Her villains are beyond creepy, and the one in this book takes the Christmas pudding. But Thad & Jill, who were the focus of the story, just didn't really have the synergy and chemistry of the main characters in some of her books. I like them well enough, but their difficulties seemed to be contrived. Maybe I've just read too many in this series.

This story is fiction but contains a couple of characters based on real-life lawmen who lived in Oklahoma. Would really like to have seen a bit more of Laura's backstory as well as Radna's. Garlock's secondary characters in this book really carry the story, and are the main reason I gave the book three stars instead of just two.

View all my reviews

Monday, November 23, 2015

Wednesday, November 18, 2015

the anarchy of nature

A forward shift in time and possibility ...eglantine - the sweetbrier rose - with graceful blushes lets us know that fall approaches, celebrating the last burnished notes of summer

...and in like manner, willow heralds the spring with effusive yet subtle gestures in palest green.

In the fall, the summer birches shed their green for pumpkin, burgundy, rich yellows, molten gold. They stand, godlike, unaware and unheeding of our passing.

In November the world is setting the stage for sleep, to rest awhile before the cycle begins again. The promise of delicious, rose-colored fruit glistens in the midst of soft rain, held aloft on greenbriar branches, steady and peaceful. In the quiet you can feel the gentle pinpricks of preparation, feel the heartbeat of movement that carries us, blissful, through the coldest months until the rising sap presses up the stems and new life bursts upon us once again.

Wishing you a restful winter, and a joyous awakening in the months to come.

Sunday, August 16, 2015

Sweet, Sweet Sunday

Sunday is a day of rest, goes the old adage, and I do subscribe to it. But today I'm making jam with plums my aunt, uncle, cousin, and I picked last Sunday afternoon from the ancient tree in my yard. I also hung out a load of laundry earlier, a ritual I crave for its simplicity and tactile pleasure.

It isn't work if you love it and it relaxes, reaffirms you. No, I truly believe it's part of the dance of the good life.

Together we picked 25 pounds of fruit last weekend. My aunt usually makes a simple jam based on an old USDA recipe. The wonderful thing about fresh-picked damsons is, in spite of the fact that they are a clingstone fruit, there is usually very little waste. From the entire batch I only found three plums I had to discard due to blemishes or rot. They are sturdy and simple to clean; the stems usually pop right off without tugging.

Here's my recipe for the jam, or rather preserves since I don't grind up all the pulp and fruit skin in a blender and it uses less sugar. I like the texture of the simple combination of fruit in its own rich nectar, and the slow simmering preserves the most flavour:

Damson Plum Preserves

10 lbs fresh plums, washed & picked
3 c water
6 c organic cane sugar

Place plums and water in large dutch oven, cover, and heat slowly at medium temperature, stirring occasionally to prevent sticking. When the mixture boils, set timer for 30 minutes. Keep covered and reduce heat to medium-low, stirring occasionally. Stir with wooden spoon and press lightly to encourage splitting of the pulp, which will make the pits easier to remove later. Reduce heat if necessary to keep from boiling over, and continue simmering for an additional 20 minutes.

When the mixture has cooked thoroughly for at least an hour, pulp has absorbed the dark red coloring of the mixture and the liquid has reduced slightly, turn off and set aside half-covered for about an hour until it is cool enough to touch. Stir lightly and pour mixture through a sieve into a large plastic or glass bowl, pressing to get as much pulp as possible to separate from the pits. Stir and return to dutch oven; set mixture aside.

Working over a second clean bowl, carefully remove pits from the remainder of the mixture in the sieve and discard them. When the remainder has been picked clean of pits, return it to the rest of the mixture and combine with sugar. Stir thoroughly.

Place mixture back in heavy saucepan or dutch oven, cover, and heat slowly to boiling a second time. Be careful not to heat too quickly or scorching can occur. Cook carefully over medium- to medium-low temperature until mixture reaches 220 degrees. This may take an hour, more or less. Boil for ten minutes until jell stage is reached. Remove from heat and allow to cool slightly, checking for thickening.

Pour into hot, clean jars, seal, and process in water bath canner for 10 minutes. Alternately, I am told you can skip the processing if your jars have been boiled and sterilized. A friend does it this way:
... when I do jelly and jam I try to take the jars out of hot water or dishwasher and fill with boiling jam. Then put on lids and invert on counter for five minutes and then turn right side up and wait for ping. I don't use a canner for jelly or jam as the product is hot and sterile, the jar is hot and sterile, and the lids are hot and sterile and they seal nicely. Never lost a jar this way, only in pressure canner.
While the jam is cooling, go check the laundry. Stretch your arms up high. Breathe in the goodness.

Images and content copyright (c) 2015 Susannah Eanes. All rights reserved.

Wednesday, July 22, 2015

Goodreads Giveaway: Free Copies of Lucky Southern Women!

Goodreads Book Giveaway

Lucky Southern Women by Susannah Eanes

Lucky Southern Women

by Susannah Eanes

Giveaway ends August 21, 2015.

See the giveaway details at Goodreads.

Enter Giveaway

Monday, May 25, 2015

The Five Basics of a Healthy Diet

Often, people ask me if I might help them shop for groceries. It seems that they believe I must know some secret for making quick and efficient work of this chore.

Well, perhaps I do.

Over 20 years ago I was diagnosed with systemic lupus erythematosus, or SLE - commonly referred to as just "lupus." Through trial and error I found a few keys to making life easier. One of these was a diet based on these five basic ideas:

1. Simple
2. Fresh
3. Local
4. Organic
5. Varied

You can remember them by looking at your hand, where it just so happens that there are five fingers - one for each basic idea.

Cool, huh?

These five keys do simplify grocery shopping, meal planning, and food preparation a great deal. Choices that aren't so good for you are immediately eliminated by keeping them in mind.

Each key can be further described as follows:

In its most basic terms, simple means as few ingredients as possible. It is the first tenet of a basic lifestyle and diet. For instance, when you take a look at the ingredient list printed on a container of food - a loaf of bread, a can of soup, a box of cereal, you should be able to cover it lengthwise with one finger. If a few words or lines of text peek out below that finger, put it back. It isn't simple. Too many ingredients mean food additives and things that aren't really food. You don't need that stuff in your life.
Simple means basic, plain vegetables, fruits, meats, and grains. You can combine them in your kitchen. If you decide to purchase something someone else has made, keep that simple rule in mind. Their list of ingredients shouldn't be any longer than it would be if you'd made it yourself.

Not canned, frozen, pickled, dried, or otherwise preserved. Eat predominantly fresh foods every day. Use preserved foods sparingly. Preserving food is sometimes necessary, but be mindful that it introduces extra ingredients (see "simple") such as salt, flavorings, sugar, and other things you don't want too much of. If you want to preserve foods you can do it yourself. Make your own jams, bread, yogurt, chili beans, pizza, cookies, meat loaf, pudding. You'll know what's in it, and you don't have to worry about things you can't pronounce cluttering up your intestines and causing all sorts of unpleasantness.

The closer something is to your table, the less likely it is to have additives and other questionable unpleasantness like extra sugar, salt, and preservatives. Local means the farmer just outside of town, the dairy up the road, catfish from the river. If you're eating foods from your neighborhood you're going to be more aware of things that might affect your health. Local means fresh, simple, and varied. Local also means fewer environmental impacts in getting that food to you. And that's always a bargain.

One day, we'll all eat this way. Pesticides, herbicides, feedlots and unnecessary pharmaceuticals in our foods cost more and drive up the cost of production. Don't reward bad behavior. Remember, eating organic means you're putting less questionable things in your body. It's better for the earth -- better for our streams, soils, and the air we breathe. But do your research - make sure the company behind the label is reputable and isn't just "greenwashing."

If we go by what's in season not only will we be eating the freshest, healthiest food, but we're assured of a constantly changing variety. Sure, you may go on a binge and want to eat peanut butter for lunch three days in a row, or a week's worth of salads, but normally you won't want to press it beyond that. A varied diet means plenty of choices in color and texture; it means meats and potatoes, soups and sandwiches, nuts, fruits and cheeses. It means raw and cooked, bland and spicy. Use herbs, vinegars, piquant vegetables, peppery spices and creamy milks to add interest and nutrition when you prepare meals. Variety also means don't do it all yourself. Ask for help - children and those who might not normally be found in the kitchen will enjoy meals they helped bring to fruition.

A few final thoughts - 
Given a choice between an organic vegetable shipped across the country and a local but conventional one - choose the local. Many local farms actually use a minimum of artificial pesticides and additives, but haven't been certified because of the cost of the labeling. Bottom line - know where your food comes from. Make sure the actual cost of the food is reflected in your choices. "Cheap" is rarely better, and almost always doesn't take into account the cost to the earth or society. Which means - we'll be paying for it in the long run.

Good food is like medicine. It's an investment in your health. Choose wisely, and you'll reap the rewards of your wisdom!

Sunday, April 26, 2015

A Handful of Breakfast

"Handful of Breakfast" Bars

Yield: 9 bars
Pre-heat oven to 375 and prepare baking sheet with light coating of vegetable oil

Into large bowl, sift together:
1 c whole-wheat flour
1 tsp baking soda
1/2 tsp salt
1 tsp cinnamon
1/4 tsp nutmeg

Add in and combine:
1 1/4 c old-fashioned oatmeal
2 tbsp whole flax seed
1/3 c currants
1/3 c blanched almonds
1/2 c toasted pepitas
1/4 c brown sugar
1/3 c mini chocolate chips (optional)

In separate smaller bowl, blend:
1/2 c. plain greek yogurt *or* regular yogurt
2 eggs
1/4 c apple juice

Add all together and mix well.

Form by handfuls into small rectangular flat loaves and place on oiled baking sheet. Bake at 375 degrees for 18-20 minutes. Remove from pan immediately and place on waxed paper to cool. Wrap individually to store.

Friday, March 06, 2015

Dreams and Second Chances

Heartbreak Ridge to Heartsong Rise

It sat on the high hills surrounded by a magnificent view, overlooking a cool and inviting stream, as it had for over two hundred years. Each brick had been formed by hand from the clay of the riverbottom, and painstakingly laid in neat rows, held in place by mortar of ash and lime. A small but beautiful plot of land remained of the original plantation, the best nine acres that nourished three springs and beautiful willows. The skeletal remnants of a boxwood garden and a family cemetery stood in silent testament to the families who had lived in, and cared about, this place.

Unfortunately, when we visited sixteen years ago, the mansion was a crumbling wreck.

The foundation was failing, due to someone's uninformed decision to cut through the summer beam that supported the central portion of the house to expand the stairwell descending from the first floor into the basement kitchen. The house was collapsing in on itself, the south wall cracking in protest where a huge failure was visible and would only grow without substantial investment of time, money, and even prayer. The home had been largely otherwise untouched, boasting much evidence of pride, craftmanship, and bustling activity dating from the original late 18th century construction date, including candleboxes in all the first-floor windowsills, thumbprints in the brickwork, once-polished and gleaming hard yellow-pine floors, horsehair plaster, and original paint finishes on the upstairs bedroom doors.

The wooden lintels had collected rain and leached moisture into the brickwork on the outside, causing the mortar to crumble, sad evidence of imminent failure under the sagging weight of the entire front facade - it looked like an old man with the baggy undereyes and downturned lips of a hard life etched across his cheeks.

So many reasons, so much work to do that involved thousands of hours of labor and dollars. So many dollars.

We turned in despair and walked slowly away, taking many dreams and heartfelt agonies of lost potential with us. Husband called it "Heartbreak Ridge," in an attempt to make light of the situation.

But no more. Someone with the wit, patience, and an adequate bank account, had saved it. Unbelievably, now it stands, a larger and steady presence, ready to be occupied once more by a family, a business, someone with even larger dreams.Some of what was done isn't really historically supported, but hey - it remains. It didn't collapse, after all. Hurrah!

Here's to living history, and second chances.

Thursday, February 05, 2015

the writer as pilgrim

Two articles leapt at my consciousness this week, both about writing. And suddenly, I know how to go forward from here.

The first, The Price I Pay to Write, by Laura Bogart and published online in Dame Magazine, reflects on the difficulties of wedging time to write within the framework of days fraught with other responsibilities having to do with caring for children, putting food on the table, and - oh yeah - doing the work you actually get paid to do.

The second, about Annie Dillard and entitled The Thoreau of the Suburbs, by Diana Saverin, didn't so much tell me things about the author's experiences in writing a Pulitzer-winning nonfiction work in her twenties as it revealed something of what I already knew. (The Dillard's home is well known to us in the Hollins community, and while it surprised me for an instant to see the somewhat nondescript brick ranch just over the little bridge where she lived while working on the book, it didn't really register what a marvelous feat of alchemy she had performed in getting most of us to believe she lived alone in the woods while writing.) As Saverin points out, it's what she left out that instills in us the knowledge of her experience. And isn't that what we're told in writing class - omit that which doesn't contribute to the story, and therefore does not need to be included? Trim, trim, and cut and trim again, until we have the fine, distilled essence of truth.

No one is ever going to know - or care, really - that you went to the grocery store, had two kids in college, and worked a rather boring but remunerative nine-to-five while crafting your massive, awesome book. Can you tell that this frightening yet exhilarating treatise on fecundity was penned while living an ordinary life in a city of about 100,000 people? No? Moreover, does it matter - does it make it any less powerful and interesting? Well, then.

Sometimes things are so subtle I miss them the first - and second and even third - times.

But here it is: you don't have to change your life to write. You just need to do it. Do it when you might otherwise be watching a movie, reading a novel, cleaning off the staircase and putting laundry away. Those things will wait, at least until tomorrow. Today, we can write. A friend noted recently that if you write only 250 words a day by the end of a year you will have 90,000 words - a decent body of writing in anyone's world. And from thence you can whittle and shape and re-arrange, much easier now through cutting and pasting than in the days before word processors when Dillard used index cards.

In these few stolen moments between phone calls I've made tea and written nearly 500 words. By the time this is done it will be closer to six hundred. This is what is called progress. Exercise the fingers, broaden the links between mind and word and screen (or paper, if you prefer). No one is picking up the tab, nobody's awarding us an honorarium for letters, and there's no housekeeper to answer the phone or the door. But we can keep going, we keep writing and we end up with words - words for tomorrow, next week, and the week after - and as they accumulate they turn from sentences into paragraphs, paragraphs into essays, stories, and yes, even novels. Or nonfiction - truth, if you will - distilled from life.

Bravo! Now keep going!

Tuesday, January 13, 2015

winter, warm and humble

Then came old January wrapped well in many weeds to keep the cold away
Edmund Spenser, The Faerie Queene

Cold weather tends to bring out the hibernation in some of us. I happen to subscribe to this tendency, and do not apologize. Nothing seems more apt when the wind howls at the door than to curl up with a good book, snuggled deep in the blankets, the better to doze when the inclination takes us.

“I sit beside the fire and think
Of all that I have seen
Of meadow flowers and butterflies
In summers that have been

Of yellow leaves and gossamer
In autumns that there were
With morning mist and silver sun
And wind upon my hair

I sit beside the fire and think
Of how the world will be
When winter comes without a spring
That I shall ever see

For still there are so many things
That I have never seen
In every wood in every spring
There is a different green

I sit beside the fire and think
Of people long ago
And people that will see a world
That I shall never know

But all the while I sit and think
Of times there were before
I listen for returning feet
And voices at the door”

J. R. R. Tolkien, The Fellowship of the Ring