Rabble Rousers & Hooligans – Win a Doodle!!

Last year, the Dogpatch *forced* Mike Allegra to draw the cutest salamander, named Sully, for Laurel’s poetry gig. What can we squeeze outta him this year? Hmmm? Go ahead, enter the competition. You know you want to….Screen Shot 2016-03-30 at 12.43.21 PM

Win A Doodle! Woo!

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Upside Down

Hello from the Dogpatch! It’s dogfight time again, and this time we’re duking it out over an essay by Laurel Leigh, slated for a collection called Home Is a Handstand.

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His familiar voice on the phone takes me backward in time, and I want his speech to be the language of Coach, those reassuring tones that let me know I can jump and fly oh so high, only now he’s just this regular guy, sounding baffled and hurt at being snubbed by a gal, and as yet unused to the garb of the newly divorced. And looking to me as someone who’s been there (twice) and seems to have it all figured out, and asking me for advice on ways to cope. Advice I can and do give, from that adult part of myself, the older, wiser me whom the other versions grew into. — from Home Is a Handstand.

Wes PierceWes sez: Let me say, first off, I found this essay deeply moving. The manner in which you expose yourself and lay bare your deepest feelings for two of the most important men in your life — your father and your former gymnastics coach — is both brave and, in its way, awe-inspiring. I might even have cried while reading this piece; but, being a man, I cannot possibly admit to that. So I’m going to punt on this one and say I ‘might’ have cried.

The essay starts off with a terrific opening line about deciding to get fit again at the (comically specific) age of fifty-one and three quarters. This opening line establishes the tone of the piece from the outset: funny and self-deprecating and cutting-to-the-bone in its honesty. The notion of losing weight and getting fit again also serves as a nice framing device for the piece; but the real heart of your essay — for me — is about learning, through time and experience and pain-staking trial-and-error, to heal one’s self.

The narrator (or protagonist) of the essay has reached a point in her life where she yearns for the company of another person, specifically a man. More specifically, the old male friend with whom she shares long phone conversations about his recent divorce and his lurching attempts to get back into the dating game.

There is a nice informality to the tone of the essay, which serves to undercut (in a good way) the anguish and loneliness that permeates the entire piece. If the piece didn’t have this informal, self-deprecating tone it would be almost too painful to read. But as it is now, the essay is both funny and entertaining. The reader is not entertained at the expense of the narrator’s unhappiness; the reader is instead drawn in by the brave and funny voice of the narrator, and in this way the reader can both sympathize and empathize with her. We have all been there, longing for someone who can’t see our longing, even though it’s written all over our face.

There is also an overarching feeling of loss running throughout the essay; the sense of time passing, and the feeling that there’s nothing we can do to slow or stem the flow. We can only sit back, stunned, and marvel at how quickly the years have slipped by. But to leaven this sense of loss, in your essay there is also a buoyant sense of not giving up, of continuing the fight. There is the funny, uplifting sense of not going gentle into that good night, of raging — hilariously — against the dying of the light. Continue reading

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It’s Simply Ramen Time

Simply Ramen by Amy Kimoto-Kahn

Monday: Teriyaki Beef-Wrapped Asparagus Ramen • Tuesday: Kabocha Ramen made with nutty winter squash and topped with mushrooms and arugula for a flavorful veges dish • Wednesday:  a trip to the sea with Southern Crawfish Ramen • Thursday: time to turn up the heat with spicy Chorizo Miso Ramen • Friday: Cheese Ramen, because cheese!

I consider cookbooks to be some of the most artistic books produced that also have a practical purpose. It’s terrific fun for me when I’m asked to review a cookbook. This week I’ve been having delicious fun with recipes from Amy Kimoto-Kahn’s debut cookbook SIMPLY RAMEN (Race Point Publishing 2016).

Cookbook author and blogger Amy Kimoto-Kahn

Cookbook author and blogger Amy Kimoto-Kahn

A cookbook that expertly focuses on one type of food—in this case, ramen—takes the home cook on a unique culinary journey. I often like such cookbooks because rather than being told to buy a bunch of ingredients to make one dish that I might cook once in a blue moon, I can learn how to prepare a type of food I like in lots of different ways. Being already acquainted with the originality and flair that Amy brings to a Japanese-American style of cooking, I was excited to learn that she was writing a ramen-centric cookbook.

I unabashedly confess to enjoying those ten-for-a-buck, salt-loaded packs of ramen I regularly bought as a college kid on a budget. Imagine my delight when I opened Amy’s beautifully written book and encountered the real deal: accessible ramen recipes, using healthful ingredients, that make it a pleasure to cook at home and feel better about what I’m eating or serving to family and friends. As a yonsei (fourth-generation Japanese-American), Amy merges contemporary and traditional foods and home cooking techniques and shows you how to make tasty ramen dishes prepared dozens of ways—from chicken to seafood, to spicy, to vegetable, to cold, to traditional recipes she learned in Japan.

She includes easy-to-learn recipes for soup bases and noodles that can be made ahead, dozens of flavorful toppings, and a bonus chapter of yummy sides, including tofu, rice, and even a Japanese rice cracker snack. Plus a ramen-yas tour of Tokyo at the end of the book offers a glimpse into the atmosphere and menu specialties of Japanese ramen shops. I’d tell you more, but it’s time to eat, and you can bet what’s for dinner. Here’s food for every night of the week and twice on Saturday! Simply Ramen is simply irresistible.

Amy Kimoto-Kahn is the creator of the website easypeasyjapanesey.com, which offers recipes, cooking tips, and stories. I can’t wait to see what she cooks up next!

XO Laurel Leigh

 

 

 

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This is What Procrastination Looks Like

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Last year (2014, for those of you as disoriented by the fact that we are in the 2010’s as I am) I drafted Book III in my Dreams of QaiMaj series during NaNoWriMo. I was pretty proud of having drafted 100K words in just one month, and I was reasonably sure that I had a decent draft, too. I planned to give myself a year for necessary revisions and edits, then release the book in spring of 2016.

However, the manuscript of Book III has been sitting under my desk for a year, glaring balefully and snarling every time I approach. This intimidating behavior has thrust me into the depths of perhaps my greatest year of procrastination ever. Which, for me, is pretty bad, considering that I’m the Queen of Procrastination to begin with.

With that spring 2016 deadline looming, I’ve been forced to confront my procrastination problem. The first step is recognizing it.

This is what procrastination looks like . . .

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Compulsive organization. While they are the most impressive visually, the spices are actually the tail end of a year-long purge and organization binge. Many trips to Goodwill were made, many precious heirlooms carelessly tossed aside, many organizing solutions purchased and filled. I can honestly say I am the most organized I have ever been in my life. Thank you, Book III.

This is what procrastination looks like . . .

Shopping! Granted, I’m a starving artist so most of my purchases are at thrift stores, but I’m pretty sure my wardrobe has doubled this year.

This is what procrastination looks like . . .

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Baking. You know the procrastination has gotten really bad when your own mother jokingly calls you Martha Stewart. For the record, I’d rather she were jokingly calling me Ursula K Leguin, but this is where procrastination takes us, folks.

This is what procrastination looks like . . .

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Blogging! I recently reached my 70th post on my 101 Things I Wish I’d Known Before I Wrote My First Book blog. Blogging is particularly insidious because it’s easy to think, hey, at least I’m writing something! Plus, blogging is also marketing, so I’m marketing and writing at the same time. Why would I ever do anything but blog?

This is what procrastination looks like . . .

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Compulsively publishing stuff. Why put out the next book when you can publish short stories you’ve already written? I went from one title to ten in less than a week. Unfortunately, a week isn’t a lot of time in this year’s epic procrastination journey. So I had to find something else to do . . .

This is what procrastination looks like . . .

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Marketing! “Something else” was scheduling a two-week $0.99 promo on Dream of a Vast Blue Cavern on every available ebook retailer and taking the time to book an advertising spot every day of the promo! Go ahead, contribute to my procrastination madness! You can read a great book at a great price and encourage the procrastination devil whispering in my ear, “see, you’re selling books. Who needs to write when you’re selling books?”

This is what procrastination looks like . . .

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Planning. Wait, that’s starting to look suspiciously like working on Book III!

This is what procrastination looks like . . .

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Wait, what is happening here? Am I actually . . . Am I actually starting to revise Book III? This is clearly no longer procrastination.

Maybe the story of my year of procrastination will have a happy ending, after all. Still, I find myself wondering, what went wrong?

Hypothesis #1: NaNoWriMo made me arrogant.

Yeah, I’m pretty sure this happened. My success made me think, I can write a novel in a month, so clearly I can revise a novel in a month, so clearly I’m basically done, and I don’t need to look at this again until Spring of 2016.

Hypothesis #2: My Editor’s comments gave that snarling beast some sharp and shiny teeth.

This probably happened too. The feedback was honest and spot on, but it certainly didn’t make it any easier to approach Book III. Especially when the depth of the issues made it clear that it wouldn’t be a quick and easy revision process.

Hypothesis #3: When I finished drafting Book III I was too close to the material to look at it objectively.

Now that a year has passed, I’m hoping  I can do some of the necessary “kill your darlings” work that both I and my Editor agree is needed to make this a great book. There’s no way I could have done that a year ago.

Hypothesis #4: You can’t stop procrastinating when you don’t know you’re procrastinating.

To be honest, most of the year I thought for sure I was right on track. I didn’t question the compulsive organizing, the baking, or the blogging. It wasn’t until I realized I have just four months to not only revise but also edit, format, send to beta readers, plan the launch and distribution of Book III that I started to wonder what I was thinking. Especially when I’m still having thoughts like, “I’ll get to it in January. January will be a good month,” and “Maybe I should draft Book IV first. You know, just to have it done.”

So what next?

I’m thinking about making a carrot torte for the holidays, maybe learning how to cut flowers out of carrots to decorate it. Then I have a jigsaw puzzle I’ve been eyeing for awhile . . . oh wait, you mean with Book III?

Ahem well yes. I’ve been taking steps here at procrastinators anonymous. If I’ve learned anything this year, it’s that baby-steps are my path out of procrastination. Set a small, manageable task, accomplish it, then start the next task. Basically, it comes down to fooling the part of myself that’s afraid of that snarling beast. “Oh, no we’re not going to re-write the whole thing, no. Just read one chapter and make a few notes, that’s all. OK, now read one more chapter . . .”

Using that method, I managed to read through the whole manuscript and made detailed notes for revision.

Then I stalled out again. I realized that a large part of the problem is that I need to re-examine the over-arching vision of the series as a whole. To that end, I’ve been re-reading The Plot Whisperer, looking for insight on how to shape not only the plot of book III but the final part of the Dreams of QaiMaj series.

With tips from that great resource in hand, I’ve been reviewing my notes on the series and re-planning it based on some changes that my Editor and I discussed regarding the outcome of Book III. This might sound very much like more procrastination, but it is actually generating a lot more energy and confidence for me to finally tackle the revisions I need to make to Book III.

Next, this very week in fact, I intend to corral the beast, risking life and limb, and start making actual edits in the actual file of Book III. And now that I’ve stated it publicly, I can’t back out.

To recap, here is what I’ve learned about procrastination this year:

  • It’s usually caused by a deep, visceral fear of failure
  • It leads to a highly organized, well-catered, haute-couture lifestyle
  • It can have the additional positive effect of delaying your project until you actually have the distance and objectivity to do it well
  • You can’t stop until you admit you have a problem
  • The way out of procrastination (for me) is baby-steps
  • Consulting resources and stepping back to look at the big picture also help
  • I’m probably never going to be able to write and publish four books a year, at this rate
  • The fear of public humiliation if I don’t follow through is greater than the fear of failure
  • I’m pretty sure I can start that jigsaw puzzle and finish revising Book III this month

Do you procrastinate? If so what kind of fun things manifest from your particular brand of procrastination? How do you un-procrastinate, when it comes time to do so?

Selah J Tay-Song is living proof that if you persevere, you’ll catch your dreams. She decided to be an author at the age of six. Today she is the author of the Dreams of QaiMaj series, an epic fantasy series described as magical, poetic and engrossing. When she’s not writing, she’s stalking the urban river otters that live less than a mile from her home in the Pacific Northwest.

Author website: www.selahjtaysong.com

Book website: www.dreamsofqaimaj.com

Twitter: https://twitter.com/selahjtaysong

Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/selah.taysong

Pinterest: http://www.pinterest.com/selahjtaysong

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Sunshine Superman

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Image credit: 123RF / Marianne Oliva

Hello from the Dogpatch! This image would exemplify our new motto, assuming love still retains potential for sufficient rising dramatic tension. We’re pretty sure it does. Not that we’re battle happy, but it is time for another so-called dogfight. This time, it’s Dogpatcher Wes in the hot seat, with his novel-in-process Sunshine Superman getting scrutinized as he writes into the homestretch. Here’s an excerpt from this darkly hilarious story:

Shoes are not allowed inside the yurt. Gerda can see her mother’s white Keds set neatly beside the door. Next to them she sees Chad’s big black motorcycle boots leaning against each other like two drunks. There also appear to be at least two other pairs of men’s shoes that Gerda doesn’t recognize. She and her father stand outside the door a moment, listening. But they don’t hear any sounds coming from inside. Her father says, ‘Sweetie, why don’t you wait over there for a moment?’ pointing off toward the sunny side of the clearing.

Gerda is caught between the twin, dueling notions of wanting to see what is about to happen and not wanting to cause her father any more grief and humiliation, but she does as he asks. From the other side of the clearing she watches while her father knocks on the door, then she watches as he seems to prepare himself for whatever it is he is about to see inside the yurt. His hands drop to his sides, and his knees bend slightly like he is preparing to take a punch.

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Laurel Leigh

Hey, Wes: This might be one of the most complex stories of yours I’ve read, where we meet the characters in a present that is entirely collapsing around them and then also meet them in their past, where a bizarrely self-engineered world seems to put them at risk, emotional and physical, from the get go. Yet that earlier world speaks to a bygone era of yurt-dwelling free spirits that we can tend to look upon with some nostalgia. One of the things I appreciate about this story is that it reveals some of the grime in the underbelly of that seemingly idyllic society, such as the realities of nearly starving in the woods or the existence of un-pretty human relationships. And you manage it in a scene that motivates the reader to thoughtfulness without feeling as if the commentary has been delivered by the narrative in heavy-handed fashion. It’s like there’s a bee hidden in the flower waiting to come out and sting you, and I sort of want to get stung. I’m left with a sense of characters placed in continual risk—early in the book—so when the adult Gerda launches her quest, I feel that she’s not only risking material things, her job, her home, her belongings, but she’s also risking losing (or finding?) who she is at the core, a core in part defined by the childhood to which she was subjected by her parents whims. My only complaint about the backstory is that the narrator might riff too long on the later outcome of life in the commune, when perhaps the focus of the flashback should remain on the day Gerda and her father go to seek her wayward mother.

At times the child Gerda appears wise beyond her years, able to suss out the layered meanings in what the adults say. At times she appears relatively naive. Of course a youngster demonstrates both qualities, but in this case, compressed into a single chapter, it might be useful to aim for a slightly more consistent level of awareness in the character. That is, Gerda grasps the subtle reference to the shovel, but she seems clueless about sex. Those two levels of awareness residing in one character could certainly be true, but what is the intended takeaway for the reader in terms of how we are guided to perceive adult Gerda? Is adult Gerda equally inconsistent in her levels of development and perception? From what we see in this chapter excerpt, I can’t say, so am just asking the question. You’ve cast her as an anthropologist, which inclines me to want to see more of the child Gerda who is able to interpret subtext and might be equally precocious in other realms of human relations. In the excerpt above, we see what for me is the most compelling part of this character in her youth, one who witnesses adult interactions and interprets evidence, right down to the physical stance of her father. It’s a compelling and heartbreaking moment on the page, and that’s far more satisfying than a kid who wonders what “deep breathing” means. Mainly, we get the wiser child Gerda, and that’s the one I vote for in this scene. Gerda herself tells us that at times she feels like the oldest person in the commune, which, by the way, might be the spot to break this chapter and leave us in the past before reinstating the present in the next chapter. I know, I know, you have an overall structure in mind, but just saying . . .

In this version, I think there’s a little too much exposition woven into the dialogue between grown-up Gerda and her mom. It’s tempting to use the conversation to fill in the reader, but if you strip out the expository lines, you’ll be left with an incredibly fascinating conversation. Let them say what they authentically would say to each other, without restating history that they both fully know. If the reader truly needs a few more details, I think the narrative can just state it. Momma is a whopper of a momma, by the way. Hoo boy, she gives me delicious nightmares! Momma is a piece of work among pieces of work, although as I read through the scene again, I also wonder slightly how to reconcile present-day Momma, who seems awfully bent on justifying herself, with past-day Momma, who flitted around and did what she wanted to without seeming to have a need to justify. I don’t think we get a story on the transformation of the mother character, so perhaps compare her in the yurt scene to the later scene with Gerda and look for ways that we can recognize the woman from the past in the woman in the living room. I think she should be recognizable to the reader, especially when met right on the heels of the past scene.

Looking over the chapter again, I find myself really wanting dad to be onstage for the Gerda-Momma encounter. He seems deftly tucked away, and I wonder if bringing a third party into the room, even if he’s cast in the role of frozen, broken observer, will ratchet up the tension in the scene even further. The image of him readying himself to take a punch will stick with the reader—in the present-day scene, why not let us see what so many punches have turned this man into. I really want to see it rather than hear about it.

The writing itself is your usual gorgeous, image-laden lines that make me jealous and want to poke holes in your backyard yurt with my fishing knife that I carved from a bamboo branch. Seriously, the writing is beautiful and one thing that’s tricky about evaluating this scene is that the writing can tend to mask places where the focus of the scene or dialogue might not fully deliver. So in revision, work to set aside how well the lines flow and look closely at what is happening alongside that flow, for example, sneaking exposition into dialogue just because you can do it pretty gracefully. I’m excited for this story and since you told us a little more about where Gerda’s quest will read, I’m excited to find out whether she succeeds or fails, lives or dies—hurry up and finish so we can read the rest!

XO Laurel Leigh

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Jilanne Hoffmann

 

Well, now, Laurel said all the good stuff. That’s the last time I let her go first! Hmmmm, what to say? I love your boldly drawn characters and want to see the entire novel unfold. I’m thinking it’s going to be a doozy!

I love how you weave humor into drama. It’s a very effective and entertaining way of presenting the story. Like I said, Laurel gave you the kudos I was going to give you. If you had given us more than an excerpt, I would have kept reading and reading until long past my bedtime.

Now for the nitty gritty: Gerda’s mother is hilarious, but I don’t want her to be so hilarious that I don’t sympathize with her concerns. Don’t get so involved with entertaining yourself (and I am guilty of doing this every time I sit down to write) that you create a character that turns into someone so funny the reader has a hard time seeing them as something other than a character. I’m thinking that the exposition issue Laurel mentioned could be solved by letting the reader “hear” the television news that Gerda and her mother have both seen. That way, you can cut through the “reader needs to know” parts and give Gerda and her mother only juicy things to say. The way people tend to talk at or past one another.

Along those lines, I’ve marked instances where you’ve tended to over-explain, not trust the reader to get the crux of what’s going on without belaboring a point. Trust. Trust. We must trust the reader to “get it.”

A note about presenting characters as children/youthful and then as older adults: The seeds of the current character should be contained in the earlier version of the character—or if there is some type of dissonance, it should be there for a purpose that the reader will come to understand. Perhaps the passing years have provided an experience or two or ten that may have sent them in another direction. But in any case, those seeds should be there. And right now, I’m having trouble reconciling Gerda the “more adult” resourceful child who feeds the “tribe” with the seemingly less adult and less resourceful Gerda of the present. Similarly, Gerda’s father who appears to be the “resigned” type who searches for his wife in his younger years completely locks himself away in his older years. That’s too convenient. I want him to be present in some way, not just hiding in his bedroom offstage.

I’m also wondering about how the mother is presented. It appears that she’s slept with everyone in her youth, but only one of them (not her husband) was the love of her life. Right now, I’m having difficulty resolving this “love of her life” with the orgy-atmosphere of the commune. Maybe I could be persuaded of this if she hopped from bed to bed until she hopped into bed with Chad. Then she would sleep only with him—unless, she wasn’t the love of his life and he wanted to be with her AND others. And maybe those others were women in addition to men? Just a thought.

And finally, Gerda’s mother ends her diatribe by saying “no one ever has sympathy for the family of the killer.” I’m thinking the word “family” should be changed to “mother.” Because, yes, it’s all about her.

I’m thinking that I’ve forgotten to mention something else that we discussed during our Skype chat. Something at the heart of the story, but my memory is failing me…and I gave you my notes before I put this post into writing. Bad me. Bad brain….Laurel and Wes, please let me know if either of you recall what I’m talking about.

Cheers! Looking forward to reading more, Wes!!  Jilanne

 

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We Should Do Something

Hello from the Dogpatch. In December 2006, Dogpatcher Laurel Leigh’s 21-year-old nephew was arrested and charged with the murder of his girlfriend’s two-year-old son. Below is an excerpt from the book-length memoir Laurel is writing about the events, along with our comments on the manuscript. As always, your comments are appreciated.

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He never gets angry at me for saying I’ll do things that I don’t do, or for not writing very often anymore, or forgetting to send a book he asked for. I’m one of the few people on the outs as he calls it who bother with him at all, so he can’t afford to get angry with me for fear of pissing me off. How hard must that be, to ask and ask and then have to be content with the fourth or fifth that comes back, late and offhandedly?

“I love you, Aunt Laura,” Anthony says, after the next time Helga breaks in to say that we have one minute of talk time left.

Does he? I wonder. Can he? Can I? It’s harder and harder to sustain a relationship in this void, where he is frozen in time and place, his days composed of interminable sameness . . .

 

Jilanne: The Writer's Shadow

Jilanne: The Writer’s Shadow

 

Laurel, Laurel, Laurel,

I’ve known you forever, and I saw the first pages of this years ago when the story was raw and shattering. It hasn’t lost its power over the course of time. In fact, the story has deepened to the point of ache, a heartache so profound that I’m not quite sure where the pain is coming from because it seems to be everywhere.

I do hope you find a place for your memoir, because it needs to be out there for the world to see. And perhaps raise questions that will end with some positive result. I can only hope. And that leads me to the biggest point I’d like to make about your opening. Continue reading

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Horse Sense

Scarily, sometimes there is no way out, an example of which is delivered in this raw encounter with the grim facts of life in “Horse Sense,” by our very own Jilanne Hoffmann. We hope this story soon finds a home, because it packs a wallop you won’t want to miss, dealing with the cruelty of making choices where the only good choices are bad ones. Meanwhile, here’s a teaser and our thoughts on the story. Yes, it’s dogfight time, and as always, your comments are appreciated!

 

Florence Owens Thompson seen in the photo Destitute Pea Pickers in California. Mother of Seven Children. by Dorothea Lange (source: Wikipedia)

Florence Owens Thompson seen in the photo Destitute Pea Pickers in California. Mother of Seven Children. by Dorothea Lange (source: Wikipedia)

 

“Got another for you,” he said. “What happens when your Grandmother leaves alphabet soup on the stove too long?”

“What?” I asked and grinned with anticipation.

“It spells disaster,” said Gramp, his poker face completely blank.

I rolled my eyes again.

“One more,” he said. “How can marriage be both a word and a sentence?”           

“Don’t feed that child beer!” Gram yelled again.

In the years since my parents died, Gram had ruled my days until canning season started. Then Gramp took over, though his form of supervision was usually not up to her standards.

“She’s almost thirteen, not two,” Gramp muttered and swiped the back of his hand across his mouth. Then he yelled, “How’re those pies of yours a coming, Nettie?”

Gram tossed an exasperated shake of her apron out the door and returned to her baking.

“Always got to keep the cat distracted,” said Gramp, “if you’re ever to be successful in this life.” 

“What’s the answer?” I asked.

“The answer to what?”

“To the question,” I said. “You know, about marriage.”

“Annie, some answers you just have to wait and experience for yourself.” Continue reading

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