Memory: Trick or Treat for UNICEF

When I was living in my first apartment, going to the laundromat was a new experience. There was always a very young girl there, seven or eight years old at the most, who begged for quarters for the machines. (Yes, back then, the washers and dryers took quarters. ) She had short, mousy brown hair, with bangs that framed her huge blue eyes. Eyes that were pools of suffering.

Early in the month of October, I started seeing the girl all around the plaza (there was a supermarket, a drugstore, and other small retail establishments in addition to the laundromat) and other places in the neighborhood. She carried a Trick or Treat for UNICEF box. The misery in her eyes broke my heart. She used the UNICEF box until Thanksgiving.

Maybe her parents/guardians didn’t force her into begging for money–and you know whatever she collected in the UNICEF box didn’t go to the United Nations Children’s Fund–but my heart tells me they did. And she hated it.

I sometimes wonder what happened to her.



Musing: A Story I Heard

I heard the following story from someone I believe.

My source went to Great Britain for her semester abroad. One of her classmates had a prosthetic leg.  This person was a bit of a jerk. Young. Immature.  When it came time to go through the metal detector at the airport, he never said a word.

Of course he set off the detector.

HIs fellow classmates told him afterward, “Hey, stop being a jerk.”

The process repeated at every airport. Coming and going. I’m surprised the individual wasn’t put on some kind airline list.

The kicker, though, was what he confessed when they eventually landed back in the USA at their “home” airport: he’d used his prosthetic leg for smuggling Cuban cigars into the country.






Thursday Thought-Self Help: Dear Writer, You Need to Quit

Dear Writer, You Need to Quit  by Becca Syme is not a book about writing. Instead, the book is a manual for writers. Syme, who is a Gallup certified Clifton Strengths coach, has focused her training on helping authors. The individuals creating the books.

The key word is individual.

One size fits all is a myth created because standardizing is easier than dealing with differences. The theory  doesn’t work for clothes, hats, or writing methods. Even standardized sizes are wishful thinking. Ask any woman who has ever purchased a bra. Why should writing style be different?

They’re not. Syme believes in alignment: creating an individual strategy based on how the author is wired. My own critique group is a microcosm of writing styles; from a woman who writes 30-page synopses, to someone who does some character work, some scene work, and has a rough outline, to someone who sits down to write by the seat of her pants.

Syme points out and repeats there is no right way to write, that we each not only need to accept our writing style–what works best for us–but also embrace it. Not only embrace our uniqueness, but work to strengthen our methods. Strategies for the organized writer will not work for an organic author.

A plus-sized woman dreaming of breast reduction surgery wouldn’t consider buying and wearing a 32A  bra. Why would an intuitive writer believe she should write a detailed outline of the book she’s writing? The fit won’t work.

Bob Dylan is a musical genius, but that doesn’t mean his Christmas album or covers of Sinatra standards were great. Or even good. Those styles aren’t his strength.

If you can imagine Stephen King writing category romance, you have a better imagination than I do.

The point is writers need to quit practices that don’t align with their strengths. Quit working against your wiring and work with it. You’ll be amazed at the results.


MJ Monday-Meals: Potato Pie with Hamburg Gravy

Every year, my mom makes a birthday dinner for each one of us. This year, I requested something different. Something from my childhood. Comfort food. Except my mom couldn’t remember how to make it, even though it was a regular meal at our house while I was growing up: Potato Pie with Hamburg Gravy.

Please note: this is NOT Shepherd’s Pie. Whenever we tried to Google or Pinterest a recipe, we always came up with Shepherd’s Pie. NO. The dish is similar but not the same thing.

My sister had modified the recipe for her family, although she hadn’t made it in years, so Mom further modified her version for my birthday dinner.

There are three key components:

  • baking powder biscuits
  • mashed potatoes
  • gravy with onion and ground beef.

The way I remember the dish is with the biscuit crust, filled with mashed potatoes, then baked. When the pie was done, one ladled the gravy over it.

We ended up breaking open a biscuit on our plate, topping it with mashed potatoes, then with the gravy. It was so good. My daughter asked for the recipe a few weeks ago.

If anyone knows or remembers how to make the pie–is it only a bottom crust or both? How long do you bake it? –please reach out to me. This is an entree that shouldn’t get lost.

MJ’s Musings: SEP-Nobody’s Baby But Mine

Nobody’s Baby But Mine is a little creepy in that there is a slight stalker element. The heroine wants a dumb man to father a child for her, so she sets her sights on a football quarterback who says “ain’t” in a southern drawl and makes assumptions. Bad assumptions, all the way around.  The hero may be from North Carolina, but being from the south is the only assumption the heroine got right. Almost.

Tricking the football playing into getting her pregnant is morally wrong; the heroine knows it, but her longing for a child who won’t be a genius (the heroine is a physicist who’s always felt like a freak because she’s smart), but who will be normal outweighs her morals.  Twice.

There is a secret baby (for a couple of pages), a marriage that’s anything but convenient, and a truly lovely romance that unfolds as the hero and heroine get to know each other.

The cast of secondary characters is interesting. I adore the hero’s hillbilly grandmother. The secondary romance, between the hero’s parents is interesting, and showcases what a brilliant author Susan Elizabeth Phillips is. The subtleties tying the primary romance to the secondary is extremely well done. At first, I didn’t like the hero’s father, but with each re-read of the book and my own development as an author have made me appreciate exactly what Phillips did here.

Four stars.