Writing: The Great Relaxer

When people hear I’m a writer, they always ask how many books I’ve written. A few months ago, I had to stop and count because I’d lost track. Seriously, I really didn’t know. I’ve tried to get better about keeping up with the number of books I’ve written, but the truth is, all that matters is the next book. It’s not about what I’ve done in the past or plan to do in the future. It’s only about now, and the current book.

Okay, for the curious—I just finished A Family Affair: The Return, book #31! Yes, that’s a nice number. It speaks of determination and perseverance, two qualities necessary to start and finish a book.

So, why is it that I don’t have the book number seared in my brain? Because my energy and excitement is focused on the new piece I’m working on. That’s what I see, what I feel, what I sense, and it’s wondrous and magical. The current project lets me immerse myself into something that brings peace and focus. Writing is a great “relaxer” and enables me to look at life, situations, and emotions in an abstract manner through the characters I create.

I’ve dealt with more than one “issue” this way. For example, when my mother was hospitalized and we weren’t certain of the outcome, I wrote about the frailty of aging through Pop Benito, a senior citizens reader favorite in the Truth in Lies series, aka the A Family Affair books. Fortunately, Mom had a great outcome, and Pop did too! Another time, Mom landed in the emergency room with a broken humerus, a few hours before my then-sixteen-year-old daughter was hospitalized with pneumonia. Both were at different hospitals. That’s why I wrote Not Your Everyday Housewife. Those were stressful times, and you can read about it here. The book saved me and gave me new perspective on the turmoil and stress of everyday life. And then there’s The Butterfly Garden, the tale of two sisters and the fall-out from a husband’s betrayal. I could look at each book and recall the personal tale behind the story…

I write about so many situations involving family dynamics and personal relationships, but I don’t have to experience all of them to consider the cause and effect, the fall-out, and the path to a second chance. I only have to think and imagine, and I’m there!

So, what relaxes you? Do you knit, paint, garden, woodwork, bake? And when you’re doing it, is it not the absolute best place in the world to be?!

Food Makes Memories

When I was growing up, we visited my grandmother’s most Sundays for homemade pasta and meatballs.

I’m not talking about the kind of pasta that comes from a machine-fed operation; I’m talking about the hand-cut stuff that got rolled into gigantic round sheets and cut with a knife —a dull knife.

Grandma used to work that old knife through the dough, her gnarled fingers cutting with such patience. Such precision. No measuring, no fancy gadgets. Grandma lived with my Aunt Marie and together they made cavatelli and something else we called “hats”. (I later discovered this was orecchiette.) When we visited, all four of us kids couldn’t wait to try making cavatelli. The trick was in the way you rolled the cut dough with your index and middle finger. By the twentieth one, I was ready to be done. Not Grandma. On and on she went, just like she’d done for a good part of her eighty-plus years.

There was nothing like the smell of a good meatball frying in the kitchen. Have you ever tried brown meatballs? Aunt Marie fried them, no baking in those days, and she’d leave four out of the sauce, one for each of us kids. Oh, we were in heaven. Yes, we grew up on garlic and Pecorino Romano cheese! The salad was always simple; lettuce, onion, tomato, oil and vinegar, but pair that with a good meatball, and you don’t need much else.

If we visited on Saturdays, that was bread making day, a task Grandma never gave up. In later years, after Aunt Marie died and Grandma came to live with us, she taught me to bake bread, measuring with my eyes, immersing my hands in the flour, mixing the yeast in lukewarm water with my fingers. No machines, no fancy gadgets. I actually got quite good at it, except for the one time when Mom was at Mass and Grandma and I were left in charge of the bread. Grandma told the best stories and we were talking away and never smelled the bread burning. Mom was not happy with either one of us! I should mention here that Grandma didn’t speak English, other than the hyphenated English-Italian words like “ice-a-box-a”. Still, that didn’t stop me and Grandma from communicating. Three years of Spanish proved a very helpful crossover and the rest came from Grandma’s tutoring.

Food has always been an important part of our family and our history. Grandma never quite trusted dishes like lasagna, ravioli, or gnocchi. She liked her pasta without the extras of cheese and potato. One of my very favorite dishes is Pasta and Broccoli, perhaps because it was the last dish my Aunt Marie made us, but I think it’s also because it represents the type of food we enjoyed as kids. (We ate calamari too; cleaned it, removed the insides, got all itchy from the inky water!)

My mother is the one who makes a great lasagna, ravioli, and pretty much every dish I’ve included in the cookbook I’m working on. Yes, I’m working on a cookbook tied into the “A Family Affair” books! I have never seen anyone whip up a pumpkin roll like she can or make a pie crust as though it were second nature. Practice, she says. But she should know that practice means I will eat those pies…and not just one piece! And let me tell you, that Banana bread recipe is delicious!

Mom is in so many of the “cooks” I write about in my stories; Stella Androvich, Miriam Desantro, Ramona Casherdon. In our home, food makes memories…What about in your home? Do you have a favorite food memory?

Mary

The Art of Patience

Hello from Ohio:

As many of you know, I’m an avid gardener and love spending time with my perennial flowers. It’s truly relaxing and when I’m digging in the dirt, it’s one of the best ways for me to think about my stories. I love a good plant “challenge” and I’ve encountered several over the years, but the biggest one was from “the orchid.” For years, I limited my indoor flowers to African violets and Christmas cacti. (I’m talking eight or ten violets at any time, and the same amount for the cacti.) Do they bloom? Of course. They’re beautiful. I understand exactly what they need and I’m vigilant.

And then I decided to try an orchid. I bought one, brought it home and admired the delicate beauty. It lasted all of three weeks, before, one by one, the flowers shriveled and died. Apparently, I gave it too much attention. Too much attention? I’m a nurturer—there is no such thing as too much attention. I asked for another orchid for Christmas. I got three. Oh, they lived a while, but then the flowers died off, too, leaving me with sticks. I almost threw them out because I was disgusted, but friends gave me advice. Leave it alone. Don’t give it too much attention. Don’t water too much. Be patient. I took my inability to make the darn thing bloom personally. But I listened to the advice and moved the “sticks” to an empty bedroom and left them alone. I visited once a week, watered…waited. Fourteen months later and ta-da! I’ve got a bloom. The other orchid is full of buds! Patience and persistence, the mantra I use in writing seems to work with orchid growing, too!

Mary

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