Tomato Soup with an Asian Twist

Tomato Soup with Asian Twist

Tomato Soup with Asian Twist

I’m back at home for the week. That means stacks of laundry, cleaning floors and putting away winter clothes. Yay!

Sudden rain made me think – SOUP!

I dug around in the pantry and freezer and this is what I came up with:

Ingredients:

  • Olive oil
  • 1/2 cup red bell peppers – cubed
  • 1/2 cup green bell peppers – cubed
  • Lots of chopped garlic
  • 2 whole star anise seed pods (shhhhhh! This is the secret ingredient!)
  • 28 oz diced tomatoes
  • 32 oz chicken broth
  • 1 small bullion cube
  • Whole lot of green onions – chopped

Method:

Saute first 5 items

Add tomatoes and simmer

Add broth & bullion cube

Simmer about 30 minutes

Remove anise

Add green onions and simmer another 5 minutes

Simple and surprisingly yummy.

Collateral Damage

Here’s a repost from my writing blog: ldaviscarpenter.com (I’m trying to figure out the best way to cross-post my own material from different blogs.)

L Davis Carpenter - Writer

The Shepherd's Song

Ever wonder about those poor peasants who are always raped, pillaged or wholesale deported to foreign lands?

I do.

I love reading historical fiction about movers and shakers; kings and queens whose passions turn the wheels of history. But every time a village is burned and the women and children are dragged off by their hair I think, what about them?

They are the red shirts of history.

Maybe I identify with them. Since childhood, I have read about historical upheavals and wondered, how do the regular folks survive? How did people get on with their lives during the bombing of Britain? What became of the ethnic Koreans deported to the Kazakh SSR? How do you feed your family when Boko Haram is in the neighborhood?

It is hard enough to hold a steady course when my plans are derailed by a sudden car repair..

Kings, queens, statesmen – the…

View original post 95 more words

Everybody IS a Story

Last Sunday James and I visited a small neighborhood church across town. We were greeted by a little old lady – gray-haired, long jean skirt, tidy blouse, and cardigan. I’d have guessed she was in her mid-80s.

Now, stop right there. What are you thinking? Have you made some assumptions about her already? Be honest.

I had.

I’m thinking – grandmother, great-grandmother, bakes apple pies, knits socks. Sweet. A pleasant two-dimensional cardboard cut-out.

She started telling us how they’d lost five of their congregation in the past year. Wow, I thought. That’s about 30%.

Then she said, “Yes, a family of three moved away – Navy, you know. Then Slim Whitman passed away.”

Slim Whitman?

“Oh, yes. This was his home church. He never wanted to move to Nashville and get involved in all that stuff.”

Well, whaddayaknow?

But here’s the good part:

She continued, “A few years ago my husband and I went with him on his farewell tour through Europe and the UK. We went with him so we could take care of his wife Jerry. She was sick and he was going to cancel his tour because he refused to leave her. So we volunteered to go and take care of her while he had to be on stage. We did 20 cities in 23 days. Road on the tour bus. Slim, he had to ride in a separate car or fly, but we road on the tour bus with the band. Learned all about the industry and took care of Jerry.”

She and her husband would have been in their 70s at the time.

I don’t mean that being someone’s grandmother is insufficient. But this was a fun reminder that if you’re willing to listen, everyone has a story to tell. Everyone is much richer than our cliches. What’s most special is the way they served their long-time friends, Slim and Jerry, by stepping in to take care of a loved one’s wife of 67 years –  even when it meant two months away from home, long days on tour buses and road food. They could have been home with their grandchildren, watching TV and knitting.

Books & Blogging Update

I’ve just learned that Google gets unhappy if you duplicate material on different web sites.This complicates my blogging life because it prevents my plans to cross-post material between my four blogs. I’ve been told it is best to summarize and then link back to the primary post. Sigh. I get there eventually.

So, here’s what you’ve missed:

A recommendation on a new and fascinating blog about Afghanistan.

Observations on the Walter Scott Prize for Historical Fiction.

Reading Response to Tariq Ali’s Shadows of the Pomegranate Tree.

I’ll be back soon with a general update.

2014 Recap in one word: Work

Here’s the requisite review of the past year:

Work and Personal: All personal life was subsumed into the day job. From February 1st to today, my independent adjusting hat has kept me booked for all but seven weeks and on the road for five of those months. Four of the seven weeks away from the day job were spent with my parents trouble shooting some of their challenges. So that makes six months away from home. Even when working in my own town, the day job is a six, sometimes seven days a week, eleven hour workday. The occasional day off is spent doing laundry, paying taxes, cleaning bathrooms. The good news is that I went from my first gig as an independent adjuster to a management role in that short time. For this I feel overwhelmed with gratitude and a desire to keep growing in this role. However, how that can possibly mesh with my 2015 realities will take a greater move of Providence yet.

Right Brain: In early January 2014 I completed the large mural project that you can see here. Immediately after, I began the day job and all visual arts stopped. My writing project is now two years behind my goal to complete the first draft. I did, however, manage to do 30-60 minutes of research every day or so. It’s a pittance but has resulted in me feeling ready to get back to the text.

I have today off and although I slept late and am already through one pot of tea, I am still tired. I need to pack for moving on Sunday after two final days of work, then 2015 officially begins for me. More on what that might look like in the next post.

Strange Gods – Annamaria Alfieri

Strange Gods by Annamaria Alfieri

This post originally appeared here: Long Ago & Far Away.

I recently enjoyed Annamaria Alfieri’s latest historical murder mystery: Strange Gods.

Set in 1911 British East Africa, a murder entangles a cross-section of expatriate and local characters into a complex but well constructed whodunit. And we get a love story as a bonus. Beyond the murder mystery and romance, Ms. Alfieri also illustrates the consequences of universal social ills and the challenges of those who must navigate through them.

I will leave the specifics for you to discover since I do not wish to slip into spoilers.

But, if you ask me, this book cries out to be expanded to film. Think of the scenery! The costumes! The culture and character contrasts! The discovery of dark secrets and passions! This could be both grand entertainment and worthy of critical acclaim.

Wouldn’t it be great to see some serious money poured into this project rather than another Transformers rehash?

Dare we hope?

When Ms. Alfieri has a break in her book promotion schedule and writing her next tale, maybe we can get her back here for another interview.

Have you read Strange Gods yet? Do you have any questions you would like me to ask of her? What do you think about putting it on the big screen?

In the meantime, I am observing certain recurring themes in my Long Ago & Far Awayreading. I will explore those in a near-future post.

More From Ancient Egypt: Stephanie Dray’s Lily of the Nile

Stephanie Dray’s Lily of the Nile, is an imaginative rendering of Cleopatra Selene’s formative tween years. Selene, daughter of the Cleopatra and Mark Anthony, was raised in the Roman household of Caesar Augustus after his triumph over her parents led them to commit suicide.

Rough start for a kid. But Dray’s Selene is no ordinary princess.

I usually resist anything suspect of girlishness but had picked up the book at theHistorical Novel Society’s 2013 conference after hearing Ms. Dray talk about her work. Having recently read Wilbur Smith’s River God and The Quest, I figured I should get the last of my ancient Egypt stack taken care of. Although Lily of the Nile mostly takes place in Rome, the protagonist fits in my Egypt category.

I was pleasantly surprised at the unsentimental nature of Dray’s work and her ability to embed the historical context within an engaging story. I confess to an irresponsible lack of knowledge about the times and events so I was at Ms. Dray’s mercy for the facts but came away feeling better inform on all levels: people, events, culture and worldview.

Three areas of particular note:

1. Culture clash: I’d never given thought to how cold and rigid Roman culture must have felt to the conquered peoples. Selene’s Ptolemaic Egypt now seems the perfect foil to Augustus’ masculine authoritarianism.

And Dray’s representation of Isis worship in conflict with Roman religion was eye-opening. I’d always thought of Rome as primarily universalist – as long as the official gods were publicly honored. Dray makes it clear why the Romans might have seen Isis as a threat to their ordered social strata.

2. The Isis faith: Before reading Wilbur Smith’s stories mentioned above, I knew next to nothing about Isis or any of the Egyptian religions. In Lily of the Nile, Stephanie Dray does an excellent job of showing how the Isis religion may have contributed to the receptivity of Christianity and it’s eventual expression. Since Sunday School, I was taught that Rome’s Pax Romana paved the way for Christianity by facilitating the swift spread of ideas. I have some understanding of Hellenistic influence on the early church, and have a better-than-average awareness of other influences on the historical development of Christianity, but I was not aware of an active Egyptian religion contemporary with the birth of Jesus which preached love, appealed to the downtrodden and had a “Queen of Heaven” at the center. Okay, Isis also married her brother and included temple prostitution and magic in her cult. So there are plenty of differences. But after Dray’s portrayal of Isis it is hard to miss the universal tendency of human felt need for a Mother figure.

3. Dabbling in Fantasy: As with Wilbur Smith’s The Quest, Dray’s Lily of the Nileallows the magic of the worldview to manifest itself in the “real life” of the historical fiction. Maybe Smith’s The Quest prepared me for it here since I found it less disconcerting in Dray’s work. Possibly I was more jarred by it in The Quest because Smith’s earlier work, River God, with the same characters, did not blur the lines of genre. Suddenly, finding myself in a fantasy world threw me for several hundred pages. In reading reviews of The Quest and Lily of the Nile some readers are seriously put off by this genre mashup. I do not have a problem with it in principle – hey, we’re primarily telling fun stories here – as long as I feel prepared for it in some way. Since I don’t read back covers, synopses or reviews before reading, I take a bit of a risk when I venture in unaware. But I think that’s my own problem, not the writer’s, if there has been some hint beforehand.

I’d like to know what others think about this question. I love a story that goes deep into the worldview of the characters, but how do you feel about blurring the genre lines between historical fiction and fantasy? Historical fiction is fraught with plenty of debate already. (How much are you allowed to make up or change “history”?). I suspect some folks will want to keep the categories tight. I’m more inclined to let imaginations run wild as long as we all know we are reading fiction, in spite of my own experienced disconcertion. I do think the reader needs some kind of “heads up” though. How much of the supernatural should be there before labeling the book with a sub-genre?

Lily of the Nile: Recommended

If you would like to read story synopses and reviews for Lily of the Nile, check out the following links:

Goodreads

Amazon

I do plan to read Stephanie Dray’s next Cleopatra’s Daughter installment Song of the Nile.

But next up here is: Strange Gods by Annamaria Alfieri – Historical Mystery set in early 20th Century East Africa!

What I Did on My Summer Vacay

Front Range Viewed from Greeley, CO

Front Range Viewed from Greeley, CO

Summer is officially over if you consider Memorial Day and Labor Day the boundaries – rather than looking to celestial events. Neither work here in Florida – it feels very much like summer from April through October.

As for what I did: two months of Day Job in hot, dry Colorado. Then one month in hot, humid Tidewater, Virginia troubleshooting various challenges for my parents. I have now been back in my own home for three weeks.YAY! The laundry and housework are caught up, the new storage barn’s rafter tails are primed (note the evidence of oil primer in my hair) and tomorrow morning I start another round of Day Job.

This next assignment is a new role for which I am very thankful. The hours will be brutal, as always. However, I was able to complete a lot of research this summer so I hope to scrounge some minutes before work to convert story ideas in my head to scenes on digital paper.

I missed cross-posting a prior blog entry from Long Ago & Far Away to here so that will follow.

Squeezing in Some Reading Time

Managed to finish reading two historical novels recently. Posted thoughts about them on my Long Ago & Far Away blog. (And I have no idea why this post is insisting on this strange formating but I don’t have time to fiddle with it. I need to be working on my novel – right now. Or, write now.)

Wilber Smith’s River God and The Quest – Some Observations

In my efforts to expand my exposure to Long Ago & Far Away historical fiction, it was past time that I read some Wilbur Smith. His novels of ancient Egypt intrigued me so I picked up River God and ventured in – as always without reading the back cover, reviews, etc.

From the first page I knew that Smith was writing my kind of historical fiction: accent on adventure and mostly fictitious main characters allowing lots of room to play. I am observing that, the more locked to historical figures, the more difficult it is to craft a satisfying story. (Though the likes of Sharon Kay Penman and C. W. Gortner do it with aplomb). Call me low-brow but I like heroes and villains and adventure rooted in some other world than ours – historical fiction, fantasy, sci-fi, etc. For historical fiction I want the context to be accurate but after that, I just want a good story.

So, River God: the most compelling aspect of this work is not so much the story as the voice of the main character. Our first-person hero, Taita, borders on the fantastical – no, is fantastical. He is a Renaissance Man in extreme: playwright, architect, administrator, military strategist, physician, mural painter, jeweler, hydraulic engineer, embalmer, musician – what have I missed? There are chariot battles, damsels in distress and adventures into sub-Saharan Africa. I know so little about the history or geography that, besides the epic exaggerations, I had to largely take Smith at his word on the basic facts. But it’s Taita’s voice that carries this book. His voice will stay with me when the story is forgotten.

Imagine my shock when I opened The Quest and found a third-person narrative, mostly in Taita’s point of view, but also from other characters and even much use of the omniscient. I had skipped two books in the series, so I knew there would be story I’d missed and I expected subtle changes in the author’s style but I grieved the loss of Taita’s voice for 100 pages before I finally let it go.

Also, by the time you reach The Quest, there has been a shift in genre from imaginative historical adventure to what is essentially a fantasy set in ancient Egypt/Africa. Taita is no longer simply skilled at everything. In the interim he has become a mage and a long-liver. Rather than the natural enemy of an invading force (River God) Taita is now pitted against a thousand year old witch.

I read fantasy so it should have been easy to make the transition, but it took me about as long to let the historicity go as it did to relinquish Taita’s voice. I do not want to be the one to pigeon-hole writers into strict genre distinctions but I really struggled with it. I like historical characters to take on as much of their own worldview as I can possibly comprehend, and the people of ancient Egypt would understand the world very differently from me, but that’s not what The Quest is. The Quest is fantasy – best to make that mental switch in your head before you start page one.

It would be interesting to read the interim books and observe when and how Smith makes this transition. I suspect it is gradual and would not have shocked me so if I had read the progression as written. I’d love to hear from folks who have read all four to learn if this is the case or if The Quest was a leap in style and or genre.

And, a warning about The Quest: this story is sexually visceral. For the most part, the sexuality is rooted in the themes of power, identity and transformation that run through both books, but there were bits that seemed gratuitous.

River God: Recommended – here is it’s review page on GoodReads (interesting that the reviews are mostly divided between love it/hate it. Few in between.)

The Quest: Recommended with caution – here’s it’s review page on GoodReads (also very divided opinions). And one from the Historical Novel Society.

 

 

 

 

 

The Day Job Wins

Forty-eight hours after release from Adjusting Gig 1, I received notice of Gig 2 and am making my way across country to the new location. The first 30 days of each assignment means zero days off but I should be well rested by the time I report for duty again.

I am driving west for the first time since 1985 (road trip!) and when I get my Sundays off I will meet up with several dear friends who have migrated that way in the last few decades. I am excited for the continued excellent work opportunity and a bit of adventure. Woo Hoo!!!

But, once again, the constant zig and zag leaves me feeling that large portions of my life have been wasted pouring time and energy (and money) down paths that end in brick walls. I am now 18 months behind on writing my novel (or 20 years!) and again mothballing my painting business that I hadn’t even thought to reopen until it came barrelling at me uninvited last fall.

My recent mural clients want to promote my work. I’ve had several other project inquiries before I’ve even made new business cards. The decorative items in my antiques mall booth sold out while I was in my cubicle these past four months. This all indicates that there is a market for what I do. But now I am not able to produce more products for retail. Although this last office gig was in my own town, the work is long hours, 7 then 6 days/week and exhausting. Add the rest of life’s responsibilities and there was no way to get into the studio and still function on the job. The day job wins – I’m being paid to be sharp and make good decisions, not come in sleep deprived and zombified.

This next gig is out of town – that’s the end of even pretending about 5am studio time. I will not be able to complete the paintings I have started. And why discuss murals that I can’t schedule because of the day job’s unpredictability?

And the novel – it is set in an obscure time and place, meaning I still have stacks of research to do before I can move further with the rough draft. I can’t scribble a sentence without three significant research questions popping up. I am bringing some of the neglected research materials west with me in hopes that if I can’t paint at 5am, I can at least read and make some notes.

So why not quit the day job and go full focus on the painting business? There is evidence that there is a market for it. I’ll tell you why: money. That’s the nasty truth of it. I do believe, given the time to spool up and build a clientele, I could make a go of it in the Jacksonville area. But for now I must go for the bird in the hand – the desk job. We have too many demands for money right now and I cannot take the months/years required to establish my painting business again that this time.

I guess I have to accept that my life goes in circles and hope that the painting phase comes back around before too long. Part of my brain is making plans for that day, getting excited about the possibilities, thinking through a new business plan. The other part is trying to tamp that down and stick with the present: stay focused on the now, work really hard to capitalize on the current opportunites, make good decisions that will put me in the best possible position for when the next zag comes. And try to chip away at that novel.