Shaking the Old Tambourine

It’s paying-off-the-winter-electric-bill time (somewhat later than usual this year, thanks to the pandemic), and it’s also coming up on pay-the-town-property-tax time, so it behooves me to point discreetly to the Editorial and Critique Services link up at the top of this blog.

Short version: If you’ve got a book you think needs an editorial polish before you either self-publish it or send it out into the wide world to seek its fortune, my rates are reasonable and I’m available.

My New Favorite Movie

Madhouse Manor

A while back I had some computer problems.  As in Black Screen of Death computer problems.  As in Called-MicroSoft and the Level-One-tech-couldn’t-help-me problems.  So that is how I wound up on the phone with a Level Two tech, a nice young man who lives in Mumbai.  The process took quite a while, what with downloading and installing stuff.  And during all this we talked on the phone.

The conversations went hither and yon, with us showing each other pictures of our home towns (he’s from up north, in the mountains where there’s snow, but there are no jobs up there, which is why he’s in the city).  And we talked about films.  His first James Bond film was with Pierce Brosnan in the role, but we agreed that Sean Connery is the iconic Bond.  And … he mentioned his favorite movie.  Since I love movies, I had to go find…

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One Thing They Could Do, Right Now. . .

. . . while they’re working on the complete replacement/restructuring of the entire US police system:

They could get rid of all the SWAT teams and other similar units out there.  Because the kind of incident that really requires a massively armed police response is fairly rare (to the point of being, most of the time, nonexistent) – but if you’ve got a dedicated unit meant for just that purpose, they’re not going to want to sit around waiting for that maybe one day out of a year when they might be needed.  And heaven forbid a so-called elite unit should go back to directing traffic and pulling cats out of trees instead of doing macho stuff with body armor and heavy weaponry.

So instead, they end up getting called out for all sorts of things, and make things worse as often as or oftener than they make things better.

One of the good things about life up here in far northern New Hampshire is that if we want a SWAT team, we have to send down to Concord for one, and it takes them three hours to get here.  So mostly we don’t bother, and it works just fine.  We’ve had a couple of so-called “armed standoffs” over the years – there was the guy who was supposed to come in for a court date, for example, and instead decided to exercise his right to keep and bear arms in the woods beyond his house; what happened was that the local ambulance squad staged down the road a bit, just in case, and a Fish and Game officer sat in a lawn chair just outside the woods with his radio and said words to the effect of, “Don’t worry.  It’s going to start raining in about three hours, and he’ll come in.”  Which it did, and he did.

SWAT would have probably gone into the woods in force, and ended up killing the guy in question, plus a couple of stray hikers and maybe a bear and a raccoon or two, not to mention shredding all the trees and bushes for a mile or so around. 

It Really Shouldn’t Be Necessary to Say This.

In a just and perfect world, it shouldn’t be necessary to point out that purposefully kneeling on someone’s neck until they’re dead is a bad thing, and that the person doing it is most emphatically not one of the world’s good people.

But this isn’t a just and perfect world, however much we would like it to be. So: Purposefully kneeling on someone’s neck until they’re dead is a bad thing, and the person doing it is not one of the world’s good people.

I don’t know if we’ll ever make this into a just and perfect world — but surely, if we try, we can make it at least a bit more just and a little closer to perfection.

(I swear, it’s like housekeeping. Some days you manage to accomplish a massive feat of organization and improvement, and on other days it takes all the work you’ve got in you just to keep the whole place from backsliding again into chaos.)

Comfort Food for Trying Times

Or, it’s been a while since I posted a recipe.  My mother used to make this one; I don’t know whether it was Texas Depression-era family comfort food for her, or WWII Women’s Army Air Force food, but she would put it together for the family in a cast-iron skillet, possibly toward the end of a budgetary month (the key ingredients being shelf-stable, it’s a good recipe for that.)

Creamed Beef on Toast

Ingredients

1/4 tsp cayenne pepper
Dash of Worcestershire sauce
Black pepper (freshly ground, if possible)
1/4 cup flour
4 T butter
1 1/2 cups (one 12-ounce can) evaporated milk
2 4-ounce jars dried beef
1/2 cup water
1/8 tsp garlic powder (optional)

Preparation

Put dried beef in a colander and pour boiling water over it; pull beef apart and tear into thumb size pieces; set aside.

Melt butter in a large skillet, whisk in the flour until smooth.

Add the milk and water, stirring rapidly with the whisk until the mixture is thickened and smooth. Cook, stirring, for 5 to 6 minutes.

Add the seasonings; add the chipped beef and stir to mix thoroughly.

Heat through and serve on toast points. (Or unpointed toast, or biscuits, or whatever carbohydrate takes your fancy. I’ve heard of people putting it on baked potatoes, even. But toast is easy.)

Serves 6 people once around, or 3 people with seconds. Or one person on a comfort food binge who doesn’t mind reheating leftovers.

Peeve of the Day

Because pandemics make me peevish.

Listen to me, people.  “Dice” is not a singular noun.  It is a plural one, as in “a pair of dice” or “cut up your potato into small dice.”

The singular, as any long-time gamer knows, is “die”, as in “roll a twelve-sided die to check for damage.”

One die, two (or more) dice.  Get it?

Voice from the back row:  Got it.

Good.

Seasonal Yumminess, and Support for a Local Restaurant

I didn’t cook an Easter dinner this year – the traditional meat is either ham or lamb, and I do ham at other times, whenever the local grocery has a sale on spiral-sliced ham. And the only lamb we get up here in the wilderness of far northern New England is either boneless leg of lamb, which is . . . okay, if you like lamb, and the occasional lamb chop, about which I can only say, if I’m going to spend that much money on a piece of meat, I want something a bit larger than your average lollipop.

Also, all of my festive impressive-piece-of-meat dinners (the roast turkey, the crown roast of pork, that sort of thing) were developed back in the days when we had five or six people in residence, several of them bottomless pits teenagers, instead of two or at most three regular adults. It’s one thing to orchestrate a meal like that when you’ve got one kid who can do gravy and a fancy dessert, and another kid who can help you with all the pies, and another couple of kids who can slice and stir and keep an eye on things, and all you need to do by your own self is make the white sauce for the creamed onions and maybe wrangle the meat (unless my husband and co-author has decided to deep-fry it for a change.) It’s another thing altogether to manage it mostly on your own.

So this year we let somebody else cook it. Under normal conditions, we’d have made reservations somewhere nice; this year, we ordered the Take and Bake Easter Dinner for four from the Common Man restaurant in Ashland NH, and brought the various components back to the house in a large paper tote. It all looked good; some of it was meant to cook in the oven and some of it on the stovetop and some of it in the microwave, and there was a lot of it — sliced ham, glazed roasted brussels sprouts, seasonal vegetables with thyme and garlic, scalloped potatoes, mascarpone mashed potatoes (an extra side, just because we could), maple mashed sweet potatoes, cheesecake with raspberry compote, and dinner rolls with seasoned butter — for what was in fact a quite reasonable price.

And indeed, it was all good — at least two meals’ worth, and maybe more. Jim Macdonald had a good time synchronizing all of the cooking directions so that the oven stuff, the stovetop stuff, and the microwave stuff all came out and onto the table together. For my part, I had a good time leaving him to it.

Kudos to the Common Man Restaurant in Ashland, the purveyors of the feast!

In This, Our Extended Cabin Fever Season…

notebook-2757626_640… a lot of people are staving off the side effects of self-isolation by finishing up all their half-done household projects. Some of them are even finishing up their novels.

If you’re one of those people, or know someone who is, then I’m here to help. From now until the end of May, I’m running a discount on my editorial services:  My usual fee for a line-edit and critique drops from $1500 to $1000, and my fee for a 100,000-words-and-up doorstop drops down to $1500.

And, yes — as always, you can purchase a slot in advance if you’ve got the money now but won’t have the finished manuscript until later. Or you can buy one as a gift for somebody else, if you like.

Meanwhile, stay well and stay safe and stay six feet away from your friends and neighbors. And keep on writing.

A Good Thing in a Bad Time

GS CookiesBecause of the pandemic, the Girl Scouts are suspending in-person and cookie-booth sales.  But fear not!  You can now buy your Thin Mints and Trefoils on-line at Girl Scout Cookie Care.

The site also includes an option for buying cookies to donate to first responders, volunteers, and local causes in need.

I just now bought two boxes of Thin Mints, a box of Trefoils (my original and all-time favorite!) and a box of Samoas (because they go so well dunked in coffee or tea.)

So here’s a chance to both get your cookie fix and help out at the same time.  Also, Girl Scout cookies freeze well, so you can buy extra and stock up. Or buy extra and eat them all right now — who am I to judge?

(Once a Girl Scout, always a Girl Scout.  I have a fond memory of sitting in the bar at a Lunacon, years ago when there were still Lunacons, singing “Make New Friends, But Keep the Old” with two other writers and an editor, all of us not-so-former-as-we’d-thought Girl Scouts.)