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Saturday, June 28, 2008

Lemon Meringue Cake

My daughter's birthday is this month. Fortunately we've only had two birthday cakes -- see my March entry that describes the huge number of cakes for my son -- don't know why I felt compelled to make so many, but oh well. Maybe because of the time of year.

I just wanted to post a recipe for the cake I made today, that worked out fabulously! It's perfect for summer.

Lemon Meringue Cake

Bake an angel food cake in a round tube pan and let it cool upside-down for a few hours. Remove the cake and put on an oven-proof plate (I used a pizza pan covered with foil). With a bread knife cut the cake into three horizontal layers.

Filling: combine 3/4 cup lemon juice, 3/4 cup sugar, and 1 1/2 tablespoons cornstarch in a pan. Heat to boiling, stirring often. Lemon sauce will thicken. Let it cool for half an hour or so, then spoon half the filling onto the bottom cake layer. Put on the second cake layer and spoon rest of sauce on that. Top with final cake layer.

Meringue: in metal or glass bowl, grease-free, combine four egg whites and 1/8 tsp cream of tartar (to stabilize). Beat at high speed until foamy. Keep beating on high and add 1 1/3 cups sugar a little at a time so that it dissolves. Beat meringue until stiff peaks form and it holds its shape (beat about ten minutes). Be careful not to overbeat, though.

Spread meringue over cake. Put cake in oven at 400F for about 10 minutes, until meringue is lightly browned.

That's it! Let the cake cool a bit, then eat and enjoy. You should probably refrigerate this puppy if you don't eat it right away.

Wednesday, June 25, 2008

A Fairy Tale

Once upon a time, there was a king riding in the woods. In the distance he saw a peasant maiden. She wasn't beautiful, but even so he fell in love with her and decided he wanted to marry her. He rode away, thinking about how he might be able to do this.

He was a good and wise king. The king was so wise that he knew love --true love, sacrificial love -- was more valuable than anything else. If he came to the maiden, majestic in his kingly robes and surrounded by servants, then of course she would go with him, but he didn't want this. He wanted her to go with him without being overwhelmed, because she wanted to. He wanted her to love him.

After long thought, he decided he might be able to have her fall in love with him if he came to her door dressed as a peasant, and humbly wooed her. However, this posed a tremendous risk for him: he might be rejected. As king, he was used to having his slightest wish obeyed instantly. Dare he risk rejection?

He dressed himself in rags and knocked at her door. The maiden almost shut the door in the king's face, but he smiled at her and she decided to take a walk with him...


This is the fragment of a fairy tale that I don't know where I heard it from. It's all I remember, and I've never run across it again -- possibly when I was very little my babysitter just made it up for me. I've always loved it. I've kicked around the idea of adapting this into a premise for a modern novel, so if I do this you'll know where it came from.

Story is a powerful medium, I believe, because it can resonate. At its best, story touches something deep within our hearts and therefore allows messages to penetrate into the mind. While writing my first novel, I became fascinated with the structure of story, and in my typical obsessive-compulsive manner tore apart more than 20 films and novels to see how they were put together. I timed or word-counted each scene, calculated percentages etc., then laid different stories side by side to understand the patterns that might be present.

Recognizing the pattern in story is not a formula. I liken it to sketching a face. An artist will tell you that a person's eyes are about halfway down the head, and are separated by another eye width. The tips of the ears land at an imaginary horizontal line about eyebrow height. The bottom of the nose lands an eye-width below the bottom of the eyes, and so forth. Faces are infinitely varied, yet if the artist ignores these rough proportions, no matter how beautifully drawn the face will always look "wrong."

As I analyzed story after story, I was struck with how there was only one pattern. It is as if we humans have an innate sense of story that is detailed, yet unvarying. The closer the novel or film conforms to this innate pattern, the more it resonates within us. I am currently developing an algorithm for step-wise story development, and writing up my findings that I hope to publish next year.

Interestingly, the story of the last week of Jesus' life before crucifixion as recorded in the Bible completely follows the story pattern. Jesus is an itinerant preacher (ordinary world) who decides to enter Jerusalem for the Passover by riding in on a donkey (inciting incident). He antagonizes the Jewish authorities who don't know how they can get rid of him. Then, Judas approaches the authorities and offers to betray Jesus (door). In the meantime, Jesus preaches, visits friends, then prepares with his disciples for the Feast of Unleavened Bread (Last Supper). Judas runs off to tell the authorities where Jesus is (midpoint). After dinner Jesus leads disciples to the Garden of Gethsemane and prays for strength (solving hidden need). The authorities arrest Jesus (antagonists get stronger) and at trial find him guilty and worthy of death. In the morning Jesus appears in front of Pontius Pilate so that Pilate can ratify the verdict (slide; Snyder's whiff of death; nature of climax is now clearly seen). Jesus is crucified and dies (darkest moment). Two days later Peter and John go to the tomb and find it opened (help from outside). Jesus appears as a conqueror of death that demonstrates his death was sufficient payment for sin (climax), then stays on Earth 40 more days before ascending into Heaven (resolution).

Since I believe that everything is related to everything else, sometimes I wonder why it might be that the story is shaped like this. I've previously mentioned that I came to faith in the Christian God under protest through study of the historic circumstances surrounding the death of Jesus -- there is good objective evidence for the resurrection; check out my website at I like to think that maybe God Himself placed this story structure within us as yet one more way that humans may respond to His call.

Hmm. It's nice to think about, anyway. Have a wonderful day, my dear friends.

Monday, June 16, 2008

Letting Go

It's a hard thing, to remember something good that no longer is. I have a very close girlfriend struggling through this right now, and I'm writing this column for her.

I remember when my parents sold the house my sisters and I had grown up in, to move into a smaller, more easily managed place. I went through a few last boxes of things that my parents couldn't keep, odds and ends. Someone had surprisingly found an old notebook of mine and I leafed through it curiously, remembering a different time in high school that had been so vibrant and all there was.

Now what is here is my current family -- my husband, our two children, and me. It is all there is.

Sure, I still see my parents and sisters and their families. My inlaws, who live nearby, are frequent visitors. But we are the unit: my husband, our two children, and me. It must be so. I see how the kids take this stability for granted, and how they thrive because they know that we're here for them.

I've seen marriages -- a fair number -- break up, and it's always excruciating. My sister was once married to an alcoholic and it was a good thing in her case to end the bond, but without desperate circumstances it isn't. Beyond the moral issues of unkept vows, a broken marriage destabilizes the people involved. Yes, there can be repair, and a new stability established, but the remembrance of a break haunts the new status quo. Furthermore, innocents can be caught up in the events, and when this happens they may suffer terribly.

Stability is hard work, and more fragile than we like to admit. Threats can come from without: a car accident, an illness. But they can also come from within, and sometimes these inward threats are so subtle and gradual that you barely notice them until they have you by the throat. It's easy to play "what if." What if I had married so-and-so instead of my current spouse? What if we had lived here, instead of there? What if I'd been able to do this, instead of that?

We're probably all guilty of playing "what if," of course, but attempting to make these dreams real entails a cost. Sometimes the cost is worth it -- say, training for a new career -- but the cost is usually higher than one has anticipated. I have to think there are very few circumstances that are worth the pain of a broken marriage.

Straddling the chasm of reality and fantasy, it's easy to move for awhile from imagined thing to reality without disruption in one's life. It's dangerous, though. A parable in the Bible says that a man cannot serve two masters, and while Jesus was talking about God and money, the concept is the same. One cannot have two conflicting things. The reality may not be everything you'd wished for, but the fantasy probably wouldn't do it either. Truly, how many times has something turned out that met all of your expectations?

From time to time, we are all guilty of this straddling. However, I'd like my girlfriend to remember that it's cruel to hold out "what ifs" to others who may be hurt. Better to hang tough, turn completely, and just hope the other person forgives you as you both wait for heaven.

Saturday, June 14, 2008

Domestically Yours

My boy brought home from school a sweet poem for me. Although I don't usually permit myself to be sentimental, I admit to feeling a specially warm fuzzy glow reading this. Here 'tis:

How do I Love Thee? Let me count the ways.

Yelling, screaming, anxious kids still have a place in your van.
When I get home, chocolate chip cookies just out of the oven are waiting for me with an ice cold glass of milk.

You also take great care to make the house beautiful.
It always makes me happy, like a beautiful sunrise just smiling at the world.


I'm far from being super-mom, believe me, but things like this are wonderful reminders that it's important to take care of people -- they are what last. Deal gently with them. We are all fragile.

Since I'm thinking of it, here is my recipe for chocolate chip cookies. You'll note no eggs means little ones can taste the batter (if you worry about things like that):

1 1/4 cups packed brown sugar
1/2 cup sugar
1/2 cup oil
3/4 cup milk
2 tsp vanilla
2 cups flour
1 tsp baking soda
1 tsp salt
2 1/2 cups oats (best to use is old-fashioned oatmeal, but quick is also OK)
chocolate chips

Mix sugars, oil, milk, and vanilla. Sift and add flour, baking soda, and salt. Add oats. Add chocolate chips. Drop by teaspoon onto greased baking pan (I actually cover a tray with foil instead of greasing the cookie sheet). Bake at 350 F for 8-10 minutes or until golden. (I think that time's right -- I just wait till they look ready).

~missing dear friends~

Friday, June 6, 2008

The Sixth Day of the Sixth Month

Today is the 64th anniversary of D-Day, the Allies' first move to gain a foothold on the main European continent to push back the Nazis.

The invasion of fortified Normandy, France, had originally been planned for June 5, 1944, but because of weather was pushed off for a day. Air assault conducted soon after midnight softened the Nazi entrenchments of Normandy (bridges, road crossings, terrain features and such). The amphibious assault occurred soon after 6 am along five beaches: Gold, Juno, Omaha, Sword, and Utah. Germans mowed down soldiers from high cliffs, yet the Allies persisted and were able to establish a beachhead from which they launched their counter-invasion of Europe. This was the largest one-day invasion ever, with more than 130,000 troops landed by the end of June 6.

I am humbled thinking about these brave young men going forward in the face of blinding artillery and seemingly certain death in order to free nations from the Nazis' grip. Anyone who has seen that opening scene of Steven Spielberg's Saving Private Ryan will have a hard time wiping those (realistically staged) images from his mind.

I am humbled thinking of all of the soldiers and civilians, throughout history, who have bravely and anonymously faced terrifying conditions and made wrenching choices in order to improve the lives of others. So much of what we enjoy in this country is due to these sacrifices.

It seems insufficient, but I just wish to say to these men and women, thank you.

Tuesday, June 3, 2008

Welcome to my Party!

At 1:50 p.m. I sent off the final draft of Lever. It's done!

I want to write something funny, but frankly I'm pooped. Since I finished the copyediting, I've spent the last five days closely vetting everything that I could think of about this ms, and yesterday and today reread every blessed word one more time just to make sure it was OK.

So, fingers crossed.

You'll note that my manuscript went in one day late. Them's the breaks. It should be all right, though, dear friends, never fear. I have a lot more to do relatively quickly, but I refuse to think about any more today.

Have a sip of champagne (or coke, or milk, or tea) and celebrate with me. Sit with me for a minute, and imagine holding that first book...

~happy thoughts~

OK, back to the real world of homework and housework. It's time for me to make dinner. I'm too tired to cook, so I've defrosted lentil soup that I made last month. It's maybe not as good a dinner as some, but oh well. I have just enough corn meal to make corn muffins...

~smiling~ to dear friends

Sunday, June 1, 2008

Fun With Language

This seems like a particularly appropriate topic for me today, since I've been wrestling with expunging the bitty grammatical glitches from my manuscript. This poem made me smile.


Asylum for the Verbally Insane

Author unknown

We'll begin with a box, and the plural is boxes,

But the plural of ox becomes oxen, not oxes.
One fowl is a goose, but two are called geese,
Yet the plural of moose should never be meese.
You may find a lone mouse or a nest full of mice,
Yet the plural of house is houses, not hice.

If the plural of man is always called men,

Why shouldn't the plural of pan be called pen?
If I speak of my foot and show you my feet,
And I give you a boot, would a pair be called beet?
If one is a tooth and a whole set are teeth,
Why shouldn't the plural of booth be called beeth?

Then one may be that, and three would be those,

Yet hat in the plural would never be hose,
And the plural of cat is cats, not cose.
We speak of a brother and also of brethren,
But though we say mother, we never say methren.
Then the masculine pronouns are he, his and him,
But imagine the feminine: she, shis and shim!


My dear friends, I have to keep this entry short because I'm on a deadline for tomorrow, but I've decided I want to update this blog about once a week. Let's see if I can keep to that ambitious goal. I haven't forgotten about my "time is like paint" topic :-)

Have a wonderful week.

~Thank you~ to dear friends.