Wednesday, August 31, 2011

Before I Go to Sleep

Before I Go to SleepBefore I Go to Sleep by S.J. Watson
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

This book chronicles the life of Christine, who loses her memory each morning. Christine spends each day putting her life back together using the items and people she doesn't remember. The problem is that the memories and other information she learns doesn't always match or make sense. This puts the reader on edge as you try and determine who she can trust, what is really going on, and whether her memories are real or figments of her imagination.

I really enjoyed this book. Christine is fragile, because of her condition, but determined to rebuild her life and figure out as much she can about her memory loss and how to continue her life. Everyone, including Christine, has secrets that keep you wondering what really happened. The people Christine depends on all act in ways that make you wonder if they can be trusted.  There is an innocent explanation described by the characters, and sometimes Christine, that is believable but questionable.

The author did a good job of dealing with the repeated loss of her memory through the use of a journal that Christine is keeping. She is hiding the journal from her husband and even she isn't sure why, but it reminds her of what she has already learned each day so she, and the reader, don't need to repeat it. This kept the pace of the book at a speed necessary for a suspenseful mystery.

Sunday, August 28, 2011

When left alone I hit the sauce ...

My wife planned a simple dinner of grilled pork chops and green salad.  Then she left the house on an errand and I got bored.  I thought about a brine marinade, but didn't have the ingredients.  I went to the fridge and saw that we still had plenty of plums.  I guess we didn't make enough cobbler.  The result was a wonderful new pork chop with plum sauce recipe.  I used my wife's homemade oat bread to get to the leftover sauce.  As always, the recipe follows the picture.

Pork Chops with Plum Sauce


2 Tablespoons olive oil
6 boneless pork chops 
salt and pepper (to taste)
1 large garlic clove (crushed or minced)
1 medium yellow onion
1/4 Cup soy sauce
2 Tablespoons red wine vinegar
2 Tablespoons dark molasses 
1/4 teaspoon ground ginger (full teaspoon if fresh)
3 whole cloves (1/8 teaspoon if using crushed)
5 fresh plums (pitted and coarsely chopped) 


Season pork chops with salt and pepper to taste.  Heat oil in a skillet over medium-high heat and cook the pork chops until browned (approximately 5 minutes per side).  Remove the pork chops and set aside.  

Reduce the heat to medium and add the onions and cook until translucent.  Add garlic and saute until the onions begin to caramelize.  Pour in the soy sauce, red wine vinegar, molasses, ginger, and cloves.  bring sauce to a boil and add plums.  Reduce heat to a simmer and cover until the plums are very soft (approximately 45 minutes).  Stir the mixture occasionally to avoid burning.  If necessary, mash the plums with a potato masher (I didn't need this but my plums were very ripe).  Place pork chops back into the pan and cook until no longer pink in the middle (approximately 10 minutes longer).  The pork chop should read 160 degrees Fahrenheit/70 degrees Celsius with a meat thermometer.   

Saturday, August 27, 2011

Don't Know if I'll Make it, but Watch How Good I Fake It

I participated in a 24-Hour Writing Contest at the beginning of July.  The rules were simple.  Pay $5, wait for emailed writing prompt and maximum word count, write a short story on topic within 24 hours.  This was my first writing contest and I chose it because of its limited commitment and low entry fee.  The results of the contest were posted this week and, although I didn't win one of the three cash prizes, my piece received an honorable mention.

The small acknowledgement that my writing was worth mentioning gave me a much needed confidence boost.  I'm my worst critic and often allow a small voice in my head to convince me that my writing has no value. The only people who read my work are friends and family. They are unlikely to tell me I'm a talentless hack.  The mention gave me hope that someone outside my friendly group of readers might enjoy my writing.  Even if I hadn't won anything, the experience was fun and I would recommend participating in the next contest on September 10th

The prompt for the summer contest was:

Strong waves pounded the dark sand just a few yards away. Hidden by beach grass, they embraced, relieved to finally escape their wedding guests. His poetic whispers suddenly ceased as he leaned back, and said, "There's something I need to tell you..." (Maximum Word Count - 875)

Here was my submission


Mark sat just beyond the tall grass, hidden from view of the beach house windows that faced the ocean. He hoped his absence would go unnoticed at the crowded reception. Eventually someone would find him - he was the groom.

The wind blew in bursts and Mark tightened his grip on the stack of letters, fearing the gale would scatter them forever. They couldn't be lost; they meant everything to him and Karen. These pages had started the journey that ended with vows to love, honor, and cherish her for
the rest of his life.

Each letter was carefully written on high-quality stationary, folded into thirds, and contained a dark blue cursive script on a single page. They were deliberately beautiful to show Karen the effort spent on each letter.

The wind exploded again and the papers crackled against each other like embers in a fire. A year ago Karen had received the letters, one each Friday night for six weeks. Mark stared at the last letter, remembering the night he delivered it. The evening was dark and raining, which seemed like perfect conditions for avoiding detection. He watched the house for any sign of movement and, seeing none, jogged the short distance from his car to the mailbox. As soon as the letter was out of his pocket the headlights of the car parked out front flooded the street with light.

He was caught.

"Are you a stalker?" Karen shouted, shielded behind her now open car door.

"No." Mark said, shielding his eyes.

"Why are you leaving me letters?"

"Don't worry, this is the last letter - I promise. I'm sorry if it scared you. It wasn't. . ." He trailed off and then tried to retreat to his car.

"Wait." She shouted. "Can I talk to you, just for a minute...not here...there is a coffee shop out on the main road, Javana, do you know it?"

"I passed it on my way here."

"Can you meet me there in five minutes?"


They talked for hours that evening.  She was beautiful, even drenched with rain. Mark was usually introverted, but she made him feel comfortable and he shared more with her than any other woman he had dated.  When it got late she thanked him for a wonderful evening and
the letters. She apologized for calling him a stalker saying that she couldn't believe anyone would legitimately write love letters anymore.

"It's like a fairytale." she said, and then wrote her phone number on a napkin, gave it to him, and walked out of the coffee shop.

Mark knew that evening that he could not live his life without her. After six months of dating, meeting her parents, and discovering a thousand other things he adored about her - he proposed. This morning he married her and it should have been the happiest day of his life,
if he didn't feel so guilty.

Mark heard footfalls in the sand behind him and turned to see who had finally noticed his absence.  It was Karen.

"So this is where you're hiding." She said, and sat down next to him, pulling her knees into her chest and resting her head on his shoulder.

"I just needed a little fresh air."

"Me too. Rereading the letters, huh?"

"You should keep these."

"I told you, I don't need them anymore - I have you."

"Please. They were meant for you, and you should keep them."

"But I want you to write me new letters, as my husband."

"I need to tell you something."


"I didn't write these letters."

"What do you mean? I don't understand."

Of course she didn't understand. His memory returned to the last night in the hospital with his brother. Peter's advanced leukemia would claim him that night and he asked for one favor - he wanted Mark to deliver a letter.

Mark hadn't understood the request until Peter explained, "I'm never going to fall in love with anybody.  I wanted the chance to tell someone the things I would say if I could live long enough to fall in love. So . . . I started delivering these letters, secretly, to a girl who works at a coffee shop near school. Now I'm in the hospital and can't deliver this last one."

Karen listened as Mark explained about Peter and the letters. Mark had tried to tell her the truth many times over the past year, but each time, his fear of losing her made him swallow his words. When he finished his explanation, Karen returned to the beach house without a word.

He watched her labored march through the sand but didn't follow. Was it over? Married and divorced on the same day?

When she finally returned, she took the letters, walked to the shoreline, and tossed them into the water.  She turned back toward him and handed him the notebook and pen she was carrying.

"I don't . . ." Mark started but she cut him off.

"Like I said.  I want you to write me new letters, as my husband."

Wednesday, August 24, 2011

The Winding Road of Blog Campaigning

My friend Robin blogs about how writing is like a political campaign.  She refers to another blog that is running a Writer's Platform-Building Campaign.  I visit the blog, decide it's for me, and now link back to to Robin and the new blog announcing that I'm on the campaign trail.

I lived in Washington, D.C. for almost seven years and am very familiar with politics based on that proximity.  Politics is a game of favors.  Blogging is not that different.  Someone does me a favor by posting a comment and/or following my posts and I reciprocate by doing the same. This forges a friendship or relationship that can be beneficial to both sides.

I'm excited to see where this "campaign" goes.  It already has a cool logo - let the campaigning begin.

Sunday, August 21, 2011

Happiness is Plum Cobbler for Dinner

This weekend started with our first pick-up from Bountiful Baskets. This is a food co-op that seeks to find a purchase quality produce and distribute it to its members. We belonged to a CSA (Community Supported Agriculture) is Washington, D.C. and haven't joined one in Texas. This is a new way to get seasonal produce.  This week's haul included lots of fresh vegetables for the week and a box of fresh plums.

We ate several plums for breakfast and dinner on Saturday and, after a large lunch, decided we only wanted dessert for Sunday dinner.  

 Given our bounty, we chose plum cobbler.  We love any stone-fruit cobbler, but plums are my favorite.

Serve it with ice-cream and everyone's your friend.  

The recipe is found at and the only change is ours is made without almonds.  Enjoy!

Saturday, August 20, 2011

Review: A Long Way Down

A Long Way DownA Long Way Down by Nick Hornby
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

This was a really fun read. The ending was a little anticlimactic and predictable but the ride getting there was so much fun that it was forgiven. I'm familiar with the movies based on Nick Hornby novels (e.g. About a Boy and High Fidelity) but this is the first novel I've read by him.

The story revolves around four very different people who decide to commit suicide on new years eve at the same location.  They interrupt each other in the process and become an unlikely "gang" of friends - sort of.  They don't really like each other much, but feel some attachment and responsibility for talking each other out of "offing" themselves.

The concept of a suicide jump being interrupted multiple times by different people trying to make the same suicide jump was a great concept. The different personalities thrown together by nothing more than their desire to kill themselves was really interesting and made for some great humor throughout the book.  I laughed out loud several times.  It isn't the best book I've read this year, but it was worth the read.

There is a lot of cursing, and I mean a lot.  That should bother me more than it does, but I give you other readers fair warning.

Thursday, August 18, 2011

Review: One Day

One DayOne Day by David Nicholls
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

This book was on my "to read" pile for a while and then I saw that the movie premiere was coming so I decided to set a goal to finish it before the movie opened. I made it just in time - it opens tomorrow.

This is a love story told over a twenty-year-span on July 15th of each year from the first time they really meet until the end of the story. The dialog in the book is fantastic. I felt like I was eavesdropping on a real conversation with each paragraph. The same day over twenty years concept was a brilliant way to encapsulate two sides of a relationship over a long time period. In our home we have a collage of pictures for each year highlighting the significant events. This book was the prose equivalent of those photo collages. It was immediately intimate and revealing.

Wednesday, August 10, 2011

State of WonderState of Wonder by Ann Patchett
My rating: 2 of 5 stars

Patchett wrote one of my favorite novels of all time - Bel Canto. That story was rich with plot and character development. I cared about everyone in that room, including the rebels holding everyone hostage. Perhaps my expectations were too high for this novel. The writing was beautiful, which is expected from a gifted writer like Patchett. The descriptions of the Amazon made me feel every invading insect and threatening snake, rainstorm, and cannibal native. The problem was I kept asking myself why I was there.

It hurt me to give her two stars, because I loved her previous work so much. In my opinion, every great story has wonderful characters, an engaging plot line, and a wonderful setting. The setting was great and well described, as stated above. The characters were flat and uninteresting and the plot line meandered back and forth without clear direction and never really making me care about what happened. The plot line was difficult to decipher.

There is a relationship between the heroine and her boss at the beginning and then she leaves for the Amazon and only checks back in with him periodically so nothing ever develops. They receive news that the last scientist who went to the Amazon died and she was his friend and the wife asks her to go find out what happened. However, that mysterious death only bubbles to the surface in afterthoughts to remind you that "oh yeah, we still don't know what happened to that guy." The heroine's other goal is to get information from the elusive doctor Swenson heading the drug project but refusing to report on results. Doctor Swenson seemed merely an irritating ideologue instead of a real threat to anything or anybody. In short, there was little reason to care or feel any real tension beyond the normal dangers of just being in the Amazon.

View all my reviews
Fault Line: A NovelFault Line: A Novel by Barry Eisler
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

This has one of the best first lines I've read in a long time - "The last thing Richard Hilzoy thought before the bullet entered his brain was, things are really looking up." That start is followed by a fast-paced story of espionage over a software program designed by the man who dies in the first sentence. The characters were well developed, believable, and I cared about each one of them. The dynamic between the two brothers and how they deal with the skeletons in the family closet was a wonderful backdrop to the main plot line. As they struggled to deal with old wounds I understood why each character was hurt and reacting they way they did. Not being able to pick sides kept the tension of their relationship fresh throughout the book. This is my first Eisler novel, but I'm definitely reading the sequel to this book "Inside Out" and will probably add one of his older books to the ever increasing "to read" pile.

View all my reviews

Monday, August 1, 2011

My Intro to the blOscars

I'm relatively new to blogging. When I decided, about a year ago, to try and make good on a lifetime goal of writing a novel, I thought a blog might be a good way to chronicle that journey. It really is nothing more than an online journal of my two favorite exploits - fiction and food. 

Each day I am more amazed at the size and diversity of the blogging community.  It has its own lingo, etiquette, and method of information gathering and distribution.  Today I was introduced to another aspect of blogging I was unaware of - awards.

A friend of mine from high school, Robin Weeks, gave me an award today.  The award is the Leibster Award, which spotlights up and coming bloggers who currently have less than 200 followers. 


I don't consider myself "up and coming" but I definitely have less than 200 followers - I have less than 10. 

The rules of the award are (who knew awards came with rules):

1. Thank the giver and link back to the blogger who gave it to you. (DONE)

2. Reveal your top 5 picks and let them know by leaving a comment on their blog. (SEE BELOW)

3. Display the award on your blog. (DONE)

4. Have faith that your followers will spread the love to other bloggers. 
(The Few I have will hopefully do so) 

5. And most of all - have bloggity-blog fun! 
(Hallelujah - something I'm already doing) 

Choosing five bloggers with less than 200 followers was the largest challenge.  Since I'm relatively new to the blogosphere, I don't know a lot of new bloggers beyond myself.  Here are the five I chose, with some caveats (aren't there always caveats). 

1.  Robin Weeks - Not sure if this is against the rules, since she gave me the award, but I'm doing it anyway.  She has been a great friend to chat about writing and my guide through this new blogging world.  I follow her blog regularly. 

2.  Brohammas - This is another friend from high school.  I couldn't tell how many followers he has on his blog so I'm assuming it is below the 200 mark.  He will forgive me if I'm wrong.  His views on life, politics, rugby, and beverages are a joy to read.  He also maintains another blog displaying his artistic talent.  if the other blog has more than 200 followers, this one is probably new enough to not have reached that level yet.  

3. House of Broken Crayons - This is actually the family blog maintained by my wife.  I know this is totally cheating, since I'm listed on this blog, and that is why I'm hiding it in the middle.  

4. Mundane Magic - Full Disclosure, this is my cousin's wife.  However, she maintains a great blog and I love the stories about their family life.  They are great people and some of the funniest storytellers I know. She has over 400 followers on twitter, so she probably has more than 200 followers of her blog. Wordpress doesn't list followers clearly, so I'm hereby deeming her up and coming even if she has more than 200 merely so anyone who reads this will visit her blog.  You'll be happy you did.  

5. Memories for Later -  This is another friend from high school.  She was a lot of fun back then and you will see that her life since then is even more fun.  She is also another great storyteller and it is a joy to read about family life through her comedic lens. 

So there it is, my first time hosting a blog award.  It feels a little like a chain letter email, without the threat of death or destruction if not passed on, rather than a true award ceremony.  However, it was still fun to list five of my favorite blogs to follow.  To avoid guilt about over burdening them, they may participate on a completely voluntary basis.