100 Days of Fiction: Days 13 through 21

This sabbatical has been interesting. And certainly has led to me learning a lot of big and little lessons. It’s been writingontheporch_041715harder than I thought it was going to be – harder to focus on my dream list of things I wanted to do, hard to admit to myself that I wasn’t prepared, hard to find out what my favorite restaurants are having as their special because they only update that info on their Facebook page…

But the thing is, all of these hard lessons have been good lessons to learn.

I’ve also picked up more than a little clarity around what I long for and what I need and what ingredients I am missing when it comes to actively cultivating and creating the kind of daily life I desire to lead.

More later on that – but for now, here’s the last week of snippets from my 100 Days of Fiction Project:

Day 13

Day 14

 

Day 15

Day 16

 

Day 17

Day 18

 

Day 19

Day 19: “Paula knew it was time to be a bigger person. ” #The100DayProject #100DaysofFictionByDebra

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Day 20

 

Day 21

100 Days of Fiction: Days 9 through 12

One day, I will tell you more about Paula….

Day 9

Day 10

 

Day 11

Day 12

 

Making Chicken Stock

Each week I share a recipe in the newsletter I write for my coaching practice. I won’t go into the details today about why I share recipes, but will share that story soon.

This week’s recipe is for chicken stock.

I used to buy chicken broth (you know, the Swanson’s kind) and then, as I became a bit more sophisticated cook, I started using a high quality, unsalted stock (Kitchen Basics – Vegetable Stock and Chicken Stock are both in my pantry). Then, I was convinced by a friend to give making my own stock a try, and after I cooked with that first batch of stock I had made, I was HOOKED.

The stock I made had a deeper flavor and, I could make it a bit more nutritious by using chicken feet as a part of the stock. Yes, you read that right: chicken feet. Why? Because using the feet adds glucosamine chondroitin and collagen to your broth. And, as we age, some folks (ahem, me) have found that the addition of more of those in my diet helps ease my joints (especially my hips and hands).

Begin with a visit to your butcher. I am so fortunate that my favorite local grocery, Dorothy Lane Market, has a top-notch meat department with knowledgeable butchers.  To make stock, you’ll want necks and backs along with the feet. The parts come from the same local free-roaming chickens that I’d buy the breasts from.

Tell your butcher that you need chicken parts for stock – about four pounds. You will need to tell your butcher that you want FEET, otherwise he will only get necks and backs (since the feet freak too many folks out).

(I totally get it if you don’t want to use the feet. It still freaks me out when I’m using them.)

Start with a BIG stock pot. I use a double pot – with an inner basket so that I have an easier time separating all of the solids from the liquid.

In your pot add: one yellow onion, quartered, one head of garlic (cloves smashed), three stalks of celery (cut into manageable pieces), three carrots (cut into manageable pieces),  two leeks, sliced and rinsed (the white and light green parts) and a palm full of whole peppercorns.

chickenstockveggies

Add four pounds of chicken parts and an assortment of fresh herbs (I use the ones marked “poultry seasonings, which includes rosemary, thyme and sage). You may desire to add a heavy pinch of kosher salt, but I usually don’t.

makingchickenstock_herbsandchickenparts

Then add filtered water (the same water you’d make coffee with) to the top of your pot. Bring the liquid to boiling and then put heat to low, cover and let simmer for 2 1/2 hours.

After your 2 1/2 hours are up, remove all the solids and discard.  There will still be traces of herbs and whole peppercorns, so once the solids are removed, pour stock (careful it will be very HOT) through a fine mesh strainer.

Then, I begin immediately packaging it into freezable containers. I prefer BPA Free plastic containers that are designed to hold 3 cups of food. Use cup to transfer stock to containers until they are 2/3 full (leaving room for expansion in the freezer).

(Though I like to store most sauces in freezer bags so they pack flat, this will not work well for you during the thawing process for chicken stock!)

Leave stock on the counter in containers to cool enough to put in your refrigerator (about an hour). Leave in the fridge at least 4 hours or up to overnight.

If you use the feet,  your finished (cold) stock will have the consistency of soft jello.

chickenstock_squared

Pull containers out of fridge and skim off any fat and discard (fat will rise to the top). Then, freeze.

Stock is good in the freezer for up to six months. To use, put in the fridge the night before to thaw and use entire container within 3 days.

frozenchickenstock

 

I use stock in place of water in rice and quinoa, to make soups, and to enhance dishes being sauteed on the stove top.  If your recipe calls for adding your rice and liquid to the pot at the same time, you’ll get better results letting the stock come up to a warm temperature (liquid not jello-ish) before adding the rice.

100 Days of Fiction: Days 4 through 8

Though I am doing this project and some writing, I am officially on sabbatical so am not on the computer as much.  Here are days four through eight.

Day Four

Day Five

 

Day Six

Day Seven

 

Day Eight

And the Special Prompt Posted on Day 8:

 

100 Days of Fiction: Day Two

Happy hour was a curious animal that brought out all kinds of beasties. And the thing is, it didn’t matter what bar you wandered into one an average Tuesday anywhere or in any neighborhood across the south. The cast of patrons were always the same.

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There was the regular. Always in the corner spot of the bar. Everyone knew his name – be it Norm or Mark or Walter. He was a fixture, there. He drank draft beer and alternated that with the occasional shot. He knew all the bartenders and half the patrons by name.

There was the business suited woman sipping on a Merlot.  She kept her iPhone in her hand and, though she looked a little lonesome, she didn’t speak to the other patrons.

The pair of happy-go-lucky guys dressed in the male version of the business casual uniform: khakis and polo shirts with company logos over the left breast, drinking beer, planning their next golf game, and razzing each other over whatever sport was in season.

And then there’s the bombshell. A beautiful woman, though not classically so. She was vibrant and alluring, yet seemed clueless to her own  sexiness. She wore silky blouses and fitted tees paired with form fitting jeans and high heels, which she hooked over the bottom rung of the bar stool. Her eyes were bright and friendly, yet the most sensitive patrons saw the secrets deep within.

100 Days of Fiction: Day One

She pulled into the drive-through of Starbucks, her body craving a mocha. With an extra shot of espresso and extra whip cream. It had been one of those kinds of days where all she could think about was medicating the heartache with sweetness.

Ahead of her was a woman in a blue Toyota Carola with lots of curly red hair. She had one of those carrying voices that was not just loud, but sounded like she was always perky and cheerful. As the woman finished her order (an Extra Hot Caramel Macchiato and a Blueberry Scone), a giant dog with a slobbery tongue stuck his head out the passenger window. It was a Bernese Mountain Dog and he was grinning.

Dogs in cars always looked so happy. She longed to feel joy -or anything – that strongly again. Briefly she wondered if getting a big old dog was the answer to experiencing that deep sense of happiness.

But life was just too complicated to add a dog.

A photo posted by Debra Smouse (@debrasmouse) on

100 Days of Fiction

When The Great Discontent featured the lovely Elle Luna and introduced the 100 Days of Making, I was intrigued. luna-100dayproject-pledge1Though I didn’t know exactly what my project would be, I felt a deep call to do it.

It’s a scary prospect in so many ways. Committing to doing it would be committing to doing something for 100 days straight. It would mean that others would see me and possibly judge me.What if I slipped up? What if I lost interest?

And, with the project on Instagram, it would “have” to be visual, right? I am not an artist (my Mandala class has made that obvious). My photography is passable.  I’ve done month long photography projects (like In Plain Sight), but I didn’t want to to take 100 days of Coffee Photos, no matter how much I love coffee or photos. Because, photos are not my art. Words are my art.

But no matter how many ways I tried to talk myself out of it, I decided to commit. Because my heart asked me to.

What would 100 Days of Making something – anything – show me? About myself. About my body of work. About my process. About my muse.  What would surrendering to 100 days lead me to?

I wanted to do something out of my norm, yet something that would feel nourishing. My art is writing, yet I write all the time. The average week produces between 4000 and 8000 words of content.

I didn’t want to commit to 100 days of writing in my journal because often those words aren’t meant for anyone else’s eyes, and making it this project would taint my journal, a demon I’ve sought to banish for the last decade. I didn’t want to commit to 100 days of blogging, that felt like work, too. The thought of one more piece of consumable professional content per day felt like a prison, not a delight. And writing consumable content that was reflective of my business brand felt contrary to the goal of the project, which is to show up each day and commit to luna-100dayproject-pledge3the process, not fetishize the finished product.

Then it hit me: write fiction.

“Let yourself be silently drawn by the strange pull of what you really love. It will not lead you astray.” –Rumi

Though I read a lot of great non-fiction and creative non-fiction. And though I enjoy poetry. What I most passionately consume as a reader when it comes to words is fiction.

I spend the bulk of my writing time deep within the bowels of non-fiction these days. I write blog posts and newsletter articles that directly support my coaching practice. I record recipes. I craft eBooks for subscribers with worksheets and exercises. I put my coaching tools to work in the form of courses. I write articles for YourTango and other websites. I ask the questions that need to be asked so that people can fall in love with their own story.

And the thing is, I used to write fiction. I used to write vignettes. I used to write short stories. I used to work on a novel.  And as I was pondering ideas for 100 Days of…. I realized I hadn’t written fiction for at least four years. The thought of writing fiction when “I have so much writing for work that needs to be done” felt frivolous and UN-productive.

Yet, it feels so right and aligned with the intent of the 100 Days Project.

Beginning Monday, April 6th, I will be writing fiction for 100 days. Some days may see full paragraphs. Others may see two. Many days will likely see a single sentence. I’ll be handwriting my fiction in a segregated notebook purchased just for this project so that there is no “cross contamination” in my journal or work papers.

If you’d like to follow along, I’ll be sharing my project over on Instagram  which I will sometimes post to Facebook or Twitter) and will be tagging it with the official  tag: #The100DayProject as well as my personal one #100DaysofFictionByDebra.

What would 100 Days of Making manifest for you? What would it show you? I’ll be looking for other 100 Days projects for inspiration, so be sure and let me know if you’ll be participating, too!

Writing in my Head

My journal is forlornly sitting with a stack of other things on my desk: my Lenten readings waiting to be put into my weeklycompassbinder, an copy of an order for water filters for the fridge and Brita pitcher, a cookbook, my planner and a blank “compass“. I’m avoiding it like it were a pit of hungry alligators rather than an unassuming and nonjudgmental friend as it faithfully waits with anticipation for my words.

Instead of putting words on paper, I’m writing in my head.

There’s a continual litany of ideas flowing. Pieces of my book, ideas for blog posts, viewpoints for articles and concepts for lessons for one of my courses. I know that there are things I need to work through which requires taking a pen in hand and letting my words flow from the green-black ink onto the creamy pages of 50 lb. paper. Yet, I stubbornly shuttle the book aside.

I write in my head about my body image as I drove home from Cincinnati and a day of shopping with a friend and transition to I writing about witnessing a powerful and confident woman be at home in her own body.

As I slather heavy-duty lavender cream on the winter chaffed skin under my left armpit, I compose a lesson for my Make Your Inner Sex Kitten Roar ladies about choosing to make time for self-care instead of insisting we don’t have time. Then, I contemplate using pieces of that concept for blog posts and newsletter snippets.

My journal begs me open it as I contemplate today’s Lenten reading of the Magi, yet I walk away from it when the dryer buzzes. When I discover the clothes are still damp, instead of returning downstairs to write, I take this opportunity to clean the cabinets in the laundry room, removing every trace of laundry detergent and fabric softener buddahonmydeskfrom the bottom shelf. As I clean, I ponder the March tips for my monthly 30 Days to Clarity newsletter.

I vow to write them down, yet when I return downstairs, I thumb through the cookbook Clean Slate and mark potential recipes to try with a post it note. I dream of future dinners and recipes to share with subscribers.

Writing in a paper journal is something I’ve consistently done only since 2011. Before, words on paper meant I was at risk to be violated.

My mother read my diary as a child. When I got brave enough in high school to write my private thoughts on paper again, I reverted to plain spiral notebooks in order to disguise my hopes, dreams, and angst amongst my school work.  When I was a newlywed at 19, I returned from my honeymoon to discover huge chunks of those high school journals missing. My mother had decided that my (then-husband) didn’t need to stumble across them, so she decided to destroy any of my words that didn’t meet her approval.

Marriage didn’t provide a sanctity for my thoughts or desires. I’d begin to explore my secret desires only to discover traces of them either removed or shoved in my face during a confrontation. Alas, divorce still didn’t allow a safe space for my thoughts on paper. Both of my daughters were nosy and would paw through every drawer and shelf.

For the first time in my life, though, I – and my words – are safe.

JB would never thumb through my planner or pick up my phone to peek at my text messages, let alone look at what I’ve written in my journal. But despite knowing this, when I am working through Big Stuff, I am afraid.

I ache to write about the tenderness and pleasure of lovemaking. How the mix of desire and surrender allows me to get out of my head and into my body. I yearn to capture the myriad of emotions when I log into my 23andMe account and see that I am 4/6th the way into some answers about who I am. I long to work through what I’m learning so that I can dive into my own wisdom.

journlingtuesdayBut the fear of the innocuous pages with a pen in my hand cause me to continue to whirl the words within my head.

So, instead, I return to the medium for sparking my writer’s soul: blogging.

Here, I am safe to share the threads of my thoughts. Though thousands upon hundreds of anonymous eyes might read these words, they feel safer tossed into the digital ether.

My journal precariously sits atop my planner. It reminds me that I am safe to bleed my thoughts and feelings upon it’s pages. It’s patiently waiting for me to stop writing in my head and, instead, absolve me from my worries.

Perhaps tomorrow. After another delectable dinner. Another necessary respite in dreamland. And possibly another morning of lovemaking. Maybe that’s the recipe to stop writing in my head and turning to my sanctity of words on paper. Instead of my head.

 

What Does He See In Her?

Part of my personal Lenten journey this year is being spent with the Jesuits and their “Igniting Our Values” series.  Today’s reflection centered around “Our Lady of Aranzazu” and the writer today’s reflection (Father Jack Bentz, SJ) aranzazu_interior_altar_statue_closeup2wwrote about his attempt to understand with St. Ignatius was entranced by “Our Lady of Aranzazu”.

I really connected with the reflection today – emotionally, spiritually and intellectually.

He likens his search for understanding that the way we do when anyone we love brings someone home to join us – “what does he see in her?” And that is so true of all of us. Whether we are part of a family or a group of friends or even a company, when someone we know and love and trust “brings someone home” to meet us we want to understand but also fear what the “new” person will do to what we know.

I’ve been on both sides of that – bringing someone home that I love and hope my friends and family will also love. And, I’ve been the person being brought home and sat while feeling as if I were being picked apart and judged as people try to figure me out

And, let’s face it: we humans want to understand other humans – especially those we love – so we can feel what they feel and learn from their stories.

As the writer continues, he says that he then tries to befriend his friend’s loves. I love that he includes not just people, but historical figures and authors within that. What reader hasn’t fallen in love with an author or a fictional character? And we want everyone we know to love what we love, so we share the tales of romantic gestures and oft-read books.  Alas, we find that despite our desire to fall madly in love with everything others love, some things we do and others stay in the vein of “nodding acquaintances”.

For me – it’s so true from all ends – I want to befriend everyone my family and friends love – be it real or fictional – ancient or new – lover or friend – and try as I may, I don’t always get there, but I try.

And then, this most beautiful question: “Who was he to judge that grace was not happening?”.

Each of us has unlimited access to grace, yet we often deny our worthiness to it. We look at impossible or painful situations and see no way forward and no way out. We cannot imagine that any good can come from pain, yet within everything around us, we always have the opportunity for grace – love, acceptance, forgiveness.Grace is one of the most beautiful words I’ve learned. What a loving reminder that it’s always there within reach.

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