4 Things in the Refrigerator

 Kenyon’s Johnny Cake corn meal from Kenyon’s Grist Mill in Usquepaugh, Rhode Island.  Have you never had johnny cakes?  According to Kenyon’s, to make an acceptable Rhode Island Johnny Cake, begin with Stone Ground White Corn Meal.  The liquid added to the meal may be hot or cold – water or milk.  That’s it – cornmeal mixed with a liquid to form a batter that is then cooked on a griddle so the little cakes become easily handled during travel.  In other words, they are named a “Travel Cake” or “Journey Cake.”  The colonists’ pronunciation would have been closer to “Jar-ney Cake.”   When the “r” sound was dropped with time, the name “Jonnycake” or “Johnny Cake” became popular.

My mother made johnny cakes when we had leftover lamb (once a year), and I was familiar with johnny cakes as a side dish, drizzled with dark, rich lamb gravy.  It wasn’t until I was older that I realized a lot of people ate them with butter and maple syrup, like pancakes.  Either way, they’re a Rhode Island tradition.  Come to this year’s Johnny Cake Festival at Kenyon’s – October 20-21, 2012!  http://www.kenyonsgristmill.com/home.html

Trader Joe’s cashew butter.  The first time I ever tried cashew butter was during my sophomore year of college.  I traveled with my roommate to her family’s home in Somerville, New Jersey, and we spent a day in New Hope, Pennsylvania.  At the time, we drove past a lot of farmland, and we loved the hippie feel of funky New Hope.  We found cashew butter at a local grocery, and I fell in love.  It’s fabulous on toast, celery, or your index finger.


A few years ago, we switched from regular milk to soy milk.  I wanted something other than cow’s milk and I knew my husband had problems digesting milk.  According to some research, almond milk is higher in fat content than soy milk.  It’s also much less starchy. Unsweetened almond milk (pictured here) contains 40 calories per cup (soy is about 80).  Both are good for you.

I use this unsweetened almond milk as the basis for my morning shake (sorry, I don’t use that “-ie” word).  Almond milk, banana, a scoop of Trader Joe’s Super Red Drink Powder (loaded with antioxidants), chia seeds, and a bit of frozen blueberries or frozen pineapple chunks.  Super!


I’m not vegan.  Some days I wish I were, because I’m keenly aware of the benefits of a plant-based diet.  I try instead to live “plant-strong.”  But eggs, especially local eggs, are one of the best things you can keep in the refrigerator, in my opinion.  We always buy local eggs (remember the jingle “brown eggs are local eggs and local eggs are fresh!”? – there it is on the carton).  According to the Mayo Clinic, eating four egg yolks or fewer on a weekly basis hasn’t been found to increase your risk of heart disease.

Of course, not everyone likes eggs.  Some are positively squeamish at the sight of a soft-boiled egg, pierced and runny.  I can’t be without them.

Of Sunburned Shoulders and Sandy Feet

Rhode Island is known as “the Ocean State.”  Big ocean, the Atlantic.  Small(est) state, Rhode Island.  Lots of coastline.  In fact, we’re only 37 miles wide and 48 miles long, but our shoreline runs for 400 miles along Narragansett Bay and that Atlantic Ocean.

The “Visit Rhode Island” website lists 57 beaches, but they include landlocked sites as well as “real” beaches with sand and surf.

With the Memorial Day weekend upon us, and the “official” start to summer (ha! we had a temperature of 72 this past March 12th), I’m thinking back to some memorable days at the beach.

As a kid, there was only one beach: Sand Hill Cove.  It had a giant parking lot, cracked and grassy, and you didn’t have to pay to park.  My dad drove a Ford with vinyl seats that were so hot at the end of the day, you had to lay down your damp towel to sit.  Rubbing my feet together, sand fell to the floor.  I rolled down the window and let the salty air blow my hair dry.

As a teenager, Scarborough Beach was the place to be seen.  Sherry and I would lay on big towels and talk about boys, and drink Fresca.  I hadn’t yet grasped the necessity of sunscreen.

Narragansett Beach courtesy http://www.raggazzo.com

As a young woman, I’d spend my days at Narragansett Beach, one of thousands packing the shore.  Still thinking I’d tan as well as my olive-skinned friends, I’d blister and peel the summer away, smelling like Noxzema from June to September.

Before I was married, I’d drive to the Charlestown Breachway early in the morning.  With a large hot coffee, a blueberry muffin, the newspaper, a book and sometimes a sweatshirt, I’d sit alone, in the lifting fog, reading and sipping and reveling in the solitude.  The fishermen on the breachway were quiet, too – all of us respectful of this time of day.

Or, Geri and I would spend the day at East Matunuck Beach on Succotash Road, talking about men.  I was getting better about sunscreen and a hat.

The summer after we were married, Jim and I took the ferry from Galilee to Block Island.  At Old Harbor, we made the short walk to Ballard’s, and rented white chaise lounges for a few bucks.  They were ours for the day.  Jim would go to the bar at Ballard’s and bring back frozen drinks – it was like being at a resort.  Later, we ate fresh bluefish before taking the ferry back to the mainland.

Ballard’s Beach courtesy http://www.tripadvisor.com

Now, we prefer to drive down Route 1 south in the afternoon, when Route 1 north is a parking lot.  The beach is emptied of all but a few, there’s no parking fee (an outrage to any native Rhode Islander), and we can walk, swim, picnic at the best time of day.  And at five in the afternoon, no worries about sunburn.

Friends Don’t Ask Friends for Feedback

I don’t watch a lot of television, but most of us are familiar with “American Idol.”  Each year, “Idol” makes a big deal of the really bad auditions, and some viewers enjoy them more than the actual competition.  I looked at some of them on YouTube, but decided not to post any here.  Most of the young people who audition for “Idol” believe they have a shot, and it’s heartbreaking to watch a bad singer ridiculed.

What always struck me about these bad auditions was the rejected contestant sobbing into the arms of a parent or friend who repeatedly told them that the judges didn’t know anything.  Yes, my darling, you can sing!  Wait a minute.  I just witnessed a terrible audition of someone who clearly could not sing, but here was a loved one telling them that the judges were dead wrong.

And this got me thinking about writing.  Friends and family have provided me with positive feedback and reinforcement.  As well they should – they’re family and friends!  When I embarked on writing my first novel, I told a couple of my girlfriends what I envisioned the plot to be, and they all said it was a great story.

A couple of months in, I signed up for an online writing course, figuring I could use what I learned, and submit what I’d written.  For our final project, we were to submit the first 500 words of our work in progress.  Well, I knew I had a fabulous piece (free of misspellings and grammatical errors, of course), and submitted it with confidence at the end of the eight weeks.

Imagine my surprise when the professor critiqued it, telling me (kindly) that it was boring!  Boring!  That these 500 words were not enough to make her want to read more, let alone buy the book.  Immediately, I turned to my friend Lynne.  I e-mailed her the piece I’d submitted, and, dear friend that she is, she told me she thought it was great.  A few days later, I revisited the piece and the critique.  And you know what?  The professor was right.  There was nothing there to grab a reader.  Yes, it was well-written and descriptive.  But this professor, who didn’t know me, was an objective reader who gave an unbiased opinion.  And it helped me to create an entirely new beginning.

I still shared the (revised) first chapter with a far-away friend, someone I hadn’t seen in over 30 years but whose opinion I respected.  She liked it, which was good for my ego.  But I haven’t shared it with any other friends.  Because I know they’ll be kind, just as I would be with them.  That will feed my ego, but not necessarily make me a better writer.

Your Character has no Character

For over twenty years, I worked as a regulator and an investigator before deciding to write full-time.  Exposure to white-collar criminals certainly changed my naïve attitude that all charitable organizations are good, all investment advisors are thinking only what’s in their client’s best interest, and no one would think to steal from society’s most vulnerable citizens.  But that’s not true.  Fraud happens, a lot.

Dear friends recently were victimized by their tax preparer, a man they knew from church, well-respected in the community, who steered them into a Ponzi scheme he’d created.  This week, that person was arrested on a 35-count indictment charging securities fraud, grand larceny, and money laundering.  He’d gained my friends’ trust, as he had countless other victims.  By preparing their tax returns, he knew his clients, and he knew what kind of money they had.  In his press release announcing the arrest, the New York Attorney General said, “It’s unconscionable that many hard-working people put their futures in the hands of this defendant only to see their financial security destroyed by greed.  (He) stole his victims’ life savings, and forced some of them to re-enter the workplace or rely on government assistance to survive, while others face foreclosure on their homes or bankruptcy.”

If you’re looking to bring a despicable character such as this into your writing, remember the three elements of fraud: (1) the fraudster has an “unsharable financial need,” meaning he or she is under pressure to come up with money.  Gambling debts, drug addiction, credit card debt – any of these could contribute to that financial need.  (2) “Rationalization,” meaning that, in the fraudster’s mind, the perceived benefit of committing the fraud outweighs the perceived punishment if caught.  And finally (3) “opportunity,” a situation enabling the fraudster to commit fraud (lack of oversight, etc.).

White-collar criminals are big in books these days, thanks in part to Bernie Madoff.  And we can read about fraud and corruption every day.  The three elements described above will help you to create a believable character.  If only they were relegated to fiction.

A Few Things I Learned from my Mother

Wedding Day, October 22, 1955

When we first knew about my mother’s illness, I remember sitting in the car with my husband one day.  We were parked in the driveway, and he was about to back up.  I said, “I wish she would just die.”  He stopped backing up and looked at me.  “You don’t really mean it,” he said.  “Yes, I do mean it.  I wish she would die now, rather than have to go through this.”  I hesitated. “I don’t want to go through it either,” I whispered.

My mom was so intelligent.  She was precise.  Very precise.

When I was ten: “If someone asks, ‘Who is it?’ you should answer ‘It is I,’ not ‘It’s me.'”  I thought to myself, that just sounds weird.  But I remembered.

When I was a teenager, she hooked me on crossword puzzles, and I added “epee,” “aerie,” and “alee” to my vocabulary.

When I was a young adult, we’d play marathon Scrabble games, and she decided we should use nine letters instead of seven, because we could make better words with nine letters.

In Switzerland

When I was newly married, I researched her genealogy, tracing her mother’s line back to King Alfred the Great.  This prompted us to start spending Saturdays traipsing around old cemeteries in Kent County, finding Stones and Wightmans and matching them to the names in the family tree.

Joyce, Carter, and John

A few years before dementia invaded her mind and robbed her of reason and memory, she stated, “It’s not correct to say ‘I feel nauseous.’  You should say ‘I feel nauseated.’  Did you know that?”  My husband just shook his head and smiled.  Joyce strikes again.

Years after she lost the ability to speak, or to recognize my sisters and me, my mother died at a quarter to eleven on a Saturday morning.  My wristwatch stopped ticking at the same time.

The day after we laid her to rest, my husband took me to Newport.  We ate lunch at the Red Parrot and sat by the water, watching the endless cycle of waves: rush in, hurry back out.  She’d been lost to us for years; still, the finality of losing both parents was inescapable.

On the drive home, my husband turned on the radio.  We were hoping to catch the news on the hour, but had to listen to a few minutes of a talk show first.  The caller on the air was upset about whatever situation was the topic of the show, I guess.  “You know, Dan, I’m just nauseated over it.”

I turned to my husband, who was grinning, too.  “Joyce!” we cried in unison.  She’d have been pleased to hear he got it right.

This Writing Journey

It’s been a week since I’ve posted my final blog in the “April Blogging from A to Z Challenge.”  Yes, I did survive it, but the end of a daily post meant focusing more on the revisions to my first novel.

When I began writing last August, I decided not to make this blog about the progress of my first book, mostly because I thought it would be tedious (I wrote 5,000 words today!) and uninteresting (I stared at one paragraph for two hours today).  Also, when I decided to write this book, I was terribly unenlightened about the entire publishing world today.  I’ve learned a lot since then.

All I knew was that after leaving a job in fraud investigations, and dealing with a debilitating back problem, it was time to do something different.  Something I’d always wanted to do.  Writing was that something.  Was it too late to start?  The beautiful thing about writing is that it doesn’t (really) matter what age you are.  Some hit it big in their twenties, others in their fifties, or later.

I took two online courses, from September to December last year: Beginners Writing Workshop and Advanced Fiction Writing.  Both of them were worth it.  I learned to write better dialogue, backstory, characters.  By New Year’s, I’d written about 60,000 words and decided on a title: Chocolate for Breakfast.  That title, and the unedited manuscript, have been copyrighted.

Meanwhile, I’d been building my “platform,” essential for any writer these days.  I use LinkedIn, Facebook (adding a Martha Reynolds Writer page link to my personal page), and Twitter (where I am TheOtherMartha1).  I began following authors, publishers, bloggers.  I joined Goodreads and Pinterest.  With all this online presence, how did I ever get any writing done?!  It’s a challenge, but requires some discipline, in order not to be distracted.  And I write every day.

I’m reading.  I find authors who write the kind of books I want to write.  I read biographies, fiction, classics, poems, essays.

I learned about self-publishing, but there’s a lot more to learn.  I accept it as a viable option, and enjoy reading about the successes of self-published authors like Patrice Fitzgerald http://patricefitzgerald.com/ and Juliette Sobanet  http://www.juliettesobanet.com/.

I found an editor, through Twitter, who read my manuscript and provided me with an eight-page analysis of what worked and what needed improvement.   It’s what I needed to get to this phase: revisions.  I’ll likely return to her for the final edit, and if she likes my work enough, perhaps her small publishing company will want to publish it.  But self-publishing is there for me.

Every day is an opportunity to do better.  Onward!