Saturday, May 01, 2010

Beady Eyes Are Watching

Oh, the illusion of privacy. When my husband and I bought our house twenty years ago, it felt remarkably secluded, considering that it’s located in the middle of a housing development.

There’s a steep, roughly two-story-high slope behind the house, leveled into tiers that allow for gardening. At the top, large bushes screen the house behind and above us. Around the sides, rampaging pepper trees blocked the view of our other neighbors.

Our homeowners’ association maintains all the slopes in the development. Some are in public view, but even private ones like ours have to be carefully tended to avoid over watering that could cause slope collapse, bringing houses from the street behind us tumbling down. Yes, that happens in Southern California. And you thought we only had to worry about earthquakes and brush fires!

Recently, the sprinkler system on the slopes needed replacing. Also, much of the vegetation had become overgrown. So, after consulting with the homeowners, the development’s gardeners went to work.

Down came the pepper trees, along with most of the bushes. Suddenly, we could see our neighbors’ decks and balconies, and they could see us.

Removing so much shrubbery revealed that there are other eyes upon us as well.

The other day, around noon, my husband and I were out working in our vegetable garden when we spotted movement in a neighbor’s Asian fruit tree. The branches shook, and down came a raccoon. Giving us a disdainful glance, it waddled under the mesh fence dividing the properties, ran along the top of our slope, and climbed into another neighbor’s yard, where a tempting fig tree awaited.

Soon afterward, a squirrel came out near the first fruit tree, probably picking up what the raccoon had shaken down. Suddenly a lot of things made sense: the leaves eaten off my eggplants (squirrels love those). The gallon milk jug, pierced by a needle and filled with water, that I’d left overnight to deep-soak a tomato plant and found in the morning empty, crumpled and twisted (I’m guessing the raccoon discovered that it could squeeze the jug to shoot the water out faster, giving it a nice drink).

I grabbed the pepper shaker and gave my garden a liberal sprinkling to discourage the squirrels, and I’ve temporarily given up on the whole milk-jug watering scheme, although I may employ it during very hot days this summer. But once the tomatoes come in, I have no doubt beady eyes will be watching and waiting.

As for our human neighbors, the new plants around the property will grow tall after a while. Then I look forward to regaining the illusion of privacy.

Thursday, April 29, 2010

Cue the Mist

Long before I started reading romance novels, I was a sucker for a romantic scene.

One of my favorites? When Richard Gere's character takes Julia Robert's character on a surprise date in Pretty Woman. He doesn't tell her where they're going, only that it's something that requires nice attire. She puts on a gorgeous gown, he shows up in a tux...and jets (literally) her off to San Francisco to see her very first opera.


But as neat as that scene was, I love the subtle scenes, too--where a look conveys everything you need to know about the depth of love between two characters.

So tell me, what's a movie scene that got you all starry-eyed? And what's one gesture that would make your heart pound or your eyes mist in real life?


Wednesday, April 28, 2010

Every Woman Is A Heroine!

A woman asks little of love: only that she be able to feel like a heroine- Mignon McLaughlin
A dear friend of mine sent me this quote and I knew instantly this was a quote that described me and the reasons why I write. Romance, love and of course happy endings.
Now on to harder stuff; Blogging! To me this is a terrifying new concept. I know many of you savvy women blog like it’s second nature. To me it’s a whole a new world. As an author I have spent the last six years writing books so intensely that I have fallen behind the times. My mother has spoken to me about blogging, and as all children do, we just don’t listen. Shame on me. I have to admit I’m a little embarrassed.
Once you learn about blogging, you find out who blogs. Then who blogs well. For instance I have this amazing friend Kate who does my hair. If you look at my pictures, she is the magician behind the scenes, truly the only reason my hair looks good. Kate has two young children. She runs a beauty salon and also blogs. If you want a great laugh, I highly recommend following it!
My question now is, how do all of you have time? I’m absolutely amazed at the sheer genius so many women exude on their blogs. I just recently watched the movie, Julie and Julia. If you haven’t seen it, you’re missing an uplifting, moving and empowering show. It spoke to me as a writer in so many ways. First of all it gave me the courage to blog. The character of Julie who wants to be a writer and get published was utterly relatable. I have been there and let me tell you, it’s hard and it hurts. Julie portrayed how cathartic it is to write through a blog even if just one person hears your voice and that person happens to be you.
Then there’s Julia Childs! At Harlequin we need to write real life characters, not stereotypes or caricatures. Who would ever believe that a human being would be as fabulous as Julia Childs. Seriously, who says, “I love eating.” And she means it and isn’t ashamed of it at all.
On top of that, she makes fabulous comments like, “I love getting out of bed at six in the morning to go to school.” What a gift for her to love life that intensely. Of course the crux of the movie that utterly thrilled me as an author was when they offered to buy her book. Even better, she’s got paid! To do what we love is the greatest gift of all.
I know I am one of those lucky souls who gets to do my passion, but of course it’s not always easy. Bumps and jumps come along the way. Last week I had the privilege of being contacted by a local TV news anchor. He asked to interview my mother and me for his blog. As he spoke to me, he thought the story was big enough to go on the news that night. So mom and I scrambled to get our hair done, I bought a new suit, put my make-up on, all to find out there had been a murder in the city and our story got cut.
It made me think of Julie and the beouf bourguinonne she prepared for the Christian Science monitor and how they didn’t come because it was raining. She continued to persevere and so did I. Fortunately the TV anchor still thought our story was interesting and put us on his blog. Here is the link to our story.
So to all you who read this, thank you for being interested in what I have to say. It’s a whole different kettle of fish to write fiction and definitely a lot easier. My hope is that all of you who read this blog will know your dreams can come true. Life throws curves, road blocks and walls, but if you persevere, anything can happen. Especially love!

Dominique Burton

Tuesday, April 27, 2010

Cooking from Memory

Victoria Chancellor's post a few days ago made me think of this funny little recipe book I have from 1973: Community Church Women PresentA COLLECTION OF FAVORITE RECIPES. It was put together as a fund raiser for the local church and cost all of a dollar-fifty. At the time, I’m sure it was a pretty penny to pay for these homey recipes. Now, this chance to travel back in time, food-wise, is invaluable.

The cookbook—bound at the top with a two-hole clip and covered with vinyl wallpaper—begins with a story written by Rafe Gibbs in 1953. I’ve never heard of the author. The piece has no title. I have no idea why it’s included since it doesn’t have a thing to do with cooking or food. It’s a summary of the life of one Dick Ferrell, one time blacksmith and up-and-coming prize-fighter. He left the fight circuit in 1914 to become a preacher, ministering to the lumberjacks in Northern Idaho for forty years. Someone must have liked it enough to type it up and insert it in the front of the book. I could probably find out why, but I’ve always been content to let the mystery lie. Don’t you think some things are better left that way, rather than be sullied by some prosaic explanation?

A variety of recipes follow this charming yarn. Some are my favorites: Chocolate Peppermint Creams, Three-Bean Salad, Dilly Casserole Bread. Others, I seldom use or have never even tried: Tater-Tot Casserole, Cucumber-Cream Salad, Celery Casserole Delight. There are at least five versions of meat loaf (including my mother’s which is baked with barbeque sauce and still my ‘gold standard’). Some of these dishes I remember from community potluck dinners or a meal at a school-friend’s home. I suspect a lot of them are still being made, passed down the generations, like mom’s meatloaf. The comfort food of our childhood.

Back at Christmas-time, when I was searching for the sugar cookie recipe that I always use, this recipe in particular caught my eye:

A Happy Home Recipe

4 cups love

2 cups loyalty

3 cups forgiveness

1 cup friendship

5 spoons hope

2 spoons tenderness

4 quarts faith

1 barrel laughter

Take love and loyalty, mix it together with faith. Blend in tenderness and forgiveness. Add friendship and hope, sprinkle abundantly with laughter. Bake it with sunshine. Serve daily with generous helpings

No one gets credit for this recipe, not like the others by Cheryl Gerdts or Grace Rule or Diane Lowry or other church ladies. Sandwiched between Amber Skillet Dinner and Golden Shrimp Puff, it is just another recipe. A good one, though. Worth whipping up and serving around on a regular basis. Comfort food of another kind, but just as nourishing.

Oh, and those sugar cookies? Here’s that recipe:

Best Ever Sugar Cookies by Finetta Smith

1 cup powdered sugar

1 cup white sugar

1 cup butter

1 cup vegetable oil

2 eggs, beaten

1 tsp vanilla

4 ½ cups flour

1 tsp cream of tartar

1 tsp baking soda

Cream together butter and sugars. Beat in eggs, oil and vanilla. Sift flour together with baking soda and cream of tartar; stir into mixture until well blended. Refrigerate for one hour, then roll dough into balls and dip in cinnamon sugar. Flatten with a glass. Bake at 350 until lightly golden-brown. [Or you can use a cookie press. I load the press up, make a pan of cookies, then put the still-partially-filled press in a zip-lock and stick it back in the refrigerator until I want another fresh batch of cookies.]

Try them and let me know how they taste.

Monday, April 26, 2010

The Thrill of Discovery and Survival

I love the feeling of discovering a new author, a new series, a new TV show or new band. It's a little like falling in love -- the initial excitement, the all-consuming need to be with them all the time.

I'd say most, if not all, of us here have been excited about reading since we could make out words. There is nothing quite like discovering a new author, book or series that keeps us up reading way past when we should be calling it a night and getting some sleep. I've felt that way about the Harry Potter books, the Twilight books, Diana Gabaldon's Outlander books, Suzanne Collins' The Hunger Games series, J.R. Ward's Black Dagger Brotherhood. Now I can add Susan Beth Pfeffer's The Last Survivors series. I hadn't heard of this young adult series until I recently saw the third book, This World We Live In, at the bookstore on the recent releases shelf. The premise is that a giant asteroid hits the moon and knocks it closer to Earth, causing catastrophic climate change and lots of death. The first story, Life As We Knew It, is set in rural Pennsylvania and follows how a teenage girl's family copes with the aftermath of the collision. The second, The Dead and Gone, takes place during the same period, but it illustrates how a teenage boy and his siblings survive in New York City. I'm almost finished with the second book, so I'll be starting This World We Live In, in which the two families somehow cross paths.

I don't know why, but I've always been fascinated by survival stories -- Robinson Crusoe, Julie of the Wolves, The Swiss Family Robinson, The Hunger Games, Defiance (the WWII movie with Daniel Craig), The Day After Tomorrow. I'm interested in how people will survive if they're stripped down to their very base nature -- the need for food and water. Watching the news after big events like hurricanes and earthquakes gives us a glimpse that it doesn't take long for man to get back to that basic instinct for survival. All the niceties of civilized society go out the window when you're hungry and thirsty. But in spite of that, it's inspiring to see the triumph of the human spirit -- those stories of people surviving in earthquake rubble for more than a week, against all odds. The ones who are mauled by a bear or cougar and manage to drag themselves miles to a road. Man will do a lot to survive.

Do you like survival stories. If so, what are some of your favorites?