Archive for February, 2009

Weekend Gardener

One of my faults/strengths is that I’m a jack of all trades. This wouldn’t be a bad thing except the second part of that phrase which haunts me.  And so, when I decided to write a blog, I couldn’t choose what exactly I wanted to blog about. Parenting? Writing? Gardening? They are all a big part of my life and I’m very interested in all of them. So I decided to just blog about my life—which would contain all three– hence the name.

Yesterday, as I was gardening and determined to spend the weekend gardening, I thought about several articles I’d written for a website that never came into being and so I decided to publish one. The MC in my series is a healer and as research, I poured over the different uses for herbs and found the information valuable.

So, below you will find the modified article. When I wrote it, I must have been going for professional because it sure was… stiff. : ) I’d change it more but I want to get to my favorite store: Home Depot.


 With its distinctive purple flower spikes and unmistakable fragrance, lavender is probably one of the most recognizable herbs. It’s also one of the most versatile and its use dates back thousands of years.

The word ‘Lavender’ comes from Latin and means Lavare or to wash and it does have antiseptic properties. In fact, during WW2, lavender was used not only to dress wounds but to disinfect floors. (And you thought putting in our cleaners was a new decision)

Most of us are familiar with lavender as potpourri but the leaves are also an insect repellent and I read not too long ago, about a woman who used tied bunches of lavender to stop algae from growing in her bird bath. I tried this in my pond with less success.

 Healers and herbalists have used lavender as an antispasmodic, a diuretic, a sleep tonic and as a remedy against headaches. I can attest to its effectiveness in two ways: I‘ve always been a bit of an insomniac and keep a vial of lavender spray by my bed to help me relax. Lavender oil is also the prime ingredient in a lotion I rub on my temples when I have a headache. It seems almost miraculous to me how fast it works.

Lavender is also a culinary herb, which shouldn’t be surprising since it’s a member of the mint family. Lavender flowers add beautiful color to salads, it can substitute for rosemary in some recipes and you can add it to sugar for use in cakes, buns or custards. The spikes look beautiful in a glass of champagne or as a garnish for sorbets or ice cream. It also lends itself to stew dishes or sauces. Really the uses are only limited by the chef’s imagination.

Two cautions: dried lavender is more potent than fresh and never use lavender from florists or nurseries as it could have been treated with pesticides.

There are several types of lavender: Spanish, French or English and less common ones such as Fern-leaf lavender. English lavender has the sweetest fragrance and is most commonly used in cooking. French or Spanish lavender is better for crafts and dried arrangements. If you grow lavender, and I recommend you do, make sure it has sandy well drained soil. If you have clay soil, add a considerable amount of sand; a raised bed helps too. If the lavender gets too much water, it will die. In my first real garden, I had a bed of lavender and mint… it was a joy to weed. And though I confined the mint to a container, one of the first plants that I bought when we moved into our new house was lavender. I grouped it with Black Eyed Susan, Daisy and Echinacea and it’s still a joy to weed. Every time I walk past the plant, I run my hands over the flowers.

Whether you use lavender in your linen closet, as a tonic or in your stew, it’s a valuable, versatile herb no herbalist or gardener should be without.

Below is my lavender plant from last march.  Unfortunately, the dynamic of my perennial bed changed last fall and this plant received way to much water and died. Yes, I’m sad. But I will buy another…today.


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Friday Funnies

This is the Washington Post’s “Annual Mensa Invitational”, which once again asked readers to take any word from the dictionary, alter it by adding, subtracting, or changing one letter, and supply a new definition. I laughed so hard I had to share.


 The 2008 winners:

1. Cashtration (n.) : The act of buying a house, which renders  the subject financially impotent for an indefinite period of time.

2. Ignoranus : A person who’s both stupid and an asshole.

3. Intaxication :    Euphoria at getting a tax refund, which lasts until you realize it was your money to start with.

4. Reintarnation :    Coming back to life as a hillbilly.

5. Bozone ( n.) : The substance surrounding stupid people that stops bright ideas from penetrating. The bozone layer, unfortunately shows little sign of breaking down in the near future.

6.  Foreploy : Any misrepresentation about yourself for the purpose of getting laid.

7.  Giraffiti :    Vandalism spray-painted very, very high.

8.  Sarchasm : The gulf between the author of sarcastic wit and  the person who doesn’t get it.

9.  Inoculatte : To take coffee intravenously when you are running late.

10. Osteopornosis : A degenerate disease. (This one got extra credit.)

11. Karmageddon : It’s like, when everybody is sending off all these really bad vibes, right? And then, like, the Earth explodes and it’s like, a serious bummer.

12. Decafalon  (n.): The grueling event of getting through the day consuming only things that  are good for you.

13. Glibido : All talk and no action.

14. Dopeler Effect: The tendency of stupid ideas t o seem smarter when they come at you rapidly.

15. Arachnoleptic Fit (n.): The frantic dance performed just after you’ve accidentally walked through a spider web.

16. Beelzebug (n.) : Satan in the form of a mosquito, that gets into your bedroom at three in the morning and cannot be cast out.

17. Caterpallor ( n.): The color you turn after finding half a worm in the fruit you’re eating.


   The Washington Post has also published the winning submissions to its yearly contest, in which readers are asked to supply alternate meanings for common words. And the winners are:


1. Coffee, n. – The person upon whom one coughs.

2. Flabbergasted, adj. – Appalled by discovering how much weight one has gained.

3. Abdicate, v. – To give up all  hope of ever having a flat stomach.

4. Esplanade, v. – To attempt an explanation while drunk.

5. Willy-nilly, adj. –    Impotent.

6. Negligent, adj. – Absentmindedly answering the door when wearing only a nightgown.

7.  Lymph, v. – To walk with a lisp.

8. Gargoyle, n. – Olive-flavored mouthwash.


9. Flatulence, n.- Emergency vehicle that picks up someone who has been run over by a  steamroller.

10. Balderdash, n. – A  rapidly receding hairline.   

11. Testicle, n. – A humorous question on an  exam.

12. Rectitude, n. – The formal, dignified bearing adopted by proctologists.

13. Pokemon, n..- A Rastafarian proctologist.

14. Frisbeetarianism , n. –    The belief that, after death, the soul flies up onto the roof and gets stuck  there.

15. Circumvent , n. – An opening in the front of boxer shorts worn by Jewish men


Tell me your favorites, I’ll tell you mine. ; )

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For dinner last night, I enjoyed a succulent herb encrusted chicken breast topped with a generous slice of tomato and two kinds of melted cheese nestled in a bed of lettuce on lightly toasted whole wheat bread.


Okay, I heated up left over chicken, popped it into the microwave while I slipped a slice of Colby jack between a toasted a hamburger bun, added the slice of tomato and leaf of lettuce.


 The two meals described above are the same meal. They’d taste the same but the first one sounds better. It’s all in the spin. And okay, ‘nestled’ was a bit of overkill but you get the point. Words have power. It is possible to string them together in such a way to induce a certain feeling in the reader. How do you explain crying at the end of a book? Being heartbroken with your heroine? I was so frustrated after reading Gone With the Wind, I sat down and wrote a sequel. It was my first work of fiction. I was only twelve but I think it’s  better than the sequel the did publish. Writing isn’t just putting words on paper, it’s more than that and one of the reasons I love it.



I’ve lovingly agonized for weeks over a single paragraph, rearranging sentences, restructuring, deleting; knowing the mood I wanted to create, but needing just the right words in the right order. I’ve searched my thesaurus until I found the exact word with the exact sound and nuance that I needed.  But it’s even more than that. There is a rhythm or a cadence in the way the words in the sentence should flow. A dynamic to how the sentences flow into paragraphs. I’m not speaking iambic prose but its there, read a work aloud and you’ll hear it, or rather you’ll hear it if the rhythm breaks.



Don’t get me wrong. I don’t often read literature and I certainly don’t write it. But even in good old fashion story telling there is a craft to putting the words on paper and, dare I say it, an art to it.  


On Amazon. there is an excerpt from Stephen’s King’s book, Duma Key, but also one from a book called Memory. He wrote Memory and then several years later, wrote Duma Key.  If you have time, take a look at how his prose has changed over the years. It’s amazing. The beginning paragraphs give most of the same information, but written differently. I found it interesting because it’s how the same author weaves a tale at two times in his career.


Recently I asked an author who I respected to take a look at the first chapter of The Devil You Know. He did and he gave me a lot of suggestions on how to make the writing tighter. He also rewrote the first few scenes. Pretty much the elements were the same, all the characters were the same, but it definitely wasn’t the same chapter. I don’t even think it stayed the same genre. I write fantasy with a heavy element of romance. This was fantasy with a heavy element of action. I wouldn’t of written it, it simply wasn’t my voice or style, but I did admire it as a work independent of mine. Two artists painting the same the landscape with different techniques.


  I would not dare teach anyone how to write. Not having been formally schooled to do so, quite frankly, I’m not qualified. I hesitate even to give advice. But I do love a well-constructed sentence. I love prose that sings. I love the ability of words to create people and worlds; to inspire emotion and leave you different than you were before you read them. That, my friends, is magic.


Not all of you who read this blog are writers, but you do something you love. Come on, please share.


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What is happiness? In his book The Nature of Happiness, Desmond Morris defines it as transient feeling of joy. And if you think about it, he has a point. It is an excellent book by the way, it can be found on Amazon. With this viewpoint, the bad things that happen are just precursors and even necessary to obtaining the state of happiness.
I recently read a book recommended to me by D2; now I’ll read anything D2 recommends as she doesn’t read often; this book was good. She couldn’t even put it down. It was about an angry teen age boy. In his (forced) quest to understand himself and the world around him, he was isolated on an Alaskan island with only an old Tlingit Indian for occasional company. The Indian told him that happiness was a choice, a conscious choice you must make everyday. The book is called Touching Spirit Bear and also found Amazon.
I’ve always known if you focus on the miserable, you’ll be miserable and so I’ve try, please read TRY, to focus on what is good, what enriches my life.
And for me it often comes down to the little things, the every day things. For instance, opening a jar of peanut for the first time makes me smile. Why? I don’t know. Does it matter? Running my hand through a bowl of M&M’s… I smile and feel a bit more relaxed just thinking about it. I am a bit tactile. Bringing home a stack of library books makes me happy. And is there anything more wonderful than a daffodil in spring?

Please, I am not a pollyanna by any definition. In fact, I’m more of a pessimist, I figure if you don’t hope for the best, when you don’t get it at least you’re not disappointed. : )
But, if I spend my days appreciating those little happy things, the dishes, the cluttered house, the distractions, the fighting children, rejection letters, bills; none of it has as much power to make me not happy.  And the most interesting thing about this. If you take the time to think about what makes you happy, you’ll find you’re already happier. And reading what makes someone else happy? It inspires your own. So Please, let me know what little things make you smile throughout the day. There is no right or wrong answer. And in telling your\’s, you may help someone else smile too.


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New Contest

Calling all sleuths! Dust up your encyclopedias and peruse the text below.  There are EIGHT factual errors in the text (no style, syntax, misspellings, typos, etc). A couple errors are blatantly obvious; the others range from easy to difficult. List the errors in an e-mail to contest@carlosjcortes.com The best five answers will receive a signed copy of Perfect Circle. Plus, you’ll flex your editing muscles.

The contest ends March 31, 2009. On April 1st, no joke, the answers will be posted. Good luck!


Men and women slept and snored upon blankets with bags and cushions stacked around them. Small children lay asleep like cut corn next to the tents and close to the fire. Bahir and his sons stood in line, immobile, gentle wind fluffing their robes, their faces sombre.

So many things happen in the evening. So many unripe thoughts ripen before the fire. “To bid farewell to friends is to die a little.” Bahir’s voice sounded loud in the silence. “Salaam aleikhum.” Right hands over their hearts the Tuaregs bowed their white-turbaned heads.

“Aleikhum salaam.” Jeremy and Claire answered together. Without another word, they turned toward the ruins and walked back across the Judean desert. As they reached the skirts of the cliff, she felt how familiar his company was to her, and how familiar his silence. Overhead, a sea of stars floated down to the point where it seemed one could reach a hand and touch them. She spied the Big Dipper and other sparkling constellations, raised an arm and fluttered her fingers. For an instant, she imagined floating in the vacuum of space, among the stars and without gravity.

Claire’s robe swished in the darkness. Gazhaala had insisted she kept it. “Thank you,” she whispered. “You’ve given me something priceless, a glimpse into a remote past I could have never gleaned from books.”

Jeremy nodded. “As I watched you singing with the women I recalled a snatch of Conrad, long since forgotten: “In the desert there is everything, and there is nothing…. It is God without man.”

When they reached the plateau they strolled to the cabins, the moon a wandering lamp lighting their faces. From the Wadi Qumran caves, a dusting of bats flew noisily toward the Dead Sea and Jerusalem. Claire adjusted her blouse and suddenly shy, bid Jeremy goodnight.

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This isn’t exactly a follow up to my whiny angsty post, but close. I didn’t find the book. I did find half a dozen pencils under the couch along with two AA batteries, sundry crayons, papers, a bowl and spoon, a headband and a partially eaten cookie (?) and 7cents (paartay). Ah, there’s more but I won’t bore you.


When I cleaned out the fireplace, I took the ashes to my garden in an attempt to fend off the snails (turtle is not doing his job, just wait until I find him) and I found, not another bird, but a baby rat on my back porch. Killer cat’s work. Should it matter that it was baby? No, but it did. It didn’t help that D4 was saying, “Oh poor baby rat, poor baby rat, look how cute it is.” It wasn’t. Mangy fur, beady eyes, snakelike tail: not cute… okay it was a little cute in a… dead kind of way.


After I threw it away she wanted to know if we should find its parents. I told her it didn’t have parents. (Give me a break I was in clean mode) After only a slight pause, “Well then let’s find its brothers and sisters.” Sigh.


I also rearranged the furniture in the living room, not hard when you consider that means a couch and a TV, plus a few toys, a play kitchen, a stack of pillows I made for the kids to sit on while they watch TV (so they don’t take the couch cushions off) and a cat tower. I’ve promised myself that as soon as the next manuscript sells, I’ll buy some furniture. But then, maybe not


In my family, I’m the neurotic clean freak neat one. However, my standards have slipped with each child. I’ve gone from having the pantry shelves organized to the point of alphabetizing the vegetables to just closing the damn door when company comes.

Yeah, my kids pretty much saved me from being bat shit crazy obsessive compulsive. Although D1 brought up a very good point about that yesterday. She called when I was cleaning house and I told her I wasn’t going to scrub the fireplace bricks. She remembers when the living room wouldn’t have been clean without it and said, “I think I’m obsessive compulsive too, but I’m also lazy, so it balances.”


You gotta love her.

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Another day…

For the last few days, I’ve been trying not to write a blog about my kids. You see, I know I should be uber thankful for them. Each one is a unique blessing and I knew the post would be all about angst. I mean I have friends who would give limbs for what I have…. But when I found D2 in her room this morning instead of walking to school (five minutes before the tardy bell) and she turned to me and said that it wasn’t fair she had to walk because she’d be all hot and sweaty for her first period class and her makeup would be ruined, I dropped over the resistance barrier.

No one, at least no sane person, decides to be a single mother to five kids but here I am. Well not quite single. I do have SO; but as he lives in Barcelona 9 months out the year, he’s more long range support.

D2 is failing three classes. Yes, three. She is a freshman this year. The other day, and I swear this came out of her mouth, she said, “If you make me go to school, I’ll never catch up. Just listen, (I’d opened my mouth) let me stay home today and I’ll do all my work so my grades will go up and then you can make me go to school next Monday.” This after a three day weekend and thirty minutes of reminders while I got the other two ready for school. By the way, she was sitting in the middle of her room with papers spread out around her like she was the center of a flower. How do you fight that logic? I’ll tell you, no video games, no internet and no phone… and still no results…. I’m going to pull my hair out… I’m wondering if she needs a good old fashion spanking of course she’s bigger than me and outweighs me by 20lbs… I’ve been thinking of showing up at her school in a mumu with my hair in rollers and popping gum, loud. You know waiting outside her 6th period class (which she’s failing) and in a loud voice saying. (read with an intense southern accent) “Yuc, I know ya don’ lik to walk much, so I done come ta git ya t’day” and everyday you don’t’ make it to first period!

But what would I do with the other three? She needs to be at school by 7:50, the others need to be at school by 8:15. She gets off at different times but usually at 2:15. The others get out at 2:30. Because of traffic, it actually takes almost as long to get to her school as it does to walk. (20 minute drive there and back. 20 minute walk there… okay maybe for her 25 minutes.) Do I give in and drive her? making things harder on the other three? And lets face it, on me? Or do I  continue to hear excuses about why she just can’t get to school on time (she once hid in the closet. Now I check)

Day before yesterday, I get a call from D3’s teachers. Seems D3 has lost her language workbook. Not only is this a workbook vital, the school doesn’t have any others or know if they can even get any more. Now, I’m sorry, but if it’s so vital, why aren’t there a few spares? But that’s not the point. We searched the house. No workbook. No idea where it is and the teacher made a point to let me know, even though without this workbook D3 is falling behind quickly, she wasn’t confident that if she did procure another workbook, it wouldn’t get lost too. I really wanted to call her a bitch  politely argue. I didn’t. Fact is D3 is unorganized. She puts things down and really can’t remember where she put them. We’re working on that. I took her DS as hostage.

Now OB, and I wrote that saying Oh boy! He hates to read. Yes, I said it. Put a book in front of him and he stares at it like it was cobra ready to strike. Strike that, he’d be more interested in the cobra. He is something called a shut down learner. Which in a nutshell means if you pressure him, he forgets everything he’s learned since he stopped drooling. Example: We’re working on area and perimeter of a polygon (nothing easy like square or rectangle). Those missing measurements so frustrated him that when I asked him what 6 + 5 was, he blanked. Didn’t know. Not just for a minute but until tears welled in his eyes. So yeah, getting him to do his homework is like pulling teeth, my own. And makes me sad and turns me into a momma bear who wants to ask someone at the school exactly why 3rd and 5th graders are doing the same geometry that I learned in 10th grade. It’s higher function math, people. You need abstract thought processes to comprehend it… thought processes which don’t mature until much later! Read your own child development books! Grrr… His saving grace this year? He has a damn good math teacher. She emailed me last night to let me know he was behind six assigments. People, a teacher who  cares that much is rare, at least in my experience. Kudos Mrs. P! and thank you!

D4 is currently going through a phase (please let it be a phase) where she is afraid. Sometimes she’s afraid to go down the hallway if the doors are open. Yesterday she wouldn’t go play with me outside in case Romeo came (The man who cuts my lawn for me. I hired him because his name is Romeo Santiago… say it, it’s like butter even on an American tongue… and because he cuts a damn fine lawn… cheap….and sometimes takes my garbage to the curb for me. Yeah, priceless.)
Back to D4; she hides now. Even when Grandma comes. And leaving mom alone for 20 minutes to work… Ai, you think?

Which is why, after homework, I usually try to get a few more pages done, of course this leaves the other kids unsupervised and… oh did I mention I’ve quasi adopted another son? He’s a good kid, really. His parents both work. He’s home alone until late. After talking with his mom, I felt sorry for him. I feel sorry for OB surrounded by girls…You do the math. He comes home with OB after school and stays until 8 or so. Usually, he helps OB get his homework done, but the chaos from 3 – 8 is considerable. Not because he’s unruly, it has something to do with boy energy….squared.

I won’t say too much about D1 (and not just because, on occasion, she reads this blog) You think, when they move out, that you’re done? Wrong. She calls daily, several times a day, and although I can tell she’s trying, she gets hurt if I can’t drop everything and talk to her. She hasn’t cut the apron strings yet and I can feel them reaching out like tendrils of need. I really don’t mind. She’s a good kid. Only a neurosis or two, which considering our family isn’t half bad. She’s almost done with her BA and my hope that all of this (read above) will be worth it someday.

But the result of all of this is that I feel woefully inadequate and overwhelmed. I mean… there is only one me and five of them… and I’m the adult. So it falls to me.

Today I’m not writing, I’m going through the house and cleaning (really cleaning not the surface clean one does to make things look presentable) and if that language book is in the house, I’ll find it. And it’s not just another excuse to not write my synopsis, I really need to put the mom hat back on full time for awhile.

Well if you made it this far, I’m sorry. congratulations. Seriously, thanks for listening. Now I have a house to clean.

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This morning I finished the first draft of my new novel. Yes, it will still need to be polished, but really, it’s there. 103,000 words of pretty darn good fantasy, if I do say so myself. And until I send it out to agents (and it gets published) I will have to say so myself.

I’ve sat down to work on the query several times today, but haven’t actually typed a word. I’m experiencing the familiar melancholy of a finished work. Well, familiar to me. For months I lived inside my characters’ minds and they in mine. Now is when I distance myself from the characters and story and become the editor, ruthless with my delete key, unyielding in my search for exposition, pitiless in weeding out unnecessary dialogue. Now is when I ‘kill my darlings.’

There really is no other job like it on earth.

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New video

I found this link in a blog I read daily. In this video Elizabeth Gilbert, author of Eat, Pray Love, speaks about creativity. It’s almost 20 minutes long but worth your time. I loved it. She has a brilliant sense of humor and she touches on a few aspects of writing that I’ve noticed but only ever voiced to my SO. (He already knows I’m nuts) Namely, those few times when inspiration hits, you know, when you’re listening to the voices of your characters and even though you know you are the author of the voices, it doesn’t always feel that way. Yeah, what is that? I’ll let Ms. Gilbert speak, she does it better than I would.

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Of boys, guns and cake

I grew up very anti-war. A byproduct of having a sixties child for a mom, I guess. When I had my children, I continued this tradition. I monitored every influence in my wee ones’ lives. Can you say mom approved videos only and NO TV? When my son was born, I not only stayed home, I homeschooled. We didn’t even watch Disney. I would have made the Kremlin proud. There was not so much as a squirt gun in my house.

Why then did I one day go outside to see my then two year old and four year old having a shoot out with sticks in the backyard? Did I freak out? No. I watched them and wondered if maybe it was inherent in the species. And yeah, since then, I’ve given up. I still don’t like real guns—they’re rather oily and scary— and lets face it, war sucks, but several years ago I let D1 buy my son a Nerf gun. He now has 5.

This birthday, we had target shooting, an obstacle course and played pass the ‘grenade’. After all the structured play was over, the boys went outside and just shot at one another and had a blast. Thank heaven it didn’t rain, I don’t know what I would have done with all that boy energy inside.

Point is, I don’t think having a Nerf gun will make him violent or teach him to take human life for granted and honestly, I enjoyed the party as much as they did. (I actually kicked all the boys’ behinds in the obstacle course race and I didn’t do too badly at target shooting.) My mom did cringe a bit, but then she never had boys.

Below is a picture of boy and his cake. Oddly enough, this is the first cake I’ve ever made that looked better in person and OB is handsome as ever of course. ; )


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