Traditions: Saturday Salsa

DSC_0822It’s a bunch of tomato-y goodness: peppers, onions, tomatoes, tomatillos, serranos, cilantro. …

But it’s more than all that.

It’s tradition.

It’s fall, it’s football, it’s baseball, it’s beat-up-coffeetable, it’s watching TV from the floor, it’s Sunday brunches, it’s gold bowl, it’s Saturdays, it’s Sundays.

It’s Superman’s salsa.

He’s been making this concoction since we got married or so. He started putting it together himself, then kept adding and refining until he got it just right – just the right number of Serrano chilis, just the right amount of El Pato tomato sauce. And now it’s perfect.

He makes it every “big game day.” So he’s been making it a lot lately (as our Angels are in the playoffs, our UCLA is playing again, and pro football is back on every Sunday).

He gets up on Saturday mornings, throws on some shorts, runs across the street to the supermarket and gets a million of those little vegetable baggies and fills them up with all the secret ingredients. The supermarket checkout lady knows him, and knows he’s the guy who buys tomatillos, because no one else is sure what tomatillos are used for. Continue reading

Spying on the Neighbors

womanwindow2So I’m minding my own business (really), just doing some laundry, staring out the window as I fold some T-shirts, and I see this woman get out of the car inside my neighbor’s garage. She’s definitely not my neighbor. And she’s too old to be a girlfriend for the teen boy who lives there. She might possibly be a niece or an aunt or something. … But then I see the man-of-the-house get out of the car, and he puts his arm around her. Hmmm. … I move closer to the window. I recall a few months ago seeing the woman-of-the-house leaving with a man I didn’t recognize, too. … They were kind of laughing together, running down the porch steps to a sports car parked in front of the house. But I thought maybe it was her brother or something. I wasn’t sure. And now, this … So what’s going on? Swingers’ parties? Divorce? Are they all living there? Are they sharing the house and bringing respective dates? I press my face closer to the window … I’m fascinated. …

This all makes me think, though, about my across-the-street neighbor when I was growing up: Marge. She was one of those neighbors who knew everyone, and who knew everyone’s business. She would come across the street at least once a day and walk inside the door, yelling “yoo-hoo” through the entry way, and my mom would roll her eyes at me. My mom finally had to start locking the door when she mopped the entryway, or else we’d have Marge’s footprints all over the tile.

Marge would pull up a barstool and lay her cigarettes on the countertop. Continue reading

Mom Confession: I Hate School Carnivals

goldfish2I’m almost positive this is going to get me kicked out of the elementary school PTA, but I have a confession to make: I hate school carnivals.

I try to be one of those moms who seem to look forward to it. For years I donned my little mommy ballcap and stood in line for pre-weekend carnival tickets. I talk to the other moms and pretend this is going to be really, really fun. But I’ve never, ever, ever had a good experience with the school carnival, and I think I’m done pretending.

Maybe it’s the sticky sidewalks. Maybe it’s the possibility of clowns being there. Maybe it’s the terrible combination of over-the-top joy with the sudden devastation when your little ring doesn’t quite go around the milk bottle. I don’t know what it is. I just know they sort of depress me.

It doesn’t help that the elementary school carnival is always plagued with terrible end-of-the-school-year weather: it’s either 102 degrees outside or strangely raining. I swear I’ve been to both. The year it was 102 degrees I actually tried to work the carnival with my 4th grader (see? I try!). All I remember is turning bright red in a no-canopy throw-the-ping-pong-ball-in-the-goldfish-bowl booth while my son got sick on cotton candy and cried because he lost a whole row of tickets behind some chain-link fence. Continue reading

What Are the Top 5 Writing Books in Your Arsenal?

Writers have several important tools they lean on: a great keyboard, a trusted laptop, maybe even a lucky red pen. But there’s usually a stack of dog-eared books, too, that are sitting on the desk — ready to provide tips or inspiration as needed.

Here are the books I grab over and over again. They’ve been my bibles. But, you know, even if you don’t write fiction, I honestly bet you’ll get a kick out of all of these. They’re all great fun:

  1. On Writing, Stephen King: I love this book. The first half is King’s own personal story of how he came to write fiction, but you can jump right into the second half if you want. (That’s where he tells all his secrets.) I absolutely love how he breaks down the drafts, and tells you what to look for in each one. It’s really an outstanding book.
  2. The Complete Writer’s Guide to Heroes and Heroines: Sixteen Master Archetypes, Cowden, LaFever, Viders: The eight hero archetypes and the eight heroine archetypes are as old as time, and this book explains each one (with modern-day movies and books as examples). This book shows you how each archetype you’ve selected for your story might interact with the others, and what conflicts may arise when you put them in various situations. Fun stuff.
  3. GMC: Goal, Motivation and Conflict, Debra Dixon: I would never be able to tell a 100,000-word story if I hadn’t read this book. Dixon really breaks it down: how every character needs an external goal, motivation and conflict, as well as an inner one. She shows how they criss-cross, meet, and make for fabulous plots. Continue reading

The Influence of Teachers: The Story of Mrs. Booth

When I was in first grade, I had a teacher named Mrs. Booth. She was an outrageously hip product of the early ‘70s – very hippie-esque, with long flowing skirts and sandals, uber-cool Afro-styled hair, and enormous hoop earrings. Most days she wore some kind of beaded necklace or bracelet that always made me think of macramé.

Mrs. Booth took the entire first grade on a field trip once, to a local beachside community. To be honest, I can’t remember the original purpose of the field trip. There must have been some sort of educational relevancy. (… Or … I don’t know, maybe not. This was the ‘70s, afterall.) But mostly I remember running across the sand with 25 other first graders, squealing with delight when the Pacific hit our toes, and our shoes becoming a tangled mess of 50 mismatched sneakers back on the beach with the adults. I held hands with a girl named Robin, who was my bus partner, and drank soda for the first time out of a can with a straw. I remember there being something to do with a firefighting boat that patrolled the harbor – I think we got a little tour of how it worked, or something. But that was neither here nor there — the real highlight of the trip, at least in my mind, was Mrs. Booth’s sailboat, which she lived on.

Long before the day of law suits and fine-print permission slips, I guess it was okay for teachers to be a little more personal about field trips, and I remember Mrs. Booth letting us all funnel single-file into her boat.  Continue reading

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