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NaNoWriMo and the Ghost Story

4 Nov

Last year in November I joined NaBloPoMo (not a bad word), November’s month-long challenge to post a daily blog piece.  Because I am a driven, crazy, person, I eagerly posted all month long, through holiday, through illness, through moving house — really kicking off this blog and meeting some great fellow-bloggers who have been enriching my online life ever since.

In 2009 I participated in NaNoWriMo (also not a bad word), a similar month-long challenge to write 50,000 words — one novella — in the month of November.  Because I am a driven, crazy, person, I wrote madly all month long, through childhood firsts, through illness, through school holidays — and in the end I squeaked by with 51,000 words and a novella about motherhood, secrets, assassination, and making the perfect clafoutis.

The two experiences were very different.  In blogging, you receive nearly-instant feedback.  Comments, followers, site statistics making a climb in cute bar-graphs (thank you, WordPress analytics).  In writing, the exercise was almost entirely private.  I didn’t share my novella with anyone (except the recipes), but I was just as addicted to seeing the word count rise and in finding stories everywhere.  In both exercises I learned new things about the discipline of writing.  (Like, I can be a good editor for someone else, but I am a terrible self-editor.)  (And I can’t stop using dashes — dashes — and dots … )  I have a soft spot for melodrama and the absurd, which makes it hard for me to take myself seriously.

Anyway, this year, because I am a driven, crazy person, I am going to give NaNoWriMo another try.  I don’t expect that to take away any time from blogging, to be honest — more likely, the overflowing spill of words to the NaNoWriMo page will simply flow over into blogging.  We’ll see.  This year, inspired by my fear of the days of darkness, I’m writing a series of ghost stories.  You know, graveyards, dark hallways, psychiatrists offices, the usual.   Melodrama?  Check.

Living in England makes finding ghost stories easy.  We walked past this watery stair just yesterday, in Wales at Raglan Castle (or let’s call it, more romantically, Castell Rhaglan).  The stairs are at the base of a Great Tower, which sits inside an interior moat — yes, that right:  The Castle fortification sits on top of a hill, and inside the castle walls there is a moat which encircles another, small castle.  It’s like those Russian dolls, but with castles and towers inside, smaller and smaller.  We had to wonder — was the inner castle there to provide a last bastion of safety from exterior attack — or did the castle surround the inner Tower so it could lock in something horrible?  A monster, perhaps?  One who liked to creep down wet and dark stairs and hook fish from the moat with clawed fingers (since it couldn’t reach anything bigger)?  Or maybe a princess in a tower?  One who, oh, let’s see, has beautiful long hair and a mysterious past, maybe some inherent magic which could either save or destroy her kingdom?  I was reminded of the legends of Melusine, and ran home to add a short conversation to my ongoing franken-story:

You must be a woman for me, my love, for I must love you as a man.  As a man I will be king, and as a king I will rule. 

Then come to me as a man, my love, and I will love you as a woman.  And as you are a man, I will be a woman; and as you are a king, I will be a queen.  And when kingdom, rule, and man have fallen away and decayed, I will love you still, as myself, Melusine, lady of the waters.

Wish me luck!

Banana Muffins, Lemon Drizzle, Clafoutis, Brownies, and Popovers — Oh, my!

14 Oct

I’m not dead, I promise.  I know it’s been almost a week since I last posted, and that’s not up to my usual standards.  I’ve been wondering if I should go for NaBloPoMo — like I did last year in November — but then I finally got around to looking it up and apparently it is happening in October this year.  Or it happens every month, and isn’t special any more.  Whatever, I seem to have missed it.  So … yeah.  Maybe I’ll do NaNoWriMo this year, like I did a few years ago.  That was fun.  I have a whole two weeks to pretend to myself that there is even the remotest possibility that I will find time to do that. So … yeah.

It’s been a busy week of baking, of reading, of baking, of attending book talks, of baking, of fighting off a flu, of baking, of madly driving the children from one activity to the next, of baking, and of baking.  Oh, and trying to get ready to race in my very first ever 5k.  And … baking.

These mini Banana Muffins made with a Joy of Baking recipe.  I pretty much love every recipe from Joy of Baking.

For this Cherry Clafoutis, the Joy of Baking’s recipe is a good place to start, but I’ve developed my own version of this classic.  No, I won’t tell it to you.

Lemon drizzle.  Zzzzzzzzzzle.  Where from?  You know it: Joy of Baking’s Lemon Frosted Lemon Cake.  Only I add a cupful of white chocolate chunks.  Just because.

Sometimes you just need to go with the box mix.  I have no problem with Betty Crocker brownies, but I do like to add my own thing to spruce them up.  Added in this version:  two tablespoons of instant coffee, walnuts, white chocolate, and a generous dash of cinnamon.

Finally, a dinner-sized serving of cheesy popovers.  Recipe comes from my other joy:  the Joy of Cooking.  I modify the recipe about like this.

(PS – Going to be doing a lot of US-measurement baking in your UK kitchen?  Here, try these conversation charts.)

Wrap it up

30 Nov

And NaBloPoMo — the month of daily blogging and trying to convince others that you are not saying a dirty word, thankyouverymuch — is at an end.  I learned a few things (thank goodness) and now I make a batter out of those small items and bake them up into little cupcakes for you:

Blogging every day is work
I knew this, or rather, I suspected it, which is one reason why I haven’t really tried blogging before.  I’ve always written in journals, and I’m still lugging those journals around with me from ten, twenty, and thirty years ago.  (I know, because I just unpacked them.  Oh, the red-faced pain of reading my teenage draah-maaah.)  But blogging is different — blogging is public — you want someone to read what you’re saying, you want them to react and you hope they’ll drop you a note and stop by again sometime.  Even the shortest post takes time to put together, especially if you want to include a visual element to your story, as I do.  (Because my eyes like to read, too.)  With a daily blog, there’s hardly time to edit, to rephrase, to find a more elegant expression, to be more (or less) funny, or, let’s be honest, to spell — forget housework, work-work, email, feeding your children, baking, finding clean underwear, etc.  So kudos to the daily bloggers.  I’ll still get grumpy when I visit your sites and you haven’t posted an entry in days (dammit!) but I’ll understand.  You needed clean underwear.  Fine.

There is a blog for everyone
Another  reason I held back from blogging: would anyone particularly care?  The answer is yes.  There is a blog for everyone.  On every topic.  Nothing is too small, too specific, too personal, too esoteric.  This is powerful — we are not alone.  In my very specific genre of ex-pat American mothers living in the UK who have young families and who like to bake (and in my case, are possibly crazy)  there are dozens and dozens of us.  (See how I just said “us” there?  I just created a tribe.  I believe the rally cry will be: “Oooh, lovely!”)  Expand the focus just a little and expat women are writing about their amazing journeys all over the globe.  How freaking awesome is that?  Also amazing, the small person writing in a closet can have the impact of the big talking head writing from a studio. Have fingers and a laptop?  You have a world-wide platform.  Wow.

If you quote Fight Club in your post heading, you will get the.most.hits.ever.
You met me at a very strange time in my life.  ‘Nuff said.  (~waving at all the people who have now arrived here by accident.~)

Bloggers create supportive communities
Who knew?  I had fallen in to the mistaken belief that bloggers worked in isolation, shooting out their thoughts and then moving on.  Hmm, a bit of a masculine conception of blogging.  Turns out, blogging is for chicks!  I now have a long list of blogs I check near-daily, just to see how everyone is doing.  I might +1 or check a positive tick-box on a blog, just to show support for the writer — good on you for posting!  Doesn’t even matter what — just good for you for putting yourself out there and making the world a better place, one post at a time.  +1, my friend!

Blogging is worth the effort
When you’ve just moved to a new country — just for example — and just moved in to a new house — totally random example — and your kids just started a new school — just, you know, example off the top of my head — and you are trying to make new friends — I wonder who she means — and missing your old ones terribly — waaah, it’s me, it’s me — the daily discipline of blogging keeps your mind moving, keeps you looking around for new and engaging experiences, gets you rooted in yourself and in your day to day life.  It’s a good thing.  I’m grateful.

So what are you waiting for?  Are you going to start a blog?  Write a novel?  Drag out your old journals and start inscribing a new page?  What’s your favorite blog to read and where do you go for inspiration?  I’ve been so happy to have you all drop by this past month — truly, it’s meant more than I can say  — and while I won’t be posting every day in December I will keep on bringing you more butter and jam to go with the bread of our every day.

xo~ Monique

Review: The Croft

8 Nov

(First a note to anyone stopping in from NaBloPoMo.  I am completely unqualified to write the ‘restaurant reviews‘ series on my blog.  I am an amateur, and my hypothetical target audience for these reviews is ‘mothers of families who have just arrived in the Gloucestershire area from overseas and have no kitchen equipment and are eating out frequently.’  So, a bit specific.  I welcome any critiques, and tomorrow you’ll be back to my usual wanderings and musings.)

At 4pm on a weekday, we were suddenly possessed by the urge to return to Bourton-on-the-Water and see the town at sunset and twilight.  After playing pooh-sticks and following the ducks down the River Windrush, we took a chance and walked in to The Croft for dinner.

The Croft
Victoria Street at Chester House Hotel
Bourton-on-the-Water GL54 2BU
0 1451 821132

Modern and clean but clearly still in tune with the old stone Cotswold building in which it resides.  Fabulous views of High Street and the River Windrush.  When we walked in early on a Thursday evening, the dining room was empty, and it slowly filled with an older local crowd.  Don Henley was playing all evening, which struck me as a bit hilarious, but made it clear The Croft is unpretentious.  The staff welcomed us in and were quick and efficient with our meals without giving us any sense of rush.

No one seemed to mind our kid-noise, possibly because we were off to a corner by ourselves.  There is a chidren’s menu that includes more than the usual fish, chicken, and cheese pizza — what a relief.  No coloring books or activities, but the view of the ducks and passers-by out the window was endlessly amusing.  As were the giant bowls filled with silverware in the center of the tables.

Garlic bread was fresh and the garlic strong.  Salads were lightly dressed (we’ve gotten used to seeing undressed salads) and were made with a larger variety of lettuce and cut vegetables than we’ve seen typically.  A lamb shank was prepared with a subtle but beautifully pervasive mint flavor and served with a variety of steamed fresh vegetables.  Husband was so-so about the fish and chips, finding them slightly bland.  Plaice Goujon (fish strips) and chicken fillets (chicken nuggets) were prepared to kid-satisfaction.  All items are locally sourced and seasonally fresh — the ice cream was especially delicious, and our apple crumbles were bowl-lickingly good.

Kids meals were a bit over 4 pounds each and were substantial portions.  This is less expensive than we’ve been seeing in Cheltenham, but the meals did not include pudding (dessert).  Adults entrees ranged from seven to thirteen pounds, desserts about 5 pounds each but worth every bite.  All in all not an everyday place to eat for a family but a better family dining out value than comparable restaurants in Cheltenham — if you don’t mind the drive.

Locally sourced foods, view of the village, friendly staff and delicious desserts — we were ready to float away down the river when we left and I’m eager to return.

You met me at a very strange time in my life

6 Nov

Under normal circumstances, I wouldn’t post on a Sunday.  Not because I’m religious, but because I need a nap.

Sunday in England is the best invention in the history of ever.  Everyone sleeps late.  They wake up and do nothing.  Then they have a luxurious multi-course meal heavy with wine, meats and starch.  Then maybe a walk in the park, then home for more nothing.  The streets are abandoned.  Like, The Day After abandoned.  I’m thinking this is a cultural habit my family is going to embrace.  We’re naturals.

But NaBloPoMo (say it ten times fast) is a blogging marathon.  You know what I’ve noticed about marathoners?  They rarely take naps during the run.  So here I am.

I’ve made some rewarding discoveries this first week of NaBloPoMo – some new blogs have been added to my Google Reader.  mama goes BAM – she blogged for NaBloPoMo during childbirth, y’all – eat through the pain – a sentiment I can endorse, and the first post I read from her was about melty cheese and relationships (are we related?) – HOUSE WITH NO NAME – here’s a blogger to admire who writes sensibly and intelligently about actual real issues, like a grownup and everything, and she has a tumbledown house in France (can I live with you?) – and she led me to The world from my window – who makes hilarious commentary on life in an Enchanted Village in England (Her fantasy world is as big as mine.  That makes her crazy.  And awesome.)  There’s more, there’s so much more, check out this thread for more blogs than you could ever read in a month of long lazy Sundays.

(And Guy Fawkes Night?  Never seen anything like it.  We stood on top of a hill by a bonfire dwarfed only in size by the Dartmouth Night bonfire, and watched fireworks rocket and bloom over the whole city.  It was like the final scene in Fight Club, but, you know, family friendly.)