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My new novel, The Tenant: A Love Story, was published in February. It’s not your usual fare of rampant violence, blood-thirsty vampires, and unbridled sex. If that’s what you’re looking for, it’s not your book. It’s just a simple, heartwarming story about a beautiful man, who feels self-conscious about having to walk with a cane after an accident. Having long given up on love, he constantly sabotages his own happiness, because he can’t imagine that any woman in her right mind would think him a good catch. But when he rents a cottage to a young woman, who struggles to survive with her ten year old boy, he is in for an emotional roller coaster.
You can check out the book at Amazon, The Tenant: A Love Story, or at your favorite bookseller.
Once I had published the book, a good many of my readers asked me how long it took me to write it. The question always surprises me, because why should it matter. Would it be less of a great read it if I had written it in a week? Or if I had labored over it for twenty years?
But once I thought about it, I wondered myself just how long it took me to write it. It certainly wasn’t the five months I actually spent sitting in front of the computer, stealing time to write among the hundred other things there were going on at the same time such as the plumber, the computer crash, the laundry, the cooking, the company, the days I felt out of sorts, the paying the bills, the phone calls, insomnia, running errands, and a good many other things that come with living life.
The book actually began about sixteen years ago, only I didn’t know it. I don’t consciously keep track of a scene I’ve witnessed, a revelation that’s come to me, or an image that stands out. I don’t think: Oh, one day I will write a book about this. But I am in the habit of writing down things that intrigue me, because—well—they intrigue me. Sometimes, not always, I think that one day, I might work this moment into a book. I might. But I might not.
Trying to follow The Tenant back to its beginnings, I can see that it began with an observation—the interaction of two brothers I know who don’t like one another very much. The underlying enmity in their otherwise very civil encounter intrigued me enough that I wrote the scene down and even wrote a couple of chapters about the possible root of their rivalry. Then I put these musings side, because they didn’t really go anywhere in terms of a story. I just found them interesting. Once in a while, in my dearth and desert moments of writing, I’d pick them up and work on them a little, and let them go again. What’s interesting to me is that the name ‘Sam,’ though fictitious, offered itself quite naturally as that of one of the brothers in my little draft piece.
A couple of years later, I met a man who had to give up flying, because his eye sight had begun to fail him. I wrote that encounter down, and some months later, I met a man who had a construction accident. The fates of these two men almost immediately connected themselves to Sam. I have no idea how and why my mind determinedly makes these connections that, later on, prove to be dead-on in something I write.
A couple of years later, I happened to look out at a cabin that is way up near the top of a mountain that I can see from my window. It may well be a house, because that mountain is so far away, I can barely make out the house. And it’s not as if I hadn’t looked out at that cabin/house for years. But that day, it caught my fancy, and I thought how lovely it must be to live there with the phenomenal view of nearly the whole of the Shenandoah Valley in one’s lap. Instantly, I remembered a friend of mine, who had rented a cabin, because she had no money. The cabin had no electricity, and she and her young son had to bring in water from a well even in the dead of winter and haul in wood to keep warm. Just how this cabin instantly became Sam’s, I will never know.
But some months after I was done with my novel, Diary of a Naïve, I played around on my computer, looking for what I could write next. That’s when I found these seemingly disconnected pieces: a cabin (which suddenly struck me as awfully romantic), a young woman and a boy, and two brothers, who didn’t like one another very much. How all these pieces connected themselves, I will never know. But connect they did, as if it all was meant to be.
Just in case you’re involved in something utterly mediocre, trivial, and frustrating, here’s something that might pick you up. Turn up the volume:
So you’ve had ‘Trip Around the World’ on your bucket list forever, right? Only, you’re not within the two percent demographics that have money to burn. But not to worry. If you have a little cash to spare, you could travel to Germany, make your way to a phenomenally beautiful lake called Lake Constance (Bodensee) and visit Mini Mundus, a miniature world of nearly all the amazing monuments all over the globe. The scale is 1:25 and care has been taken to build the monuments, whenever possible, with the materials used in the original architecture. Wherever called for, they also function like the original, such as the Tower Bridge and Niagara Falls.
When you go, pick a sunny day, and take the whole day to see these marvels. When you get tired, there is a great restaurant with a beautiful terrace, where you can take a break and nourish body and spirit. Then, keep going—it’s a pretty amazing place. During the winter months, mid-October to end of April, the monuments are covered by protective structures, built exclusively for them every year, to protect them from the elements.
Here are a few pictures—a very few in comparison to all that is there, but they will give you an idea of what’s there.
Sorry to have cut off the top of the Great Pyramid at Gizeh and the face of the Sphinx, but I’ve published the photo anyway, because it gives you a sense of the height of the structures vs. the tiny human beings modeling in the foreground.
Unfortunately, the website is in German, but I’ve attached some links. As for how to get there, google-earth or mapquest the address. (I guess I just turned these into verbs.)
or Google as minimundus bodensee
One of my all time favorite cook books is Peg Bracken’s, I Hate to Cook Book. Published in 1960, it was an instant bestseller, and I was lucky enough to find a used paperback at some yard sale years later. The find was a godsend to me for three reasons. One, I hate to cook. Two, I was not the only one in the Universe to feel that way. Three, I could stop feeling guilty, which I instantly did. Obviously, this book, being a million dollar bestseller, proved that millions of other women felt exactly the way I did, which made me feel ecstatic. Being a woman, I used to believe with every fiber of my being that cooking came with my genes. Therefore, and worse yet, I was supposed to take to it like a duck to water. Not so.
Nothing bores me more than standing in the kitchen, assembling tons of ingredients just right—cleaning them, cutting them, dicing them, spicing them, sautéing them, mixing them—to cook a meal that is eaten in fifteen minutes. The mere thought of it makes me want to flee. The guy or gal who invented the microwave deserves a place in Heaven, as far as I’m concerned.
Given the choice between cooking a meal and writing a novel, I take the novel any day. But—my family had to eat, and even I had to eat, and so I did my best, with the help of Peg Bracken’s book and with all the other recipes I could find that took rarely more than 15 minutes to put together. And, actually and to my surprise, they were mostly healthy and wholesome.
The thing is—everyone who has ever come to my house loves my cooking. Beats me! Those “I hate to cook” recipe creators must have done something right. Even I, in rare moments of enlightenment, have unintentionally come up with a pretty darn good recipe, and so I thought I’d pass one of them on to all of you who’d rather write a novel or prefer a root canal to cooking.
Chicken Pot Pie
How fast do you want it? Is ten minutes prep time and thirty minutes in the oven fast enough?
If yes, here’s a quick and easy—and might I add yummy—recipe for which you need the following:
- 1 9in. Pie Plate
- 1 9in. frozen pie crust which will be the cover. (Take it out of the freezer before you do anything else, so it has a chance to soften a little. Or if you want to be ambitious, make your own pie crust, though none of us women who hate to cook would dream of it.)
Then mix together:
- 1 can cream of chicken soup
- 1 12.5 oz can of chicken breast or 1 ½ cups of cooked, diced chicken
- 1 and ½ cups of cooked, mixed vegetables
- 1 small tub (4 oz.) Eggbeater eggs (or one egg)
- ½ cup of milk
- 1 tsp Curry
- 1 tsp Poultry Seasoning
- Salt and Pepper to taste. (I add a little of both, and sometimes, when I feel like it and when I have it, I add ½ cup of diced, fresh celery, which makes it even yummier.)
- Spray the pie plate with a little butter flavored cooking spray, if you have it. (Cleans up easier this way.)
- Pour the above mixture into the pie plate.
- Turn the frozen pie crust upside down directly from the aluminum straight onto the top of the pie mixture as a cover. If it breaks, no big deal, patch it together as best you can. I do. Once it’s baked, no one can tell the difference, and it always comes out looking yummy.
- Cut slits into that cover to vent.
- Bake at 400 degrees for 30 min or until golden brown.
- Serves four.
A couple of hints:
- I use 98% fat free Campbell’s, but any other will do.)
- I use the chicken breast that comes in the Costco six-packs, but you may have some left-over chicken, or you can buy half a pound of roasted chicken breast from the Deli on the way home. As for the Costco brand, I mash the chicken, which is bit too chunky for me, with a fork in a soup plate before I add it to the mixture.
- I usually have some left over veggies from some meal. If not, I use the frozen kind that you cook in the bag in the microwave, which would add about 6 or 7 min to your prep time.
- The pie rarely comes out of the pie plate like a clean wedge, but what does it matter. It’s delicious, and that’s what counts.
And while it bakes, you can read a couple more chapters in my novel, Diary of a Naïve, if you’ve bought it, or go to my blog, http://umandel2.wordpress.com and read a chapter there. Or try The Good American, if you haven’t read it yet. And then, eat!
I don’t want to count the many times that someone has said to me, “You have to stop and smell the roses.” Yeah, right. Why do these folks drive me crazy, even if they have a point? Maybe it’s because they throw platitudes at me just when I have a to-do-list a mile long, am running around like a chicken with my head cut off, and need forty-eight hours in a day to get it all done. (So much for platitudes!) But—a couple of days ago, while doing some computer work, urgent, of course, I came across these pictures that I’d taken here and there, and they stopped me dead in my busy tracks. I took the time to look at them, and for just a little while, I forgot my rushing to get things done. For just a little while anyway, I did nothing but—well—smile.
Did I dread it? You betcha. On top of it, they’d given me a schedule for the middle of December, speak right before Christmas. Definitely the wrong time to undergo a colonoscopy. But I, medical wimp that I am, told myself that I could do this, should do this, just to get it done and over with. Not that cancelling didn’t cross my mind. But I kept vacillating between Yay and Nay, and then it was too late, because cancelling within 5 business days, I’d be charged a hundred bucks.
“What if I break a leg?” I asked the nurse who had given me my instructions for the procedure.
“Well, now, that would be an emergency, wouldn’t it? We just don’t want people who are scared to cancel at the last minute.”
I was one of those people. Being a medical wimp, Dr. Oz is a stranger to me. I never watch the show. As I never watch Grey’s Anatomy, or Medical Mysteries, or any such fare. Any commercial that hails great medicines, only to end with a long list of side-effects, such as, check with your physician, because the side-effects may be fatal, gives me chills and means a sure change of the channel via my remote. As for any kind of medical discussion that news channels seem to feel obligated to run, ditto. I immediately get symptoms and stay away from such enlightenments.
But, the colonoscopy loomed, and it wasn’t made much better by a friend of mine who said:
“This stuff tastes terrible.”
“Am I going to survive it?”
“Oh, sure. Just chuck it.”
And another friend said, “Oh, my God, I’m glad I started earlier than they said, because I wouldn’t have made it.”
By the time a third friend said, “Colonoscopy? That’s nothing nowadays,” my anxiety had reached Xanax levels, and her positive outlook didn’t soothe me one iota.
I wasn’t scared of the procedure itself. I knew I would be out cold for just a bit, and the last time I had it, which was five years before, I thought the whole thing lasted two minutes, it was over so fast. Rather, I was scared of “drinking that stuff” and what it would do to me. Five years before, that prep procedure had been different, and no drinking of “terrible stuff” had been involved.
So here’s the thing: Don’t listen to your friends. Caring and helpful as they are, they will manage to scare the hell out of you.
The doctor’s office phoned the prescription for “that terrible stuff” into the pharmacy, and I picked it up on the way home. They handed me a white gallon jug labeled Golytely, which had some powder in the bottom. Yuk! Reading the instructions the nurse had given me didn’t make me feel any better: Fill with water to the fill line on the morning of the day before the procedure, and shake well. Drink 8 oz of the solution every 15 minutes (1/2 gallon) starting at 6 at night, and the rest of it, every 15 min beginning at 4 a.m. Oh, for heaven’s sake, I thought, I will never, ever be able to do this. But, in wise foresight, I had bought some straws, because I figured, drinking things through a straw, the stuff doesn’t fill out your mouth and lingers there, making you sick.
I was given a set of instructions as to what I should eat three days before—white rice, white pasta, cooked veggies, cooked fruits, potatoes, bananas, even chocolate (I called the clinic to make sure I could—yessssss), chicken, white bread—in other words, all things that were easily digested or, as they said, “low residue.” (Love that. I had heard an astronaut say this once when he was asked what his breakfast was before he blasted off into space: “Poached eggs, toast, potatoes, in other words, low residue stuff.”) And, in the age of where everything “white” is pooh-poohed, no pun intended, and whole grain stuff is hailed, eating only “white” stuff was a treat. Yes, I ate pound cake. And a cookie here and there.
On the prep day, that is, the day before the actual procedure, I would be permitted only clear juices, orange juice without pulp, Pepsi, ginger ale, low-sodium, fat-free chicken broth, water, coffee and tea, yes, sugared if I wanted, and jello and popsicles.
So, the day before the prep day, I made a big bowl of lemon jello (4 pks), bought some chicken broth, 2 quarts, forgot the popsicles, which was probably just as well, because I could have eaten only the lemon ones (nothing with blue, purple, red, or orange in it), and anxiously awaited the next day. Oh, and I did buy a package of pads, such as one might use for incontinence, just in case I wouldn’t make it to the bathroom in time.
When I got up the next morning, I retrieved the ominous gallon jug of Golytely, which I had well hidden from sight so accidental glances of it wouldn’t startle me, filled it with water to the fill line, shook it violently a couple of times, and put it into the fridge, as instructed. There it loomed, but I forced myself to stare at it bravely every time I opened to door to it. For breakfast, I had two pieces of toast. Could have had an egg, poached, but couldn’t handle that. No solid food after that. Every time I got hungry thereafter, I had a bowl of lemon jello or a cup of chicken broth. All worked very well to keep my cravings in check—besides, I figured, why not lose a couple of pounds, whether I needed to do so or not.
I tried not to check the clock, because 6 o’clock, when the first glass of “that stuff” was due, crept ever closer. And then—there it was. Somberly, I took the cap off the jug, poured the first glass, put a straw into it, gave myself a mental push, and drank that glass dry in about 5 seconds.
Surprise, surprise! I may as well have had a plain glass of water, because this “stuff” tasted but ever so faintly salty, and that was that. Ah, what a relief! I set my timer for 15 minutes, and then I had the next glass, which went down just as easily, and so it went, until I had the required 8 glasses. No problem. Watched the news and a crime show in between, and waited for the “explosion,” and my not being able to make it to the bathroom on time. Nothing happened.
Not until about half an hour after I had the last glass, and then the results, though they came rather frequently, were so “gentle,” I thought I may have done something wrong. I didn’t. This went on for about two hours, and then it was over, and I got a bit of work done and went to bed. I dreaded the four o’clock rise, not being able to eat anything or drink anything, except, once again, “that stuff.”
Tired and cross, I peeled myself out of bed at four the next morning, headed for the jug, poured a glass, put the straw in, drank the stuff, as before in 5 seconds, turned on the timer, turned on the TV, wrapped myself in a blanket, and tried to get 10 min snoozes in between the timer bings. Didn’t work very well, because this time, the stuff worked much faster, and so I visited the bathroom more than I had anticipated, even after I was done drinking the solution (which was at exactly 6:12 a.m., Yeah!!), but hey, the cleaner I was, the better the doc could see if anything was going on in my innards. Though I felt sleepy, hungry, and cross, having to go to the bathroom every fifteen minutes, I told myself, yawning, to get a grip here. To help me out, the TV flashed a Wounded Warrior picture across the screen, which helped me to develop a backbone in two seconds flat.
Done with the solution, I jumped into the shower, and by the time we left for the clinic, I felt a bit drowsy and sleepy—after all, I hadn’t had anything to eat in ages, but I was quite proud of myself. [A good thing is that they require you to have someone drive you there (you’re hungry, a bit drowsy), stay with you there (so someone other then yourself hears the instructions), and to drive you home (you feel a wobbly for a bit). No driving for the rest of the day.]
We got to the clinic, and the nurses, being their usual lovely, helpful, funny, and positive, prepped me with what they had to prep for —temperature, blood pressure, IV, etc., and then they wheeled me into the procedure room, knocked me out a little, not much, and the next thing I knew, I was wide awake again, had a glass of ginger ale in my hand, which I gulped down, through a straw, and it was delicious. Was I proud of myself, or what? You betcha. The doc came in and said: “We didn’t find a thing. You’re clean as a whistle.”
So we went to the Waffle House to celebrate. I had coffee, two eggs over-easy, hash browns, sausage, and, for once, truly great grits. Yummy!!!
(And do check out my other blog, Diary of a Naive)