Friday, June 3, 2016

Oatmeal-Banana Cookles--but first, a bit of philosophizing

Let's take a serious turn for a moment.

In these times of turmoil . . . well, maybe not TURMOIL. In this election year when people are all shouting at one another over a Grand Canyon of differences . . . well, maybe not a canyon. But I am tired of hearing bitter rants over the radio and lots of mean comments made on both sides. I would like to hear some GOOD news and some happy stuff to look forward to. Wouldn't you?

I believe we are endowed by our Creator with not only "certain inalienable rights," but also four gifts. Gifts we often don't appreciate.

The first is THINKING FOR OURSELVES, including the components of Questioning Authority and Figuring Out a Better Way, and even Doubt, which prompts us to ask questions.

The second, Reason, which allows us to determine the answers to those questions. Or at least come up with some good educated guesses. And allows for spirited debate.

Then there's Free Will, which requires us to make choices and pick the Right Action to the best of our abilities. We are never forced to choose Right Action. But we always have the option to do so and to keep our "hands clean." As the song says, "there's still time to change the road you're on." (Yeah, but "Stairway to Heaven" is telling you to change to that OTHER path, isn't it, not the one I'm talking about? Oh, hush. The fact that there's a stairway to Heaven and a *highway* to Hell says something about anticipated traffic.)

And the hands-down favorite is . . . Love! I'm not talking strictly romantic love, of course. I mean Agape, Phileo, and Storge as well as Eros. C. S. Lewis wrote a great little book exploring the four words that the ancient Greeks had to describe what we lump together as "love." Basically, phileo is brotherly love (fondness, friendship, affection that goes deep), storge is familial affection (family ties and cousin-type loyalty), agape is unconditional love (such as from a parent or the Creator), and of course eros is romantic love and the love "of the body."

In all its forms, love tempers our choices and softens our harsh reasoning-based actions.

Then there are the four pillars of decision-making.

Those four pillars are Justice, the quality of being impartial or fair; Tolerance, sympathy or indulgence for beliefs or practices differing from or conflicting with one's own; Compassion, a brotherly-loving and sympathetic awareness of others' distress together with a desire to alleviate it; and Humility, which can be as simple as the ability to accept the fact that you might be wrong (this is not a lack of belief in yourself as much as a willingness to listen to others' points of view or logic.)

If you use these pillars as guidelines for living, you will never find yourself without a moral compass or lost in the morass of popular peer pressure culture. This will serve you well as you navigate your own personal path.

OK, let's have a recipe to lighten up all this HEAVY stuff!

Virtuous Oatmeal-Banana Cookies

This recipe is adapted from an old Betty Crocker cookbook. You can be just a little virtuous or very, very health-conscious with this one, depending upon your choices. Use whole eggs, or just egg whites. Some sugar or far less at all--and they are quite edible without the sugar. Nonfat, but spray the cookie sheet with Pam (or line it with parchment paper or aluminum foil), or they'll stick.
I always freeze the bananas ahead of time, then let them thaw. They look pretty nasty in the bowl--black and slimy. But snip off the end and squeeze, and out comes the fruit in a form that mixes in nicely without mashing. Very quick and efficient for lazy people like me.
Makes a huge batch: 10 dozen of the rounded-teaspoonful size cookies, or fewer if you're in a hurry and use a bigger spoon.

5 bananas
3/4 cup brown sugar, or perhaps less (to taste)
2 whole eggs or 3 egg whites
2 teaspoons vanilla extract
2 cups flour
2 teaspoons salt
2 teaspoons cinnamon
2 teaspoons baking soda
1 teaspoon cloves
2 cups raisins (optional--I use fewer, if I use them at all)
6 cups quick-cooking oats
Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Combine sugar, egg, bananas, and vanilla (whomp together just until smooth). Stir in remaining ingredients. Drop the dough by rounded tablespoonsful onto greased baking sheet. Bake 12-15 minutes. Remove immediately from baking sheet when done. Don't burn your fingers!

Tuesday, April 12, 2016

The Heartbreak of RBF--and the perks of RSF (resting smileyface)

What do you do when your resting face looks like a scowl--or, worse, a contemptuous sneer--but without conscious knowledge of it, UNINTENTIONALLY, without meaning it at all? What to do, what to do??

Resting Bytchface is a serious lifelong condition!

Why do people get upset by this? It’s in the subtle signals, like one side of the lip pulled back slightly, the eyes squinting a little,” says one researcher. “There’s a tightening around the eyes, and a little bit of raising of the corners of the lips — but not into a smile,” another suggested. Occasionally it's just a full-on scowl accompanied by a "stay away from me for your own good" glare. But the face's owner will insist that she's zoned out, not even thinking about you or looking at you. It's just . . . RBF.

But wait!! Why do some people think there is something "wrong" with not smiling like a fakey car saleman when they're not interacting with someone? Just shows how prejudiced people are against introverts, quiet types (and the people who "won't meet your gaze" because they have Asperger's or whatever) and people who don't run around acting ecstatic at all times as if life is some kind of amazing fairy tale. Whee! I wanna thank my fairy godmother! There has to be a pony under here somewhere!*

*Joke: Kid opens door to find HUGE pile of horsepoop on doorstep. He breaks into a grin, gets a shovel, and dives into the pile. "Why are you doing that?" his mother asks, getting hysterical. His voice comes out of the pile: "There's got to be a pony under here somewhere!"

My dog, on the other hand, has resting smileyface. *He* is cute.

Conclusion: smiley face attracts way more nice people (as well as flies, the only downside).

Wednesday, February 24, 2016

The Darkness at the Center--preview chapter

Here's a glimpse of the first chapter of my new YA that's NOT a fantasy but an exploration of psychological and sexual harassment by a preteen's piano teacher (more serious than my normal work).

Twelve-year-old Elise Francis struck the final note of "Fur Elise" and felt the Steinway baby grand's vibrations resonate all the way up her arm.

She winced. Once again, she'd landed too hard on the last note, "banging" the ending.

Her teacher, Mrs. Robi--or at least her reflection in the huge mirror above the piano-- leaned back, nodding. "You know what went wrong?"

Elise could feel her face flaming out, just as her hands tingled with the error. "Whamming down my thumb at the end of every phrase. I forgot again."

Mrs. Robi's reflection staggered a little. "Mercy," she gasped.

"Sorry. I'll try to remember."

Instead of remonstrating further, Mrs. Robi made a strangled noise.

That brought Elise's head up and around. "Are you OK?"

"Another little dizzy spell, is all." The elderly instructor groped for the brocade wing chair behind her and sat heavily. "I'll be fine in a minute. Run through 'Doctor Gradus and Parnassum' real quick for me, and that'll do it."

Ellie examined her teacher. Mrs. Robi's face was really pale. Almost as gray as her hair. She was breathing pretty heavily. Panting, actually. "Are you sure? I can get my mom. She's right down the street at Mrs. Shirley's doing their bitch-and-stitch, but it's totally informal."

Mrs. R. shook her head violently, then grimaced. "No, no, hon. Don't bother her. I just need to sit a minute, and remember not to shake my head." She closed her eyes. "Play, dear. If you present to me a reading worthy of Saint Claude, I'll be perfectly restored."

She tended to refer to the composers by first names like that.

After a moment Elise turned back to the Steinway. The ivory keys were cool and her fingertips clung briefly as she touched them to the opening notes. She heard a sigh from behind and suspected her teacher wanted a faster tempo, so she speeded up, almost imperceptibly.

Even though she hadn't considered playing it this fast, the quicker tempo worked. Elise raised her hands at the end, pleased with herself.

"Wonderful," her teacher said. But she didn't clap as she usually did. Instead, she coughed and then choked, loudly. Elise swiveled around in alarm.

Mrs. Robi was slumped over, head on her knees.

Elise slid off the bench quickly, but her teacher raised her head. Instead of reassuring Elise, Mrs. Robi murmured, "I do feel strange," and began fanning herself with the Dover edition of "Die Fledermaus" (which she'd picked up off the coffee table, where Elise's dad had been browsing it earlier, for grins.) Bullets of sweat were building up on her forehead.

"Do you need a glass of water? Are you too warm?" Ellie swung her head towards the thermostat. No, the room was chilly as always, kept that way so the temperamental baby grand wouldn't go out of tune so quickly. In here it was forever Alaska.

"Oh, I'm all right, you know me. A hot flash." Mrs. R. wiped her forehead with the gossamer sleeve of her fancy tunic. "Go on. Let's do the Beethoven sonatina, if you have it under your fingers." She lifted an eyebrow, which made Elise feel more reassured because it was one of her typical I challenge you expressions. "Make me hear that tension in the adagio."

So Ellie turned back to the piano, took a deep breath, and finally lifted her fingers to the keyboard.

She was playing the quiet section when she thought she heard wheezing, like her little brother when he needed his inhaler, but she wasn't sure and she didn't want to ruin the flow. She'd gotten over stopping when she made a mistake and didn't want to plow that field again. Besides, the right side of her brain was in charge right now and she wasn't thinking logically; she had entered the ethereal plane of music, just sequencing the melody and counterpoint and feeling the muscle memory in her fingers where she had parts memorized. And so when the THUD came followed by the CRASH, it startled her so that she nearly fell off the bench. *is there counterpoint in any Beethoven sonatina??**zamma

Her piano teacher lay curled on Daddy's expensive Persian rug, convulsing. The crashing sound had been her mother's Tiffany roses lamp, which was now on the floor cracked into perfect halves. Mrs. Robi must have grasped the edge of that linen table runner on the end table trying to catch herself, but instead it followed her down.

"Hey! What was that?"

Elise glanced up. Her little brother Jamie hung over the polished banister halfway down the stairs, saucer-eyed, gripping the balusters as he goggled.

"Call 911!"