The Next Best Thing or (The Next Big Thing) or It Ain’t No Thing

The Big Tree in My Backyard

The Next Big Thing Might Be in Your Backyard

The next big thing or best thing or it ain’t no thing, I don’t really know. However, I can give you a lovely photo of a very big tree that is in my backyard. This photo was taken last summer. Right now, it just looks like old man winter’s arse back there and trust me, you do not want to see that big ole’ thing. And here I give you the tired and worn out expression of, the next big thing (best thing) could be right in your backyard. Actually, the next big and best thing is almost in my backyard. My lovely friend Ann Rushton lives a city away and she is going to be the next best and big thing when her novel hits the shelves near you (and me). I feel a strong sense of loyalty and love for Ann for many reasons. First of all, she drinks black and tans. I love black and tans. She likes cats. I like cats. She writes books and I write books. Also, when I was feeling particularly low in my life, she sent me a card that truly made me feel like I was THE Next Best Thing! OK. I lie. It didn’t make me feel like I was THE Next Best Thing, but it did make me smile. Also, she bought me a book once that I don’t even think she necessarily liked, but she somehow intuitively knew that I would like it and that is a good friend indeed. And probably the most important reason why I am forever loyal to my friend Ann is because she posted this photo on my Facebook page just  because it is pretty.


Good Morning Lisa, here is a little pretty to brighten up your day. You’re Welcome, Ann

Oh, and she tagged me in her post on The Next Best Thing (big thing) and so for her, I’m going to allow my internet persona tell you about my current work-in-progress, which means enough about Ann and we’ll move on to the interview part of this Next Best Thing.

(One last thing on The Next Best Thing. For those of you who were not aware The Next Best Thing is an internet project in which a writer answers TNBT interview questions on their blog and then, tags other writerly friends to do the same. That is about the extent of my knowledge on this little internet project.)

TNBT:  What is the working title of the book?

The Hidden People

TNBT:  Where did the idea come from for the book?

I’m going to quote Teju Cole for part of my answer to this question, partly because I just read his interview in Guernica and this more than resonated with me as true. “…it is a CAT-scan of the author’s brain, a State of the Union address on what your self mentally encountered during the period of writing.” Isn’t that brilliant? It’s not one idea that the book is drawing from. It draws from me and I’m a writer, sure, but I’m also an advocate for sustainable farming and eating; I’m a mother of two young boys; I’m a Midwesterner; I care deeply about social justice issues; I’m concerned about poverty and inequalities; I’m really into trees and I think mushrooms are fascinating as well as yummy to eat; I listen to Norah Jones and The Black Eyed Peas; and I read all the time. I sometimes like to think the ideas are dictated by the ethos, from some greater communal mind that is probably smarter than I am and I just hope that I can be just smart enough to get it right on the page.

TNBT:  What genre does your book fall under?

This is probably going to make me sound like a jerk, but I’d like to think that my book won’t comfortably fit on any genre shelf. Primarily it is essayistic and so might end up on a nonfiction shelf at your big chain book store, but it’s truly a mixed brew of invention, imagination, speculation, personal narrative, and cultural criticism.

TNBT:  What actors would you choose to play the characters in a movie rendition?

Oh my. That’s too much fun. Johnny Depp but only because I secretly would hope to get to meet him. I do think I know a particular someone in the book that would highlight Johnny’s talents. It’s a good role, Johnny. You’ll love it.

TNBT:  What is the one sentence synopsis of your book?

Where’s the love?

TNBT:  Who or what inspired you to write this book?

I think I already mentioned I like trees and mushrooms, right? So, the natural world, sure, but also my kids, my writing colleagues at The University of Iowa, my grandfather Floyd, my grandmother Ina Mae, blueberry pancakes, fresh strawberries, Michelle, Jessica, Kathy, Jen, Sara, Annie, Cheryl (my former calligraphy instructor), Ann, of course, Jac and her mom Lois along with that trip to Sydney, Australia, and Johnny Depp. Also, canning jars, long walks, kidney stones, desperate night time prayers – the kind with the bulging teary eyes and snot running down your chin – painful goodbyes, funerals, weddings, divorces, and cards that you get in the mail from someone you’ve never met but who decides to write you a letter anyway and leave wonderful homemade food on your doorstep when she hears that you are having a bad day. And Downton Abbey.

TNBT:  What else about the book might pique the reader’s interest?

It has fairies in it. Who doesn’t like fairies?

TNBT:  Will your book be self published or represented by an agency?

It’s still a work-in-progress and right now, I just want to keep carving out the time to write. The publishing can’t happen until I’m done writing it anyway.

Now, enough about me! Next up in The Next Best Thing roster is Jen Visser!

Spaghetti & Meatballs, Made with Love, Eat with Love

Last year, our general practitioner told me that my suspicions that Jack was hypoglycemic was not in fact, just in my head, but the real deal.

If more than a few hours go by and he has not had something to eat, his mood and his energy sag. It can lead to whining but not necessarily. It can lead to crankiness, but not necessarily. It can lead to distracted, lack of focus, but not necessarily. A lot of it depends on what kind of foods he has eaten that day as well as the day before. When he eats a meal with more sugar, just like anyone, he is going to crash, but he might crash harder. If he goes too long without eating, he’ll get nauseous  and eventually vomit. Then, it becomes really difficult to get food in his tummy and to level out his blood sugar. I’ve seen the vomiting happen usually when he is traveling. Until I figured out what was going on and asked his doctor about it, I’m pretty sure most people thought he just always got some kind of bug when traveling. What it really was – too much carbs and sugars in his diet. So, what did the doctor recommend?

Eat protein with meals. Eat every 2-3 hours. So, breakfast, morning snack, lunch, afternoon snack, dinner, and bedtime snack. Doesn’t need to be large meals each time he eats, but he has to eat frequently. She said to carry a protein bar or cheese in my purse (she didn’t know that he doesn’t like cheese unless it is on pizza) whenever we are out and about, so I can give him something with protein quickly if needed. She said he should eat a high fiber, whole grain diet. In other words, lots of fruits and veggies and if he is going to eat pasta, like let’s say spaghetti, don’t give him the regular white stuff. Stay away from the white stuff. Make sure the pasta is whole grain pasta and limit the pasta. Eating a plate of regular spaghetti is not good for him. Eating a small portion of whole grain spaghetti with a veggie packed tomato sauce is good for him, but make sure he has protein with it (chicken meatballs, anyone?), extra fruit or veggies for additional fiber to help level out his blood sugar should be eaten with that plate of chicken meatballs and a small amount of whole grain spaghetti. Those fruits and veggies along with the protein in the chicken meatballs level his blood sugar, keeping it going for longer stretches. The whole grains are better than the white stuff at preventing spikes.

Last night, we had one of his favorite dinners. He was mmmm-mmm-ing and making yummy noises throughout.

2 chicken meatballs, small portion of whole wheat spaghetti with veggie packed tomato sauce, raw carrots, and an apple. Very small piece of whole grain garlic bread.

Really, this is how we all should eat. Myself included. We don’t always eat healthy, but we’re trying.

Homemade. Less processed (or better, no processed). Lots of fruits and veggies. Healthy protein choices. (He also loves beans, white beans, black beans, kidney beans, give the kid a bean and he’ll eat it.) Whole grains when we eat grains. And make it tasty. And share it with people you love.

Mommy & Me

For Christmas, I assembled a Melissa and Doug art easel. Dry erase on one side. Chalk on the other. Storage on both sides. Clips to hold paper.

On Monday, post dinner, I’m trying to finish my taxes. MacAir balanced on the arm of the couch. My youngest is talking, really telling a story as he draws on the dry erase side of the easel. I start by sort of listening and then, I fade away as I chore through the tax drudge. At one point, after a long stretch, maybe 45 minutes, he asks me if I want to come and look at what he’s been drawing. The easel is angled so I can’t see it from where I am sitting in TaxLandia. I mumble/grumble Just a minute, honey. And go about trying to finish my taxes. Honestly, who knows how much longer later, I forgot about the easel. Soon, I was hustling the kids off to a night time shower, reading books, and off to bed.

The next morning I take them to school. Go home and work all morning/afternoon and so on. Then, Wednesday morning I walk by the easel and look. By this point, I must have already walked by it six times at least. But this time, I looked.

It was gorgeous. I called for Jack to tell me about it and he was so excited to explain.

Melissa and Doug Easel

Mommy & Me Dry Erase Seascape

Here is the mommy fish and the baby fish. The mommy crab and the baby crab. Mommy octopus and the baby octopus. Mommy shark and the baby shark. Mommy penguin and the baby penguin. Mommy starfish and the baby starfish. Mommy sponge and baby sponge. Mommy leopard seal and baby leopard seal. And here’s the dolphin.

Arrrrgh. Don’t forget to be in the moment. It’s worth it. I was lucky he didn’t erase it during those days.

Sustainability Spotlight

Sustainability Spotlight

The Sunday Sustainability Spotlight is an endeavor I’m hoping to launch with this inaugural post. On Sundays, I want to feature an individual, a community, or an organization that is living within their natural world in a sustainable manner. It can be something big – like a farmer who has sustainable farming practices to a family with an organic garden. I’d love suggestions, nominations, and the like, so please feel free to send me a line or comment right here. I can’t (at this point) offer anything as an award to an individual or organization – yet. But, maybe that will change.

Willow Acres Eggs

Willow Acres

I buy my eggs from Willow Acres, which is owned and operated by a friend of mine. At Willow Acres you can get “beyond organic – farm fresh eggs from chickens raised on pasture, sunshine, and organic feed”. They really go beyond organic in more than one way. Before I started buying my eggs through Willow Acres, I always purchased organic free range eggs from the store. To me, the price was a necessary trade off for eggs that I felt safe feeding my kids. Plus, I knew that the practices behind how those eggs got to my plate would be at a higher standard practice in regards to sustainability. However, now, I feel even better about my eggs and they taste beyond phenomenal too. They are as local as local can be. I can go to Willow Acres and actually see the hens who are providing the eggs as they peck around the field they get to roam. I can watch them eating bugs, plants, even veggie and fruit scraps from my friend’s kitchen. These are happy chickens.

The taste is far better. The deep orange of the yolk on the egg is deeper than any store bought egg I have ever seen. Every time I stop at Willow Acres to get some eggs, I get a variety of brown, white, and sometimes even green eggs. The color of the eggs, I’ve found it, is based on the breed of chicken. Golden Wyandottes (brown), Americanas (green or brown), Buff Orpingtons (brown), White Leghorns (white), Silver Penciled Rocks (brown), Black Cochins (brown), Black Australorps (brown), and Plymouth Barred Rocks (brown) are all different breeds at Willow Acres. The hens are looked after by 4 roosters who as the name suggest really do rule the roost. Miss Bessy Fancy Pants is a Black Cochin. He’s a bit smaller than the rest of the roosters, but has a lot of personality. Michelle & Andy, the co-owners at Willow Acres, thought this rooster was a hen at first and dubbed her Miss Bessy Fancy Pants because of the frilly feathered “bloomers” on his legs that make him so pretty. Besides, Fancy Pants, they have a rooster named Harold (who came with a hen named Maude, both Silver Penciled Rocks), Sanford is an aggressive Golden Wynnedotte, and Earl, who is a Black Australorp.

Earl at Sunset at Willow Acres

Just to give you an idea on how these eggs taste, my youngest was notorious for hating eggs most of his life. Until one day, I coaxed him into trying some scrambled eggs from Willow Acres. He loved them and now, both of my kids beg for eggs from “Michelle’s Farm”. “Mommy, are these eggs, Michelle’s?” And if the answer is no, they won’t eat them. They taste that good.

Chicken TV

What’s better is the sustainable way these chickens are being raised and the sustainable method of buying and eating for those who buy their eggs through Willow Acres. All those local families are getting their eggs in a sustainable way and most likely getting a more nutrition-packed meal from them. Her husband works in town and some people pick their eggs up from where he works. They just call the day before and most likely swing by on their way to the store. That’s what I do – except I pick them up from the farm, because I live close enough and it’s always fun to watch some “Chicken TV” as Michelle calls it.  

Pull up a chair, let’s watch some chicken TV.

And we have done just that, sipping lemonade, watching the chickens, listening to a rooster’s cry pierce the afternoon air, and feeling the real peace that comes from a slowed down life. A life where you are connected to your natural world and the animals or the farmers that provide you with the food you eat.

Plus, at Willow Acres, I get this really fun punch card every time I buy eggs. When I fill my card up, I get a free dozen.

Chicken TV on the Hen Peck Channel

How To Feel Miserable As A Writer

How To Feel Miserable As A Writer

Or, What Not To Do, Underline Any That Currently Apply

Yesterday, I showed you the How To Feel Miserable As An Artist version of this. Today, I’m tailoring it for the writer.

1.  Binge on episodes of The West Wing on Netflix and wonder why you didn’t go into speechwriting.

2.  Regret not following through on sending out to a publisher those cartoonish stories you wrote as a 12-year-old. (They are now called graphic novels.)

3.  Don’t follow on Facebook and Twitter old mates, former colleagues, or possible high school drop outs who have shared the media stage with Oprah after scoring an Oprah’s Book Club win.

4.  Let someone else shame you into thinking that the topic that inspired you to write that last piece you wrote is not worthy of being written about or is overdone or something that nobody cares about. If your fingers fly across the keyboard under the writing spell of inspiration over chocolate covered frogs as a meta commentary on the state of education today, then, by all means write the damn thing and block out the hosers who don’t get it.

5.  Complain about never having been published in a literary magazine without ever having actually tried to send anything to be considered. Sending chicken scratch you wrote for some seminar at God Knows Where-Ville to the biggest magazine or online version once does not make you a failure.

6.  Write for money. Writing for money is a good and necessary evil, but balance out those bad carbs with good whole grain carbs that you want to write. The first pays the bills and the second things feeds your artistic sensibilities.

7.  Sanitize your writing to make it palatable to the masses.

8.  Sanitize your writing to please your Patron Saint of Writing Gods.

9.  Spice up your writing with lots of crude, lude, mood enhancing tidbits to make you seem cooler than what you really are.

10.  Write something your great Aunt Edna of Wyoming would like. Alternatively, not writing something that your great Aunt Edna of Wyoming would like.

11.  Procrastination in any and all forms:  eating bowls of Kashi cinnamon puffs while pacing back and forth eyeballing your new AirMac, spending too much time watching tv/reading books (although reading a lot of books is as important as breathing air if you want to write well, just don’t use it as an excuse not to write)/spending time with friends (yes, you need to spend time with friends and family, but you don’t need to be out 3 nights a week and every weekend to avoid writing)/saying you need to review the past five years of your spending habits so you can better figure out a budget for the next five years, & last but not least, doing anything on the inter-webs, especially Facebook. Facebook is another name for PROCRASTINATION.

What do you do to feel miserable as a writer?

How To Feel Miserable As An Artist

How To Feel Miserable As An Artist

(Or, What Not To Do, Underline Any That Currently Apply)

1.  Constantly compare yourself to other artists.

2. Talk to your family about what you do and expect them to cheer you on or understand what you do exactly.

3. Base the success of your entire career on one project.

4. Stick with what you know.

5. Undervalue your expertise.

6. Let money dictate what you do.

7. Only do work that your family would love.

8. Bow to societal pressures.

9. Do whatever the Person in Authority asks.

10. Set unachievable/overwhelming goals. To be accomplished by tomorrow.

I found this among a stack of documents, notes, and papers from my first year of grad school. I’m trying to remember who gave it to me. I think next time, I’m going to rewrite this, tailoring it specifically to the writer. Until then, enjoy! And tell me what you think makes you miserable in your endeavors as an artist or …whatever it is you do.

Happily Ever After in Moosewood

in the enchanted forest

Once upon a time


Once Upon a Moosewood Cookbook

Once upon a time, a young girl moved into a housing co-operative in a midwestern university town. If it wasn’t for the unusually short clown, she would never have heard of this cheap community centric co-operative. She met the clown while volunteering as a stage hand at a University theatrical production. The clown mentioned a co-operative that he was going to move into until he decided to move outside the Blue Ridge Mountains in order to attend Clown College. She got the number from the clown. She interviewed at the co-operative house. They accepted her invitation and the she moved into a basement room in the first stone house built in this university town.

The Enchanted Moosewood Cookbook

It was in the kitchen of this old, dusty house she first encountered the Enchanted Broccoli Forest.

No, this forest did not contain fire swamps or pernicious pirates or even carriages in caravans carrying princesses or queens.

The Enchanted Broccoli Forest was the second cookbook in the Moosewood series of cookbooks.

Moosewood is a vegetarian restaurant owned/ran co-operatively in Ithaca, New York.

The girl had never been to Ithaca, New York, but she quickly fell in love with the cookbook’s pasta with peanut sauce.

Happily Ever After in Moosewood

And she’s been cooking recipes from the many volumes of Moosewood cookbooks for 17 years. I think you can call that a once upon a time story that evidently has ended happily ever after in Moosewood.