Saturday, May 30, 2009

Time for a Plug or Two

If you like magic, and are looking for a good read for an 8-to-12-year-old reader, let me recommend my book, The Fourth Wish. It was vetted by three different classes in the target age group, and most recently I heard a friend's grandson is reading it to his own class at school! The Fourth Wish can be ordered at: or through Amazon at:

If you like poetry, let me recommend the lovely poems from Swimming the Mirror, written by Brad Buchanan, a young man who recently joined the picture book group I belong to. These are poems to his three-year-old daughter and are utterly charming. They've been highly praised by Sacramento Poet Laureate, Julia Connor, and by poet Susan Kelly-DeWitt, among others. Swimming the Mirror is available through Roan Press. Poets with a book of their own to submit would be well-advised to visit the submission guidelines at .

And if you like cooking, as I do, try George Erdosh's fabulous new book, part food advice, part cookbook, Tried and True Recipes from a Caterer's Kitchen, available at these websites:
Barnes and Noble: and
Eloquent Books: . At Georges blog site, , you can also get a delicious new recipe, along with food tips, nearly every day.

Wednesday, May 27, 2009

The Writer's Life

It's been awhile since I blogged, since I've been working on a story. As they say, "Time flies when you are having fun." I never thought I would come to the point where the re-write would be as absorbing as the original idea, but after helpful suggestions from writing friends, I'm more excited about this story than when I first wrote it.

I'm excited about the writing life in general. Ever since the Davis conference, I've been visiting writers' and agents' blogs. A brand new world has opened up! Can't think why I didn't do it sooner. For years I've subscribed to writing magazines -- most recently, Children's Book Insider. But, today I joined the CBI Clubhouse: an online site replete with information about publishers, authors, author interviews, mini-courses, good books for children, writing websites, critique exchanges, etc.

Here is their website, for anyone interested; it's a treasurehouse for any writer of children's books:

Meanwhile, I will return to putting finishing touches on my story so that I can send it out with high hopes and get on with my next.

Friday, May 22, 2009

Art and Writing

I like to paint, but I'm a writer who likes to paint, as opposed to a painter who likes to write. My first love is definitely the writing. It's always been hard for me to paint during the time that I'm working on a writing project, so I promised myself that when I finished my collection of stories for children, I'd reward myself with some painting time.

I am happy to say that I did indeed finish the collection, and last week I mailed it to an editor I met at the May 2nd SCBW&I conference. I talked to her at break time, and she said it sounded interesting, and to send the whole book. All attendees were promised they could send one piece of writing to her, so no promises were implied here. Still, I was glad I could send the whole collection, since most editorial guidelines ask for only a synopsis and sample pages. I'm glad, too, she knows it's a collection; collections are hard to market.

Now to the reward for finishing: I've signed up for 5 classes in pastel landscapes with my favorite pastel artist, Reif Erickson. My husband and I both have admired his work for years. I had envisioned having to drive up to Auburn for classes, but at present, Erickson is teaching them at a center five blocks away from my house. How lucky can you get?

Then I'll get back to my next book: It's actually a rewrite that I started when the story collection grabbed my attention and took over, and I'm looking forward to getting back to it. Till then, I'm going to "go visual" for awhile. And, who knows? Maybe that will show up later in my writing.


Thursday, May 21, 2009

The Iddli Question

I just had a visit from one of my sisters-in-law who is a superb cook, and who makes wonderful iddlis, a dish I have been trying to make for years. She made a batch for us, while I hovered at her elbow, hoping to get it right in the future.

Iddlis are a South Indian snack that is usually served with a rich lentil-based gravy called sambar, or with a lentil and coconut chutney, or simply with a spiced powder combination and a little sesame oil. The recipe looks deceptively easy: Soak rice in a bowl for a few hours; soak urad dhal & fenugreek seeds in another. Grind these separately, (in a special grinding machine) then mix and add salt. Let the mixture rise overnight. Steam the cakes in a special cooking utensil.

When you get it right, the result is a about a dozen fluffy cakes with a slight spring to the touch, and they melt on the tongue, their own tangy taste lingering afterwards. When you get it wrong, well... you get my iddlis. Trust me: There is nothing more miserable to eat than a batch of flat, gummy, hard iddlis. Since even a small recipe yields about 12, it's not like you can toss it. And you can't decide at the last minute to whip up a new batch.

So, anytime one of my in-laws visit, they know it's coming: The Iddli Question: Why didn't the batter rise: I used the right steamer. Why didn't the batter rise? How long did you say to grind the rice? (Ditto for the urad dhal.) Why didn't the batter rise? Was the salt enough? Too much? Why didn't the batter rise? I used the new grinder. Why didn't the batter rise?

If the batter doesn't rise, you see, you get my iddlis, which, so far, have not been light and fluffy, and do not melt on the tongue. I have higher hopes for the next batch, though. We went through it step by step, and we even went shopping for a special iddly rice, which should help future attempts.

Meanwhile, my husband and I still have some uncooked batter leftover from her batch. It keeps well in the refrigerator. For awhile, at least, we can look forward to a delectable experience when we bite into the next iddli.

Friday, May 15, 2009

Ask Your Doctor

Yesterday one of my nephews graduated from the UCSF medical program and is now a doctor. My husband and I went down to San Francisco Wednesday evening, so as not to be late for the Commencement program. (It's been awhile since either of us have driven in SF, a city full of one-ways streets that can have you driving in hilly mazes for hours.)

I was quite moved to see all those graduates -- around 140 or so -- being launched into the world to save our lives and help us make wise medical decisions. What an awesome task to be charged with! After listening to the commencement speakers, I have a new appreciation for doctors in general. I was inspired by the dedication of those who enter and stay in the profession.

So here's to doctors. And here's to my nephew, a new doctor. And here's to his brother, too, who will also be a doctor this time next year. (If and when future health matters arise, I'll certainly know where to turn for additional information, won't I!)

Wednesday, May 13, 2009

Cezar Rules

I mentioned walking Cezar at the Art Walk. Cezar is our cute mutt that wandered into the school where I was substituting teaching and stole everyone's heart, including mine. Good thing, too: At that school (and maybe every school), unclaimed strays are sent to the pound at the end of the day. Poor Cezar was just coming down with Parvo, a really horrible dog illness that kills about 80% of the time and is highly contagious. He would have been history.

I called my husband from school, and when I brought this cute mutt home, Rajan already had a list of composers'names. Cezar Franck was at the top, but Cezar narrowly escaped becoming Amadeus. People tend to think he was named for Julius Caesar, and I must say, Cezar seems to think so, too. He rules the household, especially when it comes to his walk.

He insists on his walk, because for him it's a social occasion. People stop me on the street to say how beautiful he is, how cute he is. "May I pet him?" I've been asked so often, as if this is a rare privilege indeed. At Mixed Bag, my favorite boutique, he gets treats. At Time Tested Books, one of my favorite used book stores (The Book Collector is the other), he gets treats. At Rite Aid,clerks come from around the counter to pet him and coo at him. Even during the Art Walk last Saturday evening, after it had grown dark, two bicyclists whizzed past me, and one had to say, "What a cute dog!" (I mean, in that light, how could she even tell?)

Cezar, what is your magic?

Tuesday, May 12, 2009

The Joy of Peonies and Other Plants

My husband and I both like to garden, although I would have to say we are "sometime" gardeners. When we've done the required pruning and weeding, our back yard is beautiful in a crisp and manicured way. Then it looks beautiful in a raggedy sort of way. Finally it just looks raggedy, and it's time to get to work again.

So we worked last week-end. I pruned dead roses and lilies, and some of the lower branches of our tangelo tree and our lime tree. Both of us pulled up tons of weeds. Then Rajan tilled the back vegetable garden area and put in rows of tomatoes, peppers, and eggplant. (We've learned the hard way to think twice about zucchini.)

We are the second owners of our sweet old bungalow. Luckily for us, the previous family loved gardening, so we inherited: two crape myrtles that turn into pink clouds in mid-summer; planters filled with azalea bushes that flower in a variety of colors; and a side strip crammed with peonies that just last week burst into white and magenta blooms and are still going strong. I forget to separate the bulbs and transplant them like you are supposed to, but that doesn't stop them from opening their ruffled petals and releasing a fragrance like no other along the side of our house.

Peonies have a short blooming season, so I've been cutting bouquets of them for the house. Every room except the kitchen is filled right now with their perfume. The kitchen smells like tangelos and mint, which is lovely, too. This is a good time to walk in our front door.

Monday, May 11, 2009

More Thoughts About Blogging

Since launching into this new endeavor, I've been thinking about how blogging differs from other writing forms. Although I write fiction, I've also written poetry, considered essays or opinion pieces, and I journal regularly. (And, of course, I love e-mail.) I also do those writing exercises given in writer magazine articles and in books on writing.

But, quite apart from the advised promotion of your work, (which is what inspired me to blog), I think blogging offers a bit of everything above, without fitting any of the above.

Unlike journaling, which is an ongoing conversation with yourself, blogging is open to outside comment. Therefore, you might get a new slant on something you've been thinking about but haven't had a chance to talk over with anyone.

Unlike essays or poetry, there is no formal form you have to follow, but you can still think of nuance, and imagery, and search for a crisp way to phrase your thoughts.

Unlike an op ed, you don't have to drive a point home; you can actually muse "aloud" and leave it at that.

Unlike an e-mail, or passing conversation, you can expand on an idea without a sense of "monopolizing" the interaction. After all, no one has to read a blog, and no one has to respond, unless they are interested and want to. (If they do, they can take the space and time they want and you can read at your leisure. )

Still, like any writing that might be read, you do have to watch spelling, grammar, punctuation, and not be content with the scratch-outs, asides, and asterisks that mark the privacy of journaling. (A good discipline always, and a small price, I think, for an endeavor that opens up so many new possibilites).

So..., I'm a bit charmed by the discovery of "blog".

This New World of Blogging

Nancy, a writer friend, e-mailed me to say that she had written a wise and witty comment to my post about opera, and then couldn't post it.

Ah, that's the way of these tech matters. I am still trying to delete my one-line blog about still needing help with the signature thing, since I successfully solved the problem by going to "edit". (It seems obvious, doesn't it; particularly since the concepts "revise" and "edit" are so basic to a writer's life. But there you are: sometimes my computer and I have different ideas about how to apply a concept.)

Another friend, Bryan, suggested that I join Twitter and learn to tweet. Good grief,I'm just learning to blog. Besides, I think I'm too garrulous to tweet.

Nancy, I'd really like to read that wise and witty comment. If you still can't post it, then e-mail it.

Sunday, May 10, 2009

Second Saturdays

Last evening, after dinner, I walked Cezar, our loveable mutt, forgetting that it was the date for the Second Saturday Art Walk. It was a lovely evening for it: in one week the weather has gone from overcast winter chill to hot summer, with the air still redolent from spring blossoms.

The Art Walk has evolved through the years into quite a "happening": When I first visited Second Saturday galleries in the early 90's, only a few participated in a far-flung sprinkle of locations that sometimes called for driving from one location to another. Now all of Midtown comes alive with street bands playing on every corner (sometimes two or three bands in a single block). Bookstores participate, and have their wares out on the sidewalk. Street kiosks sell jewelry and handicrafts. Hair salons and even Cuilla Brothers Body Shop's garage have turned into galleries, not to mention the many artist receptions in regular art galleries. It's a fabulous event.

Saturday, May 9, 2009

Puccini and the Bohemian Life

I accidentally posted this as a comment to a comment. Ha! So much to learn about this blog thing. But here it is again, where it belongs:

Last night Rajan and I went to the opera -- La Boheme -- and I must say, the Sacramento Opera Company gets better and better. Luscious voices, evenly distributed across the cast, and wonderful acting that brought the story to life. I've always liked Puccini, and La Boheme is one of my favorites. I've always liked the arias and the sad love story, but this time I saw the story from a different level. Like the title, it's about the bohemian life. Four starving students, a poet, a painter, a musician, a philosopher, all making do on hopes and dreams, and passing affairs, barely able to eke out money for food. And then, the poet falls deeply in love and Life happens; Mimi has a fatal illnes; there's nothing the poet can do; nothing his friends can do. They are all broke, after all, and living conditions only aggravate the illness. The reality (and poignancy) of the bohemian life. It was like seeing the story behind the story.

Friday, May 8, 2009

I need help with a mistake.

See? I knew there would be surprises. Somehow Mrs. Seraphina got changed to Mrs. Serphina in my signature, and I can't edit and change it. Anyone out there who can give me some help with this? thanks. Elizabeth Varadan aka Mrs. Seraphina (not Mrs. Serphina).

A new adventure and a new site.

The world of blogging is certainly an adventure. An author at the SCBW&I conference in Davis last Saturday (May 2, 2009) inspired this endeavor, urging us to put ourselves out there in the blogging world. Ah, Linda Joy Singleton made it sound so easy.

The first site name I picked was for the purpose of highlighting the name of my juvenile fantasy, The Fourth Wish, (available at and at: ). But there's another blog site with a similar name about another "fourth wish", which could make things very confusing. Thus, the switch. Sorry for any inconvenience.

Now that I have been through a few ins and outs of the blog thing, it's not quite as intimidating as I thought it was going to be. Of course... as soon as you decide something's going to be easy, surprises pop up, and I know I'm in for some.

I've already changed my blogsite name

I changed my blog site because the original name was too close to the name of another site. I will follow up with more at another time.

Elizabeth/aka, "Mrs. Seraphina"