Mar 10

Grandma’s Way

shutterstock_40848955

I once entered a flash fiction contest, under 700 words, and we had to pick an object from about 10 things, and use it in the story. Guess what I picked. Even though I didn’t even get an honorable mention, I was tickled at telling a complete story in under (648) 700 words.
I’d love to know what you think of it.

Grandma’s Way

Grandma’s attic was way hot, and stuffed with junk she’d saved, haggled over, and squirreled away. A ball of rubber bands was so old the rubber was rotted and melting together in an ugly mess.
I didn’t know why Momma decided this was my job, I wore jeans because she’d told me I was going to mow the knee deep grass, and clear out some brush, but when we got to Grandma’s she sent me to the attic. In jeans.
I chunked the ball in a trash bag, and some gunky rubber clung to my fingers, and I tried rubbing it off on my jeans.
Dust grabbing onto my sweat made me itchy. Sighing, I began pitching old peanut butter jars, magazines, and stacks of glass ashtrays from different motels into a plastic bag I’d spread out over an upturned stool, pretty inventive if I did say so myself.
A whole shelf of junk was cleared out in no time. I tied the ends of the bag together, and dropped it out the window.
It made a satisfying smash hitting the sidewalk. I liked the sound of glass breaking, even from way up there.
Wicker furniture was stacked in the corner. I dropped those out the window too, light as feathers from the heat drying everything to a crisp. They exploded when they hit, but it was a silent unsatisfying explosion.
My grandma died three months ago, and Momma had drooped around our house all summer. She was like preoccupied with nothing, which was weird, but what could I do?
Momma waited until August, to do this. I said, “Why not wait until September when it’s cooled off?”
But she said, “No way Charlotte, and since you aren’t working you can be a little useful before going back to school.”
I couldn’t wait to leave. Not that school was all that great, being on academic probation, and all.
Momma said I had one more semester to prove myself. Seems my entire life had been a series of challenges to prove myself, improve on myself somehow, and so far I hadn’t.
The next shelf held ancient glass canning jars with wire clamps, and glass lids. I debated taking the time to put them in a box and lugging them downstairs, or letting them sail out the window.
I was supposed to be keeping my eye out for anything good for the yard sale. Grandma had arranged the jars from smallest to largest, and the ones in front were kind of cute.
I picked up a small, square shaped jar, unlatched the glass top, and found more rotting rubber; an old seal, keeping the top where it was.
It didn’t take a genius to figure out who would be cleaning all that gunk off a hundred, or so, old canning jars.
I set up a new bag, and begin pitching. There were some big jars in the corner, and I had to stretch over the shelf to reach them.
Behind them was a small amber bottle, with a cork stopper. My feet went off the floor to grab it.
I brushed sixty-year-old dust off me, and held the bottle up to the window. It still had some kind of brown liquid in the bottom, with the word Poison, in big letters, on the front.
Why would she hide it back there?
Then I thought of Grandma’s three husbands, all of them with good pensions, and her left never wanting for a thing.
A shiver went down my spine. The old bag never worked one day in her life, bragged about it, and had always been happy; even if she was half crazy, and selfish as hell.
All my life Momma said I was just like her momma. I slipped the bottle in the back pocket of my jeans. Maybe Momma had been right about one thing, after all.

Feb 02

The Hampton Women’s Show

I had such a nice time at the Hampton Women’s Show yesterday. The blogging group I belong to, Tea N Strumpets (teanstrumpets.com), was there, and we met so many wonderful women.
For those of you who stopped by, thank you for being so kind to your Virginia authors, and as I promised a few of you, here is some information about Love on a Half Shell, and me.
I was a passionate reader as a child; the kind of kid school librarians call ‘library lurkers’. Books were my best friends, advisors, and main source of support through adolescence. I continued to be passionate about reading as an adult.
By the time my second child was born, I no longer cared I was seen as odd for reading as much as I did. From a remarkably early age, my children knew their mother could nod her head, even mutter words of encouragement, and not hear a thing they’d said when she reading.
I’d stay up too late, when a book wouldn’t let me sleep, and be utterly exhausted the entire next day at work, thinking what a terrible price I paid for my obsession.
Then something happened, and reading lost its luster for me. My tastes had grown over the years, and I found myself not finding new authors to adore from afar, which was perplexing, until my little hobby of writing slowly, then relentlessly, took over my life.
On some level I sensed I’d been filled myself up with reading, and it was time to let my own stories come out.
If you like puppies, good food, have ever been involved with the wrong person, or loved a good, believable romance, thinks children are worth all we can do for them, have ever faced real, actual bad luck, or ever gotten really angry at someone, or something, then Love on a Half Shell might be a book for you. Although, to be honest, there are no puppies in Love on a Half Shell, that was a metaphor for people with a heart.
Rae Green, my protagonist, is a tough cookie who’d accomplished a lot professionally, but rewarding personal relationships for Rae were more elusive, until her sister was arrested late one night, and Rae had to pick up her two nieces, aged twelve and five, who she hasn’t seen in over four years.
Rae faces daunting tasks in the coming months; raising disturbed children who were injured by their drug addicted mother, loss of Rae’s prestigious job, financial disasters, combined with bright spots of re-connecting with her older niece, and an old friend, then meeting John Clements, owner and captain of the fishing boat, The Clemency.
There are some fairly intense moments in the book, and funny ones too. If you read Love on a Half Shell, I hope you’ll enjoy Rae’s story, and I’d love to hear from you.
You can contact me at: contact@elvyhoward.com
Elvy Howard lives with her husband of forty years in Midlothian, Virginia, with two dogs, and one cat. They have four incredible, talented, above-average, extremely good-looking grandchildren, and two healthy grown children who are married, and doing well, thank God.

Dec 02

I Love, Love, Love, Love on a Half Shell

I love, love, love, Love on a half shell.
I mean, I love my book as much as I love my grandchildren, and that’s a lot! When I began writing it, I was roughly ten years older than Rae.
Initially the book was pretty horrible, but over the twenty years since, the book and I have evolved. It’s my life lessons wrapped in a story I wish had been mine, and in lots of ways, was.
Becoming an author, at this late date, has blindsided me. I’d given up on anything of mine being published. Then it was, by a friend – also a writer who became so disgusted by her dealings with two different publishers, she went on to become a publisher for herself.
So, after buying back her own work, and publishing that, she read my book.
And she published it!
And people like it!
(I’m not big on using exclamation points, but nothing else is appropriate.)
One woman, a friend of mine at Jazzercise, after reading it looked at me and said, “I’m going to have to re-think you all over again.”
I knew what she meant; she didn’t even know I wrote, ever, no one in my Jazzercise class did. It was nothing I discussed by then, but suddenly, BAM! There I was, coming out to everyone as an author.
As I’m writing this next part I’m realizing I have always absolutely hated it when some author says, “This is the first book I ever attempted,” when talking about getting published
But it is! (Again with the exclamation points!) I began writing it after getting my master’s degree in social work, an obsession that had preempted the previous ten years of my life.
I’d dallied with writing before attempting college, even joining a group of mostly retired people who enjoyed writing. They were a lovely bunch of folks, and the major reason I went to the group at all. I said I wrote poetry, and even brought in a few that spontaneously blew up inside me, I knew not from where.
I also knew I was no real poet, since wherever those poems came from was a place I could not consciously reach.
I tried a few, very gloomy short stories that died such terrible deaths it is still painful to recall them.
But there I was, shiny new social worker, having obtained my master’s degree in one year, thank you very much, and resuming a life that had been long neglected. And part of that life was writing, so since I had a job with the Department of Youth and Family Services, the idea of Rae was born.
Writing became as much of a challenge as school had been, and Love on the Half Shell the most challenging part. I’d put it down, for years sometimes, and work on other books, or short stories, but always I’d get the bug to return to Half Shell. Let’s have a moment of silence here, for my poor critique group.
~~
It would happen when I innocently scanned the manuscript, when tired, or frustrated with something else I was working on, and a paragraph would stand out. Usually a paragraph I didn’t remember writing, but it would shine, and I’d think, if I can write like this here, why not the entire thing? And I’d be back in Half Shell land, struggling again with the uneven story line, trying to figure out what in the hell I’d been trying to convey. Taking out huge chunks, which is comparable to watching your child suffer some necessary, but painful operation.
And eventually it got published, and people liked it. I mean, I don’t want to go all ‘Sally Field’ on everyone (you like me, you really, really like me!), but it is sort of like that, when people seem excited for me, that I wrote this terrific book. (With a lot of help from my different critique groups, my publisher, my editor.)
I’ve heard more than once, Love on a Half Shell wasn’t what they expected. I guess the cover is misleading (I take full responsibility; I really wanted the porch swing) and the intensity of some of the scenes surprised a lot of my readers. One woman said,” this was no piece of fluff like I thought it was going to be,” but no one has said (at least to me) it was too intense, or difficult to get through.
A cousin of mine, and her daughter, liked Love on a Half Shell so much they are trying to stir up publicity. Other people have done the same. I thank them all, very much. I love, that you loved my story.
The very first book I ever attempted was published. Yes, I can say that.

Aug 17

Summertime is a-Popping at Elvy’s

I wish I had a photo I could use of how beautiful these are. I took some. I’d made a lovely spinach salad, and chive/parmesan popovers, but somehow I saved my photos as videos (don’t ask me how), and I can’t paste them anywhere.

Still, when you see how easy these are, and try any of the variations I’ve included, you will find people asking, “Will you make those great popovers again?” a lot.

These can be baked in regular muffin pans, or custard cups on a cookie sheet, or, if you’re like me, you’ll invest in a popover pan, which I took a photo of, and cannot show you.

Here’s the basic recipe:

1 stick (1/2 cup) of butter (real butter – do not substitute)
4 egg
1 ¼ cup milk (whole, skim, anywhere in-between)
1 ¼ cup regular, all-purpose flour
1 tsp. salt

Begin early in the day. The success of popovers is due to two factors: temperature (room temp) and consistency (heavy whipping cream like you get in a carton, not yet whipped).

Make sure your batter sits out at least four hours, or all the ingredients are room temperature by the time you’re a half hour from dinner being ready (or brunch, I’ve made them then too). Often I’ll make the batter the night before. Put everything in a pitcher and refrigerate overnight, then pull it out and let it sit all day.

How to make the batter:

  • Melt ¼ cup of your real butter (that’s one- half of one stick).
  • Preheat oven to 400°
  • In a food processor, or with a mixer, or whisk, beat eggs, add milk, then flour and salt until there are no lumps. You don’t have to overkill this, just until smooth.
  • Add melted butter and mix in.

That’s it. That’s the whole shebang. If for ANY reason the batter isn’t the consistency of heavy cream, add milk by tablespoons until it is.

Take the last half, of your half stick of butter (get that?), and divide it between your muffin tins, cups, or whatever you are using. Just throw it in the bottom of each cup, and feel free to get more butter if you don’t end up with a good size pat in each. Put the pan, sheet, whatever, in your hot oven for five minutes. The butter should be sizzling when you take it out.

Pour your batter into the center of each cup until ¾ full, the melted butter will go up around the batter, do not go over ¾ full or there will be a mess in your oven. You can fill them ½ full if you want. Throw away any unused batter.

Pop popovers (yes, I wrote that on purpose) into oven, and bake. DO NOT OPEN OVEN!!!!

Eyeball your results THROUGH THE OVEN WINDOW. The popovers will POP, and turn a nice golden brown in about 20 to 30 minutes, depending on how much batter is in each cup, how large the cups are, etc., etc. Just keep an eye on it. They are done when they look done.

In theory, if you want, when they are popped and golden, you could pull out the pan, cut a slit in the side of each popover, turn off oven, and put them back in the oven for five minutes to let them crisp up, and keep their shape. (If only it was that easy for me to keep mine…recipes like this make it a challenge.)

This is theoretical as I have never done it, mainly because everyone is already drooling (including me), and we can’t wait that long. Besides, we like them popped-over, which means they sort-of collapse on themselves.

Sometimes popovers are tricky to get out of their pans. Don’t worry, run a knife around the edges, and POP them out. (Another on-purpose way to use the term ‘pop.’ Aren’t you impressed?)

Serve hot, with another stick of real butter on the table. You won’t believe how good they are.

And, as promised, variations to this recipe:

Variation #1

Add ½ cup finely grated (I took a photo of this too, but you know what happened) parmesan reggiano and ¼ cup of fresh, or dried chives. NOTE: when adding cheese, and especially dried herbs, make batter early and give batter time to set. Check and make sure consistency is not too thick, add more milk if needed, a little cold milk at this point won’t ruin anything.

Variation #2

Add ½ cup finely grated, extra sharp cheddar, ¼ cup parsley, a quarter teaspoon of Franks hot sauce (you won’t taste it, it boosts cheddar’s flavor) and a teaspoon, or so, of onion powder. Read NOTE above.

These are the only two I’ve come up with so far, so experiment! Have fun! If making popovers for a brunch, serve with butter and strawberry jam. As my daughter’s two-year-old twins would say, Yum!

Jun 16

Me, LD, ADD, and ADHD

As far as I know, I’m not LD. I might have been diagnosed ED, when I was in grade school, but not LD. Still, both of my children, with entirely different fathers, had some form of learning disability (I prefer the term ‘Learning Difference’).

The father of my youngest child is a classic ADD/ADHD sort of guy, and since I’ve been married to him for over forty years, I can claim some history with the issue.

My son was called, by one educator, a classic dyslexic. He was a very bright child, who only learned to read when, nearly miraculously, we were able to find him the right kind of education. Once he was able to get information from the page into his head, all his learning difficulties (except for spelling, punctuation, and grasping poetic metaphors) disappeared.

My daughter was a different story. An easy baby, who crawled at six months, walked at a year, babbled and delighted us all as she grew into a lovely young girl, she found school nearly impossible. I went from a concerned parent trying to help with her education, to a desperate mother, trying to keep her daughter’s spirits alive.

I succeeded, and she did too. She survived the teasing, bullying, the ‘special’ classes that labeled her, the well-meaning, but eventually unhelpful tutors, and all the rest.

As a social worker, I spotted the LD kids quickly. One thing consistent among them: these were not kids who were out to hurt others. Not that they were perfect — some of the hyper boys could drive a patient person crazy — but not predatory, not enjoying making a target of others. More often, they were the targets.

Being married to a hyper-active, distracted man wasn’t easy, and I built some large resentments over the years. Then one day a very clear, and very unwelcome thought entered my brain. What if my son’s, or my daughter’s spouses treated them the way I treated their dad? It was a good question, and motivated me to re-think my growing disdain. And it probably save my marriage to a wonderful guy I’m grateful for every day.

It’s struck me, over and over in this world growing more homogenized by the second, how little we, as a culture, cherish different things. ‘We’ miss out on the stuff that makes life what we’d hoped it would be when we were little. Like factory meat with only a faint resemblance to the original flavor, our society promotes emptiness, unattainable perfection, and posturing, which is difficult to impossible for people who are so much themselves they can’t be anyone else.

I know my life is enriched by people who can’t be anything but real, and I dedicate this blog to them all.