What’s for Dinner?

First to update, Mom is home from the hospital! She is feeling much better, though is rather wiped out. But she is happy to be home and sleeping in her own bed again.

This week was a challenge with going to the hospital every night. But I didn’t have to worry about dinner. Because I signed up for one of those meal kit delivery services, and I am ridiculously excited about it.

Kosta and I have been eating like crap lately. We eat out way too much or we stop at the store on the way home from work to pick up an easy dinner. We’ve gained weight, spent money, and feel pretty much gross.

Cherry Balsamic Pork before cooking.

Without telling him I made an executive decision: I signed up for Hello Fresh. What you do is pick three or four meals a week from the six or so they have to choose from. Then once a week you get a box on your doorstep with everything you need to make dinner! It’s all pre-measured, all you need are butter, oil, salt and pepper. It takes about 30 minutes to cook dinner and you have something healthy, balanced, and so far, delicious.

This week was our first foray, and I cooked our first meal on Tuesday: cherry balsamic pork with roasted potatoes and broccoli. It was just complicated enough to make it interesting and it tasted amazing. Even Kosta, who was unsure of the whole business at first, had to agree that it was outstanding for 30 minutes of work.

The ingredients to make our first supper.

Everything comes in a box, and in each box are three paper bags, the meat separate. Most of it is recyclable and everything is fresh and beautiful. I love all the mini things, like the tiny jar of cherry preserves and the little bottle of balsamic vinegar. It all goes so fast because you don’t have to measure much, you just dump stuff in the pot.

The directions were easy to follow and it reminded me how much I love to cook. In our house Kosta is known as the chef, but I’m no slouch.  I can slice and dice too, and while my knife skills might not be on par with his, I still feel I can measure up.

And it isn’t that expensive and very convenient. I don’t have to buy extra of stuff at the grocery store and there are no leftovers. Whoever initially thought of this is a genius. It saves me time and money and I get the pleasure of cooking three nights a week and enjoying a great meal.

My first effort was sickeningly good.

So we have a deal now. I cook dinner and he cleans up. I can’t tell you how much I have been enjoying this. I even bought a blue tooth speaker for the kitchen so I can listen to music while I cook. Everything about it is fun for me. Especially not having to wash the dishes.

We also had French onion burgers with kale chips and roasted salmon with crispy potato rounds and dill veggies. We get another box on Monday and I’m excited to do it all over again.

It’s nice to have a new routine that is good for us and it gives me something to look forward to. And after three hits, Kosta is convinced this is a good idea.  I can’t say I’ve ever looked forward to a Tuesday quite so much.

Shine a Light

Our doorbell rang last night about 6:30. It was Dad, who had stopped on his way to the emergency room. Mom was sick and he couldn’t get a hold of us. We had just gotten home from dinner out, my phone charging in the bedroom. So we put our shoes right back on and hopped in the car.

My Mom has quite a few health problems, including three auto-immune diseases: Myasthenia Gravis, Fibromyalgia, and another unnamed one that attacked her lungs, leaving them at about 30-40% the size of an average adult female. I don’t talk about it a lot for several reasons. For one, it is her business as it is her health.  But it has been becoming more and more clear to me over the past few months that it is okay to talk to people about it. Support is a good thing to have from your family and friends.

Mom has pneumonia. It isn’t very bad, but for someone with lungs like hers it is bad news nonetheless. The good news is it was caught early and can be treated with antibiotics and she can be in the hospital where she can get the care and watchful eyes of the medical professionals. I have to say everyone at Physician’s Regional has been extremely top notch and helpful. I am relieved to know she is in good hands and being cared for.

Still, I am anxious to hear she is better and can come home. Our next hurdle to jump will be the surgery she will need in the next couple of months. It is extremely risky, considering the shape of her lungs, but it can’t be helped if she wants to survive.

Friday night my parents, my husband and I had a celebratory dinner marking their 48th wedding anniversary. While the men were outside heating up the grill for the steaks Mom and I had a good talk. We were frank and honest about the future. Mom said she wasn’t ready to die. She wanted to celebrate her 50th wedding anniversary. She wanted to go to Disney World again. She wanted to see me become a published author. In other words, she is far from done with this life.

I love my Mom. She is gentle and kind, but there is also a fiery center to her that I admire greatly. She has more strength than anyone I know. And it makes me feel so helpless to see her struggle when there is nothing I can do but hold her hand. But if that’s what I can do, I am there.

The holidays are coming. I am going to shine a light in the darkness for my mom and my family. We will get through this.

 

Five Questions: Catherine Egan

Julia can be unseen. She has the ability to “step back” into a shadowy place that renders her invisible to most people. It comes in handy when one is a spy. And Julia has been sent to Mrs. Och’s house to find out who is locked in the basement and what they are doing there.

Julia and her brother Dek have been on their own since their father disappeared and their mother was drowned for being a witch. Spira City is a cutthroat place where you live and die by your wits, and fortunately Julia is more clever than most.

But when things take a turn for the unusual at Mrs. Och’s house Julia is faced with a conundrum–should she do her job as she has been paid to do, or listen to her conscience?

JULIA VANISHES and JULIA DEFIANT are the first two books in the Witch’s Child trilogy, and I devoured them both. Julia is such a complex and likable heroine–funny, warm, and yet a little more ruthless than is good for her. I loved watching her character develop through the course of these two books, and I am waiting rather impatiently for the third, which Catherine says is slated to be released June of 2018.

I can’t mention all the characters, but I will tell you there is one named Pia, who is frightening, strong, devilishly quick, and rather ruthless herself. Julia finds her repulsive and yet oddly magnetic, like a tragedy from which she can’t look away.

I can’t tell you enough how much I loved these two books. Julia is such a complex character, and I found myself swallowed whole by the story. I aspire to write books as thoroughly good as these.

Here are Catherine’s five questions:

1. What was the original seed idea for your book? Did it start with a character, a situation, or an idea?

I don’t think I can pinpoint a single seed – every story is the result of a few seeds that manage to connect. I can identify three main “seeds” that turned into JULIA VANISHES.

The most obvious seed was just the idea – I don’t know from where, really – of a spy who can step out of sight, so she’s there but unseen, though not fully invisible either. Another seed was connecting this vanishing spy to the world-building of a failed book. I’d written close to two hundred pages of a book about witches before giving it up, but when I decided to write a spy story, I returned to that disaster of a half-written book for salvage. I pulled out the entire setting and a number of side characters, like the fanatical, witch-hunting prime minister, Agoston Horthy, the fiercely protective witch Bianka and her magical little boy, and my favorite character, Pia, a villain I knew I had to use somewhere.

The third seed was a kind of daydream-image of a girl in a nightgown creeping through a dark house, picking a lock, and entering a room full of books. That became my first chapter. Julia herself emerged as soon as I began to write, and pulled the whole story along after her.

I always imagine my stories will be fun, rollicking thrillers, and they always come out much darker than I intend. After a friend pointed out that most of my characters have lost either a parent or a child, I had to acknowledge that I plant my story-seeds in the ever-fertile soil of my worst nightmares.

2. What is your writing process? Are you an outliner or a pantser?

I’m an outliner through and through. I can’t even start to write until I have a thorough, chapter-by-chapter outline. In the process of drafting, of course, I do diverge from my outline, but whenever that happens I panic and I have to stop and remake the outline to fit with the new direction the book is taking. This happens several times over the course of a couple of drafts, so maybe I’m really part pantser masquerading as an outliner. I do use my outline as kind of a crutch. I envy the faith and courage required to just leap into a story without a plan and see what you emerge with at the end.

3. Who are the writers which most influence your writing style?

Style is probably the hardest thing to trace back to particular influences, and also the hardest thing to change about one’s writing, I think. I desperately admire a kind of spare and flawless prose – think Kazuo Ishiguro – that I couldn’t dream of emulating.

I’m sure everything I read creeps into my writing one way or another, but when trying to think about influence, it’s easiest to think about late childhood / early teen reads, when I first began to think of writing as a craft. For the first time I wasn’t just absorbed by a good story – I was recognizing good writing.

The two books that leap to mind immediately are Louise Fitzhugh’s THE LONG SECRET, which was a revelation about writing complicated shades-of-grey characters, and how seeing a character from different perspectives changes everything (Harriet from HARRIET THE SPY is a central character, but she is mostly seen from Beth Ellen’s point of view), and Dodie Smith’s I CAPTURE THE CASTLE, also a master class in character, voice, and giving the reader what they need instead of what they want.

4. Do you listen to music when you write?

No! When my children were smaller I wrote with all kinds of noise in the background, but now I prefer silence whenever possible.

5. What are you reading right now?

I just finished THE BOOK OF DUST – for fans of Philip Pullman’s HIS DARK MATERIALS, it doesn’t disappoint – and now I’m reading Carmen Maria Machado’s riveting short stories, HER BODY AND OTHER PARTIES.

 

Catherine Egan is:

My books: JULIA DEFIANT, JULIA VANISHES, Shade & Sorceress, The Unmaking, Bone, Fog, Ash & Star
My blog: bycatherineegan.wordpress.com
My superpowers: high-kicking, list-making, simultaneously holding two opposing opinions
My weaknesses: fear of flying, over-thinking and then making bad decisions, excessive list-making
My allies: my made-for-walking-in black boots, Mick, the English Language
My enemies: decaf, low blood sugar, the passage of time
My mission: the coexistence of ambivalence and joy.