Makers and Flippers

4040456368_8bf09758c3_mA friend of mine has started a business flipping houses. We live in a lucrative market for this kind of thing, and she’s a very practical banker sort who has systems in place to make renovations fairly standard–the kind of kitchen needed for most houses, the flooring that’s attractive and yet not too expensive, the bathroom upgrades people need.  She’s a business woman.

I would love flipping houses. The great project of my thirties was saving a house build in 1912. It was a mess when we bought it for a song and sweat equity, and I do mean a mess–almost everything had to be redone: the crumbling plaster ceilings, the electricity, the plumbing, the floors, the crooked windows.  Even over the course of the nearly twenty years I spent there, not all of it was finished, but I saved that beautiful old house. We fixed her bones and her bricks, sanded the splintering pine floors, replaced all the wiring and 90% of the plumbing.

I’d love to do more of that–saving old houses, taking out the old ugly things and replacing them with more beautiful stuff.  My friend knows this, but when it came to partners for this kind of business, she went to a couple of her more practical friends.

As she should have. She’s a flipper.

I’m a maker. I don’t want the practical pods of the usual kitchen makeover. I want to enter each kitchen and gauge the light and imagine what woods would compliment the era and what might make it the most beautiful kitchen ever. I would never do it for the money, because I make things. Books, of course. Now my paintings and drawings. Gardens. Food. My goal in flipping a house would be to make it into something I would live in happily forever–and that would be a sure way to lose money.

The thing is, makers have to learn to be business people, too, especially in the current world. It’s great that I want to write (and cook and paint and garden) but I also have to live in the real world. I have to eat. I don’t have a patron, though husbands kind of count, since they share the load and make loans upon request. Being a maker, I want to make things all the time, all day long–and luckily, it doesn’t matter what it is. I’m happy painting. I’m happy writing (writing a blog or a novel or a letter). I’m happy digging in the earth to plant seeds to make my garden.  The trick of my day is to keep the money-making aspects of making, the commercial fiction, occupy the most vigorous part of my day. Thus, I’m writing this morning. When I’ve done my words, I’ll make a loaf of pumpkin bread for a friend who is mourning. Later this afternoon, I hope to have some time to work on my drawing.

A lot of my friends are makers, and I bet a lot of you are, too.  Tell me about your projects of the moment. If you’re a flipper like my friend, I’d love to hear about that, too.

Notes from the Airport Food Court

It’s a gloomy morning in Texas, the air thick and cool, heavy with the thunderstorms that will line my trip home today. A handful of Italian men with good shoes and sport coats, one even with a ponytail and a ragged bit of black whiskers on his cheeks, hang by the coffee stand, chattering among themselves which is how I know they are Italian. It makes me think of Amara, who is three and speaks robot mostly, but also languages of her own creation, and we spoke them back and forth all weekend, making up rivers of sound that sometimes sounded French or Korean or Vulcan-ish according to the moment. She adorned her body with stickers from head to toe, then laughingly screamed as I pulled each one off. She rolled all over me, kissed me a hundred times. We planted two flower boxes with coreopsis and petunias, flowers that won’t mind if she picks from them every day.

I’ve been on the road a lot this month, and wrote a bazillion words, and before that, I was sort of in that lost land of recovery, so I’m really looking forward to the upcoming days when I can plant my own garden, and putter, and read a lot to refill the well.

Amara and her wonderful parents will come to visit in July–there’s a wedding, and a notable birthday–and in the meantime, I have a book to work on at a different sort of pace. Peaches and the mountains and a certain golden light. I’ll be sending Jess and Mercedes, Tyler and Kaleb, off to you soon.

Now I’ll amble down to the gate, resisting the siren smell of Sbarro pizza. What are you up to this ordinary Monday?

Kindly Shepherd’s Pie

This is a wintery sort of recipe, but a reader went through a lot of trouble to listen to the recipe on the audio version of THE ALL YOU CAN DREAM BUFFET and write it down, so I thought her efforts deserved reward. It’s a great dish to bring for gatherings where there are a lot of varied diets, and I’m just going to say that it can feel really sad to go to a big barbecue or something and everyone else is chowing down on these great, rib-sticking meals and you’re nibbling on a bun with sauerkraut or maybe having (yet another) salad.  Be kind to your vegetarian friends.  Take a hearty dish to a potluck for them.

You’ll like it, too.  I created this for Christopher Robin, who loves Shepherd’s Pie and missed the way I made it.  It took a lot of experimenting, but I finally came up with one he adores.  This is it.  Vegan and fabulous:

Kindly Shepherd’s Pie
From The All You Can Dream Buffet, Barbara O’Neal 

Serves 4 generously

Olive oil, 2 tablespoons, plus 1 tablespoon
2 ribs celery, 1 monster onion, 2-3 carrots, all diced
5 cloves garlic, smashed, peeled, roughly chopped
1 medium parsnip, diced (optional. Some people don’t like the sweetness of this vegetable, but I really, really do)
1 cup fresh or frozen peas
1 Tablespoon tomato paste
1 quart high quality vegetable broth
1 bottle heavy red wine such as zinfandel (the deeper the body, the better)
2 tablespoons tamari
Splash of Worcestershire sauce (make sure it is the cheap kind, without anchovies)
1 tablespoon thyme
1 cup porcini mushrooms, cleaned and sliced
1 cup button mushrooms, cleaned and sliced
2 cups ground meat substitute, such as Quorn or Morningstar crumbles
4 large red potatoes, peeled and diced (or for a more rustic dish, leave the skins)
½ cup margarine
½ cup soy or coconut milk
Salt and pepper to taste

Prepare all vegetables except potatoes and have them ready. In a dutch oven or heavy, large saucepan, heat 2 T olive oil (or more—this is not a high fat dish, using 3-4 tablespoons would not go amiss). Add onions, garlic, celery, carrots, parsnip and cook over medium heat until softened. Add tomato paste and stir into vegetables.

Open the wine. Pour one generous glass for yourself, then pour the rest in the pan.

Add vegetable broth, spices, and tamari and bring to a boil. Lower heat and simmer until liquid is reduced by at least half.

Meanwhile, peel (or don’t) the potatoes and cut into chunks and cover with water.

Bring to a boil, then slightly lower heat. Simmer until potatoes are tender.

Taste broth, correct seasonings. Add peas and mushrooms, and ground meat substitute if you are using is, and let simmer on low heat while potatoes cook.

Heat oven to 400 degrees

When potatoes are tender, drain the water and add butter. Mash or whip until the potatoes are smooth, then add milk to make a slightly soft mash.

Taste the stew. Liquid should be thick and velvety, with a rich, deep taste. If it needs more flavor, add salt or a little more tamari, or one cube of veggie bullion. If it is not thick enough, remove some liquid from the pan, stir together with two tablespoons of flour until very smooth, then add back into the stew and let thicken.

When the stew is right, pour it into a 10-inch glass pie pan or cast iron skillet and top with mashed potatoes until it is covered completely. Using a spoon or fork, make peaks in the potatoes so they will get brown and beautiful in the oven.

Bake for 10-20 minutes, or until potatoes have developed a nice crust.

Let cool for five minutes, serve in generous portions.


I’ve been hearing a lot of funny grumbling about NaNoWriMo.  I’m not sure why.  There are certainly a lot of bad novels written during this month, but who cares?  The pursuit of art is a joyful thing and brings a lot of good into the world.  And if you are a writer who loves writing, what could be more fun than spending a whole month reveling in the joy of writing?

I’m playing this year.  Not in public, as I did with The OtherLand Chronicles (which will be coming your way in January), but I am writing with the intent of breaking that 50K mark. We shall see if I am able.  Today:


Teaser, tidbits, and a picture

Mysterious teaser: here is a lot happening behind the scenes, which I will announce in the near future.

Also, if you want to be one of the first to see the cover for my upcoming ALL YOU CAN DREAM BUFFET, about four food bloggers at an Oregon lavender farm, sign up for my newsletter, because that’s where I’ll show it first.  The book is also available for pre-order at Amazon, Barnes and Noble, and others.  Check it out! You can read the book description there, too.

I’ll be giving away Advance Reading Copies of The All You Can Eat Buffet via Facebook when I get back. If you want a chance to win, follow me there. 

Finally, after a hectic summer during which I wrote an entire attack book (a book that shows up out of nowhere and drops in your lap), I’m off to the UK with Christopher Robin for a couple of weeks.  Come back to see pictures and read about our wanderings.

And here is my favorite photo from my garden this week.


New Zealand by the Numbers


Posted from Rotorua

Never have as much time to blog as I imagine I will. I have blogs in process, but haven’t had a chance to pull them together. Look for a post on the earthquake damage in Christchurch, on traveling in a place apparently sort of like your own, and the weird appeal of glow worms upcoming,

In the meantime, on my bad internet connection, a few numbers from NZ:

Cities/towns visited: 9
Ginger beers consumed: 17 (approximately)
Hours spent riding in cars/vans/buses: 22, in 6 stints
Times I could not pronounce a Maori town/bay/mountain name: at least 67
Bays passed: at least 14
Beaches visited: 7 so far
Numbers of “slices” consumed at roadside tea shops: I’m afraid I cannot divulge that information
Bad Internet connections: 8
Good internet connections: 1
Books read: 5, plus pieces of others (so far)
Wineries visited: 1, Saint Clair in Marlborough
Movies missed: 1, The Hobbit in Kaikoura (where evidently there is an intermission to change reels)
Boats/Ferries: 3
Museums: 3
Number of times dear son has sent Nana movies of her granddaughter: 2
Hotel rooms: 6
Times I messaged my sister to find out if cats/dog were okay: 17
Times I asked for pictures of said animals: 2
Helicopter rides: 1
Caves: 3

More to come, friends. My feet are getting tired and we’re sleeping about 10 hours a night, so you know it’s a good holiday!

Weaving Legends and Reclaiming History….

I am so honored by this post, which is available at Heroes and Heartbreakers.  I’m especially appreciative of the discussion of romance novels and women’s fiction as a form that can be just as powerful as any other novel form.  Janga is always worth reading, and this piece caught me in the throat.  Thanks, Janga.

“On Saturday, July 28, 2012, Barbara Samuel became the thirteenth author inducted into the Romance Writers of America’s Hall of Fame, an honor reserved for multiple RITA winners who have received three of the coveted awards in the same category. Samuel won the 2012 RITA in the Novel with Strong Romantic Elements category for How to Bake a Perfect Lifewritten under the name Barbara O’Neal. That marked Samuel’s third win in the Novel with Romantic Elements category but her seventh win over all categories.

And now, allow me to explain just how varied, rich, and wonderful her books are.

Samuel graduated from the University of Southern Colorado in 1985 and published her first book (her second manuscript), Strangers on a Train, in 1989. That first book was published under the name Ruth Wind, a name she would use for another twenty-two novels and two novellas between 1990 and 2008. Most of her Ruth Wind books were Silhouette category romances. These were the first books of hers I read—amazing books that treated serious issues such as child abuse (Breaking the Rules), illegal immigration (Rio Grande Wedding), and Post Traumatic Stress Syndrome (Reckless) and, at the same time, centered on engaging romances. And she clothed these stories in lovely, lyrical prose without a single lavender-tinted syllable in sight.

In 2000, In the Midnight Rain, her only single title written as Ruth Wind, was published. It was one of the most buzzed about romance novels of the year, and it was named…..READ THE REST OF THE ARTICLE HERE   >>>>>>