Saturday, April 18, 2009

It's Easter! (go look for eggs!)

What?! But it was LAST week!

For you, maybe. But for millions of Eastern Christians, Easter is only THIS Sunday.

Easter is the only Christian holiday that has no fixed date, and because its timing depends on calculations (full moon, first day of spring, and other calendar considerations), a few other holidays have a variable schedule. But but not on their own! Lent begins 40 days before Easter. Pentecost happens 50 days after.

And those facts are the same whether you're in the Eastern Church or in a Western denomination, that is, Catholic or Protestant.

Traditionally, Russian Christians are for the vast majority Eastern Orthodox, like the Greeks, the Bulgarians, the Armenians, the Serbs.

How do we celebrate Easter? Pretty much like everyone: Church, food, and family.

Having been raised in an educated family, I know more than my share about the formal aspects of the religious rites, but I will refer you to the real experts in the subject if you want to learn more. The Orthodox Church of America maintains a great number of sites with a variety of articles, links, and images. Most individual parishes have their schedules on the web today, and you can catch up with folks at home if you're traveling to the ends of the universe.

The family aspect of holidays, well, it's universal. There's the grandmother, the kids, the mother and father, the relatives who make phone calls (or forget to). There's cheer and strife.

The food, well, that's something else.

I don't take the time to cook ethnic dishes very often anymore. Modern life doesn't give you the leisure to spend a whole day preparing a one-pot dish and baking bread, nor will your family agree to eat the same meal several times in a row, even if you disguise it with interesting sides and desserts.

So ethnic dishes are relegated to special occasions.

Like Easter.

Kulich, or Easter Bread, a rich, yeast bread, full of good stuff like butter and sugar, vanilla, almonds, raisins, cardamom, takes three risings and a lot of kneading. It doesn't lend itself to modernization. Forget transposing the recipe to bread machines. Oh yes, I've tried. It's too rich, too dense for the poor appliances to handle it.

No, you have to mix it and knead it by hand. You have to get your hands messy. You have to sprinkle flour all over your kitchen.

Three risings, with mixing in ingredients after each one, that takes hours. And baking this kind of bread, that takes another hour and a half. So you see why I don't do it more than once a year.

But when they come out... Ah, the pride.

The other dish in demand is Paskha, or Syrnaya Paskha, Cheese Paskha, is made from fresh farmer's cheese and, you guessed, more butter, eggs, and sugar. It's like cheesecake, but smoother and meltier. Oh, and I found a recipe here, with pictures, that will give you an idea of what I was doing yesterday. One comment though: I'd rather skip making Paskha than using cottage cheese. It's much too watery, and too bland. It has to be farmer's cheese.

Guess what breakfast was this morning? Tea or coffee, and Kulich with Paskha.

Decadent? For sure! But you have to remember, if you really follow the tradition, then you haven't been eating any meat or dairy products for 40 days. None. At all. No milk, cheese, yoghurt, butter, no beef, chicken, pork. Vegetables and fish and oil. But if you think it makes for a boring diet, you're wrong! Don't forget that lobster and shrimp are "fish," too! And caviar, and wine is made from grapes, and sauces don't have to be cream-based, and spices are most often seeds or flowers.

Umm... I'm getting hungry...

But I confess, I'm not so hard-core. Not like my Mom used to be. I haven't forgotten, though, and I'm still capable of baking all the traditional dishes.

It has to count for something.

I haven't forgotten that you came here for the Big Contest! So go look for the Contest Egg on my site for a chance at the basket, and post a comment on this blog to be entered in a drawing (at the end of the month) to win a $5 gift certificate to The Wild Rose Press -- and remember that the Rosettes are on sale until the end of April!

And the next stop in the blog hunt will be: Ashley Ladd will post her contribution tomorrow!

Happy Reading!

Wednesday, April 15, 2009

A Sale at The Wild Rose Press!

All the Rosettes (short stories) are on sale! 99c. until the end of April!

And that means The Joining is too!

Take advantage of the offer to find out what makes Erik crash on a planet on the far reaches of the known universe. Discover alien places, for sure!

Sunday, April 12, 2009


Don't you love showers? They're not just convenient means of waking up and getting oneself clean. They're also the source of endless inspiration, the place where your thoughts come into focus and your plots take form.

Many a story has been hatched in the shower.

Can you believe that once upon a time I hated showers?

More than that. I dreaded them. I shook in panic at the mere thought of taking one, and baths were not an alternative at that time. We only had a small half-bath in our efficiency, my mother and I, and that was it.

Obviously, I got over it. How? I don't know. It was a long time ago. Somewhere along the line, I discovered the pleasure and luxury of showers. The delight provided by the sensory isolation of the sound of running water, the soothing effect of hot steam, and the knowledge that no one expects you to hear anything for at least ten minutes.

When you're a mother, that's a lot.

And so I forgot the absolute fear and loathing of showers I once had.

What brought it back to mind is the realization that my elderly mother detests being cold, and the constant noise and irritation of running water, and therefore she will not take a shower. It's her old-age fussiness that brought back memories of my own childhood aversions.

What else have I forgotten?

I read several sci-fi novels recently where memory, either too-acute, or lost, is a central element of the plot. Whether regained, impossible to erase, or forever gone, memory is such an essential part of what makes us, that we don't even give it a thought.

Let's not even ponder memory as personal history: that's merely the simplest aspect of it.

Memory makes and remakes us constantly. Memory and recall. Recall and memory. Our ability to recall long-term memories and short-term memories: events that happened a long time ago, or just moments past. Our ability to arrange the memories into sequences, and more than that: into meaningful sequences, related to other memories and events, that are also arranged into meaningful sequences, themselves easily related...

That's how our mind works. A spiderweb of connections: ideas, deductions, recalls, memories, connections. All of these are made up of words, images, sensory information, emotions, rational thought processes.

Eliminate one, and you have a big gap that nothing can bridge. Forever and ever, you will go around it, but never over or across. That place is simply lost.

Whether you're considering the actual human mind, or a fictional story-world, this web is there: an infinite network of connections that you can never know fully, but you're aware it's there. And when you need it, you can dip into it. The same gaps that loss of memory cause in your mind can be created by lack of foresight in a fictional story-world, with the same result: an empty space, devoid of information.

Even if you have no gaps, in the case of a fictional story-world, you mustn't tell it all, or put every detail of it into your story, any more that you would recall every memory at every moment of your actual life. But as the writer, you must be aware of all the possible details of your story-world, as you are aware of your own self. You must know your story-world down to the molecular level, down to every sensory input. Know the colors and the scents, and the flavors of your imaginary places, and the way the people think there. So that the logic of your story is always that of your story, even if it's not necessarily quite realistic.

Because, hey, some days, we just don't want reality. We want the reality of the story, not the one outside our door.