Jeanette – Jeanette Baker Sun, 03 Dec 2017 22:41:08 +0000 en-US hourly 1 Thanksgiving Grinch Sun, 03 Dec 2017 22:41:08 +0000 Black Friday has come and gone. My only purchase of the day was a Christmas tree, a modest 5-6 foot Noble fir from the Mountain Pine fresh Christmas tree farm which I won’t pick up until the entire house is de-Thanksgivinged. I’m an official Thanksgiving Grinch, grateful the day is over, particularly the food of the season, turkey, yams, mashed potatoes and pumpkin. I’m craving salad, fresh spinach, tomatoes and cucumbers with absolutely no protein, no candied walnuts and absolutely no bread products.

What is it about this time of the year that causes people to indulge? Eight pounds is the average weight gain for the holiday season. EIGHT POUNDS! 28,000 calories over what our bodies need to maintain our current sizes! Those statistics alone are worthy of exclamation points. I suppose the cold has something to do with it and those clothes that camouflage the worst of our consumptions, except that California is warm enough to walk around with bare feet and our wardrobes usually work year round.

I threw away what was left of the stuffing, the mashed potatoes, the chocolate torte, everything with too much butter, saturated fat and calories. I saved the turkey, the cranberries and the yams. My family isn’t big on leftovers. After a turkey sandwich or two, thankfully, they’re done.

I’m a fairly decent cook, meaning that I’m great at finding other people’s new recipes and trying them out. However, I’m a washout with large joints of meat, rib roasts, turkey and ham. Except for the latter, which only requires heating, I can’t tell when anything over 3 pounds is done and, for some inexplicable reason, my meat thermometers (I’ve tried two) don’t register correct temperatures. Someone suggested that I’m not inserting them into the thickest part of the thigh but then no one else in the vicinity seems to know exactly where that is either. I’m strictly a “roast for 3 hours at 350 degrees” kind of person, except that whoever decided roasting an unstuffed 12 pound turkey at 350 for 3 hours likes her turkey to taste like jerky.

Inevitably, my main course is either blood-rare or bone-dry. On the few occasions when I manage to get it just right, I have no idea what I’ve done differently. This year was no exception. The turkey, once again, was over-cooked, leading to an overindulgence of everything else except the vegetables.

We could go out because, after all, Thanksgiving is about family togetherness and being grateful. We could also become, for one day, vegetarians. I’ve hinted at both, to no avail. Apparently, my family doesn’t mind eating dry turkey. “It’s enough,” said my son, “to smell it cooking and then to eat too much of everything else.”

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NELL, Ghosts from the Past Fri, 01 Dec 2017 05:27:07 +0000 NELL, Ghosts from the Past

My novel, NELL, is the story of the Geraldines or, more familiarly, the Fitzgeralds of Munster, “a family so wealthy and powerful they were called the uncrowned kings of Ireland. Their lands encompassed Desmond and South Munster and nearly all the counties of Kildare, Meath, Dublin and Carlow. Fitzgerald Castles stretched beyond Strangford Lough on the coast of Down to Adare, and the Fitzgerald fleet patrolled the Irish seas.”

NELL is also the story of a family, all five heirs, taken down in one fell swoop, hanged, drawn and quartered at Tyburn by order of Henry Tudor, a king desperate to establish a dynasty, a man afraid of the might of his cousins, the Geraldines. What Henry passed over, disregarded, refused to consider, was that a kingdom might be ruled by a woman, Elizabeth, and a family saved by another, Eleanor…Nell.

NELL begins with the execution of five men. Only Gerald, a boy of 12, is spared. He is hidden away in a remote castle, cared for by his sister, Nell, the betrothed of an Irish chieftain from the West. Through the forests and bogs of Ireland, at the court of the king who killed her family, Nell, aided by a strange vision from the future, struggles to keep the only remaining Fitzgerald heir alive.

We writers who attempt to create characters and a world both sympathetic and realistic to our readers frequently are caught up in the lives of the people we create. Imagine my excitement when I came upon the site of the beheading of the last Fitzgerald heir, the Earl of Desmond, the boy, Gerald, from my story, now a man who in the end lost his fight against the English. When I learned that his body (what was left of it) was interred in the ruins of a small church attached to a tiny cemetery, I was determined to find it, with Tommy, my fiance, an incredibly good sport, in tow.

Our first stop was the tourist office in Tralee. The friendly ladies manning the office knew nothing about the burial spot, but they were game to try. Success came no more than 20 minutes later. The Earl was buried in 1583 near the tiny village of Cordal in a place called Ardnagragh. The ruins of the Desmond chapel were in a burial ground with an unpronounceable name, Kilnananima.

Finding the location was difficult. There are no markers or signposts on the tiniest of Ireland’s roads and this was one of them. Tommy stopped at a small post office in Cordal to ask directions. In true Irish fashion, a woman posting a letter offered to take us there.  Minutes later, we were climbing over the fence and peering at the graves, all Fitzgerald, in the overgrown grass. It was remote, it was lovely, it was historically fascinating, but the grave I’d come to find wasn’t there.

Then, Tommy noticed the foundations of a ruin and began pulling away decades of lichen, ivy, undergrowth, uncovering an enormous slab. Climbing through the thick flora, he began scraping away the mud. Letters appeared. Excited and hopeful, I climbed in, too, and continued to scrape while he left to find the bucket of rainwater he’d noticed earlier. We scraped and poured until the name and date were evident, Gerald Fitzgerald, Earl of Desmond, 1583. I could only stare, not speaking, at this evidence of a man to whom I’d given conversation and personality. He’d lived, walked the earth and died a horrible death. And here I am, 500 years later, intrigued enough with his story to resurrect him for my readers.

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The Ladies’ Room Tue, 28 Nov 2017 23:49:53 +0000

Lately, I’m looking at department store ladies’ rooms from a different perspective especially when I shop with my daughter and her two babies, 6 weeks and 20 months. My favorite is the one at my local Nordstrom. Who would have thought a public restroom and its accompanying lullaby lounge for nursing mothers would prove fascinating to a toddler four months shy of his second birthday?

Because he absolutely cannot stay imprisoned in his stroller for the eons of time (his perspective) it takes his mother to nurse a newborn, he wanders out of the lullaby lounge into the bathroom and I follow him. He looks around for something to do and spies the soap dispenser. His eyes light up. Having mastered the word water quite clearly, he insists on washing his hands.

I lift all 26 pounds of him, balance his solid little body on my knee, squirt soap into his palms and turn on the cold water. He carefully and thoroughly washes and rinses both hands, repeating the word dirty several times which I take to mean another squirt of soap. We repeat this more than once.

Bored with washing, he notices the paper towel dispenser conveniently placed at a level that makes it possible for him to reach on his own. Thrilled with his discovery, he proceeds to pull down the paper and tear it off the roll. He watches as I demonstrate the drying of hands and the throwing away of the towel. He does a credible job of copying me… again and again and again.

“Enough,” I say and he agrees, his attention falling on the lock of an unoccupied stall. He pushes the bolt back and forth several times and then attempts to close the door, testing his discovery. I follow him inside the stall where we spend an agonizingly long time locking and unlocking the door. Of course, this means another bout of lifting, squirting, washing and drying.

A woman clearly not old enough to have grandchildren applies  lipstick over one of the sinks. She looks at me pointedly. I imagine she’s thinking I don’t care about the trees we are wasting or maybe I don’t know that California is in the middle of a drought, or both. Actually I do. I care very much, but at this time, in this place, desperate means call for desperate measures.

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