Ah, Those Roasted Pigs……

Pig Being Roasted

Pig Being Roasted

Vegetarians, you might want to skip this post. This seemed to be a weekend for roasted pigs. Saturday, we attended a dinner hosted by a generous couple for the Wounded Warriors who are part of the Deptherapy (Scuba Therapy) program that my husband is honored to work with when they visit twice a year in Key Largo. (http://southdadenewsleader.com/issue/south-dade-news-leader/article/wounded-warriors-dive-in-key-largo)

The feature of the dinner was a roast pig and then on Sunday while we were looking at the Cooking Channel, the host of the show went to Puerto Rico. Among the many stops he made was in Guavate, a small village reknown for lechon, roasted pig. Lechon is a favorite weekend and holiday meal and you can find “lechoneras” year-round, but for Guavate, it is a daily offering. Most first-time tourists to Puerto Rico won’t know about Guavata because it is definitely off the regular path and I strongly recommend do not travel there unless you enjoy the scent of roasting meat and open-air cafes. If you aren’t in the mood for crowds, avoid the weekend. If, on the other hand, you’re looking for an authentic experience, Guavata on a Sunday is what you want. Think of a long block party filled with multi-generation families, music, dancing, laughter, and plenty of food. The “Road of Lechon” is a winding one with lechoneras dotting the way until you arrive at Guavata. The odds are that you’ll have to park on the side and walk up if you are there on a weekend. The other option is go around 11:00 a.m. before the biggest part of the crowd arrives. It is all quite rustic and while the locals have their favorite spot, they all seemed to be good when we visited. It is indeed a fun time if you are into that sort of thing.

New Logo…….

New logo for Charlie Hudson Writes

New logo for Charlie Hudson Writes

This is a post that has a touch of whimsey. Not too long ago, someone asked me if I had a logo for Charlie Hudson Writes, the “brand” for my writing. I did not have, although I had considered it some time ago, but it wasn’t a particular priority for me and I set the idea aside. For whatever reason this time, I stopped and thought about it and decided that okay, a logo would be nice. That was step one. What was next? I have a friend who does wonderful design work – he’s created a business card for me and a bookmark, so natually I turned to him. If you’ve followed this blog, and especially if you’ve read my books and short stories, you know that scuba, parrots, and island living to the tunes of Jimmy Buffet are all parts of both our lives and my writing. With that in mind, I gave my guy a couple of thoughts and he very soon produced exactly what I had in mind. As usual, he gave me variations on the basic idea, all of which I liked. And as always, I turned to my husband for his advice and it wasn’t surprising that he picked out the same version that I did. While he is much more visually-oriented than I am, there are certain things that we are often in sync with when it comes to tropical images.

And so, the logo that you see here is what we chose. Granted, it doesn’t reflect the new Helen Crowder Adventure Series books (Small Town Lies at www.amazon.com), but then again, I do introduce the idea of quilting-themed cruises in Small Town Haven (Book #2). I hope you’ll enjoy the logo as much as we do.

A Salute to Local Animal Rescue…..

This Is The Dog Event Poster

This Is The Dog Event Poster

Many newcomers to the Homestead area are startled to learn that there is no animal shelter below South Miami. The reasons for that are a bit muddled, but two groups have stepped forward in what is sadly an on-going struggle against irresponsible pet owners. People who chose to have pets and refuse to have them spayed or neutered or who toss them aside to whatever fate want to pretend that this is not a serious issue. A grassroots group, This Is The Dog, (http://thisisthedog.com) works incredibly hard with volunteers and inadequate funding to do what they can to rescue and foster dogs and cats as they find homes for them. They also try to educate people as to the growing problem and work with other rescue groups to promote spaying, neutering, and adoption. A second group, the Gateway Animal Shelter (http://www.gatewayanimalrescue.com) is helping raise funds and promote awareness to actually build a shelter in Homestead.

There is a fundraiser tomorrow, Friday, 26 April from 6:00-10:00 p.m. on Krome Ave in Homestead. It’s a “Fashion Show” for dogs and more. Lots of fun, food trucks, and a great chance for animal lovers to help out.

Coffee, Not Coffee Flavor……

Love that first mug of morning coffee!

Love that first mug of morning coffee!

This is another of life’s small puzzles. I love coffee in the morning. In fact, there is a line in Shades of Murder about the pleasure of that first cup. I usually have 3-4 cups in the morning, but I tend to only have coffee in the afternoon in social settings. Coffee after a nice dinner in a restaurant is also a habit, but if at a friends’ house for dinner, I don’t want them to make it just for me. I did not, in fact, drink coffee until I joined the Army, but that is an entirely different post.Then of course, we had the coming of the wonderful accessibility of coffees from all parts of the world and the profusion of coffee shops. While I don’t use coffee shops as a setting nearly as much as I do bars in my novels and short stories, I do include them at times. I created a lovely little place – Jumping Java –  for Deadly Doubloons.

In general, I prefer medium roast coffees because I drink them black and don’t use sweetener unless it’s a robust one. I rarely use cream, but do enjoy a skim milk latte or cappucino and variations of that. The point here is that for some reason, however, I don’t like coffee flavored items. I can’t stand cold coffee beverages that are all the rage, coffee candy, coffee ice cream, etc., I genuinely don’t understand why that is. So, if there are any coffee experts out there – what’s the deal with that?

Cleaning Before the Cleaning Lady Arrives…..

Ah, another topic that can offer differing perspectives between men and women. We, of course, understand exactly why we take certain actions before the cleaning lady or cleaning team arrives. “If they’re coming to clean, then why are you cleaning first?”, can be a common question from spouse/significant other, however. To begin with, it all depends on whether it’s the first time a cleaning lady/team has come. After all, if it is, you want to show what your standards are and the best way to do so is to have the place essentially like you want it. Besides, having a cleaning lady/team is because you need someone to take away the burden of the heavy cleaning or the annoying stuff, not because you want someone to think that you’re a total slob.

In follow-up cleaning though, most cleaning ladies/teams have a set pattern and have a certain number of houses lined up per day. Therefore (and every woman knows this) if they have two hours allocated for your house and they have to spend half an hour de-cluttering to get to the important stuff – they’ll skip something else that they think you won’t notice in order to keep on schedule.

Next in the process is deciding how often you need someone – once a week, once every two weeks, once a month. If you require someone in to clean more than once a week – you might want to look at the patterns in your household, but that’s not the point of the post. When I was working fulltime, plus coming home in the afternoon to either run the kid to karate class or take an afternoon walk, and working on my writing, it was definitely once a week. As my schedule modified, I backed off to once every two weeks and for a long period, I gave up on cleaning ladies/teams and just decided to do it myself. Which brings me to the last part. There are times when you honestly can’t find the right person/team and it is less irritating to do it yourself. Again, most men don’t understand that all clenaing ladies/teams are not the same and what should be a help can instead become a source of aggravation.  How about it out there – who has stories to tell? (And yes, I know - shudder – those cleaning ladies/teams can definitely have stories to tell)

Picking Which Characters To Kill…….

Edgar Allen Poe once said, “The death of a beautiful woman is, unquestionably, the most poetical topic in the world.” When writers map out stories that will involve death, two main questions are, who is to get killed and why? I just finished a book by an author that my husband really enjoys and I had read one of his books to see what I thought. I enjoyed that one okay, so I thought, I’ll try a second one. I liked most of it, but sure as the world, a really nice character was killed off that I felt was completely unnecessary. Actually, I wasn’t too happy with another one he killed off, but I understood the selection. But both of them? That was a bit over the top for me. Anyway, that brings me to the point of how I decide which characters to kill and why.

In one of my mysteries, there have to be a certain number of people that die – can’t have much of a mystery without that. Then the issue becomes, is the individual to be tragic in nature, someone who is “getting what they deserve”, or created for the express purpose of being killed off in the first place? How much I want the reader to connect to the character, or how that character’s death affects the protagonist is also important. In some cases, it’s easy, and at other times, it can be a struggle as to which way to go.

In one of my non-mystery novels, I had a character that I intended to have die, but the problem became that I realized I needed to increase the tragic aspect. I hated to do that but, quite frankly, I’d made the character more likeable than I orginally planned to and so by definition, the death would be more tragic. On the other hand, it was the only logical way to move the plot in the direction that I wanted to. And that is how it happens sometimes.

 

Recognizing Abuse….

Serious content alert. No matter what we might say publically, most people are willing to believe that abuse doesn’t happen to people that we actually know and certainly not in “nice” families. The concept of human trafficking is the stuff of novels and movies. There is a program in town called Start Off Smart (SOS) at http://startoffsmartinc.com that was established to try and address the root causes of domestic violence and other abuse and raise awareness of the very real issue of human trafficking. Sadly, Florida is one of the leading states in this plague because so many people who want to immigrate are vulnerable to exploitation. I won’t go into graphic details, but local human trafficking often involves forcing individuals into labor situations that are in essence modern day slavery. These people are often in the country illegally and therefore, how can they ask for help? One of the most effective ways for ordinary citizens to assist is to understand that it does exist and if a situation seems suspicious or if someone comes to you for help, don’t dismiss it as “not possible”.

Domestic abuse is always a sensitive issue because aside from the fact that no one wants to accuse someone in error, there can be other reasons to not want to be involved. After all, how do you initiate a conversation with someone asking that question? Since I have personally never been a witness to such a thing (to the best of my knowledge), I don’t have a good answer. What is important though, I think, is to find out what resources are available in your area so that you know what to do in the event that you do become aware of a problem. Another aspect is that if you are looking to volunteer, helping with a shelter or other program might be something to consider.

I spent time this morning with an extended family of three sisters and a mother and then another woman, all of whom finally broke away from abusive relationships and/or marriages. There were multiple generations of abuse and more than anything, the women want their children to understand that this is not how things should be. As heartbreaking as their stories were, the fact that they were able to find a program to help them rise above what had happened was uplifting. No, abuse is not a pleasant subject, and perhaps you will never personally  encounter it. But I would urge you to check into your local resources as a just-in-case sort of thing. You never know who you might be able to help.

Lasagna Thoughts…..

I may have well been the last person on Planet Earth who paid attention when one of the celebrity chefs said, “No, you don’t have to cook your lasagna noodles beforehand.” Talk about a liberating moment. I mean, seriously, boiling the noodles, then trying to handle them properly to get them stretched out flat to dry without tearng them – it really was a bother. So, just in case there is another person who hasn’t heard this, the trick to using uncooked noodles is to cover the lasagna with foil, bake for 350 degrees for 45 minutes, uncover and bake for another 15, then let it sit the usual 10 minutes before trying to slice into it.

By the same token of making lasagna more approachable, every ingredient except for the noodles themselves now comes with a lighter version, so you can reduce the dish in calories and fat without sacrificing much taste. I will admit that I do take a short cut by using a jar of prepared sauce, but I haven’t found that it makes a difference in the flavor. I use the leanest ground beef I can find and they have leaner sauages if you like to blend the two meats. I use skim ricotta, although I tend to stay away from the fat-free. There are some brands of reduced calorie and reduced fat Italian Cheese blends as well. Even though there’s not much you can do about cutting back on parmesan, you can sprinkle it lightly. I do agree that if you take the full calorie/fat version and have them side-by-side, your tummy is probably going to want the heavier version. But if you just go with the lighter one, your tummy will respond to that quite well. I do always try the cook the meat sauce for at least thirty minutes before I start the layering and when I can, I prefer to let it simmer for an hour.

For garlic bread, stay away from the commerical products, and if you can, roast 3-4 garlic cloves wrapped in foil for about 10 minutes at 400 degrees. Then mash the roasted cloves into softened butter and spread that lightly on the bread before you bake it. The enhanced flavor of the compound butter means you can use less butter and still have a great taste.

 

D.C. in April…….

Dustin in his 6th season of professional dance.

Dustin in his 6th season of professional dance.

Okay, for those who follow me on Twitter, you have to see the photo of Dustin twice. I’m in D.C. for the Bowen-McCauley performance at the Terrace Theater at the Kennedy Center tonight and the the gala after (http://bmdc.org). That makes for a long night and I suspect we “older folks” will make our rounds fairly quickly and bid farewell around 11:00. The chill and clouds/drizzle have disappeared though, and it is instead the lovely weather that can kiss DC this time of year. The cherry blossoms are beautiful, buds are forming on the trees, and other early flowers push through the soil.

Today will be rather busy, so no museum trips, but if you are making your way to DC this year, I have another private one to suggest in addition to the Museum for Women in the Military Service of America at Arlington National Cemetary and that is, The National Museum of Women in the Arts at NY Ave and 15th ( 1250 NY Ave NW, Washington, DC). That’s http://www.nmwa.org and the building is a work of art in and of itself. I happen to be a charter member of this museum also and am thrilled that they are celebrating their 25th anniversary this year. Their regular exhibits are wonderful and they rotate special exhibits frequently as well as have an intriguing research library and archive. It is easy access from the Metro and there are several restaurants nearby, so I strongly recommend it as a way to spend part of a day. MNWA is indeed the only museum in the country (and maybe the world) dedicated solely to women artists.

National Museum of Women in the Arts (From their web site)

National Museum of Women in the Arts (From their web site)

 

 

A Thoughtful Reminder……

I haven’t actually watched every minute of “Hope Springs”, the movie with Tommy Lee Jones and Meryl Streep as the couple, Kay and Arnold, who have celebrated their 31st anniversary with different views of where they are in their marriage. Steve Carell plays an interesting, slightly out-of-character role as the reknowned couples’ counselor in Maine where much of the movie takes place.

While there are more silly sex jokes than I care for, it is a well-crafted movie and the unexpected curve (I won’t call it a twist) in the last twenty minutes makes that okay, and you absolutely have to watch the scene enbedded in the credits. It is a story that can be all too familiar for couples who have perhaps gotten a bit too caught up in life, in routine, who have forgotten that communication does still matter, even if as Arnold asks in exasperation, “We’ve been married for 31 years. What is it that you think I don’t know about you?” (I may have garbled that a bit, but that was the essence.) And in turn, when Kay expresses dismay with an event that had occurred, the Doctor played by Steve Carell gently leads her to see that perhaps she didn’t handle the situation as well as she thought.

This is another of those quiet movies that makes for a pleasant evening and yes, guys, it might open the door to one of “those talks” or at least a brief chat. Have a cold beer, glass of whiskey, wine, cup of hot coffee, or whatever and just go with it.