Why Would Writers Compete for the Most Rejections?

“I’m up to 60 rejections for my writing so far this year,” I said.

“Oh my God! I couldn’t take it. All that rejection.”

“I know. It’s crazy.”

But true. As my friend Cheryl and I sat on her back deck watching Annie nose around the garden and steer clear of the cat giving her stink eye from a chair by the door, I tried to spin my usual story about how I’m selling a project. Like any product, a lot of people will choose not to buy it, but eventually someone will come along who wants exactly that item. Look how many people pass by the handmade earrings at the Farmer’s Market. The earrings are beautiful, but they’re expensive and they aren’t looking for earrings. They want fresh strawberries. Think of my essays and poems as earrings.

But Cheryl was stuck on 60 rejections in six months.

She didn’t ask how many acceptances I’d had. Three.

That was in July. I haven’t told her that I finished 2021 with 98 rejections and a few more acceptances.

I belong to a group of writers who try every year for at least 100 rejections. In poetry, that means for a group of poems, not for each individual poem. In order to get that many, you need to submit a lot, and that’s the point. If you don’t put your work out there, it will never get published.

Cheryl, who lives in the woods down the road from me, is not a writer. She’s a reader and a fan of my books. My dog loves her because she keeps a big jar of treats in the garage.

When you look at it from her point of view, it does sound awful. Nobody tells the plumber after he’s fixed the sink: “Well, I’ll see if I like it and then maybe I’ll pay you.” No. You hire the plumber. They do the job. You pay them. Like the plumber, we’ve done the work. Time to publish and pay!

But that’s not how it goes.

My father, an electrician, had trouble understanding this too. For him, work was only real if you went to a job site, worked for eight hours, and got paid every Friday. After a few years, you were promoted to foreman and bossed other people around. Eventually you maybe even owned your own company. But this business of sending in writing and getting it rejected? That’s not a job. That’s not work. That’s a waste of time.

My parents were proud of the things I got published, but they didn’t understand the process.

I make every submission believing that this essay, poem, or book manuscript will be accepted, that it is a perfect fit. I study the market, follow the guidelines, and meet the deadline. More often than not, a few weeks or months later, I receive an email saying thanks but no thanks. They wanted strawberries, not earrings. Or they love earrings, but they have too many earrings right now. That does not mean my earrings aren’t lovely.

“How do you stand it?” Cheryl asked.

“Well, I have been doing it a long time.”

So long. Since high school. Since the days of typewriters, since rejection slips arrived by mail, along with your wrinkled, coffee-stained manuscript.

But there have been acceptances, triumphs even. Publishers have said yes to my books, articles, essays, short stories and poems. They have included my writing in their anthologies and nominated it for prizes. Readers thank me and tell me how much my words mean to them. That’s far better than eight hours on a construction site or under a sink.

When an editor says yes, I still shriek so loudly the neighbors probably wonder if I’m all right. In 2022, I have already had three rejections. Why bother? Because when they say yes, it’s better than sex.

Writers understand. Anyone can grow strawberries, but some of us are meant to make earrings.

Brevity’s website editor Allison K. Williams recently published a good piece on rejections. Read it here.

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2022 Comes Roaring in Like a Hurricane

I lay awake in bed last night listening to the wind push, pull, and tear at everything in its path. It had already toppled the garbage and compost bins, upended the chair and table on the deck and torn the hot tub cover half off. I had gone outside in my nightgown and new slippers trying to fasten it back down, but the wind had no respect for skinny leather straps. I looked around at the writhing trees and said, “God, it’s in your hands now.” 

Just getting comfortable under the covers, I heard another bang. From the window, I could see the exposed lights of the control panel on the spa. I decided there was nothing I could do alone in the dark. I was just a small thing, an ant in a big world gone out of control. I could only tuck myself into my blankets and clean sheets and hope for the best. I thought of the people in Kentucky whose houses were demolished by tornadoes, the people in Colorado who lost their homes to fire, and the folks in New Orleans whose homes were flooded out by Hurricane Katrina. This wasn’t as bad as that, was it?

I felt like the little pig who built his house out of wood, easy for the Big Bad Wolf to huff and puff and blow it down. Go away, Big Bad Wolf!

I woke up at 5 a.m. and switched the radio on to hear the news. Nothing but hissing. Apparently the wind took out the local NPR station. I flexed my arthritic hands and feet. Time to get up and assess the damage. 

The dog was asleep on the couch, the plastic on the protective cone around her neck shining in the Christmas tree lights. There are times when it’s handy that she can’t hear. I opened the door and went out into the wind and rain. The hot tub cover was completely off. In the dark, I couldn’t see where it was. It’s heavy. I will need help to get it back on. But it was nothing for the wind. I could see no other destruction, but it was dark and would be dark for another two hours. I went back in, poured my juice and turned on my computer. 

I thought a lot last night about wind. What is it? It’s just air. We can’t see wind; we can only see its effects, the moving branches, the swinging wind chimes, the shingles torn off the roof, the hot tub cover thrown across the lawn. What is wind? What makes wind? 

I found a great article from the National Geographic Society. It’s designed for junior high and high school students, but I’m still struggling to understand it. “Wind,” it says, “is the movement of air caused by the uneven heating of the Earth by the sun.” Okay . . . 

Then there’s this: “Differences in atmospheric pressure generate winds. At the Equator, the sun warms the water and land more than it does the rest of the globe. Warm equatorial air rises higher into the atmosphere and migrates toward the poles. This is a low-pressure system. At the same time, cooler, denser air moves over Earth’s surface toward the Equator to replace the heated air. This is a high-pressure system. Winds generally blow from high-pressure areas to low-pressure areas.”

Now they’ve lost me. But it’s a swell article with details about things like prevailing winds, the Coriolis effect, jet streams, storm fronts (no storm backs?), and nor’easters. What do you call what we had last night? I’m going to wait for the news to come back on to explain it to my poet brain. I just know it blew hella strong and knocked stuff over. Come daylight, I’ll assess the damage. At least, my house seems to be still standing, and the deaf dog slept through it all. 

Dawn: Aha.The hot tub cover blew all the way up against the fence. Even the dog is impressed. No reception on the country music radio station either, but newslincolncounty.com tells of power lines down, streets blocked by trees, and a general mess caused by last night’s southerly wind. 

They say March comes in like a lion and goes out like a lamb. It looks like 2022 has come in like Godzilla, and we don’t know what’s next. 

Remember last week’s playful post about how the weather is a never-ending show? Well, we had more than 12 inches of rain in December, we had serious snow last week, and now we’ve got wind. I hope that was the grand finale.Time for all the actors to bow, remove their makeup and go home. 

Stay safe wherever you are. May 2022 treat you well.

How are you faring in the winter weather? Your comments are welcome.   

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Oregon Coast Weather is a Never-Ending Show

On the phone yesterday with a friend who lives in Texas, I couldn’t help punctuating our conversation about families, dogs and physical ailments with a blow-by-blow description of the weather. 

–It’s snowing.

–70 degrees here, very dry.

–It stopped.

–Still 70 degrees.

–It’s raining, washing away the snow.

–Still 70 degrees and nothing.

–Hail! Can you hear it?

–Nothing in Arlington.

–Oh, now the snow is back. So pretty.

–I don’t understand. I thought you lived at the beach.

–I do.

–I can’t picture snow on the beach.

–Well, it looks like sand, but it’s white.

–Okayyyy. 

–Hey! The sun is out. Annie and I need to take our walk. 

Never a fan of heat, she mostly stays in her air-conditioned house. Me, I want to be outside especially if there’s a lick of sun, but also in the snow, rain and hail. I want to feel it all on my face, be part of life, not just observing it.

As Annie and I were walking down a road graveled for traction, a snow plow passed. There was no snow left to plow. The driver waved; I waved back. The sky darkened. We turned toward home, awaiting the next development. 

The weather show changes constantly here and rarely disappoints, although it often inconveniences. Friends who planned to leave the coast for Christmas saw the snow on the mountain passes and changed their minds. A week ago, floods narrowed our street to a narrow strip of dry land. The ditches and rivers overflowed and roads fell down. A chunk of Highway 101 a half mile north of here collapsed under the weight of the constant rain (more than 12 inches in December so far), and a mudslide blocked the highway south of Yachats. The road between Florence and Eugene was impassable. You’ve got to keep up with changing conditions around here or stay home.

Branches still litter the yard from recent windstorms. When I went out the other day during a moment of sunshine, the rain came pounding so hard I decided to wait for another day. 

On Christmas, when I got home from dinner with friends, it was clear. Stars were shining. I shed my clothes and went out to the hot tub. Bam. Rain and hail. Good thing I was wearing a hat. And earrings.

Climate change? No, I hear this is how it has always been on the Oregon coast. In fact, at one point white would-be settlers declared it uninhabitable because of the weather.   

But my friend, who grew up with me in San Jose and then moved to Texas, finds it all hard to believe. Other friends who live where it snows in feet not inches, where the temperature dives below zero and stays there for months, laugh at our little weatherettes. For this San Jose native, it’s a big deal.

Some days, I stare too much at computer screens, but often  there’s a better show outside. Besides I lost the remote control to my streaming TV and Annie swears she didn’t eat it. Amazon is sending a replacement. 

Whatever your weather, enjoy the relaxing days after Christmas and a chance to clear away the dregs of 2021 for a shiny new 2022.

It was snowing when I started this post. Now the sun is out. Stay tuned.

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Did You Ever Think God Might Be Santa Claus?

Merry Christmas! Today I decided to share a poem, hot off the laptop. May your holidays be filled with peace and joy.

Photo by Laura James on Pexels.com
MAYBE GOD IS SANTA CLAUS

Five days till Christmas, we huddled by the tree,
counting the presents, guessing what was inside.
We studied our reflections in the shiny balls,
blew gently on the strands of tinsel
tinted by the red, blue, and yellow 
bulbs shining warm, leaking white light
where the color had been scratched off.
We had sat on Santa’s red velvet knee,
sharing our requests, and we knew
he would grant them, for Santa Claus
never said no, it costs too much. 

Yes, we saw Grandpa hauling gifts
from the blue Chevy to our door.
Aunts and godparents brought more,
but it was Santa we were counting on
to bring those extra special things,
not pajamas but a bike or the doll
that walked like a real little girl. 

All we had to do was be good
as we sat in our dress-up clothes,
hands neatly folded in our laps
at Grandma’s house on Christmas Eve
where the tree was taller than the sky
and a train chugged through a village
made of houses, toys, and mirror lakes.

When it was finally almost Christmas day,
we went to bed early but couldn’t sleep.
We heard sleigh bells ringing in the yard,
reindeer clomping on the roof,
Santa making his delivery. Oh!
And when the night was finally still,
we scrambled to the heater vent
and saw the ribboned bicycle,
the bulging stockings by the tree. 

We waited impatiently for dawn,
then scrambled shrieking out of bed,
waking Mom and Dad. Come on!
Oh, the joy. Every wish fulfilled,
We didn’t see Mom’s flat stocking,
only her smile as we poured out
pencils, Lifesavers, and chocolate coins.
Can we have one? No, not yet.
First we have to go to church.
We sat in the pew swinging our feet,
looking at pictures while the priest
prayed in Latin far away, and then,
more presents, breakfast, company.

We never knew other kids
might have no gifts, no pine-scented tree,
no Grandma’s house on Christmas Eve.
as we sat in a sea of wrapping paper,
playing with our brand new toys
while Mom cooked pancakes and sausages.
God gave us a taste of heaven
to get us through the coming years,
a memory to counteract the tears.

--Sue Fagalde Lick

Sometimes You Have to Look Harder for the Joy, But It’s There

“It is December and we must be brave,” poet Natalie Diaz wrote in “Manhattan is a Lenape Word” in her book Postcolonial Love Poem. So, so true. (Lenape is the language of the Delaware Native American tribe)

In Kansas and nearby states, survivors gaze at the rubble where their homes used to be, where their neighbors died in tornadoes that swept through on Friday and wiped out homes, businesses, dreams, and lives. How do you bear such a tragedy? How do you attend so many funerals and not want to die yourself?

I guess you ask the people Out West whose lives were ravaged by wildfires, or the folks in the South clobbered by hurricanes. You keep going the best you can.

A mass shooting happened in Baytown, Texas yesterday. These shootings have become so routine that NPR didn’t even mention it on this morning’s news update, although it was on my Yahoo home page. One dead, 13 wounded at a vigil for a friend who had been killed two weeks earlier.

COVID is still raging. The omicron variant is said to be more contagious than the previous versions of the virus. In one week, we went from no cases in the U.S. to cases all over the country. Those of us who have had two vaccine shots and a booster still don’t feel safe, and it seems as if this will never end. A friend from my old church died of COVID last week. People are still disputing the need for masks while almost 50,000 new cases have been diagnosed in the U.S. in the last 30 days.

The economy is berserk. Some gas stations in the Bay Area are charging more than $5 a gallon. Prices for food and everything else are up, and yet you can’t get everything you need because the supply chain is broken and businesses can’t find people to fill jobs. There are no new cars in the Honda dealer’s parking lot because they can’t get the computer chips to make the cars. Crazy.

This weekend, high winds and rain hit the Oregon coast. I woke to find my patio table overturned, my garden statues knocked over, and a fallen tree across my fence. There are branches everywhere. My whole yard is so soggy I’m afraid my house is going to sink. But I suffered no real damage. I spent a few hours without Internet or TV, but that’s nothing. I’m back at my desk, writing, sipping English Breakfast Tea, and looking forward to Christmas cards coming in the mail.

I had tea and scones with a new friend last week. The next day, Annie and I had a nice visit with the neighbors, swapping stories by the fireplace. I sang at church on Saturday. My refrigerator is full of good food. I’m healthy. My life is good. We don’t get tornadoes here, but a disaster could change everything in a blink. All we can do is trust in God and each other to carry us when things get too hard.

The holidays can be torture for people who are already suffering from the loss of loved ones, natural and unnatural disasters, or physical or emotional problems. Please consider reaching out to friends who might be having a hard time. Even more than gifts and cards, they could use your company.

I hate that I won’t have any family around me at Christmas. At some point, I will cry hard over that. But then I will move on. There’s always something to look forward to, even if it’s just a turkey sandwich or a TV show or a walk with the dog. Last night while doing the dishes, I turned on some music and started dancing. The dog stared, confused. But if your feet still hold you up, why not dance?

It is December, and we must be brave. The month is only half over. There will be more storms, more tornados. There will be more COVID, more shortages, and more frustrations. But there will also be Christmas and New Year’s and another sunrise every day, each one a little different from the one before, and that first wonderful sip of coffee or tea in the morning. If you look for the joy, you can find it.

Happy holidays, I wish you warm scones, fuzzy slippers, and sloppy dog kisses.

I welcome your comments. Tell us how you’re doing this month.

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Swimming Out of the Pandemic Bubble for Thanksgiving

I push my card key into the slot and open the door. I inhale the scent of chlorine, feel the humid air on my skin. I bend down to feel the water in the pool. Warm. There is no one else here. I strip down to my bathing suit and ease in. Oh! I love being in the water. If I could live my whole life in water, I would. I love swimming, even though I’m not very good at it. After two years, do I remember how? 

I do. I go through my routine of breast strokes, back strokes and front crawl. I feel the chlorinated water pushing against my hands, feel the buoyancy of my feet on the concrete bottom. I lean back and float, giving control of every inch of my body to the water. It’s the only place I ever let go. I hope no one passes by and thinks I’m dead.

I’m writing this on Sunday night of Thanksgiving weekend. I have been overeating for days and wasn’t following my diet or my exercise resolutions before that. My old Walmart bathing suit is stretched out. I look like a turquoise walrus. My muscles remind me that I haven’t done these moves in a long time. My spine whispers, “You’ll be seeing the chiropractor this week.” But those are just body parts. My spirit is soothed and renewed.

I have had many firsts over the last nine days. My first trip outside Lincoln County, Oregon since Covid started. My first salad bar. My first elevator rides. I refuse to ride a boat, plane or train, but my car trip has placed me in contact with many people, mostly strangers, lined up at rest stop bathrooms, side-by-side tables at restaurants, in line at Target and other stores, and at the breakfast buffets in the motels where I have stayed. Is it safe? I don’t know. I have had three vaccine shots, the regular first two and a booster, but there’s a new variant floating around. 

I hadn’t seen most of my family in two years. The young great-nieces, nephews and cousins have grown from babies to little people with big personalities. They call me Aunt Sue or get confused and call me Grammy. They don’t remember me from before. But it is so exciting to get to know them now. 

The adults have changed, too. My brother has a full white beard now; he was clean-shaven when I saw him last. Some are heavier or thinner or look older. Some have changed jobs and residences. It was so good to see them, hug them, and talk, talk, talk, not over Zoom or Messenger or some other electronic program but sitting in the same room, hugging a child or a dog or drinking tea and eating pumpkin bread. 

I got to see my friend who moved to Livermore and be her “sis” again. Such a gift. 

I went home to San Jose and neighboring Santa Clara. I saw buildings that weren’t there before. I saw the monstrosity the new owners of my childhood home built in its place. I visited the cemetery where there are more names now on the wall where my parents’ ashes rest and around the loved ones whose bodies went into the ground. I was able to see and touch their gravestones and sit with them for a while. 

As always, getting away from home and the usual routine sparks new ideas and new resolutions. I’m going to lose weight, renovate my house, and get a grip on my schedule. I’m going to go back to the gym, do yoga, and swim at the rec center. I’m going to start calling my family and friends more often. But I can see it will take me a whole day just to go through my mail and figure out how much I spent on this trip. I’ll need to restock the refrigerator, wash my clothes and deal with all those work chores I put off because I was “out of town.” 

I’m writing this in my last motel of the trip, the Holiday Inn in Yreka. Nice hotel, but it’s in the middle of nowhere. Nothing else here but a truck stop where I got takeout Chinese food. The whole trip, I had hoped to swim. But the other pools were all outdoors, and it was too cold. When I saw this indoor pool, I knew I had to use it. 

Traffic has been thick the whole trip. I think a lot of people left home this holiday for the first time since COVID started. Will there be a new surge of people getting sick? It seems likely. So many people together, so many without masks. The pandemic is not over. We’re all tired of it. Mask-wearing is slipping. But we can never be sure we’re safe. I even wondered if somehow the virus could be in the water in that pool. It doesn’t seem logical, but I wondered.

It will be a long time before I can return to my home state, but I will treasure the memories and photos and the feel of that warm water against my body as I made my cumbersome way back and forth, the nearsighted, half deaf turquoise walrus full of Chinese food from the truck stop across the road.  

How did you spend Thanksgiving? Did you venture out of your COVID bubble? Tell us about it in the comments. 

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The Joy and Madness of Writing a Sequel to Your Novel

What happens to the characters in a novel after the writer types The End? Usually nothing. The author is finished, happy to leave things where they landed and move on to another project.

Unless it’s part of a series. Then you have to figure out what follows happily—or unhappily—ever after. Does the marriage last? Does the adorable child turn into a troubled teen? Who cleans up the mess after the big party? How do they rebuild after the bomb explodes?

Write a series, the marketing gurus advise. You’ll get more readers and have built-in job security. But make sure each new book stands on its own. Okay, but how?

The bookstores are filled with beloved series from Agatha Christie’s Hercule Poirot series and  Arthur Conan Doyle’s Sherlock Holmes to Sue Grafton’s alphabet series and Lilian Jackson Braun’s “The Cat Who …” series. We collect the volumes of Harry Potter, Lord of the Rings, and Dune, or Jan Karon’s delightful Mitford stories about an Episcopal priest in a small town. We love revisiting our old friends in one book after another, but writing them is not as easy as you might think.

When I promised readers of Up Beaver Creek, published in 2016, that there would be a sequel, I had no idea how challenging it would be. I put it off for a couple years, then started writing the second book, working title Back to Beaver Creek, for National Novel Writing Month in 2019. I cranked out my 50,000 words, but I got lost along the way because I hadn’t taken time to think through the whole story before I started typing. Then life happened, and I didn’t finish it. I am determined to get it done this time, but sometimes I get very frustrated with the author I was when I wrote the first book.

Why did I say the initials P.D. stood for THAT? Why did I give her such a stupid car? Why did Rick behave the way he did? And what am I going to do with this other guy? Readers wanted romance, so now I have to find some. If you hear groans from my office, you’ll know what’s going on.

I am developing a great admiration for authors of book and TV series. The challenge is to remain consistent with what came before and find something for all of the characters to do or a way to get rid of them. I can’t change any of the names or identifying details. I can’t change PD’s job or the house she lives in without making it part of the new story. If her house didn’t have a fence before, it can’t have a fence now unless she builds one. I can’t change the voice, so I have to write this book in first person, present tense even though a big part of me wants to write in past tense this time. It’s a big jigsaw puzzle where you create the pieces and have to make them fit together. You can’t start sawing off the edges to force them into place. Readers who enjoyed the first book(s) will call you on it.

You should see my pile of notes, file cards, and clips, not to mention the bits and pieces on three different computers. But I love puzzles, and I love PD and her friends. After much stewing about it over the last few days, I think I’ve got the story figured out, and I think you’ll like it. But next time, instead of a musician, maybe PD ought to become a detective.

Check out these series by writer friends of mine: Susan Clayton-Goldner’s Detective Radhauser series and C. Hope Clark’s Edisto Island mysteries. So good.

Here’s some great advice on writing sequels:

https://www.writersdigest.com/write-better-fiction/7-rules-writing-sequels

http://jennybravobooks.com/blog/writing-a-sequel

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I Thought I was Making This Stuff Up–Tsunami Novel Predicts COVID

It’s November, known to some of us as NaNoWriMo, National Novel Writing Month. Hordes of writers commit to writing 50,000 or more words of fiction between November 1 and Nov. 30. That’s 1,667 words or the equivalent of about seven double-spaced pages every day, including weekends. I have started several times and pooped out, but in 2019, I spewed out more than 50,000 words for a sequel to my previous novel Up Beaver Creek. I didn’t finish the book. I had a bunch of pieces that didn’t quite go together. Then came COVID and a lot of other complications, including a nonfiction book that I did finish, so the sequel sat in a pile. Until now. This November I’m determined to pull it all together into a real novel. I’m not counting words. I find that doesn’t work for me. Sometimes an hour of thinking is more important than an hour of spewing random typing. But I am putting in the time.

I bring this up because one of the early chapters, written before any of us had heard the word COVID or had any inkling we’d find grocery store shelves empty of things like toilet paper and flour, turned out to be eerily prescient. In Up Beaver Creek, the long-predicted tsunami hit the Oregon coast, causing heavy damage and many deaths. Now we’re in the aftermath. Electricity is spotty, and supplies are low. When our heroine PD goes to the grocery store, this is what she finds. (No insult to J.C. Market, where I have been shopping for years. All is well there as far as I know, except they are missing a few items . . . )

The roar of a generator greets me as I get out of my car at the J.C. Market at 101 and Olive Street. Keeping the refrigerators and freezers going, I suppose. Since the Thanksgiving earthquake and tsunami, we have not had electricity, at least not that we could count on.

I open the door to dim lights and silence. No music coming through the speakers. Half the shelves are empty. Getting supplies is chancy these days. When something is in stock, we all want to grab a lot of it. But then somebody else would have to do without. We’re all learning to share. PD does not like sharing.

I pull out a cart, wincing at the noise as it separates from the others, and start down the vegetable aisle. Geez, not much there, hard to stay on my healthy-PD diet. Shriveled grapefruit, bruised apples, some artichokes I am sure have been there for a month. Pineapples, lumpy cantaloupes, potatoes, red onions, mushrooms someone probably gathered in the local forests—well, I could make something out of that. Meat? Brown-looking hamburger, questionable chicken, and a few whole salmon at $25 a pound. That’s the other thing. Prices are high. Supply and demand. When you really want an apple and you’re not sure you’ll see another one anytime soon, you’ll pay $4 for it.

Some enterprising folks have started braving the trip to less-damaged places in the Willamette Valley to pick up merchandise and sell it out of their trucks and car trunks. People line up to buy their wares. I’ve done it a time or two.

I toss a pound of ground beef and a sack of beans into the cart and hold my breath as I turn toward the paper aisle. Oh, thank God. TP. Not my favorite brand, just little four-packs of single ply, but hallelujah. $10? Whatever. At least I have a job to pay for it. Lots of people’s jobs got washed away with the tide.

It’s like that with everything. You can get something but not your favorite brand or flavor. Except for batteries. They haven’t had any of those in months.

And then she runs into a man who invites her to watch the sunrise with him . . .

Again, I had no idea a pandemic would hit us. I was just imagining what it would be like after a disaster. Who knew a whole different kind of tsunami was coming?

What do you think? Have you seen shortages where you shop? Do you expect things to get better or worse?

Have you read Up Beaver Creek? Books make good Christmas presents.

P.S. I’m getting my booster shot tomorrow. I tend to react badly. Wish me luck.

Liver Patties? We Don’t Eat Like That Anymore

When I was a newlywed in the 1970s, I picked up a copy of You Can Cook for 1 (or Even Two) by Louise Pickoff (Gramercy Publishing, 1961). I’m not sure why I bought it, seeing as how I had a husband to feed, at least in theory. He worked nights and was rarely home for dinner. His favorite meal was a beer and a loaf of rye bread slathered with mayonnaise. No wonder the marriage didn’t last.

Half a century later as I’m researching cooking for one, I remember this book. Could I possibly still have it? I do!

Oh Lord, how things have changed. Pickoff, a businesswoman who passed away in 2000 at age 87, mentions writing this book on a typewriter. As I was writing then, too. She could never have imagined this little hardback book would sell for $864 on Amazon today. I probably paid less than $5.

Inside, Louise also mentions:

  • Her standard breakfast is bacon, eggs and toast.
  • Under equipment, she says you need a can opener, and “the new electric ones are wonderful.”
  • She speaks of double boilers, electric skillets and electric ranges.
  • In her measurement chart, she defines a speck (less than 1/8 tsp.) and a pinch (1/4-1/3 tsp.).
  • To make fried chicken, dredge it in flour and cook in a cup (!) of shortening in the electric skillet. That’s exactly how my mother did it. It tasted great, but all that fat!
  • She speaks of minute steak, soup flakes, and powdered milk.
  • She uses cream in almost everything
  • She speaks of salad dressing mix. I remember we had a special bottle marked off with lines for oil, vinegar, and the seasonings that came in a packet. The best part was shaking it up and watching the ingredients swirl around like an early-day lava lamp.
  • Liver patties
  • Tongue!
  • Breaded veal cutlets
  • Canned tuna on toast with homemade white sauce—hello, home economics class.
  • Fried bananas rolled in cream, butter and cornflakes
  • Onion soup dip—sour cream and soup mix.
  • Whiskey balls made with vanilla wafers, Karo syrup, cocoa, pecans and whiskey
  • Spanish rice—add tomato sauce to boxed rice.
  • Cold meat sandwich—spread with mayonnaise, add meat, tomato slices and pickles.

I tried some of the recipes back in the day and left my reviews:

Individual Meat and Noodle Dish (ground meat, onion, bouillon cubes, noodles, ¼ c. wine): “Not too good” 9-14-78; Chicken in Cream (4 T. fat, minced onion, cream, thyme): Awful! 3-11-75; Canned tuna on toast (white sauce, cheese, spices, canned tuna): Yum! 2-2-79

There are no notations for the period after we got divorced and I truly was living alone, before I met Fred and didn’t need that cookbook anymore. Now that I’m alone again, I wonder if I should try more of these recipes. But there are more bad reviews than good, and the way we eat has changed. Some people just don’t cook anymore. Those who do avoid heavy doses of fat and sugar. Many avoid gluten, dairy, or meat. We worry about toxins coming off plastic containers and nonstick cookware.

We don’t expect to spend so much time in the kitchen, stirring homemade white sauce until it thickens, simmering meat on the stove for an hour when we can have it ready in minutes in a microwave or an Instant Pot. We can find recipes online that knock the socks off anything Louise laboriously typed back in the 60s.

But eating alone is still eating alone, and I like what she says about it: “You can wear what you want, and you can eat what you want . . . Quite often people ask me if I set my table attractively with flowers and candles. I must admit the answer is no. I live in an efficiency apartment, and I eat off the coffee table in the living room. I either put my china on a tray or a place mat. I use chip-free china, and I use silver that I have not used while cooking. In order to save on laundry, I use paper napkins. After watching the commercials on TV, doesn’t everybody? I refuse to comment on my table manners while eating alone. Just use your imagination!”

I may hate her chicken in cream, but Louise sounds like my kind of woman. I do eat at the table—unless there’s something special on TV—with Annie eating out of her bowl on the floor beside me. I get up and down a lot, serving myself from pots on the stove, fetching cookies for the dog, grabbing condiments, silverware and whatever else I forgot. And I read.

What food traditions from your past have drifted away or changed? Do you still cook the way you did in early adulthood? What food did you used to eat all the time that you don’t eat anymore for health or other reasons? For example, I grew up on baloney sandwiches on white bread with potato chips and onion soup dip, washed down with strawberry soda. I never buy any of that now. How about you?

Cooking a Tiny Souffle Just for Me

Last night, I made an itty-bitty soufflé in an itty-bitty casserole dish, using a recipe designed for just one person. It used wee amounts of carrots, sugar, flour, vanilla, etc. and required both the blender and the hand mixer. I ended up with pureed carrot all over my counters, a ton of dishes to wash, and nothing left over. It was all an experiment in cooking just enough for one hungry human.

A couple weeks ago, I asked my Facebook friends who live alone how they deal with cooking for one. I tend to make too much and then, not wanting to waste anything–and not needing to share with anyone–I pig out. My scale and my jeans are not happy. What to do?

People were full of advice: make a lot and freeze it in small containers so you always have something to heat and eat. Use smaller plates. Cook small amounts in tiny pots and pans. Sign up for a food delivery plan. Give the excess to the neighbors (my neighbors are all on special diets).

One commenter mentioned onedishkitchen.com, so I went there and found a wonderland of recipes designed for one person, cooked in doll-size dishes. I didn’t think I had anything that small until I took another look in the cupboard. Two 5 x 5 Pyrex baking dishes and a 5 x 7 casserole came with the “cornflower” set Fred brought when we moved in together. I’ll be darned. You can cook in those?

Intrigued, I got on the One Dish Kitchen mailing list, and the first recipe that arrived was this carrot soufflé. I’m not a big fan of cooked carrots, but I was enchanted by the idea of making something so small, about the size of the tiny cakes I made with my Betty Crocker Junior Baking Set in the 1950s. The kit came with tiny boxes of cake and frosting mix, tiny cake pans, cookie sheets, cookie cutters, a rolling pin and a flour sifter. It was all small, but it was the real deal. With my mother’s supervision, I baked tiny edible cakes and cookies. An important step in my domestic goddess training.

Now you can buy those kits on eBay. But there are modern versions for kids. The old package showed two red-headed white kids, the girl cooking and the boy watching. Now the kids are diversified and the boy might actually be cooking.

You can also buy tiny cooking-for-one cookware for adults now. It’s a thing.

Cooking for one is a challenge. A couple days ago, I mixed up some minestrone soup, ate it for two nights in a row, and had enough left over to fill three freezer containers. If we have some kind of disaster, I have enough soup to last for a week. Good thing it’s delicious. Could I have made the soup in a smaller amount? Perhaps, but I used a can of beans and a can of tomatoes and half a cabbage . . . if I split it up, what would I do with the rest? As it is, I’m looking at Cole slaw for a week to use up the rest of the cabbage.

The soufflé baked for 50 minutes. The edges came out burnt, I’m not sure why, but the inside was fluffy and big enough for me to have two modest servings. One Dish Kitchen has more recipes, pizza, desserts, salads, all kinds of things. But I’m kind of sad I don’t have any leftovers after all that work.

When my father was widowed and alone, he had a phobia of leftovers. He would use tiny portions of the cheese powder and noodles in the mac and cheese box, for example, to make just a little bit. Me, I’d cook and eat the whole box.

There has to be a middle ground between too much and not enough. When I first got married back in the early 1970s, I received two Betty Crocker Dinner for Two cookbooks. They’re designed for newlyweds, with sections on subjects like how to set a pleasing table, but they’re also full of recipes cut down to just enough for two. I was surprised to find I still have them on the bookshelf. If I blow off the dust, I can make enough for myself and a little to spare. I might have to adapt some of the recipes. Back in those days, nobody worried about carbs, cholesterol, or fat. Oh, Betty Crocker, how times have changed.

I’m still figuring out the cooking-for-one puzzle. Meanwhile, I cooked my first soufflé. Not bad. And now I know how to spell soufflé. 

How about you? Are you a make-just-enough or a make-a-lot-and-have-leftovers-for-days kind of person? If you’re alone, how do you handle the tendency to cook too much, not enough, or not cook at all?

More to read:

Betty Crocker’s Right-Size Recipes

The Ultimate Cooking for One Cookbook by Joanie Zisk of onedishkitchen.com

“13 things that make cooking for one so much easier,” USA Today. This is mostly stuff they’d like you to buy and that you probably don’t need, but they are intriguing.

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