I Need Your Help Figuring Out My Writing Skills

Hi folks,

I am in the process of figuring out how to make my writing more effective.

If you are so inclined, please help me out by answering any or all of the following questions. You can either respond in the comment box or else send me a private email at lenleatherwood@gmail.com.

Your answers can be one word if that’s easier or very short. Don’t feel burdened by this. Simply toss in a few words that might help guide me.

The questions are:

What do you perceive as my values?
What do you consider my strong points?
What do I do for you?
What benefit do you get out of my blog?
How would you describe me?

With your answers, I can get a better feel for my strengths and what writing seems to hit home the most.

Thank you in advance for helping me. I realize everyone’s time is limited and I am just hoping you’ll take just a moment to toss in your two-cents worth.

Fondly, Len.

Conceptional chalk drawing - Help needed

Baking as a Coping Mechanism

The world has been filled with troubles over the past several days and I have been posting recipes about honey-sweetened goodies I’ve been baking. Lest you think I am a complete out-to-lunch idiot who never reads the news or watches a television newscast, let me just say that baking is my stress-reliever. When I hear stories of the violence in the Gaza Strip or a passenger plane shot down by pro-Russian rebels, my first reaction is to get down a cookbook, thumb through its pages until I see a picture of a cookie, cake or pie that looks tasty, and then head over to the drawer where I keep my aprons.

I don’t know why I’ve developed this coping mechanism. Maybe it’s the fact that I can control the cooking project that I am undertaking. I can measure out exactly 1 ½ cups of flour, 1 ½ cup oatmeal, add 1 teaspoon of vanilla, 2 eggs, 2 teaspoons of baking powder, a little salt, 1 teaspoon cinnamon, 1 cup of honey and a cup of raisins or cranberries or bananas and after mixing it all up, I’m going to have a perfect cookie or cake to show for it. Maybe it’s the smile on my husband Ray’s face when he comes in to see what I’ve whipped up or that satisfied look he gets after he’s taken a bite. Maybe it’s the sense of pleasure I feel when I taste my cookie or piece of cake and the flavors are so nicely blended together. I’m not sure, but I do know I feel better.

That is not how I feel when I hear all of this bad news from around the world. Hearing about violence, pain, and suffering leaves me walking around with a heavy heart and mind, no matter how many prayers I might offer up.

So, my reflex is to create something new and delectable that will bring a little measure of happiness.

Not very complicated – nothing like these world events that have layer upon layer of historical complications that serve as the motivator for more human suffering. My only goal is to bring a bit of comfort into the world, however small. I cannot fix the problems in the Middle East or in Russia or even here in the United States. I can make a cookie or cake that will brighten the face of my husband, my children or my students. It’s not much, but it is the best that I can do in my small way, in my small world.

My other offering is my prayer: For peace, compassion and understanding for all people and their leaders in our world.

Here’s to baking and to hope for a peaceful world.

Amen.

Joy of Baking

Delicious Honey-Sweetened Lemon Raisin Scones

I made these a few days ago and they are really good. Not light and fluffy like the scones we’re all used to, but rather heavy and dense. Apparently, this is more like an English scone. Still, do not be deterred. These have a lovely layer of flavors and are very tasty with hot tea or coffee.

Honey-Sweetened Lemon Raisin Scones

2 cups whole-wheat pastry flour
1 T baking powder
¼ t baking soda
¼ t salt
6 T butter
1 cup raisins
1/2 c honey
2 t lemon zest
2 T yogurt
2 eggs

In a large bowl mix together the pastry flour, baking powder, soda and salt. Chop up the butter into squares and add to the flour mix. mix in the butter by using your fingers and working the butter into the flour mixture until the mix looks like coarse crumbs. In a 1 cup measuring cup measure out the honey and add the yogurt, the eggs and the lemon zest. Mix well. Add to flour/butter mixture. Stir until all has just combined. Try not to over mix this. It may still be a bit wet or sticky, but that is okay.

Lightly flour the a pastry board and dump the scone mix onto this and flatten them out to a circle that is about 8 inches. Sprinkle a little more flour on the top if it still feels sticky. Using a butter knife cut the scones into 8 wedges.

Lightly spray a cookie sheet with non-stick spray and set each scone wedge onto the tray leaving about 1 inch space between them.

Bake at 375 for about 18 to 20 minutes. Enjoy! Makes 8 scones.

lemon raisin scone

Richard Linklater Film: Boyhood – GO SEE IT

ellarmaster

I just returned from seeing Richard Linklater’s film Boyhood and I have to say this is a must-see. The film spans 12 years (literally) and you watch the main character, Mason, played by Ellar Coltrane, grow and change from age 6 to age 18. The other characters: Patricia Arquette as Mason’s mother, Ethan Hawke as his father and Lorelei Linklater as his sister also age over the course of the movie via natural time. The story centers around the family dynamics of Mason’s divorced parents and the series of husbands his mother acquires over the years. The film is set in Texas beginning in the early 1970′s.

The movie was shot over several days every year for 12 years and has an organic feel since you see the children, Mason and sister Samantha, physically get bigger and emotionally become more mature over those years. Also, interestingly enough, you see Hawke’s character, along with Arquette’s, experience their own physical and emotional transformation.

This is the chronicle of a typical divorced family with a few twists and turns along the way. What makes this film unique is the actual real-time aging as well as superb dialogue, particularly between young Mason and his father, Mason, Sr.

This film is well worth the time, money and effort it will take to go see it. It is long – 2 3/4 hours – but I can guarantee you won’t notice the time. In fact, you actually will want more not less before it’s over.

Boyhood is a strong and thought-provoking film about imperfect people figuring out how to live in this world. Run don’t walk to see it. Let me know what you think once you’ve had a chance to watch it. I’ll be interested in your impressions.

Boyhood_filmNight night.

KCRW’s Free Gregg Allman Concert

Today we saw Sturgill Simpson and his band and then Gregg Allman and his band. This was all free from the public radio station, KCRW. It was an incredibly well-organized free concert with lots of parking, food trunks and clean portable toilets. The music was excellent and the acoustics were great. Gregg Allman’s voice was as strong as ever and his band was tight. Sturgill gave a solid performance as well as the warm-up band for Gregg. All in all a fabulous way to spend a Saturday.

Here are some photos:

In line

In line

 

Our friend, Greg, and his son, Teddy

 

Greg and Teddy

 

Ray and Henry

 

Ray and Henry 1

 

Bronwyn (Our friend and mother of Teddy and Henry)

Bronwyn

New Friends We Met In Line

Palos Verdes Couple

Getting Settled

getting settled

Boys watching Sturgill Simpson and his band

Back shot of boys

Close up of Sturgill

Sturgill

Gregg Allman

Gregg - front shot

Everybody Enjoying the Night

Night shot

Guitar Player with Gregg Allman

Front Shot - Guitarist

Side Shot of Gregg Allman

side shot Greg A.

Guitarist doing a fine job on that guitar

guitarist

Horn Players

IMG_1566

Gregg Playing the Organ

IMG_1609

Fabulous venue, great music, lots of fun.

Another event in the next week or so.  Check out KCRW’s website for details.  Well worth going!

5-Star Honey-Sweetened Oatmeal Banana Muffins

1/2 cup coconut oil
2 eggs
1 cup mashed bananas (3 or 4 medium-sized bananas)
1/2 warmed honey
1/4 cup yogurt
1 teaspoon soda
1 cup unbleached whole wheat flour
1/2 cup ground flaxseed meal
3/4 teaspoon salt
1 cup rolled oats
1/2 cup chopped peanuts

Preheat oven to 375 degrees and grease 18 muffin tins

In a mixer bowl, combine oil, eggs, bananas, and honey. Cream well.

Stir together flour and salt. Add to the creamed mixture, mixing until just blended. Still in oats.

Fill muffins pans 2/3 full of batter. Bake in preheated oven for 18 – 20 minutes. Remove from pans and cool on wire racks.

Yield: 1 1/2 dozen muffins

Cream Cheese Frosting:

1 package cream cheese
1/4 cup honey
1 teaspoon vanilla
1/8 cup maple sugar

Whip on high using mixer. Chill in refrigerator before frosting muffins.

Banana Nut Cake

 

inside bn cake

Today with Luna

This is a short blog tonight. Granddaughter Luna was here for most of the day and I’m beat. Of course, I had a wonderful time having her here. There is nothing like her sweet face to make me feel completely happy. Here are some pictures to chronicle our day together:

Luna with Grandpa

Ray and Luna1

 

Heading off to play

 

Luna - garden

Looking up at the avocado tree

Looking up at the Avocado Tree

Playing with a bug

PLaying in the chair

Water hose

Luna and water hose

Drinking from hose

Drinking from hose

Playing with Cordie

Luna, Cordie and Rock

Heading back off

Walking, Shadow, Side View

Stopping to Check In

Stopped, Shadow, Front View

Baby and dog

Luna and Cordie near hose

More baby and dog

Luna sitting with Cordie

A Practice in Imitation

I am experimenting with a new way to get myself unstuck in reference to a novel I’ve been working on. I have imitated the beginning of a favorite novel of mine: Snow Falling on Cedars, but have substituted one of my main characters and have changed the lines to reflect my character, not Guterson’s. Also, this is a way for me to try a different approach to the structure of the novel – starting late in the story and working back from there – and to get a clearer picture of this character.

This is just the first paragraph, but it took me a while so this is my blog for tonight.

The alleged murderer, Jacob Price, sat slumped at the defendant’s table, his arms tightly folded across his chest – the stance of a man already resigned to spend the rest of his life behind bars. Many townsfolk who had flocked to the trial would later say that his posture reflected his guilt; a few countered that it had more to do with his uncertainty that he would get a fair trial. Whatever the assessment, Jacob Price did not alter his position for the entire proceeding. He wore a gray suit with a light blue dress shirt and a dark blue tie. His body, especially his slim torso and long legs, brought to mind a long-distance runner, not one ounce of extra flesh. His face featured delicate cheekbones and large blue eyes; his hair, blond with gray at his temples, was pulled back into a long ponytail. Despite the seriousness of the charges waged against him, Jacob didn’t fidget in his chair or glance back at the crowd – instead he stared at a distant spot on the far wall and barely blinked.

I will proceed tomorrow with another paragraph or two. I am seeing how to populate my fictional town the way Guterson does. The advice to see who else lives in the town where my characters reside was suggested by one of my writing friends. I am thinking of this as a writing exercise and a way to play while I get clearer about my characters.

It is stirring things up in my imagination for sure.

Off I go to bed…

SnowFallingOnCedars

Tonight at the Foundation Room at House of Blues on Sunset Blvd.

Our friend, Monte Malone, invited Ray and me to come hear some of the new talent that he’s working with at A & R Worldwide. They were playing at the Foundation Room at the House of Blues.  Here were the performers:

 

10501779_10152561456325520_6763788465078388757_n

 

This is a great venue to hear these acts.  Here is a picture of Craig Ballam of Shobud performing:

 

Foundation Room

 

Craig Ballam of Shobud

Here is Aussie Singer-Songwriter Tim Wheatley

(Not my Photo)

The truth is that there were so many people there for Tim Wheatley that I couldn’t get close to take a picture.  He was excellent.

Tim Wheatley001

Then there was Ari Herstand, who had a strong and distinctive presence.

Ari Herstand

And then Illumination Road with a tight band and a singer with a great voice.

Illumination Road

It was a fun evening filled with fine music.  Thank you, Monte!  As always, it was a treat.

Full of Grace

There is a little girl at our church whose name is Grace. Her mom brings her periodically to the Breakfast Club, where we prepare a hardy and nutritious breakfast for anybody who comes through the door on the 2nd and 4th Saturday of every month. We usually feed anywhere between 100 to 200 people, who are homeless or simply poor. Grace has been coming since she was itty-bitty and has helped serve eggs, fruit, sausage, bread pudding or whatever else we concoct with the donated food from MEND. Grace is quiet and helpful and a bit shy when it comes to interacting with all of us adults, who are either fellow volunteers or guests, as we call our diners.

About a month ago, Grace told her mom that she wanted to start a “committee” or a “movement” so that people would help the homeless. She had already made a sign asking people to donate clothes and she asked if she could put a box in front of their house and also one at her mom’s work. Her mother agreed, but confided to her friends that she hoped that “Grace’s faith in human compassion was correct.”

Last Saturday, we had our usual Breakfast Club. However, this one was slightly different. From my vantage point in the kitchen, I saw Grace and her mom come into the parish hall and my husband, Ray, the coordinator of the Breakfast Club, greet them. After they exchanged a few quiet words, Ray headed off in one direction while they walked back out the door. The next thing I knew, Ray was dragging in two large shelves and Grace and her mom were back with several boxes. It wasn’t long before the shelves were filled with clothes and our breakfast guests were gathering to peruse what was there. I watched Grace – not a shred of ego in her demeanor – stand back and watch as the needy quietly sifted through different sizes and styles and found pieces of clothing that would work best for them. Later, Grace came into the kitchen and all of us volunteers gave her a round of applause for her fine work. Grace looked pleased, but also a little surprised. It was clear from her reaction that she hadn’t made this effort to garner favor with adults. She had done it for one clear reason: there are those among us who need our help.

I expect we’ll see Grace and her boxes of clothes again. More clothes, different clothes. All the ones she brought last Saturday have now found new homes.

A little girl’s mission teaches us all a great truth. When you operate from the belief that people will act with compassion, they will often prove you right. That is called living up to another’s expectations.

I just keep thinking if this new generation of kids is anything like Grace, then this world of ours is going to be just fine.

Grace begets grace, after all. Pure and simple.

Grace and Ray

 

 

 

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