Monday, October 26, 2015

Moroccan Spiced Chicken

Two teenagers are keeping me very busy, so I depend  on my crock pot more and more. Here's a recipe I found in a Kroger coupon booklet and tried last week. It's easy, very good, and just a little exotic. Enjoy!

Moroccan Spiced Chicken

2 T cumin
2 t coriander
2 lbs boneless chicken breasts
2 onions, chopped
4 carrots, chopped
4 parsnips, peeled and chopped
4 garlic cloves, minced
1 t cinnamon
1 28 oz. can diced tomatoes, drained
1 cup chicken stock
1/2 cup white wine
4 cups prepared couscous
chopped parsley for garnish

Combine all ingredients except couscous and parsley in the slow cooker. Stir to combine. Cook on LOW for 6-8 hours, until vegetables are tender and chicken is cooked through. Serve over warm couscous and garnish with parsley.

Thanks for visiting and have a great week!

Monday, October 19, 2015

The Billy Goat Curse

If you're a baseball fan, you know it's getting close to that time! The World Series is right around the corner. Will the Chicago Cubs make it to the Series or not? And if they do, will they win? As I mentioned in a prior post, I'm not really a sports fan, but while traveling to Chicago over the summer, I saw Wrigley Field and had lunch at one of The Billy Goat Tavern locations. During that time in The Windy City I learned about some fascinating baseball trivia. Check out the article below from The History Channel's website by Evan Andrews. This is the most thorough account I've read about the Billy Goat Curse. The opening paragraph is rather gruesome, but aside from that, the remainder of the article is informative, and quite humorous at times. 

1945 World Series Program. (Credit: Iconic Archive/Getty Images)
1945 World Series Program. (Credit: Iconic Archive/Getty Images)

In April 2013, an unidentified man drove up to Wrigley Field, home of the Chicago Cubs, and left behind a box containing a black, severed goat’s head. News outlets immediately speculated on what the shocking parcel might portend. Was it a warning? Was it a threat against team owner Tom Ricketts? But it didn’t take long for Chicago’s long-suffering fans to get the message. For them, the package was an obvious, if not grotesque, reference to an incident that has been plaguing their team since the end of World War II: the dreaded “Curse of the Billy Goat.”

1945 World Series between the Detroit Tigers and Chicago Cubs. Cubs Don Johnson scores. (Credit: Sporting News/Getty Images)
1945 World Series between the Detroit Tigers and Chicago Cubs. Cubs Don Johnson scores. (Credit: Sporting News/Getty Images)

The hex in question dates back to October 6, 1945, when the Cubs were gearing up to face the Detroit Tigers in Game Four of the World Series. At the time, Chicago’s “North Siders” were one of the most successful teams in big league baseball. They’d won back-to-back championships in 1907 and 1908, and in the years since, they’d notched seven more appearances in the Fall Classic. Many Cubs fans believed 1945 would once again be their year. They’d come into Game Four with a 2-1 lead over the Tigers, and only needed two more wins to claim the title.

Ushers with goat at Wrigley Field.  (Credit: Keystone-France/Getty Images)
Ushers with goat at Wrigley Field. (Credit: Keystone-France/Getty Images)

As excited Chicagoans flooded into Wrigley on October 6, Billy Sianis strode up to the gate with two tickets in hand—one for himself, and one for his pet goat “Murphy.” Sianis was a Greek immigrant who owned a local watering hole called the Billy Goat Tavern, and Murphy was his beloved, bleating mascot. He’d rescued the animal after it fell off a passing truck in the mid-1930s, and it had since become a fixture at his bar. Sianis often paraded the goat around town to drum up business. He’d even grown a goatee and adopted the nickname “Billy Goat.” On the day of the World Series game, he brought Murphy to the ballpark to publicize his bar and bring good luck to the Cubs. The animal was draped in a banner reading, “WE GOT DETROIT’S GOAT.”
There are a few different legends about what happened next. One has the team’s ushers stopping Sianis at the gate and blocking him from bringing his goat inside. When Sianis protested that he had a ticket for his bearded pal, Cubs owner P.K. Wrigley appeared and told him Murphy couldn’t come in “because the goat stinks.” As the story goes, Sianis then threw his arms in the air and put a curse on the team. “The Cubs ain’t gonna win no more!” he supposedly said. “The Cubs will never win a World Series so long as the goat is not allowed in Wrigley Field.”

Chicago barkeeper Billy Goat Sianis, lounging in the doorway of bar.  (Photo by Francis Miller/The LIFE Picture Collection/Getty Images)
Chicago barkeeper Billy Goat Sianis, lounging in the doorway of bar. (Photo by Francis Miller/The LIFE Picture Collection/Getty Images)

Another version claims Sianis and Murphy were admitted to the park and allowed to take their seats. But following a brief rain delay, other fans complained that Murphy’s soggy pelt was stinking up the stands. Most sources say Sianis issued his hex after he was politely asked to leave, but a few claim he sent it later in a telegram that read, “You are going to lose this World Series…You are never going to win the World Series again because you insulted my goat.”
However it came about, Billy Sianis’ curse coincided with a disastrous slump for the Chicago Cubs. The team lost 4-1 on October 6, and went on to drop two of the next three games and hand the Tigers the 1945 championship. After the defeat, Sianis supposedly sent P.K. Wrigley a message that read: “Who stinks now?”

Black cat stopped the Cubs vs. Mets game momentarily in 1969. (Credit: New York Daily News Archive/Getty Images)
Black cat stopped the Cubs vs. Mets game momentarily in 1969. (Credit: New York Daily News Archive/Getty Images)

In the years since Sianis issued his black magic, the Cubs’ have had one of the most dismal records in professional baseball. The team still hasn’t been back to the World Series, and they’ve often ended the season near the very bottom of the National League. Fans were initially slow to blame their sputtering form on a goat, but the hex became part of club lore after Chicago sportswriters started mentioning it in their columns. Its legend only grew when the 1969 Cubs imploded after going into September with the division lead. As if fans needed any more bad omens, the downward spiral kicked off during a game against the Mets at Shea Stadium, where a black cat appeared on the field and crossed in front of the Cubs’ dugout. The team went on to miss the playoffs.
Billy Sianis officially “lifted” his goat curse prior to his death in 1970, but even he couldn’t turn the team’s fortunes around. Since then, the Cubs’ management has made several tongue-in-cheek attempts to ward off the jinx. They allowed Sianis’ nephew Sam to parade goats across Wrigley Field on several occasions, and in 2008, they even had a Greek Orthodox priest bless the diamond with holy water. Fans have also launched their own efforts to break the hex. In 2011, a group of Chicagoans formed a “Reverse the Curse” charity aimed at winning the Cubs good karma by donating goats to families in places like Africa. Another good will gesture came during the 2012 season, when five men raised money for cancer research by marching a goat named “Wrigley” 2,000 miles from Arizona to Chicago.

Chicago Cubs Hall of Famer Ernie Banks (L) and Sam Sianis, owner of The Billy Goat Tavern, parade around Chicago's Wrigley Field before the start of the Cub's game with Cincinnati Reds in 1994. (Credit: The Sporting News/Getty Images)
Chicago Cubs Hall of Famer Ernie Banks (L) and Sam Sianis, owner of The Billy Goat Tavern, parade around Chicago’s Wrigley Field before the start of the Cub’s game with Cincinnati Reds in 1994. (Credit: The Sporting News/Getty Images)

While some fans have tried to crush the billy goat curse, others argue that it never existed to begin with—and they may have a point. Newspaper reports from October 1945 mention Sianis and his goat being asked to leave Wrigley Field, but talk of a hex didn’t crop up until years later. According to Cubs historians Glenn Stout and Richard A. Johnson, the curse was actually a joke started by the Chicago sportswriters who frequented the Billy Goat Tavern. Sianis, always eager for publicity, simply played along.
Chicago Tribune columnist Mike Royko tried to put the issue to rest in 1997, when he wrote an article arguing that the Cubs’ real curse was P.K. Wrigley’s mismanagement and hesitancy to recruit African American ballplayers after the league was integrated. “It’s about time that we stopped blaming the failings of the Cubs on a poor, dumb creature that is a billy goat,” the column read. “This has been going on for years, and it has reached the point where some people actually believe it.”

A live goat is brought onto the field to "remove a curse" placed on the Cubs during their last World Series appearance in 1945.  (Credit: Brian Bahr/Getty Images)
A live goat is brought onto the field to “remove a curse” placed on the Cubs during their last World Series appearance in 1945. (Credit: Brian Bahr/Getty Images)

Even if the “Curse of the Billy Goat” is just a myth, there’s no denying that it’s been 107 years since the Chicago Cubs last won the World Series—far longer than any other club in professional baseball. The superstitions likely won’t go away until the team at least captures the pennant, but current Billy Goat Tavern owner Sam Sianis has claimed that his uncle’s jinx is no longer to blame for the Cubs’ title drought. “The hex is off,” he told the New York Times in 1989. “If they want to win, they win themselves.”
Had you ever heard of the Billy Goat Curse? Thanks for visiting and have a great week!

Monday, October 12, 2015

Before Scandal: Race and Sex in Political History

I just finished reading One Drop of Me by Harry Kraus and thoroughly enjoyed it. This novel opens in the present, while the main character, Lisa, is recovering from a traumatic experience. To help herself cope, Lisa starts writing a play about Sally Hemings. As the story progresses, the reader sees parallels between Lisa's life and the life of Sally Hemings. The narrative moves back and forth from the present to the past, so we get a clear picture of Lisa's day to day existence, as well as that of Sally's. This novel was hard to put down! So if you love history, as well as some great storytelling, be sure to check out One Drop of Me.

With that book fresh on my mind, I decided to republish this post that I wrote back in January of 2013. Hope you'll enjoy it a second time around!

The titillating television series Scandal is now in its fifth season on ABCIf you are unfamiliar with the show, it centers around Olivia Pope (Kerry Washington), a former media relations consultant who has the power to "fix" things for everyone. Now, she is on her own working for herself with a new law firm but has a huge scandal of her own to contend with.  
While working on a gubernatorial campaign as a media relations consultant, she had an affair with then candidate, Fitzgerald Thomas Grant III (Tony Goldwyn).  Now as a fixer, she is called upon to fix a scandal in the president’s office.  However, the president now residing in office just happens to be Fitzgerald Thomas Grant III, and his affair with Olivia begins all over again.  By the way, did I mention Olivia is black and Grant is white?

Forbidden love is nothing new in politics, but throw race into the mix and it becomes explosive!  According to the Monticello website, “The claim that Thomas Jefferson fathered children with Sally Hemings, a slave at Monticello, entered the public arena during Jefferson's first term as president, and it has remained a subject of discussion and disagreement for two centuries.

“In September 1802, political journalist James T. Callender, a disaffected former ally of Jefferson, wrote in a Richmond newspaper that Jefferson had for many years ‘kept, as his concubine, one of his own slaves.’ ‘Her name is Sally," Callender continued, adding that Jefferson had "several children’ by her.”  Visit the Monticello site for further factual information.  The novel Sally Hemings by Barbara Chase-Raiboud  provides a fascinating fictional account.

Another interesting story revolves around Vice President Richard Mentor Johnson and his mulatto, Julia Chinn.  Johnson served as vice president under Martin Van Buren.  He and Chinn are referred  to briefly  in distinguished historian Thomas Fleming’s novel, The Wages of Fame.

Undercover Blackman says, “How much of a “Negro” was Julia Chinn? Well, she was a slave… a slave Johnson inherited from his father. She was “Negro” enough that Richard Johnson couldn’t have married her legally...Yet she was his mate. His common-law wife, in effect.

“ ‘She was the hostess at his Kentucky home when [French aristocrat] the Marquis de Lafayette visited,’ wrote Lindsey Apple, a retired Georgetown College history professor, in answer to questions from me.”

Johnson served in Kentucky’s state legislature (1804-1806; 1819), the U.S. House of Representatives (1807-1819; 1829-1837) and the U.S. Senate (1819-1829) prior to his becoming vice president.
Richard Mentor Johnson

Abraham Lincoln made reference to Chinn in a rather non-complimentary way. He exploited Johnson’s relationship with her to score a point against Stephen Douglas during the Lincoln-Douglas debates of 1858.
His words are as follow:

...I have never seen to my knowledge a man, woman or child who was in favor of producing a perfect equality, social and political, between negroes and white men. I recollect of but one distinguished instance that I ever heard of so frequently as to be entirely satisfied of its correctness – and that is the case of Judge Douglas’ old friend Col. Richard M. Johnson.

One of the most recent political indiscretions revealed was South Carolina Senator (and segregationist) Strom Thurmond’s love affair at 23 with his family’s African American maid, Carrie Butler, who was 15.  Newsday mentioned in its obituary of Thurmond that rumors flew for years in South Carolina that Thurmond, while still a segregationist, had a relationship with a black woman that produced a daughter.  Jack Bass, author of the Thurmond biography Ol Strom, says, “Thurmond never denied it, though he kept it under the rug for years...” 

Thurmond’s love child from his relationship, Essie May Washington-Williams, penned her memoir, Dear Senator, in 2005.  She waited until after her father’s death, at age 100, to reveal his secret.

Publisher’s Weekly review  of Dear Senator explains that Carrie Butler died at 38 in a hospital's poverty ward.  Although she rarely appears in the memoir, Ms. Washington-Williams “fashions her a kind of love story: ‘I knew [Thurmond] loved my mother. I believed he loved me, after his fashion.’”

The love story Ms. Washington portrayed in Dear Senator provided the inspiration for my novel The Governor’s Sonsa provocative tale that examines a “politically incorrect” relationship of a young law student who falls in love with his family's hired help, a college age black girl.

Perhaps there are more forbidden love stories hidden in the annals of history just waiting to be discovered. Maybe they'll inspire more novels—or even influence a story line in a TV series.

Are you a fan of "Scandal"? Thanks for visiting and have a great week!

Monday, October 5, 2015

Show, Don't Tell: Can You Explain That?

"Show, don't tell." If you're a writer, you've probably heard this as advice from other writers and read about it in craft books many, many times. I was recently asked to explain it to a new writer, but after using a few "for instances," I decided to find something that would do a better job of describing it.

Here's an excellent article by Erin over at Daily Writing Tips.  If you're new to writing, this information will help you clearly understand how to show and not tell! By the way, I just discovered Daily Writing Tips, and it's a great place to find answers for any writing questions you may have!

Show, Don't Tell 

Anyone who’s ever written a short story or taken a freshman composition course has heard the words “show, don’t tell.”

I know those words can be frustrating. You might not know exactly what “show, don’t tell” means. Or you might believe that you are showing when you’re really telling.

While “telling” can be useful, even necessary, most people don’t realize how vital “showing” is to an effective story, essay, or even a blog post. Showing allows the reader to follow the author into the moment, to see and feel and experience what the author has experienced. Using the proper balance of showing and telling will make your writing more interesting and effective.

“Okay, I get it,” you’re thinking. “But how do I do it? How do I bring more ‘showing’ into my writing?”

I’m glad you asked. Here are some tips that will help make your writing more vivid and alive for your reader.

1. Use dialogue
This is probably one of the first things I talk to my students about when I have them write personal essays. Dialogue allows the reader to experience a scene as if they were there. Instead of telling the reader your mom was angry, they can hear it for themselves:
“Justin Michael,” mom bellowed, “Get in here this instant!”
Dialogue can give your reader a great deal about character, emotion and mood.

2. Use sensory language
In order for readers to fully experience what you’re writing about, they need to be able to see, hear, taste, smell and touch the world around them. Try to use language that incorporates several senses, not just sight.

3. Be descriptive
I’m sure everyone remembers learning to use adjectives and adverbs in elementary school. When we’re told to be more descriptive, it’s easy to go back to those things that we were taught. But being descriptive is more than just inserting a string of descriptive words. It’s carefully choosing the right words and using them sparingly to convey your meaning.
The following example is from a short story I wrote.

Telling: He sits on the couch holding his guitar.

There’s nothing wrong with that sentence. It gives the reader some basic information, but it doesn’t create an image. Compare that sentence with this:

Showing: His eyes are closed, and he’s cradling the guitar in his arms like a lover. It’s as if he’s trying to hold on to something that wants to let go.

The second example takes that basic information and paints a picture with it. It also uses figurative language—in this case, the simile “cradling the guitar in his arms like a lover”—to help create an image.

When using description, it’s important not to overdo it. Otherwise, you can end up with what I call “police blotter” description. For example:
He was tall, with brown hair and blue eyes. He wore a red shirt and jeans, and a brown leather jacket.

4. Be specific, not vague
This is another one I’m constantly reminding my college students about. Frequently, they will turn in essays with vague, fuzzy language. I’m not sure if they think this type of writing sounds more academic, but all it really does is frustrate the reader.

Instead of writing, “I had never felt anything like it before in my entire life,” take the time to try and describe what that feeling was, and then decide how best to convey that feeling to the reader. Your readers will thank you for it.

Hope this information from Daily Writing Tips is useful. If you're a seasoned writer, have you had to explain "show, don't tell" to a novice?  If you're new to writing, have ever had questions about it?

Thanks for visiting and have a great week!

Originally posted 10/7/13