Award-winning author
Unusual times, remarkable places

The "Standard of Ur" from ancient Mesopotamia

The "Standard of Ur" from ancient Mesopotamia

27 September 2012

When life gives you lemons, make lemonade ... or gumbo

Much as we love all the wild animals that come to our yard, they can be a pest when they help themselves to tomatoes in the garden or nearly ripe fruit in our mini-orchard. Our long, hot, dry summers make things worse. The coyotes look for moisture everywhere. They not only drink out of the bucket of water we put out for them but also sometimes chew on the irrigation heads, knock over the birdbath, and bite open vegetables merely to suck the juice out.

The cactus before its fruits were stolen
 Recently, the coyotes climbed up the large cactus outside our dining room to get at its half-ripe fruits, in the process knocking off many leaves and leaving deep gouges from their claws in the leaves that remained.

I had started a cactus garden on the hill visible from my husband's office window, but the cost of large cacti has kept the garden growing slowly. After I got over my distress at what the coyotes had done, I realized that I could  jumpstart my cactus garden by planting all those large leaves in it...and those leaves wouldn't cost a cent. So I did.

But I saved two out to experiment cooking with. The first thing I made was a vegetarian Cajun gumbo. I put the recipe up yesterday at "Meal Times: Ancient Foods for Modern Cooks."

One broken leaf went into a pot of gumbo.
If you've never made gumbo before, my earlier post "Cajun Gumbo Made Easy" has many hints.

If you like meat in your gumbo, I suggest adding diced tasso and/or chopped chicken in step 5 (that is, let the meat simmer with the rest).

I hope you try my recipe out and let me know what you think!

16 September 2012

From niece to aunt

Today I honor my aunt Janet Louise Roberts as part of the "Celebrating Womanhood" blog event initiated by the Cabin Goddess blog.

Cabin Goddess Kriss wrote,

For one day, we want to drown out negativity and celebrate the beauty and pride of women.

These days it seems that some people want us to be ashamed of being women. They want us to believe that we’re less: less intelligent, less important, less human. There is so much negativity out there. For one day, we want to flood the internet with positive messages about women. On September 16, 2012 we’re going to write positive blog posts about women, and we invite you to join us.

Aunt Janet was the woman who inspired my choices and beliefs most. She was unmarried in a time when that was unthinkable. She knew what she wanted out of life and went after it, not letting other people or her health problems discourage her. It took years and years of writing in the sexist 1950s and 1960s before she found an agent to take a chance on her, but she never gave up. Her first novel—of more than a hundred—was published in 1970 when she was 42. She was a career woman who loved both of her jobs, librarian and novelist, and she traveled to many countries researching her novels, often by herself.

What a great example she set! I grew up knowing that even though I was a girl, I still had choices. I could follow my dreams and be successful if I was willing to work hard and ignore naysayers.

More importantly, Aunt Janet taught me to love reading and books. She herself loved to read from childhood. From the time I was small, she encouraged me (and later my siblings) with her birthday and Christmas gifts and her postcards from foreign countries to expand my mind and ambitions and to think beyond Beavercreek, Ohio.

Christmas 1971.  Left to right: Renee Roberts, Mitch Roberts, Janet Louise Roberts, White Star (cat), Vince Roberts, Shauna Roberts

Several gifts stand out. The Little Prince by Antoine de Saint-ExupĂ©ry, my favorite book until I read Jane Eyre. A two-book set for children on geography and world history, my first introduction to ancient history. A book on Renaissance art, which initiated my love of the Renaissance and my knowledge of art. A slide set of art in the Louvre. A wonderful book of fairy tales edited by Andrew Lang—the green one, I think—which I lent to a cute boy in junior high and never got back. All of the volumes of the "Narnia" series; the first was my favorite and I read it over and over, wishing the children never stumbled back into the normal world.

And then there was the eight- or ten-book set put out by Random House called the "Looking Glass Library." I still have seven, battered and faded and slightly speckled with mold from the 29 August 2005 flood in New Orleans. They were the perfect prep for a future science fiction and fantasy writer. Among the books in the set were The Lost World by Sir Arthur Conan Doyle, The Haunted Looking Glass: Ghost Stories Chosen by Edward Gorey, and Edward Lear's A Book of Nonsense.

Aunt Janet died in 1982 after heart surgery. She was only 58, two years older than I am now. I still have two of her postcards, which I use for bookmarks.

The next year, my first niece was born. Eventually I had five nieces and two nephews. I set out to do for them what Aunt Janet had done for me. For most gift-giving events, I gave them books on a wide variety of topics they might never otherwise have read about and toys and games that had won awards for creativity. I sent them postcards from the places I traveled to on business. I gave them extra books for no reason—ones I read and didn't want to keep, ones I got in my bag at professional conferences.

Did I succeed as well as my Aunt Janet in inspiring a love of books, a broad vision of the world and of history, and a willingness to work hard to achieve high goals?

The youngest four are still in high school, so the verdict is still out. But my first niece became a teacher. My second niece loves reading so much that my sister sometimes calls her "Shauna" by mistake; that niece wrote three novels before graduating college with a triple major in English, psychology,and genetics. My third niece loves reading, too, and has her sites set on becoming a marine biologist. I think I can pride myself on not having had a bad influence, at least.

I have no grandnieces or grandnephews yet, but I look forward to extending my Aunt Janet's legacy into a third generation of Roberts children.

“I'd tell you to be careful, except for two things. One, it wouldn't do any good anyhow. And two, I think we tell each other that too much. Be careful. Don't get hurt. Don't take changes. Don't try anything. Don't feel. Might as well be telling each other not to be alive at all. Boils down to the same thing.”
―Catherine Ryan Hyde, Chasing Windmills