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"Roundheads and Ramblings"

March 2013

Easter and April Fool's Day


Although Easter often falls in April,  it comes early this year, ending up on the last day of March. The calculation of the first Sunday after the first ecclesiastical full moon (which may not really be full at all) after the vernal equinox (which is set at March 21, whether it is or not) is a question best left to astronomers.  And I hope you're not expecting an explanation of what colored eggs and Easter bunnies have to do with the church holiday.  Suffice it to say that rabbits, tulips, and eggs are all signs of the new beginnings of Spring and pre-date the celebration of Easter. 
 
            Since Easter does not have to occur in April at all, the one thing we can count on is that some of us will start April by making fools of ourselves.  Did  you ever wonder where April Fool's Day originated?  Fools are always with us, of course, but why is there a special day to call attention to them?  One explanation is tied to that confusing date of Easter.  In the calendar devised by Julius Caesar's astronomers, there were a few too many days.  They had posited a year of 365 days and even added a leap year every four years. But the solar  year is a actually 365.242199 days long, which means that the calendar got ahead of itself by one day every 128 years.  By 1582, there were serious concerns that Easter was not being celebrated on the right day because the calendar was out of whack. 
 
            Pope Gregory XIII declared that something had to be done to restore God's timetable.  His official astronomers went to work and created the Gregorian calendar, which most Christian countries still follow. To make up for the ten days that had been added over the centuries, they cancelled the days between October 5 and October 14.  They also declared that any full century year would not be a leap year unless it was divisible by 40 (so 2000, but not 1900). And while they were at it, they moved the beginning of the year from April 1 to January 1.  Then all they had to do was convince the rest of Europe to adopt the new calendar.
 
            That was not as easy as it sounded, especially since a large part of Europe was occupied by Frenchmen, who did not like being told what to do by an Italian pope. On April 1, there were New Year's celebrations all over France, while the rest of the continent made fun of those "poor French fish" who didn't know what day it was.  The first April Fools Day prank seems to have been pinning a picture of a fish on a Frenchman's back to show his foolishness.
 
            Since then, the jokes have gotten more elaborate, if not more sophisticated.  Historians of such things are pretty much agreed upon the best joke of all time.  In 1957, BBC news ran a picture of a tree festooned with long strands of spaghetti.  The accompanying report announced that ideal pasta-growing conditions in Switzerland were producing a bumper crop.  Thousands of views wrote or called to ask where they could by their own spaghetti trees.  Inquirers were instructed to plant a strand of pasta in a can of tomato sauce and hope for the best.
 
            My personal favorites include the pranks played by fast food companies. Taco Bell announced in 1996 that it had purchased the Liberty Bell, which would from then on be known as the Taco Liberty Bell.  Patriotic citizens were outraged and besieged Washington D.C. with their demands to cancel the sale. Two years later, Burger King proudly heralded the creation of a left-handed Whopper.  It would contain exactly the same ingredients, but everything would be rotated 180 degrees for the convenience of their left-hand customers.  Customers dutifully ordered one or the other.

So there are some things to look forward to this coming weekend.  I plan to spend much of the three-day weekend working through Larry Brooks's "Story Structure" before I plunge any further into the writing of my next book.  While I'm doing that, this blog will take a short vacation.  Then when we come back, we'll start with a review of what all is involved in the creation of a self-published book.  If you're a new writer, the next week will contain a series of posts designed especially for you.  In the meantime, "Happy Easter, to everyone who celebrates it.  I'll see you back here on April Fool's Day -- no foolin!

A Check-List for New Writers

I've been noticing that some very new writers are posing some old questions on the various writer discussion venues.  There's nothing wrong with that, understand.  When each new batch of writers asks the same questions, I take it as a sign that these are important issues.
So maybe it's time to re-circulate some of the answers.This checklist comes from Shelley Hitz at self-publishing-coach.com.  She says:

"Self publishing is a comprehensive task.  Actually there are several steps involved:  writing, pre-publication tasks, formatting, publishing and book marketing.  To help you visualize the process, I've put together a "Self Publishing Checklist" report and mindmap. I'm a very visual person and a checklist like this really helps me wrap my mind around the process."
 
I'm happy to pass it along. Later this week, I'll be posting a series of comments on each of the sections for those of you who need more than a mindmap. Stay tuned.




Still Hungry? Try a Hilton Head Dinner.

Here are some Hilton Head restaurants we visited for dinner last week.  Be forewarned: most of them are pricey, but at the same time they were worth every penny!

1. We started with an old favorite -- Ruan Thai. The food here is authentic Thai cuisine.  The only concession to western tastes  they make is to serve dishes seasoned on the mild side.  But they bring to your table a carousel of hot sauces, each one outdoing the last in sheer fire.  You get to choose how hot you like it. Another nice touch. Almost every dish comes decorated in some way with intricate carvings of vegetables, or edible orchids, or different-colored rices.  If you  order ice tea, they even turn the paper straw covering into an elaborate flower for you.  Great fun here.

2. Then there was Vine!  Even our resort concierge was surprised that we had been able to get a reservation there.  (We did it by calling way ahead and settling for Monday night at 5:30 PM.) They have a regular clientele that book their tables months in advance.  My dinner that night was a simple veal scallopini, lightly breaded and pan-fried in nothing but butter.  It arrived with a separate bowl of rocket greens, shaved red onion, and cherry tomatoes in a simple viniagrette. he crowning touch came when they poured the salad on top of the cutlet. And for dessert? We shared a bacon sundae -- vanilla ice cream topped with reduced maple syrup, whipped cream, and sprinkled with crisp crumbled bacon and crystallized fennel. Sounds terrible?  Tastes divine!

3. Another find was Wise Guys -- an elegant steak place.  The plates were simple -- perfectly cooked fillet, silky whipped potato, and tiny French green beans sauteed in butter.  Dessert that night was a "flight" of Creme brulee -- four small ramekins -- vanilla bean topped with fresh strawberry; dark chocolate khalua topped with a chocolate straw; chambord, topped with fresh raspberry; and cointreau, topped with mandarin orange segment.

4. On our final night, we tried a less expensive American restaurant.  It was called Truffles and sported a huge iron pig at the front door.  We chose to start with an appetizer this time in lieu of dessert.  We had a tub of warm chopped mushroom spread served with thin, hot, lavishly buttered toasts.  My meal brought more tiny green beans to decorate a plate of bone-in fried chicken that had been marinated in a soy-ginger sauce and a heaping serving of truffled macaroni and cheese.  Grandma never made it so good!

The key to Hilton Head dining?  Remember that  no one cooks; almost everyone eats out!  Call way ahead for reservations, don't snack between meals because you'll want to be hungry, and bring lots of money.  And be prepared to be blown away!

Low Country Yummies

I'm busy this week trying to get a start on my next book, so blog posts may be scarce for a while. But while I'm writing, you'll still need to eat -- or think about eating -- so here are a few suggestions for lunch stops if you happen to find yourself in South Carolina's Low Country.  We tried each of these last week.

1. The Sippin' Cow is a tiny counter lunch spot in in the old town section of Bluffton, not far from Hilton Head.  The menu is hand-written on an old black chalkboard and will amaze you with its variety. but I usually just take whatever is on special.  Last Saturday, that policy brought me a real find -- a veggie eggs Benedict: two English muffin halves, each topped with a huge, juicy-red tomato slice, half a fresh avocado, a poached egg, and hollandaise sauce. It came with some of the best shredded hasb browns I have ever eaten.  I think they had tiny bits of fresh green onion in them. The place is uber-casual.  You place your order at the counter, stake out one of four tables or lean on the window sill, and bus your own dishes, scraping the left-overs (if there are any!) into the garbage. We found this place years ago and keep coming back.

2. In the Tanger 2 Outlet Mall near Hilton Head, we found a place called "Robert Irvine's Nosh." Yes, that Robert Irvine -- the guy from "Restaurant Impossible."  This one was more than possible, however.  Every item was unique.  I had three kinds of deviled eggs (original, barbecue, and chicken ) accompanied by tempura-battered zucchini strips to die for. But no, I didn't figure out which came first -- the chicken or the egg.I rvine was supposed to be in the house the day we were there but had been diverted to California.  Food was great, anyway.

3. There's no lack of good food in Beaufort, SC, but we keep going back to the Magnolia Cafe. It's a long, narrow room, decorated in every cranny with clever kitchen and garden paraphernalia.  This time I had a ham and cheese strata and a garden salad, and then topped it off by buying a large metal rooster for my own kitchen.  They also will send you home with great cinnamon buns and a container of cream cheese frosting, so you can ice you own when you're ready to eat them.

4. And on our last day, we stumbled upon a really authentic French bakery in Hilton Head.  It's hidden away in  a back corner of a strip shopping center, but you can find it by following the smell of fresh baking bread. It's another tiny place with only a few cloth-covered tables and some armchairs, but the food is extraordinary.  I almost tried their "No-Name Soup," because it smelled wonderful, but settled for a half a baguette, lavishly buttered  and then filled with Romaine lettuce, ripe tomatoes, and half-inch thick slices of Brie.
Looking for a Croque Monsieur just like the one you ate in Paris?  A chocolate croissant? It'll be waiting for you here.  Just ask my husband!

"Free" Speeches

I'm reposting this column from motivational speaker Kelly Swanson because it touched a very tender spot this morning.  I spend last week doing a small book tour in South Carolina, the location of my recent book, "The Road to Frogmore." At every appearance, the crowds were good and books sold well. But everywhere I went, people who had enjoyed my talk wanted to invite me to come back and speak at one of their other organizations. Just one phrase was obviously missing from their enthusiastic invitations; "What is your speaker fee?"

Here's what Kelly has to say:

As a motivational speaker, I get a lot of requests to come speak for free.

  • We are a non-profit.
  • We don't have a budget.
  • Times are hard.

And for a while I took this as a normal part of my business. And then I would get on a stage and tell women to believe in their value to the business world, and not to undervalue themselves. I would teach them to ask for what they want, and not settle. And then I would take a job at no pay. Hello – mixed message?

I've said it before, and I'll say it again. Would you expect your plumber to come work for free? Your doctor? Your kids' teachers? Your hairdresser? No. You would consider it highly rude to call up your hairdresser and ask her for highlights but you don't want to pay for them. So why are you asking that speaker to work for free? Especially you groups out there that claim to exist with the purpose of empowering women. You are sending a mixed message. You are teaching women that they are valuable, and then asking them to provide their value for free.

It's not just one woman's group. It's not just a handful. For years there has been a strong pattern of women's empowerment events seeking free speakers. I think it's time for the conversation to change.  It's time to think about the message you send when you ask someone to give of their time, energy, talent, wisdom, expertise – for free.

Does that help the women's movement? Or does it hurt it?

I still do jobs sometimes where I am not paid a fee. But these are not free jobs because in return I ask for something else of value, as a trade. Therefore, I am not doing the work for nothing – but trading value for value. I am paid in other ways.

Your thoughts?

I agree with her completely! I'm willing to do a promotion for a charitable cause if I support their goals, and if they will allow me to raise my book prices to include a donation to their fund-raiser. Under certain circumstances I'll lower my fee to half-price if it appears that lots of books will be sold. I'll accept a speaking engagement at a conference I care about if they pay my registration fees and other conference expenses. But if I have to drive over 700 miles to get to your event, staying over for one or more nights and eating all my meals at my own expense, I expect you to treat me like the professional I am. Why don't other women understand that?