Category Archives: bloganuary

Down in the valley

Bloganuary: Who is your favorite author and why?

Like Anno, what I’m reading and why depends so much on my mood that I wasn’t sure I could pick a single favorite author.

But actually, I do have one.

It’s always bothered me that Maud Hart Lovelace never received the same attention as that other author who spent time in Minnesota.

The Betsy-Tacy books were my constant companions when I was growing up. How many times have I read the series? No idea. And I can’t remember when I “graduated” from the elementary school stories and started reading the high school (and beyond) ones. Relatively young, I think—I remember being dazzled.

I grew up in Maud’s Deep Valley (AKA Mankato). My house was in the area known as Little Syria in Maud’s day. And if I trudged up a sizable hill, I ended up in Betsy’s old neighborhood.

In fact, when I was in junior high, I had a paper route where I delivered papers to Betsy, Tacy, and Tib’s old homes. If you’re of an age, you’ll remember the weekly shoppers that landed on your doorstep—advertising and classifieds held together with a smattering of human interest articles. The route was only once a week (rain, shine, or snow). And I didn’t have to collect any money. Again, if you’re of an age, you’ll remember that part of newspaper delivery.

And it was in junior high that I needed Betsy the most. The progressive school I attended—which was run by the university—closed down when I was in sixth grade. The only other option was the public school system.

So on the first day of junior high, I had no friends. Worse, on the first day of junior high, I already had a reputation—as did everyone who attended the progressive school. Fill in the blank with every derogatory term for mentally deficient, and you’ll have what I was called daily.

By eighth grade, I had a friend group. By eighth grade, I’d spent every quarter on the honor roll, so I was deemed a bookworm, a brain, a nerd.

But in seventh grade, when the days were dark, and I was sore from lugging papers around the neighborhood, I’d pull the Betsy-Tacy high school books off the shelf. I’d escape into her world of picnics and dances, the crowd and crushes. My first inklings that I, too, could be a writer began with watching Betsy write.

There’s much I owe both Betsy and Maud. And that is why Maud Hart Lovelace is my favorite author.

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But where will the vacuum live?

Bloganuary: What irritates you about the home you live in?

Our house was built in the late 80s and still has some of the décor to prove it. (We did finally rid the kitchen of the pink and green wallpaper—a major achievement.)

I’m not sure what the builders were thinking, but while there’s storage space and closets, there’s no good spot for storing upright cleaning equipment—like a vacuum.

The house still had wall-to-wall carpet when we bought it (with dusky pink borders). You’d think someone would’ve paused, looked around, and realized the vacuum needed a place to live.

But really, it’s a minor irritation, and at some point, we’ll rid ourselves of the last vestiges of the 80s. In the meantime, the vacuum will stand sentry, tucked away in one corner of the bedroom, constantly reminding me that I still need to vacuum something.

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Tangled up in green

Bloganuary: What color describes your personality and why?

If you had asked about my favorite color from the time when I could answer that question, I would have said blue.

But I don’t think blue describes my personality.

What does describe my personality has been there from the start, in the author bio I’ve been using for publications:

Charity Tahmaseb has slung corn on the cob for Green Giant and jumped out of airplanes (but not at the same time).

She spent twelve years as a Girl Scout and six in the Army; that she wore a green uniform for both may not be a coincidence.

No, probably not a coincidence. What it is, though? I’m not sure.  

But green feels right, and that’s the answer I’m going with.

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With extra maple syrup

Bloganuary: What’s your favorite meal to cook and/or eat?

I think we’ve already established how I feel about cooking dinner.

That being said, I do have some favorite meals:

  1. Lubia Polo: This is a Persian dish I’ve tried to replicate without much success. I spent an afternoon watching my mother-in-law prepare it, writing down her every move, asking her questions. I’ve attempted my sister-in-law’s version as well. And again, something’s missing. There’s some magical Tahmaseb ingredient that the rest of us simply don’t possess.
  2. Kashke Bademjan: This is another Persian dish, but I’ve only eaten it at restaurants. It’s an eggplant/garlicky concoction that also serves as an appetizer. I love it. I hope to grow some eggplants this year and try making this dish myself.
  3. Breakfast for Dinner: Pancakes, in particular, but all breakfast foods are invited. There is nothing like breakfast for dinner after an especially rough day.

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Hot pizza on a rainy day

Bloganuary: Describe the happiest day of your life

I decided to filter this prompt through the advice in Our Town by Thornton Wilder. If you choose to revisit a day, make it an ordinary one.

It was late spring, a weekday, back when my kids and I were taking karate classes together. The weather was warm enough not to need jackets, so we didn’t bring any to class.

A storm blew in while we were doing roundhouse kicks. After class, it was still raining hard. To wait out the storm, we decided to skip along the covered sidewalk of the strip mall and order take-out pizza for dinner.

Except, when the pizza was ready, it was raining even harder.

Pizza in hand, we debated. Go for it and risk soggy pizza or wait and content ourselves with cold slices when we got home?

We were too hungry to wait. We hunkered over the pizzas, cardboard boxes hot against our palms, and raced for the car. After a few steps, we were soaked through. By the time the three of us were secure in the car, we were laughing.

Maybe it was the endorphins from karate, or the promise of pizza, or that it was so close to summer vacation, but we didn’t stop laughing for the entire drive home—or when we had to race inside through that same downpour.

After we toweled off and hung up our karate uniforms to drip dry, the pizza was—somehow—still hot. It was nothing more than franchise pizza, but we ate and laughed, laughed and ate.

I don’t remember what happened before karate, and I’m not sure what we did for the rest of the evening. But this window of time is something my kids still mention in conversation, even now.

I think this is how those important life milestones should feel but never quite do. It was a burst of pure joy, pure living that can’t be manufactured.

You simply must trust that life will give you some of these moments.

Hot pizza on a rainy day after karate class doesn’t sound like the ingredients for the happiest day of my life. But if I had to pick one day to go back and live again, it would be this one.

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The green, green grass of home

Bloganuary: Do you have a memory that’s linked to a smell?

After the war, after we left Kuwait for Saudi Arabia, after everyone started calling it Operation Desert Sit, I had the chance to drive into King Khalid Military City.

At the entrance sat a patch of lawn that was so green, so lush, so potent that its scent sliced through the desert air. It struck us—physically. All of us craned our necks, exclaimed, and inhaled deeply. Whoever was driving the Humvee nearly veered off the road.

This perfect bit of golf-course grass was so opulent that it was practically obscene.

And after all the waiting, first in the desert and then in King Khalid Military City, I remember stepping off the plane and being hit with that same sort of extravagance of a German spring. Never mind that we landed at Rhein-Main Air Force Base, in the heart of industrial Germany. Never mind the jet fuel in the air or the exhaust from the buses waiting for us.

It was like walking into a wall. The scent of vegetation was so thick you could touch it, taste it. When I finally returned to my BOQ, I wanted to leave the windows open. My rooms faced a small preserve within the city of Darmstadt. It was so calm, and peaceful, and green. But, compared to Saudi Arabia, the air felt so cold, so damp, so heavy.

I had to content myself with staring at the greenery through the glass. And I did so, for hours.

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The fine art of public speaking

Bloganuary: What fear have you conquered?

When I was sixteen, I decided—somewhat out of the blue—that I couldn’t go through life being petrified of public speaking.

Because I was petrified. And I knew that other people would expect me to talk, especially as an adult. Because that’s what adults did. They talked.

So I joined our high school speech team.

Nearly every weekend during the season, I’d hop on a school bus and ride with my teammates to wherever that week’s tournament was. I’d read my piece three times. At the end of the day, I’d dissolve into a puddle.

At first, I was terrible. Really, really terrible. I’d rank the lowest in each of my rounds (a 5 on a scale of 1 – 5). I was okay with that because I wasn’t doing this to win a prize.

But a funny thing started to happen. By the season’s end, I was pulling in solid 3s each round, with a scattering of 4s or even a surprise 2.

The following year? I started at the 3 and 4 ranks and inched my way up. I earned an honorable mention at one of our big tournaments hosted by our rival high school and actually placed third in another.

I didn’t go to the state tournament, but then I didn’t want to. I’d accomplished what I set out to do, and I was no longer the participant everyone felt sorry for in each of my rounds.

And many years later, I wrote a novel based on these experiences.

Make no mistake: I still don’t like public speaking. You won’t see me joining Toastmasters any time soon. But I look back on that sixteen-year-old and marvel at how she could’ve been so prescient … and brave.

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Trains, planes, and automobiles

Bloganuary: What is your preferred mode of travel?

When I lived in Germany, I loved taking the trains and trolleys and the U-Bahn. So easy. So convenient. Many of my friends enjoyed driving (way too fast) on the autobahn. What sticks in my mind is the phrase fünf kilometer stau. The inevitable result of driving way too fast on the autobahn.

But even catching the U-Bahn or a trolley downtown felt like a mini-adventure.

And the night train from Moscow to St. Petersburg? Well, that definitely was an adventure. It was also far less nerve-wracking than the flight into Moscow on Aeroflot.

And yes, the stories are true; the passengers really did applaud when the wheels of the plane (successfully) touched the ground.

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But not a real green dress, that’s cruel

Bloganuary: If you had a billion US dollars, how would you spend it?

Ideally, here’s what I’d do:

After ensuring my immediate and extended family was settled and secure (and paying my taxes), I’d set up a foundation to manage the rest. I’d look for places and organizations that are doing the most good in the world and support them.

As I said, ideally.

Would I do that if a billion dollars suddenly landed in my lap? (Figuratively speaking—literally, that would probably kill me.)

I don’t know. But history (recent and not so recent) is filled with cautionary tales of people who have (or had) extraordinary power, or fame, or wealth. Some may look at that situation and say: those are good problems to have.

Again, I’m not so sure that’s true. I’m not convinced I could be an exception to all that history. I’m not talking about money can’t buy happiness platitudes. Because having enough resources for safety, security, and comfort is vital. And I’m acutely aware that not everyone has those things.

This brings me back to why I don’t need a billion dollars. That being said, it might be different if I had a million dollars:

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I, for one, plan on welcoming our dinner-cooking robot overlords

Bloganuary: What chore do you find the most challenging?

It’s not that I find cooking dinner exceptionally challenging. I’m just disappointed that, despite the fact it’s 2023, we haven’t found a way for AI to do it for us. Where’s my Star Trek replicator that will make me some tea, Earl Grey, hot? I ask you!

I can turn the lights on and off by myself. Thank you very much, Alexa. But why must I cook dinner?

Every.

Single.

Night.

And it isn’t even the prep time or the cleanup. It’s that it goes by so quickly. You do all this work and all this cleaning. For what? Five or so minutes of eating?

Granted, I may be doing the eating part of dinner wrong. I realize that I don’t need to inhale my food like I’m in the dining facility, and a drill sergeant is clocking my every bite.

Sometimes you really can’t take the Army out of the girl.

It’s why I prefer to bake. The same amount of work, but the results hang around for much longer.

With that in mind, I think I’ll go make some cookies.

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