MJ Monday: MJ’s Movies-Lars & The Real Girl

Lars and the Real Girl is one of those quirky movies a person either loves or hates.  I loved it; one of my critique partners loathed it and found it disturbing. But we frequently disagree on movies.

Ryan Gosling stars as a young man in a northern Minnesota town who is searching for true love. He’s also battling his way out of depression. He orders a blow-up sex doll on line and introduces her around town as his girlfriend, Bianca, a wheelchair-bound missionary.

As I said: quirky.

But not kinky. There’s no sex involved. Lars is deeply religious and Bianca is a missionary. Lars’s depression isolates him from human interaction. Once his brother and sister-in-law get on board with treating Bianca as “real”, the rest of the town follows suit . How the townspeople react to and accept Bianca helps Lars connect to others and heal.

I found it very sweet.

Perhaps I liked the story because the town in which I grew up looked after a family of intellectually disabled people.  Maybe outsiders didn’t understand why Henry/Hank  (depending on which side of town you lived) was allowed to wear out the grass under the big tree on the corner outside the Presbyterian church, but he sat there for years, being social. Some folks called him the mayor.  And Eddie was a particular favorite of the children who visited his grandfather’s front porch to purchase penny candy.

If you like offbeat and sweet, try Lars & the Real Girl.



MJ’s Musings-Thursday Thought: SEP-FIRST LADY

This month’s Susan Elizabeth Phillips book review is one of my top three favorite SEP books: FIRST LADY. My paper copy is in the process of disintegrating, which means  an e-copy is in my future.

Again, this story is not part of her Chicago Stars football series. It does introduce a character who becomes a heroine in her own book.. I’ve seen it classified as part of her Wynette, Texas series, but the connection doesn’t happen until a couple of books later, so I believe that’s a stretch.

This book manages to wring my emotions each time I read it. The major romance trope is on-the-road.  NEELY (Nell) is the widow of the assassinated president of the United States who was coerced into continuing the job after her husband’s death. She manages to escape the White House and goes “undercover,” where she runs into  MAT, a disillusioned and discredited journalist trying to find the big story in order to reclaim his career.  They each have secrets, although Neely’s are the major ones. Mat’s big internal conflict is family. The primary issue between them, however, is trust.

The book was published in 2000, which means one or two things have changed since then, but the gist of the story rings true.

There is no secondary romance in this story, which is unusual in an SEP book. The on-the-road aspect of the story doesn’t leave room for that kind of subplot. There are plenty of wonderful characters in the novel, though, and one of them–Lucy, who grows up to be the heroine of another SEP novel–will shred your heart.

If I were to give out stars on a 1 to 5 scale, FIRST LADY would receive five.

MJ Monday-Meals: Meatloaf and Roasted Butternut Squash

One of my favorite wintertime meals is meatloaf with roasted butternut squash. I’m very lucky in that my supermarket sells cut and peeled butternut squash. If they didn’t I’d probably never eat it.

Preheat oven to 375F

Add a package of the precut squash to a baking dish, along with a chopped red onion. Drizzle with seasoned basting oil (another goody from my supermarket).

Place the squash in the oven and begin assembling the meatloaf.

I have many meatloaf recipes. Lately, this is my go-to:

  • 1.5 pounds ground beef
  • 1 slice whole grain bread
  • minced garlic to taste
  • 1/4 cup Egg Beaters
  • 1 envelope Lipton Onion Soup Mix.

Mix well and pat into loaf pan.

Place meatloaf in oven next to squash. Set a timer for 40 minutes.

It’s dinner!

MJ’s Musings: An Observation on “Healthy” Food

Many of my friends and most of my extended family have dietary restrictions. One person recently made a “cookie” she shared. I would never hurt her feelings, and I understand completely why this cookie met her food requirements, but I did not want another one.

When I’m grocery shopping, there are frequently people pushing free samples at the customers. The most recent one was a cookie in the health food department. Or maybe it was a “power bar”.

All I know is I stopped eating sawdust when I was about 3. Yeah, we used it as a “cooking ingredient” when we played house when I was an older child. But we also cooked with mud, gravel, and milkweed pods. Oh, and there was that disastrous experiment trying to make the cat eat a combo of Snowy Bleach and Oxydol. But like the cat, we never actually put the stuff in our mouths. (OK, we smoked cattails behind the barn, but that was different.)

So why does so much modern, “healthy” food remind me of my extreme childhood, sawdust-eating days? Particularly the sawdust part?

MJ Monday: MJ’s Mansuscript: Service for Sanctuary Bk 1

Yes, I have a new book coming out in June. I don’t have an exact date yet, but when I do, I will be sharing it with my newsletter subscribers, then on social media.

The book is the fourth set in my Toke Lobo & the Pack universe and the first in trilogy called SERVICE FOR SANCTUARY.

Here’s a sneak peak:


“They’re breaking the treaty.”

Ethan Calhoun stopped twirling his tone bar between his fingers and clutched the cold steel in his palm. So, a governmental dilemma prompted Tokarz, pack alpha, to summon the pack to the Full Moon Lodge. Ethan had hoped Tokarz was going to announce a new tour for Toke Lobo and the Pack. The band hadn’t been on the road in months.

“What?” someone asked.

“The United States government wants to break the treaty with us.”

Ethan tightened his grip on the tone bar. Mitchell Jasper, the pack’s government liaison, slunk into the room with Tokarz. Ethan figured something bad was coming. The man looked . . . terrified.

“Washington no longer wants to offer sanctuary in return for our service,” Tokarz clarified, in case any werewolf in the room didn’t understand the implications of a broken treaty. As if the threat to their existence was a concept too complicated to be stated only once.

Or maybe shock made everyone slower than usual.

Ethan didn’t have the words to describe the sensation of melting from the inside out. Granted, he wasn’t descended from one of the original French families comprising most of the Loup Garou pack. The treaty cut with Thomas Jefferson wasn’t sacred to him as it was to the others. He was ignorant of his own family’s treaty. His grandfather remained mute about the pack he’d abandoned. Although Loup Garou had accepted the Calhoun family, Ethan was always aware he was an outsider.

“We need your help.” Jasper cleared his throat before he spoke. The words still emerged weak and diluted. It was a miracle the man didn’t piss himself.

“Why should we help you?” Tokarz asked.

“Most people don’t want the treaties abandoned.”

“Most people aren’t aware there are treaties,” Tokarz said in a voice so cold, Ethan expected the windows to frost over.

Why didn’t Tokarz ask Jasper to define we? Who wanted the pack’s help?

“Look.” Jasper channeled some testosterone from somewhere. “I know it’s a bad idea to break the treaties. I know how valuable having a . . . secret weapon of . . . your nature . . . is to the security of our country. I’m a patriot, and I am not going to let ignorance and short-sightedness destroy something costing the government nothing and still works.”

Tokarz smirked. “So. You want us to be a secret secret weapon?”

The phrase sounded ridiculous. Tokarz watched too many old movies.

Jasper cleared his throat again. “My department isn’t the only one trying to work around the new administration’s dictates. While I am in Loup Garou to officially tell you the treaties will be rescinded, I am also here, personally, to tell you our country has never needed you more.”

The man deserved points. He played the room perfectly. Every werewolf present, including Ethan, was deeply patriotic.

“Not to say there isn’t an element who would like to see you . . . your species eliminated.”

“Say what you mean,” Tokarz said. “Don’t use fifty-dollar words when nickel ones will do. Dead. Some folks want us dead.”

Only if a guy observed Jasper closely, as Ethan did, would he see the slight inclination of his head.

“We need to remind some members of congress who are privy to the agreements precisely what they know and why the treaties matter.”

“You mean threaten them.” Tokarz glowered.

“The treaties have served our nation for two centuries. Some influential people need to be reminded.”

“And on whose behalf would we be reminding them?” Tokarz asked the first question Ethan would have asked in his place.

“Your own.” Jasper lifted his chin, as if daring Tokarz to contradict him.

“Go on,” Tokarz said after several moments of a staring match. Jasper did not blink.

“I have a list of names. Men who have availed themselves of the special services guaranteed by the treaties, and who are currently in positions of power to help—maybe force—the preservation of the treaties.”

Maybe Ethan’s imagination spoke, but Jasper sounded stronger. Surer of himself.

“And how do you suggest we remind these people they owe us sanctuary?”

As Jasper laid out his plan—and his idea didn’t sound like much of a plan—Ethan’s gut churned. He was surprised he hadn’t snapped the tone bar he always carried in his front pocket. His fingers worked the steel hard enough.

Jasper’s so-called plan involved sending emissaries to meet with the politicians who had availed themselves of lycan services in the past. Ethan wasn’t clear on what the emissaries were supposed to do; every instinct he possessed shrieked Tokarz planned to send him. He’d worked on a couple missions the band had been involved in and was one of the few band members who was not yet mated. Mated males needed to stay put and protect their females.

After the meeting broke up, Tokarz asked Ethan to stay. The request prompted Ethan’s father and grandfather to also remain.

“My grandson is the sole survivor of my line,” Pa told their alpha.

“When my grandfather accepted you into the Loup Garou pack, you—”

“My agreement with the Loup Garou hasn’t changed,” Pa said.

Ethan exchanged a glance with his father, who didn’t seem any more in the know than Ethan was. Pa nursed his secrets; his family respected Pa’s reticence.

“My agreement hasn’t changed,” Pa repeated. “The treaty your ancestors signed with the government has nothing to do with me or mine.”

“My grandfather’s conditions for accepting you included honoring our ways. The treaty is a part of this pack’s heritage.”

“Has Ethan not participated in missions as required? The time you met your mate? The time a crazy man in Idaho threatened to overthrow the government? Ethan has fulfilled his generation’s obligation to your family.”

“I don’t have a choice.”

“You do. You’re alpha. You could send anyone.”

“You’re right. I’m alpha, and I’ve made my decision.”


A lopsided silver moon transformed the random snowflakes drifting around Ethan from white to glitter as he made his way home. His breath, puffing into the frigid winter night, sparkled where moonbeams brushed the warmer air.

The streets were empty despite lycans preferring the night. Everyone must have been celebrating they weren’t being sent on a fool’s errand.

The moon appeared lonely, as if she needed a song or two. Ethan considered obliging her.

Except he didn’t feel much like singing at the moon or into a microphone or even in the shower. He was unmated; naturally Tokarz volunteered him for a mission. The mated guys got to stay home with their females, while the single males were obligated to treaty fulfillment.

Even without a treaty.

Even if a lobo’s family wasn’t included in the treaty.

Even if the lobo wasn’t part of the pack.