Tuesday, December 29, 2009

My Homemade Christmas

This year, with the economy as tight as it is, I decided to make Christmas as much as I could. I got busy making quilted potholders for my kids and turned my family room into a sewing factory with my sewing machine, strips of cloth and batting strewn everywhere. What a mess! But I ended up with a dozen potholders that didn’t look too bad.

Along with a disc of family history stories from ancestors on my dad’s side of the family, I painted two of my grandsons for two of my sons. I think they turned out pretty good.

This is my version of my youngest grandson before he was a year old. We were camping on the Mogillon Rim.

This is what he really looked like.

This is my oldest grandson. He'll be 12 in Feb, but here he was around 10.

Here's the pic I used. We were in Old Tucson enjoying Spring Break a few years back. You can see in this photo he is missing a tooth. I used artistic license to give him a full set.
You can definately tell that my watercolors are not photos, but hey, not too bad for someone without an art degree.

Monday, December 21, 2009

Christmas is Remembering

For some reason it always surprises me that there are only a few short weeks between Thanksgiving and Christmas. I never feel like I have enough time to enjoy Christmas because I’ve spent so much time preparing for Thanksgiving.

That said, I have a thousand memories of Christmas and my Thanksgiving memories all blend together.

My favorite Christmas memory is of my dad taking my brother and me around town looking at the Christmas lights. We’d drive from neighborhood to neighborhood enjoying the sights and each others company. The lights, to me, are a symbol of Christmas spirit.

I hope not to disappoint, but I’m signing off until after the holidays. I’ll leave you all with a poem that I wrote several years ago.

The smell of good things to eat,

The love of friends and family,

This is Christmas.

Finding opportunities to share –

Our love, our talents, our time,

This is Christmas.

The brightest star, the manger scene,

That special babe, born to be king,

This is Christmas.

Christmas is remembering.

May you find the joy and love of the Christmas

season in your home and in your hearts.

Thursday, December 17, 2009

World’s Easiest Caramel for Life’s Busiest Bakers

For me, Christmas memories are sweet—full of reminiscences of my dad making fudge and my mom making date-roll candy, and these delicious little cookies. I don’t recall either of them ever making caramel, but the recipe below is so delicious and so easy that anyone can take a few minutes to create sweet Christmas memories of their own.

I got this recipe in a book—Delicious Conversations by Jennifer Griffith. Good book, delicious recipes. This caramel is so simple that anyone who knows how to measure and use a microwave can make it, and it’s as tasty as any homemade caramel I’ve ever had. I must admit though that I’m a pecan-a-holic. So, although this recipe doesn’t call for nuts—I chop them up and add them anyway.

Microwave Caramels

½ Cup of each of the following:

Melted butter

Brown sugar

White sugar

Light corn syrup

Sweetened condensed milk

Combine all ingredients and stir well, making sure there are no lumps of brown sugar. Microwave on high for 5—6 minutes (all microwaves vary). Do Not Stir.

Pour into greased 8”x8” dish. Cool and serve.

I add the ingredients into a large, glass mixing bowl and I have to smash all of the lumps from the brown sugar with a fork—mine always has lumps. In the microwave, the ingredients come to a boil and look like they’re going to boil over, but they haven’t yet. When it’s cooked for five minutes, the ingredients shrink into the bowl and continue to boil until the timer goes off. After bringing the bowl out of the microwave, I sprinkle the nuts over the top (without stirring) and then pour the hot caramel into the greased pan. Let cool and enjoy. An alternate method of adding nuts would be to sprinkle them into the bottom of the greased pan, or on top of the cooked caramel after it’s poured into the pan.

I was going to add pictures to this post because the finished caramel looks so pretty in the pan, but my computer thinks it has already received the pictures from my camera and won’t download them. I have the weirdest technology issues, but that’s a whole different story.

Monday, December 14, 2009

The Reckoning, by Tanya Parker Mills

The great thing about books is that by reading them we can have adventures and experiences that we'd have never thought of on our own. For example, how many of us know what it's like to live in Iraq?

What is your book’s name?          
"The Reckoning."

Is your book fiction or non-fiction?

What was your inspiration?
My own childhood in Baghdad, Iraq (and my father's undercover work in that country), as well as the approaching war.

What is the setting of your book?
Northern Iraq and Baghdad in the months leading up to the U.S. invasion.

Who are your main characters?
American journalist, Theresa Fuller; her Canadian cameraman, Peter; and their Iraqi captor, Captain Tariq al-Awali.

In what ways do you think you are like them?
I'm like Theresa in terms of sharing a childhood in Baghdad and having epilepsy...also her affinity for solitude; I'm not much like Peter; and, as for Tariq, I also have an appreciation for other cultures besides my own.

In what ways are you different?
I'm not questioning my faith in God, as Theresa does; I'm not superstitious like Peter; and I like to think I would never have worked for Iraq's secret police as Tariq did, regardless of the circumstances.

What is your favorite scene in the book?
Towards the end, when Tariq's grandfather stands up to the bad guy, Colonel Badr.

After you wrote the book, how long did it take you to get it published?
Five years...I came close to getting a traditional publisher once, but it fell through, so I finally decided to publish it myself.

Have you been published before?
No, except for newspaper and trade publication features.

Please share a brief description of your book.
When journalist Theresa Fuller is captured inside Iraq in August 2002, and imprisoned by Iraq's secret police, visions of her childhood in Baghdad begin to haunt her. Tormented by the relentless Colonel Badr, she only finds relief in her growing attraction to Tariq al-Awali, the Iraqi captain who took charge of her capture. Before American bombs begin to fall, Theresa must find a way to escape the cruelty of an oppressive regime and save those she cares for most.

Where can we purchase a copy of your book?
You can purchase "The Reckoning" at Amazon.com, and an eBook version is also available on Kindle. Unfortunately, it's not available in bookstores...yet.
You can also check out Tanya's book trailer at http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=awRkdBpsZUE.

Thursday, December 10, 2009

Jack Frost and the Slide

It’s 7:30 and 20-degrees outside. The tips of the crinkly playground sand are white with a healthy layer of frost that makes the sand look like frothy waves in the sea. The children, kindergartners all, come timidly to the playground. Some bundled warm, others with unzipped hoodies and red noses.

I zip the coats one at a time while assuring them their mothers would want them warm. Some run off to play saying it isn’t cold outside, then come back only moments later with red-cold hands and faces, and asking me to zip their coats.

On this sunny day, our breath freezes in the air. The small patch of surviving grass on the playground is also blanketed in white frost. The children think it is snow. Some lay down thinking to make snow-angels, but none appear.

Then, as though it’s magnetized, they rush to the slide. It also wears a coat of frost. The children make a long line, waiting anxiously—hoping to get their turn before the frost melts. When they get to the top, they jump into place and zip to the bottom. White powder fluffs in the air as they fly from slide to sand and for one brief second the children pretend they are on the mountain, sledding.

Monday, December 7, 2009

Cindy Williams, Chase McKay Didn't Get Up Today

In a year-round effort to promote literacy, and in order to make the world aware of all the excellent authors out there who haven't yet made million-dollar movie deals--every Monday will be author interview week. Remember, every time you purchase a book or give a book as a gift, you are promoting literacy and helping to make a difference in our world.

This week, I've interviewed Cindy Williams. She is one fun gal. Her picture book, Chase McKay Didn't Get Up Today, is fun and the illustrations are cute.

What is your book’s name?
“Chase McKay Didn’t Get Up Today”

What kind of book is it?
It’s a snuggle, giggle children’s picture book that is considered reality/fiction because much of it happened and all the characters are real.

What was your inspiration?
Early one morning, my kindergartner, Chase, played possum. I tried to get him up for school, but he just snuggled into his pillow, eyes closed and a sweet smile on his face. I made his bed with him in it, and the little rhyming, sing-songy story pretty much wrote itself by the time he hopped on the bus.

Who are your main characters?
Chase, his dog named Copper, cat named Tazz, two gold fish with attitude and the mom.

What is your favorite scene in the book?
When Chase peaks out from under the covers with a bright smile and mischief sparkling in his eyes.

What is your favorite part of being an author?
I visit lots of elementary schools with my book. I love to read it to the children and hear them giggle and see the look of awe and wonder in their face. I don’t mind the book sales either. They really help with the economy the way it is right now.

After you wrote the book, how long did it take you to get it published?
About a year.

Have you been published before?
Only in newspapers as a journalist. Oh, and I have had many press releases published for various companies and events.

How did the publisher let you know your book was being considered for publication?
My publisher is local. Dr. Goodfellow is the owner of Goodfellow Publishing Services. She also teaches a three year college course on Creative Writing, which I completed last year. Each week we read scenes from our WIP, and one week had been crazy busy, so I didn’t have a scene ready. At the last minute, I grabbed my little children’s story, and read it instead. Dr. Goodfellow loved it, and decided to publish it on the spot.

I will never forget that night. I read the story to Dr. Goodfellow and two other writers, Flo, and Gretchen. After I finished, the room was quiet. The kind of uncomfortable silence like you just walked into a room having forgotten to put on your pants or something. I couldn’t even look at my fellow writers or Dr. Goodfellow. I thought they must have absolutely hated it. And for those horrible minutes, I burned with humiliation deep inside for sharing the part of me, a part I felt was going to be laughed at or rejected. After what seemed like forever, Gretchen slammed her hand on the table and said, “I want that book right now for my five year old daughter.”

I took a huge breath of relief, then Dr. Goodfellow quietly added, “I want to publish that book. Are you ready?”

I was stunned and choked out a “Yes.”

Please share a brief description of your book.
I will give you the first couple of lines.
Chase McKay would not get up,
So Mamma made his bed.
She straightened the covers and pulled them
Right over his head.
Chase McKay cannot play.
He didn’t get out of bed today.

Where can we purchase a copy of your book?
It is available at books stores all over. Some you do have to ask the desk to order it. It is also available at Barnesandnoble.com, Amazon.com, and on my website http://www.cindrywilliams.com

Thanks Tina for the interview. I appreciate it. Cindy

Thank you Cindy for taking the time out of your crazy schedule to do an interview.

Thursday, December 3, 2009

Easy Peanut Butter Cookies

"Hey, Mom, we're having a school party tonight and I signed up to bring cookies."
Sound familiar? Even if it doesn't, these No-Bake Peanut Butter Drops are great for most social functions where bringing cookies along is required. They also pack well for family vacations.
I’ve never been a real fan of those chocolate no-bake cookies. The ones I’ve tasted have all been dry and fairly gritty. Let’s face it, dry oatmeal is pretty good in granola—but it’s toasted then.

The recipe below is an old family favorite that started with my mother. I don’t know where mom got the recipe, maybe on a box of cereal—and although there's no chocolate in them, this cookie is far superior to the chocolate variety of no-bake cookie. People actually like to eat these. In fact, our family finds them somewhat addicting. Bet ya can’t eat just one!

No Bake Peanut Butter Drops

1 C. sugar

1 C. white Karo

1 ½ C. peanut butter

5 C. Special K cereal

Put cereal in a large bowl and set aside. Mix sugar and Karo in saucepan and bring to a boil. Add the peanut butter, then bring just to boil—it’s thick, so it simmers around the edge mostly. Pour immediately over the cereal. Mix quickly, and spoon by tablespoons onto wax paper. After all the cookies are made, you can go back and firm them by hand into ball shapes.

Monday, November 30, 2009

Rebecca Talley and Altared Plans

Being a writer and wannabe author, I know and am friends with several authors. I had the opportunity to interview Rebecca Talley to get to know the woman behind the computer a little better (for my review of her book, check my earlier blogs). Here is what she had to say...

What is your book’s name?

Altared Plans

Is your book fiction or non-fiction?

Fiction--it's an LDS romance.

What is the setting of your book?

It's set at BYU.

Who are your main characters?

Caitlyn Moore, a young bride-to-be who doesn't quite get to the "to-be" part, has to put her life back together.

Travis Dixon, a charming cowboy and RM, who's more than willing to help Caitlyn get over her humiliating experience at the temple.

In what ways do you think you are like them?

Caitlyn's planned her big wedding and when it doesn't happen, she's devastated. She doesn't know what to do with her life. She feels like her life is over. I'm a total planner and when things don't go as planned, I freak out. I want to plan everything, but I've learned, just as Caitlyn does, you can't plan everything, and sometimes, the best things in life aren't planned at all.

Altared Plans is loosely based on my courtship with my husband.

After you wrote the book, how long did it take you to get it published?

I submitted it to Cedar Fort and a month later is was accepted for publication. It then took 6 months until publication and another month before it was on store shelves.

Have you been published before?

My first book, Grasshopper Pie, was published in 2003 by WindRiver. It's a children's picture book with illustrations by my daughter. My first novel, Heaven Scent, was published by Cedar Fort in 2008.

How did the publisher let you know your book was being considered for publication?

The publisher contacted me though email.

What did you do when you found out your book was being published?

I cried. It was such an emotional release. I was so thrilled to think my story would be out in the world for other people to read.

Please share a brief description of your book.

Caitlyn Moore has planned to marry her high school sweetheart, but he has different plans. When he abandons her at the altar, she vows she'll never love again. Of course, going to BYU doesn't make that easy, especially when she's called to be the "mom" of the family home evening group and the "dad" is a handsome, funny, charming cowboy set on breaking her vow.

Where can we purchase a copy of your book?

It's available at Seagull Book, Amazon, Barnes and Noble, and LDS bookstores.

Thank you so much for the interview!

Monday, November 23, 2009

Thanks for the Holiday

Thanksgiving is my favorite holiday because I love being with friends and family and celebrating with lots of good food—and with no gift expectations. I always feel nostalgic at Thanksgiving time. Until my parents passed away several years ago, we celebrated every year with my parents and siblings.

Mom used to put all the tables in her living room. It made a long procession from one end of the room to the back door. We always ate on her best china which made for a large and lengthy clean up afterwards. After it got to be too much for Mom, we started celebrating Thanksgiving at my house. I minimized cleanup by using paper plates.

So what am I thankful for—other than my husband and kids—which, of course are all on the top of my list?

I think grandkids count separately from the above-mentioned family. AND, grandkids really are as great as everyone says. It’s so fun being there when they learn to crawl and to walk, and when they learn to say their first words. With that, I must admit that I’m grateful for digital cameras—that’s how one son keeps me in touch with his son’s growth, milestones, and happy moments.

I have some pretty great writer friends who help and encourage me in my writing goals, and I’m very thankful for them. Without their support, I’d probably never have finished my first novel let alone my fourth. Unfortunately I’m not published yet, but these friends give me encouragement in that as well.

Some of the things that I’m thankful for that might not make it on everyone’s list—I’m thankful for flowers, hummingbirds, grass—I’m thankful for a variety of common and uncommon birds that share my backyard, and I’m thankful for our family dog. Even though she has grey hair/fur, she still thinks she’s one of the kids.

I’m especially thankful for memories—no explanation—we all have our own, and some memories are just too special to share.

I’m thankful for my job—yes, kindergarten teacher’s aide is the ultimate employment.

This year we’re having Thanksgiving dinner at my daughter’s house with lots of family and several friends as well. I hope you all have a HAPPY THANKSGIVING!!! I will.

Monday, November 16, 2009

Cars, Trucks, and Things That Go.

My husband belongs to the Vehicle-of-the-Month club. I’m not sure why, he doesn’t get any payback. In my opinion, people who belong to this exclusive club should get frequent buyer discounts. He doesn’t.

He’s had eight cars this past year—oh, the year’s not over yet either. First he had a driftwood-colored truck. That didn’t get good enough gas mileage, so he traded it for a full-sized red diesel truck. Then the price of diesel went way up.

The diesel truck was sold, then, for a Nissan truck. But it wasn’t a good fit. Next was a full-sized Chevy truck. It was only a single cab.

There was a really great price on a SUV, so he traded for that—it had a leaky door, and it was gone the day after he took it to the car wash and got a bath at the same time.

A custom van with a bench that alternately served as a bed was his next choice. It was a retro feeling driving that around—either that or a futuristic, winter visitor-type of feeling. I never got to take it camping.

A ¾ ton silver Chevy truck was always thirsty. It didn’t get more than 11 miles-per-gallon. He bought a Chevy Aveo next. It got great gas mileage, but of course it was small. My husband likes full-sized man trucks, so, within the month he traded the little Chevy for a quad-cab Dodge Dakota. He’s had it four days now—he informs me that his goal is to keep it for three years. We’ll see.

This hobby is more expensive than a stamp collection for sure, but I’m just grateful that he doesn’t belong to the Wife-of-the-Month club!

Tuesday, November 10, 2009

Proud Mom

On the 7th, I had the honor of going to my oldest daughter’s college graduation. She earned her bachelor’s degree in business. Along the way, she’s gotten married and had two children.

I love all of my children, and they are all pretty great, yet this daughter has always exceeded my expectations. Even though she is my fourth child, she is our family’s trailblazer—our mover and shaker. She sets goals and gets things done—and she is my first child to earn a college degree.

On the eve of her graduation she was making and canning applesauce, and she sewed her daughters black satin graduation gowns with little graduation caps to wear after the ceremony. Then, she had friends and family to her house and served us roast turkey.
Currently I have three sons enrolled in college—but my daughter is our first graduate.

Wednesday, November 4, 2009

Recovering Charles, by Jason F. Wright

Recovering Charles by Jason F. Wright is the poignant, thoughtful and heartwarming tale of Luke Millward and his journey of discovery in finding his estranged father, Charles after Hurricane Katrina in New Orleans.

Of course you must know that poignant and heartwarming is code for: it could make you sad, and if you’re prone to cry—you probably will. Yet, although the story has a sad premise—an estranged son going to New Orleans to try and find/recover his father’s body—it ends with hope, as all good novels should (in my opinion).

Chapter one begins with the media blitz surrounding the aftermath of hurricane Katrina. Luke Millward, an award winning photographer is glued to his television—it’s an unhealthy obsession with disaster and he knows it, but he just can’t help but become involved via the tube.

Luke has a long-time friend/girlfriend named Jordan—she wishes their relationship was much more serious, he does too, except he can’t force himself to feel something he doesn’t. Whenever he needs someone to celebrate with, a shoulder to cry on, or the voice of reason—Jordan is always there.

It’s no surprise then, when Luke gets a call from someone who says he’s a friend of Charles Millward—Luke’s dad, that Jordan encourages him to respond. Charles been missing since before the hurricane hit—his friends and fiancé would like Luke to come to New Orleans to help them locate Charles.

This starts Luke’s road to self discovery and healing—he learns who his father really is, he learns about the unconquerable spirit of the hurricane victims—and he learns that he can feel love.

Charles, always a visionary man and an exceptional musician last had contact with his son over two years ago when he called, still drunk and begging for money. When Luke meets Jez—his father’s fiancé, her brother Jerome, and a beauty named Bela in New Orleans, Luke begins to heal from his less than idyllic childhood.

When he discovers that his father has dried up, helps run a nightclub, and started an organization that brings music to underprivileged students in the area, Luke realizes that he is hoping to find his father alive.

Wright does a good job of portraying the conditions in the area after their infamous disaster without being too gruesome or bogged down in heavy detail. We are shown enough to get the point without becoming depressed.

I must admit that I am not fond of heartwarming tales and I’ve learned the code-words well enough to avoid poignant movies as well. However, Recovering Charles is a well-written book and I heartily recommend it to anyone who enjoys heartwarming/poignant tales.

Sunday, November 1, 2009

Life and Trials

A couple of things have happened lately that have had me contemplating mortality and how easily things can change in our lives. The first was the discovery that my brother has tonsillar cancer. It came as quite a shock. Especially since I had thoroughly convinced myself that cancer was not something that would happen in our family.

After all, we have plenty of other “physical” weaknesses to pass on from generation to generation without needing to deal with the prospect of cancer. Our family’s gene pool is full of Alzheimer’s, dementia, heart disease and the ‘addictive’ gene (meaning that: if we digest something that is even slightly addicting—we’ll likely become addicted.)

My brother never smoked or drank that I know of, and has always tried to take care of himself by eating right and exercising. According to one of my sisters, his main drawback was that fact that he was a farmer for a good portion of his adult life and used DDT—apparently a cancer-causing chemical.

Another recent event was discovering that my cousin’s husband was in an accident recently. He was driving his motorcycle down the highway and someone ran into him. He was in intensive care for quite a while, but is now home convalescing. Both of these men have a long recovery period awaiting them—and here I’ve been whining about having the discomfort of a cold this past week.

So, what is the point of this posting? I might ask the same question myself (refer to #1 on family gene-pool list). J.K. (that means 'just kidding' for those without teen-aged daughters). My point is, that we need to appreciate each day and take full advantage of it because we have no promise of tomorrow. Today we're healthy, happy, and the sun is shining. Tomorrow might be something all together different. So, let's all remember to smile and appreciate that sun while it's shining on us.

Saturday, October 17, 2009

Altar-ed Plans, by Rebecca Cornish Talley

It's been a while since my last post--occasionally life gets in the way of our best intentions. However, during my online absense, I read another good book.

I didn’t plan on enjoying Altar-ed Plans, by Rebecca Cornish Talley as much as I did. It sounded cute, but predictable. However, I soon discovered that although I knew the outcome of the first chapter when Caitlyn is on her way to the Los Angeles temple planning to marry her high school sweetheart, Justin—I still enjoyed the ride immensely. I felt a little sadistic enjoying her unsuspecting drive to the temple and chuckling about it.

Rebecca Talley immediately proves her writing expertise and throws in plot twists, and other situations as well that keep the reader wondering what will happen next. Caitlyn has a loving, but non-member father who resents not being able to see his oldest daughter get married—there’s Lindsay, the younger and more observant sister—and then there’s the mom who tries ever so desperately to keep everyone together and happy.

Good for Mom to insist Caitlyn immediately return to BYU after being jilted. She is already a student there, and needs to get on with her life. However, just because Caitlyn reluctantly returns and attends classes doesn’t mean she’s moved on. Far from it. She has done a good job of turning herself into a veritable hermit and emotionally Caitlyn is well on her way to becoming the weird aunt with ten cats and a parakeet when she meets Travis.

Things start to change for Caitlyn when the bishop calls her to be the “mom” of her Family Home Evening group—an activity she has never attended because it’s just too social. The “dad” of the group, Travis, doesn’t give her any time to back out or to even think before she is attracted to him.

As much as Caitlyn likes Travis, and as often as Brittany tells her to give him a chance—Travis does cause Caitlyn more heartbreak. He’s too nice of a guy and has a hard time making a clean break with his longtime friend/girlfriend. It soon becomes clear that Alison—the other girl, is more of a stalker/fatal attraction type of gal. It’s just not normal behavior to put a wedding dress on layaway if you’ve not been asked the ‘big’ question. Alison is relentless and undiscouraged by Travis’s apparent disinterest and makes plans to marry him even if she has to propose herself.

Altar-ed Plans also does a good job of showing the importance of good friends with Caitlyn’s roommates, Brittany and Hannah. Brittany, although she compares guys to a salad bar, is good at getting Caitlyn away from the sofa and encouraging her to have faith and to trust again. Caitlyn, with her experience is able to give valuable and personal insight to Hannah when she becomes serious with a non-LDS young man.

Although Caitlyn didn’t want it to happen, nor did she ever dream it would, toward the end of the novel there are two eligible men waiting on bended knee. So, if you’re interested in a fun, upbeat story that’s all about the race to the altar, this is the perfect novel. It’s just full of twenty-somethings waiting for their chance at wedded bliss.

Monday, October 5, 2009

Fluffy Lemon Torte

There are several foods from my childhood that bring back fond memories. For example, I remember my dad standing in the kitchen shaking a quart jar with milk in it until he turned it into butter. It takes a lot of determination to turn milk into butter—by hand. We never refrigerated the butter because it made it too hard to spread on Mom’s homemade bread. For some reason our homemade butter was more flavorful than store bought.

Memories of homemade butter has a special place in my heart, but the memory I’m going to talk about today is Mom’s lemon torte.

Ah, the lemon torte—we always called it cheesecake. I loved Mom’s cheesecake—it was light and fluffy with a fresh lemony taste. However, whenever I went to a restaurant hoping for a bite of fluffy goodness, I was always served some weird, foreign, substitute. Store-bought cheesecake was dense and not at all lemony and the graham cracker crust was usually mushy. Of course I didn’t know that true cheesecake is dense.

So, I’ll not confess how old I was when I learned the truth about Mom’s cheesecake—that it’s lemon torte, but I will confess that I continued the tradition of calling it cheesecake after I married and had kids of my own. Haha. I’ll not confess how old they were when they learned the truth about Mom’s cheesecake either.

But my kids have forgiven me the deception, and for their birthdays most of them request that I make lemon torte. And, now that they don’t live at home, they also request it for family get-togethers. Lemon torte isn’t hard to make, but it does dirty a lot of bowls in the process.

Fluffy Lemon Torte
1 ½ C graham cracker crumbs
¼ C melted margarine
2 TBSP sugar
Combine crumbs, butter and sugar; press into the bottom of an 9”x13” glass baking dish. Bake at 325 for 10 minutes; cool. (I put mine on the table under the ceiling fan and lift it from the table with pot holders.) Filling:
1 (12-oz) can evaporated milk
1 (3-oz) pkg lemon gelatin
1 C boiling water
1 (8-oz) package cream cheese
½ C sugar
Juice of 1 lemon

Place can of opened evaporated milk in the freezer until frozen crystals appear—milk is partly frozen. Meanwhile, dissolve gelatin in a small bowl using the 1 C boiling water, then chill in the refrigerator until gelatin is syrupy. In a medium to large mixing bowl, beat milk until stiff peaks form. Add lemon juice to gelatin and mix in with beater set on low. In a large mixing bowl, beat cream cheese and sugar until smooth. Add gelatin to cream cheese mixture and mix well. Using a large spoon or a spatula, fold in the milk. Pour over crust. Sprinkle reserved crust mixture over the top and chill for at least 3 hours. (Picture above is the chilled milk beaten to stiff peaks. If it's warm in the house, freeze the beaters and metal mixing bowl while chilling the milk. Then put ice in the sink and fill with about an inch of cold water. Pour milk into chilled bowl and place bowl in the sink.) (Above is a picture of the gelatin after I mixed the lemon juice in--notice I didn't clean the beaters first. Below is a picture of the finished torte.) This dessert can also be made with lime gelatin and lime juice--use approximately 1/4 cup of lime juice for a delicious lime treat.

Friday, October 2, 2009

The Art Competition

Well, the Art Guild of Eastern Arizona, of which I am a member, recently had an art and photography competition and show. Before becoming a member of the art guild, I would never have considered entering a contest. It would have been too scary.

That’s a good reason to join groups or organizations that have the same interests. By joining the art guild, I have become a better artist, and by joining a writer’s guild I have become a better writer. Below are some of my watercolors and photos that earned first places in their category.

These two watercolors aren't new, but this is their first time in our competition. I did have another painting that earned first place, but I don't have a photo of it yet. Perhaps another day I'll share it.
This is the very first year that I've entered a photograph in any competition. I've been tempted several times to enter photography contests that I've read about, but chickened out at the last minute. I took this picture in Phoenix at the Wild Animal Park. I call them Lemurs, but someone else who saw them wondered if they weren't Mercats. Does anyone know for sure?

Sunday, September 27, 2009

Gourmet Pizza

My youngest son turned 18 on Friday and we went to Mesa to celebrate. After stopping by to see my oldest son and then my niece, we stopped off at Joe’s Crab Shack for a great meal of coconut shrimp and a couple of orders of deep fried calamari. It was all quite delicious.

The fun part was when they put a large bib on my birthday boy, and then later put a large sombrero on him, stood him in front of everyone and sang some strangely interactive birthday song where he sang the chorus. Fun stuff.

On Saturday, my son in law made us fresh pizza. He started by making the pizza dough the night before and letting it rest in the refrigerator overnight. He used high gluten flour, and apparently it is best when the dough sits for one or two days.
We had the freshest of ingredients and for our pineapple pizza, he used fresh pineapple—something I’d never even thought of doing, but it was very tasty. Instead of ham, he used Canadian bacon. I hadn’t tasted Canadian bacon on a pizza since the 60’s when they spared no expense for quality.

I learned a couple of things about pizza making. He cooked the pizza at 550—I’d always hesitate to cook anything higher than 375. It just seems so hot! However, it appears that pizza does very well with the higher temperature. My son in law was able to put raw sausage on the pizza and it cooked just fine.

As with all things, it’s a lot easier to make good pizza if you have the right equipment. I’ve spent years making pizza in cookie sheets. Cutting the pizza in the cookie sheets really tortures the coating on them, too. Years ago my daughter gave me a pizza stone to make pizza on, however it seemed like such a mess.

Not quite knowing how to use it, I’d put the stone in the oven to preheat, but it required a corn meal coating to keep the pizza from sticking to the stone. We always wanted more than one pizza, so getting the cooked pizza off the stone and adding the uncooked one was a real problem. Saturday I learned that parchment paper works wonders to fix that.
Another tool I discovered that is quite necessary to make pizza making easier is a pizza paddle. I don’t know if that’s what it’s really called, but it’s a very, very large and flat spatula. Make the pizza on the parchment paper, then scoop the paddle under it and transfer it to the pizza stone that’s waiting on the bottom rack of the oven. (The good thing about parchment paper is that it can be cooked in the oven without burning.) Then, after the pizza is cooked, the pizza paddle is also quite handy for getting the cooked pizza off of the stone.
So, if you have a good pizza recipe but the pizza’s aren’t turning out quite as good as you’d like, believe me when I say that making good pizza starts with using all of the right equipment.

Sunday, September 20, 2009

By Love or By Sea, by Rachel Rager

If you want a light read that involves a sweet romance, some adventure, and a couple of pirates, By Love or By Sea, by Rachel Rager is the novel for you.

Her characters are well written and believable and I was hooked right away. After all, who can resist a story about a sweet yet naïve red head with two totally different yet handsome men chasing after her? Alice Lind Frank is the red head.

The first young man—Clarence Hielott, is the son of a wealthy shipyard owner. He dotes over Alice and flatters her continually. He has a scar across his face from a childhood accident, but time has diminished it, and the local girls no longer see it.

The second—Caleb Newman is all muscles thanks to the years he spent at sea, not counting he’s handsome, and he’s been in love with Alice for thirteen years.

Did I mention that Alice has loved Caleb for thirteen years as well? It sounds like a no-brainer. Yet, because of an overheard remark, and the fact that Caleb’s ship was wrecked and he was presumed dead—the two haven’t spoken for a good part of that time.

She was a beautiful little girl of ten the last time Caleb saw Alice, and he was counting the days when she would be old enough to court. He signed aboard a ship to keep his mind off of her and allow her to mature. Unfortunately the ship sank in a storm, he developed amnesia, and signed on as a pirate. Crazier things have happened—in real life, not the novel.

Caleb is a good man, but he now has secrets in his past that he doesn’t want everyone to know. Alice wants to give her heart to Caleb, but she’s afraid—he broke her heart when she was little and she worries that if she loves him, he’ll do it again.

Afraid she will never have Caleb’s full love, and afraid she can’t give her whole heart to someone, she settles for Clarence. He seems like a good choice and no one tells her any different until after they’re engaged. However, things aren’t always as they seem, and neither is Clarence. He’s got some pretty dark secrets of his own.

I wish that Rachel would have added another hundred pages to the book—so that I wouldn’t have finished it so quickly.

Tuesday, September 15, 2009

Kindergarten Teacher's Aid

Well, only a few months after the weekly paper that I was managing editor of bit the dust, I am happily working as an aid for a kindergarten class. It’s actually a job that I’ve wanted—rather I should say it’s a job that I thought I’d be good at and have considered for the past ten years. I didn’t apply until recently, and voila! I got the job.

It’s been a long time since I’ve had a five-year-old and having 13 at once is a handful. They’re full of energy and just starting to learn about their place in the world. As an artist, it’s interesting that about half the class (boys) don’t like to color. It’s like the hardest thing they’ve ever done.

Some are too busy looking at their neighbor’s page to color their own and would prefer I do it for them—ah, but I won’t. Others are artists in the rough and painstakingly color each project to perfection and are quite impressive for kindergarteners.

The teacher let them use colored pencils today and a few of the kids used a lot of pencil by pushing hard and scribbling over and over. At that rate they’ll only be able to use each pencil on two or three pictures before they’re turned to nubs. I was kept busy at the pencil sharpener.

It’s a lot of fun, and with one kind word, one moment of offered help, they repay in smiles and hugs. If only the rest of the world were so easily charmed. I hope that I’ll be allowed to continue as the kindergarten teacher’s aid for years to come. Now, if only I can get all of my other ‘hats’ in line and accomplished because I still have several novels that I expect to get published hopefully sometime soon, and I’m also working on an art show for later this month. Busy, busy, busy—just like a classroom of kindergarteners only without half the energy.

Wednesday, September 9, 2009

Wuthering Heights by Emily Bronte

I read Wuthering Heights by Emily Bronte with the same—or a similar morbid curiosity with which one might watch a train wreck, or watch the paramedics as they do their job. One page into the story it was evident that all classic novels are not created equally.
Sorry Emily.

True confessions—I decided to read Wuthering Heights after reading New Moon, by Stephanie Meyers. The latter author referenced it in her novel and I wanted to see how it fit in, and why Edward sympathized with Heathcliff.

In truth, I still don’t understand why he (Edward) did, other than it was occasionally suspected that Heathcliff was a vampire. Heathcliff was a dark, miserable, malevolent person and no one knew his exact origin or parentage. Perhaps Edward used Heathcliff’s life to direct his—I mean direct his path away from the choices that Heathcliff took.

The books were similar in that two opposites were attracted to the same woman—and she in turn loved them both. Is Wuthering Heights a love story? Perhaps—yet in a totally less romantic way than Romeo and Juliet. Wuthering Heights is chiefly the story of Heathcliff—a young boy brought to live at the Earnshaw residence by the family patriarch after his visit to London. You’d think that a near starving orphan would take kindly to the person and family saving him from starvation.

Not so with Heathcliff.

He grew up spoiled and selfish, and full of ill will toward everyone he knew. His near step-sister he loved with a passion but it wasn’t a true love, it was truly selfish. Heathcliff despised his near step-brother, Hindley Earnshaw, and after Hindley’s parents and wife were gone, Heathcliff did his best to accelerate Hindley’s death and secure the Earnshaw estate for himself.

Catherine loved Heathcliff but she knew his vile character and wouldn’t marry him. She married Edgar Linton instead. He loved her purely and doted on her every need. During Catherine’s life, Heathcliff did everything he could to cause Edgar Linton grief and was partly to blame for Catherine’s illness and subsequent death.

During Heathcliff’s life, he did everything in his power to make everyone around him miserable. He was bent on exacting revenge on everyone he knew and people, to him, were merely pawns to get what he wanted. He took over the Earnshaw estate, treated Hindley’s son as a slave—not only as a slave, but taught him to loathe his own father and to cuss, but never taught him to be an important part of society nor how to read or write.

Out of spite, Heathcliff married Edgar Linton’s little sister, Isabella, then despised her for loving him. She bore him a son, but snuck away to London before the boy’s birth. After her death (yes, everyone dies), Linton as the boy is called, is forced to live with Heathcliff, who then through intrigue and deceit manages to get Cathy, (Catherine and Edgar’s daughter), to marry his son, Linton, before the lad dies (see, everyone dies) so that he can have the ultimate revenge by making Edgar miserable and then steal his estate.

His plan backfires to a degree. Edgar doesn’t mind that Cathy marries Linton—he doesn’t know the boys temperament or that he’s on his deathbed—and Edgar dies believing that his daughter is happy and well taken care of.
The casualty list: Papa Earnshaw, Hindley Earnshaw, Catherine Linton, Edgar Linton, Linton, and eventually Heathcliff himself. Heathcliff also did his best to ruin Hareton’s life and Cathy’s lives—yet this odd couple are the only ones who end up with a happily ever after.

The story is told through the eyes of the maid. She witnesses the whole thing and unwittingly plays an important part in helping Heathcliff ensure the fate of Catherine and Cathy, and all the others.

Toward the end of the book, when everyone has died except Heathcliff, Cathy and Hareton—Heathcliff owns everything he’s ever dreamed of, yet he is still miserable. He’s been tormented his whole life by his love for Catherine. Then Heathcliff is all of a sudden haunted by Catherine’s spirit—it brings him more joy than he’s had his entire life. He’s so giddy he forgets to eat or sleep and eventually dies with a smile on his face. In one last coup, he insists on being buried next to his life-long love, Catherine.

Saturday, September 5, 2009

Roadrunner Rescue

Cats will be cats, I suppose. However, when my husband saw our cat capturing and trying to eat a roadrunner, he had to intervene. The roadrunner was valiant in its effort to get away—it ran across the yard, jumped over the fence and into our garden. However, the cat followed and had the bird in his mouth.

The roadrunner was in shock. He probably thought he was a gonner, and wasn’t any more reassured when my husband grabbed him. Although his eyes were open, he made no move to get away.

Rather than taking the exhausted bird where our cat could watch, we walked around the corner and set him down in the alfalfa field behind our property. Having been perfectly still the whole time he was in my husband’s grasp, he jumped down and ran away at my husband’s first effort to place him on the ground.

Well, that’s one good deed for the day—what’s next?

Wednesday, September 2, 2009

Aebleskivers for breakfast

I don’t remember when I first had aebleskiver. I remember my mom making them, but I also remember my husband’s aunt making them for us after we first got married. I was a little suspicious of the little round pancakes at first, sure that they’d be doughy inside. They weren’t.

My mother acquired a pan and made them semi-regularly. My father was three-quarters Danish, so it’s not surprising. Yet, because the pan’s temperature has to be just right, you have to know right when to turn them and work fast—they can be tricky to make.

They’re fun to eat and fun to make—unless of course you’re making them for a crowd. Nevertheless, occasionally when my adult children gather around I’m tempted to make Aebleskivers for them. It’s a nostalgic occasion because we can both remember mom making them when we were young.

Aebleskiver’s begin with the batter (and of course a special Aebleskiver pan). There are a variety of recipes, you can use Bisquick like my mom did, or you can use your favorite pancake recipe, like I do.

Warm the pan on a burner and melt in each cup a small amount of butter (or margarine). When the pan is hot, fill each cup ¾ full with batter.
I add a small dab of apple butter to the center.

Wait until the batter is pulling away from the sides a bit, the batter has risen, and then turn them over as quickly as possible so that none of them burn. I use a knitting needle to turn them. The needle pokes into the bottom of the Aebleskiver and sticks long enough to turn it over.

After that turn them into a plate and start the process over again.
They go so fast!

Monday, August 31, 2009

Hold to the Rod

The local seminary had a special event this evening. Hold to the Rod, from 4pm to 6pm. It was a repeat of an activity they had with their students during the school day. As we were waiting in line to enter, it was fun to watch some of the kids coming out. The little boys couldn’t help but come and tell their friends just exactly what they needed to do—although they were instructed otherwise.

One of the little girls in line, I think she was two or three, wore cowboy boots that came to her knees, a black ballerina tutu, and a white, flouncy straw hat with a big fuchsia-colored flower on it. Cute. When we got to the front of the line we were led, one by one, into the side door of the dark seminary building and instructed to hold on to the rod and under no circumstances to let go.

Of course it wouldn’t be virtual-life if things were easy with no trials. People were stationed all along the way trying to coax us away from the rod. “It’s broken up ahead. Take my hand and I’ll guide you to the next part.” Etc.

The completely black room simulated our earthly life, I think—how we cannot see what was before our current life, or after it. We have to walk along in the dark with only the memory of our beginning instructions ringing faintly in our ear, “hold to the rod.”

For someone slightly past her high school years, the varying levels of the floor, coupled with the varying height of the rod was troublesome enough. I didn’t want to embarrass myself by tripping—that would probably count as my letting go of the rod and they’d whisk me away into outer darkness. GAME OVER! I didn’t want that.

None too soon, and luckily enough—we all made it to a room with the Tree of Life. It was a place of rest, a place of waiting for our loved ones, and a place of sweet treats, although unfortunately all the treats were handed out long before we got there. We had to leave without a goodie—and although we certainly didn’t need a treat, we piled into the car and drove to the local Dairy Queen.
Nope, I’d never make a pioneer. Not unless I could take a freezer full of ice cream with me. Yum!

Wednesday, August 26, 2009

Jane Eyre by Charlotte Bronte

Jane Eyre by Charlotte Bronte is an intriguing tale for sure. The story starts with Jane as a ten-year-old living with her aunt and three bratty cousins. Mrs. Reed is not Jane’s blood relation and has always resented the girl, and the only reason Mrs. Reed keeps Jane in her home is because of a promise coerced from her at her husband’s death bed.

Although the aunt keeps the promise of continuing to allow Jane to live in her home, she never attempts to raise Jane as one of her own. The aunt is cruel and unfeeling toward her ward. Jane’s cousin, John, is even crueler. Jane spends much of her first ten years trying to keep out of his way so as not to be abused, both physically in the form of flinging books, and mentally by continually reassuring her that she is nothing but an ugly orphan who should feel grateful for every crumb.

Jane becomes ill after being locked in a room she believes is haunted. The doctor, in the course of his examination, realizes the situation in which Jane lives and suggests to Mrs. Reed that she send Jane away to school.

Jane ends up in a school for orphans and unwanted children, and is run by a man even more heartless than Mrs. Reed. He and his family live in luxury while he grinds into the children’s minds that they should be humble. A lack of proper food and adequate heating keeps them that way until half the children die of disease and alert the surrounding community to the children’s inhumane treatment, and a governing board for the school is formed. Conditions improve dramatically, and Jane is raised to be an educated, well-mannered young woman.

After her favorite teacher leaves, Jane becomes restless and advertises for a position as governess. Her request is answered by only one opportunity for employment—which she takes. Jane finds herself in a lovely home, teaching a young French girl and discovers eventually that the young girl, Adele, is the orphan-ward of Mr. Rochester—a man in his early forties who has lived a riotous life but wants to settle down.

Although Mr. Rochester is twice Jane’s age, the pair discover they are like-minded and enjoy one another’s company, and they fall in love. One would wish the story to end right there. Let the wealthy man, who is proud and sure marry the young girl who has never had anything. But Jane discovers Mr. Rochester’s dark secret while standing at the alter waiting to pledge her love.

The author teased my mind, wondering all the while if the pair would get back together, or if Jane would find another kindred soul who was younger and more suited to her in age. After running away from Mr. Rochester, Jane becomes the benefactress of kindness bestowed upon her by a younger and certainly more handsome man. He saves her from the brink of death and he and his sisters nurse her back to health.

He is not her soul mate, however, and his overbearing ways are soon made manifest. Although he does not love her nor pretend to, he wishes her to be his wife and travel to India so they can be couple missionaries there. (He likes controlling her life.) After having known love true and passionate, Jane cannot bear the idea of marrying a man for sheer convenience.

Poor Mr. Rochester doesn’t get off as easily.

Jane Eyre shows the greatness of true love. However I wish someone would rewrite it in American English. While Jane is tutoring Adele, there are many passages in French that are never interpreted, and the old-style English with which the novel is written is sometimes hard to understand. However, that said, it is worth the effort.

Tuesday, August 18, 2009

Hummingbirds--like me

Not content to stay in one place, hummingbirds are always going somewhere or doing something. I sit in front of my big picture window each day to write, but sometimes like today, I get distracted by the activity just outside my window.

Since we no longer have our outside dogs, the hummingbird feeder has become such a popular place that we decided to put up two feeders. Who would have known that our backyard would turn into a war zone for the little creatures?

(the new feeder, recently refilled)

They love the new feeder, by the way. They loved the old one, too, and guarded it from each other as best as they could. Now the new feeder is up, it, apparently is a novelty because the food disappears from it at twice the rate of the old one. They flit from one to the other, and then settle on the new one.

(The old feeder--still as full as we filled it a week ago)

I think that sometimes we are like hummingbirds—flitting from one important job to the other, always busy. We like new things much better than our old stuff, even though they are equally functional—and we guard our treasures as best as we can from interlopers who might happen by.

Like me, they are curious. More than once, a hummingbird has stopped drinking his nectar to peek into my window and observe what I’m doing—and more often than not, I’m busy watching the hummingbird watch me.

Hummingbirds also have their quiet, more giving nature. They will take a moment to sit on the wind chime, or the garden fence, or the power line to observe their surroundings and relax. I often appreciate the quiet moments of life in a similar way—one second at a time. Sometimes the little birds will also use these same resting points to wait their turn at the feeder. Occasionally, they realize that they can share, and several will drink from the feeder at the same time.

(One little guy waiting patiently for his turn)
It doesn’t take long, though, before peace is interrupted and they are back at play, racing through the backyard chasing one another doing aerial dives and acrobatics in their effort to win the game of “king (or queen) of the feeder.”

Yes, I think I am a lot like a hummingbird—now, if only I could fly.

Sunday, August 9, 2009

The Hourglass Door by Lisa Mangum

School is starting soon (if it hasn't already where you live) and teens everywhere will need a good book for their first book review of the school year. The Hourglass Door is a book with wide appeal.

The Hourglass Door by Lisa Mangum is a YA with a little bit of everything—a little bit of romance—a little bit of adventure—a portion of mystery—and a bit of the supernatural. The Hourglass Door has a great lead character—Abby is an above average student with hopes and dreams that she isn’t sure how to make happen without betraying her friends, her parents—and her boyfriend. She is believable and interesting. Abby Edmunds is a strong, intelligent girl with spirit and ambition.

Abby has the perfect parents—they’re predictable, lending her feelings of security. She has the perfect best friend—she’s known Valerie since 3rd grade. Abby also finds herself starting her senior year in high school with the perfect boyfriend. Jason and his family moved next door when he and Abby were pre-schoolers, the family became instant friends and together planned their children’s lives. Jason is good-looking, kind, and loves order in his life. Abby fits right into his, and both of their parents’ plan.

Everything in Abby’s life seems perfect. And predictable. And boring. Abby yearns for adventure—something less than predictable. After school starts, Abby gets her wish in Dante, a foreign exchange student with a mysterious past who joins her drama class. As luck has it, the drama teacher then gives Abby the assignment of bringing Dante ‘up to speed’ with the rest of the class on their current project, Much Ado About Nothing.

NOTE to teen boys with girlfriends: If you haven’t kissed your girl yet—don’t schedule the event into your calendar and then refuse to deviate from the plan when a better one comes along.

Dante is different than anyone she has ever known—he’s interesting and best yet he’s unpredictable. Like a balm to her soul, he brings much needed variety to her life . . . and yet weird things happen when Dante’s around—time seems to either stand still, or speed up—and he heals remarkably fast.

A popular band, Zero Hour, comes to town and then stays. There are whispers that its three members, Tony, Zo, and V are dangerous—and they seem to share a past with Dante. Does Dante have a criminal past as rumors indicate? Abby doesn’t give much thought to gossip, but when Valerie starts hanging around Zero Hour, her friend changes in a startling and not so good way, forcing Abby to open her eyes and then take action in the only way she knows how.

Zero Hour, Dante, and Abby are thrust into an unimaginable race—it’s a race that Abby and Valerie might not survive—a race so dangerous that if the wrong person gets to the ‘finish line’ first, the world as we know it may never be the same.

The Hourglass Door by Lisa Mangum is the first of a series, and so compelling that as a reader, I wished all of her books could have been written and published at the same time. Lisa skillfully brought her characters to life, and I’m anxious to see how they fare in book two which I’m sure will be one of my favorite reads next summer—and well worth the wait.

Thursday, August 6, 2009

Microwave Monkey Bread

It’s been a while since I posted a recipe, and with the start of school just around the corner, I figure that in honor of my own children, I’ll share their very favorite snack—

Microwave Monkey Bread.

1/3 C. brown sugar
1/3 C. margarine
1 TBSP water
½ tsp cinnamon
¼ C. chopped nuts (optional)
1 (7.5 oz) can refrigerated biscuits (the cheap kind)

In a shallow 1 qt. round (glass) baking dish, combine brown sugar, margarine, water, and cinnamon. Cook, covered with paper towel for 1 ½ minutes, stirring after margarine melts. Stir in nuts. Separate and cut each biscuit into quarters. Add to sugar mixture; stir, coating each piece. Push mixture away from center and set a juice glass in the center. Cook, uncovered, for 4 minutes on HIGH power. Let stand for 1 minute and remove glass. Invert to serving dish. Serve warm.

NOTE: We don’t actually ever invert them onto a serving dish—we flip them over in the pan, coating both sides with the sugar-sauce, divide them up and then eat them like ravening wolves.

Thursday, July 30, 2009

Thank Heaven for Little Girls!

Thank Heaven for Little Girls!

This is Brynlie on Friday--just a few hours old.

Girls are so sweet—by the way, this is my third granddaughter who just arrived this last Friday. Let’s see, that makes her six days old today. She’s a cutie!

Brynlie with grandpa.

I marvel at the wonders of modern medicine—and wish that level of expertise was available when I was having children. Other than my first, I think ten days after my due date was the soonest I ever delivered.

Apparently like me, my daughter gets close to her due date, and is still not ready to deliver. The doctors schedule her right away for inducing. Then when she arrives, they (the medical staff) do a cervical thinning which starts her labor without meds.

Brynlie with her big sister, Lillie.
It’s a good thing she didn’t have her babies 25 years ago! This little darling, Brynlie, weighed 8 pounds and 15 ounces and was 21 and ½ inches tall. Imagine what she would have weighed in two weeks!
Not wanting to leave out any of my cute little granddaughters, this is Brynlie's cousin, Olivia, who is just learning to crawl and is trying to get some teeth.

Thursday, July 23, 2009

Illuminations of the Heart by Joyce DiPastena

Joyce DiPastena has done it again!
Illuminations of the Heart, a historical romance novel by Joyce DiPastena is more than just romance--it's a compelling read. This book, her second, is set in 1179 France where women were regarded more as property and the object of men’s lustful desires, than humans whose feeling should be considered when making decisions involving their lives.

Exciting, with moments of 'chew your nails' action, Illuminations of the Heart takes us to Vere Castle where Triston de Brielle (a character from DiPastena’s first novel, Loyalty’s Web), is now its master. Unfortunately, life holds no joy for him because his beloved wife, Clothilde, passed away a year ago and he cannot move on.

Triston now has guardianship of his son, Perrin—a child who has unexplainably feared his father since his mother, Clothilde’s tragic death. This causes Triston further pain, yet he hasn’t the wherewithal to discuss it with the lad.

When a beautiful young stranger is placed under his responsibility—a woman who resembles Clothilde so completely that most, upon seeing her, believe she is Triston’s tormented wife returned from the dead—the eligible bachelors line up to make lewd passes and try to gain her hand in any way conceivable.

Donna Siriol de Calendri is not such an easy catch. She has fire in her soul and checks her ungentlemanly suitors with a boldness not expected from one so petite. There is only one person who owns her heart—Triston, and Siri refuses to settle for anyone less—that is until Sir Raynor de Molinet comes on the scene with his silver tongue.

The stakes rise as Raynor, recognizing Siri’s maiden name, searches out her lineage and discovers she is the sole living heir to a vast fortune now under Duke Richard’s hand.

As Triston faces charges of Tyranny, he battles his liege lord Roger Fauke, Raynor, and even Duke Richard himself for Siri’s safety, but will he ever be able to love her the way Siri desires him to?

DiPastena writes with a loving knowledge of medieval times and adds little details of the era in such a delightful and unobtrusive way that upon reading her novel, one is willfully transported back into a time when history was rich with knights in shining armor, fair maidens, castles, and highway robbers waiting to steal what treasures they can from their unsuspecting countrymen.

DiPastena’s Illuminations of the Heart gets five stars (out of five). It’s a novel so well written that it can be read over and over again with equal enjoyment.

Sunday, July 12, 2009

Reading Books

Summer is a great time for "chillin" and reading books. Actually, for me any time of year is a good time for reading a book. This summer, I've re-read Joyce DiPastena's book, "Loyalty's Web." It's a historical novel set in medieval days, and dispite the unfriendly term "medieval" it is a very entertaining and compelling read.

I've also read, "The Hourglass Door," by Lisa Mangum. It is a contemporary fantasy/sci-fi, and is also a great read. It's about a high school senior who finds herself falling in love with who she thinks is a foreign exchange student. He's not.

I am currently reading, "A Door in the Woods," a fantasy by James Dashner. I met him at the LDStorymakers Conference this year when I bought his book and asked him to sign it for me. He has several novels out, and as he signed this one, he apologised to me in advance of my reading it as this apparently was his first effort. So far I don't understand the apology because it has been engaging from the very first page. The main character is 14, however his story isn't full of short, clipped sentences geared for young readers which I find refreshing (especially since I'm long past 14).

The next book on my list to read is Joyce DiPastena's newly published sequel "Illuminations of the Heart," that I will purchase at a writers retreat that I'm attending this weekend. I read the first chapter on Joyce's website and it proves to be as good as her first.

Tuesday, July 7, 2009

Dogs Verses Cats

My husband is a dog lover and has been since he was a little boy. He tells the story of his favorite dog, Spider, dying, and putting it in the freezer until he could bear to part with his beloved pet.

I wasn’t raised that way. We had mostly cats when I was growing up. My dad didn’t believe in spending any money on pets other than for their food. Needless to say, we often had quite a few cats and kittens running around the yard. Sometimes they would all run away at the same time. I never understood it until I was an adult.

In spite of my upbringing, I don’t believe pets are disposable. However, we recently found ourselves with three large adult dogs, two cats, and 20 chickens. That’s a lot of pet food to buy. We needed to do something so that the pet food bill was smaller than the people food bill. We found good homes for two dogs and one cat. Some of those chickens need to go, too.

When we moved to our current home, we planted a variety of flowering trees and vines to encourage butterflies and hummingbirds into our yard. We’ve had minimal success until recently—now that we’re two dogs short. The cat was an inside cat and can’t be a factor. It’s amazing to me now how many hummingbirds frequent our feeder. They’re everywhere. The other wild birds in our area come into the yard more often as well.

We’ve had dogs for all of our married life—some good dogs, some bad ones. We had one dog that could hold three tennis balls in his mouth at once—he was a beloved pet. One of our dogs ripped the carpeting off of the floor while we were gone—bad dog, and one dog that we loved dearly that we had to find a new home for because he bit adults that came into the backyard while our children were there. He was merely trying to protect—to earn his keep, but when he bit our elderly neighbor lady, she was not amused.

The poor cat we found a new home for, I can only hope she has a better life with her new owners. She was our daughter’s cat and had been held hostage in her bedroom for longer than I care to admit. This arrangement wouldn’t have been quite as bad for the cat had my daughter spent more time with her. Finding her cat a new home was an act of love.

Friday, June 26, 2009

Farewell to Farrah

I haven't much to say--it's not like I knew Farrah personally. I feel sad in her passing though. Sad for her long struggle with cancer, and sad for her friends and family who now suffer.

I believe it was a right gentlemanly thing for Michael Jackson to pass away that very afternoon, thereby turning all the media circus away from Farrah and her loved ones. Now they can grieve privately.

Life is a fleeting thing. We need to be sure to take full advantage of every moment, and live every corner of our life so that when it's our time to go we won't be regretful.

Monday, June 22, 2009

Weekly Summer Give Away

There is still plenty of time to sign up for free stuff. I am part of a weekly, summer giveaway hosted by Authors Incognito member, Danyelle Ferguson. I apologize for not posting this sooner--I've been busy with weddings and such.

Jun 22
Cook Books by Kelsey A. Dollar, Kelsey A. Dollar/Danyelle Ferguson
Jun 29
EZ View Desktop by The Original Scrapbox.com ($200 value)
The Original Scrapbox.com
Jul 06
Kids, Teens, and Mom Care Package: Summer Fever '07 Music CD & Kindermusik: Get Up & Move! CD & Agent in Old Lace by Tristi Pinkston, Tristi Pinkston/Danyelle Ferguson
Jul 13
Scrapbooking Supplies, Kim Thompson
Jul 20
Loyalty's Web by Joyce DiPastena,
Jul 27
Gift Certificate for Vinyl Lettering, Valerie Ipson
Aug 03
Signed copy of Please, No Zits, Anne Bradshaw
Aug 10
The Hourglass Door by Lisa Mangum (autographed)Lisa Mangum/Danyelle Ferguson
Aug 17
Coyote's Grand Adventure, Tina Scott
Aug 24
Recovering Charles by Jason F. Wright (autographed & numbered)/Carmel Kick by Raine (collectable mini-shoe)
Danyelle Ferguson
Aug 31
English Trifle by Josi Kilpack, Josi Kilpack

Tuesday, June 16, 2009

Be a Dreamer

Dreamers were not allowed when I was growing up. This simple activity got me in trouble at school on more than one occasion when I was caught staring out the window (yes, I grew up back in the day when classrooms had windows).

Dreaming is one of the things that led me to reading, however, and that can’t be too bad. Can it? My parent’s home in Mesa was equipped with a swamp cooler and there were plenty of summer days when the weather outside was more tolerable than in the house.

During those times, I could be found perched in the large pecan tree in our front yard. It was my favorite spot on earth. Why, you ask? We had four pecan trees in our yard, but the one in front had a branch that forked, and I used that spot as my hideaway. I’d take a book there and read until someone made me come down.

I’d also people watch, because the tree was large and the branches overgrown with leaves in the summer. From my perch, I could see everything going on in my neighborhood—which was great for a junior detective, which I sometimes pretended to be.

To read is to dream, I think. As a child, when I read, I could be a pirate, or Maid Marian, or Heidi, or my favorite--Pipi Longstocking. It’s the same for me today. Whenever I read, I immerse myself into the novel and become part of it. Because of this, I’ve been to many faraway places and had a variety of experiences that I wouldn’t have had otherwise.

Without dreams life would be rather mundane. It’s because I dared to dream that I became a writer. I’d have never done it otherwise. Because I dared to dream, I also became a watercolor artist. I’d have never done that either without my dreams.

I read a sign once that I’ve tried always to take to heart, it said, “A goal without hard work is merely a dream” So, in this sense, a dream is the beginning—a goal that’s thought of. When we add our hard work, our dreams can turn into reality, and I’ve proven that on many occasions.

I dreamed of writing for magazines, but it wasn’t until I worked at it that my dream became a reality. I had never won anything or received acclaim for my writing or art, and it wasn’t until I dreamed that I could that I dared to try. Although I’m no superstar, I have won several awards for both my writing and my art.

Not many people know that when I was a kid, I dreamed of becoming a concert pianist. I’m not that good, but through my church I was able to fulfill this dream, too. I’ve played for soloists, choirs, and I’ve even played at a wedding and a funeral. I’m glad to be done with that dream though, because it scared me witless.

I think dreaming is a lost art. It’s something that they should teach in elementary school along with math and English. Our children and our society as a whole need to realize that dreaming is ok, it’s healthy, even. Let’s all be dreamers and dream that we’re successful at what we want to do, and then make it happen.

Wednesday, June 10, 2009

The Quintessential Chicken Salad Sandwich

I've neglected my post this week because my fourth son got married. After his mission, he didn't want anything to do with living at home--he rented an apartment and stayed closely attached to his high school sweetheart. This is the fifth wedding in our family, and you'd think I'd have it figured out by now--or be more relaxed. Now I know why I was sent five sons instead of five daughters. I have two daughters, and only one of them still needs marrying off, and that won't be for a few years yet. (That's my sigh of relief.)

Here's a recipe that I always get compliments on, and I've served it at my last two weddings--once for my daughter's reception, then recently for a family luncheon to get acquainted with the newest additions to our family. You can either use cooked chicken or turkey with equally good results.

The Quintessential Chicken Salad Sandwich

6 lb. boneless skinless chicken breast (boiled and cubed)
1-2 lb bacon, chopped, cooked and drained (I use real pre-cooked bacon bits)
2 small cans of smoke house almonds, chopped
2 bunches celery, chopped fine
1 qt mayonnaise & ¾ C. lemon juice—mix and pour over other ingredients
Chill and serve on rolls or croissants

It’s a sandwich with more flare and flavor than ordinary chicken and mayo. Add a scoop to a croissant, and you’ve got the perfect luncheon fare for a wedding, bridge group, or something simple to impress the in-laws.

I’ve had this recipe for over 5 years, and I’ve never made it without compliments and requests for the recipe. It’s especially easy when using the real, pre-cooked bacon bits. The almonds give it—mmmm, it’s making me hungry just writing about it. My preference is a simple dinner roll—I don’t need a fancy croissant—just give me the basics.

Monday, June 1, 2009

The Crazy 8 Game

I’ve been tagged! I’m it! For this crazy game of crazy eights, it seems that I am to write eight responses to—what? Wait! Not eight questions, but four! It seems that I lucked out.
So, here I go, in cyber space’s first getting-to-know-Tina opportunity.

8 things I look forward to--in no particular order:
1. Eternal life
2. Being published nationally
3. eating freshly baked cinnamon rolls (in an un-calorie-counting world)
4. eating ice cream (in any world)
5. a good steak
6. visits with my kids and grandchildren
7. going to the temple
8. going on walks

8 things I did yesterday:
1. visited with grandchildren
2. drove home
3. worked
4. made bread
5. read a book
6. wrote a book review
7. kissed my husband
8. missed my children

8 things I wish I could do—in no particular order:
1. fly in a hot-air balloon
2. go white water rafting (which is crazy because I don’t swim)
3. go back to Denmark
4. speak Danish (but really, not a logical wish)
5. travel without a budget strain—will someone pay me to travel? Please.
6. be more visible—I’m trying, but it’s a step-by-step process for me
7. be published nationally—actually that’s closer to first on my list
8. lead all of my children to eternal life—also a deeper, truer wish than the others

8 shows that I watch:
This one is harder because I don’t believe a lot of tv is even worth mentioning. How about 8 books that I’ve enjoyed—in no particular order:
1. Harry Potter series
2. Twilight series
3. Loyalty’s Web, by Joyce DiPastena
4. Wake Me When It’s Over (and sequel), by Robison E. Wells
5. Seeking Persephone, by Sarah M. Eden
6. The Stranger She Married, by Donna Hatch
7. Delicious Conversation, by Jennifer Griffith
8. Prince Etcheon and the Secret of the Ancient, by JoAnn Arnold
I can’t leave it at that—I have to mention The Hourglass Door by Lisa Mangum—an excellent read that I’ll review here later.

Sunday, May 31, 2009

Prince Etcheon and the Secret of the Ancient, by JoAnn Arnold

Prince Etcheon and the Secret of the Ancient, by JoAnn Arnold is a delightful read. For anyone who enjoys a fantasy that is so fantastical that once read, you feel as though you’ve just awakened from a dream—this is the book for you. It’s full of interesting creatures, fantasy kingdoms, time travel (yes), and a well planned war against good and evil.

The imagination is unleashed as Etcheon learns who he is and of the responsibilities that lay ahead for him. It’s only after his Granna Fela dies that Etcheon’s true identity as a prince is revealed to him. He is sent from one realm, one era to another in order to complete the necessary training. Etcheon’s ultimate goal is to free his parents and save his people from death. To do that, he must best the evil wizard, Ancitel, and overthrow the corrupted King Yiltor.

It’s no simple task, to be sure, but Prince Etcheon is not alone in his quest. Those guiding him are as old as creation itself, and wise enough to know better than to let Etcheon’s branches of knowledge grow faster and stronger than his roots of wisdom for fear the whole shall become corrupted—they guide and nurture him in the things they must, and let him discover the rest on his own.

Prince Etcheon’s legion of helpers include an eagle who can change size, a panther, a horse that can race so fast he becomes an invisible blur, an owl, a two headed lamb, and an ancient tree. He also has the help and loyalty of a good wizard and a village of small folk. To Etcheon, time is irrelevant as these creatures share their knowledge and prepare him for his destiny. As he is taught, we as readers learn beads of wisdom that resonate in their truth, and we feel refreshed because of the experience.

Although numbers-wise the odds are against Prince Etcheon and his small band of warriors in their fight against the wealthy King Yiltor, the two evil men learn too late that the odds were a little better matched than they had anticipated.

Of course, when two evil men come together—they can never truly trust each other, which is the case between Ancitel and Yiltor. The evil wizard Ancitel wants to capture Prince Etcheon and gain all, including Yiltor’s kingdom and Etcheon’s timepiece. King Yiltor uses Ancitel to the best of his ability in his quest to gain control of all the surrounding kingdoms and therefore gain control of all the riches, and afterwards he hopes to be rid of the evil wizard.

I often call fantasy novels “mind candy” because they’re enjoyable to read, but with little substance. This novel offers more than empty calories—perhaps it’s more like a Snickers bar or a PayDay. It’s fun to read, but resonates throughout with truths regarding good and evil, and at the end of the day, it’s a little more satisfying.

Tuesday, May 26, 2009

Strawberries—the Food of Love

Sounds good, doesn’t it? Strawberries are one of my favorite fruits, and why not, they’re full of goodness. A cup of whole strawberries contains 141% DVA of vitamin C, and 20% DVA of folic acid. They’re good for what ales you—and they’re even better sliced and sprinkled with sugar—or dipped in chocolate, of course—but strawberry pie always makes my mouth water.

I clipped this recipe out of the American Profile magazine several months ago, and I really like it. Of course, I wouldn’t be me if I didn’t change it just a little. Here’s my version:

Fresh Strawberry French Toast

16 slices of French bread—for this I especially like the kind that’s a pre-sliced square loaf (fits in the pan better), but it’s good with the regular slice-it-yourself variety as well.
1 8-oz package low-cal cream cheese, softened
1/3 C. plus ¼ C. sugar, divided
1 C. no-sugar-added strawberry spread, divided
7 eggs
2 C. 2% milk
½ tsp ground cinnamon
½ C. coarsely ground pecans
1 quart ripe strawberries, sliced
Frozen fat-free whipped topping, thawed (optional)

1. Lightly coat a glass 13x9-inch baking dish with cooking spray.
2. Arrange half the bread in a single layer, trimming to fit as needed.
3. Combine cream cheese, 1/3 C sugar, and ¼ C fruit spread; beat until smooth. Spread over bread in pan. Top with remaining bread.
4. Combine eggs and milk; mix well. Pour over bread. Cover tightly with plastic wrap and refrigerate at least 4 hours or overnight.
5. Remove pan from refrigerator 20 minutes before baking. Preheat oven to 375.
6. Combine ¼ C sugar, cinnamon and pecans; sprinkle evenly over top. Cover pan with foil and bake 45 minutes. Uncover and bake 15-20 minutes, until puffy and golden brown on the sides. Let stand about 5 minutes before cutting.
7. Heat remaining fruit spread over low heat until melted. Remove from heat and stir in strawberries. Serve berry mixture warm on the side. Garnish with whipped topping if desired. Serves 12. Happy Eating!

NOTE: After the 45 min on 375, mine is always golden and puffy. I remove the cover and cook an extra 5 minutes at most—it wouldn’t be nearly as good burnt.

Saturday, May 23, 2009

Seeking Persephone by Sarah M. Eden

Seeking Persephone, by Sarah M. Eden was a 2009 Whitney Award finalist. After reading it, it was easy for me to see why. The author’s engaging writing style and clever story draws the reader in.

In essence, it’s a tale of misunderstanding to the greatest degree along with a storyline that is similar to Beauty and the Beast. However, who knew that Beauty and the Beast was in essence a story from Greek mythology—the love story between Persephone and Hades?
I loved this book and I’ve read it twice.

The Duke of Kielder is a mean, cantankerous cuss, scarred inside and out. Born with only a piece of an ear in the early eighteenth century. Surgeon upon surgeon tried to find the rest of his ear that they were so sure was hidden just underneath to no avail. His mother left after the surgeries were all failures, and although she still played a part in his life, the Duke bitterly resented her for leaving him and his father.

After his father died when Adam Boyce (the Duke) was still young, he grew up knowing to never trust, or to love anyone—it only brings disappointment and misery—thus his angry and demanding personality developed as year after year, he refined his skill at keeping people at a distance.

Until Persephone.

Persephone dreamed, as we all dream, of finding true love—her one and only Prince Charming. Someone who would take care of her, be kind, and love her—someone not at all like her father, an intellectual sort who spent the better part of each day in his own little world oblivious to his family or their needs.

Having never met, Adam and Persephone marry through an arrangement. Adam wants someone to keep his weasely cousin from inheriting his estate. Persephone wants her family to have the money they need to survive.

The Duke expects a homely girl—an old maid, spineless and desperate for money. What he gets is a young woman with a bright intellect (she’s her father’s daughter). Persephone is not spineless, neither is she homely. She lights up each room she enters with her cheery attitude and although her circumstances, and her marriage aren’t ideal, she refuses to give into despair or cynicism.

Persephone treats all the staff with kindness and wins their loyalty. She treats her husband with kindness and respect—believing as she does, that there is good in everyone. Persephone doesn’t bow to her husband or quake in his presence—which takes him off guard. Adam doesn’t know how to act around a pretty girl who treats him well.

Before Adam knows it, he is hopelessly in love—and that’s not what he wanted at all.

Seeking Persephone teaches the life-story of misunderstandings quite well, whether intentionally or unintentionally I’m not sure. Perhaps I picked up on that lesson because I’ve had so much experience with misunderstanding myself. People do things, and sometimes they hurt your feelings. It’s a fact of life. However, we’d all do well to be more like Persephone and less like Adam because—although we think we do—we never know another person’s intent or motivation.

Tuesday, May 19, 2009

Treasure Hunt

I've joined with my friend Joyce DiPastena who is sponsoring a summer treasure hunt! The rules are simple--enter and win. I'm offering a signed copy of my children's picture book, Coyote's Grand Adventure to the winner on June 10th.
Best Regards,
Tina Scott

Welcome to Our “Summer Treasure Hunt: Dig for Clues and Win” Contest!-

Some friends and I have put together an exciting contest to kick off your summer! Beginning June 1st, we will be giving away a prize a day. That’s right: 30 days, 30 treasures! There should be something for everyone: romance, mystery, historical, contemporary, and young adult fiction; children’s picture books; a variety of non-fiction; and just to liven things up even more, we’ve included a few exciting non-book prizes: a free 30 page manuscript edit, for you aspiring authors out there; an e-bay gift certificate; and a gift-certificate for a Vinyl Expressions Quote.

How can you win one of these fabulous prizes? Follow the rules below:


You can send in an entry for each day’s prize, or only for those prizes that strike your fancy. The rules are simple:

(1) Go to the website or blog indicated for each day, find the answer to the question for that day, then email the answer with your name and mailing address to jdipastena@yahoo.com.

(2) Please send a separate entry for each day and type the day you are entering in the subject line. (Such as: June Treasure Hunt, Day 1; June Treasure Hunt, Day 2, etc).

(3) Deadline for each day: Midnight PST

(4) The winner will be contacted and announced on the day following the deadline.

You do not have to wait until the designated day to enter. You can start sending in your entries right now, or begin entering at any point along the way. And check back here each day between June 2nd-July 1st to read the names of the winners.

If you have any questions, feel free to email Joyce DiPastena at jdipastena@yahoo.com.

And now…let the treasure hunt begin!