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.