Saturday, December 20, 2008
Friday, December 19, 2008
The idea that everyone has insight that someone else will find helpful inspired Lisa to reach beyond her personal circle of friends, hoping to inspire people to renew their sense of connectedness to one another. Lisa believes that by reaching out through the universal experiences of love, loss, triumph and tragedy, we learn to celebrate the things that unite us and make us one. Common Threads Journals were created to give everyone a way to record and share their stories.
Recently it seems as though my life has been one reminder after another that life is short. It’s a bit cliché I know, a phrase we hear all the time, but it makes it no less the truth…there is no time like the present. These recent reminders have been weighing heavy on my mind, so I decided to set aside my original plans for this guest post and send out a message to the readers of this great little blog that feels a little more important.
With the holiday season upon us, lots of people are busy shopping for presents for the people they love. As the hustle and bustle of the holiday season begins to take over your life I’d like to suggest you give yourself a present too: take time to nurture the relationships with the people you love. Everyone likes to receive gifts, but really there is no greater gift than making time for someone…and there is no time like the present.
The idea that we might lose someone close to us, like a spouse or a parent, is one of the most terrifying feelings there is. It is during those times in our lives that it is easy to make time for the people we love. We feel vulnerable when mortality stares us in the face, and those times often leave us taking life a little slower, taking time to smell the roses (to use another bad cliché), and spending more quality time with our loved ones.
Sometimes just being on the fringe of an experience like that can be a good reminder, which is where I found myself recently when someone I love very much was faced with the possibility of losing a parent to cancer. Following that experience with my friend, my husband and I were in a vehicle collision caused by icy roadway conditions. We were extremely fortunate not to be hurt and not to have seriously injured anyone else. We found ourselves counting our blessings and telling each other we loved each other a little more often than usual.
There are plenty of examples of life experiences that send us that message, that important reminder that life is too short for anger or regret, for anything but love and meaningful connections. What I’d like to see, however, are more of us living our lives according to that message, without needing to have the importance of it scared into us by a near tragedy. I realize that is not a simple task, because our daily schedules are busy and sometimes even unmanageable. I know the holiday season is no exception to that chaos, but really, if you don’t start now, when will you?
I’m not suggesting you clear your schedule and turn every minute into quality time spent with family and friends. It doesn’t need to be that drastic. Perhaps it could be a phone call to an aunt you don’t see as often as you’d like or an email to a friend you’ve been falling out of touch with. Maybe, as a friend and I recently discussed, it could be spending a day with your mom going through treasured family heirlooms and documenting where they came from, so that when she is gone you’ll know which teacup belonged to your great-grandmother and that the lamp table you would have otherwise gotten rid of had been crafted by your great-great-grandfather.
My books, The Common Threads Journals, are all about the importance of making deeper, more lasting connections with the people around us. I spend a great deal of my time talking to people about my books and about the importance of connecting with others, but even I have trouble doing it sometimes. Apparently the universe recently decided I needed a reminder: I needed to live my ideas not just talk about them. Unfortunately I don’t always get the message right away, so it has to be sent several times, in several ways, just to get my attention.
My wish for you is that you start making time for the people in your life before the universe decides it needs to get your attention. Start taking some steps to nurture those important relationships. Tell the people you love that you love them: tell them often. Start doing it now. Don’t wait to be hit over the head with the message, because there is no time like the present.
Lisa Dunster Moeller, a Northwest native, was raised in a small town by loving parents who instilled in her the importance of service to others. Still a small town girl with a big sense of her responsibility to the greater good, Lisa works as an administrative specialist for a municipal police department in Washington State while managing the family pumpkin farm along with her husband. She also volunteers for various charities, including the American Cancer Society, and is active in her community.
Storybook Acres Press
PO Box 245
Everson, WA 98247
Phone: (360) 441-5065
To purchase the books online:
“Celebrating The Holidays”: http://tinyurl.com/5e543s
“Healing A Life Unraveled”: http://tinyurl.com/6cgtvt
Thursday, December 18, 2008
1. Buy a computer, flat screen monitor, and printer. (Okay, the flat screen monitor is not strictly necessary if your eyes are very young. Buy a computer with as much RAM, processor speed, and hard drive storage as you can afford.)
2. Buy and install Microsoft Word. (Yes, you can use other word processing software, but this is my list and that's my recommendation. Plus most agents/editors/publishers want your manuscript delivered in Word. I hear you grumbling, but I too used WordPerfect for years and was able to teach myself Word. You can learn to use it. And the Home and Student version is not that expensive.)
3. Set up an internet connection. (Hopefully something faster than dial-up since the writing, finding an agent and acquiring a publisher will provide more than enough frustration). Make sure you have up-to-date virus protection. I don't care for "security suite software." Too many programs to slow down your computer. Between pop-up blockers, phishing protection, and extra firewalls – surfing the internet can become more like sitting on a leaky air mattress and paddling with your hands. Yeah, you're safer but it's not much fun. McAfee Virus Scan, kept updated, along with the firewall that comes with your computer operating system is usually more than adequate unless you troll the bad part of town a lot. If you like Norton, great. But if you ever want to change to something else, you'll find Norton has buried itself into many of your software programs and is almost impossible to remove.
4. Build a website. If you're ever lucky enough to have readers, they'll expect you to have a website. Lots of places on the web will host your website for a small monthly fee. They have software on site so you can build your own or you can hire a web designer to do it for you. If you have extra cash hire the web person. If not, you can learn to do it yourself. There is an enormous amount of information on the internet about websites available. Hey, if you're a writer, you should be a reader. So read … you can learn just about anything by reading and practicing. (I'm also giving myself a little pep talk with this blog. I'm trying to learn how to animate graphics. Four hours and now I can make a dog wink.)
5. Set up a MySpace page and make friends. Every friend you make is a potential reader of your book. Plus, you meet some great people. Sure you'll get the occasional spammer or crazy person, but you can delete them with a single click. Much easier than dealing with your obnoxious next door neighbor.
6. Buy photo software, install it, and learn to use it. Not a day goes by, that I don't use photo software to resize my bookcovers for promotional items and postings. Did you think that Irish Wolf hound changes hats by herself? I like Microsoft Digital Image Suite 9. It does everything I want it to and is very user friendly. Yes, Adobe makes some great photo software that will do more, but I was looking for something with a short learning curve and something inexpensive. Microsoft Digital Image Suite 9 is just right for me.
7. There are some wonderful books on writing. Read some of them so you know what you don't know. The more I read about writing the more I realize writing is like anything else, you get better with study and practice. It's a craft. Just because you want to write, doesn't mean you can. I've got a list of books that I found helpful – email me at firstname.lastname@example.org and I'll send it to you.
Since I'm using Word to type this, I know that I've got 565 words at this point. More than enough for my Thursday blog. I'll run spell check before I cut and paste this into "Blogger."
Did I mention blogging? That should be item number 8. Maybe author newsletters should be number 9. But I'm not sure you really need to do both even though Evelyn David does. You have to save some time for the actual writing.
Okay. Time to wrap this up. I'm headed back to the animation drawing board. My goal is to get a dog's tail to wag.
A writer's life is so exciting.
Wednesday, December 17, 2008
Tina’s got the “eye”, as I call it. I don’t have it. And few do, I’ve decided.
My good friend and Village librarian, Mary, remarked that she picked up a antique milk crate at a tag sale. She loved it. Brought it home. And then wondered, “What in Sam Hill am I going to do with this?” But fortunately for Mary, like me, she watches a lot of the Food Network. She watched as Tyler Florence (one of our favorite chefs—maybe because he makes so much meat with such loving care?) took his old, antique milk crate, wadded up his dish towels and stashed them in the crate on his counter, never having to search through the elusive junk drawer for a towel to sop up whatever mess he had made while lovingly making that beef tenderloin. Mary was inspired. Her milk crate now sits on her counter, stuffed with a mélange of brightly-colored towels, always at her disposal.
I love the idea of tag sales and thrift stores and going up and down the streets of Cold Spring, a little Village a bit to the north of here with store after store of treasures and antiques. But I see things and I don’t know what to do with them. A beautiful gilt mirror with just a tiny crack in the corner? I would love it. Somewhere. Anywhere. But I know I’ll get it home, hang it somewhere and look at it and think, “why did I buy that? It’s a cracked mirror.” Then I’ll see something like it in someone else’s home where it will look like it was made exactly for the wall where it has been hung. I won’t notice the crack, but I will notice the beautiful gilt and how it fits the wall perfectly.
My mother and father recently gave us one of what is apparently part of a famous series of “toilet paper oil paintings.” Hey—the guy was on Oprah. He’s famous. Ours is a predominantly blue winter scene that was painted in five minutes in a Catskill lodge in the 1970’s by a man who has made a fortune from these paintings. I tried hanging it in our dining room, where we had a big expanse of wall that needed a big piece of art. Unfortunately, Jim and I lack the appropriate “kitsch” gene to pull off the hanging of this art and it is now hanging in my attic office, seen only by me and appreciated only by me. This was part of the 70’s décor of my youth and fit in perfectly with everything else—shag carpeting, plastic slipcovering, and the like. But today, I can’t pull it off. Mom has made me promise that before the toilet paper oil painting goes the way of many other things in my home (the Goodwill store), I’ll give her one last crack at finding a home for it. Good luck, Mom. And good luck to toilet paper oil painting. I can’t say I’ll miss you. The only person I know who could make the painting work is Tina. I may have her do an intervention before the painting goes back to Mom. Maybe it just needs a new frame?
And another thing about Tina and the book signing party: she works full time, has two children, two dogs, and a very busy life. And her tree was up, decorated, with other holiday decorations scattered throughout her house so that the whole effect was like being in a holiday wonderland, populated by many of my dear friends, all clutching copies of “Quick Study,” waiting to have them signed.
Who’s luckier than I am? You don’t have to answer that. I don’t know a luckier person alive right now.
But here’s my question and I welcome my Stiletto gals’ input on this (because I know they have some), what is it about some people that they see treasure when the rest of us just see junk? And do you have the gene to pull this off, or are you like me, queen of the “matchy-matchy”?
Tuesday, December 16, 2008
After eating we played a crazy game that we play every Christmas. Everyone brings a wrapped tree ornament. Numbers are handed out. The first person picks a package to open and displays the ornament. The next person can steal that ornament or open another, and so it goes. Where the actions comes in is the stealing of the ornaments because there are always some that people like better than others.
We had a guest last night who doesn’t attend our church. Unfortunately for her, she kept unwrapping the most prized ornaments which were then promptly stolen. Her gem of a remark was, “Lutherans don’t act like this.” (She was kidding, of course.)
What does this have to do with the title of this blog? My next book coming out is from my other series, and it’s called No Sanctuary. It’s about two churches, two ministers and their wives and of course, murder. I thought having the book launch at my church would be perfect but wasn’t sure how the church council would feel about that because of the subject matter. My son-in-law, the pastor, had no problem, but I knew I needed to run it by those who decide such matters. Since I knew they’d all be at the party, this is where I approached them.
They all said it would be fine. Of course the event will be in the fellowship hall, not the sanctuary, and it won’t be on Sunday. I’ll serve food–anything Baptist needs to have food attached–and it certainly will be a pleasant affair.
Now, going back to holiday celebrations, the next celebrating my husband and I will be doing is dinner out with my critique group and whoever they want to bring, husbands or significant others. We also do this every year and I’m looking forward to merely socializing with my writer friends–who by the way are of several faiths.
Again, I wish all of you a wonderful holiday season, no matter how or what you are celebrating, just remember to connect with your friends and enjoy your family.
Monday, December 15, 2008
We’ve all heard the tragic news story of the security guard at a Long Island Wal-Mart, who was trampled to death by an out-of-control, bargain-hunting Black Friday crowd. The mob mentality ruled that ugly morning, as shoppers stepped over, around, and even on the victim, in their zeal to score good, nay fantastic, deals. Gunfire broke out in the parking lot of a toy store in California, when two shoppers continued their in-store arguments over merchandise.
Are these incidents the result of shoppers who are frustrated before they ever walk into a store because the economy is in the tank and the holidays are going to be spare, if at all? Is it the American competitive spirit now taken to the cash register, with shoppers determined to find the biggest bargain and get the most bang (literally at times) for the buck? And what, if any role, do the stores play in this madness?
I suspect there is more than enough blame to go around. Undoubtedly, there is an urgent need to switch the focus from the materialistic to the spiritual side of this holiday season. As thoughtfully discussed by Marilyn, Susan, and Maggie last week, this holiday season we need to give more of ourselves, and less of our pocketbooks.
But since many of us are still buying a few gifts this year, even if the number and cost have been drastically reduced, here’s a plea to the storeowners.
I understand that the holiday season is, for many of you, a make-or-break time. In the best of economic times, many retailers net half their profits from October through December. But these aren’t the best of times – not even close. I want you to stay in business, you want me to buy your products. It can be a win-win – but here’s what you need to do.
1. Cancel Black Friday and any other events that encourage a survival of the fittest, mob rule mentality. When you offer four free video systems – or frankly anything else – and you have a crowd of 200 who've been waiting out in the cold for hours, it’s a recipe for disaster.
2. No more gimmicks. I want to look at a price on an item and not wonder if I have brought the right coupon – or somebody else in line is getting a better deal. One price should fit all.
3. Hire sales help who know your merchandise. They should be able to do more than ring up the sale. You want a staff that understands how to “make” a sale as well: Suggest a tie to go with the shirt; discuss which books might be appropriate for a beginner reader; tell me what are the hottest new games in the Wie universe. And it would be nice if they did it with a smile and good grace. As the Southern half of Evelyn David nicely summarized: a salesperson should be a problem solver instead of just another problem for the customer.
In exchange, I promise:
1. To honor that this is a business and you need to make a profit. I won't try to take advantage of honest mistakes in pricing or abuse your return policy.
2. To treat your merchandise carefully as I search for the perfect gift so that if I don't buy it, someone else can.
Let's put some fun and dignity back into holiday shopping. What else do you think businesses should do to make holiday shopping a better experience?
Friday, December 12, 2008
“On the Ropes” was a Lovey and Crimespree Magazine nominee for “Best First Mystery” and an IMBA Bestseller. Tom is featured in the Echelon anthology “Missing” and his next Duffy Mystery is due out sometime in 2009.
First of all I’m honored to be a guest of The Stiletto Gang.
Any assemblage of women under that banner has to be a fun group.
And here’s a dirty little secret about me—my wife likes me to pick out her heels for her. She finds it only somewhat disturbing that I know more about women’s shoes than she does, but she does like my taste: at least 3.5 inches, (preferably sling backs), patent leather, black or animal print and with an obnoxiously pointed toe. Something tells me that’s all I should say on this topic.
I write the Duffy Dombrowski Mystery series. Duffy is a low level social worker whose caseload includes crack whores, addicts, small-time crooks and various other members of society that you’d find if you looked under enough rocks. At night he moonlights as a bad professional boxer, taking any fight he can for the extra cash. He beats the really bad fighters and loses to the good ones.
He’s also been saddled with a rescued basset hound named Al who flunked out of the Nation of Islam’s security force due to his personal hygiene challenges. Al has raised disobedience to a new level, prefers to have Duffy wait on him, and has a tendency to make the surrounding air unbreathable. He also has an uncanny knack of showing up at the exact right time and has saved Duffy’s ass on more than one occasion.
So a counselor with a repulsive caseload whose main hobby is a sport that involves assaultive behavior and a pet whose main traits involve flatulence, drooling, and the destruction of household furniture…
Just what today’s female readership is longing for, right?
Well, I think they should for several key reasons.
Reason One: Duffy is sensitive without being all Phil Donohue about it. He’s a Robin Hood for the little guy but he’s no bleeding heart limousine liberal—he lives it everyday. He also knows a manipulative con artist exploiting the system when he sees one.
Reason Two: Duffy can kick ass and think. He isn’t violent for the fun of it -- except in the gym -- but when someone is abusing the vulnerable, Duffy knows it’s going to take more than reasoning to get it to stop. Sure, he usually takes time to think things through before he throws a punch…usually, depending on how the rest of his day went.
Reason Three: Duffy isn’t a cliché. Sure, he can fight but he gets beat, he can’t cook, he lives in a trailer, not a 52-foot houseboat, he’s a counselor not a shrink, and he knows nothing about the law, forensics or science. He’s real and he’s genuine.
In other words I think Duffy would make a great boyfriend to all those frustrated female protagonists out there. All the loser men who fear commitment and intimacy and all the limp wristed wimps that our favorite female sleuths have to put up with would be refreshed with Duff’s company.
That is, if they could stand the trailer, the drooling, farting hound and Duff’s penchant for Schlitz.
For an in-depth review of On the Ropes check out the following blog -
Thursday, December 11, 2008
Memories are slippery, amorphous creatures that wiggle through our fingers and disappear under the bed with all the glowing eyed monsters, single rogue socks, and books that are never where you left them.
Unlike other people who profess to remember early life experiences, I've never been convinced that I have "real" memories of my life before age four. I have photographs implanted in my mind of events – images that come from actual photographs, home movies, or relatives' retelling of events. But real memories at ages two or three? I don't think so. Not me.
Drive-in movie theaters populated the landscape when I was a preschooler. I have a distinct memory of a long car trip from California to Oklahoma. My family was moving home, back to Oklahoma, pulling a trailer, with only enough money for gas and not much else. My dad drove straight through. I lay on a mattress in the packed backseat (remember when cars were big enough you could put mattresses in the backseat?). Level with the windows, I had a 360 degree view of the sky. I remember a string of drive-in movie screens that I could see from my makeshift bed.
I know the trip was real. I know we drove at night. And I also know that no one took photographs and told me about the drive-in movie screens. The adults would have had no reason to talk to me about the flickering images seen from the highway. No one but a bored preschooler would have been fascinated by the quick peeks at scenes from movies as we passed by.
It's strange to think that my first real memory might have been scenes from B movies. Images moving on a screen without sounds or endings.
That night I discovered the power - I could make up my own stories.
Other people claim to have memories of events at a much earlier age. Maybe they're real memories. Maybe as a toddler I was just so self-absorbed that I didn't pay much attention to what was going on around me. To some extent I've always lived in my head. From my enthrallment with my grandmother's stories of talking mice families living in her house, to my discovery of entire worlds hidden in books, to the miraculous glory of movies, I had found a way to leave the here and now. I could be anyone, travel anywhere, and change anything that I wanted – whenever I wanted.
In my mind, I could rewrite the endings to those books, television shows, and movies so that the main characters not only rode off into the sunset together, but had lives afterward. I added scenes that happened after the credits rolled, after the last page was turned. In my mind I wrote the epilogue, the years after Shane came back, the rebuilding of Tara, and the marriage of Candy and Jeremy long after the cancellation of Here Comes the Brides.
About five years ago, with the encouragement of Marian, my co-author and friend, I began putting scenes on paper. The words I heard in my head became dialogue between people I created. The people did what I told them to do.
It was magic. It was powerful.
It was another form of what I'd always done.
Or at least that's my memory of it.
Wednesday, December 10, 2008
We at the Stiletto Gang have been in existence almost a year, by my accounting. It has been a lot of fun, blogging about this and that and learning about my fellow writers and all of you posters, who always let us know when we’re on the right track, and when we’ve ridden off the rails. We’ve prayed together, laughed together, and shared some excitement, like when new books come out. And we are all very grateful here that you take time out of your busy schedules to see what we have to say and how we have to say it and when you think we’re right on. Thank you for that.
I wanted to take the opportunity to acknowledge Marian, Marilyn, Rhonda, and Susan, who have become wonderful friends and sounding boards throughout the past year.
1. Marian, or the Northern Half of Evelyn David: Our Monday go-to girl, I remember back in January of this past year, we presented at a library in Vorhees, New Jersey, and had a fabulous time. Seeing her talk to some of the at-risk writers who came to hear our talk was inspirational, and although I already had met Marian once before, I was reminded of how special this woman was. It was at this event, as I shoveled pastry and coffee into my pie hole, that she asked me if I’d like to join the Stiletto Gang. There wasn’t a moment’s hesitation. Marian is a marketing force to be reckoned with. Me? Not so much. I was honored for the invite and I was not about to say no.
Marian has taught us the proper usage of “OY!” (my new favorite expression, peppered into ALL conversation), poo-poo-poo (correct my spelling, Marian…this is a catch-all and ward off for all bad things, I believe), and how to prepare Passover dinner correctly. (Not that I’ve done this yet. Maybe next year?) She has shared her thoughts on writing, family, and life and I for one, am extremely grateful for her insights.
2. Marilyn: Our friend to the Far West—thank you, too, for all of your marketing genius, but most of all for keeping us abreast of the goings on of your large, extended family. I don’t know how you keep them all straight! It has been a pleasure reading about your remembrances, hearing about your book signings and visits to writing conventions, and learning about the members of your family. I appreciate your “stop and take time to smell the roses” reminders every now and again; who of us don’t need those? And I enjoy learning from your vast experience. You are truly blessed, Marilyn, and we are lucky to have you with us on this venture and in the world.
3. Rhonda: Our Southern Evelyn. Someday, we’re going to sit at one of our kitchen counters and eat that apple cake, which I have yet to make (slacker that I am). Somehow, I just know, despite having never met, that we are kindred spirits. Rhonda is our techno-goddess—you’ve got a Stiletto problem, Rhonda’s got a solution. And her solution comes with patience, and I think a smile (I can only guess). Never in a bad mood, always willing to help, always looking for ways to keep our site fresh and vibrant. Rhonda doesn’t disappoint. She’s got a full-time job, a full-time writing gig, and a busy life (she actually takes care of her yard, from what I gather…something I can’t do for the life of me) and manages to do everything with aplomb. I look forward to the day, as I know Marian does, too, when we can meet.
4. Susan: Our newest Stiletto girl but the one whom I’ve known the longest, despite having never met in person. Back when “Murder 101” was just a twinkle in my and St. Martin’s eye, my editor said we needed some blurbs. She told me that she was going to go to Susan McBride, who she proclaimed “one of the nicest people she knew” and who might be willing to read the manuscript and comment. Well, if you bought my first book in hardcover, you’ll see that not only did Susan read and comment, she gave me a rave. And I think that went a long way in getting the book noticed by a readership who loved Susan’s Debutante Dropout Mysteries (I’m a HUGE fan) and were looking for something similar. Thank you, Susan. I’ll always be grateful to you for taking the time to take a chance on a new writer and for lending your support. And I’m thrilled that we have you for the Stiletto Gang once a month. Your thoughts on life and living are in complete agreement with ours, but I always learn something new. We’re both survivors and we’re finding our way in that designation but together, I’m sure we’ll forge new paths. Best of luck with the new “Debs” series—I, for one, am loving the first one!
Tuesday, December 9, 2008
Some of what’s happening with me is my own fault. I say “yes” when I really ought to say “no.”
We did cut down on Christmas decorating this year because of our three cats. Last year they thought we’d brought them a new toy and they managed to completely denude the tree of all ornaments and broke a lot of them.
I’ve got a bunch of gifts on the bed in the spare room that need to be wrapped. Yes, I know, I said was giving everyone money, and I am, but for those who’ll be over here Christmas Eve, I want them to have a few presents to unwrap.
Saturday I was holed up in the back room of an antique store from 9 to 5 with my books, hoping for people to stop by, chat, have some cookies and hot cider, and maybe buy a book or two. That actually worked out better than you might think. A tour of homes decorated for Christmas was going on and many people stopped at the antique store between houses. There’d been a good article in the local paper about Kindred Spirits, my latest, and I also sent out some invitations.
Next Friday and Saturday I’ll be doing the same thing in the back of Porterville’s Art Gallery on Main St. Hopefully I’ll have some newspaper coverage for that too, I’ve taken the information to the reporter that I have a relationship with (she’s a friend) and a copy of the book. I’ve sent out invites to people who live down there, so we’ll see. But all day, from 10 to 5 is tiring and things pile up at home when I’m gone like that.
I just received an order via PayPal from a book that I just sold the last copies of on Saturday. I’ll have to go up to our local gift shop where I have my books on consignment and get one back so I can mail it since it’s for a Christmas present. (I have ordered more, but they won’t get here in time.) While I’m at the gift store, I’ll resupply what they are out of and give them copies of my latest.
I have a bunch of books I need to review for a writer’s organization I belong to. Truly, I don’t mind doing it, in fact I usually enjoy the books, but it’s going to be hard to squeeze it in with all that’s going on right now.
And guess what, hubby and I decided to play hooky this morning and go see Australia. We went to breakfast first then headed to the movie which started at 11:30 a.m. A warning, it lasts for three hours though I can assure you it doesn’t seem that long. It was a wonderful movie, like an old time epic Western. Watching Hugh Jackman take a shower was quite a highlight.
So now I’m home, trying to play catch-up while my chili-beans cook in the slow cooker. (Put them in early this a.m. before I left home.)
Seems like I don’t ever really get caught up.
Though I’m putting the finishing touches on another Deputy Tempe Crabtree mystery–still reading it to my critique group–I really need to start putting together another Rocky Bluff P.D. novel. Have some ideas, but that’s about it right now.
So, I’ll try to finish up a few things before dinner. Hope you all are more organized than I am at this point. But do take time out and enjoy yourself like we did today.
Monday, December 8, 2008
Anyway, I’ve gotten up close and personal with Rocky J. Squirrel – or at least his direct descendents. My attic has been invaded by flying squirrels.
It began three weeks ago. I awoke in the middle of the night to something. You know the sensation -- although at the time, I assumed that it was Clio, our dog, trying to tell me that she needed to go out. Wonderful woman that I am, I ignored my first inclination – to wake my husband and tell him to take care of the damn dog. I sleepily accompanied Clio down the steps when I saw this little black animal half-flying, half-scurrying up the wall.
Forget wonder woman, I immediately headed back to the bedroom and screeched, “Get up.” I might point out that at this point, our faithful watchdog slid under the bed and was never heard from again that night.
My husband stumbled to his feet and headed for the door, when I, ever the Girl Scout leader, declared, “Put on your glasses.” No point in going into battle when you can’t see five feet in front of your face.
I resisted the urge to slide under the bed with Clio. After a few minutes, my husband returned and announced he had vanquished the intruder – or in this case, trapped what we thought was a baby squirrel in a paper bag and deposited him in the backyard.
Oh, would the story have ended happily right there.
Alas, over the next few days, we heard scurrying in the walls, although no more wildlife actually appeared where I could see them. A call to an exterminator informed me that squirrels were a protected species and couldn’t just be killed like rats. I wasn’t making such a fine distinction since my skin crawled at every sound. I needed a wildlife trapper. I had no idea that such a profession still existed. I thought trappers went the way of Daniel Boone and the beaver coat.
So now we have six traps installed in our attic, and the wildlife removal expert has promised to visit at least twice a week until the invasion has been definitively squelched. Then I need to hire a roofer to inspect our 18-month old roof to see where these squirrels are gaining entrance.
Cost? You don’t want to know, but let’s just say that Chanukah presents have been reduced to nuts for all.
I think I’ll move to Moosylvania.
Friday, December 5, 2008
Um, might I ask what’s up with Black Friday and mayhem? A Wal-Mart worker was trampled to death in Long Island, two men shot each other at a Toys-R-Us in California, and two women were hit by a car in a parking lot in Kansas City all because of cheap electronics and talking Elmos?
Who thought of this Black Friday thing? I’d like to clobber them with a leftover turkey leg. Wouldn’t it be easier on everyone if they just had these super-duper deals starting at regular store hours on Friday and then extending through Christmas (or until supplies ran out)? Then people wouldn’t have to camp out in parking lots for 12 hours or more ahead of time, trying to be first in line. Instead, they could spend more time with their families, which is what the season’s supposed to be about after all. When did things get so crazy? Like worrying about nutball drivers (hello, hang up the cell, please!), the recession, terrorist attacks, pirates, and earthquakes (yes, St. Louis is on a fault line!) isn’t enough. Now I have to fear for my life when I’m Christmas shopping?
Oy! As I’ve said many times to my hubby, I think I’ll just stay home and never go out. It’s a good thing I’m a full-time writer so I could actually do that if I had someone else to do all my errands. Unfortunately, Stephanie Meyer’s assistant is really busy at the moment, and Mary Higgins Clark’s staff won’t work for free. Rats.
I’ve decided I’m going to develop a realistic shopping strategy, one that doesn’t place me in the middle of crazy-busy malls with shopping zealots who’d doubtless slit my gizzard in a fight over a Wii. Last year, I did plenty of on-line and catalogue shopping, but I missed Cyber Monday entirely because of the book and I’m probably a little late for ordering from catalogues. What I want to do is print some of my gift ideas from the manufacturers’ websites, visit local stores that carry those brands, and see if they can order for me. I’d much rather deal with local retailers anyway, particularly ones in my ‘hood. We’ll see if that pans out!
I’m also planning to do some shopping at the area Humane Society (no, not for a new kitty…this time!). They have a cool gift shop, and I’m supporting the organization by spending money there. I’ve got other donation-related presents on my list as well. Last year, I gifted my pig-loving aunt with a three month sponsorship of Snortin’ Norton at a rescue farm. Linda loved getting the card with Snortin’ Norton’s photo, saying “thank you for feeding me--oink!” So if any of my family is reading this, don’t be surprised if you get a card saying you’re the proud sponsor of Chuckles the Chicken or Gouda the Goat. And you’re welcome already.
I’d like to hear from y’all about how you’re changing your shopping habits this year, whether it be because of tight times or mega-mall-phobia. Are you buying on-line more? Making more donations? Doing hand-crafted gifts?
Sometimes it seems we forget entirely what the season is supposed to be about, and it’s certainly not nabbing the lowest price on a flat-screen TV or a new Wii. Have any of you ever scrapped the commercial aspect of the holidays altogether? Or had a truly “green” eco-friendly Christmas? Let me know. I’m game for suggestions on how to enjoy the time of year without the busted budget and all the stress!
Susan McBride's YA series debut with Random House, THE DEBS, features four prep school seniors in Houston clawing their way through their debutante season. A Fall 2008 Kid’s Indie Next Pick, THE DEBS has been called “Gossip Girl on mint juleps.” The second DEBS book, LOVE, LIES, AND TEXAS DIPS, will be out in June of 2009; the third, GLOVES OFF, in March 2010. Susan has also penned five Debutante Dropout Mysteries for HarperCollins/Avon, including TOO PRETTY TO DIE, and has signed with HC/Avon to write a trade paperback beach book called THE COUGAR CLUB, about three forty-something women who date younger men. Visit her web site at http://www.SusanMcBride.com for more scoop.
Thursday, December 4, 2008
My desktop computer – a Dell Dimension E510 is up on blocks right now. About a month ago ….Okay I admit that several months ago I noticed a heavy fan noise that came and went. I figured it was just over heating. I'd open the door on my desk that houses the cpu and a few seconds later, the noise would go away. And yes, I've taken to leaving the door open to avoid that noise.
But back to my story – about a month ago I pushed the button to turn on my desktop computer and nothing happened. I thought perhaps the button was stuck, so I pushed it again. Nothing. I, of course, pushed it again, only harder. It started – the light on the button came on and the birds sang. No problem.
You're saying something about heads buried in sand, aren't you?
Yes, you are right, the same thing happened again a few days later. Then I unplugged the computer and replugged it. I also clicked my heels three times and spun in my computer chair. The cpu light came on.
At that point, I was unable to ignore it. I did have a problem. My computer with all my files, my writing, my emails, my life, was on borrowed time. So I did what everyone does now when trouble appears on their doorstep or desktop – I ran an Internet search.
"Dell computer won't power on. Help."
I found lots of advice and information. Who knew that the power light pulsed in different colors depending on status? An amber flashing light meant that power was reaching some parts of the computer but not all – I was advised to check for peripherals that might be sucking the life blood …uh power from my unit. I checked. Everything seemed to be plugged in properly.
I decided I'd better backup everything. I left my computer on for the next week while I purchased an external hard drive and used it to preserve all the details of my life.
More research yielded the information that I probably needed a new heart (new power supply unit) for my computer. I ordered one, plus a small battery that Dell recommended I purchase along with the power supply unit. I think it might be the pacemaker for the unit. Since I was going to be opening up my cpu for the heart transplant operation, I decided that I might as well add more memory and a larger hard drive.
The memory and hard drive arrived first. I was able to install them with a minimum of fuss with about a 90% confidence level.
While waiting for UPS to deliver the new heart, and feeling cocky with my recent success, I decided to clean the old power supply unit – just in case it was only dust causing the problem.
Taking out the power supply unit was fairly easy. But it involved a large number of wires being disconnected. After I had unplugged a half dozen or so, I realized I should have left bread crumbs so I could reconnect them later, but I had gone too far to stop so I didn't.
I cleaned the power supply unit and then put it back in the cpu. Then I attempted to reconnect all the wires. I managed all but three. For some reason these three were now too short to reach anything. Not sure how that happened.
I stopped the operation, not willing to risk hooking up the heart incorrectly and killing the patient.
Today I got the new power supply unit in the mail.
Tomorrow I take the cpu and the new power supply to a trained heart surgeon. After all, my computer first aid skills only go so far.
And it is my life we're talking about.
p.s. Dell is having a sale. I might need a backup.
p.s.s. Anyone know why when I type on my laptop, sometimes the computer seems to lose its place and suddenly I'm typing on a previous line of text????
Wednesday, December 3, 2008
If you want to read more of "Quick Study", www.read-it-first.com will be posting excerpts all next week in anticipation of its release. Their copy, unlike this one, will be fully copyedited and proofread. :-)
“I don’t know who you are, but I love you!”
The voice was deep, rough, and heavily inflected with the accent of one of the outer boroughs, and it belonged to the guy sitting in back of me at Madison Square Garden, home of the New York Rangers, my favorite professional hockey team. And the comment, which was directed at me, was made even more interesting by the fact that I was sitting beside my best friend, Max, who had packed her one-hundred-pound frame into a size two slinky black cocktail dress, her cleavage prominently and proudly displayed for all to see. She’s tiny but she’s got a great rack. It’s a veritable “rack of ages.” Nobody, and I mean nobody, had ever noticed me when Max was around. And we had twenty years of friendship on which to draw on, proving this point. I was not in a cocktail dress, having opted instead to wear my new Mark Messier jersey (he was number eleven and the sole reason for the Rangers’ Stanley Cup win in 1994, thank you very much), a pair of jeans that I had purchased in the last millennium, and sneakers that had seen their fair share of painting projects. My hair was pulled back into a ponytail, I had a smear of ketchup on my cheek and now, after jumping up to take umbrage at a call, a glass of beer soaking my chest. I don’t even like beer, but when in Rome...you know the rest. But apparently, when I yelled, “Shit, ref, you’re killing us! That’s a bullshit call!” after a bogus hooking penalty, I had forever pledged my troth to Bruno Spaghetti, as Max had dubbed him when we arrived, seat 4, row D, section 402.
He ran his hands through his spiky black hair and grabbed me in an embrace, his silver hoop earring brushing my cheek. Max, who had been standing for the better part of the last period and who thus had incurred the wrath of everyone behind her—many of whom had missed said bogus penalty because their only view was the back of her well-coiffed head—fell back into her seat, her cocktail dress riding up on her yoga-toned thighs. But Bruno didn’t notice; he only had eyes for me. See, we were sitting way up high in Rangerland, a place that used to be called “the blue seats,” and in which only the hardest core hockey fans sat. Now they’re teal, which doesn’t lend them the same menacing air. A gorgeous woman in a slinky black dress with spectacular boobs had nothing on a five foot ten college professor with a pot belly and beer breath who loved hockey and who could curse with the best of them.
It was my birthday and my boyfriend had given me the jersey and the tickets. Crawford—Bobby to the rest of the world—was a detective in the New York City Police Department and working overtime that night, hence my birthday date being Max. He had stopped by school on his lunch break to wish me a happy birthday, appearing in my office doorway at around one; I was preparing for my next class, a two o’clock literature seminar, and was delighted to be distracted from the critical essay on Finnegan’s Wake that was putting me to sleep. I’m a Joyce scholar but even I recognize that obscure is not the same thing as exciting and that makes my relationship with the subject of my doctoral dissertation tenuous at best. I love a challenge, though, and had spent the better part of my academic career trying to figure out if Joyce was laughing with us or at us. I was slowly coming to the conclusion that it was the latter.
I could tell that Crawford was excited by the items in the gift bag he was holding behind his back. He leaned over and gave me a peck on the cheek; although he is a seasoned detective and an all-around good guy, he gets really nervous around the nuns I work with at St. Thomas University, my employer. Whenever he visits me at school, he looks like he’s on his way to detention, even though I’m sure he’s never done anything more scandalous than passing a note in class. He took the bag from behind his back and set it on my desk, settling himself into one of the chairs across from me, a self-satisfied smile on his handsome, Irish face.
I love the guy but there’s one thing that bugs me: every time he gives me an item of clothing, it’s always extra-large. I’m extra tall but not extra fat, so this concerns me. Is this how he sees me? Or does he think women should wear tent-like clothing? I still hadn’t figured it out. I held his gift aloft and spread my arms wide to examine it, full width: a Messier jersey. Despite the size, I couldn’t have asked for a better present. “Crawford! I love it!” I said and came from around the desk. I kicked my office door closed so I could give him a proper thank you, sitting on his lap and putting my arms around my neck. “Now the best present you could give me would be your undivided attention tonight,” I said, hopefully, although I guessed this wouldn’t be the case.He shook his head sadly. “I can’t. I pulled an extra shift so I could go to Meaghan’s basketball playoff Monday night.” Meaghan is one of his twin daughters; she was banking on a basketball scholarship to get her through college. I had come to realize that basketball was like a religion in that family; what teenage girl would count former New York Knick Bill Bradley among her crushes if it wasn’t?
Quick Study is available now for pre-order at Amazon.com
Tuesday, December 2, 2008
For myself, I’d rather use the money for a trip. In fact, that’s more or less what I’ve been doing the past few years. Of course money isn’t as easy to come by nor does it goes as far as it used to.
When I go on a trip, I like to somehow combine it with promotion if at all possible.
What I’d like to suggest is whether you are a mystery reader or writer, that you consider giving yourself the gift of attending a writers conference or mystery convention. There are plenty out there to choose from. Last year hubby and I went to Love is Murder in Chicago and had a great time. We’ve already signed up for EPICon which is for electronically published writers. Mayhem in the Midlands is another favorite–we love Omaha and we’ve made lots of friends who come to that convention regularly.
Another, much smaller conference, is the Public Safety Writers Conference. I’m in charge of the program for this one and I’m proud to say we have a wonderful line-up of speakers. I won’t bore you by going over the whole list, but mystery author Betty Webb will be there, Steve Scarborough who is a forensic expert, used by both the Las Vegas Police and the FBI will tell us how to write it right, we’ll have a forensic handwriting expert, a retired arson investigator and many others.
Everyone who wants to will participate on a panel if they sign up before May 1. It would be best to sign up before
Because a great number of our members are or were in law enforcement, there are a wealth of people to ask all your questions about crime and crime solving. Networking is definitely encouraged.
If you are interested and would like to learn more, go to http://www.policewriter.com/ and check it out. The conference is held June 18-22 at the Sun Coast Hotel in Vegas. If you want to bring the kids, there’s lots for them to do at this hotel–swimming pool, movie theaters, and video arcade, flat screen TVs in every room.
On the Sunday afternoon that the conference concludes, those who would like to will meet at Cheesecake and Crime Bookstore in Henderson from a booksigning.
Since I’m the program chair, naturally I’ll be at this conference. From having attended this particular conference for about five years, I can tell you that it is indeed one of the friendliest around. Hubby and I manage to have fun at everything we do–but this one is right up there at the top when it comes to a good time.
For me, this is the best kind of holiday gift there is. I hope that some of you will consider this for a gift for yourself.
Monday, December 1, 2008
My husband is a Scottish history junkie. So for days we wandered from Cathedral to battlefield to castle ruins, he examining old relics, me sipping tea and holding an informal scone contest (which the café at St. Mungo Museum of Religious Life and Art won hands down).
Our first stop was Rosslyn Chapel, a small fifteenth century exquisite stone church, every single inch of which is covered with ornate and detailed carvings. You probably recognize the name because it’s the site of the big reveal in Dan Brown’s thriller, The Da Vinci Code. With the publication of the book in 2003, visits mushroomed from 30,000 per year to 30,000 in a single month! By the way, talk about the power of the Internet for research – our guide told us that until they filmed the movie, Dan Brown had never actually visited Rosslyn Chapel. As a mystery writer, I was more intrigued by the whodunit our guide shared. One of the stone carvings, completed in the early 1400s, was of maize. Keep in mind that new world corn was unknown in Europe at that time, was not cultivated on the continent until several hundred years later – and Christopher Columbus had yet to sail the ocean blue! Hmmm.
My personal favorite was Paisley Abbey, built in the twelfth century, with magnificent stained glass windows. While my husband was studying the role this old abbey played in Scottish history, I was enthralled by the romantic story our guide told. Marjorie, daughter of Robert the Bruce (think Braveheart with Mel Gibson), married Walter Steward, a local nobleman. Pregnant, she was on her way to the abbey when her horse stumbled and she was thrown. The monks desperately tried to save her, but alas she died. In a twist worthy of the best of the tearjerkers, her son survived to become Robert II, the first of the Stewarts (later to become “Stuarts”) who ruled Scotland until 1689.
I found great ideas for mysteries everywhere I went (does this mean I can deduct the trip as research?). We spent an afternoon at Scone Palace (which incidentally had only mediocre scones in their teashop). This is the crowning site of Scottish kings. I loved the ornate rooms and the absolutely phenomenal collection of porcelain which dominates the bookshelves of the wood-paneled library. The owners, who still reside at the palace, made the pragmatic decision that visitors would be more interested in looking at their huge collection of china than at old books. As an author, I feel honor-bound to protest. But the unsolved mystery, which perhaps could be the storyline of the next Sullivan Investigations book, is what happened to the Stone of Destiny? Also known at the Stone of Scotland, upon which the Kings of Scotland were coronated, it was stolen by the British in the 13th century and held in Westminster Abbey until Queen Elizabeth II returned it to Scotland in 1996. Sounds good except that the stone now residing in Holyrood Chapel in Edinburgh isn’t the original, according to experts who have studied its composition. So what really happened to the Stone of Destiny? Did the Scots, knowing the British were close, hide the Stone? If so, where? What happens in a whodunit when all the major players have been dead for more than eight centuries?
Sadly, even the best of vacations have to end – otherwise, what would you be vacationing from? Hope everyone had a wonderful Thanksgiving, full of cheer, love, and good food (haggis, nothwithstanding).
Slàinte (or bottoms up as we say here in the colonies!),
Friday, November 28, 2008
After retiring from thirty years of full-time teaching I decided to write a mystery novel. As my wife and I were returning to campus one day, and just as we rose to the crest of the hill on the bypass that looks down on campus, she said, “It looks peaceful enough, but it’s a wonder that someone hasn’t been murdered.”
What? A murder in the ivory tower? It’s not really far fetched given the bitterness that often pervades relationships in any organization, and a university is no different. What might lead to murder, I asked myself. Denial of tenure? Fear of disclosure of a falsified academic record? Threats to make public plagarism in academic publications? Jealousy? Sex? Money?
I had written several textbooks, edited collections of essays, and published journal articles, but I knew that trade publishing would be a whole different thing. I searched all the usual reference books for agents whose interests reflected those of my book and began to collect rejection slips. After the number of those exceeded twenty, I began to think there must be a better way. A friend, who worked in book retailing, referred me to a press that he thought might be interested in my book, and I received a nice rejection letter stating that the book was not for them but seemed to the editor there to be perfect for the Mysterious Press imprint of St. Martin’s Press. I sent them a query and was told that they only considered submissions from agents. So, back to square one.
After concluding that agents were looking for the next John Grissom or David Baldacci, I looked for options. One was to publish part of the book on line and hope that after reading the free chapters interested persons would buy the rest of the book, download it and print it out. The complexities of that approach soon deterred me. I wanted to do something that would get the book noticed by a trade house and bypass the writer-editor-publisher track, so I turned to self-publishing.
We all have seen the vanity press ads: “Publisher seeks authors; Publication guaranteed,” and the result is a basement full of unsold books. And who wants to have the tarnish of vanity publication? Getting past that was difficult, but I became convinced that self-publication is different, especially when I found out that iUniverse was owned by Barnes & Noble. One can purchase several different publishing packages from iUniverse, even including editing services. All offer a reader’s report; mine, I am happy to report, got an “editor’s choice” award, and after publication I purchased several advertising opportunities, again hoping to get noticed.
Self-publishing as practiced by iUniverse is publishing on demand. Order the books, and they print them up and ship them out. I have a listing for Murder Most Academic on Barnes & Noble.com, and anyone can order a copy there, as several readers did. The thing about self-publishing is that the author has to do the work of promotion and marketing, which iUniverse aids by offering extensive marketing manual, bookmarks and business cards. The iUniverse contract gives the copyright to the owner and encourages its authors to land contracts with trade publishers.
I have no quarrel with iUniverse; they did everything they promised to do, but my book never got noticed by a trade house. It is my own fault, I’m sure, as I never got into the spirit of self-promotion and marketing. However, it was fun to see the book in print. I bought copies for family and friends, and I have never regretted the decision to self-publish.
Thursday, November 27, 2008
I'm from Oklahoma and my family's food of choice is a variety of traditional Southern dishes with some Tex-Mex and barbeque thrown in for good measure. At Thanksgiving we have roasted turkey, baked ham studded with cloves, cornbread and sage dressing, mashed potatoes, giblet gravy, green bean casseroles, candied sweet potatoes, cranberry relishes, Jell-O molds, homemade yeast rolls, a variety of pies (at least one being pumpkin) and iced tea.
Iced tea is a staple in the South. No household is without it. I grew up drinking iced "sweet tea." You might have to reach a certain age to drink coffee, but "sweet tea" was deemed suitable for all ages. Babies were given bottles filled with the sweet, cold liquid.
Some time in the late 70s, the custom changed to unsweetened tea or artificially sweetened tea. But I've noticed in the last five years or so, "sweet tea" seems to be making a comeback. If you walk into a restaurant in Oklahoma today, you'll be offered a choice. I sweeten my tea with Equal now, but I remember the sweet tea of my childhood with great fondness.
To fix sweet tea – boil about six or seven cups of water, then add three large Lipton family-sized tea bags. Let the tea seep for 20 minutes, remove the bags. Pour the still hot mixture into a pitcher containing 1 to 1 ½ cups of sugar. (I have heard of people boiling the seeped tea and sugar, but that's not how I learned to make it). Stir well. Add cold water to make one gallon of liquid. We would make one or two gallons of tea a day, sometimes more if we were expecting company.
One of my favorite Thanksgiving side dishes is the following:
1 pound of cranberries
1 orange, peeled
1/2 cup chopped nuts
1 cup of drained pineapple
4 teaspoons lemon juice
1 cup chopped apple
1 cup of sugar, or less according to taste
2 packages of cherry, or raspberry gelatin
Put orange and cranberries through food chopper. Mix orange-cranberry mixture with nuts, pineapple, lemon juice, apple and sugar. Dissolve gelatin in 2 cups hot water. When gelatin has cooled slightly, add fruit mixture and combine. Pour into molds and chill until set. Serves 12.
Wednesday, November 26, 2008
Take one can of pumpkin pie mix.
Add two eggs.
Add one 5-oz can of condensed milk.
Mix together. Throw in a prepared pie shell. Bake until done. Don’t tell anyone that you didn’t make it from complete scratch. Opening the cans DOES count.
And if that doesn’t make you feel better or help with the family dynamics, here’s my favorite cosmopolitan recipe:
4 parts any kind of vodka
2 parts Triple Sec
2 parts cranberry juice (great for urinary tract health!)
1 part fresh lime juice
Eat all of the pumpkin pie. Wash down with a cosmopolitan (or three). Happy Thanksgiving!
Tuesday, November 25, 2008
My Aunt Flossie always made these and brought them to Thanksgiving dinner when we lived in Oxnard and then after we moved to Springville and continued to have Thanksgiving at our house with all of our relatives–my whole family and my sister’s family.
When my sis moved to Las Vegas along with all of her children, Auntie and my cousin and family went there for Thanksgiving. (I guess Las Vegas was a bigger draw than little Springville.) We still had plenty of guests for Thanksgiving dinner right here–but with I had to take over the cooking of the sweet potatoes and green beans along with cooking the turkey, dressing, and gravy. Fortunately, the guests contributed salads and desserts.
I’d like to share these two recipes. I’m a dash of this and a dash of that cook, so you aren’t going to get exact ingredients. I also like to find the easiest ways of doing things–so both these recipes are simple as well as yummy.
My auntie always used fresh green beans but I made life simpler by using frozen green beans. How many bags depends upon how many people you’re going to serve and whether you want left-overs or not. I cooked the green beans sort of by the package directions but I added cut-up pieces of bacon–so they really are over-cooked to make sure the bacon got done and really flavor the beans. Again, how many fresh mushrooms you want to use depends upon how many people–and how well you like mushrooms. Slice the mushrooms and stir into the beans–you can cook on low for awhile. Actually, this dish gets better the longer it is cooked. (Probably there aren’t many vitamins left–but it’s really good.) You could make this the day before and reheat on Thanksgiving.
For the sweet potatoes–I buy the yellow sweet potatoes, not the orange yams. Put them in a big pan with water and cook until you can pierce them easily with a fork. (Be careful though, you don’t want to cook them into mush.) Allow them to cool, then peel off the skins. Slice in half.
Put in a pan along with lots of butter and about a cup of brown sugar. Cook slowly to melt the butter, stir gently. Or...you can do this the day before and put the sliced sweet potatoes, chunks of butter and the brown sugar into a casserole to cook on Thanksgiving. Yummy! I like these so much better than the yam recipes. (But I also like baked sweet potatoes with butter.)
And for the dessert, these cookies are a pain to make, but oh are they good. My mom made them during WWII when sugar was rationed, and we only got one small bar to eat each evening.
Congo Cookies (This is a bar cookie)
Sift 2 3/4 flour with 2 ½ tsp. baking power and ½ tsp salt. Mix in 2/3 C shortening with 2 1/4 C brown sugar, and 1 tsp. vanilla with 3 beaten eggs, mix altogether with 1 C of chopped nuts and a 7 or 8 oz. package of chocolate chips. Pour it all into a greased oblong baking pan, bake in a preheated 350 degree oven for 35 minutes or until a knife or toothpick inserted in the middle of the cookies comes out clean. When they’re done you can cut them into whatever size chunks you please.
And that’s my contribution to our Thanksgiving favorites.
Monday, November 24, 2008
All this week The Stiletto Gang is sharing Thanksgiving memories and recipes. We hope you’ll share with us your favorite holiday story and dish.
Six years ago my mother-in-law, a lovely, generous woman, had a severe heart attack that left her wheelchair-bound. It was hard for her – for all of us – to adjust to this new reality. But despite her physical frailities, what never changed was her commitment to family, especially her grandchildren.
Holiday traditions, those that we often think are etched in stone, had to be tossed aside that November. She couldn’t travel to our home, as she had for years, to help make the turkey and all the fixings. Instead, we drove to Baltimore, stayed in an over-priced, undersized hotel room, and ate at a nearby restaurant. Instead of turkey, I had filet of flounder. Instead of sweet potato casserole, I had Caesar salad. Instead of apple pie a la mode, I had an éclair.
I wasn't sure what to think. But then I stopped focusing on what we didn't have and looked around the table. I saw my children and their grandmother laughing and enjoying one another with such love and devotion. The Thanksgiving menu was from an alternate universe – but the Thanksgiving emotions were the same. We were indeed blessed and thankful.
Best wishes for a joyous holiday!
Sweet Potato Casserole
6 sweet potatoes
¼ cup brown sugar
1 teaspoon cinnamon
½ teaspoon nutmeg
2 tablespoons butter
Boil sweet potatoes until tender. Drain and mash.
Mix in brown sugar, cinnamon, nutmeg, and butter.
Pour into ovenproof casserole.
Can be made ahead and frozen at this point. The night before serving, defrost in the refrigerator. Bake in 350 degree oven for 20 minutes, top with marshmallows and bake for an additional 10 minutes.
Friday, November 21, 2008
Maybe it was the appearance of roses still on one of the bushes that got me thinking about buds. More likely it was my subconscious working overtime, always trying to figure out ways to improve myself. When it comes to my brain and the things it conjures up, I have a “don’t ask, don’t tell” policy; but I’m glad it tossed out the “nip it” idea regardless.
I’m already thinking of the ways nipping it can alleviate a lot of the stress I cause myself. Like when it comes to small injustices that inspire me to fight instead of back down. My grandfather was of the mind that “if it’s only money, it’s not worth it.” My husband feels the same. But I’m dogged when it comes to unfair situations, like companies that have been incompetent or unethical. I’ve cried writing three-page letters detailing work gone wrong or unfounded overcharges. I spent countless hours on the phone dealing with my medical insurance and bills not covered when I went through breast cancer treatment. Have you dealt with the health care industry these days? It’s a lot like running in circles, and it made me exhausted and upset during a time when I needed to heal. Wish I’d been smart enough then to just to nip it in the bud by settling things quickly.
Another stress-inducer: my looooong memory. My husband remarked the other morning, “You don’t forget anything, do you?” Okay, not much, which is one of my problems and a big reason I need to practice more nipping. I can recall conversations verbatim from decades before. I remember the good and the bad, people I’ve loved and who’ve done me wrong, those who’ve lent me a hand and those who’ve torn me up with lies. I’d like to blame my hyper-retentiveness on being a writer. We’re a sensitive lot with skin not near as thick as we’d like. We seem to want to swim through our emotions instead of taking the bridge across them.
That’s why this whole “nip it in the bud” idea rocks and I’m applying it as we speak to a friendship that’s recently gone in the crapper. It’s sad, because I’ve known this pal for years, but we’ve been drifting apart for awhile now. I kept thinking I could build some kind of tunnel to re-connect us, but it just ain’t happening. Some people appear in our lives when we need them most and eventually they travel on their merry way. That’s actually a wonderful thing when you think about it. So I’m nipping this one in the bud, too. I’m not dwelling on it any longer. I’m accepting the situation for what it is, and I’m packing away my fond memories so I can proceed with a peaceful heart and a smile. Ah, it’s like breathing in that chilly fall air again: liberating and refreshing.
I truly admire folks who don’t wallow in emotion, who don’t rehash ill-fated relationships or frustrating conversations nightly in their dreams. My husband has a very healthy “live and let live” attitude. He doesn’t hold grudges. He doesn’t sweat the small stuff. I wish I could be more like that, but I probably never will, not entirely.
I tend to let more people into my circle than he does, and I give folks a chance, even when I’ve heard whispers, like, “don’t trust him” or “she’s a self-absorbed twit.” I’m inclined to form my own opinions. The trouble ends up being that the warning whispers were right on target. It’s then that I usually step in a mess trying to back my way out; but, Lord, how those messes can linger, like dog poop on a shoe tracked all over a houseful of wall-to-wall carpet.
But, from this point on, I’m gonna nip it in the bud. I will see that untrustworthy self-absorbed twit for who he/she is, realize I cannot change him/her like a misguided Mother Teresa, and I will gracefully walk away. Doesn’t that sound good?
Now if I could just nip this latest deadline in the bud, I’d be in great shape.
Susan McBride's YA series debut with Random House, THE DEBS, features four prep school seniors in Houston clawing their way through their debutante season. A Fall 2008 Kid’s Indie Next Pick, THE DEBS has been called “Gossip Girl on mint juleps.” The second DEBS book, LOVE, LIES, AND TEXAS DIPS, will be out in June of 2009, and Susan's busy writing GLOVES OFF. Susan has also penned five Debutante Dropout Mysteries for Avon, including TOO PRETTY TO DIE and BLUE BLOOD. She’s recently signed with HarperCollins to write a trade paperback women’s beach book called THE COUGAR CLUB, about three forty-something women who date younger men. Visit her web site at http://susanmcbride.com/ for more scoop.
Thursday, November 20, 2008
As I got older I read faster so I could get through more of the story without being interrupted. In college one of my favorites was Stephen King's The Stand. The original hardback had 823 pages. I've read all the Tom Clancy books, lugging them through airports like fat infants straining my arm muscles.
I loved Carl Sagen's Contact and Colleen McCullough's The Thornbirds, but at just over 400 pages they were practically short stories compared to two of my later favorites: Larry McMurtry's Lonesome Dove weighing in at 864 pages and a book that remains in my top ten - Antarctic Navigation by Elizabeth Arthur.
This 798 page book fascinated me. The heroine, Morgan Lamont, had been obsessed with Robert Scott's 1910 Antarctic Expedition from childhood. The author takes us through Morgan's early days and her quest to visit the South Pole and retrace Scott's footsteps. By the time you finish the book, you feel like you've made that icy journey with Morgan. It's not a book that will appeal to everyone. Elizabeth Arthur has been to the South Pole and she uses her knowledge of that remote locale. She makes the South Pole and its harsh weather a major "character" in the book. The plot is dependent on the place as much as Morgan's need to achieve something Robert Scott did not.
From a recent discussion on the DorothyL internet group, I've read with great interest reader opinions on "long" vs. "short" novels. Many seemed to find places in long novels that "sag" or move forward only sluggishly. I confess that with some of Tom Clancy's descriptions of the inner workings of ships and subs, I only half absorbed the paragraphs the first time through (yes, I'm one of those people who read books over and over.) But Clancy's books have great plots and more often than not, the technical information he conveys lends depth and atmosphere to his thrillers.
I'm a fan of Nelson DeMille's books. I just finished his newest, The Gate House. DeMille is great at creating interesting tough-guy characters and exciting plots based on real events. Sometimes the backstory runs a little longer than suits my taste, but as with Clancy's books, I know the payoff will be well worth the slow bits. My favorite DeMille book remains the first one I ever read, The Charm School – a book I picked up in a hurry in an airport bookstore. A mere 544 pages long, it’s a true page-turner with a Cold-War plot. American MIA pilots from the Vietnam War have been taken to Russia and installed as unwilling teachers in a KGB "Charm School" for Russian agents. Two U.S. diplomats find out about the school and the game is on.
Short books are wonderful and fun – but for books you can literally lose yourself inside, give a longer book a chance.
Wednesday, November 19, 2008
Nothing gives me greater joy than seeing a brand, spanking-new grocery store opening up in the area. Here in our town, we’ve got two rather old and not so great stores to choose from: one offers great prices but not too much in the way of innovation while the other is a little newer, a little more upscale, but infinitely more expensive. (I have heard about the shopping Mecca referred to as Wegman’s and pray that someday they will move downstate so I can experience the wonder of this store. So far, nothing doing. ) So, as I drove home from a work visit the other day and saw a Stop and Shop with streamers wafting away from its brand new storefront, I nearly drove off the road. I was armed with a new recipe and decided that the time was right—despite the fact that the store had only opened seconds earlier—to give it a try.
I love food, think about food, eat a lot of food. And Thanksgiving is right around the corner, and I and my Stiletto gals have been talking about food in our emails back and forth to each other. (I still have to make Southern Evelyn’s apple cake, but promise I will!) I tend to stay toward healthy things and am constantly trying to amaze my family with my culinary prowess. If you’ve been reading this blog, you know that that is a challenge. I’ve got one picky eater, one vegetarian, and one who only likes a few vegetables and nothing really of the root variety, which I love to roast with olive oil, salt, pepper, and some herbs. But while drinking my coffee the other day—and with a great big thank you to Rachael Ray who published this recipe in my hometown newspaper—I seem to have hit on something that everyone loves (with the exception of the vegetarian who I have now turned onto breaded flounder, which can be picked up in the freezer case of the new Stop and Shop just inside the front doors of the building). Let me give you this one roaster, easy-as-pie chicken dinner that will take all of the guess work out of “Mom! What’s for dinner!?”
You will need:
To preheat the oven to 425 degrees.
One (1) whole cut-up chicken in a package. Take out all of the chicken, rinse and dry. I also cut the breasts in half so that they were more of the same size as the other pieces of meat. The chicken I bought cost about $9.00 and fed the family for three nights.
Get a bunch of fingerlings, red potatoes, purple potatoes, or any other kind of small potatoes that you like and wish to use. Cut them in quarters.
Strip the leaves of three stalks of rosemary and coarsely chop.
Crush eight garlic cloves.
Put the chicken on the bottom of the roaster, throw in the potatoes, the rosemary, the garlic, and cover the whole thing with a couple of tablespoons of olive oil. Oh, and don't forget some sea salt and pepper to taste.
Stick in the oven for about 35-45 minutes or when the juices run clear from the chicken. You will have a one-roaster chicken dinner that everyone (sans the vegetarian) will enjoy. I also picked up one of my new favorite pre-packaged items: microwavable, steamable French beans. Served with the chicken and potatoes, you really have a winner. Tonight, we’re having the exact same dinner because I’ve never served a meal in which every morsel, down to the coarsely-chopped rosemary, was consumed. We may just eat this every night until Thanksgiving when I’ll probably break down and buy a couple of hamburgers so we don’t go on poultry overload.
I’m going to experiment a little tonight and roast some squash alongside the chicken even though I was admonished by the family not to change a thing. I figured I can doctor this up a few hundred ways and everyone will still enjoy.
Next week: a treat. We at the Stiletto Gang will be sharing additional recipes and ideas for the holidays and I, for one, am looking forward to seeing what the rest of my ladies have up their sleeves. Happy eating!
Tuesday, November 18, 2008
My promotion for Kindred Spirits is winding down. I have three more events coming up: a book fair, a day in an antique store, and two days at an art gallery. Of course all this entailed making the arrangements and doing publicity both online and with the local newspapers and sending out flyers.
Once that's over maybe I can concentrate on the holidays and perhaps doing some writing. I have two (yes two) new books I need to be working on. I have some ideas for one--but nothing for the other as yet. Sometimes I wonder why I'm doing all this--certainly isn't to make money because I really haven't. All the story tellers among us will tell you the same thing--we just have to do it.
My daughter invited us (hubby and me and son, daughter-in-law and granddaughter) to come for Thanksgiving in Southern California and we're going! For the first time in ages I won't have to cook. You have no idea how I'm looking forward to that.
For all of you as you head into the holiday season, I wish you all the best--and that you take the time to enjoy your family as I plan to do.
Monday, November 17, 2008
I was at least 18 before I discovered that meat came in any other color than grey. She overcooked everything, probably because she wasn't paying attention. Chicken would bake in the oven for hours, seasoned only with paprika, to give it color. But there was always plenty of fresh fruit in the house, lots of store-bought sweets, and the height of her culinary experimentation was to mix two fruit juices together. My family believed she invented orange-pineapple juice -- and maybe she did.
But despite the lack of any interest in preparing foods, my mother was actually a wonderful host. She was absolutely right when she insisted that it was the company that was important. She was gracious (she was Southern after all), generous, and inclusive. For my birthday parties, every child in my class would be invited, lest anyone feel left out. When I was in college and would come home for Passover, she would encourage me to invite roommates who might otherwise spend the Seders in the dorm. They were joyous occasions full of love and laughter...and she would order in the whole menu, soup to nuts.
My rebellion was, of course, to love to cook. For me, preparing a new recipe is like writing a mystery -- full of the unknown, often some red herrings (figurative ones, though I do occasionally indulge in the fish) -- and if put together correctly, a delight to enjoy.
Cleaning out my mother's apartment after she died, I found no cookbooks or recipes scribbled on cards. I did discover a file of take-out numbers. But of course, she left me with the best recipe for how to entertain. Invite people you want to spend time with; worry less about the food and more about making sure that everyone is comfortable and cared for...and most of all, enjoy the moments when you are together.
It's easy to get caught up in the holiday season hoopla. Have fun these next few weeks with those you love.