Friday, December 31, 2010

New Year's Eve Goal Review

Every year I set new goals for myself and for my writing. I posted my writing goals for 2010 on this blog along with my focus statement and my Top Five Priority List. You'll see that again in the New Year. But for now, I want to check my list to see how well I did in 2010. 

My Writing Goals for 2010

*finish 4th book revision, possibly make it a single title DONE
*enter 4 contests at a minimum with 4th MS, including the MAGGIES and GH DONE
*start fifth first draft of story plotted loosely during a writing workshop DONE
*work on fifth first draft during TOUR DE FORCE in February STARTED IN NOVEMBER 
*write every day except for high days DONE
*continue querying agents and editors with 3rd MS DONE
*send partial request and synopsis to agent for 4th MS DONE
*maintain daily blog REVISED TO 3X A WEEK
*continue guest blogging on Romance Magicians DONE
*judge writing contests DONE -- judged 3 that I can remember
*attend Moonlight and Magnolias Writing Conference DONE
*attend RWA National Conference DONE
*pitch 4th book at both conferences DONE
*help with PRO Retreat DONE
*continue learning and growing in my craft with online courses and craft books DONE
*read for fun DONE but would like to increase time spent reading for pleasure
*get a domain name DONE 
*coordinate online workshops for the Heart of Dixie DONE
*find a co-chair for the online workshop coordination DONE
*work on YA idea over the summer Played with the YA idea on Scrivener
*realize that life happens and enjoy the detours Yup, done!
*set top 5 priority list and review it regularly to maintain my focus DONE
*be courageous, strong and focused on my dreams and goals DONE

Wow, I accomplished almost everything I asked myself to do this year. I love this list. And I love all the DONEs. These were reasonable and attainable goals. I can't wait to see what my list looks like in the new year after I sit down and think about 2011. I'm excited about all the upcoming possibilities and new directions I will go as a writer. 

What goals did you set for the year? Did you revisit them? If you haven't set goals yet, I encourage you to write them down and post them somewhere (publicly or privately). Share your victories and celebrate your successes. 

Focus on what you have accomplished this year and reward yourself for all your hard work.

And now it's time to usher in another new year with some champagne and dark chocolate.


Seekerville Goal Setting Post
Word Wenches Procrastination Post

Wednesday, December 29, 2010

To Be or Not To Be & Other Editing Quandaries: Heart of Dixie Online Workshop

I'm shamelessly plugging the Heart of Dixie's online workshops because I am the online workshop coordinator. The line up for 2011 is on my HOD Online Workshop Page and you can get to it by clicking the link at the top of the page. I love online workshops because I can control when I do the work and when I contribute my work to the group as a whole. So I don't just coordinate the workshops for my writing chapter, I also take online courses with them (as the coordinator) and with other organizations. If you have time constraints and other obligations, it is so easy to save the files and look at them later, too. Not everyone posts their issues, problems, "homework" answers which is fine. However, I've discovered that the more I post, the greater benefits there are to me as a writer. 

Please join me and my HOD writing chapter for January's online workshop:

To Be or Not to Be & Other Editing Quandaries
Instructor: Cindy VallarFreelance editor and Associate Editor of Industry for Solander magazine and a historical novelist (http://www.cindyvallar.com/)
DEADLINE EXTENDED!!!
January 7-February 7, 2011
Cost: $20


Workshop Description: Authors are told to write the best book we can, but in today’s competitive market that’s not always enough. We could follow Mark Twain’s advice: Substitute damn every time you’re inclined to write very; your editor will delete it and the writing will be just as it should be. In reality, though, the writer has to make the changes. While not all of us are adept at putting on an editor's hat, there are some simple steps to take to tighten the writing and polish the manuscript.

This workshop provides tips on what an author can look for to improve your chances at getting past the initial query. We'll cover passive vs. active sentence construction, redundancy, weak vs. strong verbs, stating the obvious, synonyms, cause and effect, dangling modifiers, clarity of pronouns, author intrusion, speaker identification tags, adverbs and adjectives, head hopping, and more. The list may seem daunting, but if you know what to look for, you can easily make corrections that may increase your chances of getting a request to see your entire manuscript.

Presenter Bio: A retired librarian, Cindy Vallar is a freelance editor and the Associate Editor of Industry for Solander, the magazine of the Historical Novel Society. She writes “The Red Pencil,” a column that compares a selection from author’s published historical novel with an early draft of that work. She is also the Editor of Pirates and Privateers, and a content editor for Pyrates Way magazine. Aside from presenting workshops, Cindy writes historical novels and articles on maritime piracy, reviews books, and maintains her award-winning web site, Thistles & Pirates (http://www.cindyvallar.com/), which she invites you to visit.

As a special bonus, if you mention this blog as your reason for attending the workshop, I will put your name into a drawing for a special prize to be announced at the time of the class.

See you in the virtual classroom!

Monday, December 20, 2010

Happy Holidays!

Tis' the season to be jolly... we are celebrating our holiday traditions this year as a family. Darling Daughter and Darling Husband have two weeks off. And, with the exception of my daily writing goal of a minimum of 200 words a day, so am I.

I'm looking forward to putting together goodie bags for my neighbors, Christmas dinner with my friends, seeing the Galaxy of Lights at the Botanical Gardens, and just plain hanging out.

With the exception of a few pre-scheduled blogs, Digging Out of Distraction will be on a holiday as well.

I wish you and your families a blessed vacation time. May you head into 2011 renewed, refreshed, and revitalized!

Friday, December 17, 2010

I'm Not an Expert, but I Play One in Real Life

A very important part of accomplishing our goals and achieving our dreams is realizing that our way may work for us, but might not work for everyone else. This realization will stop us from believing that our way is the only way that will work. And this realization will keep us humble and open to new ways of doing the things we think we know how to do.

Think about this for a moment. Absorb it. Then walk into a bookstore or go online and you'll see a lot of people have made money selling their way of doing things as "the way." Sure, it worked for them. And maybe it will work for you. But don't believe that every "expert opinion" is the answer and final solution to how you need to accomplish your goals.

In my writing life I have been to many conferences, workshops and chapter meetings that cover the craft of writing. I've also read a lot of books about how to approach my writing and how to craft "the book." As a new writer, I eagerly followed the first bits of advice to the letter. I figured if I could master the other person's way of writing a book then I could be successful, too. But the truth is, I had to develop my own approach. And I've learned that every book and every idea requires a different approach.

That's my way. I have to dig into the writing in my own way while utilizing the bits and pieces of information that I've gathered throughout the years as tools to building my stories.

The same is true for any person pursuing any goal. It's true for parents, too. Oh, as a parent I could go on and on about the expert advice I have received from other parents who had it all figured out for themselves. Oh, they were all too eager to make sure I understood their methods were "the methods" for raising my darling daughter.

I'm sure their judgement... oops, did I mean to say that? To some extent, I did. Because there is a fine line between giving information if asked versus someone coming in and saying "you should do it this way because I know it works the best." There is a veiled judgment implied in that the person is actually looking at what you're doing and they disagree with your methods so they feel compelled to tell you how to do it "right."

There is no one "right way" to raise a child, process a move, clean a house, workout, diet, or write a book. Trust me. If there was just one "right way" to do anything, life would be pretty boring. We'd all be the same. And I don't think we want to be cookie cutter people. I know I don't want to be a cookie cutter person. Do you?

So the next time someone offers you unsolicited advice, even me, ask yourself what you can realistically use and toss the rest. And the next time you get ready to tell someone how well you know how to do something, ask yourself if you are actually judging that person's methods.

Question your motives. This will take you a long way. And remember to be compassionate in your views of how others approach life. This will take you even further than you can possibly imagine. Be receptive, be understanding, and act like an apprentice instead of an expert. You'll be amazed at how much you learn as a result.

Wednesday, December 15, 2010

Let Me Entertain You

My current series in progress is set in a small town and one of my characters is a culinary wizard/lifestyle guru. She teaches her students how to cook, entertain, and decorate. Why did she pop into my brain? I guess it's my secret desire to be Nigella Lawson or the Barefoot Contessa that spurred my creativity. Really. I want to be them. I want to eat luscious food, go shopping in quaint shops, and host fabulous dinner parties. And even better I don't ever have to worry about being a size 4 or 6 or 8 again.

Nope. I'll get paid to look voluptuous and enjoy doing it.

Of course, given my shellfish allergy I doubt I will ever have a career as a television cooking/lifestyle hostess. This is why I create characters who can live my dream for me. However, being a romance novel heroine, my character will be a respectable size 8 because this is a fictional piece of work.

Again, I'm just fulfilling another personal fantasy here. Cook, eat as much as I like, and be skinny, too. It's a wonderful ideal for me and love to imagine this alternate world.

The truth is that I do love entertaining, but not at the level that some famous entertainers go for it. There aren't catered events at my house. COSTCO is a place where I can get some mighty fine platters of goodies. And Pilsbury crescent rolls are featured in many of my appetizers. The point of entertaining isn't to impress people, it is to bring them together and create a memory.

Over the years, I believe I've learned how to do this quite nicely.

When I was growing up, this wasn't true at all. My mother would invite people over to dinner. She'd stress out about the house and we minions would be forced to clean all day. This cleaning usually involved polishing her silverware (ugh), and her ranting about the cleanliness in general of the house. She wasn't the best housekeeper so I believe she invited people over just to force the house into a state of order again.

In addition to the stress of cleaning the house, she also had great anxiety about the menu. Experiments were held on us, and we were forced to eat many culinary dishes that were not fit for human consumption. I could possibly blame this fact for my shellfish allergy. I won't. But I want to. Finally a menu would be established. And she'd be okay for a bit.

We'd set the table, put on our best manners and act as if it was seamlessly pulled off. I didn't mind this too much during the year, but I truly resented this effort ON CHRISTMAS DAY! Yes, my mother would host this type of event on Christmas Day. And let me tell you, it's no fun polishing silver on Christmas Day.

I swore that when I grew up I would not subject my family to this kind of stress. At least I wouldn't do it to them on Christmas Day. Besides, that's my day, too. Don't get me wrong. I want to break bread. But I'm not polishing silver or breaking my back cleaning the house. In fact, I'm pretty much of that mind all the time when it comes to hosting parties at my house. Or dinners, for that matter.

A lot of people don't entertain because they believe it will be the stressful event I've described from my childhood. I'm here to say it doesn't have to be stressful or expensive. It is about bringing people together and having fun. It is about making memories.

I remember when I was a poor young woman living in a one bedroom apartment in Vancouver, British Columbia. I hosted more dinners around that little table than I can count. I was a wizard with a can of cream of mushroom soup, garlic and onions. If I had that, and a bit of white wine, I could make a sauce that my friends enjoyed and pour it over pasta. During that same era, I also hosted many interesting dinner parties with another friend. We'd ask each of our friends for $5 then we'd devise a menu based on the money we pooled together, go shopping and prepare a meal. We had fondues, clambakes (before the shellfish allergy came to light), barbecues and more. And it only cost us $5.

One year, the year we did the fondue, we took a plank of wood, two of them, and put them on top of upturned milk crates. Then we covered them with a tablecloth. We tossed pillows on the floor and seated 12 around that makeshift table. No one complained as they stuffed their mouths full of cheese, oil and chocolate fondues. What a great night!

In the years I've been married, I've hosted dinners and parties with varying levels of decor and degrees of  difficulty. One thing my mother's experiments taught me was that I loved to host parties. I loved the people part and the pulling together of the various elements. Sometimes my parties are BYOB and a side dish. Other times, I make a meal for 8 and we sit around the table. The size and volume varies. I have scaled back on the number of people I'll host only because I want to socialize, too.

Tonight I am hosting a soiree for my hubby's Scotch Working Wednesday Crew. I decided not to ask them to bring anything as they all work during the day, and I wanted to have fun with the menu. I'm providing 3 hot appetizers, two of which are hearty, and 3 cold appetizers along with an antipasto platter filled with cheeses, olives, interesting crackers and more. Most likely I'll try to do something fun with the breakfast nook table (no one goes around the dining room table so I'll just light some candles in there and leave it at that) and make it festive. But that's because I love doing that kind of stuff.

And no, it won't look like Martha Stewart's elaborate decorations. I tend to go the Rachel Raye way of entertaining. If you are squeamish about hosting gatherings, here are some tips from an entertaining road warrior:

1) Don't go crazy cleaning your entire house. Throw crap into baskets and hide them if you must. A candle lit house doesn't show dust. I do a light mopping to at best.

2) Homemade is great, but store bought is great, too. If you have something you want to highlight, then make it and serve it with pride. Surround it with goodies you enjoy or foods that are easy to pull together or pre-made. No one will care.

3) Bring the outdoors inside. If you don't have a lot of decorative stuff, then go clip some branches from your outdoor hollies or evergreens in the winter. In the summer you can clip flowering bushes, etch. Put them into every day containers that are unique. I have used soup tureens and trifle bowls for these kind of things. Really, who uses a soup tureen for soup? Not me.

3) Paper plates and plastic forks are great. Today I'm mixing and matching paper products with real mccoy stuff. That's because it is a small group and I have tons of glass plates I can use that will be perfect.

4) If someone offers to help you, say yes! Unless you want to control the menu (today I did so I didn't ask people to bring anything), if someone offers to bring food, say yes! You never know. You might get a new recipe for your recipe book. That's one of the best things that came out of our Happy Hours at the townhouse in Fairfax, VA. Of course, my darling teen called them Happy Nights as they lasted a lot longer than an hour LOL.

5) Don't apologize for the food. If something isn't quite right, who cares? Julia Child's said it best: never apologize. Period.

6) Don't worry about everything matching. I have gathered a lot of silver platters and white platters over the years so I just coordinate the seasonal colors to match them. I do have a passion for dishes so I have Christmas plates which I'll trot out, but that's the only set I have that is "seasonal."

7) Make a list of what you will do and plan ahead. I do make a list of the goodies I will make along with the number of people who are coming. I prep my grocery list based on the ingredients (unless they are store bought appies), then I shop for them. I make a list on the day of the event to make sure I don't forget anything. I start with prepping the stuff that needs to be chilled (can be done day before), then move to the stuff that has to be cooked the day of the party. I pull my serving platters and use a trick I learned from a friend -- I label with post its what is going where... helps me be on top of things.

8) I set up the stage--table--eating area--drink area, then give myself time to relax before everyone arrives. I usually have one thing in the oven when people get to the house. Most of our parties end up in the kitchen so I may as well wait to cook it all.

What are your holiday plans? Do you entertain often? Are you a control freak or a go with the flow kind of entertainer? And what is the best party you've thrown for the least amount of money?

Monday, December 13, 2010

Secret Recipe Revealed

Ah, Christmas time is the season of blustery cold winds and bustling elves in the kitchen at the Glover house. This weekend we made Oreo Truffles, Praline Pecans, Mini Eggnog Muffins and loaves, Spicy Pecans, and *drum roll* my favorite cookie recipe: Chocolate Sambuca Cookies.

Oh let the yumminess begin.

Early morning Christmas Baking Elf


Darling Teen had a function to attend on Saturday so we got up early to work on the truffles. We had many truffles to make because she gives them away to her friends. The list grows yearly. I may have to take orders next year. We made over 100 truffles. In addition to the truffles, I made Praline Pecans and Spicy Pecans as well as the batter for the Chocolate Sambuca Cookies. The batter is runny and has to set up overnight before you can make the cookies.

The cute mini loaf pan. It has Christmas Imprints in it.
On Sunday morning Darling Teen and I had to buy new pants for Church choir and so off to Kohls we went despite the biting cold winds and unusually freezing temperature. Frankly, if this is what global warming feels like, I'm not impressed. Brrr! We found the dreaded khakis (who looks good in these pants? No one but the dudes in the advertisements), a few more presents for her Dad, and then we hurried home. DT had more musical stuff to head to in the afternoon, Darling Husband had football to watch, and I had cookies and muffins to bake. As you can see there is quite a lot to do when one is making the mini eggnog loaves. I love my new mixing bowls from my DT and DH which are brightly colored and they don't slip on the counter when you mix the batter. And they seem to do well in the dishwasher, too. Whew. Cause I don't relish washing them by hand. 




 The imprints are super cute. There are candy canes, trees, a santa, and bells. I'll sprinkle these with powdered sugar then wrap them in cellophane before I give them away.

I had a lot of cute mini cupcake papers with Christmas themes on them so I thought I'd use them to make mini muffins.
The chocolate sambuca batter is ready to be rolled into balls.
After I made the Mini Eggnog Loaves, I used my Pampered Chef small scoop to fill the paper cups and bake the mini muffins. They are adorable! I will give them away and serve them at a gathering I'm hosting on Wednesday evening. Oh, the mini muffins do look great. And they taste even better. Yes, sampling does occur in the Glover house because we must do quality control checks. I'm considering trying out an experimental icing recipe which might incorporate the nutmeg as part of the recipe. I think topping a few with icing will be nice for the gathering. And for those of you who already have the recipe, I cooked these for 20-25 minutes which is less time than the loaves. After I cooked the mini loaves, I prepped my work station for the final recipe. 



Flour for the hands and the sugar mix ready to dip the balls into for the cookies.

The balls of cookie dough are ready to bake at 350 degrees.
Sheer Yumminess is all I can say.
After a wee break, and a bit of wine, I began making the Chocolate Sambuca Cookies. Now these aren't clean cookies. These cookies require getting your hands good and dirty in batter, flour and a concoction of icing sugar mixed with regular sugar. Not for the faint of heart. But there is something about me that enjoys the whole process--like making really yummy mud pies that we can eat afterward.
After a wee break, and a bit of wine, I began making the Chocolate Sambuca Cookies. Now these aren't clean cookies. These cookies require getting your hands good and dirty in batter, flour and a concoction of icing sugar mixed with regular sugar. Not for the faint of heart. But there is something about me that enjoys the whole process--like making really yummy mud pies that we can eat afterward. 


And now, without further ado, here is the recipe.




Just kidding. I can barely read the words myself. So here is the recipe, which I have hoarded for years, for all of my blog friends to try. 

Chocolate Sambuca Cookies 
(original recipe given to me by Lori)

12 oz. dark chocolate (I use Hersheys)
4 tablespoons butter
1/3 cup of Sambuca
3 large eggs
1 cup sugar, divided
1/3 cup icing sugar
1 cup finely ground blanched almonds
2/3 cup flour
3/4 teaspoon baking soda

Melt chocolate and butter in a microwaveable bowl and set aside to cool slightly. In a medium bowl whisk together eggs, sambuca, 1/2 cup sugar. Add chocolate slowly and continue whisking till incorporated. Mix in almonds, flour and baking soda till well blended. The batter will be runny. Cover bowl with plastic wrap and chill overnight. 
Preheat oven to 350 degrees.
Mix icing sugar and regular sugar together. 
With floured hands, take one tablespoon batter and roll into a balls. Coat balls in sugar mixture and place 2 inches apart on a parchment lined cookie sheet. Cook for 12 minutes. Cool for 1 minute, then remove from sheet with a metal spatula. Cool on rack.




I dare you to get your hands dirty and try this recipe. It's worth the work and the effort. Ask the elves. They know.

Wednesday, December 8, 2010

To Be or Not To Be & Other Editing Quandaries: Heart of Dixie Online Workshop

I'm shamelessly plugging the Heart of Dixie's online workshops because I am the online workshop coordinator. The line up for 2011 is on my HOD Online Workshop Page and you can get to it by clicking the link at the top of the page. I love online workshops because I can control when I do the work and when I contribute my work to the group as a whole. So I don't just coordinate the workshops for my writing chapter, I also take online courses with them (as the coordinator) and with other organizations. If you have time constraints and other obligations, it is so easy to save the files and look at them later, too. Not everyone posts their issues, problems, "homework" answers which is fine. However, I've discovered that the more I post, the greater benefits there are to me as a writer. 

Please join me and my HOD writing chapter for January's online workshop:

To Be or Not to Be & Other Editing Quandaries
Instructor: Cindy VallarFreelance editor and Associate Editor of Industry for Solander magazine and a historical novelist (http://www.cindyvallar.com/)
January 3-28
Cost: $20


Workshop Description: Authors are told to write the best book we can, but in today’s competitive market that’s not always enough. We could follow Mark Twain’s advice: Substitute damn every time you’re inclined to write very; your editor will delete it and the writing will be just as it should be. In reality, though, the writer has to make the changes. While not all of us are adept at putting on an editor's hat, there are some simple steps to take to tighten the writing and polish the manuscript.

This workshop provides tips on what an author can look for to improve your chances at getting past the initial query. We'll cover passive vs. active sentence construction, redundancy, weak vs. strong verbs, stating the obvious, synonyms, cause and effect, dangling modifiers, clarity of pronouns, author intrusion, speaker identification tags, adverbs and adjectives, head hopping, and more. The list may seem daunting, but if you know what to look for, you can easily make corrections that may increase your chances of getting a request to see your entire manuscript.

Presenter Bio: A retired librarian, Cindy Vallar is a freelance editor and the Associate Editor of Industry for Solander, the magazine of the Historical Novel Society. She writes “The Red Pencil,” a column that compares a selection from author’s published historical novel with an early draft of that work. She is also the Editor of Pirates and Privateers, and a content editor for Pyrates Way magazine. Aside from presenting workshops, Cindy writes historical novels and articles on maritime piracy, reviews books, and maintains her award-winning web site, Thistles & Pirates (http://www.cindyvallar.com/), which she invites you to visit.

As a special bonus, if you mention this blog as your reason for attending the workshop, I will put your name into a drawing for a special prize to be announced at the time of the class.

See you in the virtual classroom!

Upended Traditions and Why I love A CHRISTMAS STORY

One of my favorite Christmas movies is A CHRISTMAS STORY. I'm not sure how many of my followers have seen the movie, but it if you haven't seen it, I might spoil it with this blog. It is set in the fifties and is about this boy, Ralphie, who desperately wants a BB Gun for Christmas. Everyone tells him he'll shoot his eye out, even Santa. But he persists in his petitions to receive the BB Gun. Meanwhile, the movie is chock full of adventures, boy adventures, with bullies and snow and double dog dares. The parents are baffled, befuddled, but loving. The Dad (as played by Darren McGavin) is fabulous--especially when he receives his prize from a company: a lamp in the shape of a lady's leg. Very fun. The entire movie just makes you root for Ralphie and it is heartwarming. I think the reason it works is that this is not a picture perfect family with all its ducks in a row. Martha Stewart traditions don't prevail. In the end, even the best traditions get upended by the dogs. Their Christmas dinner is destroyed and stolen. What do they do? They go out for Chinese and they have a good time.



And this is how traditions become different for every family. For we all want to have the comfort of the same and the tried and true traditions as we approach the holiday season. But the truth is, traditions get upended all the time because of health problems, family problems, money problems, and the list goes on. Last year we traveled to Texas just before Christmas because my father-in-law was ill, and we wanted to see him one more time. I remember another year when my daughter was in pre-school and her teacher said her mom was so sick that year that they didn't shop at all for Christmas. They clipped money to the tree, made a big pot of chili and hung out in their PJs. Then they went out the day after Christmas and spent their money at all the sales. A new tradition was born out of a serious necessity. This year I know a friend, my neighbor, who has ill parents on both sides of the family. They've got three young children. They won't be home for Christmas because they're traveling 14 hours to two different sets of parents to support them during this holiday season. Together we brainstormed how to create a solution and a "new" tradition for this year. One that would be fun for the kids and would take the pressure off the parents as they cope with their ailing ones.

See, that is why A Christmas Story works. Because it shows that it is in how we respond to the winds of change that we recreate new bonds and forge new traditions. So this year, as we head into the holiday season, my wish for all of my readers is that they kick back, lift off as many of the "shoulds" from their shoulders, and create new traditions in the face of any setback.

Happy Holidays and for Your Reading Pleasure click the links below to learn about other folks and how they cope with the holidays!



A Christmas Story

Bits and Pieces

Monday, December 6, 2010

Goodness Me It Is Goodie Making Time!

December is here! It's time to make some goodies. And I've got some retro blogs with some of my favorite receipes for the holidays in them. First up? Oreo Truffles thanks to my Heart of Dixie friends at The Writing Playground.

Next? My fabulous friend Lori's mini eggnog loaf cakes. Here is the recipe:


Lori's Eggnog Mini Loaves

2 1/4 cups flour
2 tsp baking powder
1/2 tsp salt
1/2 tsp ground cinnamon
1/2 tsp ground nutmeg
2 eggs
1 cup sugar
1 cup eggnog
1/2 cup melted butter
2 tsp vanilla extract
2 tsp rum extract (I couldn't find any so I used imitation and it was fine)

In a large bowl, combine the flour, baking powder, salt, cinnamon and nutmeg. In another bowl, beat the eggs, sugar, eggnog, butter and extracts. Stir the wet ingredients into the dry ingredients until moistened. Pour into three greased 5 3/4 by 3 inch by 2 inch loaf pans (I used eight smaller cute pans with neat Christmas imprints at the bottom--and they turned out great!--planning cupcakes next). Bake at 350 degrees for 30-35 minutes till a toothpick comes out clean. Cool for 10 minutes before removing and putting on wire racks.

Yield's 3 loaves, or 8 mini mini loaves.

I'd love some more fun and easy recipes. What do you make every year that gives your family happy hearts?



Friday, December 3, 2010

Pay It Forward-Give Of Yourself Every Day

December has a Pay It Forward Day (at least that one pal on my Facebook says--so I'll roll with that info). I think it is a fabulous concept to carry in our hearts. However, I'd like to challenge all my friends and followers to have a Pay It Forward spirit throughout the year, every day, as we chug along and pursue our goals.

If we are able to pursue our goals, whatever they may be, then we are blessed. If we are educated, able to read, live in a country where freedom is a concept, not just a word, then we are blessed. If we have leisure time, can take time to read a book, cook a nice meal, break bread with friends and family then we are blessed.

If we can walk, talk, breath, sing, dance then we are blessed.

Yes, there are dark days. Yes, we all have tragedies that will occur in our lives. Yes, we will falter. But if we remember that we are truly blessed, we can carry that blessing into the world. This isn't a religious thing. This is a "gee, gosh darn it you are bloody lucky and fortunate to live in a world where even having the time to read this blog is a big deal."

Seriously. It is.

So as you pursue your dreams, shoot for the moon, grab for the stars I hope you also remember to share yourself and Pay It Forward every day. Every day ask yourself what you are doing to make at least one person's life a bit better. I'm talking about strangers, people you meet in random ways, people you might never see again.

Many people want to accomplish BIG things and they go about changing the world. In BIG ways. That's great. That's wonderful. But if we can't practice kindness in small ways, we will never be tasked with big requests from the universe. Therefore I believe it is in the little acts of kindness that we truly evoke big changes in the world. A nice word, a friendly smile, a thank you, a compliment can go a long way to brighten a person's life. You never know how much of a difference one small act of kindness can cause. It is a ripple effect. The more ripples you gently stir into the waters of humanity, then the greater the waves of goodness will become in our world.

And we don't have to shout out our good deeds or advertise them. We can be daily living examples of trying to live a life with purpose and kindness and compassion regardless of our religious beliefs, our backgrounds, or our cultures. So I encourage you to be aware of the people around you and to consciously and purposefully choose to act with kindness and compassion in your everyday encounters.

Wednesday, December 1, 2010

Countdown to Christmas

We're counting the days till Christmas morning. We'll be busy running around buying presents, planning events, watching Darling Teenager perform in her voice recital, baking and making our annual Christmas goodies (yes, stay tuned for the recipes!), putting together an Angel Tree package for an adopted senior (last year I had an elderly man who wanted a stuffed animal--loved that!), sending Christmas cards, making calendars and photo albums for our friends & family.........

Christmas is the MOST BUSIEST TIME OF THE YEAR.

And I love it. I love the candles glowing, the light of the tree illuminating our family room, the good food, the friends and the celebrations. I love learning about the other cultures and their traditions during this time.

What is your favorite holiday memory? What special cultural things do you do that make your holiday special?

Monday, November 29, 2010

Top Five Reasons Not to Make My Beds

We are generally a neat and tidy family. Wait. No, that's me. The other two humans living here aren't uber neat and tidy, but they are in training. One has been in training for YEARS. The two felines in our house are relatively neat and tidy unless Madam Mischief is stalking socks and dropping them in the hallway, stairwell or in front of Darling Husband's office door. Dowager Feline Clancy is infinitely neat and tidy being that she is a Duchess of Extraordinary Good Sense.

Yes, I am that person who gets up, makes the bed, unloads the dishwasher and reloads it, wipes the counters, sweeps the floors and straightens up clutter. I am notorious for straightening up other people's clutter which they think is perfectly fine right where it is till I "lose" it for them. Ha.

But there are days that even I don't want to make the bed.

Top 5 Reasons I Don't Make the Bed

#5 Another human is sleeping in it and in my way.
#4 Darling Daughter interrupts my routine with a carpool request.
#3 It's Sunday and that's a day of rest.
#2 Sheer rebellion which forces other human to make it for me.

And the #1 Reason?

Cats Curled Up in the Coverlet Nest!

Madam Mischief guards Dowager Feline Clancy.

DFC is an equal opportunity nester in my Darling Teen's bed.

Could you disturb her? Not me!

Friday, November 26, 2010

Black Friday Bail Out--Today's Motivational Post is Blacked Out by Shopping Frenzy

There's a little tradition in the United States called BLACK FRIDAY. Every year, the day after Thanksgiving, millions of Americans get up super early and go shopping for amazing deals at their favorite retailers. Why do they get up early, brave the cold, bump against the burgeoning crowds to shop for deals when they could be sleeping? Well, the deals are pretty danged amazing.

Confession: When Darling Teen was a lot younger, I'd take advantage of the sales for Christmas shopping. Later I used the deals to buy my required black tie event dress at a super discounted price. Trust me, there is nothing quite like trying on a formal gown when you look like death in a skillet and you're one cup of coffee away from a caffeine from a compulsory trip to the ladies room located at the opposite side of the department store.

I gave up BLACK FRIDAY five years ago. I started shopping online. I no longer needed the sales. Often times, most of the stuff is just that. Stuff. And it's stuff we don't need or want. But my Darling Husband and Darling Teen have taken up my BLACK FRIDAY mantle. Every year they get up and make a strategic plan and, armed with my meager list of two or three things, they go shopping for my Christmas presents. It's quite cute. And they have a great time. But honestly, I usually don't have much to put on the list. It's not about the list, it's about the companionship they have and the relationship they build while they are shopping that counts.

Confession: They don't get up early. They leave when they are ready. And they have learned that if there is an ALABAMA or AUBURN game on Black Friday, they will have zip to battle in the crowding department.

And what do I do while they are gone? I start getting ready for decorating for Christmas. Down come all the autumn colors and back into the attic the various items go. Then I clean--dust the surfaces that haven't been dusted in a while hehe-- then I start putting up the easier decorations. We save the tree for the family to decorate together.

Confession: Every year we have an annual argument about the placement of my Darling Husband's beloved "chair" which is strategically placed to watch the flat screen television. This place is right where the tree must go. It's never pretty. There is also the musical dance of the furniture which must be endured. No. We are not a Norman Rockwell painting when it comes to the positioning of the tree.

Usually we eat leftovers that night. But this year we may not have many, so we might just have pizza or a store bought Stouffer's Lasagna. This is our calm before the tree positioning argument. We have a laugh or three, drink a bit of wine (or a lot), watch a few movies, and hang out.

The best part about bailing out of BLACK FRIDAY? Sleeping in!

Do you shop on BLACK FRIDAY? What's the best deal you ever got? And if you bail out of shopping, what do you do instead?

Wednesday, November 24, 2010

Grateful Hearts Lead to Happy Hearts

Thanksgiving is a time of gratitude, of sharing a meal with friends and family, and of remembrance. I love everything about Thanksgiving from the warm autumn colors, the parades, the football games (well I could probably go without the football), the comradeship, and the food. Can't forget the food.

This year we're sharing Thanksgiving with our new friends. We're having a huge feast which will include our spatchcock turkey, all the trimmings, smoked turkey breast, cornbread dressing, mashed potatoes, sweet potato casserole, two pies.... ah.... food baby is on the way! I can't wait to break bread and share this day with them.

Imagine if we carried that spirit forward into all of our days? What if we opened our hearts to living a life of gratitude and giving all year round? Charities require more help during the holiday season, but wouldn't it be great if people gave to food pantries all year long? To homeless shelters? To (fill in the blank cause)?

I try to live a life of giving and service as well as one of gratitude. I admit, sometimes I have to dig deep for the spirit of gratitude when the clouds of loneliness, winter weather, and darker days descend. But I make the effort because if I can find something to be grateful for, then I can find a smidgeon of happiness in my day. A ray of light. And then I can carry that light into the world. And then maybe someone else's day might be a bit brighter.

One trick I learned was to write down 5 things a day that I'm grateful for. For instance, right now I am grateful for my health (which is a huge one), my darling daughter's spirit, my husband's job security, my new friends, and my writing community. I could list of a lot more things to be grateful about, but you get the picture. Having positive things to be grateful for helps me smooth away the rough edges of the things I am sad about, or the things I miss right now.

Confession: No, I am not Polly Anna and always filled with sunshine. I do bask in the sun a lot (I am like a cat that way), but I have days where growling is preferred to purring.

We all struggle with our own inner demons and disappointments. It is in how we handle them and work through them, that we show the measure of our willingness to be lights in the world. When I practice gratitude, I realize how blessed I am and I can't be grumpy anymore. Or maybe I just won't growl as much.

Happy Thanksgiving & Enjoy Your Day!!

Monday, November 22, 2010

Spatchcock Turkey for Thanksgiving--Strike a Pose!

I don't cook the big Thanksgiving bird in the oven. I grill it. Here are some fun pictures from 2009, and videos of our Thanksgiving feast in preparation as well as a link to how to properly spatchcock any hen/bird for the grill. I'll be too busy grilling the bird to post on Thanksgiving Day, but I had to share these hilarious photos. And if you plan on spatchcocking the big bird, do so with assistance. It is hard to cut out that back bone. And it's even harder to break the breast bone. But oh, the end result is so worth it!!



Be afraid. Be very afraid.

Putting yummy spices between the skin and flesh.

I believe she's a dead bird.

Instructing the future cook so I can retire.

video



Friday, November 19, 2010

Sacrificial Rites & Perfecting Priorities

I've been working on a submission and believe me, my derriere feels the pain. So do my hands! Oh, the nails that once were long and beautiful are short little stubs. And I don't even want to discuss the hangnails. They are the bane of my existence. But sacrifices must be made in order to achieve my goals.

Here are some of the easier sacrifices I make when I am working toward a deadline:

1-Cooking? What's that? People, people in the house. Find a pop tart and deal.
2-Cleaning the bathrooms. A little bleach in the bowl goes a LONG way.
3-Why clean floors when they are just going to get dirty again?
4-Unimportant phone calls aren't answered--I'm talking the solicitation kind.
5-Social media is put on the back burner (but I still check occasionally)
6-Makeup? Hair? What? I'm a writer, not a movie star.
7-Ironing. Like that was hard haha.
8-Menu planning. Isn't that why frozen lasagna and pizza were invented? To ease my life?
9-Kitty litter scooping--someone else can do it for a change.
10-Watching television--thank goodness for the DVR and taping shows!

But in the midst of making sacrifices, I also know there are some things that cannot be ignored. Here are some priorities I keep no matter what, or who, is demanding my time:

1-Grocery shopping. Apparently food must be in the house even if it is a frozen pizza.
2-Laundry. Clean clothes are a must even if I am not a movie star.
3-Care and feeding of the cats--someone has to keep DFC full on Beechnut Organic baby food.
4-Sleeping. Can't write if my brain is dead.
5-Eating. Can't write if my tummy is rumbling.
6-Exercise. Must remain healthy and strong if I am going to keep on writing.
7-Being available to my closest friends in their times of need (friends are forever).
8-Spending time with my Darling Husband. After all, he's my first hero.
9-A modicum of social time cause I can't thrive without people contact.
10-Being available to my Darling Teenager in times of stress and in times of jubilation.

Tip: know your priorities and then you'll know what you can give up to achieve your goals.


What sacrifices are you making to achieve your goals? What are your top priorities and why?

Fabulous Friday Blog Roll

Thursday, November 18, 2010

Blogging on Romance Magicians Today

I took a side trip to visit the Romance Magicians and blogged about Necessary Losses I incurred in order to pursue my writing dream. Come visit me at the Southern Magic Blog site and share your sacrifices with me.

Wednesday, November 17, 2010

Birthday Wishes and Memories of My Dad

My dad, Robert Alexander Doorenbos, was born in Alexandria, Egypt November 17, 1928. He passed away August 20, 2002 in Winnipeg, Canada. It's been a little over 8 years since he died, but I still miss him. He wasn't a perfect man, nor a perfect father, but he was a good man who loved me. He loved my husband, and he loved my daughter. There are days when I think to myself, wow, I wish Dad was here because he'd really enjoy this movie, this book, this drive, this scenery, this weather, this meal, this celebration.

I haven't written too much about him because how do I encapsulate his life? I missed a lot of years from the time I was 16 until I married at 22. Those years were lost for many reasons. Reasons that I don't discuss publicly. Suffice to say that he contributed to the reasons as much, if not more, than I did. I understand why and I have forgiven him, too. And in the forgiveness, I bought back a lot of years. Years filled with good memories, fellowship, love. Years where I shared my grown up life with him. Years where he became a friend, a father-in-law, an Opa.

One paragraph in my dad's memoir, written in 1991, describes his personality really well. He'd just been released from a Japanese concentration camp and was finally able to reunite with his mother and sister. He'd been in an all male camp for quite some time and in Camp 7. He wrote:

Back in Camp 7 it was not as crowded as when I arrived a few months earlier. Approximately 800 men and 110 boys had died in those six months. Rations had been so poor that diabetics did not need their insulin and they could not get it anyway. I went to see mother and Hetty in Camp 6, four miles away, a long walk. That night, on my way back, I got a lift in a truck with Japanese soldiers. Standing between them was a weird experience. All I owned in the world was shorts and a shirt, both tattered. My head been shaven at one time and grew back in irregular patches due to malnutrition. I weighed maybe 90 pounds and was covered with infected sores as every scratch festered. My arms and legs were wrapped in old dirty bandages which made me look like something pulled out of an Egyptian tomb. I must have been an awful sight and mother fainted when she saw me. It did not bother me too much. I felt fine after a week of adequate rations and had not looked in the mirror for six months.


I guess you could say I get my ability to find the silly in the serious from my Dad.

So now, as a memorial to him, I'd like to share my impressions of Dad's life based on how we authors tag/brand ourselves. Here are some words that I believe best describe my Dad.

Robert Alexander Doorenbos.

Survivor, artist, calligrapher, painter, cross country skier, adventurer, bibliophile, intellectual, engineer, architect, explorer, traveler, photographer, writer, cook, baker, Mason, toastmaster, cat lover, loner, humble, curious, generous, gifted, husband, brother, son, uncle, father, father-in-law, friend, Opa, man

I miss my dad. I miss our talks, our trips to the museums, and our mutual curiosity about life. Most of all I miss all the memories I still want to make with him.

Happy Birthday Dad. May your room in Heaven have an easel, a map, and a walking stick.

Monday, November 15, 2010

Break Out the Bubbly & Dark Chocolate--Celebrating Amy Atwell's Debut Novel LYING EYES!

I'm very happy and excited to open up a bottle of my best champagne for my fearless GIAM (Goal in a Month) leader Amy Atwell. Amy is an inspiration to me as a mentor, writer, and friend. We're celebrating her debut novel, Lying Eyes, which releases today! 
Pop! Pouring bubbly and breaking out the dark chocolate.


Hi Amy, welcome to the veranda. 
Thanks for inviting me to join you and meet your readers, Christine.  The verandah, by the way, is lovely.
How did you end up becoming a writer?
.
A rather circuitous path. I wrote throughout my childhood and adolescence.  Poems, songs, short stories.  I was fascinated with dialogue and comedic timing on television and would scribble notes while I watched shows.  In high school, I joined the drama club—and no, it was not nearly as cool as Glee, although it was a lot of fun.  But that led to studying theater and Shakespeare and then years of working in regional and community theaters. Play scripts and the stories in them were my love, and one day I realized that what I really wanted to do was write.  I quit the theater and got a job and started writing my story ideas in my free time. Back then, it hadn’t occurred to me to try to make a career of it.


What is your favorite genre to write?
No fair!  I love all the genres I write.  I started writing Regency period historicals because that’s what I read for years and years. Then I had a crazy notion to write a romance about the theater scene in New York.  Then I moved to Chicago, so I wrote about Chicago. Then even though I know next to nothing about medievals, I wrote a medieval romantic suspense.  And then Cosmo knocked on my door, and I wrote Lying Eyes.
 
I'm intrigued already. Can't wait to meet Cosmo. Are you a plotter or do you follow the muse?
I see characters and scenes in my head.  Maybe because of all the years in theater, I hear dialogue very clearly.  So, I generally let the muse run free for much of the first draft.  Then I roll up my sleeves for some plotting analysis.  Lying Eyes was different because I had editors waiting to see that story.  Most of the material in that story—except the opening 30-40 pages—is close to first draft.  I plotted a few chapters ahead as I wrote and prayed my critique partners would help me clean up the mess if I derailed the story.  They kept telling me it was fine.  My editor agreed.
How do you relax after a writing day?
Don’t laugh. I run an online writing community, and I have a lot of little tasks that make me feel like I accomplished something. I like to check things off lists, so these little tasks make me feel successful and relaxed.  Oh, and I can do most of them over a cup of coffee (morning) or wine (night).  I’ve also been known to turn off the computer AND the phone for Mad Men, Dr. Who, The Office and 30 Rock.

As a member of your community, I can say it's a great way to unwind. The *cyber support* is balm to a writer's soul. 


What do you read? What are your favorite genres? And your favorite authors?
I read anything that has a story that captures my famous.  I love romance and women’s fiction, but I also enjoy a good mystery or thriller. And I find I’m peeking at some YA stories to see what all the hype is about.  Favorite authors?  Jenny Crusie, Madeline Hunter, Jane Austen, Jean Auel, Tom Clancy, Dorothy L. Sayers, Dick Francis, Georgette Heyer, Elswyth Thane (I’m dating myself with those last five).  A new author who stunned me with her work is Therese Walsh.
What is your current project? What can we look forward to reading next?
I’m currently working on the sequel to Lying Eyes. This one is Cheating Hearts and features another of Cosmo’s daughters.  Of course, I also have a mainstream historical set during the Wars of the Roses calling me. And then there’s this pesky pair of characters out in San Francisco who have the beginnings of a great suspense story I’m jotting down. 
You have a lot of ideas and stories floating in your head. Fabulous! I can't wait to meet Cosmo's next daughter. What is the most difficult part about writing for you? 
Oddly enough, the hardest part for me is focusing and getting started on one story.  Once I’m into a story, I’m all there.  But if I’m multi-tasking life or additional stories, it can be a bear to get me to sit down and write.  (And I can name a dozen people who will read this and agree.)


I completely understand how multi-tasking zaps focus. 


Where do you get your ideas for your stories?
Everywhere.  Honestly, I trip over ideas.  I have a lengthy list of them on my computer.  For Lying Eyes, the title came when I was listening to Eagles’ song on the radio one day.  Liked the title, realized that “lying” would be an important factor. More than that, I wanted everything in the story to be a lie of some form or another.  That’s when Cosmo Fortune, my heroine’s father, popped up and announced he was a magician.  A master of illusion.  Then I made my heroine not just a jeweler but a costume jeweler. I just keep piecing things together that work. What doesn’t work, I toss.  

Cutting ideas is part of the creative process. *sipping my bubbly* Ah, but it is necessary for writers to learn. 


How long were you trying to get published before you got the “call?”
Ten years, give or take.  I took a couple writing breaks.  I had a big corporate job transfer that stalled my writing for over a year. Then my mother died suddenly in 2005. About nine months after her death I stopped writing for nearly 18 months. I stayed connected with my writing friends through WritingGIAM and when I returned to writing, I came back determined.  Still, it took nearly two years to sell Lying Eyes. When we first marketed it, Carina Press didn’t yet exist. In publishing, part of the equation is timing.

Amy, I am sorry you lost your mother. *hugs* But I'm very glad you returned to your writing with the determination to get published because now we get to read your stories. 


What advice would you give aspiring writers?
Write. Write what’s in your heart. Study. Study the market, but don’t it let completely change those stories of your heart. The market is always changing. Your stories are you and no one but you can tell them. Share them with the world.
Oh, and find a support network. It may be local, it may be online. But connect with other writers. Writing is a very solitary endeavor, but that doesn’t mean you have to go it alone.  I would have given up writing if it weren’t for GIAM.
What encouragement can you give writers who face rejection?
Let me be your poster child!  I swear, I’ve been rejected by top editors and agents. I’ve received painful comments about my work from industry professionals and contest judges.  If you’re familiar with Romance Writers of America’s Golden Heart® contest, I had one entry that received a “9” (their highest scores) and a “1” (their lowest score). 
Reading is Subjective.  Repeat that. Not every reader will love your work, but in publishing it often takes only one person to get behind you to turn the tide.  A rejection is nothing more than a single person’s opinion of a specific submission on a given day. 
Thanks so much for having me, Christine!  I’d love to offer up a digital copy of Lying Eyes to one of your readers. 


I'm so glad you joined me on the veranda. Thank you for offering a digital copy of Lying Eyes to one of my readers. I can't wait to see who gets their name pulled from this week! Congratulations on your release!!  

Amy Atwell worked in professional theater for 15 years before turning from the stage to the page to write fiction. She now gives her imagination free rein in both contemporary and historical stories that combine adventure and romance. An Ohio native, Amy has lived all across the country and now resides on a barrier island in Florida with her husband and two Russian Blues. Find Amy online at her website, What’s the Story? blog, Facebook, Twitter and GoodReads.

Lying Eyes is available from Carina Press, Amazon, Barnes & Noble and other online booksellers.