Monday, November 4, 2013

And as we move on into November...

And the winner of the October Book Giveaway is…..

*********Stephanie Bladen********

Congratulations, Stephanie, and thanks to everyone who commented on my blog. Now on to my November Book Giveaway!!!! Keep those comments coming!!!

Announcing a new grandson –
Ranchel Robert Farrer joined our family early on Sunday morning. Mom and baby are both doing fine. Welcome Ranchel!!!!!

Recipe of the week - Kissin’ Cookies

1 ½ cups all purpose flour                     1 tsp baking soda
½ tsp salt                                              ½ cup sugar
½ cup brown sugar                               ½ cup Crisco
½ cup butter (softened)             ½ cup smooth peanutbutter
2 TBSP milk                                         1 egg
1 tsp vanilla                                          Hershey Kisses (unwrapped)

Cream butter, Crisco, and peanutbutter. Add sugars. Add vanilla, salt, and egg. Dissolve soda in milk and add. Add flour and mix until blended. Roll into small balls. Preheat oven to 350. Place cookie balls on slightly greased baking sheet. Bake 8-10 minutes. As soon as you remove cookies from oven press a Hershey Kiss into the middle of each cookie. Allow them to cool before serving.

Monday, October 28, 2013

Costumes, Candy, and Terror - what could be better????

Spooky Days Gone By…
So Halloween is this week and I've been kind of nostalgic. Some people get really into the holiday. I don’t have time, energy, or money to go all out, but in spite of it's negative origin – I really have always liked Halloween. It’s the first holiday in the holiday season – so I’m sure that accounts for part of why I enjoyed it as a kid. Thanksgiving was a lame holiday to me (I know I was a shallow child!). I didn’t love to eat turkey, the Pilgrims and Indians were okay but all that talk of how thankful we were for everything got old fast. Christmas was, obviously, the crowning glory of all holidays – but then you got gifts from your family – people who loved you. There was something magical about Halloween – a night when everyone was your friend. Each house was approachable – and profitable – even if you didn’t know who lived there. And there’s just something about dressing up that appeals to kids of all ages. So we would come home from school, dress up, and bide our time anxiously until the sun set and it could be technically considered ‘night’. Then my parents would turn us (along with a hundred other kids) loose on the neighborhood.  Wearing a costume gave us anonymity and courage. We knocked on doors, smiling adults answered, and they gave us candy. Now that’s the stuff that dreams are made of! I have been trying to remember for a week now a single costume that I wore as a child and I can’t. It seems like that would have been important – but I guess it wasn’t. I do remember that feeling of the world being my oyster as we began our walk around the neighborhood. There were so many houses, so many happy people anxious to greet us, so much candy to collect. We were fresh and energetic and dreaming of the pounds of candy we would eventually take home. The first phase was so fun, running from house to house – laughing and breathless. Then our bags started to get heavy and we started to get tired. But we persevered! So much candy, so little time. Finally we would find ourselves on the far end of the neighborhood. It was seriously dark. It was cold. Our feet hurt. Our bags were really heavy. Our costumes were awry. The houses between us and home no longer seemed like opportunities – they were obstacles. We just wanted to be in our warm living room where we could admire our spoils. So we started trudging home, not even stopping at the houses that earlier had seemed so appealing. It took forever, dragging our bags full of candy and sometimes carrying a younger sibling who just couldn’t make it without help. But when home finally came into sight – with lights shining brightly from the windows – we got a little second wind and ran. We were welcomed back like conquering heroes. Costumes were semi-discarded by the door and we each staked out a part of the living room to dump out our bags. One year there was a minor tragedy – we realized, too late, that my brother’s bag had developed a hole and most of his candy had fallen out during the walk home. But that was easily solved. The rest of us divided out a part of our candy and gave it to him. His tears dried up, his grief was gone. We separated the night's treasure into good candy, okay candy, and the candy nobody wanted. My dad would always ask for candy from the reject piles – claiming he liked it. I thought that was amazingly convenient since we didn’t want it and it was therefore easy to share (hard candy, those orange and black chewy toffee things). Now I realize he chose from that pile so we could keep the good stuff. We would trade and bargain and eat as much as our mom would allow. Then finally it was time for baths and tooth-brushing and bed. There was a little sadness that it was all over, but we were so tired and we had a lot of candy and there was always next year. As I drifted off to sleep I’d remember all those houses we left un-trickortreated and vow that next year we would get to them all! Happy Halloween to Curt and Julie and James and Amanda – my trickortreating buddies! Special memories with some really special people!

Book Giveaway
Thursday is the last day to comment to win my book giveaway for this month!

Recipe of the Week
This recipe is one of my favorites. I made some this weekend and it was delicious – nice and warm and filling and easy to heat up a bowl at a time on a busy weekend. So if you’re looking for an easy dinner this Halloween (and you’re tired of chili already!!!) here’s a suggestion:

Potato Soup
8 medium to large Idaho potatoes (peeled and cubed)
2 cans chicken broth
1 can Cream of Onion soup
1 can Cream of Celery soup
8 oz. sour cream
1 pint half and half
8 oz. Pepper Jack cheese (grated)

In a large pot, cook potatoes in chicken broth on medium heat until just barely tender (about 15 minutes). Reduce heat and add cheese (stir regularly to keep it from sticking to the bottom of the pot). Add other ingredients and stir well. Continue to cook for just a few minutes until warmed through. Serve immediately or refrigerate and serve it a bowl at a time!

Monday, October 21, 2013

Where did October go????

The Week in Review – More or Less -
The man at the end of our street puts out so many Christmas decorations it’s spectacular (or a spectacle – opinions vary). I drove past his house last week and saw him getting it all set up (he won’t turn the lights on until after Halloween at least – but it takes him this long to get it all set up – seriously). It seems like just a couple of months ago he was taking it down! Seeing him with all that stuff gave me a moment of panic. This year will be over before we know it!

SO I had an interesting week. On Monday I broke a tooth so on Tuesday I had to go to the dentist. I expected bad news – root canal, crown, dentures . . . but he was able to fill in it instead so I was grateful. On Tuesday night Clay had youth baptisms at the temple and Jamie and Paris wanted to go to the 8:00 session. So I picked Clay up after football practice and ran him by the house to shower and change then we drove to the temple in Gardendale (about 30 minutes away). He was late but not too bad. Then Jamie and Paris brought the boys to me and we rode back home. It was a lot of driving around but we got everything done! And I got some time with two handsome gentlemen. I taught seminary on Wednesday night and Thursday morning which always gives me such an appreciation for our wonderful seminary teacher and these great kids (about 24 in our ward this year) who get up very early every morning and drive to the church to have some spiritual time before school! Then on Friday night we went to the Alabama Birmingham Mission Home where Butch was set apart as a counselor in the Mission Presidency. We are so excited and mildly terrified (me) about this new opportunity. I know that if I am going to talk the talk I’ll have to walk the walk so I’ll apologize in advance to any of my friends from other faiths who may not have any interest in learning more about my religion – because you’re probably going to!!!! After Butch and the other counselor were set apart we went out to dinner with Pres. and Sister Hanks (fabulous people). On Saturday Clay had a service project at the temple planting flowers while us girls attended a baby shower for Brittany that was so nice. Then Abbie and Andie and Avery and Banx and Thad came over to the house and made Halloween cookies (Brittany was of great assistance here). Then the kids watched a movie and ate popcorn while the adults watched ballgames. It was fun and crazy. The boys spent the night but the girls had to go back to Mississippi because they had their primary program yesterday. Anyway, on Sunday the missionaries were coming over to eat dinner right after church. I had been warned that the new sister had to have gluten free foods (no flour/wheat). So I planned my menu carefully. I found a recipe for chicken covered with breadcrumbs that could be adapted by putting only Italian seasoning on hers. It also had Parmesan cheese and sounded good. I made rice and green beans. I did make rolls but I was sure she was used to just passing on those. Then for dessert I made four-layer delight but did one in a separate little bowl with no crust. I thought that I was so prepared. Then I burned the rolls. They were almost done – almost perfect – but I decided to turn on the broiler for just a minute to get them a little more golden brown. I got them charcoal black – just on top. We ate them but they had that kind of campfire taste. Then I overflowed the rice. I have made rice a million times but for some reason I forgot to turn it down once it got to a boil and had rice water all over my stove. Worse, I had to estimate how much water to replace in the pan so the rice would cook properly (I guessed a LOT and that worked out okay). Then I splattered Crystal Lite on myself while I was mixing it up (the powder just jumped out of the pitcher when I added the water – it’s never happened to me before). But finally I had them all settled around the table. Then I found out that the new sister is not only on a gluten free diet - she's dairy-free TOO!!! That means no eggs, no butter, no milk, no crust-less four layer delight. She had to scrape the cheese off her chicken breast. She could eat the rice and green beans. I gave her a sugar-free Jello cup for dessert. She kept apologizing for being so much trouble and assuring me that she would just eat what she could and it would be fine but I wanted to cry. I felt like I fed her a lousy meal. You can be sure I’ll be better prepared next time!!!

“So You Think You Want to Write a Book???” Tip for the week
The Importance of Editing – It’s hard not to take it personal when someone changes or corrects your work. I remember when Covenant first accepted Hearts in Hiding I thought that the editing process meant that they were just going to add commas. I was wrong. An editor will (hopefully) catch all the grammatical mistakes but may also request changes in wording, content, even character names. An example is when I wrote Murder by the Book I had a couple of lines (referring to Kennedy’s ex-husband) that said basically, “At that point my marriage was over. I might have been able to get past Cade’s infidelity but knowing my sisters had seen him naked, well, that was just too much.”  Covenant didn’t want me to use the word ‘naked’. That seemed a little strict to me but it was pointed out to me that it only takes one parent – who buys my book for their twelve year old daughter – and then objects to Deseret Book or Seagull about the word and the bookstores might decide not to stock my book. And maybe not to buy my next one. So, it was changed to something like “knowing that my sisters had seen my husband with another woman”. I didn’t like it as well, but I accepted that my editor knew best.

And editing doesn’t begin after you turn your book over to a publisher. You will be the first editor of your book. Self-editing is the most pleasant part of writing to me. Once I have the basic story in the computer and I can just go back and fix things – that’s fun. But when you’re sure that you have it the way you want it – now it’s time to share it with someone else (or several other people). It’s hard to share your work with others – especially your first book – but you need fresh eyes for a fresh perspective. You know your characters, you know why they do what they do, why they say what they say – so you might not realize that your words are not conveying all this to the reader. A volunteer editor can help you correct this. Choose someone you trust but I don’t necessarily recommend your spouse at this point. You want a volunteer editor that can give you an honest opinion without damaging your relationship. If you don’t think you can take criticism well from your family or friends – hire someone. There are many editors who charge a minimal fee to read a manuscript and while it still might not be fun to read their criticism – it might be easier. I have my daughters critique my manuscripts. They give me enough encouragement to keep me from hitting the delete button but are honest too. Of course you want to hear your book is perfect – but you know it’s not, so be glad for constructive criticism wherever you get it. And remember that just because some things need to be changed doesn’t mean the book/concept is bad. I have a student who showed me a rough draft of a paper he had written. His teacher had corrected mistakes and there were a lot of them. He was discouraged by this and pointed to the top of the paper where the teacher had written “Good Job!” He said, "Why did she say it’s a good job if it’s all wrong?” I knew exactly how he felt and tried to explain that she liked the paper, she just wanted a few improvements. I’m not sure he bought it.  But it’s true. A written work can be good AND wrong! Content vs grammatical correctness. Both are important. I had this conversation with my high school English teacher who consistently gave me low grades for mechanics and high grades for content. The two were averaged for a very unimpressive composite grade and I was frustrated because to me the content was more important than the grammar. But she insisted that the bad mechanics reduced the quality of my work and so the mediocre grade was just. I didn’t agree with her then, but I do now. You can’t send a manuscript to a publisher that is a mess. The harder it is to read – the less likely it is that anyone will read it.

Feeding the Missionaries Fiasco Recipes –

Italian Cheese Chicken for Missionaries (made one without breadcrumbs)

6 large chicken breasts – cut in half lengthwise
1 cup grated Parmesan cheese
1 cup Italian Breadcrumbs
1 tsp garlic salt
½ tsp pepper
6 slices of Swiss cheese – cut in half
3 TBSPs olive oil
2 eggs – beaten well

Pre-heat your oven to 350*. Put eggs in a bowl. In another bowl combine these ingredients and mix well:
1 cup Parmesan cheese
1 cup breadcrumbs
1 tsp garlic salt
1/2 tsp pepper
½ cup chicken broth
½ cup baking sherry (mix with broth)

Put olive oil in a large nonstick flying pan on medium heat.  Dip each breast in egg and then the breadcrumb mixture until well coated. Then put them in the frying pan. Brown on both sides then place in a 13" x 9" baking dish.  Add 1/2 slice of Swiss cheese to the top of each chicken breast, and pour broth/cooking sherry mixture around the chicken. (If you prefer not to use cooking sherry use a cup of broth) Cover tightly with foil and bake for an hour. Serve with rice.

Note – I had three breasts left over and people coming over for dinner so I cut up the chicken, made another batch of rice and mixed it together with a can of Cream of Mushroom soup. I put it in a casserole dish and topped it with some of the breadcrumbs and more Parmesan cheese and I liked it better than the original recipe!!!

Four-Layer Delight

1 ½ cups flour                          1 large Cool Whip
1 stick butter                            1 large Chocolate Instant Pudding
8 oz. cream cheese                   ½ cup powdered sugar
3 cups milk                               1 Hershey bar

Preheat oven to 300. Melt butter in the microwave and pour it into a large casserole dish. Add flour and mix. Press to the bottom of the pan to form a crust (you may have to add a little more flour to get a dry, crust-like texture). Bake for 10 minutes and cool. Mix softened cream cheese with powdered sugar and 1 cup of Cool Whip. Spread over crust. Mix pudding according to package directions. Pour over cream cheese layer. Refrigerate for 30 minutes to get a firm set. Then top with remaining Cool Whip. Grate Hershey bar on top and serve.

Don't forget to COMMENT on any October blog post for a chance to win the Thanksgiving book giveaway!!!!

Monday, October 14, 2013

It will be Halloween before we know it!!!

First apologize for last week. I didn’t remember that I forgot to blog until Thursday and by then I figured it was too late!!!

So You Think You Want to Write a Book???
Creating compelling, realistic main characters
A fatal flaw is a weakness or negative personality trait that leads the character to behave in a certain way – and thereby play into the author’s plot. “Fatal” may not necessary mean deadly. It refers more to fate. It is a trait that the character is helpless to control (and may not even be aware of). It might be something terrible – like jealousy that leads to murder. Or it might be something small like curiosity or a tendency to be late. You will probably give all your characters a flaw or two – since perfection is unnatural and boring. And not all main characters have a fatal flaw – but it helps to add interest if either your hero or villain has one. It makes the story seem personal to them. The flaw may be overcome during the course of the book. Or maybe the main character just discovers the flaw. Maybe they learn to cope or work around the flaw. It is very amateurish to describe a character in detail and then use NONE of those traits in the storyline. Try not to tell too many things about your characters at once. Even introducing too many characters at once is confusing to the reader. Giving detailed descriptions of each one might run the reader away completely.

October Book Giveaway
Remember to comment on any October post for a chance to win this month’s book giveaway (which includes a couple of Thanksgiving items)

What are the chances?
One of my craziest life experiences happened when I was 19 years old (and I should have realized that it was just the first of many such things to come!!) My future husband had just left on his mission and I was working at the Wheeler Basin Regional Library. A friend, Teresa, also worked at the Library and I picked her up. It had been raining hard for days so there was water everywhere. At a stop sign near Teresa’s house the car behind me had wet brakes and therefore – ran straight into the back of my car. This was long before cell phones so we had to walk up to a nearby house and ask them to call the police to report the accident. Then I decided to walk the block or so to Teresa’s house to let her know I’d be delayed. I got out my umbrella and walked along the street. After giving Teresa the bad news, I headed back to my car. To save time, I decided to cut across a lawn even though it was covered with spots of standing water. My shoes were ruined anyway and I wanted to get back before the police arrived. So I started across the lawn and completely forgot about the drainage ditches that ran along the side of the road. So when I stepped into what I thought was just a wide puddle, I actually stepped into a drainage ditch. So there I was standing up to my chest in water – still holding my umbrella. And if that wasn’t crazy enough – the woman who lived in the house opened her door and hollered, “Honey, that’s a ditch!” Wow. Helpful information.

Recipe of the Week

Butterfinger Cheesecake

3 packages cream cheese                     ¼ cup sugar
3 eggs                                                  1 tsp vanilla
½ cup mini chocolate chips                   3 TBSPs whipping cream
½ cup brown sugar                               4 Butterfinger bars, crushed
½ cup smooth peanutbutter                   2 ready-made chocolate cookie crusts

Preheat oven to 450. Beat cream cheese, peanutbutter, and sugars, add eggs and vanilla. Stir in crushed Butterfingers. Divide mixture between the two crusts and bake for 10 minutes. Without opening the oven, reduce oven temperature to 250 and continue baking for an additional 25 minutes. Refrigerate until thoroughly cooled.

Topping – melt mini chocolate chips, stir in whipping cream. Spread over cooled pies.

Tuesday, October 1, 2013

And the winner of the September Give-Away is.....

Michelle Whaley!!!!! Congratulations!!!! Please send your mailing address to and I will get your Halloween gift box - that includes a free book - in the mail!!!!

Monday, September 30, 2013

Welcome Fall!!!!

So you think you want to write a book – Creating a Villain  
This is actually harder than it sounds. Unless you are writing about a sociopath (contrary to what you see on TV – there really isn’t one living on every block in America) your ‘bad guy’ has to have a reasonable explanation for doing something unreasonable (murder or another felony). Normal people just don’t kill (or rob or burn buildings down). So if you are going to have your villain do one of those things (or something similar) you’ve got to create a scenario that is believable. All fiction readers agree to suspend reality to a certain extent – but you’d be surprised how little suspension they will actually give you. So make it realistic. Also, I hate it when I get to the end of a book and the villain is some barely mentioned character that no one would ever suspect. I feel cheated and resentful that I’ve spent so much time reading a book that I had no chance of figuring out. So if you want me to read your book (and not get mad at you) your villain has to be introduced to the reader in such a way that when they later realize he (she) is the bad guy they aren’t surprised. But the villain can’t be obvious or there is no suspense in your novel. There are several ways to cloak the villain. One is to make them seem suspicious at the beginning and then explain away the suspicion so that the reader forgets about them (or at least about their suspicions). Then when the ‘reveal’ takes place the reader has one of those V-8 hit-themselves-in-the-head moments, thinking ‘Of Course!’. You can also make your villain seem so sweet that no one suspects them or so awful that they look too obvious. You can have multiple villains so that there is no one guilty party. Or you can really have the ‘murder’ explained away at the end so there is no villain. If you use one of these ‘tricks’ you’d better have a really good plot or readers are not going to like it. Or you can let the reader know from the beginning who the villain is and it’s up to the characters in your book to prove it. Another tricky way to introduce a villain is to lead the reader to believe that one person is the villain and one is the victim and in the end reverse the roles. I cannot recommend the book I am about to site because it has objectionable content, but “Gone Girl” by Gillian Flynn is an example of this last technique.

Recipe of the Week –
Chicken Enchiladas

10 soft taco shells
2 cups cooked, shredded chicken
2 cups shredded Monterey Jack cheese ( I like the Kraft Tex Mex)
3 Tbsp. butter
3 Tbsp. flour
2 cups chicken broth
1 cup sour cream
1 (4 oz) can diced green chillies

Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Grease a 9x13 pan. Mix chicken and 1 cup cheese. Roll up in tortillas and place in pan. In a sauce pan, melt butter, stir in flour and cook 1 minute. Add broth and whisk until smooth. Heat over medium heat until thick. Remove from heat and stir in sour cream and chilies. Pour over enchiladas and top with remaining cheese. Bake 25 min.

September Book Give-Away –
We will draw the winner in the morning to give people a chance to post a comment through tonight. Then tomorrow will start the drawing for the October Thanksgiving Gift Box – which also includes a book!!! So keep commenting! And remember that there is a delay between when you post and when it shows up on my blog – so don’t worry if you don’t see it immediately. If it still doesn’t appear after a day email me at and I’ll enter your name in the drawing.

Monday, September 23, 2013

Planning ahead for Christmas, Kids' Quotes, Book Give-a-way, Recipe

Things to do in November to get ready for Christmas
  1. Deep Clean your house – It’s not fun to decorate a dirty house. So start now – especially with big projects like cleaning the carpets. Take it one room per week and by the first of December your house will be clean and ready for decorations.
  2. Get haircuts for all the kids, yourself and your spouse
  3. Schedule, Schedule, Schedule -  Get big calendar and write down EVERYTHING that is already scheduled for you – school parties, family parties, church parties, parades, pageants, band concerts, etc. so you won’t commit to something else on a date that’s already spoken for. Be sure to include family traditions (and reserve time for them). Review your calendar at least weekly during the holidays so you can adjust for last minute things that always come up.
  4. Stock up – Buy extra staples like flour, sugar, butter, etc. that you'll need for holiday baking
  5. Whenever you cook – double the recipe -  Then freeze half for busy December days
  6. Kick off the Holiday season in style – On the last day of November have everyone dress in pajamas and watch a favorite Christmas movie while sipping hot chocolate.
September Book Give-A-Way –
This month I am giving away a Halloween Gift box. The winner will receive one of my books – autographed – that can be used as a Christmas gift if you already own it! It will also have some Halloween goodies to help you get your house ready for the FIRST upcoming holiday.

All you have to do for a chance to win is comment on my blog at least once during the month of September. NOTE: When you comment on the blog there will be a delay before it posts (it has to be approved to avoid SPAM posts). If you check back and your comment still isn’t posted just send an email to me at and I will enter you in the contest.

Good luck!!!!

Kids say – and do – the darndest things… Quotable Quotes from my Grandkids

Abbie called me to get information about my parents for a genealogy project. Once she had asked for their birthdates and places she asked for death dates. I gave her my mother’s information but reminded her that my father is still alive. Our conversation continued and when we were hanging up she said, “Gram, I’m sorry that I thought your dad was dead.”

Recently several grandkids spent the night. The next morning during breakfast Andie had Cocoa Krispies and her milk turned chocolate. When she proudly showed the others Abbie said, “Well chocolate milk isn’t very healthy.” Andie said, “Yes it is. It still has protein and Vitamin D.”

When I was in Idaho this summer Harrison asked why my teeth were green. We all laughed and then I didn’t think anything else about it. A few weeks later Banx invited me to go swimming with him. Then he added, “But you need to brush your teeth first.” Needless to say I purchased some tooth-whitening strips immediately!

One day Scarlett took some money out of her mom’s purse. Grace told her she had to put it back because, “That’s my money.” To which Scarlett replied, “But remember we’re supposed to share.” Awkward.

Banx told Butch that they were going to ride on his Papa’s boat and Butch thought he said tomorrow (which would have been Sunday). Banx said, “No silly! We can’t ride the boat on Sunday. We have to go to church!”

And last but not least – Emily took Harrison, Atticus and Scarlett to the media room at her apartment complex to watch Lion King. Atticus got scared and Scarlett told him “It’s okay, I’m right here.” To which he replied, “I love you, Scarlett!”

What would I do without them???

Recipe of the Week

Corn Casserole –
1 box of cornbread mix
1 pkg of cream cheese (8 oz. softened)
1 stick of butter (melted)
1 can of cream corn
1 can of whole kernel corn-15 oz size (don't pour off the liquid)
Mix all together with a spoon, pour into a 9 x 13" pan sprayed with non-stick cooking spray and bake in a preheated oven on 350 for about 45 minutes or until golden brown.
I haven’t tried this but it sounds so good to me!!!!

Next installment of Writing Tips next week!!!!

Monday, September 16, 2013

Week of September 16h - I'm a grandmother AGAIN!!!

Sadie Olivia Acker was born last Monday, September 9th at approx. 8:15 in the evening. She was 7 lbs 13 oz and absolutely beautiful. Her mom, Grace, did a great job with the delivery. Her dad, Aaron, is very proud and her sister, Scarlett, likes her a lot. I held the baby as much as possible – partly to let Grace rest and partly because I was leaving soon and wanted to get in as much time with Sadie as I could. Apparently Scarlett thought I might have the wrong idea because finally she told me, “This is our baby.” Yes she is. I left early on Saturday morning and rode the shuttle from Rexburg to the Salt Lake airport (a 5 hour ordeal). Then I flew from Salt Lake to Oakland, CA and on to Houston where I changed planes for my final flight to Birmingham. So I arrived at home around 9:00 on Saturday night – 17 hours after leaving Grace’s house in Rexburg!!!! I’m starting to wonder if flying is that much better than driving…

Anyway, I found all well at home – for which I am thankful. I miss the Idaho folks, especially tiny Sadie who will be very changed when I see her again in 2 months. And I worry about Grace who – in addition to recuperating from childbirth and caring for 2 babies – started back to school today. But I’m very thankful that I had the opportunity to go and be there when Sadie joined our family.

So You Think You Want to Write a Book . . . (Part Six)
Characterization Continued – Setting and Plot are very important parts of a story (book) but it is my opinion that the best setting and/or plot in the world are wasted if the characters are not compelling. If I don’t care about the people – then why should I care what happens to them? So if you’ve written your biographies of your major characters – you should know them pretty well. The next challenge is to make sure that as you lead them through the intricacies of your plot that they stay true to the character you’ve assigned them. For instance, when I wrote Hearts in Hiding and created Miss Eugenia she had a definite 'voice'. An editor going through the manuscript added a dialogue tag saying that Miss Eugenia ‘giggled’. I knew my character and I knew that while she might laugh or snicker or smirk – she would not giggle. So that had to be changed. I love character details – especially repetitive details – that help the reader get to know them. Maybe your character sighs in exasperation often like Hunter Ezell does in Proceed with Caution (and the sequel Danger Ahead that is almost finished finally!!) Or maybe your character keeps a hankie tucked in the neckline of her floral print dress like Miss Polly (and uses it to dab perspiration). But if you choose a quirk or habit – stay true to it. The character doesn’t have to sigh continuously, but often enough to make it memorable. If you make your character scared of the dark – don’t send her outside in the middle of the night. That would be against her character. If your character is messy – don’t have her cleaning her house constantly. These things are very important – but can be checked and double-checked during your self-editing phase so don’t stress over them too much now. Pick a quirk or habit for a couple of your characters now – but later if you need your character who is scared of the dark to go outside in the middle of the night – just change that quirk (or remove it entirely).

Now, a little about plot. You have the basic idea for your story – so get it written down. I like to go with an expanded outline. That means I put down the major events in the order they will occur (or when I think they will occur). I don’t put any dialogue, very little description – this is just what is going to happen. The first draft of this outline is difficult for me. I have to control myself from rushing ahead or from over-developing a small part of the outline. This is bad for several reasons. One is that you may later decide to take this part of the story out and then you’ve wasted time. Worse, if you dedicate a lot of time to writing a description or dialogue for under-developed characters in a vague scene – you’re going to get frustrated. So just push ahead, writing the major plot points. Once you get to the end, go back to the beginning and start filling in a few details. I like to think of it as a clay statue with chicken wire for the base. First you have to bend the chicken wire into the basic shape you want (this is your outline). Then you put the first layer of clay onto the wire (this is the first layer of details). You have to have this clay on the wire to hold future layers of clay in place. So it is very important – but not the finished product. So don’t get frustrated with the lack of polish your manuscript suffers from at this stage. It’s just part of the process. Get the clay on that wire and then you have something to work with!!!

September Book Give-a-way –
Remember to comment on any blog post this month to be entered into the drawing for a free Halloween gift box (that includes a free book!!!)

Recipe of the Week - Butterfinger Pie
8 count package of mini Butterfinger bars
1 tub of Cool Whip
8 oz cream cheese (softened)
Graham cracker crust (premade)

Crush up the Butterfinger bars. Mix together cool whip & cream cheese. Stir in the most of the crushed butterfingers (reserving about ¼ cup for garnish). Pour mixture into graham cracker crust. Top with the other 2 crushed up butterfingers. Refrigerate for an hour before serving.

Monday, September 9, 2013

In Idaho for birth of granchild #10!!!!

I'll be back to blogging next week - with pictures of Miss Sadie!!!

Monday, September 2, 2013

Preparing for Christmas (Yes, I know it’s only September!!!)

The holidays (especially Christmas) should be times of joy and peace and love and appreciation for the Savior. But often times those good feelings are overwhelmed by gift-buying anxiety and activity-scheduling stress and over-taxed finances and impossible demands on our time/energy/patience. SO I thought I would give a few tips I have learned over the years that might help you to have a more “Happy” Holiday season!!!

1.         Start buying gifts or putting aside money NOW. (Those of you who buy your gifts throughout the year – you’re way ahead of me – skip to suggestion 2) I saw an idea the other day about buying a gift card each week when you buy groceries. These can be used later to purchase gifts or can actually be given as gifts (my preference – takes out a step in the gift-giving process). Sometimes you can find sales, but even if you pay full price for what you buy you’re spreading out the expense (and the shopping) over four months instead of trying to do it all at once.
2.         If you still do Christmas cards, go through your list now (if your list is not on a computer – transfer it now – this will take longer this year but will save you hours in the long run). Make additions and deletions. And if you don’t know how to print labels, learn – both return address labels and ones addressed to the people on your list.
3.         Look through the winter clothes and pull out all the Christmas items. Determine what fits (all family members) and what doesn’t. This will reduce shopping for Christmas outfits later. I recommend that you discard the things that don’t fit (unless they will fit someone else in the future). But if you throw things away remember to hold out a few old-timers in case you get invited to an Ugly Sweater party!)
4.         Go ahead and have a family picture taken. That’s especially important if you have kids going off to college in the fall. The picture on your card doesn’t have to be in front of a Christmas tree. If you want to add a touch of the holidays you can have one of the kids hold a big candy cane or a sign that says Merry Christmas. Or if you really need a Christmas tree in the picture – go ahead and set it up. Then you’re about three months ahead of schedule!

New Book Give-Away for the month of September –
This month I am giving away a Halloween Gift box (yes, I know Halloween isn’t until October!!!) The winner will receive one of my books – autographed – that can be used as a Christmas gift if you already own it! It will also have some Halloween goodies to help you get your house ready for the FIRST upcoming holiday.

All you have to do for a chance to win is comment on my blog at least once during the month of September. NOTE: I have heard from several people that they were unable to comment. I don’t know what the trouble is (and I’m honestly not equipped to figure it out) but if you try to comment and can’t – just send an email to me at and I will enter you in the contest.

Good luck!!!!

Recipe of the Week -
Fresh Peach Dessert
Powdered sugar (2/3 cup crust) and (¼ cup whip cream)
1 cup butter, softened
2 pkg. graham crackers; crushed
10 medium fresh peaches; peeled & sliced (2 pkgs frozen can be substituted)
1 can sweetened condensed milk
1/4 cup lemon juice
1 pt. whipping cream
½ tsp vanilla

Mix cracker crumbs, powdered sugar, & butter. Save a small amount to sprinkle on top, press the rest into the bottom of a glass 9 x 13 pan. Whip the cream until almost set. Then add ½ tsp vanilla and ¼ cup powdered sugar and set aside. Mix the sweetened condensed milk with lemon juice. Place the peaches on the crust and pour the milk/lemon mixture on top. Spread the whipped cream on top of that and sprinkle with remaining crust. Refrigerate. (Does not store very well so only make what can be eaten within 24 hours – half the recipe if necessary)

Sorry there is no writing installment this week – I’ll pick up with Installment 6 next week)

Sunday, September 1, 2013

WINNER of my Book Give-Away for August...

Lauren Brightman!!!!! Please contact me at so I can get your mailing information. Congratulations and the new September contest starts with my blog post tomorrow!!!!

Monday, August 26, 2013

As August draws to a close...

Dieting – (In other words, taking all the joy out of life)
I never had a weight problem until after my fourth child, Grace, was born. That was also when I quit work to be a fulltime, stay-at-home mother. I blame my slip into chubbiness on several factors.

  1. The desire to make up for lost time – During all those years when I worked I dreamed of being Super Mom. I pictured myself making bread and cookies and keeping my laundry caught up and my house spotless. I wanted to be the mother my children deserved but had never had while I was working at a bank for 40+ hours a week. So when I quit work after having Grace – I baked and cooked and unfortunately – I ate!!!
  2. Being around food constantly – When I was at work if I wanted something to eat I had to go get it (and have the money to pay for it). And I was so busy I didn’t have the time to think about food. But when I was home all day even though I was still very busy – I was constantly feeding the kids, or cleaning the kitchen, or making a meal, or going to the grocery store. It seemed like there was food everywhere. And I could eat a LOT just one little bite at a time.
  3. Stretch pants – When I worked I had to dress professionally and since I couldn’t afford to buy a new wardrobe after each of my first three babies I lost weight immediately. There was really no choice. But when I stayed at home all day there was no dress code. So I became partial to a couple pairs of stretch pants and kept the weight. If I gained a pound or five – the stretch pants still fit.
  4. No time or opportunity to exercise – I realize now that I could have made time if I’d really wanted to exercise. Maybe early in the morning or late at night. But with an infant and 3 (barely) older children, at the time it seemed impossible.
  5. I’m a good cook – my food not only tastes good, it’s fun to make. I love cooking for my family, trying new recipes, making old recipes. I get a lot of pleasure out of making (and eating) food. It’s a reason to gather, a way to celebrate EVERYTHING. It’s so hard to think of another way to mark accomplishments – even simple things like making it through the week. It seems so RIGHT to celebrate Friday night with a good dinner and some ice cream!
  6. Lack of portion control – I could probably eat most anything I want if I would control how much of it I eat.

So, for about the hundredth time I’m on a diet – hoping to successfully lose AND successfully keep it off. I’m doing low-carb. It’s not fun but it’s pretty easy. A doctor (a THIN doctor) once told me that any diet will work – you just have to stick to it. I know that’s true. It’s just hard. But I’m setting a goal of dieting until Thanksgiving. If I can make it that long I’ll take a break and enjoy the holiday. Then I plan to get back on the diet until Christmas. My hope is that by the first of the year I’ll have lost most of what I want to and can diet during the week and relax a little on weekends. My mother gave me some advice on weight control a long time ago (which I obviously ignored). She attributed this to Marlo Thomas but I can’t guarantee that’s true. She said you pick your optimum weight and get to it. Then every morning you weigh yourself. If you are at or below your optimum weight – you can eat what you want that day (within reason of course). If you are over it – you diet that day. That sounds beautiful to me now (overweight). To handle each extra pound as it is added instead of waiting until it is a long, arduous process. I hope that one day soon I am there – on the scales – just a pound or two (either way) from my optimum weight. After all – it’s just food. I don’t HAVE to eat it. Nothing tastes as good as being thin feels (I’ve got a million of these, but I’ll leave it at that).

So you want to write a book (5th Installment)
This week I wanted to explore the ‘creation’ process that goes along with a book idea. About a month ago when Prince William and his wife Kate had their new baby George, I saw a lot about it on Yahoo! (my major new source – sorry to say). I read an article about the royal family and Prince Harry – and some of his famous misconduct – was mentioned. I was painting (the walls in my hallway – not a portrait) and so I had time for this to mull around in my mind. And I thought of an idea (which I will never use and hence I am sharing it here to help others come up with a real book idea). I thought what if you had a royal family that had been ripped by scandal over the past few years. A new generation is coming up and the palace wants to limit future embarrassment. But they know that all young men do things that are not ‘charming’ let’s say. In order to give the heir to the throne some privacy, and room for mistakes, a semi-evil Public Relations person recruits the younger brother of this heir to be the distraction. He is to get in trouble and stay in the tabloids. Meanwhile the palace will purposely leak ‘nice’ pictures of the older son. So the world thinks the younger son is a spoiled, undisciplined, playboy but really it’s just an image projected to benefit his brother.

I like things that are a little twisted, unexpected, so this appealed to me. The female lead character could be a reporter – maybe one sent to interview the younger prince. Some disaster befalls them – an earthquake or fire or terrorism – and they are trapped in a small space with no food or water and only a limited supply of oxygen. It seems like their lives are over so he shares his story with her. She is appalled. Gradually their situation improves – maybe they find some water or something shifts to give them a fresh air supply. A working relationship develops – as they try to survive – then a friendship and finally affection.

They are rescued and he swears her to secrecy. She promises that she won’t repeat a word he has told her to another living soul. The prince asks her on a date and she accepts. They set up an elaborate plan to make it happen, but they are able to eat dinner together. It looks like their budding relationship has potential outside of a death trap. But after a few dates the evil PR guy shows up and says this can’t happen – he can’t risk his terrible reputation by dating a nice girl. They’ll have to break up. She is appalled. He is resigned. It’s his job. He protects his brother, draws scrutiny away from him. Always has. She says “So we can’t see each other anymore.” He’s regretful but firm. No. It’s over.

She is hurt, mad, angry. She decides that while she won’t break her word to him, it’s possible to expose this terrible situation without repeating what he told her. So she starts interviewing the women he has dated in the past. Finds out that most of them received money, didn’t spend much time with the prince. All of them claimed to have slept with him but she was pretty sure they were lying. She builds her case, begins a series of articles, response from PR guy is swift and severe. She refuses to stop the series. Prince is sent to convince her. I don’t know what happens from here.

So. That is my basic idea. There is not an absolute pattern that can’t be varied from, but in this case the first thing I would want to do is determine my setting. I could use England and the actual royal family there. But this would be problematic for several reasons.
1.      I would have to make sure my facts were absolutely correct.
2.      I might have a problem getting anyone to publish this book since it might get them sued.
3.      Any feelings people have for the royal family (negative or positive) could make them unlikely to read (and buy) my book.

The best course would probably be to make up a country. I would have to decide if it’s in Europe or elsewhere. Who is the reigning king? What scandals have happened over the past few years? What are the cities that the younger brother visits and the logistics of getting from place to place.

Next I would develop my main characters. I read a book once (by Dean Koontz I think) that recommended you should write a biographical sketch of each character before you start writing. You should include where they were born, size and description of their family, where did they go to school, what kind of grades did they make, everything. You may never use all of that information but the better YOU know your own characters – the better you’ll be able to describe them and give them their own ‘voice’.

So we’ll pick up here next week for those of you who want to continue this journey with me! I hope it’s been helpful to someone at least!!!!

Book Giveaway –
Don’t forget that I am drawing for a free copy of Marlene Bateman’s amazing new book “A Motive for Murder” on Saturday. So if you would like to be eligible to win just make a comment of any kind on this blog (or one of the earlier ones from this month). 

What are the chances –
I almost always cut my hair a few times in between trips to the hair salon. I do not advocate this behavior. It means that I frequently have crooked bangs or gaps in my hair (not to mention that it gives my unfortunate hair stylist a more difficult task when I finally do go have her cut it). But my hair will be fine (just okay really but you know what I mean) and then all of the sudden it’s not fine anymore. It’s in my eyes or on my neck or bushy or something and I just cannot stand it anymore. I have to cut it. Best case scenario – I can find some regular scissors for the task. I have cut my hair with children’s safety scissors and on one really desperate occasion – toenail clippers.

Anyway, all that was just a lead-up to my story for the day. It was one of those times when my bangs were in my eyes. I found some scissors and cut them, but managed to get a few tiny pieces of hair in my eyes (hazard of cutting your own hair). This had happened before and usually I could get it out immediately and at worst, an hour or so later. But this time nothing I did could rid my right eye of a piece of hair. I couldn’t see it, but I could feel it, scraping my eye every time I blinked. It was annoying but I thought it would eventually work its way out. It didn’t. Two days later my eye was so irritated people were asking me if I had pink eye. I work at a school and even the appearance of a highly contagious eye condition is just not acceptable. So I called the eye doctor and made an appointment. I didn’t have time to go and I was upset with myself and the whole situation. I could have paid for a haircut TWICE for the cost of a trip to the eye doctor. But there was really no choice, so I went. The doctor said a tiny piece of hair managed to get stuck right into a tear duct. He said never in his lengthy career had he seen that happen. Lucky me. He pulled it out, the relief was immediate, and I went home.

You’d think I would have learned my lesson. But I’m still cutting my hair regularly. In fact, I may go look for a pair of scissors right now…

Recipe of the Week

Fresh Creamed Corn
4 ears fresh ears corn
4 tbsp. butter
1 tbsp. all-purpose flour
1 tsp. sugar
1/4 tsp. salt
3/4 cup heavy cream

Boil four quarts of water in a large pot. Add corn and cook for 5 mins. Drain and set aside. Melt butter over low heat. Add flour and stir. Slice cooked corn off the cob, using the back of your knife to force off any remaining kernels of corn and the “milk” (juices) from the cob. Add the sugar and salt. Turn heat up to medium. Stir and cook 1 minute. Add the cream and cook an additional 5 minutes. Season to taste with additional salt, if needed. This is fabulous!

Have a GREAT week!!!

Monday, August 19, 2013

So you think you want to write a book . . . Part 4

Okay, you have a place to write and a time set aside for writing. You have practiced your craft and now you are ready to start your book. First you need to choose an idea. If you have had just one idea for awhile then this step will be easy for you. If you have lots of ideas it will be harder because you have to choose only one for your first book. Don’t stress over this too much. If you have lots of ideas – that’s a good thing (you can use the ones you don’t pick now later). If you choose an idea and then can’t seem to develop it – there’s nothing wrong with putting it aside and starting on another one. Unless you do that with one idea after another and never finish a book!

Remember that in the creation of every book/story there might be times when you reach a blank spot (a place where you don’t know exactly what is going to happen). I like to type into this spot “I don’t know what is going to happen here” and then go on. You can always come back and fill it in later. And after you’ve written another chapter or so you’ll probably figure out what needs to go there. So don’t waste time staring at the blank page, struggling to come up with a scene that is alluding you. Just move on and come back to it. Also, while you’re writing Chapter One you might think of a scene that isn’t going to happen until the end of the book. But the details are so clear to you – the dialogue and the setting. So don’t wait to write it until you reach the end of the book. Go ahead and write it while it’s fresh on your mind (even though by the time you get to that scene other elements of the book may force it to change). Then you can slip it into place later.

Often while I’m writing one book I’ll get an idea for another one. ALWAYS write down your idea and any details that come with it. I promise you that you will not be able to remember it all when you finish the current book (at least I never can). Don’t get distracted and start actually working on another book. Just jot down the basic idea and then get back to work. Because writing is work. Sometimes its also fun – but its always work.

Next week I’m going to take an idea (one that I know I will never use and that is probably not even all that good) and show you how I would develop it and turn it into a book.

Double Chocolate Coke Cake

1 cup Coke (caffeine free is fine – not diet)
1/2 cup oil
1 stick butter
3 Tablespoon cocoa
2 cups sugar
2 cups flour
1/2 teaspoon salt
2 eggs
1/2 cup buttermilk
1 teaspoon baking soda
1 teaspoon vanilla


1 stick butter
3 Tablespoon cocoa
6 Tablespoon of whipping cream
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
3 3/4 cups confectioner's sugar

In a saucepan, mix Coke, oil, butter and cocoa and bring to a boil. In another bowl, combine the sugar, flour and salt. Pour the boiling Cola mixture over the flour mixture and beat well. Add buttermilk, eggs, soda and vanilla and beat well. Pour mixture into a greased and floured 13 x 9 inch baking pan and bake at 350 degrees or 20 to 25 minutes. Remove pan from oven and cool for about 10 minutes before frosting.

Frosting: In a saucepan, combine the butter, cocoa, and milk. Heat until the butter melts. Beat in the remaining ingredients and spread on the cake. Serve warm or cold (great with vanilla ice cream).

Monday, August 12, 2013

So Summer is over . . . again

I can’t believe it is the middle of August already. It seems like just a week ago it was the first of June, my summer was starting, and I had a whole list of projects that I was going to complete. I was going to paint the house inside and out, clean and reorganize every room, I was going to write three books. It all seemed so possible. The days of summer stretched out before me endlessly. August was so far away – it almost didn’t exist! But now here I am with the nonexistent August staring me in the face. And I have accomplished little of what I planned to do. It’s the same every year.

The first week or so I am very productive. Then, as time goes on, I start to sleep a little later, relax a little more, and the projects I’ve planned (or even started) get put up, postponed, or completely forgotten. It frustrates me that I can’t seem to keep up that frantic pace of the first week all summer. So I decided to make a list of what I did this summer and concentrate on that instead of what I didn’t do (much longer list)

I read 15 books (including the ones I listened to on CD during my various trips). I love to read and rarely get a chance, so this was a particular treat. They gave me food for thought and I feel like a better, wiser person for having read them. And in the process I might have even sharpened my own writing abilities.

I watched some television – I won’t claim to have gained anything from this except just that relaxing occasionally is a good thing.

I took a lot of walks – One of my goals was to lose weight and I have! I’ve lost the same 10 pounds 3 times and gained it back 3 times so my walking was a part of that questionably successful effort although I can’t consider the weight loss walking a total waste. If I hadn’t been walking (and losing) I would have gained 30 pounds this summer instead of breaking even!!!!

I have been able to spend quality time with all my grandchildren. I’ve walked on beaches with them, watched them float down rivers, filled plastic swimming pools for them, comforted them when they were frightened by storms, been beaten by them in board games, made cookies with them, seen the smiles on their faces, felt their little hands in mine, laughed at all the crazy stuff they say, and shed tears when I had to say goodbye.

I visited my aged grandparents, looked in to their tired but still beautiful eyes, cooked for them, talked about the past and the future, laughed at the crazy things they say, and shed tears when I had to say goodbye since I never know when a goodbye might be our final farewell.

And after all my mini-adventures I came home to a happy reunion with my husband who had missed me and my son who has missed all the things I do for him. So maybe my summer was productive after all.

It makes me think about life and how it’s much the same. We start out full of energy. During childhood we run and play from dawn until dusk. As teenagers we have complete confidence in ourselves and are sure we can conquer the world. Life stretches out endlessly before us. Then as young adults we work on education, get married, have children, and build careers. Every moment is claimed and accounted for. Sometimes our goals change or are lost in the frantic activity of every day. And then we get older. Our children are grown, our careers determined and perhaps even over. Then we reassess our purpose. We take things slower and accomplish less. We appreciate more, we read books, we look at scenery, we feel old and wrinkled, we look at an old, wrinkled spouse and marvel that he is more handsome now than when we first met.

I hope that when our lives are over and we look back at the time we spent on earth, the regret for the things we meant to accomplish (and didn’t) will fade quickly as we remember all the wonderful moments we were privileged to experience.

So you think you want to write a book . . . Part Three
I'm going to keep this week's installment short since I posted about my summer! But the next step, in my opinion, is to practice. Keeping a journal is the best way to hone your writing abilities. When you write about your life and the people in it and the things that happen you accomplish two things. You create a priceless record for your progeny and you learn to express yourself without having to create characters or settings or plot (all that has been done for you by life). I also recommend short stories. They are less intimidating than a whole book and easier to work with just because of size. So if you have an idea - develop it into a short story first. It can always be expanded into a full-length book at some point in the future. But starting small has many advantages. So that's my tip for this week!

Recipe of the Week
Grandma Ruth's Quiche 

8 pieces thick-sliced bacon (cooked and crumbled)

2 pie shells (8-inch, prick sides and bottom, cook for 8 minutes at 350)
5 eggs
4 green onions (chopped – I don’t use the greens just the tops)
1 pint half and half
1 cup cheddar cheese (shredded)
1 cup Swiss cheese (shredded)
1 tsp salt
1/4 pepper
2 tbsps butter (melted)

(Preheat oven to 375 degrees)
Sprinkle bacon, cheeses, and green onions in the bottom of the partially-baked pie shells.  In a blender mix Half and Half, eggs, salt and pepper, and butter just until blended. Place pie shells on a cookie sheet. Pour mixture into pie shells. Bake for 25-30 minutes until golden brown. Allow to rest for 15 minutes and then serve warm. (You can add other ingredients like spinach, mushrooms, and bell peppers!)

This quiche goes great with the Cheese Grits from last week!!!