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!!!

Monday, August 5, 2013

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

First steps –

Most people think that the first step in writing a book (hopefully a good book) is to have a great idea or to develop compelling characters. While these are both important – in my opinion the actual first step is to find the time and the place to write. It sounds simple – I know. But so many good ideas have never been developed because the people trying to write them down never found the time or the place to get the work done. So if you’re in the beginning stage, jot down those ideas for now and start laying the groundwork. That way the ideas will still be waiting for you when you’re really ready to write!

Find some time to write – We are so busy. Everyone seems stretched to the limit – even my grandkids and my grandparents!!!!! So people often ask me, “How do you find the time to write?” And the answer is simple. I don’t find time – I make time. We all have the same 24 hours in each day. Some people give up hobbies, some give up exercise, most give up sleep. Honestly, if you commit to write a book every aspect of your life will probably suffer. Your house won’t be as clean, your family won’t get as much attention, your laundry might pile up, you may be on a first name basis with your local Little Caesars employees. The sacrifices can’t be avoided, so the goal has to be worth it to you and the other people in your life.

In order to write a book you will need to dedicate (in my opinion) a minimum of ten hours a week. Ideally you will write every day (at least every weekday) for about two hours at a time. I hear stories all the time about people jotting on the back of grocery lists, their children’s report cards, envelopes they got in the mail – even on their hands. And while this works for a quick idea that you don’t want to forget. But serious writing takes concentration. It takes awhile to get your thoughts organized – to get into the scene you’re writing, into the head of your characters, to remember where you are on the plot development. That’s why I suggest bigger blocks of writing time rather than fifteen minutes here or there (although you take what you can get and if you have to write in fifteen minutes swatches of time then that’s what you’ll have to do!!!)

I also recommend that you not get too caught up in page counts as you start writing. I hear people say “My goal is to write fifty pages tomorrow”. If you have to come up with a ‘page number goal’ keep it reasonable. Some scenes are much harder to write than others. Some days you may not complete one page. Some days you might not write a single sentence in your book. You might spend your writing time researching or advertising (necessary evil) or reading a book in the genre you’ve chosen. Ideally you will set aside a certain amount of time (I recommend 2 hours minimum) per day for writing. And all of those activities are essential to the writing process. So don’t get discouraged if the pages aren’t piling up as fast as you’d hoped.

And back to your two hours of writing per day – ideally it would be at the same time each day (like from 10-12 every morning). Writing requires discipline (self-discipline – the hardest kind!!!) and it’s easier for me to make sure I get my two hours in if they are scheduled (preferably early in the day).

Find a place to write – I’ve always dreamed of having a little cabin in the woods – far off the beaten path – where I could go to write. I picture the rooms bathed in sunlight, no noise except for birds chirping, no interruptions except for the occasional butterfly landing on the window sill. A nice new laptop, a couple of comfortable chairs (one in front of the window, one in front of a cheerful fireplace), food in the refrigerator – who couldn’t write under those blissful circumstances? The reality is that few writers have that kind of space – at least not at first. But I strongly recommend that before you embark on a book-writing attempt you should try to find an office space of some kind. Once you get a couple of manuscripts going (and sometimes in various stages of completion), correspondence, website, books you sell yourself – you need space to keep it all organized (or at least try). There may be an office available in your house. If not, maybe you can convert a part of the basement or the garage or a closet. Maybe your guest room can do double duty if you add a desk and a comfortable chair. I had eight children in a four bedroom house when I started writing. I couldn’t find an empty corner – let alone any office space. And there was hardly a moment of the day when I didn’t need to be available to my family. As a result my writing time was never as organized or productive as it could have been. My computer was set up in the living room. I couldn’t sit in the desk chair for long so I pushed one of the living room chairs over to the desk. And then I wrote when I could with the cacophony of life as my inspiration ‘music’. So if you can’t dedicate any space to your writing – don’t despair. It can still be done – it will just be a little harder.

So, if you think you want to write a book, work on your writing time and space this week. And next week we’ll discuss coming up with ideas and how to practice your writing craft.

Remember about the new feature of my blog – the Book Giveaway!!!!
Beginning in August I will have a monthly drawing for a free book! Everyone who comments on any blog post during the month will be entered in the drawing. I will post the winner on the last day of each month and request mailing information via email.  Thanks to all who have participated so far!

This month’s free book will be Motive for Murder by Maureen Bateman.

Meet Erica Coleman—a gifted and quirky private investigator with an OCD-like passion for neatness and symmetry, a penchant for cooking, (ten terrific recipes are included), and a weakness for chocolate.
Erica imagined that her trip to Florida would be a slice of heaven—a chance to get away from it all and catch up with her best friend, Wendy. But one day into her vacation, all hope of fun in the sun is dashed when she stumbles, literally, over a dead man on Wendy’s driveway. With police closing in on her friend as their main suspect, Erica must find the real killer before Wendy ends up behind bars.
With Erica’s skill, solving the mystery should be a piece of cake but then a second homicide-attempt hits close to home. There’s no way to sugarcoat it, a murderer is on the prowl, and no one is above suspicion.
As the plot thickens, it appears Erica may have bitten off more than she can chew, but she forges on, sifting through mounting evidence until she hones in on the killer who has a most surprising motive for murder. With a dash of romance and some surprising twists, this thrilling mystery will keep you on the edge of your seat until the very last page.

Recipe of the Week

I have just learned that grits are now available in most parts of the country. So for those of you who would like to try them I am going to give you a great recipe. Honestly, I’m kind of a grits purist. I like them with just butter and salt. But for some people served this way they seem a little bland. So I’m going to share a recipe for Cheese Grits that was given to me by my longtime friend, Nancy Densmore. Tip – When purchasing grits you want ‘Quick’ grits but not instant.

Cheese Grits
6 cups water                                                     1 tsp salt
1 ½ cups uncooked grits                                   ½ cup butter
4 cups cheddar cheese (shredded)                    3 eggs (beaten)

Divide cheese into 3 ¾ cups and ¼ cup portions. Combine water and salt. Bring to a boil in a medium saucepan. Stir in grits. Reduce heat to low and cook until water is absorbed. Remove from heat. Add butter and 3 ¾ cups cheese. Stir until cheese melts. Add a small portion of the grits to the beaten eggs and stir (or whisk) quickly. Slowly add remaining grits and stir well. Pour grits into a lightly greased casserole dish. Bake at 350 for 1 hour. Sprinkle with remaining cheese and put back into warm oven until cheese melts. Serve hot.