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!!!!