Okay, Listen Here

Okay, Listen Here

Friday, July 29, 2011

Recipe Friday--From Russia With Love

I have been Behind the Palace Walls. Paige and Prince Alexei didn't know I was there with them, of course. This particular palace was in Russia and what a feast for the senses it was--deep snow, howling wolves, a nighttime sleigh ride, with blankets and kisses for warmth.


But before their sleigh ride, Alexei made sure that Paige had a wonderful authentic Russian meal, which was served in a cozy sumptuous library in front of the fire. After all, he didn't want her hunger to end that sleigh ride prematurely.

One of the dishes they had was a meat stuffed dumpling called pelmeni. I admit, I haven't tried to make this yet, but I intend to this weekend. If I can't have a sleigh and snow, I can have my own prince and this yummy sounding dish.

Thanks to USA Today bestselling author, Lynn Raye Harris for my ticket to this special place. You should visit too.

Before getting on with the recipe, I have to share this line of description. It makes me laugh every time!

". . .she wore a conservative black pantsuit with a high-collared white shirt. The suit fit well enough, but she looked like a penguin."

Russian Pelmeni

Pelmeni are very popular all over Russia. They are closely kin to "pot stickers," "pierogies," and other similar dumplings found in many cultures.

The Russian variety traditionally is made of flour, milk, one egg, and salt. The dough is rolled out fairly thin, and cut in circles approximately two inches in diameter. The filling is usually a mixture of minced pork, onions, garlic, salt, and pepper.


3 c flour
warm boiled water
3 eggs
1 tsp salt (amount may vary to taste)
1 tsp sugar (optional)

1 pound beef
I pound pork
1 onion
1/2 c beef broth
1 tsp salt
seasoning to taste


For making the dough: Sift the flour with the salt onto a smooth clean surface. Start adding the mixture of the liquids into the pile of flour in small amounts, trying to incorporate the liquid into as much flour as possible each time. After a while all the flour will be moistened; keep adding the liquid in small amounts, kneading the dough very vigorously after each time. The dough might seem soggy right after you add the mixture, but after you beat it for about minute, it takes in the moisture out, and more has to be added, actually. Keep adding the liquid until the dough becomes mixed throughout very evenly, soft enough to manage, but resilient to the touch, and very stretchy. I usually have 1 or 2 ounces left of the water mixture after the dough is done. Roll the dough into a ball, wrap in plastic wrap and place in the refrigerator for about 30-40 minutes.

For the filling: to save time, you can load all the ingredients into a good food processor with a meat-cutting blade, and ground them evenly, but not too finely. Add seasonings to taste. Now you are ready for the fun part.

To assemble pelmeni, first you have to make thinly rolled circles of dough. You may roll out large portions of dough and cut the circles out with a glass, or roll out the pieces of dough separately. The dough should be very thin, approximately 1/32 of an inch, and look translucent. While one person is making the circles, the others can be putting the filling by tablespoons onto the middle of each circle and sealing the meat tightly.

Fold the circle over in half, squeeze the edges together all the way around, and gradually pinch the edge down as you would on a pie crust, until it looks like a braid. To make the process go faster, you can use Pelmeni mold. When you are wrapping, please make sure there are no holes in the dough if there are holes, the meat tends to be hard after cooking. As you are making the pelmeni, put them onto a flour-dusted plate, and keep dusting between layers, so they don't stick together.

To cook the pelmeni, bring a large pot of salted water or broth (for better flavor) to a boil, and load you pelmeni into the pot. They will be ready when they float to the top. Take the pelmeni out with a strainer, and serve hot, drizzled in butter, with lemon juice, vinegar and sour cream in separate dishes to be used as a garnish. You could also add a small salad made of coarsely chopped tomatoes and cucumbers in sour cream to add some refreshing color and a burst of vitamins. If you feel you have made too many pelmeni, feel free to freeze them before they are cooked; they keep in a freezer for a very long time.

Thursday, July 28, 2011

Dog Days of Summer

Wikipedia defines Dog Days as coming from the "Latindiēs caniculārēs. They are the hottest, most sultry days of summer. In the northern hemisphere, they usually fall between early July and early September. Dog Days can also define a time period or event that is very hot or stagnant, or marked by dull lack of progress. The name comes from the ancient belief that Sirius, also called the Dog Star, in close proximity to the sun was responsible for the hot weather."

 Dog Days was also a part of the Christian calendar and was included in both the lexicon of the King James version of the Bible. as well as several editions of the the Anglican Book of Common  Prayer.  I never thought about the church recognizing something that I always thought of as just an informal, almost slang term for the worst of summer. In fact, I guess I erroneously thought  of the phrase as a Southern one.  We have all those other dog phrases such as "that dog won't hunt" for something unbelievable and "going to see a man about a dog", which means you have something to do that you're not going to talk about.

Back to the Wikipedia definition--I especially liked the part about  Dog Days being "stagnant, or marked by dull lack of progress."  That is how I feel during this hottest of weather.  I dread going outside and it seems much more difficult to accomplish anything even inside where I can use air conditioning to recreate conditions on the South Pole.

Maybe heart shaped watermelon would help but my question to you  is...

How do you deal with the Dog Days of summer?

Wednesday, July 27, 2011

Good Grief

Kathy sends her love. She is dealing with a serious family illness. Please keep Kathy's father-in-law and the rest of her family in your thoughts. She looks forward to seeing everyone here again soon.

Good Grief. Is there any such thing?

Lucy says it all the time. "Good Grief, Charlie Brown."

I wonder if Lucy would grieve for Charlie Brown. I like to think so, but what I like better is that they are forever suspended in a world of snatched footballs, the Great Pumpkin, and an ace pilot who flies a dog house.

No grief. No call that was never supposed to come, and certainly not come today. The call that doesn't break your heart, but kills a part of it and shuts you down like a burned out light bulb.

The call that makes you crazy.

After the call, Stephanie and I wrote 220,000 words in three months with no plot, precious little conflict, but plenty of good times. I look back at it and see that it was pretty good writing, good characters, and funny dialogue. But no plot. Also, there were pages and pages of description of epic Tolkienian proportions.

Except Tolkien didn't describe bedrooms, cars, shoes, jewelry, laptop cases, silver flatware, demitasse cup, Christmas china, jewelry store windows, jack-o-lantern faces, flower arrangements, cheesecakes, counter tops, and clothes, clothes, clothes.

We knew better. What were we thinking?

Not about the call. That was for sure. And I guess that was the point, though we didn't think so at the time.

I think those 220,000 words made our voice grow up. The voice was there but it was a little squeaky, a little scratchy, a little hesitant. It's odd what you're willing to put on piece of paper when you just don't give a damn. And maybe you have to not give a damn to let your voice come into being.

I don't think anyone knew we were crazy at the time. Why would they have? We ironed our skirts, put on our makeup, and cleaned our toilets. Not in that order. That order would have pointed to crazy.

Does it ever go away? The answer eludes me. Just when you think you've licked it, you have to throw away a pair of shoes and you're right back where you started.

The shoes I threw away today were pink house shoes with a band of sparkly beads and sequins. They had to go. The bottoms were disintegrating and I knew if I kept them, I'd keep wearing them, keep leaving little pieces of plastic sole all over the house. Probably, they would eventually cause me to trip and fall, probably right at the stop of the stairs.

Can't have that.

It was time for them to go. I bought them the summer Stephanie, The Guy, Oldest friend, and I went to New Orleans to meet David. It was June after Karina. I didn't buy the shoes to impress David. I bought them to impress myself and I liked looking at the sparkles. Besides, I wasn't in the business of impressing David. If I had been, it would have taken a hell of a lot more than a pair of twenty dollar house shoes, even if they did sparkle.

I didn't need to impress David because he loved me. He didn't need to impress me either but he never stopped trying.

David was a great gift giver and he understood my tastes perfectly. He gave me so many things. Rare books, fine crystal, sterling silver, hand carved boxes, and even a custom made piece of jewelry once. But he also gave me more mundane things like BBC series DVDs, cooking accouterments, and country CDs. I think he gave me the CDs because we were the only two in the tightest part of our inner circle who embraced the genre.

He gave Stephanie things too. That's her story.

But for certain, he gave us the refinement of our voice.

I'd trade it all for one more hour.

Tuesday, July 26, 2011

To Tweet or not to Tweet, That is The Question.

I fell on the floor laughing this weekend from a new commercial that was both imaginative and gave a social commentary that I thought was justified. It starts with a twenty-something girl sitting alone at a table with her computer talking about reading an article on “older Americans” becoming socially withdrawn. She smugly reported that she got her parents to join Facebook and they only have nineteen friends. Then it flashes to her parents, getting bikes out of a car (this is a car commercial) and going riding with other real people, actually interacting them! It ends with this smug girl saying she has 600 – something Facebook friends. She turns back to her computer, absorbed. Now that’s living!

Being a member of the ever-enlarging older generation, I thought about all the advances that have emerged in the last ten or so years and, well, I honestly think we should at least curb our appetites for them. I have a smart-phone and, yes, I do check my emails and text on it. I am guilty of wanting to jump up and grab the phone when those little pings go off. Most of the time the emails are just advertisements from places I have ordered merchandise from but sometimes I get emails from friends. In no case are any of the emails emergencies. The texts aren’t emergencies either (I have this mental image of one of my friends, bleeding, broken and trying to type “help” on those itty bitty keys; blood gets all over the phone, his fingers slip…well you get the picture). I guess if anyone I know has an actual emergency they will use the phone and CALL. So why do I jump up and run to the phone? I have been conditioned. Pavlov would be so proud! I do admit that texting is handy when it is a person you don’t particularly have time to talk to. Sometimes I wish my mother would text, thereby sparing me hours of talking about people I don’t know or people I don’t know who have died. It would be simple “Mary Sue Billingsly died this AM of psoriasis.” There I have been informed and I don’t even, under texting etiquette, have to respond. That saved me the long and gory details of her lingering death and at least thirty minutes on the phone. As for checking my emails, well, the smart phone saves me time - that I will admit. I don’t have to boot up the computer and scroll through them all. I already know which ones I need to answer, thanks to my handy little phone.

Now, to infuriate most of you: I hate Facebook! Google “Facebook” Boolean-connected with “waste of time.” You will get articles, some by psychologists, that state Facebook is the procrastinator’s best friend. Other articles talk about how the person starts up-dating their page on Facebook only to look up and four or five hours have passed. It sucks you in until you are completely submerged in the on-line life of someone else. I used to have a Facebook page until someone, a person who had a strong dislike for me and who I wouldn’t “friend,” tried to break into my account. Gabriel from Facebook shut it down and informed me I had a new password. I used the new password, shut it down and haven’t looked back since. I got tired of seeing everyone’s kids, dogs, cats, birds, reptiles or whatever posted on my Wall. I also got tired of the fish and farm games plastered over everything. Geez people, do you have a LIFE? Come to my farm and deal with the real thing. One other thing I noticed upon my Google search – Facebook is now cited in at least twenty percent of the divorces filed each year. Seems people are reconnecting with old flames and leaving their spouses or they are conducting an emotional affair that eventually leads to divorce. It’s way too easy to talk using Facebook (planning your escape from that humdrum marriage) than it is to sneak around and meet in person. And, if you’re smart, a lot less likely to be caught!

Yes, I can hear those of you out there who say that it’s wonderful to look on an editor or agent’s Facebook account and learn all there is to know about that person. It gives you an advantage. Seriously? Do you honestly think they put their real information out there for some Ted Bundy-like person to glom information to be used? I don’t think so (How many of you writers use pseudonyms?). I could be wrong but in this day and age if you really put information out there that could cause you harm, you must be like the idiotic girl in the commercial. Now that’s living… in fear or just plain stupidity. At any rate, if your work isn’t good, all the information you have on that person is just useless information because knowing Katie Harbowitz (made-up editor name) uses Bounty isn’t going to get you signed for a million-dollar book deal. I guess I don’t get it. Person to person networking still seems more sensible and advantageous. I also understand that a lot of you use this to connect with friends and family. Fine but have you thought about the time you just spent on-line? Time you could have been using to actually spend quality face-to-face time with your family or friends. I know most of you will blast me for this so go ahead, hit me with your best shot. I still think people need to connect as living, social, creatures.

And the bluebird of happiness: Twitter! I got a big surprise when I opened the August issue of RWR and read the column “The Last Word” by Mindy Klasky because the use (or overuse) of electronics was going to be my blog subject for this week. In it she voiced a lot of things about Twitter. Her main problem with the medium seems to be that she didn’t like doing it; she didn’t like it and that dislike shown through. I wouldn’t want to Tweet either, maybe because I don’t need everyone to know what I am doing and where I am doing it. I also think that it is too easy to put your random thoughts out there and, whoops, you really didn’t mean it (shades of Gilbert Gottfried – bet he wishes he’d quacked instead of tweeted!). As for following someone on Twitter, well, I don’t know about that. I don’t have a Twitter account so I have never done it. I am sure it gets you information a lot faster – he/she sold a nine-book deal to X publishing. If it’s your friend, then I suppose it’s wonderful news. I just don’t see the necessity. Someone out there clue me in on this. I can’t see following other people’s lives in 140 character blurbs.

So, in conclusion, I guess I should go harness the horses to the buggy, grab my bonnet and head to town since I am so hopelessly out of sync with the modern world. I just can’t see spending so much time on these things. I already waste enough time trying to build a fire in the cookstove…

Tell me your opinion on Facebook, texting, and Twitter. I know many of you have valid arguments against my position. Please try to remember I am easily swayed and bribes, well, bribes without Jean’s knowledge, will be accepted.

Monday, July 25, 2011

There She Is . . . .

It's been a long time since I've been to a beauty pageant. Oh, I know it's not okay to call them beauty pageants anymore, but that's the beauty of a blog. You get to say what you want. Mostly. And I mostly want to say beauty pageant because I don't know what else to call it.

It was the Morgan County Junior Miss Pageant. Only now it's called the Young Ladies of Distinction Program. Of course, that doesn't change it, so I think I'll just go ahead and call it Junior Miss.

Cutest Girl in the World (friend of my heart and soul) needed some moral support because her daughter was participating. See, Cutest Girl in the World really is the cutest girl in the world and she passed on some of that fabulous DNA, not to mention that big heart, sweet spirit, and brave soul.

The pageant was comprised of thirteen senior girls. I knew some of them. Precious Angel's ex-girlfriend was among them, plus someone he'd dated a time or two, and a couple of pals. But I wasn't there to see them. I was there to see Baby Cutie Pie.

You might think I'm a really good friend to be willing to sit though that. And I am a good friend. I am a "cheese grits at midnight" kind of friend if you need me. But this was no sacrifice because I knew I would not be bored. First off, I've never been bored a minute in my life. Second, I love some tutus, baton twirling, and sequins. I wasn't disappointed.

Baby Cutie Pie didn't win. Neither did eleven of the others. After all, like The Highlander, There Can Be Only One. Or lets face, due to subsequent Highlander movies and a television series, there could be two. Or three. Four, at the outside.

But I digress. None of the Junior Miss participates had a sword, though the one who did the karate demonstration did have a bo stick with lights on it.

I know you're getting ready for me to make fun. After all, the world at large has declared open season on beauty pageants.

But here's the thing. They took their big hearts, sweet spirits, and brave souls on a stage in front of a lot of people. In essence, they said, "Pick me, pick me," knowing the odds were low. And they did it in high heels, toe shoes, and whatever kind of shoes karate people wear. They danced, sang, recited, twirled, and played a harp.

I was in awe.

Have you ever been in or to a pageant?

Friday, July 22, 2011

Easy Blueberry Cobbler

Since there are so many fruits coming in I thought a cobbler  recipe would be a good choice for today.  
 Here is  a great and easy recipe for blueberry cobbler. I like it because it is easy so that I can enjoy more of my summer. What makes this recipe for Easy Blueberry Cobbler so easy is that it's made with a cake mix.

Prep Time: 15 minutes

Cook Time: 55 minutes

Total Time: 70 minutes


  • 1/2 cup sugar
  • 2 tablespoons flour
  • 1 tablespoon fresh lemon juice
  • 1/4 cup water
  • 2 pints fresh blueberries, rinsed and drained
  • 1 - 18 ounce vanilla, yellow or white cake mix
  • 1 cup pecan pieces
  • 1 cup melted butter


Preheat oven to 350 degrees F. Lightly grease 9x13 baking pan. 
In a saucepan, stir together sugar and flour. Add lemon juice and water and combine. Stir in blueberries. Turn heat on to medium-high. Keep stirring until mixture boils. 
Pour into prepared pan. Sprinkle top with cake mix. Then pecans. Drizzle butter over top. Covering as much as possible. Bake for 55 minutes or until blueberries have almost covered cake mix topping. Best served warm with ice or whipped cream.In the summertime, bake this in the morning. Leave out to cool. Heat individual servings of this Easy Blueberry Cobbler in the microwave for 30 seconds or less depending on your microwave.

Thursday, July 21, 2011

I Have a Question--or Four

When developing characters, Jean and I spend a lot of time talking about the character's self-concept and whether or not it's accurate. We don’t use one of those big long surveys that a lot of writers find useful in fleshing out a personality but we sometimes consider the Proust Questionnaire questions—like the ones used in the back page interview in Vanity Fair Magazine.

Just for fun answer the following:

  • What is quality to you admire most in others?
  • What quality do you dislike most in others?
  • What quality do you possess that you are proudest of?
  • What quality do you dislike most in yourself?

Wednesday, July 20, 2011

Enter the Ballroom, If You Dare

The past few weeks, since getting back from RWA Conference in NYC, have gone by in a flash. I've been trying to catch up with everything at home, at work and with my writing. Giving my head time to absorb all that I have learned and doing a bit of research on the Regency in Georgette Heyer's Regency World, The Guide to the people, places and society in Georgette Heyer's Regency novels, by Jennifer Kloester.

I had the great pleasure of attending a class given by Jennifer Kloester and Sabrina Jeffries, called Keeping it Real: Regency Research Georgette Heyer Could Believe In. Not only that, but I'd won the book in a silent auction during the historical conference, given by the Beau Monde, at the Beau Monde's soiree the day before. After happily digesting all that both Ms. Kloester and Ms. Jeffries discussed, I presented my newly acquired book to Ms. Kloester, in the hopes that she would sign it for me. I was not alone. Books came out of the woodwork and expectant faces proved that the Regency is still a most beloved era of history.

Offering my thanks to Ms. Kloester and Ms. Jeffries for the excellent class, I held the book close to my heart and left the room with a gigantic smile on my face. What a great conference memory! What a magnificent book! Jennifer Kloester had the Heyer family's blessing during the research and writing of this book. And Sally Houghton created a wonderful Georgette Heyer website for Ms. Heyer's continued fan base.

To writers, readers of Georgette Heyer's books and Regency lovers everywhere, please run out and buy this book. You won't regret it!

I was charmed by Ms. Kloester's accent, wit and knowledge. And Georgette Heyer's Regency World reflects all that and more.

Since conference, a wonderful event occurred as I've been devouring the contents of this book. A new blog went live on facebook, one you'd be crazy to ignore. I'm talking about the divine Ballroom Blog, hosted by Lady Heliotrope Beaufetheringstone, or Lady B and authors: Katharine Ashe, Sabrina Darby, Tessa Dare, Gaelen Foley, Sarah MacLean and Miranda Neville. An example of the delight found there: a blog about constructing Regency Paper Dolls online.

Anyone who knows me, knows how much I love research. Do you like to research? Life calls for research everyday. There are maps to locate for a quick trip or vacation, online shopping, music, the list goes on. Be it online or via books, what do you look for?

Tuesday, July 19, 2011

You Ever Had One of Those Days?

You ever had one of those days? I did this last weekend. Hubby and I had just gotten back from the beach, rested and stress-free until… I found a beautiful coffee table and end table that would be perfect for the beach condo (which I am currently renovating – yek). It was on Craigslist, a website I had not been on previously. Listening to the barn boys talk about all their great deals (monster trucks and such), I had to go on the site and see what the big hubbub was all about. I soon found myself lost in the world of people selling their stuff. Then, I found the coffee table and end table. They perfectly matched the bronzed wrought-iron dining room suite at the condo! Such Luck! They were located in Madison, a short drive and I would save hundreds of dollars. I was excited about those tables!

We got up Sunday morning and headed to Huntsville to purchase the tables. I had the address and the directions but we also used GPS (remember I am GPS challenged – it hates me). After wandering around Madison for what seemed like hours, we finally arrived by using the longest route possible to get to the location (GPS thinks it’s funny to send me by way of China). The tables were in the attic of a three-story house. After dragging the furniture, which had heavy glass tops, down the steps and listening politely to the lady of the house chatter about how she had the tables made, I was getting irritable. I hadn’t eaten and I was thirsty. We paid the lady and made our escape with the booty.

I wanted lunch! We stopped at a chain restaurant, thinking we could get in and get out quickly. No such luck! Our waiter, complete with those earrings that enlarge the holes (I couldn’t keep from staring - I mean why put those things in if you don’t want people to stare and wonder if it hurts?), was not very happy to be at work that day. After ten minutes of waiting for him to take our order, I had enough and went looking for him. Now is the time to feel sorry for my husband, I seem to embarrass him a lot. Too bad. I was thirsty and my head was ringing from listening to the nice lady (and she was nice, I was just hot and wanted to leave). I found him back by the bar, chatting with a waitress. Gee, sorry to bother you… He took our order and finally got me some tea. No sweetener. So I had to go scavenge some from other tables. I had my tea, nicely sweetened and was about to relax when lunch was served. Now, my husband will tell you, I will not eat any meat that isn’t cooked completely. No raw, no rare, no pink. I order my food well done because I am phobic about it. My hamburger arrived, still bleeding. Another round with Mr. Ear Extenders and I had my properly cooked burger. Yes, you can feel sorry for my husband.

We headed home but needed to stop and get some Ichthamol paste for the horses. It is an over-the-counter remedy used for drawing abscesses. It works on splinters and other things too. You slap it on and the miracle cream draws out the infection or whatever. It is safe for humans so I usually keep some around. The little girl behind the counter at the drug store argued with me that there was no such thing, even though I patiently spelled it for her three times. Finally, the pharmacist came over. Yes, they did have it and yes, he told the little girl, it did exist. Fine, I told him I needed some. Well, there was a problem, they didn’t have any in stock; he would have to order it. Nothing was going right for me. I ordered it and left, cursing stupid little girls for making me mad. Of course I had nothing to do with getting mad, it was all her fault. Now you can really feel sorry for my husband as he listened to me rant about incompetence and wasting my time.

Coming up the mountain toward home, my cell phone rang. I cringed. It was one of the barn boys. I never get a phone call from them in the middle of the day unless it is an emergency. Without answering it, I handed the phone to my husband. I just couldn’t deal with another thing that would upset me. Sure enough, one of the pasture horses had cut her leg and was bleeding profusely. I listened as hubby explained putting pressure on the leg and that calling the vet would be a good idea. We arrived home and sat waiting on the vet for what the vet called a few minutes (nearly an hour). The mare was not a happy camper and proceeded to kick anyone who came near her leg. After fighting with her, in my good clothes, we finally got the leg stitched up. She is in the big barn now, still not a happy camper.

Exhausted and only wanting a shower, I headed inside. Mason, my Dobie, had decided that the new Dean Koontz book I had just bought was not on his reading list (He must know that Koontz favors Goldens). He had chewed the book into a million pieces of paper all over the house. I had wanted to read that book that evening! Now I was reduced to picking it up in wet lumps. I gave up plopped down in my chair. My perfect day of getting that lovely furniture and having a nice lunch with my husband hadn’t turned out like I wanted. My husband patted my on the shoulder and then told me that Daisey, the mule, had jumped the fence, heading to the big barn and her friend. Back outside again to chase the silly mule. On days like this I would prefer a condo, no animals and my books intact.

Have you ever had a day that started off well but ended badly? Share some of your experiences with

Monday, July 18, 2011

Well Enough Alone

This morning I did it again. I screwed the top off the Molly McButter and dumped half the container in my oatmeal. It wasn't the first time and it isn't always Molly McButter on the oatmeal. Cinnamon on the toast, nutmeg on top of the eggnog, chili powder in the taco meat. I cannot learn. No, really. I can't. And you can see how long this has been going on by the eggnog reference.

Why did the spice companies have to make things better for me by replacing a screw top and shaker combination, with flip top and shaker combination?

In theory, this ought to be great. Only one hand is required to do what used to take two, leaving the other hand free to stir, answer the phone, or knock the cat off the counter. Except, after all these years, I operate a spice bottle using motor memory skill—meaning my mind doesn't think about it. My body just does what it always has.

I am not against all change. Flip top cans, tuna in a pouch, and a ketchup bottle that stores upside down are all good things. I could write four pages about my love of Swiffer products—especially the mop. But I can't ruin my oatmeal without my brain coming into play with these things.

Now is the part where I am supposed to go all lofty and use this little inconvenience of life as some metaphor or some other hooey. I'm not gonna. I'm just going to be mad about spice bottles for a while. Sorry. That's all I've got in me today. You go ahead and think about somebody in a third world country who'd just be glad to have a bottle of nutmeg any way they could get it. That's fair. You're not wrong. But I'm not giving out fair today.

I was with some people recently who were livid over those new twisty light bulbs. I am mostly ambivalent about them. In fact, I kind of like them because they last a long time.

But I have had a gut load of those spice bottles.

Any change in the manufacturing world that's got you up in arms?

Friday, July 15, 2011

Recipe Friday--Hot Mushroom Dip

It's official. I have completely lost it. I didn't know today was going to be Friday. I knew yesterday was Thursday. I guess I thought some elusive day, meant to help me catch up, had been invented and was going to be inserted between Thursday and Recipe Friday. So I'm late.

This is a great party dish. It's so easy and there is never any left. Apparently, that's the kind I need these days.

Hot Mushroom Dip

  • 1 pound fresh mushrooms, chopped fine (I use baby bellas)
  • 2 Tablespoons butter
  • 1 cup mayonnaise
  • 1 cup grated Parmesan cheese

Saute mushrooms in butter until tender and the liquid evaporates. Add cheese and mayonnaise. Bake at 325 degrees for 30 minutes.

If you mix it up ahead and bake right from the refrigerator, it will take 5-10 longer.

I've been known to add a little sherry.

Thursday, July 14, 2011

The Unexpected

In the last couple of weeks, many folks have blogged  about the RWA national conference in New York,  but it's my turn.  There were several things that happened during the week that were unexpected,  yet turned out to be good surprises.  Pretty much anyone who has known me for ten minutes knows how I hate a surprise so I realize what a big shock it must that I have coupled  good and surprise in the same sentence

Pantster and I roomed with the always fun Katherine Bone.  The first surprise was that she got us some really cool "roomie" presents.  She often gets us a little something to celebrate conference, but this year she out did herself, with  matching flashlights!  You might not think that is a great gift but if you had ever roomed with me, you'd know just how precious that can be.  Before I can rest easy in a hotel, I need for everyone in the room  to have a pair of closed-toed, hard-soled shoes beside the bed with a flash light in one of them.  Why? It's obvious.  In the event of an emergency, like a fire, I need to know that the people in my room can make a quick and orderly evacuation, using the route I have preselected for us during my recon of the facility. I scope out the recommended evacuation route and alternate ones in case there is a crowd or an obstacle that must be avoided.  The closed-toe, hard-sole shoes are for protection against broken things, sparks or other bad things on the floor. We cannot be slowed down by burning or cut feet.  Of course, the flash light is so that we can see to find each other if it is dark or smoky.  Getting a good gift from Kathy wasn't a surprise, but that she played to my special quirk was an unexpected joy!  (On a different note, if you don't make a plan to get out of a hotel in the case of an emergency, I strongly encourage you to do so the next time you have a trip.  As a friend of mine often points out, the people who are most likely to survive any crisis are the people who have a planned ahead of time.)

A room like ours!
A second great surprise was how fantastic the Marriott Marquis staff was.  Everyone was so helpful and did everything that they could to make our stay the best possible--from Terrell at the security desk, who made my stay in New York City less stressful, to the lovely people who provided coffee and water for the conference attendees in the mornings.  You always hear how rude people are in other parts of the country, especially New York, but it was a very nice unexpected treat to find that to be totally untrue.

The absolute best unexpected event happened when Pantster and I pitched to Deborah Smith of Belle Books. If you have never been to the pitch room at the RWA national conference, you have truly missed a spectacle of epic proportions.  I pray every year that God will bless the volunteers who work there because it has got to be the one of the craziest volunteer slots at the conference.  These poor volunteers have to get a new group of about twenty-five people lined up and into the pitch room every ten minutes for hour after hour.  Then in the pitch room,  the noise and nervous energy are just over the top!  So there Pantster and I were pitching to another Southern writer who is also an editor. We made a little small talk as we handed her our cards.  Then she asked us to tell her about our book so we launched into our pitch.  She nodded and laughed out loud.  We took that as good signs.  Then she asked some questions and said our story sounded great. Here is where I expected to get the fairly standard request for a partial submission, but, instead, the wonderfully unexpected happened . . . . She asked us if this was our first book  and right out of my mouth popped, "We have some elves living under our beds." Now to give credit where credit is due, this is how our friend, the fabulous Lynn Raye Harris, refers to her early medieval romances that will never see the light of day but it made Ms. Smith laugh. Then she asked us to tell her about them.  Of course, by this point our ten short minutes were almost up but she gave us her card and said the most wonderful thing someone pitching can here.  "That all sounds great. Send me everything you've got."   Needless to say, Pantster and I were over the moon with excitement!

Has there ever been a time in your life twhen you thought you knew what would happen, but it turned out much better than you anticipated?

Wednesday, July 13, 2011

Change = A Good Thing

Life takes on new meaning when the life you've known changes. Who likes change? Most of us don't. But then there are times when change brings adventure and adventure breeds amazement.

Growing up in the Army I was bred for change. Though I did not like it when change came my way, I stepped up to the plate and swung my bat, eagerly getting my foot in the door, meeting new people from different lands, and building a life for myself somewhere I'd never been before.

As an Officer's wife, I had to initiate change, become the facilitator of change. My job was to make sure that change did not overwhelm those around me, especially my family when LTC was away on tour of duty. Change helped me adapt, and as I adapted, I blossomed and grew stronger.

Parents struggle with change on a day to day basis. Children grow up too fast and learn things a mother would never want them to know. But that is the world we live in today and each generation must change with the times. (Not wanting to conform, I can often be heard rebelling from the mizzenmast. Pirate!)

Recently my cell phone died. This not only perplexed but angered me. I lost all the pictures of my family and friends, as well as pictures of places I'd been. I lost most of my contacts too. I might as well have been marooned on a island with one shot. Though it seemed like the end of the world (Cheryl blogged about that yesterday) I quickly came to realize how much I needed modern technology and a roof over my head. Let's face it, an old timey cell phone just doesn't appease my newly developed twitter and facebook habit. Instead of being able to peruse e-mail at my fingertips, I was forced to sit in front of my computer.

Life appeared lost for half a day. Then as change gave way to acceptance and acceptance to tolerance, I realized that I was not defined by modern technology, that I could exist without instant gratification. When asked if I wanted to expedite my replacement phone, I spoke bravely, "No, I can live without it until the new one arrives."

How quickly words come back to haunt us! Jean says I developed 'buyer's regret' and I agree. Before I'd hung up the phone, I doubted I'd made the right decision to forego paying extra money to get my phone in the mail earlier. I lamented throughout the weekend that I'd made the wrong decision. Why did it matter so much? What was a day or two or three?

Well... after I'd resigned myself to accept the delivery on July 18th, I was surprised to see the phone arrived in the mail much sooner than expected. And, oh! what a fine replacement it is!

Though the same model, the software is updated. You see, change can be good. Change can open your world to even greater possibilities.

Change = A good thing! No more worries about being stranded in a calm sea without a rudder.

What changes are you making in your life? What changes have found you when you least expected them?

Tuesday, July 12, 2011

Time is Running Out, According to the Mayans

Checking my emails, I realized I had gotten one from Google Earth about locating the hotspots for the End of the World. I did a double take and clicked on the link in the email, wondering how in the heck they would know where the asteroid, nuclear explosion or tsunami was going to hit. The link was for me to upgrade my Google Earth – a shameless ploy. But, it did start me to thinking about this Mayan Calendar stuff – I am sure every one of you knows about their calendar ending on December 21, 2012. There was even a movie, “2012,” done about it (I didn’t see the movie – sounded stupid to me). Any way, if the world does end because the Mayans foresaw this as the date, I got to thinking about how I would spend my last day.

I sat down and made a list of the things I would do on December 20th. I’ve never really thought about it, kind of a bucket list, but this end of the world stuff made me stop and think. Here’s my list of what I would/will be doing on that date in 2012:

1. I would call my family and all the people I love. I want to tell them how much they mean to me and how special they have made my life. To me it would be important to let them know, just before everything ended, that they were what made life worth living. I would want to spend as much time as I could with my husband and my son.

2. The really fun stuff would then begin – I would take my list of people who have annoyed me or really ticked me off, starting with the third grade and Jeanie who made fun of my dress, then move on through the really important stuff. Since my manners have never allowed me to really tell them off (Jean – manners have no relevance when the world is ending), I would proceed to tell them every little conniving thing they had ever done to me and that they were worthless individuals. Harsh, I know. I can hear you all now – why waste that time doing something so mean? Well, I don’t know, it just appeals to me. I need closure since the world is ending.

3. Next, I would go to the grocery store and buy every favorite food of mine. First I would begin with making the world’s largest and last banana split as an appetizer. From there I would go on to frying chicken, making cornbread and cooking dried lima beans (I know, that’s about as Southern as you can get but they are my favorites!) For dessert, crème brulee and cheesecake. The rest of the day would be spent eating Jordan Almonds. Who cares about calories? I would probably also make my son and my husband’s favorite – spaghetti. Not mine but they can’t help it, they have Italian genes.

4. After dinner, I would get in my car and drive as fast as I want. No police worries. Who cares if I don’t show up for court in a month? There won’t be a court if the world is ending. I love driving fast and since the only thing which ever stops me from speeding is getting into trouble with the law it won’t really matter, so why not? I mean, I’ve always wanted to go down I-65 at 160mph!

5. Driving that fast, I could make it to the beach before everything ends. This is my favorite place in the world. The ocean and its raw power rejuvenate me and make me feel more alive than anywhere else in the world. I feel closer to our Creator there. I would want to spend my last moments surrounded by this with my husband and son close by.

I know this sounds depressing and truly I don’t believe in this end of the world nonsense. BUT I do believe in doing things you really want to do before your time runs out. Sitting here trying to think of the things that I would do made me realize that I should spend more time doing what’s important. (Okay, so telling people off is not really important but, if you know me, you know I just can’t let go – a character flaw…). We spend too much of our time scurrying around, worrying about inconsequential things and not living our lives. Tell people you love them. Tell people who are annoying you, well, just tell them that they are annoying you. Eat drink and be merry. And, for me, speed when you don't think anyone is looking. Spend more time at your favorite places with your favorite people. These things are important.

So think about it: what would YOU do if you knew the world was ending tomorrow? Try making that list and see how hard it is. I think it is important so you know what things you as depriving yourself of. (Believe me, crème brulee is something no one should do without!) Tell me what one thing you would want to do on that last day. And if your phone starts ringing early on December 20th, you might start to wonder if you are part of Number one or number two on my list…

Monday, July 11, 2011

Upcoming Guests

I am sure  many of you are checking your calendars thinking, "Did I miss some days? I thought today was Monday, Pantster's day on the blog."  I am equally sure that everyone expected to find a witty, sassy blog that probably included a list of rules for behavior for situation that adults should already know but seem to have forgotten--or worse--choose to ignore.

Instead, you find a blog by me. Believe me, it can only go up for you from here.  In an effort to make sure you aren't too disappointed, I decided to share some exciting news with you.  Since the guest blog by The Guy went so well while we were at the RWA national conference, we have decided to have more guest blogs.  We have contacted many of our author friends, including some very excited first book authors, and we have over ten guest bloggers scheduled for the upcoming months.  Most of them are also going to share a recipe that relates to her book so that will make Recipe Fridays more fun too.

These guest spots will coincide with new book releases so that we can all get the inside scoop on the hottest books before they hit the shelves. (Well, unless your store is Books-A-Million, but that is Pantster's story to tell.)  In the next few months we are going to have visits from Kimberly Lang, Katharine Ashe, Debby Giusti, Rhonda Nelson, Debbie Kaufman, Melanie Dickerson. After Christmas, we'll hear from Kira Sinclair, Missy Tippens, and  Andrea Laurence.  Exciting times indeed!

We look forward to visiting with these authors and think you will enjoy getting to know them and chatting about their upcoming releases.

Is there an author you most anxiously await new releases from?  Has it changed over the years?

Friday, July 8, 2011

Well Enough Alone

This morning I did it again. I screwed the top off the Molly McButter and dumped half the container in my oatmeal. It wasn't the first time and it isn't always Molly McButter on the oatmeal. Cinnamon on the toast, nutmeg on top of the eggnog, chili powder in the taco meat. I cannot learn. No, really. I can't. And you can see how long this has been going on by the eggnog reference.

Why did the spice companies have to make things better for me by replacing a screw top, with a shaker underneath, with a shaker under a flip top?

In theory, this ought to be great. Only one hand is required to do what used to take two, leaving the other hand free to stir, answer the phone, or knock the cat off the counter. Except, after all these years, I operate a spice bottle using motor memory skill—meaning my mind doesn't think about it. My body just does what it always has.

I am not against all change. Flip top cans, tuna in a pouch, and a ketchup bottle that stores upside down are all good things. I could write four pages about my love of Swiffer products—especially the mop. But I can't ruin my oatmeal without my brain coming into play with these things.

Now is the part where I am supposed to go all lofty and use this little inconvenience of life as some metaphor or some other hooey. I'm not gonna. I'm just going to be mad about spice bottles for a while. Sorry. That's all I've got in me today. You go ahead and think about somebody in a third word country who'd just be glad to have a bottle of nutmeg any way they could get it. That's fair. You're not wrong. But I'm not giving out fair today.

I was with some people recently who were livid over those new twisty light bulbs. I am mostly ambivalent about them. In fact, I kind of like them because they last a long time.

But I have had a gut load of those spice bottles.

Any change in the manufacturing world that's got you up in arms?

Recipe Friday--Sun-Dried Tomato Pate

If you need a party dish that you can put together in nothing flat, this is for you. In spite of the name, there is no liver in it. I wouldn't make it if there was. I hate liver almost as much as I hate sour cream.
The hardest thing about this recipe is locating the sun-dried tomatoes in the store. I swear, they move them around. Sometimes they're with the raw tomatoes, sometimes the canned tomatoes, sometimes the Italian ingredients. But it's worth it, even if you have to look all three places.

It tastes like pizza and keeps for weeks in the fridge.

Sun-Dried Tomato Pate

  • ½ cup oil-packed sun-dried tomatoes
  • 8 ounces cream cheese, softened
  • ¼ cup butter, softened
  • ½ cup grated Parmesan cheese
  • 1 clove garlic
  • ¼ t. dried oregano
  • ¼ t. dried basil
  • ½ t. dried thyme
  • ½ t. salt

Put everything in the food processor and process until smooth and blended. Chill for at least 4 hours to allow flavors to blend. Let soften before serving with crackers.

Note: If you buy sun-dried tomatoes with herbs, omit the oregano, basil, and thyme. After blending, taste and correct the seasonings. You may need to add none or all of the herbs called for, depending on the brand of tomatoes. .

Thursday, July 7, 2011

New York, New York

It's Thursday, so this must be Stephanie. Except it's not. Jean here. Stephanie is having a computer issue and will be with you on Monday. Probably.

Everybody is blogging about New York. I would but I can't Not really. I haven't really been to New York. Oh, I got on a plane, landed at LaGuardia and made my way to the Marriott in Times Square. But I went to the RWA Conference and saw very little of the city. No Statue of Liberty. No Empire State Building. No museums. I only saw Times Square because that's where I was living.

Apart from walking around some and eating, I went to workshops, meet and greets, and Stephanie and I pitched our manuscripts.

Still, I learned a few things about New York.

  • Diet Mountain Dew is hard to come by.
  • We couldn't find any Jets or Bills hats because it's not football season.
  • If they can dress something up as the Statue of Liberty, they will—M&M man, Sponge Bob, Mickey Mouse. Well, maybe not Mickey Mouse.
  • Hot tea? Yes. Coffee? Absolutely. Iced tea? Not so much.
  • The pizza really is better.
  • McDonald's doesn't have biscuits.
  • It's not as easy to find Indian food as you might expect.
  • Everybody seemed to have a good idea where they were going, except us.
  • I am very glad I can't get black and white cookies where I live.

Have you ever been somewhere and felt like you haven't been there?

Wednesday, July 6, 2011

Stick To The Code or Get Swabbed

RWA conference was such a blast! Special thanks to the staff of Romance Writers of America for putting on such a uber awesome weeklong writer fest, and a hearty thank you to The Guy for watching over the blog while Jean, Stephanie, and I were gone. ;)

Getting ready for conference is always a whirlwind affair. Of course, the ever needed packing list comes into play. You can always find a great one listed in the archives of The Writing Playground. Once an attendee prepares/purchases his/her wardrobe, pitches are readied, and bags are packed and loaded into the car for a quick, or long ride to the airport. Expectations abound and hearts begin to race. Bags are checked, tickets approved, and the scanners and tuperware bins, though a tedious affair, remind the eager traveler that the journey is underway.

I adore airport personel who monitor the scanners and screens that x-ray our belongings, and our bodies, ensuring that we arrive safely to our destinations. I'm just as eager as the next person to get through the line and to my gate. What I never expect to get is swabbed. Yes, my deck got swabbed.

Who would have known that after walking through scanners for almost all my airline travels to date, I would be taken out of line, told to extend my hands and get swabbed. Arrr! The ironic part is, though there was something detected on my hands, I had just washed them before coming out of the bathroom and getting into line. Powdery substance on hands after washing them? Who knew? (Notice I do not claim 'pirate' here. That would be very bad timing. ;)

Being a good sport and not wanting to hang from Tilbury Point until I rot, I stepped where I was told to go and offered my belongings for a thorough swabbing. The inspectors rose to the task.

"Would you prefer that we did this in an enclosed room," they asked.

Having nothing to hide, I exclaimed, "You can check anything you want to right here."

Jean and Stephanie's eyes were as big as full moons, and just as white as they waited for me off to the side. I could see the questions riddling their minds... "She's got our pens for the Goody Room. How will we get them back?" "Are we going to make our flight?"

I directed the last question to my airline operatives. A man continued to swab my backpack and carry-on. Two women stood nearby, prepared to take me into the room for further inspection. As I was guided into the room, I reached out to Jean and Stephanie psychically, pleading for them not to stick to the code. (It's more like guidelines anyway.)

Luckily, the two airline operatives were very nice and did their jobs while helping me maintain my dignity fully-clothed. Thank you, swabbettes!

As I stepped out of that room, bless their hearts (and I do mean this in the best possible way, not the way listed on one of Jean's lists), Jean and Stephanie were waiting for me with open arms. Like Joshamee Gibbs, they had used the code as a guideline and were prepared to redirect their journey, if need be, with me aboard. After all that, thank goodness, we were able to meet our gate on time and didn't have to deal with rescheduling issues. :D

Our direct flight with Delta was fantastic. We had the best stewardess you could ever ask for. And after my initial swabbing, I can assure you her eagerness to please was greatly appreciated.

I'll post more about our trip through the next few weeks. But today I want to know, what is your crazy travel story?

Tuesday, July 5, 2011

The Japanese Are Invading!

A battle is raging on this continent, in every backyard, across the prairies, in the mountains, and even in the big cities. I am a warrior in this battle and I gird myself with the proper armaments – I must be prepared.

Long before Pearl Harbor, the Japanese invaded this country. Oh, no, not the Japanese people but one of their most insidious pests – the Japanese Beetle. Every summer I begin my patrols. I closely examine my crepe myrtles, roses, and birches, searching for those little armor-plated creatures and anticipating the newest invasion. Dreading when it starts.

Well, this year it came a bit later than usual. They must have decided that devouring most of my roses and shrubs could wait until near the Fourth of July. I can hear their war council now – “Maybe she won’t notice that we stripped a tree in less than twenty-four hours if she’s busy celebrating.” Ha! Never! I am ever vigilant, forever watching and forever waiting. My battle barometer is a beautiful weeping cherry. I know when they have arrived because the tree becomes a lacy web of stripped leaves, turning brown in the summer sun.

I walked out the other morning and there they were, happily munching on my cherry tree. Time for battle! I calmly went inside, grabbed my sprayer, loaded it with liquid Sevins and proceeded to the first battleground. I laughed gleefully as tiny bodies fell from the sky - their iridescent armor littering the ground beneath the tree. I moved on, anticipating their next move. The crepe myrtles. And there they were, eating my lovely watermelon-colored blooms. A steady stream of liquid poison flew from my weapon and, once again, coppery bodies hit the ground. I was winning! Until…

I rounded the corner and noticed they were in the river birches and my favorites, the white birches! The trees were too tall! What was I to do? I was out of ammunition and no sprayer I owned could reach the tops of those trees. I retreated. Time to regroup. A quick trip to the local farmer’s cooperative got me the big guns – a water sprayer. I attached it to my hose and set out again. This time more bodies rained from the sky. Take that! How dare you eat the leaves from my favorite trees!

I thought the battle was over until I noticed the beetles had relocated to my grape vines! This was simply too much! I had run out of liquid poison so I had to retreat to the old tried and true method – dusting the vines with Sevins. Growing up on a farm, I knew how to handle it. Grab a pillowcase, throw some Sevins in it and proceed. This was close, hand-to mandible warfare but I had to save my grapes. Let the dusting begin. I coated the leaves with white powder and the little devils began to fly – they had no taste for my old-style combat. Finally finished, I went into the garage, battle-weary with a white-coated face.

The war is subsiding even as I write this. I can hear their little wings beating a hasty retreat. I still make frequent forays outside, sprayer or pillowcase in hand. Let them rear their ugly little beetle heads. I am the warrior!

Do you fight this beetle battle every year? How do you approach it? Share your choice of weapons in this monumental fight and tell me how you defend your yard.

Monday, July 4, 2011

Happy Independence Day!

We're back from New York and will be filling you in over the next few weeks. Meanwhile. . . .

Happy Independence Day!

Friday, July 1, 2011

Recipe Friday Big Apple Apple Pie

Okay, so we're in the Big Apple and I'm sure we are missed by all. So here's a recipe for the best apple pie in the world. If you can't make a pie crust, learn. It's not the same without the cheese crust.

For the Crust:

1½ cups of all-purpose flour

½ teaspoon salt

6 tablespoons cold butter, cut into small pieces

3 tablespoons shortening

½ cup extra sharp grated cheddar cheese

5-6 tablespoons ice water

Mix flour and salt in a bowl. Cut in butter and shortening with a pastry blender until crumbly. Toss in cheese with a fork. Add water one tablespoon at a time, mixing until soft dough forms. Chill covered for 15 minutes. Roll on a floured surface and place in pie plate. Chill for 30 minutes. Proceed with recipe.

For the Pie:

½ cup sugar

3 tablespoons all-purpose flour

1-teaspoon ground cinnamon

1/8-teaspoon salt

6 cups thinly sliced apples of assorted varieties. This will be about six apples. (Just go to the market and get six different kinds.)

1 teaspoon lemon juice

1 recipe topping mix (recipe follows)

Preheat over to 375°F.

Mix sugar, flour, cinnamon, and salt in a small bowl. In large bowl toss apples slices with lemon juice. Add flour mixture and toss to coat. Transfer to chilled cheese crust. Sprinkle with topping and place pie on a cookie sheet. Cover edges with foil. Bake for 25 minutes. Remove foil and bake an additional 25 minutes.

Topping Mix:

1 cup packed dark brown sugar

½ cup all-purpose flour

½ cup quick cooking rolled oats

½ cup cold butter

Mix together brown sugar, flour, and oats. Cut in butter until it resembles course crumbs.