Saturday, December 29, 2012

Happy New Year!

My resolution is simple to keep me focused:
a better
Care to inspire me to do more?
Feel free to share yours

Friday, December 14, 2012

Wednesday, December 12, 2012

How do I LOVE Thee? (and a tidbit of a recipe)

According to a recent article in Reader's Digest, the first step toward loving yourself and HAPPINESS (the goal we all strive for) is simple: Be sure to Make Your Bed each morning.

It sounds like a doable task. And based on my experience, it kind of works. Or maybe it works only because that article in Reader's Digest told me it does, so that now as I make my bed every morning I tell myself, "Shaunda, you are taking your first step toward happiness! Don't you feel happy?" And of course in the thoughts that follow, I believe I should.

Then I shuffle to the kitchen and do what I've been doing long before reading that article in Reader's Digest. I lather myself in more self-love by treating myself to a specially brewed cup of coffee simply because it has always made me feel good. To anyone else who has not put themselves marching on a self-prescribed path toward self-made happiness, brewing a morning cup of coffee may not seem like it deserves to be sitting high on the scale of Earth-shattering activities. But perception or self-deception, whatever the case may be, can be a beautiful thing. And I tell myself that making this special cup of coffee every morning is a solid step to happiness, much like that article in Reader's Digest. I tell myself that I am being treated to a Specially Brewed cup of coffee, because I am worth it. And because I am worth it, that makes me feel happy.

What is in this Specially Brewed cup of coffee?

It starts with ground Gevalia French Roast, brewed through my dependable Black and Decker. One level tablespoon per cup. (I told you there was a recipe!)

While that is brewing and dripping into the jolly round pot, I get out my especially elegant porcelaine white coffee mug made by 222 FIFTH, which happens to be a fancy, chic name that I like to think I like.  Into this mug I drop a heaping teaspoon of Sugar in the Raw sugar cane (because that's THE sweetener to use these days) and fill it 1/3 of the way with milk that has been shaken, not stirred. Did you know that milk that has been shaken in the jug prior to pouring is one step closer to buttermilk? Well it is, at least according to my intelligent cued-in son and chefs who slave away in making happy things in kitchens. But I digress.

After pouring the raw sugar and shaken milk into my fine white mug, I pop that porcelaine beauty into the microwave and nuke it for 30 seconds. (No need to be all lovey-dovey and gentle in this step.) Once warmed so that it will not take the heat out of the coffee that is nearly finished brewing, I add a drop of pure vanilla extract to the milk and sugar and then whip it all up into a foamy froth with a powertool.

Okay, it's not a powertool kept in a shed out back. It's actually a hand-held gizmo that my loving and astute engineer-father gifted to me one Christmas many years ago: The Caffe Froth Turbo Handmixer made by BONJOUR. And I wouldn't be able to start my day without it.

Lastly, in no less than a span of five minutes, I'm ready to add my French Roast MoJo to the foamy-sweet white goodness, and when I do, I always make sure to pour it in the shape of heart, kind of like those fancy coffee shops do. But mine is better, because the heart that sits at the top of the mug was done by me for me. And that takes me further along on the road to happiness one small step--or perhaps one long shuffle--at a time. Which is all good in the end, because as I'm filling myself up with happiness, sip by sip, I get to a point where I am bursting with love, ready to move out into the world and share it with those I meet.

Who could have guessed that making a bed and a simple cup of coffee make the world go round?

What are the steps you take on the road to happiness?

Did you start by making your bed today?

Saturday, December 8, 2012

Winter Gift Market 2012

I've been participating in the 2012 Winter Gift Market for a couple years. Judy Torres and I have begun making it an annual event. Our unspoken goal is to have new books to sell every year. This year Judy and I worked hard in to meet that goal. We each had two new books.

She had great success with her new picture books: Bearly Awake and The Monster Under the Bed Loves Chocolate Chip Cookies. I was pleasantly surprised with the reception for my new titles: Reality Bites, Tales of a Half-Vampire and From Rivets and Rails, Recipes of a Railroad Boarding House Cookbook. I sold out of the cookbook and walked away with orders to fulfill next week and a request to begin stocking it at the Cache Valley visitor's center. Woot!


Saturday, December 1, 2012


If you don't miss the feathering whisper of wind across your skin, this post is not for you.

If you don't turn your face up toward the warmth of sunshine on a cool spring day, then this post is not for you.

If you don't feel a smile snaking its way around your lips when the Earth presses up against the soles of your feet as you walk over grass or beach or woody path, then this post is not for you.

If this post is for anyone, it is for people like me who at the end of the day or week or month feel overrun by technology, worn out by the draw of TV, music via satellite, email, ereaders, computers, and those colorful animated programs that keep our eyes glued on a screen and our feet planted on a floor, indoors more often than not.

It seems like the overwhelming joy I feel when I take a walk outside should not always feel so OVERWHELMING. I should not feel such bliss. I should not feel so suddenly relaxed. Perhaps if I took time to step away from everything I'm "plugged" into, then it seems that a simple walk would not seem so monumental. In fact, it seems such walks SHOULD NOT seem monumental at all. Isn't the outdoors--what lies outside of the office, the house, the car--an inherent part of living? Are we not still part of the world around us? If so, then why do a I feel a resounding reconnection with the world when I wander out into it?

Obviously, I don't get out enough. I know the same holds true for others. There are others who are more "plugged in" than I am, and none of it seems quite right when I step back and take in an UNPLUGGED view.

When I was younger, I spent the majority of my time outdoors. When I was younger, most of my life was unplugged. I felt cut-off from "living" when I spent too much time inside. Today, finding "freedom" from the barriers of technology is found by taking a simple walk. But when I was younger, finding freedom literally meant pushing the limits until I was racing the wind. It wasn't found by simply walking outside, because that connection was already establishing on a daily basis. My freedom, my sense of pushing the envelope on what it means to live was found on top of a horse, running at full gallop across a long field with another endless field in sight. During those moments, living seemed to lie in boundless opportunity stretching out before me--all I had to do was run fast enough to catch it.

I miss those days when I was continually connected to the pulse of the Earth. When I wasn't plugged into anything but myself, my friends, my family, and life unfolding around me.

Technology can be wonderful. It can bridge connections. It can deliver images of coastlines, forested jungles brimming with life, and emails from loved ones at the touch of a button. But it can't deliver the feathers of wind whispering across my skin or the warmth of the sun flickering in and out of shadows. It can't deliver life in all five senses--or the six or seven I want to believe exist. That requires the devices, the gizmos, the pretty colorful screens to be unplugged. And to do that takes only the touch of a button.

So help me out here? Am I alone in this type of thinking? Does anyone else ever feel the need to unplug? (Never mind the fact that I'm typing this onto my fully plugged, fully charged screen.)

Wednesday, November 21, 2012


From Rivets and Rails is now available in paperback.

This journey has definitely been a labor of love, but I hope it appeals to railroad and cooking enthusiats who enjoy looking back at their roots.

If you are a book reviewer or blogger and would like a review copy, please contact me.


Friday, November 16, 2012

Cover Reveal of the Railroad Cookbook

Here it is, after hours of wrangling over far too much tech stuff that I always seem to forget how to use as soon as I walk away from the computer...

Any comments are welcome!

The steam train is a photo my great uncle had taken. The woman is my great grandmother who ran the boarding house.

Saturday, November 10, 2012

On sailing, on life

The great thing about sailing is that you can sail into the wind, with it blowing across the bow at you, or you sail with the wind at your back....

Either way, you shall arrive at your destination.

Tuesday, November 6, 2012

The Need for a Title on the Railroad Cookbook

 We are in the midst of getting the railroad cookbook ready for publication, and that includes the design of a cover and yes, a title.

You would think that we would have settled on one by now, but that is not the case. We've been more concerned with the content and historical trivia that is contained within the handwritten recipes of the journal. But the time has come to start turning our attention to this detail.

So we are asking for opinons!

Here is what we have so far. Let us know what you think and send us new suggestions if you have some.

1. The Roundhouse Cookbook. Recipes of a Railroad Housewife
(problem: no roundhouse in Avis, only the "shops" where the NYC line trains were rolled in and out for repairs)

2. From Rivets and Rails, Recipes of a Railroad Housewife

3. Working on the Railroad, Recipes of a Railroad Housewife

4. From Rivets and Rails, Recipes from a Railroad Boarding House

5. The Cookery Journal of a Railroad Housewife

Thank you! We look forward to your feedback!


Thursday, November 1, 2012

Accomplishing goals

It's always nice to meet a challenge you've set for yourself.

Today I took my final exam for Anatomy and Physiology, which means I have finished my certification requirements for teaching high school biology. It's great to know that I am finally legit in the classroom! Plus, it's a wonderful feeling to not to have this class hanging over my head and intruding in my life.

Now I can look to meeting other huge items on my to-do list, many of which involve writing.

Be happy, and stay safe!

Monday, October 29, 2012

Money, money, money!

Did that get your attention?

Good. Don't go anywhere. Crisp greenbacks are involved.

There are two giveaways that I thought I'd let you know about.

The first is at Diana's Amazing Book Adventures for a signed paperback copy of Reality Bites. Diana has a great blog. She found my book, and asked if she could post a giveaway for a signed paperback copy. Of course I said, yes! So head on over to Diana's blog before November 1, say hello, and enter the sweeps. Is this sweeps about money, you ask? Of course! Reading is knowledge. Knowledge is power. Power is money! So of course it's about money! Valuable words are already being exchanged right here between us, as in You and Me. Especially if you keep reading to find out about the next shindig.

The second giveaway is at Family Focus Blog, where the owner is letting her followers and subscribers and anyone else who happens to come along enter a giveaway for a $50 Amazon gift card, all the while learning more about my children's books. (That's the important part, isn't it?) ;)

Fantabulous? Of course!

But remember, lightening doesn't strike twice, so make sure to try your luck at both sweeps.

Stay safe, spread the news (Karma is good that way), and have a great day!

Sunday, October 28, 2012

Taming the Beast. 7 fun activities to get your kids through the storm.

I'm securely land-locked west of the middle of this great piece of land we call America, but that hasn't kept my overactive mind from dreaming up a list of things to do in the event of Halloween being ruined by an uninvited monster of storms.

In doing so, my mildly intelligent IQ led me to realize, Hey, I can do these things for my kids, too!

[We'll ignore that fact that a desire to prepare for thwarting off the world's latest terror threat (aka, the weather) is what motivated me to make plans for a fun Halloween in the first place.]

Hopefully, this list will introduce you to some new favorites and remind you of some old!

1. Ghost, ghost, ghoul (as in, duck, duck moose)

2.  Mummy saran-wrap tag. You'll want to supervise this activity, for obvious reasons. I'm assuming Frankenstorm will do more damage outside than your kids will inside with some ground rules established beforehand (just keeping it in persepective!). Wrap kids from their calves to their shoulders in saran wrap (yes, arms get tucked in, as well). Sit them on the floor and have them play sharks in the minnows or regular tag.... watch them writhe and wiggle in doing so!

3. Apple and Pig Relay Race. This can follow the Saran Wrap tag. The players will need to be slightly more mobile with being wrapped from right above their knees to their shoulders (arms in again). Line up two teams facing each other. Place two apples in the middle on the floor inside small circles marked with masking tape. On the word, "go", one pig from each team does what he/she can to retrieve the apple and bring it back to their teammates so that the next player can bring it back to their team's circle in the middle. This relay race continues until all pigs have either retrieved the apple, or brought it back to the middle.

3. Pin the Nose on the Pumpkin, or Pin the Heart on the Monster

4. Apple to the core contest. Put apple on paper plate in front on each player, first person to eat apple clean to the core wins.

5. Balloon volleyball (indoor). If possible, use Caution Tape to mark the top of the "net" and the field of play

6. Marshmallow bowl. A blindfold game. To goal is to transfer as many marshmallows as possble from one bowl to another with a spoon while being blindfolded. The size of the spoon and bowl are up to you, depending on the level of difficulty you would like to give each player. The only hand they can use is the one holding the spoon.

7. Readers theatre. After all these activities, as Frankenstorm is howling (or not) outside your door, settle things down and cap off the evening before bedtime with sharing a book or story by reading it aloud as a group. Suggest that your readers read the book in a way would make it the scariest or silliest story they have ever read. (Leave it up to their interpretation of how it should be narrated.) Kids actually get a kick out of reading this way and hearing stories read this way. It becomes  competition to see who can give the best "performance."

Have any other suggestion? Share them here!

Wishing everyone a safe but fun Halloween!


Wednesday, October 24, 2012

The Next Big Thing... a railroad cookbook?

Welcome to The Next Best Thing blog hop! If you haven’t heard of this shin-dig happening over the blogosphere until now, consider yourself officially looped in and connected with the party!

I would like to thank Penny Ehrenkranz for letting me play a part. Every day Penny features new posts about writing and writers on her blog, so you may want to take a peek to see what is being offered up there.

Today is my blog’s day to be an active stop on the hop, which means I get to respond to a handful of questions. Next week, four other fantabulous authors will do the same, and I’ll point you in their direction at the end of this post. So, don’t go until you find yourself being introduced to new friends (because friends are a wonderful thing)! Take my word on that.

For now, I hope you’ll settle back, prop your feet, and take a little walk around the blog-hop with me.

What is the working title of your book?

Right now I’m leaning toward: The Roundhouse Cookbook, Recipes of a Railroad Housewife.

But I am definitely open to suggestions, so if you begin to feel shivers up and down your spine over an alternative idea, please feel free to send it my way!

Where did the idea come from for the book?

My grandmother, Elizabeth Shade Kennedy, was the wife of a railroad engineer who managed the engine shops in Avis, Pennsylvania in the early 1900s. Her husband’s shop was responsible for maintaining and fixing all the engines operating on the NYC line. Most workers at that time rode the rails into these outlying, rural areas from their homes in the cities. Given the travel time and length of the trip, these workers often counted on boarding houses to supply them with a roof over their head and meals during the week while they earned a living. My grandmother offered them this type of home away from home, and kept a cookery journal of her recipes while doing so. When Charles William Kennedy died tragically in 1920, Elizabeth became a single mother and sole provider for her family. Her boarding house became a means for survival for herself and her five young sons. Luckily, her house was large enough to do so. The boys were moved to the 3rd floor, while two other rooms on the second were rented out. This did not mean she only had 2 boarders. Apparently, boarders shared rooms and many found a meal at Elizabeth’s table. It is reported that she served daily meals / dinner for at least 15 people three times a day.

What genre does your book fall under?

The wonderful world of cookbooks!

Which actors would you choose to play your characters in a movie rendition?

Yes, it has happened before—movies made from cookbooks. Although such a scenario is highly unlikely, I suspect veteran movie-goers wouldn’t mind watching Helen Mirren be a mother-hen for the railroad workers who depend on her kitchen and sage advice as the world unfolds along the steel lines expanding out into new territories around them. Of course, if this would be filmed as a family saga, I believe Sandra Bullock or Drew Barrymore would be great in representing a strong woman who raised a family of five boys and survived hardships despite losing a husband and two young daughters. I love the depth of talent of these actors.

What is the one-sentence synopsis of your book?

A taste of history, from a period when the heart of America pushed through and rose above some of the toughest challenges of our time.

Will your book be self-published or represented by an agency?

Given that this is a niche cookbook, and a labor of love, my mother and I are self-publishing this book together. She has done an incredible job doing research into the historical background of many of the recipes, while I have done the layout and design.

How long did it take you to write the first draft?

Too long. I’ve had a working copy of the recipes ready for years, but it was continually side-lined by other projects. It wasn’t until I brought my mother on board that this project was given wings. Not only is she an amazing and talented cook, she has been able to help dig into the background of the recipes, evolution of American kitchens, and snippets of  American history that have really helped shape this cookery journal. When we are finished we will publish a nugget that offers a glimpse of rural American life that shaped our country through the Great Depression and the Agricultural and Industrial Revolutions.

Who or what inspired you to write this book?

My grandmother, Martha Grugan Kennedy. After the publication of my first cookbook, The Book Lover’s Cookbook, Recipes from Celebrated Works of Literature and the Passages That Feature Them, which was co-authored with Janet Kay Jenson and published by Ballantine (2003), she said, “Did you know your talent and love for cooking runs in your blood?” She showed me my great-grandmother’s cookery journal, which I had never seen before. That journal contained gems of recipes—recipes like Railroad Cake, Mountain Cake, Homemade English Muffins, and Elderberry Wine (and to think she lived through Prohibition!)

I became so excited by the contents of her journal, I knew I wanted to share these recipes with others who have a passion for history, railroading, and the steadfast resolve of people who persevere through difficult times.

What else about your book might pique the reader’s interest?

Many of Elizabeth’s recipes for salsas and sauces call for “mangos.”  These are not the fruit mangos that can be found in supermarkets.  According to our research, use of the word “mango” was ascribed to green bell peppers. This use originated with the coal miners in Pennsylvania.  When I first saw these recipes, I asked my grandmother what a mango was because I doubted the mango fruit would have been available in Avis in the 1920s, nor would it have been used in a spicy tomato sauce back then. My grandmother responded to me as if I were dumb and nuts. “Don’t you know what a mango is?” Apparently, the original reference was lost on me. But in the 1887 edition of The Original White House Cook Book, there is a recipe for Green Pepper Mangos which describes the green bell pepper perfectly wherein the seeds of the pepper are removed and the vegetable is filled with a mixture for baking.
I can’t wait until our cookbook is published! It will probably be ready before the 2012 holiday season.

Next week, stay tuned for more posts in The Next Big Thing blog hop.  Watch for posts on Oct 31st from these authors!

Monday, October 15, 2012

A Fresh Perspective on Point of View

I’m definitely not the sort of person who has been immune to “down days” throughout my life. I get my dose of the good with the bad just like anyone else—sometimes faring better than others, and sometimes feeling like I’m barely getting by.  

But lately, I feel like something different is happening around me.  My perspective on life, on situations, has begun to change; and I’m not sure what spurred this new outlook.
Did the far too many days of sunshine and no rain in my great state of Utah finally take effect on the melatonin in my brain? Or did my perpetual practice of trying to always look on the bright side and shrug off the bad finally start to take hold and become more a part of me rather than apart from me?
I’m not sure, but I’ll share some examples where my point of view shifted from the typical reaction I would expect from myself.

The first has to do with winter. We all know winter—well, those of us that live in the more northern part of the hemisphere know winter. Usually I watch the approach of winter with dread. I hate the shorter days, the colder nights. I despise driving at night. And I don’t like feeling like I’m locked inside. But not this year.  For some reason, as I’ve been finding myself driving home in the enveloping veil of darkness at earlier hours, rather than being bothered, I’ve felt more akin to being wrapped up in a blanket. A cozy one, tucking me in from a long day of work. To be perfectly honest, I haven’t felt like this about nighttime hours for as long as I can remember (although Nighttime and I might have been perfectly chummy when I was a kid.)
And then there was the basil episode. For those of you that are dying to know how I ruined $400 worth of this precious herbal plant, it didn’t take too much effort.  (You can read about it here.)  And it left me without a bountiful supply of pesto, which I‘d been planning on making. Did I stomp my feet? Growl at my stupidity? Kick the cat? Nope. Instead, a funny thought trickled through my head: Well, I guess this means I’ll be coming up with a new recipe for pesto. One that doesn’t use basil. And what’s more, I was even kind of excited about the idea. (I’m thinking sage will be a good way to go.)

Am I on meds? No.
Have I had a windfall of good fortune? No. No lotto yet. (I don’t even play the lotto.)

Have I gotten that pay raise I’ve been hoping for? I’m not sure, but if I don’t get it then I’ve decided I’m fine with thinking that next time I want to take a day off, I won’t feel so guilty about it (and living life without guilt is a good thing!)
My point is, we all have good days and bad days.

I’m not one of those lucky people whom hasn’t seen a bad day.  But I’ve learned that I can control my perspective, my outlook, and my attachment to situations that are occurring around me (but not from within me).  I can shift my point of view
And the good news, is we all can.  With practice – and it does take practice – we can slowly learn to let go of the expectations that have been ingrained and that often lead to disappointment, and embrace other possibilities.  With practice we can live through anything with a fresh perspective.

Wednesday, October 10, 2012

The A-List? or Treading Toward Pesto...

It has been a crazy week.

I promise to post something interesting before the week is out. Probably another food-related adventure, akin to creating a new recipe for pesto. After all, I have put myself in this predicament. As it happened, last week I marched out to my garden with the intention of saving my beloved bush of basil (the main ingredient) from the impending frost. A fellow co-worker had told me it was coming, and I had decided that I would  make as many batches and varieties of pesto as I could stand in order to see me and my brood through the winter.

However, I failed to realize WHAT, or rather WHOM, I was dealing with.

Not Mother Nature. But me.

Yes, ME.

And after cutting down all of that FREE green gold (we're talking at least $400-retail-price of the stuff), I marched it into my garage and placed it with care into the second refrigerator that is stored in there.

Done? Safe? Sound?

I thought so.

Until I marched back out to that cozy nook of a garage I've got and opened the fridge door and found....

Not the fresh, gorgeous, green basil I had picked the night before.

No, instead I found Frozen-Solid, Stiff-as-A-board, Remnant of basil that I had decimated.

Two whole bags of it.

APPARENTLY, someone, sometime, between this summer and fall, had turned up the dial on my second refrigerator. Spun that little button to high. Set it well on its way down the path of deep-freeze mode. Leading me (consequently) to stuff my poor basil into the resulting ICEBOX.

Yes, apparently, my safe-haven-refrigerator was colder on the inside than it was on the outside where the still-green grass was barely frosted, if at all.


So goes my life.

The good news is, after a bit of a romp I shall have yet another pesto recipe to add to my stack (I have 5, and if I'm nice, I might share one or two). I'll just say that it has been my life-long goal to create a variety of pestos to match all the colors of the rainbow. (5 down, 3 to go.)

Aside from that, I wasn't really intending on talking about PESTO, or BASIL, or my Insane Attempt at Masking my STupidiTY (pointless, I know). What I was going to post about was the new list that my book, The Ghost in Me, has jumped back on to over at Amazon.

It's been a nearly a year since it was listed in the top 100 of the spine-tingling horror titles, but after 2 days of FREE, there it resides, yet again (at least for now on the free list).  For the past little while, The Ghost in Me has been doing the tango with titles on the Drama and Theatre list (it does have the plot line of a theatre production in it); but it's nice to see my little book commiserating with new friends. SEE?

#48 Free in Kindle Store (See Top 100 Free in Kindle Store)

Happy Haunting everyone!
And be sure to share this fun book with the little people in your life. :)

Thursday, September 27, 2012

Jam... What It Is and What It Isn't?

Jam has got to be one of the most highly under-rated and overlooked, yet truly delectable foods on the planet. Or maybe I should reel in my grandiose opinion and simply talk about the under-appreciations and misconceptions that I'd like to debate on its behalf from my kitchen. For as much as I like jam, I don't really think all that much about it throughout the year until the time comes for jamming season. Then, you can bet that without a doubt, I am singing its praises.... but not for the reasons you may think.

Sure, I'll pull a jar of homemade jam out of the fridge and add a dollop to my toast or best store-bought, yeasty-baked biscuit, as quick as anyone who's feeling a little hungry. If I'm feeling extravagant, I may even plop a heated jam puddle on top of my favorite bowl of ice cream (#gourmet, I know.)

But the real reason jam and I have a hard-wired connection can be most definitively traced to those "How to Make Jam" Instructions that are tucked inside those Sure-Jell packages....

I hate those little yellow packages. Their instructions drive me crazy. Primarily because I am not the sort of person who really likes to follow instructions. Or more specifically, I am not the sort of person who likes to follow instructions that tell me I NEED TO FOLLOW the instructions EXACTLY as written or my jam will fail. #gasp!

#yah, right. By whose standards? Perhaps that is the important question.

Because we're talking jam, here. Just jam. Fruit. Sugar. Pectin. And these things were born to tango.

Instructions like Sure-Hell's bring out the worst in me; and you can be sure that every year I'll find a reason as to why I SHOULDN'T do EXACTLY what the instructions say.

First and foremost, although I love sugar, I don't see a need to go overboard on it. More often than not, those darned recipes call for nearly five pounds of the white tasty stuff. (Good grief! That's the whole bag!) And secondly, how do I know what kind of berries SURE*JELL used to test their recipe with? Where their berries like mine? Fresh from the vine, extra sweet, and not too needy in the sugar-boost department? Or were they more like those from my farthest neighborhood grocery store? Kind of bland and on the dry side? These are important considerations.

It's these sorts of considerations that get me into trouble (or not, depending on how you look at it). Because once I start considering, I start hedging. And once I start hedging, all the "shoulda and coulda and Must-Dos" get thrown out the window....

Which brings us back to making jam....

The great thing about jam--or MY JAM--is that it knows me. It knows that I'm not going to just be spreading it on toast every day. It knows that some days I might want to go gourmet. It knows that some days I might be inching toward boosting a smoothie with a pre-made blend of sugary-fruit confection. It knows that other days I might be wanting to perk up some pancakes with berry syrup, or infuse some cupcakes, or inspire a cheesecake.... The list goes on and on. And when those hunkerings arise, there is nothing better than my homemade jam--and all my variations of it--which I've made by NOT FOLLOWING DIRECTIONS.

Because in the end, as it turns out, Not Following Directions gets you some jars that are thickened just right, and other jars that are screaming for a higher calling (like syrup, for instance.) And I for one am more than happy to oblige; especially since my fresh-made, haphazard jam is ducking from SURE*HELL's expectations of what the perfect jar of jam should be.

That's why I love jam, or MY JAM. For everything that it is, and maybe even more so, for everything that those PACKAGES try to tell me that it ISN'T. As far as I'm concerned, it turns out that a jar of jam can be turned into whatever it needs to be.


Wednesday, September 19, 2012

Is it Toxic to Self-Publish Your Children's Book?


That was the word ascribed to self-publishing a children's book in a recent discussion on a children's publishing thread that I follow on LinkedIn.


I recently addressed this conception of self-publishing on another Slow Stir post here. Although I can say that self-publishing is many things. Brow-beating. Lonely. Frustrating. Satisfying. And certainly THE-HARDEST-THING-I'VE-EVER-DONE. One thing I can not say, based on my experience, is that it has been toxic. And I don't think I could say self-publishing would be toxic for anyone, provided they have done their homework and have become a seasoned writer.

Self-publishing does more than give you a book to hold in your hands. In fact, I have come of up five benefits.

For one thing, it gives you experience. More experience in more facets of the publishing industry than you ever could have thought you'd need or want to gain.

It puts you in front of readers. Or perhaps I should say, at least one. But with time, persistance, and hard work, maybe a bit more.

It shows you where you can help fill in the gaps in roles that a traditional publisher might not be fulfilling for you if/when you enter a contract with one. And in the event that you need or will want to help drive marketing, you'll have the confidence to do so.

It helps establish you in the marketplace. As in any business, who you know and how you treat people and how people have come to know and respect you can make all the difference in the world. Why not start networking with others who are involved in a side of life you love? Why not starting helping and learning from one another? If you want to read about what cross-promotion and networking can do in business, read this post here.

Self-publishing amounts to an addendum, an accomplishment, a supplement to your writing platform. It can be a resume builder (if you choose to look at it that way), which can only work to help you in future projects down the road.

 As with anything that comes along in life, it all adds up to what you make of it. Choosing to self-publish my books has opened doors to a readership I never would have found if I had sat around waiting for a traditional publisher to decide that my books made a match in Heaven with them. I’ve earned reviews from readers saying they want to read more of my work, which I only could have dreamed of seeing in print had I waited. I have won awards that have boosted my confidence to continue on this path. And rather than put time and money into submissions that may never receive a response (simply because that is the way much of NY does business), I’ve put my money (and less of it) into putting my books into publication. It has all been worthwhile.

Would I welcome that contract from a traditional publisher? Yes, simply because I know any business is easier when you’re not in on it alone. But I have no control over NY. I only can control what I choose to do. My choices have not been toxic, and I’m glad I didn’t read such opinions prior to getting started. Without knowing what I know now, I might have been deterred.

The bottom line is, when it comes to publishing—wherever your pursuits lead, make the best of it, and leave the worrying behind.

Monday, September 17, 2012

Engineering 101: or, Why The Three Little PIGS Would be PROUD

We won! Second place, anyway.

According to the event organizer, the displays at the Nibley City Scarecrow Festival "were judged by a professor of sculpture from University of Washington and a principal of a design firm in SLC. Scenes were rated on the following criteria: ambition/investment, creativity/originality, craftsmanship/execution. As art is a very subjective, we truly believe beauty is in the eye of the beholder and scarecrow making is a very forgiving art form! That's what makes this so much fun."

Yes, I had fun.... despite the wind storm that sent Little Red's house flying end over end just after I had finished putting it up the night before the festival. #yikes! and #curses! All I can say is, Thank goodness I hadn't set up the cake which Macey's Bakery had made for the scene. (Thank you, Macey's!)

Since I hadn't signed on to do a scene from The Wizard of Oz, I ended up returning to the site the next morning at 6:30 am before work to get everything up again. All in all, it worked out. Big Bad is still one of my favorite characters.

My friend Judy Torres (a.k.a. children's author extradinaire) and I walked through the scarecrow festival on Friday afternoon. We loved the critters at Morgan farm. Here was one of our favorites.


Sunday, September 9, 2012

Yellow Squash and the New and Improved Special K Plan, with Bonus Recipe

I never thought I’d see the day when I’d actually eat the yellow squash from my garden raw—as in, uncooked—and enjoy doing so. But that day has come. Usually I do my best to give nearly everything I grow of the yellow stuff away. After all, I thought I only liked it if I cooked it, and what’s the fun in that if I actually need schedule time to stir fry it or stick it in the oven?

These days, time to do anything is a rare commodity. And if I can put decent food into the mouths of myself and my babes where I get the biggest return for the least amount of work, I’m a happy person. Thus, you can imagine my joy at discovering more and more how good and satisfying fruits and vegies are when they come right off the vine, or bush, or tree, or what have you.

Okay, so maybe I don’t eat all my fruits and vegies raw. I do enhance the squash with a bit of ranch dressing, but still. Ranch dressing is merely a condiment, equivalent to topping off a burger with a dollop of ketchup and a swirl of mayonnaise. So in my book, it all adds up to a good thing at the end of the day.

Am I on a health kick? Kind of.

Some of you may recall a post a few weeks back where I abhorred the thought of going on a Special K diet, despite the plea from my children that in doing so might win us a trip to Hawaii. While the thought of losing a couple inches off my waist does sound appealing (and actually needed, lest I find myself looking to expand my wardrobe); the idea of having to eat Special K twice a day was approaching nightmare status, considering the fact that eating what amounts to “air” might actually end up killing me. (We can not live by flakes alone.)

Nevertheless, the Special K conundrum did get me thinking on how I might shed an inch or two without giving up life’s basic necessity of food (sugar and chocolate included). The fact that I actually had to spend time THINKING to come up with my latest game plan should NOT impress you, meaning, I should not have had to THINK at all to realize that perhaps I should get back to doing what I used to do in the past. Getting MOBILE.  I.E., exercise. Kicking my butt out of the office or out of the house in order to do whatever I can find to do Outside.

Seems like a simple solution. But I do have that Lack of Time issue. So I had to think a bit more. And I came up with this: Why not bike to work? It’s not far. The weather is still good. I’ll work on my tan. Plus, I’ll still be able to eat more than Special K. (BONUS!) All I’ll have to do is get up a bit earlier, and avoid drivers who text. #Don'tHitMe

Plus, I figured Chef John (who wrote a book called "Doughnuts for Amy") would be proud. He did show concern on my Special K dilemma and suggest I spice up my morning with a glass of fresh squeezed orange juice in a tweet. Lucky for me the grocery store serves up cartons of the Fresh Squeezed Brew.

So far, so good. As for Special K, it has redeemed itself. Thanks to the most amazing woman on the planet (a.k.a. my Mom), I now have a great recipe filled with what I call protein. My children, who are NOT SO KIND, call it Fat. (They are still hanging their hopes on Hawaii). But that doesn’t keep me from making it (when I have time) and eating it (when I need fuel). At the very least, it will keep me biking to work, and happy in the fact that I'm doing something normal with my life, like breathing air instead of eating it.

The "Might Not Get You There From Here" Special K Bars (That's up to YOU)

6 cups Special K cereal
1 cup Karo syrup
1 cup brown sugar
1 1/2 cup creamy peanut butter

This recipe is pretty similar to those beloved Rice Crispie treats. If you don't know how to make those, then read closely. If you DO know how to make those, then read even more closely. (Yes, I kind of messed up the first time ... #Don't Ask). Plus, unlike Rice Crispie Treats, this recipe has two steps (i.e., a topping). So, take care to see below.

> Cook the Karo syrup and brown sugar together on medium heat in a decent, medium-sized pot until they come to a jolly slow boil.  Turn down  the heat good-and-low and stir in that creamy peanut butter (no Nuts!), and make a mental note not to serve these bars to anyone with peanut allergies. Remove that pan with the goodies from heat and mix in that 6 cups of Special K. You might want to make it easier on yourself by approaching this as a step-wise process and only add two cups at a time. Finally, butter a 11x13 pan and press this sticky, greasy batter into the pan.

NO, you are not Done!

There is a topping.

1/2 bag of semi-sweet choc chips
1/2 bag of butterscotch chips

You'll want to heat these together in one pan on the stove. Or maybe you'll want to try melting them in short bursts of medium-radiation in the microwave (in a microwave-safe bowl). The path you choose is up to you, but after you have a bowl or pan full of gooey goodness, spread it on top of the bars.

Cover the pan and put it in the fridge to chill for a bit. Then cut into Bite-sized! squares. Freeze most, because you definitely don't want to go eating all of these in one sitting. As for the cutting, you'll want to use one of those long and strong, wedged knives that are often featured in Horror Films. This type of knife will serve you well in giving leverage as you press down thru the bars. (And That's Physics101, Baby!). Give yourself an A.

Friday, September 7, 2012

Brigham City Peach Days Festival, September 8th

Authors 4 Literacy is just one of the events / booths at Brigham City's Peach Days Festival  on Saturday, September 8, where you will be able to meet with authors, pick up some signed books, ask questions, and spend some time while participating in different activities related to reading and writing (if you're taking a break from other activities related to All Things Peachy)

It all adds up to fun! And better yet, Peaches!! (plus other fruits that don't get head-lining mentionability)

So see you there! Our booth will be by the Reflections Book Store at 47 South Main.

Have you Hugged an Author today? Have you Hugged your Book Store Owner today?

>>>> Catch up on that habit on September 8th, downtown Brigham City, Utah.<<<<


Monday, September 3, 2012

Think Self-Publishing is a New Frontier? Think Again

Is self-publishing safe?
Am I crazy to self-publish?
Will it be toxic for my career?

With these types of questions swirling around on social media and the hot/cold press that self-publishing has received in recent months, many readers and writers might believe that self-publishing is a new venture.

Others might even say that many folks involved in traditional publishing would love to have their loyal fan bases believe that self-published novels are scrappy tomes put out by those who either don't take publishing seriously or by those who wanted to take a short cut and bypass all the hard work it takes to put out a good book.

A perusal of recent headlines and articles, such as this one reacting to Sue Grafton's charge that self-published authors are lazy, or this one where Jodi Picoult says, DO NOT SELF-PUBLISH, or this one that hints largely toward the idea that all reviews for self-published books are either bought or fake because of one man's reader-review business, gives a taste of the negative dish being served out to the general book-buying public and authors who might be considering taking a dip into the realm of self-publishing.

However, although the medium for self-publishing has expanded from paper to digital, the idea of doing it alone has been around for as long as writers have been pushing ink into paper.

Consider the following pioneers in the self-publishing business.

Beatrix Potter
Edgar Allen Poe
Leo Tolsty: War and Peace
Mark Twain: The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn
Jane Austen

Some might say, "but things were different then." Or, "Those writers were special."

Uh no. Try rinse and repeat.

Creating stories still amounts to creating stories. And all serious writers do it differently. Some get a leg up from a traditional publisher. Others, who are just as serious, if not a bit more crazy, do it the hard way and go it alone.

If anything, the list of masters shown above should stand as testimony to the fact that self-publishing should not be deemed a lowly, self-destructive enterprise. Rather, it might be viewed as an accompaniment, perhaps even a necessary tool in some cases, to retain, regain or capture a reading audience.

Regardless of which side of the path you walk on, one thing may ring true and clear: If you believe in something strongly enough, then you might need to be the first one who takes the lead.


Sunday, September 2, 2012

I Love to Write Day > coming on Nov 15

November 15th!

So far away, and yet... a date you might want to start planning for now, especially if you'd like to share it with students, friends, family or fellow writers.

I Love to Write Day was started by Author John Riddle in 2002. Since that time, he has garnered millions of supporters. And if you look at the date, you might notice something special. This year marks the 10th anniversary! Whoot! What a great time to get involved and get young people excited about reading and writing. 
If you'd like more information, John is the person to connect with. You can visit his site here.

John is a strong supporter of family friendly books, so if you'd like to see how he might be able to help network your book to other families, check with him about that also.