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Check out my science fiction series - The Fall of the Altairan Empire

Thursday, December 29, 2011

Thursday Recipe - Vegetarian Split Pea Soup

I posted Ninja Turtle Soup last year about this time. Split pea with ham. This version is a mild vegetarian version, just as tasty and just as easy. New Year's must make me crave something simple and healthy after all the rich dishes and sweet treats of Christmas. Try this one out. It freezes well if it makes lots more than your family will eat. Or just cut the recipe in half.

Enjoy the New Year.

Split Pea Soup

1 lb green split peas
1 c. sliced celery
1 small onion, chopped
2 c. carrots, sliced
2 potatoes, cut in small chunks
1 T. curry powder
1 t. turmeric
1 t. powdered garlic
1 t. salt
1/2 t. pepper
1/2 t. paprika
1 t. dried oregano
1 bay leaf
about 10 c. water

Place everything in a 4-qt crockpot. Cook on high for 2 hours. Turn to low, stir once. Cook another 3 - 6 hours until everything is soft. Good with garlic bread or croutons.

Monday, December 26, 2011

Merry Christmas

I think Charlie Brown's Christmas and the Grinch have it right: Christmas is more than shopping and presents and rich food. Christmas doesn't come from a store. It's about the best gift all of us have ever been given. It's about Jesus Christ. It's His birthday we celebrate, His life we remember, His gifts we revere.

Christmas is about a young woman giving birth to a miraculous child in a stable of animals. Christmas is about hope and love. Christmas is about redemption. Christmas is about Christ.

Whether you believe in Him or not, his message speaks to everyone. Love God with all your heart, might, mind, and strength. Love your neighbor as you love yourself. If everyone lived by those two commandments, our world would be a much sweeter, happier place.

I believe in Christ, deity descended to earth to redeem us through His atonement, to teach us by His example, to lift us with His love. May you find the spirit of Christ within you this Christmas. May you find peace in your heart.

That is my wish this Christmas season.

Thursday, December 22, 2011

Thursday Recipe - Cookie Mix for Gifts

AKA - Cookies in a Jar. If you have quart jars hanging around, these are perfect presents. It only takes a few minutes to put it together and makes a nice gift. The recipient can make the cookies fresh whenever they want. Plus, if you're careful when layering the cookies, they look very pretty in the jar.

Layer ingredients in quart jars in the order given. Use a clean lid (doesn’t have to be new) to seal the jar. Be careful not to shake the jars. Attach the recipe card to each jar with your own personal message.

Double Chocolate Brownies:
Jar - layer:
1 c. white flour
1/2 c. wheat flour
1 t. baking powder
1/2 t. salt
1/2 c. cocoa
3/4 c. white sugar
3/4 c. brown sugar
2/3 c. chocolate chips (any variety)

Recipe card:
Empty jar into a large mixing bowl. Stir dry ingredients until well mixed. Add 1/2 c. butter, melted, and 3 eggs. Stir until mixed. Spread in greased 9x13 pan. Bake at 350° for 20-25 minutes.

Gourmet Flavored Brownies:
Jar - layer:
2 c. flour
1/2 t. salt
2 t. baking powder
1/4 gourmet flavor hot cocoa drink mix (dry)
1 1/2 c. sugar
1/4 c. baking cocoa

Recipe card:
Empty jar into a large mixing bowl. Stir dry ingredients together until well mixed. Add 1/2 c. butter, melted, 4 eggs, and 1 t. vanilla. Stir until mixed. Spread in greased 9x13 pan. Bake at 350° for 30 minutes.

Oatmeal Scotchies:
Jar - layer:
2/3 c. flour
1/2 t. baking soda
1/2 t. cinnamon
1/4 t. salt
1/3 c. brown sugar
1/3 c. white sugar
3/4 c. butterscotch or chocolate chips
1 1/2 c. oatmeal, quick or old-fashioned
1/2 c. nuts (optional)

Recipe card:
Empty jar into large bowl. Stir to mix dry ingredients. Add 1/2 c. butter, melted, 1 egg, and 1/2 t. vanilla. Drop by spoonfuls onto greased cookie sheet. Bake at 375° for 8-10 minutes.

Coconut Oatmeal Bars:
Jar - layer:
3/4 c. flour
1/2 t. baking soda
1/2 t. salt
1 3/4 c. oatmeal, quick or old-fashioned
2/3 c. chocolate chips (any variety)
1/2 c. sugar
1/4 c. coconut
1/2 c. brown sugar

Recipe card:
Empty jar into large bowl. Stir to mix dry ingredients. Add 1/2 c. butter, melted, 1 egg, and 1 t. vanilla. Stir together. Spread in greased 9x13 pan. Bake at 350° for 20-25 minutes, just until set. Cool before cutting.

Monday, December 19, 2011

Book Review: Heir to Power, Book 1 of The Healing Crystal

Heir to Power by Michele Poague

If you like lavish fantasy novels with the setting and characters described in loving detail, this is the book for you. It's billed as a post-apocalyptic novel, and there are traces of a past technologically advanced society peeking through the current one, but with magic and a low-tech agrarian society at the center, I'd put this book on the fantasy shelves.

Kairma wants to be just a normal girl, but she is heir to the powerful Healing Crystal that her village holds secret from the rest of the world. She's also the only person known to survive the sweating sickness. Her white hair marks her as different and leads to conflicts with the other villagers. Mired in tradition and isolation, Kairma's world is about to change, whether the villagers wish it or not.

Michele (note the one L) builds a wonderfully rich world with plenty of detail and intriguing ideas. I found it a bit frustrating to read because she teases me with mysteries then spends several chapters exploring a minor character's relationship with his father and his past. I know people who love that kind of story. I'm an action movie kind of reader, though. I like things to happen with a bang and keep happening. Michele likes to spend time with her characters, exploring the nuances of their lives.

If you're a fan of books like Tolkien or Tad Williams, the big fat ones with lots of rich detail, give this one a try. Michele has given herself plenty to explore in the book series. This is book one in The Healing Crystal series, I'm sure the others will bring their own mysteries as her world unfolds.

Thursday, December 15, 2011

Thursday Recipe - Cherry Bars

I had a craving for these and I just happen to have several jars of maraschino cherries that need used. I thought you might enjoy them, too. They're nice and red/pink, great holiday colors. And they're very delicious and decadent.

(Anyone out there good at food pictures? My bars look like weird alien brain squares, not delicious pink cherry bars. They still taste very good.)

If you want them more pink, just add some food coloring.
Cherry Bars

2 c. sugar
1/2 c. butter, softened
2 T. shortening
3 t. baking powder
1 1/2 t. salt
1 t. vanilla
1 t. almond extract
1/2 c. maraschino cherry juice
4 eggs
4 1/2 c. flour
1 c. maraschino cherries, halved

Cream butter, shortening, and sugar. Add baking powder, salt, vanilla, almond extract, cherry juice, and eggs. Beat until very smooth and creamy. Stir in flour and cherries. Spread in greased jelly roll pan (15x10). Bake at 325° for 30 minutes. Cool at least 10 minutes before cutting.

Monday, December 12, 2011

Time for some reviews

I haven't read much lately, but I've played a lot of games. If you're looking for some gift ideas, these might be just the thing. No video games here, just board and card games.

Tales of the Arabian Nights
I ran into this game at a convention last summer and fell in love. It's a great game. The players are not really competing against each other, it's more about the storytelling than the winning. As you move your token around on the board, things happen to you, both bad and good, based on cards and dice rolls and the massive story book. The game is entertaining, but be warned, it can last a good two or three hours. It's pricey, but well worth the cost.

Fluxx, a whole family of card games
I've got four different versions of this game. The basic version is a lot of fun. Rules change with every play of the cards. Someone can win out of the blue with no warning, although that rarely happens. Silliness abounds. Now add different flavors of the game. My current favorite is Pirate Fluxx. Treasures consist of different ships, booty, and a whole horde of bizarre pirate-y objects. The rules even include a Talk-Like-a-Pirate card. Everyone who uses an outrageous pirate accent gets to draw and play an extra card. Our versions include Monty Python and Martians. You can find a version themed for anyone. And the fun part? You can combine the decks for an even weirder game if you want. It's simple to learn and lots of fun to play. Plus, the decks of cards are pretty inexpensive for a game the whole family can enjoy, at least the ones who can read.

Settlers of Catan (and all the expansion sets)
Another pricey one, but one that appeals to adults and older kids. We've had this game for years, but it still gets pulled out on a regular basis. The game board is made up of various tiles so it's never the same. The game is about building a civilization on the island of Catan. You compete for resources and road space and settlements, but if you work together, everyone does better. It's an entertaining game, but again, one game can last several hours, especially if you start adding the expansion sets.

Forbidden Island
This game is unique. You have to cooperate to win. If you start competing, you will lose and so will everyone else. You have to win as a team. It's you against the sinking island. It's all about strategy and cooperation. To be fair, I haven't played this game myself but my children have told me it's a great game. We got it last year for Christmas, but it got lost in the pile of other stuff. They found it recently and decided to figure it out. It's now on the list of top ten games to pull out when they've got a few hours. It's a mid-price game, listing for about $14 on Amazon.

Apples to Apples
Another mid-price game, this one has been around for ages and comes in a wide variety of variations. We prefer Apples to Apples Jr. It's got fewer political figures and current events and more of just general things on the cards. The big drawback is that Jr. doesn't have a card for Han Solo or Indiana Jones. BUT, you can buy a pack of blank cards to run through your printer and make whatever cards you want to add. This is a great game for building vocabulary. As my family has figured out, though, the game isn't about matching your cards to the description card, but about playing to the psychology of the person choosing the winning card. It's a fun game for group parties or large gatherings. We've played with up to fifteen people and still had a blast.

Swipe Card Game
I found this little game at the grocery store. I figured for a couple of bucks, it would be worth trying. Everything fits in a little plastic case so it's great for taking on trips. Not for playing while you travel, though. It involves rolling dice and matching the symbols with different actions. Each player is trying to accumulate as many tokens as they can. The game ends when the last one is taken from the middle. It's easy to play. We taught a 3yo and a 5yo who can't read yet how to play. All of us had a blast with the game. It's a great, inexpensive game for all ages. It's also fast to learn and play.

Once Upon a Time Card Game
Another storytelling game, we bought this years ago and loved it. I'm happy to see it back in print with all-new versions available. Each player has two ending cards and various story element cards. It's a group story, though, with each player adding in their own twists as they all try to get the story to their particular ending.  If you enjoy story telling, this is a game to check out.

I hope you have fun and find lots of time to play some new games with your family and friends. I love finding new board games that get my kids off the computers and gathered around the kitchen table.

Tuesday, December 6, 2011

I'm back!

Did you miss me? My router quit working last week and it's been entertaining trying to get a new one that works. Me and technology don't always get along. If it can break in a weird way, it does.

So, I'm back online and buried under things that need taken care of ASAP. Instead of posting my own story, I'll direct you to Maria Savva's blog post- It's a great tribute to BestsellerBound's new venture, a one-stop spot to find all sorts of great indie books. These are published by the author or by small presses. Since advertising budgets tend to be non-existent for these gems, you never hear about them. Self-publishing has come a long way. Yes, there are duds out there, some of them horrific like a train wreck involving clowns and puppy dogs. But there are some beautifully written books that you won't find on the normal lists. So check out the stores and download some great books this holiday season. Many of them are also available in print, but order early!

The title list is growing daily, so check back often for new reads.

Kindle store
Print store

Thursday, December 1, 2011

Thursday Recipe - Rosemary Roasted Potatoes

This is what I made for Thanksgiving instead of bringing mashed potatoes. It's a tasty alternative. In fact, I prefer these. Easy and delicious.

Rosemary Roasted Potatoes

6 c. bite size chunks of potato, about 8 medium (leave the peels on, but scrub them well)
2 T. oil
1 t. dried rosemary
1 t. garlic powder
1 t. salt
1/2 t. ground black pepper
1/2 t. paprika

Toss everything together until potatoes are well coated with seasonings. Spread on a baking sheet and roast at 400° until golden brown and slightly crispy. Stir every 15 minutes or so. It usually takes 35-45 minutes.

Serve hot and enjoy!

Monday, November 28, 2011

Another NaHoImMo Update

It's almost the end of November. NaNoWriMo is almost over. That's write-a-novel-in-a-month, a goal of 50,000 words written. Hats off to those who attempted it. Big hurrahs to those who finished.

I did write a short story or two, but most of my month has been eaten up by home improvement projects. Here's the latest update on the state of my family room.

See the pretty walls? Only the one above my new countertop is blue. The others are a lovely shade of green. You can see the new cabinet pulls, too. We just have cleanup and the trim above the counter left. I think I'm going to put 3/4 round glass shelves in the corner. What do you think?

Yes, that is sunshine on the cabinet. I've got blinds to replace in the room when I'm done painting and cleaning. Anyone like to wash windows? I might even pay you more than just cookies to do it.

Any takers? No?

See? No ugly holes or markings or stains or other things on my lovely walls. The baseboards are back in place and the wood floor has been scrubbed and refinished, but I haven't taken pictures of it yet.

This wall is mostly prepped for painting but we need to move more furniture and stuff and get the carpet taped off and covered. The family room is an L-shape. So far, I've just been working on the hard wood and cabinet end of the room.

We have to move a tv and some sitting furniture. The wii has already been banished to the living room for now. The desk and computer will move into the finished half. My office, what's left of it, will move there, too. It's mostly files of paperwork and my shredder. Most of my office is on my computer and virtual. Yay for progress.

This is a corner I haven't touched yet. See what I've been dealing with? Country wallpaper, partially shredded by one of our cats; holes caused by children; clutter caused by lots of things. The cabinet was made by my husband from scrap lumber, mostly old waterbed frames. It houses all sorts of weird knickknacks that mostly need to get used for target practice but I don't have the emotional energy to make those decisions right now. Later...

This is Sasha, enjoying the sunshine and the view. I love this corner of the room - floor to ceiling windows facing south and west. I'll have to post pictures once we get the walls done.

We still need to have a stripper party and finish stripping the wallpaper off.

Other things I've finished - I now have a chocolate colored front door with a nice clean coat of peach on the inside. It even includes new hardware. My kitchen cabinets are getting new handles, a few at a time. I still need to scrub them down and see what we can do to make them look great without having to repaint or refinish them. I made a whole pile of burp towels for a new great-niece and my grandson who isn't quite here yet. I cut out valance curtains for my living room. I'm almost out of projects that I have materials for. Must be time for another home improvement shopping spree. What next? Flooring for the entryway, downstairs mud room, and laundry room? Sounds good to me.

Thursday, November 24, 2011

Thursday Recipe - Easy Apple Cake

Looking for something simple but delicious? Try this cake. So simple anyone can make it.

Apple Cake

1 box butter pecan cake mix
1/2 c. butter, melted
1 c. apple juice
1 can apple pie filling
(Or you can use 1 quart of bottled apple slices instead of the juice and pie filling)

Heat oven to 350°. Dump everything in a mixing bowl. Stir it together. Grease a 9x13 cake pan. Pour in the cake mixture. Spread it out just a bit until it's even. Bake for about 45 minutes until a toothpick comes out clean. Let it cool for about 15 minutes then serve.

If you want to get fancy, drizzle it with caramel sauce and serve with vanilla or butter pecan ice cream.

Monday, November 21, 2011

NaHoImMo UpDate

Now I'm stuck doing the weird Capitalization in the MiDdle of WorDs. Looks BiZarRe.

Enough of that. Update on my projects, for those who care.
Countertop is mostly finished, just needs scrubbed one last time. Right now it's covered with paper because I'm painting walls. I've got the blue up, working on the pale green around it. We spent Saturday moving furniture and dejunking and sorting and removing. My living room is so empty. One big chair, one smaller chair, a table, several bookcases, and the piano. Desk and office are gone. Half the books are boxed and stored. It looks very big now.

See the ugly chandelier? It's gone now.

See the pretty replacement? Just turn your head sideways or your monitor. I'm being lazy about pictures today.

Is your head still sideways? Good. This is the tree by my driveway.

Leaves in the driveway. I may have to print and frame this.

The last rose of summer, wait, autumn. It's almost winter. *sigh*

Thursday, November 17, 2011

Thursday Recipe - Applesauce Cookies

Note to self: I need to create an index of recipes so I know what I've already posted. Maybe next week.

This is the season for cookies and treats. Right? Wrong. Any season is the season for cookies and treats. These cookies come out moist and tender with a great spice apple flavor. If you use at least half whole wheat flour, they're also healthy. As healthy as cookies can get, anyway. This recipe makes quite a few cookies so prepare to share.

Applesauce Cookies

2 1/2 c. brown sugar
1/2 c. butter
2 t. salt
2 t. vanilla
1 t. baking soda
1/2 t. nutmeg
1 t. ginger
1 t. cinnamon
4 eggs
3 c. applesauce
5 c. flour (half whole wheat if you like)
2 c. oatmeal
1 c. chocolate chips

Heat oven to 375°. Cream butter and sugar. Stir in salt, vanilla, soda, spices, eggs, and applesauce. Beat well. Stir in flour, oatmeal, and chocolate chips. The dough should be pretty sticky. Bake a single cookie. If it spreads too much, stir in an extra 1/2 - 1 c. flour. Cookies bake for 10 minutes. Let cool on sheets for a few minutes. They will set up more as they cool.

Monday, November 14, 2011

DYI NaHoImMo Update

I'm not doing NaNoWriMo this year. It just wasn't in the cards, not with everything else I have going on. So, I'm doing NationHomeImprovementMonth (I made it up but feel free to join in).

Here's my update on the tile countertop. More pics next week with the next stage.

Naked particle board sporting a new coat of paint
This was the easy part to install - mosaic sheets of little tiny tiles.

This is the border. If only I'd known before I started...
All installed and grouted, just waiting for paint on the trim.

The tile has iridescence and/or glitter. Love it!

Thursday, November 10, 2011

Thursday Recipe - Attack of Green Gelatin Salad!

Monsters and Mormons, the Anthology, released the ebook on Halloween. I'm tickled to be part of this one. It's horror stories, sort of. It's also science fiction, historical fantasy, silly horror, and lots of other genres. I haven't read any stories but mine, but I'm looking forward to spending some quality time with the book. It's 600 pages of awesome Mormons and Monsters battling it out. It all grew out of a chance Twitter comment. If you want to read the history of the anthology and join in some interviews and giveaways and all sorts of fun, go here:  THIS FRIDAY! THAT'S TOMORROW! It's the official release party for the book!

And in honor of my story, Charity Never Faileth, I'm posting green jello recipes. What's more Mormon than a Relief Society Dinner complete with too many pans of green gelatin salad? If that made no sense, you must not understand Utah Mormon culture. Never fear, the story is still very funny.

Green Gelatin Carrot Salad, the Dangerous Kind with Pineapple, Pears, and Sour Cream Topping.

(I admit that I have never actually made this salad, since I can't stand it. There are better uses for green gelatin like, umm, I have no idea. I can't stand the stuff. Wait, you can make Jello Cookies with it.)

Okay, just go here and use this recipe. It's close enough. (Or this whole page of links for lime gelatin salads.) Here's the simple version:

Mix up one box of lime gelatin according to package directions. Let it sit until it's very thick. Stir in 1 c. shredded carrots and 1 c. crushed pineapple. Pour it into a fancy dish or mold and refrigerate until set. Take to a ward party. Bring home most of it and add it to your compost because nobody actually likes the horrid stuff.

Better Gelatin Salad, aka Chilled Monkey Brains

2 small boxes of raspberry gelatin, the four serving size
2 c. boiling water
1 c. frozen blueberries, strawberries (chopped or sliced), raspberries, or any combination of frozen berries
1 c. very cold water
1 c. vanilla yogurt
1 8 oz. tub whipped topping

Mix gelatin in the boiling water. Stir at least 5 minutes until completely dissolved. Add frozen berries and cold water. Stir until it starts to thicken. Stir in yogurt and whipped topping. Pour into nice dish or mold. Brain molds are really nice. Refrigerate until set. Hide at the back of the table when serving so you have half a chance of leftovers. Take home the empty bowl and mix up another batch just for yourself.

Jello Cookies

This came from an old Betty Crocker Cookbook (or Betty Crapper Crockbook at my house). I've messed with the recipe to get it where I want it. You can use any flavor of gelatin, just not all at once. Lime gelatin is pretty good in this recipe.

1 3 oz. package fruit flavored gelatin
1 c. powdered sugar
1/3 c. softened butter
1/3 c. shortening
2 1/4 c. flour

Heat oven to 350°. Cream gelatin, sugar, butter, and shortening until very smooth and fluffy. Stir in flour, handling it as little as possible. Mix it just until the flour is incorporated (BIG WORD WARNING!!!). (Sorry, just had to add that bit.) Scoop dough onto a greased cookie sheet, about 1 1/2 t. per cookie is good. Bake 8 - 10 minutes until set and very lightly brown.

For variety, you can roll the dough in colored sugar (try blue sugar with red dough, or green sugar and yellow dough), the little tiny ball sprinkles, chopped nuts, or coconut shreds.

Or you can make some frosting or open a can of vanilla frosting, spread some on each cookie, and then add the colored sugar, sprinkles, nuts, or coconut or whatever.

Have fun with your gelatin, just watch out for those salads. Read the book if you want to know why. And don't forget to attend the party on Friday night. Details here.

Monday, November 7, 2011

Instead of writing...

This blog was supposed to be about writing - the struggles and craft and excitement. But how can I write about that when my writing has stalled? My second book is in the hands of the editor and publisher; on hold for almost a year now. My stories are coming out in anthologies, but I don't have a lot of new ones in the pipeline. I'm having health issues and family stress which both cut out writing time. And the last straw - all the home improvement projects that have gone from "someday" to "the next three months".

Saturday, I finally had all the materials to tackle a project that has been begging to be done since we moved in over 17 years ago. Our family room has a counter and cabinets but no countertop, just a slab of particle board. I found some beautiful glass tiles online and decided I could tackle it myself. Tiny tiles need no cutting, or so I decided. I'm not sure what I was thinking.

It was supposed to take three, maybe four, hours. Ten hours later, I had the tile down. A couple rows are a bit crooked. I'm hoping grout will hide some flaws. Yep, still needs grout and trim painted and installed. Another couple hours, I'm guessing.


I've also learned that 3/4" tile should be left on the mosaic tile backing. Much easier to put in and keep straight. But then I couldn't have done the random color border, which ate up my entire afternoon.

Instead of writing, I've been learning how to install tile. As long as no cutting is involved, it is pretty easy. With the cool installer mats I found, it's also pretty clean and messless.

Pictures to come after I finish the project.

Friday, November 4, 2011

Thursday Recipe - Cream Puffs

Raise your hand if cream puffs intimidate you. Tricky little pastries. I learned to make them in my Junior High Home Ec class. Back then, all girls were required to take it. Boys were required to take shop classes. Yep, I'm older than dirt. I lived when discrimination was all the rage. Girls did girl stuff and boys did boy stuff. You didn't cross the line or you were labeled weird. Guess what label I carried all through school.

Anyway, back to the recipe. Cream puffs can be difficult so be prepared to make them several times before you get the hang of it. If they don't puff up, just serve them as eggy, funky pancakes. Call them something French and you'll be okay.

Cream Puffs

1/2 c. butter (the real stuff works better than margarine)
1 c. water
1/4 t. salt
1 c. flour (sift it or stir it good and don't pack it into the cup, you want it about a tablespoon short of a packed cup)
4 eggs

Preheat your oven to 400° F.

Put the water, butter, and salt in a 2 qt. saucepan. Bring to a rolling boil. Turn heat down to medium. Add the flour. Stir until your arms feel like they are going to fall off and the mixture forms a thick, pasty ball. Remove from the heat. Stir in the eggs, one at a time, beating the batter smooth between each addition. You should end up with a creamy, very thick dough that looks sticky but isn't because of the butter.

Scoop onto a greased cookie sheet, normal size cream puffs are about 2 T. of batter per puff. Give them room to spread and rise or they will all grow into each other.

Bake for 30 minutes. DO NOT OPEN THE DOOR WHILE THEY ARE BAKING. You want the extra steam trapped in the oven. It helps them rise and bake properly. When the time is up, they should be more than double in size, puffy, and golden brown.

Fill them with whatever you want: Pudding, Chicken salad, tuna sandwich filling, sloppy joe mix, ice cream, fruit pie filling, chopped up candy bars, whipped cream...

Monday, October 31, 2011

Projects Galore

This is what I did Saturday. Well, I should say my husband, sons, neighbors, and I did.

See the giant pine tree right in the middle of the yard? No? That's because we chopped it down and cut it up into green waste and firewood. I love it. My yard looks so much bigger and my house looks really big now, too.

Downside is that all the yard projects that we've been neglecting are now very noticeable. But not in this picture. I'm just going to bask in the lovely sunlight we now have in our east-facing front yard.

Here's what's left of the tree: a big pile of fire wood in what's left of our garden.

(Those are beehives in the background. Two hives. We got 4 1/2 gallons of honey out of them a month ago. My husband only harvested one box off each, too. I think we need more boxes next summer so we can get even more of that delicious liquid gold.)

This is why I lost my pruning license. This is the blue spruce on the north side of our house. That's another Scotch pine in the front on the right and a yew (I think) on the left. I took off all the lower scraggly branches of the spruce. Now we have a nice open space where nothing grows except pine needles and pine cones. I think it looks lovely.

So, what did you do last weekend? This weekend I'm up for tiling a countertop in our family room and getting a couple of dresser painted.

Thursday, October 27, 2011

Thursday Recipe - Gourmet Cheese

No, this isn't a post about making your own cheese. I have tried my hand at a couple simple goat milk cheeses mostly because I had access to fresh goat cheese and my daughter is allergic to cow milk and really wanted cheese. Good goat cheese is hard to find in stores. But cheese making is an art that requires time and patience to master. If you're interested, I'll post the recipes and my experiences with goat cheese. Considering I'm allergic to goat milk, I can't tell you how it tastes but my kids say the cheese is delicious.

Today, I'll give you some tips on gourmet cheeses you can find in your local supermarket. More and more stores are carrying exotic cheese, usually in very small packages. So try a flavor or two. Here are some of my favorites:

Havarti is a soft cheese with a fairly mild flavor. Plain havarti has a slight tang and a mild smoky taste. It goes great with fresh apples, crackers, or ham. Havarti also comes in a lot of varieties. Smoked havarti goes great on burgers. Try it paired with bacon in a BLT. Dill havarti has dill added. Try it in a green salad with pears and honey mustard dressing. Havarti with caraway is another great one for the fruit and cheese tray.

Swiss in all its varieties is a great cheese. It adds zip to melted cheese sauces. Use Swiss in your cheese balls with green onions. I've got a great recipe for cream puff type goodies with shredded cheese added to the dough. Don't fill that one with pudding or cream, fill them with scrambled eggs and ham or stuff them with chicken salad and greens. That's basic Swiss. If you like it milder, buy baby Swiss. A good Swiss will run you about $6-10 a pound. Try some rather than the cheaper stuff, you won't be sorry.

Provolone is a very mild, slightly sweet white cheese. Think mozarella but firmer. Provolone goes great on sandwiches of all types. It's another good choice for a fruit and cheese sampler.

Meunster is a fun cheese. My kids call it "monster cheese". It's a pale yellow with an orange edge. It's softer than mozarella. It's good on sandwiches, especially grilled cheese. Try pairing it with Cream of Tomato Soup.

Blue cheese has a bad rap. Yes, it's a very strong flavored cheese and smells a bit like stinky feet. Keep the portion very small and the taste will be less overwhelming. Try blue cheese with steak or beef stew. Sprinkle it on salad along with chopped apples and pears and a good vinaigrette dressing. Add a touch to cheese balls or cheese sauce for added flavor. If you like it milder, buy Gorgonzola or Roquefort. This site has all sorts of fun info on Blue Cheeses.

Fresh mozarella, the kind that comes in water, is very different than regular mozarella. It melts into a bigger gooey mess, for one. The flavor is milder and fresher, more like cream cheese. Drain it well before using.

Everyone knows cheddar cheese. Have you tried sharp? I rarely buy mild anymore. Medium has a good flavor, but sharp is better. The best I've eaten is Dubliner cheese, a white very sharp cheddar. It's pricey but a little goes a very long way. It's so good just by itself.

Check out your store deli and see what fun surprises are waiting. While you're trying a new variety of cheese, why not try a new variety of gourmet olive or pickle or something else? Expand your taste buds and try something different.

Thursday, October 20, 2011

Thursday Recipe - Fudge?

Road trip this weekend. We spent a good wad of money to rent an RV and take the whole family on a trip. We found a really cool place to get local food just north of Pasco - produce, artisan jams and jellies and sauces, breads, candies, sandwiches, and the most decadent fudge I have ever tasted. Three words - to die for. (Country Mercantile, Inc. - and I've got pictures of the fudge but not my camera cable, so I'll have to add those later.)

I can't make fudge to save my life. I can't even manage the easy, no-fail marshmallow cream and chocolate chip fudge. The only time I made good fudge was on accident. I was trying to make frosting.

So, no recipe for fudge. Instead, I'm posting a plea for recipes for good fudge that even I can make. I even mess up this recipe:

1/2 c. creamy peanut butter
1/2 c. chocolate chips

Microwave until soft. Stir until smooth. Eat before it cools because for some reason, this fudge goes weird when it sets up so I use it as a dip for apples or cookies or pretzels.

Monday, October 17, 2011


It's October, which means it's time for scary movies, bad costumes, and too many sweets. And some creepy books. Please give a big welcome to Karina Fabian, here to tell us about her books. I'm excited to hear of her newest release co-written with Colleen Drippe: Frightliner: And Other Tales of the Undead. Grab some popcorn and enjoy!

Hi, Karina. Welcome to the Far Edge of Normal. I must say I love your chainsaw. How can we find you?
Google +:

What do you currently have in print and where can we find them?
I have several books out, so it'd be easiest if folks went to and checked them out.  The ones that came out in the past 12 months are Infinite Space; Infinite God II; Neeta Lyffe, Zombie Exterminator; Perfect Ten; Frightliner; Mind Over Mind; and Mother Goose is Dead (story in the anthology).

What genre do you write?
 Mostly science fiction, fantasy and horror, though I have also written a lovely nonfiction devotional with my father, Why God Matters.

Do you have cats or other pets?
I grew up with cats, dogs, hamsters and fish.  As an adult, we've had a cat and dogs, plus some hermit crabs at Alex's insistence.  I love furry animals who like to cuddle and who adore you just because you feed them and coo at them.  Elbereth, our cat, likes to sit on the back of my chair or in my lap or on my back when I'm writing.  Layla, the dog, is content to lay near me, though whenever I get up, she thinks it's treat time.

What inspires your stories?
Easier to ask what doesn't inspire a story.  It depends on the story.  In the case of the two I'm touring this month, the inspiration came from friends. Frightliner was inspired by Colleen Drippe, my co-author.  She had read my story about a truck-driving vampire and suggested that no one wrote vampires as evil blood-thirsty beasts anymore.  So we decided to write one together.  Neeta Lyffe, Zombie Exterminator, came as a result of my publisher at Damnation Books asking me to do a novel based on the character I'd written in "Wokking Dead."  Then while in the Writers' Chat room we were discussing reality TV and great first lines of books, and the idea struck to do a novel about a reality TV show about zombie exterminators.

How do you like your romance, sweet or spicy? Or do you like romance?
I like romance in the concept of the story, but not as the story itself.  In Neeta Lyffe, there's a romance between Neeta and a good looking DJ, but it's peripheral and highlights her own struggles with the TV show.  In Neeta Lyffe II, she's involved in a different romance, and while it's a big issue, there's so much else going on with the zombies and the environmentalists and such.  I don't write especially spicy.  I want to be able to read my stories to my kids or have them read them without giving me the fisheye afterwards.

I hear you on keeping the romance sweet. If it would embarrass me to have my  mom read it, I don't write it. What is your current WIP?
I have two:  Neeta Lyffe II: I Left My Brains in San Francisco, is on hold until I can explore an oil refinery, so I'm working on The Old Man and the Void, which is based loosely on Hemingway's The Old Man and the Sea, but involves a black hole and alien artifacts.

Wow. That sounds like a great read. What hobbies do you have that you want to share?

My husband and I are taking haidong gumbdo, Korean sword martial arts.  It's a lot of fun and good exercise, especially when we are doing drills.  I have a green belt, and need to master the roll in order to progress.  I hate tumbling!

Did you always want to be an author? Who inspired you?
Absolutely.  I started my first novel in fourth grade.  However, my greatest inspiration has been my husband, Rob, who supports us well enough that I don't need to worry about money, helps me with ideas and technical matters, offers advice, and never fails to tell me how attractive I am when I'm writing.  He's the best husband a writer could have--and the best husband, period.

I'll argue with you on that point. I think my husband is the best. We'll have to compare notes sometime. What are your favorite movies, tv shows, or books to read?
Right now, we're into Eureka, Warehouse 13, and Alphas.  We still watch Dr. Who, but I'm just not a fan of the 11th doctor.  He seems to either play the buffoon or play people as buffoons.  In fact, we have a theory that he was somehow damaged in the last regenerations. The past two episodes have been better, so I hope he's changing. About the only show I really turn to again and again is Firefly.  So sad that was canceled in its prime!

Firefly deserved to run much longer. What characters are your favorites from your books? From any work of fiction?
My works?  I love them all, although Neeta, Vern (my dragon detective) and Deryl and Joshua (Mind Over trilogy) have my attention the most.  From any work?  Charles Wallace of A Wrinkle in Time.  I still dream of writing a book where he's grown up.

That was one of my favorite childhood books. I loved Meg and her whole family. If you could travel anywhere on Earth, where would you want to go? If you could travel anywhere, fictional or real, where would you go?

Rob and I want to see Greece at some point.  I've been lucky; my parents loved to go on long road trips, so I saw a lot of America and Canada as a child.  In college, I went on a tour of the Middle East--Egypt, Jordan and Israel.  When I graduated, I joined the Air Force to see the world, and did: I was stationed in Italy and Japan, and while there, toured a lot of Europe and visited Korea.  Rob and I have also been to Mexico and Cancun.  So my list is pretty short, and Greece is on the top.

As for where in the universe, I have my imagination for that, so I'm content.

What's your favorite color? Food? Reading spot?
I don't really have favorites.  Maybe I'm flighty that way, but I just appreciate them all according to my mood.

Anything else you'd like to add?
Yes.  I think your crocheted C'thulus are awesome!


*blush* Aw, thanks, Karina. Did I ever mention my little sister's name is Karina? Your stories are awesome. Thanks so much for stopping by.

Check out the excerpt from Frightliner below:

All Jay Carlson wants is to get his load delivered on-time, and the mysterious murder on a lone stretch of I-10 is just a slow-down.  Things get freaky as a stranger suggests the murderer is a truck driver—and Jay has seen the truck.  Thus starts a game of cat and mouse as the mysterious truck stalks him on his route.  No one else seems to see his phantom pursuer except for two unlikely allies:  a custodian claiming to be a vampire hunter, and an illegal alien who trusts his faith to defeat the monster.  When the truck-driving vampire traps them in an abandoned church and his only defenders are injured in the fight, Jay must swallow his own disbelief and destroy the vampire himself before he kills them all.

Karina Fabian writes fantasy and science fiction, with the occasional foray into the world of horror.  Her first novel, Magic, Mensa and Mayhem, the 2010 INDIE Award for best fantasy.   Her latest book, the comedic horror, Neeta Lyffe, Zombie Exterminator, was a top ten in the Preditor and Editor reader’s polls and winner of the Global E-Book Award for best horror.  Learn more about her works at

Colleen Drippe has been writing since age 6 and has had a lot of science fiction, a moderate amount of horror and fantasy, and assorted nonfiction scattered throughout the small press and online.  She also writes for children and has had three children's books published so far (The Little Blue House, Christmas at the Little Blue House, and Mystery at Miners’ Creek) and another one (Growing with the Little Blue House) due out any day.  She has had one sf book published (Godcountry) and another (Gelen!) coming out this year.  She is the former editor of Hereditas (of happy memory but dried up funding) and is currently working on another sf book along with various other projects.

Of course that was why he had not come out to check on her, she thought with a surge of relief. He probably thought it was an abandoned car. But now--she stepped out onto the gravel, hearing for the first time how loud the crickets sang. She smelled the strong scent of the cooling air. Too early for snow. Too warm, still anyway, though she cursed herself for not thinking to put on jeans before making her big exit. She peered at the cab, but nothing moved.

“Hello!” she called, moving closer. She could not make out a logo on the truck. It was dark, dark paint. She had an impression that the shape was--not wrong exactly, but not usual. It was an older model, she decided. An old truck.
She had reached the door.

“Anyone there?” she called, hesitating to step up and look inside. What if something had happened to the driver? What if he were dead? What if she opened the door and a body spilled out onto the road?

But that was silly. He had just pulled up. Probably he was rummaging around in his berth for some tools.

But what if he was dead? What if she took hold of the door and--and what if he was right there, watching her?

She had almost decided to go back to her own car. But the thought of the semi parked behind her, silently cutting its chunk from the sky, was in some strange way even more frightening than opening the door. She reached up for the handle and pulled herself up level with the window.

The handle turned in her hand.

It was then she knew she had done the wrong thing. If only someone else had come--she prayed for someone else. A cop. Even a car full of good old boys. Anyone.

The crickets fairly screamed their shrill and mindless song, the scent of the Russian knapweed was overpowering. But it wasn’t strong enough to hide another smell, a dark earthy smell. A smell of death mellowed by long usage.    

The door opened.

Reba froze, clutching the handle, balancing there with the driver’s seat in front of her. She tried to speak, to call, but nothing would come out. She hung there, thinking of death, while the night passed and the stars moved and the moon looked in over her shoulder. Finally, she climbed into the truck.

“Daniel,” she whimpered. She was ready to forgive the new pickup, but it was too late. Something moved in the back and she turned in the driver’s seat and saw a pale face, caught in the moonlight, eyes gleaming. She had an impression of lank hair, grizzled beard. And then two hands reached up to take her shoulders and she saw the mouth open.

Video trailer link:
Amazon link:

Thursday, October 13, 2011

Thursday Recipe - Rachel Paddington's Cheesecake

I met Darcia Helle just over a year ago on BestsellerBound, a great community for authors and readers. She's a great friend and a wonderful storyteller. Our tastes don't always match, but I enjoy her characters and her stories. Check out her books and BestsellerBound. And don't forget to try this simple and delicious cheesecake recipe.

Max Paddington, the main character in my novel Into The Light, likes chocolate milk shakes. As readers get to know him, they will learn this little tidbit. What readers don't learn about Max is that he loves cheesecake. In fact, his wife Rachel would tell you that he is addicted to one specific recipe. She makes this cheesecake for him on every holiday and it's the only thing he asks for on each birthday.

Here is Rachel's recipe. I hope you enjoy it as much as Max did.

Graham Cracker Crust:

1 cup graham crackers, crumbled
3 tbsp sugar
3 tbsp butter, melted

Mix all ingredients together in small bowl. Press into bottom of springform pan. Bake at 325 for 10 minutes. Remove from oven and cool.


4 8-oz packages cream cheese
1 cup sugar
3 tbsp flour
4 eggs
1 cup sour cream
1 tbsp vanilla

Combine cream cheese, sugar and flour. Mix until well blended. Add eggs one at a time, mixing after each addition. Blend in sour cream and vanilla. Pour over graham cracker crust.

Bake at 450 for 10 minutes. Reduce temperature to 250 and continue baking for one hour. Cool before removing rim of pan.

Cheesecake tastes great plain or can be topped with a variety of options, including canned cherry pie filling, blueberry filling or fresh strawberries.

Wednesday, October 12, 2011

What a Dream I Had

I had the weirdest dream last night about weather stripping, buying a house, zombies, third grade male teachers, and Minecraft. Here are the lessons I learned from my dream:

1. Never rent an apartment in an old basement with rotted wooden steps leading into the ancient tunnel system. You never know what might be down there.

2. If you do rent such an apartment, use lots of weather stripping under the door leading to the steps because everyone knows that rodents, like raccoons, can squeeze through a gap less than an inch high. (This was a dream, it doesn't always have to make sense.)

3. Never buy a big house that backs onto BLM land, especially a big mountain that has a cursed mine practically in your backyard.

4. The mine was a red herring. It was the safest place to be. I wasn't there during the next bit of my dream.

5. Zombie-ism is transmitted through bites like rabies. In fact, it resembles rabies.

6. The cure for a zombie bite is anti-fungal powder, spiderwebs, and Neosporin ointment. Douse the bite liberally with those three, wrap it in a clean hankie, and take two ibuprofen. You'll be all better in the morning.

7. If you get caught outside during a zombie outbreak, stand really still and quiet and they'll lose interest in you. Whatever you do, DO NOT SCREAM.

8. Abandoned cars are a good place to hide, provided you can get under the seats and stay really quiet. If you have several people in there with you, you'll stay nice and warm.

9. Keep your dog with you during the outbreak because they can become zombies, too. Cats are too angry to become zombies.

10. Lighting candles and singing nursery rhymes attracts zombies, but it also lulls them into a stupor. If you can keep it up until it snows, you'll be fine.

12. Snow kills zombies. Just hope the zombie outbreak happens the first day of the deer hunt because it always snows that first night.

13. During the zombie outbreak, watch out for third grade male teachers trying to entertain the boys from their classes. Seeing grown men sing happy songs about Minecraft is more than a little creepy, worse than being eaten by a zombie.

Very interesting dream and very educational. My imagination is working overtime. It must be trying to tell me to write some zombie stories and quit playing Minecraft. Excuse me while I add several inches of weatherstripping to my basement door...

Thursday, October 6, 2011

Thursday Special - Book Review - The Worker Prince by Bryan Thomas Schmidt

The Worker Prince by Bryan Thomas Schmidt

Davi begins life as a worker child, born to slaves and condemned to a life working where and when he's ordered. For the most part, the high tech society gives the workers a fairly good standard of living, but Lord Xalivar hates the workers and doesn't trust them to keep in their place. They want freedom for themselves and their children. Xalivar decrees all first-born sons of worker slaves will be sacrificed to his gods. Davi's parents steal a courier ship and outfit it for their infant son. They send him off by himself as the troops close in.

Davi is found and raised by Xalivar's sister. He's a prince of the realm and Xalivar's heir-apparent. Until he and Xalivar learn the truth of his heritage. Davi runs away to join the growing worker rebellion. Xalivar's love for his adopted nephew turns to hate and bitterness as they face each other as opponents.

If the story sounds a lot like the story of Moses and the Israelites against Pharoah and the Egyptians, it is. Schmidt has done a great job rewriting the historical tale into a science fiction adventure. He weaves a story of family ties, aggression, power, and love. Davi has everything - money, power, position - and he throws it away when he learns the truth of where he comes from and how his biological people are treated by his adopted family. If you're looking for characters with honor and integrity, who face tough choices with no clear answers, this is the book to read. I'm looking forward to book two and more of Davi's story.

4.5 stars, PG for mild violence.

Tuesday, October 4, 2011

Basket of Book Reviews

I set the goal to review every book I finished. I'm not keeping up very well. Today I've got four print books in the basket. Just FYI, I bought all of these books. And I haven't regretted a penny of it.

  The Lute and the Liar by Rie Sheridan Rose

This book saved me from several hours of plane ride boredom. I picked it up from Rie at FenCon in Dallas a couple weeks ago and started it on the plane between El Paso and Los Angeles. (I hate the way Southwest charges for direct flights between Salt Lake and Dallas. It's a lot cheaper to fly all over the place but it takes forever to get home, but that's a completely different blog post.) I had the book tucked into my carryon and pulled it out while sitting on the ground waiting for the plane to take off again. One big advantage of a print book - you can read it during take off and landing.

The Lute and the Liar is the story of Mordigan Bryre, an apprentice bard who can't stop lying. Two weeks before he is to receive his journeyman's status, he is dismissed in disgrace and meets a mysterious witch who strikes a bargain with him. If he seeks out the wizard Talthos he can gain a magical lute that will make him legendary. But if he tells a lie, he will lose his golden voice. He sets out on his quest without realizing Princess Allysian is following him, determined to declare her love and bring him home. Ultimately, Mordigan faces the choice of saving her honor and reputation or his voice and his life.

I really enjoyed this tale. It reminded me of the classic fairy tales I used to devour as a child. Rie has a deft touch with characters and settings. She creates a magical world and fantastic people and still pulls in the emotional connections. Mordigan is a lovable yet flawed character. Allysian spends most of the book sitting in prison. I would have loved to see more action from her. I also wanted the book to be longer and much more involved. I loved the setting and the characters and wanted to play with them more. The ending came too soon. Overall, this is a delightful book.

4.5 stars, G rating (although I'd recommend it for ages 10+)

Adventures by Mike Resnick

The right reverend Lucifer Jones travels across Africa pulling cons and swindles on everyone in search of a fortune. The problem is that the people he's conning are even bigger scoundrels. Reminiscent of all the campy, overblown adventure stories of the pulp magazines, this book is a rollicking good read.

I've always enjoyed pulp fiction, stories of exotic locations and great adventures. Mike Resnick serves up his version with a huge dollop of spoof. Tarzan, except by a different name, makes his appearance on more than the cover. Except he's a British lord who has inherited a big swath of jungle. He spends his time reorganizing gorilla society and government and protecting the wild. This is just one example of the kind of silliness this book excels in.

4 stars, PG for mild suggestiveness

Red Dragon Codex by R.D. Henham

R.D. Henham is a cover name for a lot of different writers. This book is written by Rebecca Shelley, a very sweet woman I've had the pleasure of knowing for several years now.

Red Dragon Codex follows the adventures of Mudd, his sister Hiera, and Drakecutter as they track down Redclaw the Destroyer, each for their own reasons. Mudd must rescue the village seeress who has been kidnapped by the dragon and her dragonman, Kirak. Drakecutter seeks revenge for his dwarf village, ravaged by the dragon in an unprovoked attack. Hiera follows to keep Mudd safe from his own vision of heroism. Each of them learns to trust and help each other, each learns that together they are stronger than alone. Kirak's story kept me intrigued the most, but I won't spoil it by doing more than hinting he's not quite what he seems.

Red Dragon Codex is an entertaining story aimed at 8-12 year-old children, but good enough to use as a family read-aloud book. I've got the Brass Dragon Codex on my shelf, also written by Rebecca Shelley, that I'm looking forward to sharing with my children along with this one.

5 stars, G rating, but with some mild violence

Full Throttle Space Tales #1: Space Pirates

It's collections like these that are changing me into a fan of anthologies. Space Pirates is loaded with great stories of space pirates. From the sublimely silly Space Pirate Cookies by C. J. Henderson (my favorite in this collection) to the dark and disturbing Never Lie to Yourself by Uncle River, this collection has something for every fan of science fiction and space opera stories.

I'm very happy this is book #1 in a series. I can't wait to get my hands on the other books in this collection. If the stories are as good as they ones in this book, they promise to provide hours of great entertainment.

5 stars, PG for mildly disturbing situations

Friday, September 30, 2011

Thursday Recipe - Hawaiian Turkey Loaf

Oops. A day late again. It's been that kind of week. But I have PICTURES! That should make up for being late, right? I made this Tuesday night and it turned out delicious. It's the kind of recipe where you can play fast and loose with the ingredients to make it what you want, so feel free to have fun.

Hawaiian Turkey Loaf

1 1/2 lbs ground turkey
1 c. oatmeal
2/3 c. ketchup or catsup, depending on where you live
1/4 c. BBQ sauce, whatever flavor you like best
2 eggs
1/2 can crushed pineapple
1/4 c. red onion, finely diced
1/2 c. green bell pepper, chopped small
1 apple, cored and chopped

Mix everything together. Your hands work best, but my son insisted on using a spoon. Whatever. Dump it into a greased casserole dish. Top with the other half of the can of pineapple and about a 1/4 c. teriyaki sauce (1 c. soy sauce, 1/3 c. brown sugar, 1/2 t. red pepper flakes - stir until mixed). Bake at 400° for about an hour, until the middle is no longer gooey and the meat is no longer pink. Or if you have a meat thermometer, bake it until the internal temperature is 170°. Serve it with rice and more teriyaki sauce.

Red onion and bell pepper.

Ground turkey, from the clearance bin because I'm a cheapskate. Good stuff, though.

And one apple, ready to chop. This one has been in my fridge for a month, mushy but perfect for cooking.

1 can crushed pineapple...

My sauce collection, just part of it. What? You don't have at least three dozen bottles of assorted sauces in your fridge?

Scroll back up to the knife picture. It's very sharp. My thumb will never be the same again...

Everything in the bowl, ready to mix...

My son making his favorite sauce- teriyaki.

My other son mixing the meatloaf, with a spoon cause he has a thing about getting his hands gooey.

Meatloaf and rice, ready to bake. Yep, make oven rice and bake them together, Easy. Oven rice: 2 c. rice, 4 c. hot water, 1 t. salt, 2 T. butter. Put in a casserole and bake at 400° for 1 hour.

And the finished meatloaf.