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

Thursday, March 28, 2013

Thursday Recipe - Beets!

I've been craving beets lately, not sure why, it's just every once in a while I get a hankering for them good ole beets. They taste good, they're good for you, so what's not to like? Right, they can leave a whopper of a stain behind. But if you're worried about that, try some of the newer varieties that come in yellow or orange or other funky colors.

To cook fresh beets, wash them really well, the lop off the leaves. You can chop the tops up and steam them. If they're small and tender, you just need to bring them to a boil and they're ready to serve. Sprinkled with a little rice vinegar, they're perfect as a side dish. If they're a little tougher, just boil them for a few more minutes, usually about five will do it. The stems and leaves are a lot like Swiss chard or kale. If you don't mind them turning the soup purple, you can toss a handful in your favorite vegetable soup or stew recipe.

Take the beet and chop off the root next. If the beet is small, you don't need to peel it. But the peels can be tough and not very tasty, so go ahead and peel your beet. Once it's peeled, rinse it and you're ready to chop it up however you like. Slice it thin, cut it in strips, cut it in little cubes, whatever you like. Put those bits in a saucepan and cover just barely with water. Bring it to a boil, cover and reduce the heat to low. Simmer for about five to ten minutes until the beet pieces are fork tender. Go ahead and serve it plain, or try some of these variations with beets. (Here's a great recipe for spinach and beet salad)

You can also use beet juice to color Easter eggs or make pickled eggs or other dishes. It's a great food coloring, just don't cook it too long or the color turns into a really nasty shade of gray.

Star anise picture from meridian botanicals website
Anise Beets

1 large beet, peeled and chopped into bite-size pieces
1 star anise (look for it in the spice aisle, it's anise
    shaped like a star, it has a mild black licorice flavor)
water to cover

Put the beet chunks in a small saucepan, cover with water. Drop in the star anise. Bring to a boil, reduce heat and simmer until the beet is tender. Remove the star anise before draining and serving as a side dish.

Quick Pickled Beets

1 can shoestring or diced beets
1 T. sugar
1 t. salt
1/3 c. white vinegar

Open the can of beets and drain them. Dump the beets into a bowl. Sprinkle with sugar and salt. Pour the vinegar over and gently toss to mix everything together. Let sit for at least thirty minutes. Stir again just before serving.

You can dress these up with a few whole cloves, anise seeds, cinnamon sticks, or other sweet pickling spices.

Purple Potato Salad
(I thought for sure I'd posted this. No idea how I missed it. This is a dill version, but you can use your favorite potato salad recipe, just add beets to turn it that lovely purple color.)

4 medium potatoes, diced
1 c. canned beets, diced
1/2 c. celery, sliced
1/2 c. onion, diced small
1/3 c. dill pickles, diced small
1/2 c. mayonnaise
2 T. lemon juice
1 t. celery seed
1 t. garlic salt

Put the potatoes in a saucepan and cover with water. Bring to a boil. Reduce heat and simmer until fork tender, about fifteen minutes.

While the potatoes are cooking, mix everything else in a large bowl. (If using fresh beets, use the directions at the beginning of the post to cook them.) When the potatoes are done, drain well and add to the rest of the mixture. Toss to coat. Cover and refrigerate until cold, about two hours. Stir again, then refrigerate until ready to serve. The beets will turn the whole salad a lovely shade of purple.

Monday, March 25, 2013

Basket of Book Reviews

Here's what I've been reading lately. No, I'm not paid to do reviews. I do it because I know how much it can mean to an author to get reviews. I also only review books I enjoyed enough to finish. I recently added a Kindle to my electronic gadget family, so most of these are freebies from Amazon.

The 10% Solution, Ken Rand

This is by far, the best self-editing book I've ever read. It's a short book, but if you're looking to improve your writing, read this book. It won't teach you grammar or style. It will help you shorten what you write by eliminating passive voice, unnecessary words, extra adjectives or adverbs, and other stumbling blocks. It's a writer's best friend whether you write advertising copy or high fantasy or anything in between.

Ken Rand passed away in 2009. He was a wonderful man and writer and is greatly missed by those of us lucky enough to meet him.

5 stars
G, except it might make you cry while editing, but it's a good thing. Trust me.

Unlikely (Kingdoms Gone), Frances Pauli

If you read this blog, you'll already know I'm a fan of Frances Pauli. But to be clear, I don't rave over all of her books, just most of them. This is one worth raving over.

If you like fantasy with elves and fairies and the sidhe and magic and all that jazz, but you're tired of Tolkien-esque worlds and stories, try this book. Satina, a goodwife, is on the run. She's trying to find somewhere she will fit in, somewhere where her magic won't turn her into a target of either the magic-hating humans or the magic-seeking gangs. What she'd really love is to be part of the Old Kingdoms where magic ruled. But all that is left are the pockets, pieces of the Old Kingdoms accessible by those with the right gifts of magic and sight.

I enjoyed the story. The settings were evocative and rich with hinted culture and stories yet to be told. The use of magic was balanced and believable. The characters were well-developed and some took surprising turns. I'm happy to say that book two is on its way and promises to be every bit as fun as Unlikely.

4.5 stars, PG for mild violence

The Catalyst (Targon Tales), Chris Reher

I have a basic, bottom-end Kindle. When I go browsing on it for new books, I don't get much of a cover view. I didn't realize this book was science fiction romance until I was well into it. Not that it's a bad thing, I don't mind a bit of romance in with my rocket ships and galactic empires. If I'd seen the cover, I would have known exactly what I was in for.

The Catalyst is a great tale of a space marine tangled up with the good-looking and good-at-heart bad boy who isn't really a bad-boy. I enjoyed the twists of plot. I've been reading SF for many many years now and it was refreshing to see a new angle on things. Nova Whiteside is supposed to be on a routine delivery mission - get the cargo to its destination safely without letting on she's a marine. A pirate attack destroys her cargo, leaves her injected with an alien poison and on the ship of her former boyfriend, Seth (the bad boy not-quite-a-pirate character). In the course of finding a way to cure the poison, they uncover lots of deep secrets and plots to destroy a distant planet's indigenous sapients.

The book was a little rough in spots, but overall it was a fun read. That's saying something. Most of the newer SF I've tried has been downright depressing and bleak. It's nice to find a book about a future that is hopeful and progressive. I loved the author's alien squid, very unique. I did skip several paragraphs in places, mostly because I really don't want the sexual plumbing lessons. There is a little profanity in this book that I found very jarring, mostly because it wasn't necessary and felt forced. The author also seems to have an addiction to exclamation points!!!

4 stars, PG-13 for intimate sex scenes, some mild violence, and a few f-bombs

The Hero Always Wins, Robert Eaton

This was not the story I was expecting when I started it. I was rooting for Darcy, the knightly hero. I wasn't sure what to think of Arabella when she was introduced. And Brianna? This book is full of weird twists and turns and reversals that I didn't see coming.

If you're expecting the usual D&D campaign crossed with something sort of like the Shannara books, you're going to be disappointed. If you're looking for something very different but still high fantasy, this is a great read. I don't want to say too much, because I hate when people spoil the surprises for me and I don't want to spoil it for you. Just take my word that this is a fun twist on the old stereotypes.

I found a lot of typos and misused words in my version, so if that really bothers you as a reader, don't read the book. The violence got more than a little graphic at times, but not in a gory way, it felt more like a superhero battle where even though they were destroying buildings and smashing mountains, no one really got hurt. The book also has a few detailed sex scenes, but they came across almost boring, mostly because the viewpoint character was bored. Her inner dialogue was almost funny in those scenes. I'm not sure if the author was writing a comedy or not. Either way, I really enjoyed the story, although I want to strangle him for the last scene. Is there a book two or not? (It's a little bit of a teaser.)

4.5 stars, PG-13 for violence and some sex

And, of course, my Kindle.

I picked this up off a clearance table at a local store. It's the bare bones version - no back light, no color screen, no speakers, nothing fancy. It connects with wifi to my home network. But I love it. It's lightweight, easy to hold and read. The screen doesn't give me eyestrain, which gets worse every year as my poor eyes get older. Yes, I have to have a light on in the room, but it's no worse than reading a paperback. It said somewhere in the miniscule instruction book that the Kindle was designed to get out of the way of the reading experience. And it does.

I only have three complaints. One, it isn't a touch screen and if I'd been thinking, I'd have known that. I'm just too used to my iPod Touch. But the little button thingies that let you navigate are very simple and easy to figure out. Two, the instruction manual is lacking in instructions. It took some poking around on Amazon's Kindle support page and some experimenting to figure things out, but since the device really only does one thing, display books, it wasn't too hard. Transferring files from my laptop to the Kindle was the trickiest bit and even that only took me maybe fifteen minutes to figure out.

And three, it isn't waterproof. I can't take it in the tub with me, which is where I really like to lounge and read my books. But I'm sure the tub-reader can't be too far in the future.

5 stars for a great product that does exactly what it promised

Unbound, Kayla Blackstone; Adriane Ceallaigh

Kayla Blackstone wasn't always a slave. At one time she was a highly sought after Bounty Hunter. She never questioned what she carried, never cared, so long as the pay check didn't bounce. But everything changes the night the Mage Hunters come, the night her entire life is stolen.

Now she's been given a second chance, a run for her freedom. Keaton offers her a deal--she delivers a package before midnight and he'll let her go free. Unfortunately for Kayla, nothing is ever as simple as it appears.

The writing and characterization are a bit uneven, but since this is a new author, I cut her slack for it. The story is engaging and the characters intriguing. The worlds she builds are fun to explore. I'm interested to find out where book 2 will be going with the story. The author leaves enough ends hanging loose to suggest a sequel.

4 stars, PG-13 for violence

Dreamspy, Jacqueline Lichtenberg

 I "met" Jacqueline Lichtenberg through the Twitter chat, #scifichat (Fridays at 2 pm EST, they're a lot of fun, you should join us). Her comments interested me enough to track down some of her novels to read. This one is my new favorite by her.

Kyllikki, a powerful telepath, has left her family and position behind in a quest to escape from her domineering cousin and her power games. She gets caught in the politics between the Empire she's left and the government she works for when her ship is attacked. With the help of Zuchmul, a luren (think alien bat-vampire type people but not really), and Idom, human but a genius with numbers, Kyllikki rescues Elias, a bonded Dreamer. It gets complicated from here. Dreamers help telepaths keep sane and also act as spies, reporting everything they do, say, and hear through their dreams. The story becomes a desperate race to end a war, thwart Kyllikki's blood-thirsty cousin, save Zuchmul from death and worse, save the space-time continuum, and uncover the real truth behind FTL drives.

This book kept me turning pages until long after my bedtime. Isn't that enough of a recommendation? My husband picked it up as soon as I finished. He couldn't stop reading, either.

4.5 stars, PG-13 for some suggestive scenes and for using sexual desire as the propulsion for space travel, but it's handled discreetly. It's a romance, you have to expect at least some of that kind of stuff.

Compass Reach, Mark W. Tiedemann

This is another author I met through a Twitter chat. His book sounded interesting enough I tracked it down.

Fargo is a Freerider, kind of like an interstellar ship-hopping hobo. He came across as an older teenager in the first few chapters. When he's described as middle-aged later, it was a bit of a shock to me. I was expecting a YA novel. This isn't one. Fargo gets pulled into negotiations between aliens and humans. Most humans, especially those of the Pan Humana, want nothing to do with aliens. They want them banned from human worlds and restricted from trade.

I finished this book over a month ago. For some reason, not much of the story stuck with me. I just never clicked with it. If you like science fiction, give the author a try. You might love this book.

3.5 stars, PG mostly for language and some sexual situations

The Tower at Stony Wood, Patricia McKillip

I love the way Patricia McKillip writes. It's lyrical, almost like poetry. Sometimes that fails, making the story so dense and understated that it's hard to follow. Not with this story. She weaves three towers and three separate storylines into a seamless whole. Melanthos sits in a tower watching a magic mirror and embroidering what she sees. Cyan Dag, a knight, rides to rescue the true lady of Skye and queen of Yves from a magic tower. Thayne Ysse wants revenge on the king of Yves for maiming his brother and father, and conquering the North Islands. It's a tale of magic, dragons, wants, wishes, and desires.

5 stars, PG for some violence

Thursday, March 21, 2013

Thursday Recipe - Jam Crumble Bars

My mom bought a microwave way back in 1979. It came with a cookbook that has since disappeared. Most of it wasn't that great, but it had one cookie bar recipe that was fantastic. It was an oatmeal bar, no flour or wheat, with a jam filling. They baked up soft and chewy and were perfect for using up homemade jam that didn't set up right. I loved it with my Tutti Frutti Jam. I had a copy of the recipe scribbled on a torn piece of graph paper, but it has also disappeared. Darn recipe eating gremlins have struck again!

I keep looking for the recipe and keep falling short. This version is adapted from one in an old Betty Crocker cookbook (or Betty Crapper Crockbook as it's called at my house, I still don't know why). It comes fairly close, but it still uses wheat flour. I'll have to keep experimenting. I made these with some very runny spiced pear jam. They turned out wonderful, soft and sticky and not too sweet. They're also fast to throw together.

(I'm pretty sure my version of Betty Crocker is this one, but since mine is missing the covers, it's hard to tell.)

Jam Crumble Bars

1/3 c. butter, softened
3/4 c. brown sugar
1 c. whole wheat flour
1/2 c. white flour
1 t. salt
1/2 t. baking soda
1 1/2 c. quick-cooking oats
1 c. jam

Heat oven to 375°. Mix butter, sugar, salt and baking soda. Mix in flours and oats. It will be crumbly. Grease a 9x13 pan (I just spray it with the spray stuff). Dump about 2/3 of the crumb mixture into the pan. Spread out and pat smooth. Don't worry about squishing it down or making it firm. Spoon the jam over the crumb stuff in the pan. Sprinkle the remaining crumb mixture over the top of the jam.

Bake 25 - 30 minutes. Let cool for about 20 minutes, then slice into bars. These are great for a quick breakfast or just any time you want something sweet that isn't going to spike your blood sugar too much.

Monday, March 18, 2013

Time for a Teaser

Poisoned Pawn, book three in my Fall of the Altairan Empire series, will be released in one month - April 18. I'm excited. I love the characters. I love the stories. Want a taste?

Go here for links to all the books (feed my fish while you're there, please). Book one, Nexus Point, is available at a variety of online retailers. If you go to the Smashwords link, you can download the first half of the book for free to see if you like it before buying. Go ahead, I'll wait.

Just to whet your appetite for book 3, here's a teaser from the first chapter:

Lowell thumped his feet on the desk and leaned back in the chair. He held a handcomp in one hand, the screen set on the station data feed, but he wasn’t paying attention to it. He watched the busy Patrol docking bay through the wide window in the office. Several ships had docked in the last hour, three courier class and one large hunter class. He rubbed his upper lip as he considered his options.

An aide opened the office door. He frowned when he caught sight of Lowell. “You are going to have to leave. We have a visiting commander who requested this office. You shouldn’t be here when you’re off duty, anyway. The enlisted lounge is on deck seven.” The man planted himself in the middle of the office.

“I’m well aware of the location of the lounge, but my rank tends to make the enlisted men nervous.”

The aide’s gaze flicked over Lowell’s plain black uniform. “You aren’t wearing any insignia.”

“Would it make you feel better if I borrowed a set of Admiral’s pins?” Lowell’s handcomp beeped. He glanced at the new message. He raised one eyebrow as he shifted his feet from the desk. “That’s going to cause a few problems.”

“A Commander Lowell requested use of this office.” The aide wasn’t giving up.

“And you are bothering him.”


“The ship that just docked, escort the pilot to this office. His name is Trevyn Clark.”

The aide shifted his feet, uncertain.

Lowell tapped his com, impatient with the man. “Paltronis, please escort Major Trevyn Clark to the office. He just arrived on the station. And please remove the man who doesn’t believe me when I tell him I’m the Commander who requested use of the office.”

“If you wore your rank pins, this wouldn’t happen, sir.” The woman on the com sounded amused.

“Worse would happen.” Lowell fixed the aide with a steady gaze that had unnerved fleet admirals.

“I’ll have Major Clark in the office in a few moments, sir.” Paltronis signed off.

The aide dripped nervous sweat. “Sorry, sir. It’s easy to mistake you in that uniform. Station Commander Morgan sent me to assist you with whatever you need, sir.”

Lowell turned his attention back to the handcomp. “Then fetch me a sandwich. And something to drink.”

Poisoned Pawn, The Fall of the Altairan Empire Book 3
Release date - April 18

Publisher site - scroll to the bottom for information on buying the books

Thursday, March 14, 2013

Thursday Recipe - Caramel Coconut Bars

How many of you love lemon bars? I adore them, but they're a pain to make and I can't eat them anymore because of my weird diet. Did you know that older cookbooks have lots of variations on this kind of cookie? Modern cookbooks have just lemon bars, if you're lucky enough to have a cookbook that contains recipes, not just instructions on how to use boxed mixes.

This version is based on one from an old Betty Crocker cookbook. The copyright pages are missing, along with the covers and index, but I think it's from the early 60s. These come out chewy and rich.

Caramel Coconut Bars

1/3 c. butter
1/2 c. brown sugar
1 c. flour

Blend and press into a 9x13 baking pan. Bake at 350°F for 10 minutes.

2 eggs
3/4 c. brown sugar
1 t. vanilla
2 T. flour
1 t. baking powder
1/2 t. salt
1 c. shredded coconut
1 c. chopped nuts (optional)

While crust is baking, beat eggs until frothy. Add sugar, vanilla, flour, baking powder, and salt. Beat well. Stir in coconut and nuts. Pour over hot crust. Bake 25 minutes. Let cool for 15 minutes or so before cutting.

Monday, March 11, 2013

Adventures with Harvey #2

Imagine this with 1-10 inches of snow on it.
(Blogger is being wacko with links. Go here for info on Topaz Mountain - )

"The kids have a week off school for spring break," I said. "What shall we do? Where shall we take Harvey? I've always wanted to see Death Valley."

"Sounds like fun," Hubby answered. "But I can't get that week off. It's crisis time at work."

We stared at the map and the snow outside.

"We could go somewhere closer this weekend. Leave Friday as soon as I get home, come back late Saturday."


"Topaz Mountain. It never has snow. And the high is supposed to be 50°F on Saturday. It will be warmer out in the desert."

"We could do that. Hey, kids, any of you have plans for Friday or Saturday?"

We packed Harvey, found food, loaded dogs and kids, and started off late Friday. I was a hesitant. I'd been fighting a migraine for two days and had just barely gotten my head on straight again. We left as the sun set. The drive was uneventful, until we got close to Topaz Mountain. White patches appeared along the sides of the road. The temperature dropped. It was so dark, we couldn't see much. We reached the turnoff for the rockhounding area. Six inches of snow covered the dirt road. Another truck and trailer sat about 25 yards along.

"Let's go a bit further," I suggested. "You wanted to look for rocks on the west side anyway."

We drove farther, in the pitch darkness. The stars were brilliant overhead. We found another dirt access road, this one not covered in snow, and pulled off the highway. We settled in, getting the kids settled in the beds. Silliness happened, because it usually does. The dogs were in heaven, running up and down the road, peeing on all the bushes and snowbanks. The stars glittered, brighter and more numerous than I've seen in years. The Milky Way streamed across the sky. That alone made the trip worth it.

"I have to go to the bathroom," one child announced.

I pointed out the door. "There's a knee-high bush not far that way."

He peered out the door, then shivered. "I'll hold it."

Harvey has a bathroom, but we haven't got the water working yet. The system is still full of antifreeze.

"Why is the heater blowing cold air?" another child asked.

Hubby checked the propane and the furnace. "We're out of propane. Everybody bundle up." We pulled out extra sleeping bags and blankets.

Morning dawned. We ate a cold breakfast before heading back to the main road. The minerals we were interested in were on the west slopes. We drove until the pavement ended. The dirt road that continued looked a little scary. Snowdrifts covered it in patches.

"Harvey can do it," Hubby said. Famous last words.

We ended up stuck in a snowdrift up to the hubcaps. But with a bit of digging and some creative maneuvering, we managed to get Harvey free, only to get stuck ten feet up the road. More digging of snow followed. Hubby and the two teenagers pushed while I gunned the engine. Harvey plowed free. I kept going up the hill and around the bend. The look on Hubby's face was priceless as I drove out of sight through the snow.

I stopped where the road flattened and the snow was less than an inch deep. By then, it was starting to warm up. Melting snow plus dirt road equals mud, which is much worse to be stuck in.

"We're going to drive until we get to pavement. Then we'll look for rocks." I insisted. Hubby agreed when I pointed out the risk of getting really stuck in mud. Snow was nothing compared to mud.

We found a few garnets and some really funky purple rock that I still haven't identified. It was a fun trip for lasting less than 24 hours. Now to get the roof vent repaired...

Thursday, March 7, 2013

Thursday Recipe - Tuna Toasties

These are one of my favorite types of food - fast, cheap, and easy. When you have one of those days and need dinner on the table now, this is a great one to serve. Add a green salad and some sliced fruit, and you're good to go.

Tuna Toasties

6 rolls
3 cans tuna fish in water
1/3 c. mayonnaise
1/4 c. chopped dill pickles
1/2 c. shredded cheese

Split rolls and place on a baking sheet. Open the tuna cans and drain. (If you're me, feed the water to the cats and dogs in the house because otherwise they'll make your life miserable with begging. They're tuna monsters.) Mix tuna, mayonnaise, pickles, and cheese. Spread on the rolls. Broil for 1-4 minutes, until the edges are crispy and the tuna mixture is a little bubbly. (Don't be like me and pull them out when smoke starts pouring from the oven. I finally have an oven that broils like it's supposed to. Burnt offerings are a regular menu offering lately.)

Serve hot.

Monday, March 4, 2013


Go here to find more lovely pictures.
I don't know what the weather is like where you live, but the winter here has been long and cold. I'm ready for spring. It's still cold outside, but I'm seeing signs that spring isn't too far off. The tree buds are swelling. Birds are singing. And I found a daffodil growing. It's only a couple inches high, but it already has a bud forming. I love daffodils. They make me happy.  I need to plant more.

Have you heard of the daffodil principle? One little change, one little step, day by day the changes add up. I think of that while I'm crocheting. One stitch at a time, I can create a large blanket to snuggle. Each stitch seems so small, but they add up. One word at a time, I can write a novel. One smile at a time, I can make a better world.

One spring daffodil at a time, I can make a difference. What about you?