Category Archives: Real Life

Baking in the Fall Flavors: with a bonus pumpkin bread recipe

Confession time: I’m not a baker. I don’t do cookies, cakes or pies as a general rule–not because I don’t know how–but because we don’t eat them. In fact, my mom is an amazing cook who taught me well, but her lessons can’t undo the following equation.

Desserts + my fam = uneaten waste.

Except in the fall. I could eat pumpkin anything until I passed out. I make a mean pumpkin muffin with delicious cream cheese filling. I have been in charge of baking the family pumpkin pies at Thanksgiving from the wee age of about 10–homemade crust included. My kindergarten teacher first hooked me on pumpkin cookies with raisins decades ago…her recipe is heavenly and has been passed on numerous times over the years. More recently, we’ve adopted a pumpkin cheesecake recipe, and for early morning appetites there’s pumpkin bread. I even think that eating baked squash for dinner is sinfully divine and should be classified as a treat.

Beyond that, I make apple crisp whenever someone passes along extra apples.

That’s it. Maybe it’s something about the fall and harvesting fresh produce that makes me love pumpkin so much, or maybe it’s my body naturally wanting to fatten up for the winter. Personally, I don’t care about the reason behind it, because nothing in the world is as delicious as the scent and flavor of fall baking.

And so I give you a touch of my childhood via my mom’s pumpkin bread which was handed down from her mom. Where the original recipe came from, I can only guess, so cannot attribute it properly if such attribution exists.

1. Place raisins in a large mixing bowl, cover with hot water and set aside to cool.

  • 1 1/4 cup chopped raisins
  • 1 cup hot water

2. Sift together the following ingredients and set aside.

  • 3 3/4 cup flour
  • 3 1/4 cup sugar
  • 1 3/4 tsp cinnamon
  • 3/4 tsp nutmeg
  • 2 1/4 tsp baking soda
  • 1 3/4 tsp salt

Mix together the following ingredients with the raisin mixture.

  • 5 eggs, beaten
  • 1 1/4 cup oil (I personally use olive oil)
  • 2 cups pumpkin
  • 1 1/4 cup chopped nuts

Add dry ingredients and mix well. Pour batter into 3 greased loaf pans and bake at 350 degrees 1 hour (until done). Cool in pans for 10 minutes before transferring to a rack to cool completely.

As an added bonus, here’s my mom’s personal notes: Flavor improves after a couple of days. Also, loaves will keep for several weeks when stored in an airtight container in the fridge.

What are your favorite fall flavors, and why?

Curious minds want to know.

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I’m Not A Total Idiot: I Promise

I’m not a total idiot. At least not all the time.

Case in Point 1: I am a fairly decent mom and dogmom. After all, I have graduated two children and haven’t eaten my last two yet. (That was a joke, by the way.) I’ve also house broken more kids and dogs than I care to count. But…I can be a little too trusting at times. Take our Tiny Dog for an example. I was checking out new blog widgets and snacking on peas. Tiny Dog politely asked for one. I shared. She jumped off the chair, hopped back up and asked for another. And another. And another. It wasn’t until Youngest Son saw the conglomeration of nibbled-on peas in the middle of the floor that I realized I’d been duped. Tiny Dog was stockpiling her veggies.

I wasn’t being a total idiot. I was simply being more nurturing than was necessary. Unless, you don’t consider letting Youngest eat a partially masticated pea pod nurturing. Then I was just being stupid.

Case in Point 2: I have pretty good success with technology–or at least the basics of it–for someone who was born and raised in the dark ages. However, sometimes I have “aha” moments that are downright embarrassing. For instance, I didn’t know I could connect to another blog and have a snippet of a post show up on my sidebar. I’d seen other bloggers have these fancy little doodads, but could never figure out how to get my own. Of course, I’m claiming this is a new feature on this particular blog template since I revamped it a handful of years ago, which is why I didn’t notice it before.

But now that I’ve found it, I want to revamp my whole blog yet again. I mean, how many more cool things have I missed in my technological stupor? Seriously, check the sidebar for a glimpse of my kid blog…without actually having to go to my kid blog. Sweet, right? And it was actually pretty simple, too. I just didn’t know it.

Case in Point 3: Even though I don’t always know my way around technology, I’m a living map of sorts in the real world. I know road signs and street names instead of landmarks. I can tell north from south without a compass. But until two days ago, I had no idea that interstates were named in the most simplistic of all manners–a thought that had never occurred to me. Basically, Interstate numbering starts on the west coast and heads east. Likewise, the smallest numbered Interstates belong to the south and grow larger as you head north. I would go into detail, but my brain can’t hold all the nuances that Wikipedia can. If you are truly interested, click here for more details. I did, and got lost in the history of Freeways for so long I needed a map to find my way back to reality.

All this is to say that no matter how good we are at something, we can be incredibly dense at times. The reverse is true, as well.

In other words, we’re human. And that’s not a bad thing: I promise.

In A Handful Of Dust Book Giveaway and our technoligical plight

In the wake of Apple’s new watch unveiling, I got sucked into a world wide web of articles on technology. Eventually, my browsing led me to a story about autonomous driving and how easy it would be to hack the systems of these newest toys-in-the-making

Is anyone else troubled by the abundance of technology in our lives? Does anyone else pine for the pioneer days when you lived by your own doing and died by your own poor choices and laziness? Does anyone besides me think that having a lazy human behind the wheel of a vehicle is a bad idea?

I mean, seriously, one article boasted how the automatic system would hand over the controls to the driver if the car got into trouble it couldn’t handle alone, such as slamming on its brakes to avoid hitting a car in front of it. I don’t know about you, but braking seems like a pretty fundament part of driving. Needless to say, I see a huge flaw in this:

  • The driver relinquished control for a reason: he doesn’t want to pay attention to the mundane task of driving.
  • By applying logic, this means he is no longer an attentive driver of the vehicle, but rather a passive passenger sitting in front of the steering wheel.
  • Inattention requires time before reaction: said driver must be alerted to a problem via the car, he must then assess why the distress signal has been sent, then he must determine what needs to be done to avoid the peril of smashing into the car that just swerved into his lane.
  • By my calculation, way too much time has elapsed to allow the now-panicked driver to avoid the crash when Rosie the Robot could have simply stomped on the brakes solo.
  • Ie: autonomous cars seem MORE dangerous.
  • When you add up the time and financial costs of the wreck for rear-ending another car, Mr. Lazy Driver has wasted vast resources when he could have simply set his cruise and crooned to the radio–with hands on wheel, eyes on road and foot poised near the brake–during his morning commute.

Suddenly, autonomous driving doesn’t sound so convenient after all. Well, it never did… News flash: I like being in control of my own life. I don’t want 1984 to come to fruition. I like independent thinking and acting. I like making decisions and living with the consequences.

I don’t want to reside in a dystopian world unless it is one I’m reading about. Big Brother is for fiction. Or, at least, it used to be.

Throw in those hackers I was talking about, and I see chaos to the max. Pray tell, where do I sign up?

Not with Apple. I am not ready for personal technology that is controlled by private companies, can be shared with the government and stolen by hackers. I’ll keep my pulse to myself and get in my own car accidents, thank you.

I will also continue to read survival novels by author Mindy McGinnis, where nature is a force to be reckoned with, technology is limited. and human interactions are tenuous at best. In a Handful of Dust is due to hit  bookshelves on September 23, 2014. It’s the companion novel to her debut novel, Not a Drop to Drink.

Follow me to Mindy’s blog to save on your e-copy of Drink (a steal at $1.99) and to enter a chance to win one of five free copies of Dust!

What kinds of technology can’t you live with, and what can’t you live without? How do you feel about technology driven novels?

Curious minds want to know.

When Life Gives You Lemons, It’s Okay To Cry

Moving Dear Daughter into college last week was difficult at best. Watching parents hug their kids goodbye and climb into their vehicles with tears in their eyes was too common to count. It was the rare student who did a fist pump as his family rounded the corner and drove away. Mostly, it was a day filled with hastily wiped cheeks, glassy eyes and runny noses. Neither DD nor I were immune to the blues. Heck, we’d had coffee together every morning and shared lunch nearly every afternoon for her last two years of high school.

I know the saying, “When life gives you lemons, make lemonade,” but I firmly believe it’s okay to cry about those lemons first. Denying our emotions is just as bad as, if not worse than, ignoring everything that happens after someone hands you a bushel of lemons. Validating our pain and fear and frustration is helpful. It allows us to move on. It’s only when we suppress those feelings that we end up with a sour life in the long run.

Bad things happen. Sad things happen. That’s okay. In fact, those experiences are what give us a refreshing perspective on the rest of our lives. They allow us to appreciate the lemonade.

Dear writer friends, please remember this post when you pen the life journey of your MCs. Know that we must put them through a little pain and discomfort. Let them hurt. Let them cry. Then give them the strength to carry on and overcome.

Same to you, parents. We can’t protect our children from everything, and we shouldn’t even try. They must learn to live despite falling down.

What life lemons have been sent your way? How do you validate someone’s feelings when you would rather tell them to suck it up?

Curious minds want to know.

Survival of the Fittest: what’s your writing adaptability

This morning Dear Hubby packed for yet another work trip. After several years of packing and unpacking and forgetting and remembering certain items, you’d think he’d have it down pat. But alas, he says to me just before heading out, “I almost forgot my running shoes again.”

DH is a workout fanatic. He likes to work out hard, pushing himself to the next level and then the next. Because of this, Shawn T is a big name around our house. We have a love/hate relationship with him. I hate him, and DH loves him. Insane, yes, I know. But despite DH’s go-get-em attitude, he has one teeny, tiny flaw. He has plantar fasciitis so bad he can barely walk from the bedroom to the bathroom without his inserts in. Shoe wearing is a must nearly every minute of the day.

Me, however, I have perfect arches. I’ve tackled Shawn T in my bare feet. I stairmaster shoeless and have even been known to attempt to run on the treadmill sans footwear.

Needless to say, these differences led to a conversation about how DH would have never survived in ancient times. We giggled over the outcome of what this would have looked like back in the day. In particular, because we always joke that if a bear was chasing us, DH would only have to outrun me to save himself–an easy endeavor on any given day, as I don’t run. Period. That said, I wouldn’t need to run fast or far if we were in a barefoot race, because my buff hubby and his plantar fasciitis would take the finish line last every time.

This, ironically, is a conversation I’ve had with my big sister in times past. She’s legally blind and can’t even see herself in the mirror to put her contacts in, while I have 20/20 vision. “If we lived in the wild,” she’s been known to say, “our parents would have eaten me so they’d have more energy to save you.”

Guess what, writers? There’s survival of the fittest in the literary world, too. As writers, we all have fatal flaws that can kill us off before we ever get started. Triumphing in the publishing wilderness takes savvy, perseverance, talent, time, patience, motivation, huge pots of coffee, refusal to succumb to a little pain and learning to flourish despite it. We must be flexible and able to adapt to the changing market, to our own down falls and to the obstacles that get put in our way.

Survival of the fittest is a brutal process that we face each day in writing and in life.

But, as my Dear Hubby so eloquently says, “I only need to outrun you.”

In reality, sometimes the only person we need to outrun is ourselves.

Do you have what it takes to survive? What are your fatal flaws and how have you overcome them?

Curious minds want to know.

Viral Ice Buckets

So, I’ve been doing a lot of thinking since this whole #IceBucketChallenge got started and it makes me proud. Proud that so many people in such a seemingly calloused world stand up and make a difference. Sure, it’s a fun way to donate and raise awareness…I mean, who doesn’t want to shock their systems with a cold shower to the noggin?…but you still have to do it.

And do it, we have.

To the tune of $88.5 million in the days between July 29 and August 26. (Figures found on the ALS site this morning)

But that’s not the best thing. One point nine million new donors have emerged during this time and millions more have watched the countless videos circulating in the cybersphere.

Awareness goes a long way in the daily living of ALS patients. While many of those currently diagnosed with ALS may not see the benefit of these generous donations, the support that has been shown to the ALS community cannot be measured. Nor can the outpouring of funds be dismissed for the much-needed research to alleviate the symptoms of ALS and help find a cure in the future. 

Wouldn’t it be lovely if all the good ideas and compassion we have bottled up inside could go viral every day? We could inundate the world with peace and love and hope in a mere 30 days. (I hear a Miss America speech in here somewhere : ) 

But of course, there are the naysayers. Every cause has one (yes, you dolled-up, plastic surgeried actress with the fake implants and new lips, I’m talking to you). And the trolls…you know, the people who deliberately antagonize and create heartache in the midst of all things good. For every uplifting or heartbreaking story, a thread or a post exists to rip it apart. Yet despite the ratio of good to bad, these cruel comments have more power than all the good vibes floating around. We just have to see past the trash talk and focus on the generosity of spirit that we have within us. We have to peek at the reality behind the bite and understand that some people just like to rain on others’ parades. And when we can do this, we can accomplish anything.

So, thanks to those who have donated. Thanks to those who have soaked themselves in freezing water for a cause they didn’t know existed. Thanks to all you wonderful people who are smothering the voices of the naysayers with your good deeds and generous hearts.

Go viral. One bucket at a time!

What is your cause? If you could pick anything at all to go viral what would it be and why?

Curious minds want to know.

P.S. Mine would be literacy.

 

Does Writing From Home Affect Your Worth?

The other day, a fellow writer lamented that she’d been brushed aside at a social gathering simply because she was an author, not an employee. Not surprisingly, this sentiment is echoed by many Write at Home Moms.

WrAH Moms are given the hand wave, the shoulder shrug and the scrunched-in-disgust face by women who nine to five it off the homestead. They acutely feel the disdain of the working. As if being there for their kids while writing, editing and marketing a novel equates sitting on the couch watching Family Ties reruns while downing copious amounts of soda. As if their contribution to their families and to society is somehow inferior–less than–the work these other women do.

I suppose it comes from the idea that respect is tied to a paycheck, and that being home is as old-fashioned as June Cleaver’s hair-do.

“You just stay at home,” says the working mother of two with a cleaning lady, a nanny and her summers off.

Yep. Just.

Compounding this feeling of failure is the fickleness and speed (or lack thereof) of the publishing industry. Not every great manuscript gets published. In fact, many never find homes as publishers navigate the technology rush that has changed the face of book marketing. And even when novels earn a contract, it can take up to three years before they hit the bookshelves–cyber or otherwise. To the paycheck mentality who doesn’t understand the nuances of the literary world, this is a whole lot of wasted time and a lot of reruns.

So this post goes to my fellow WaH Moms. I believe in you. I understand what it’s like to be looked down upon for pursuing your passion. I get how hard it is to carve out time to write while balancing the volunteer activities you do, the families you raise, the business mind you must have to market yourself, the part time jobs you keep and the disdain you endure for doing most of it quietly behind the closed doors of your home–all for paychecks that might take years in the making.

Your time is worth something. Your words do matter. You are a viable thread in the tapestry of the world. Without you, picture books could not be shared between parent and child, schools would have no material with which to teach, vacationers would have no beach reads, scholars would have no way to enhance their learning and countless editors, marketers, publishers, illustrators, designers, carpenters, architects, store clerks, librarians, CEOs, janitors, teachers, etc, etc, etc, would be without jobs.

The written word has power. It can be responsible for cultural movements. It graces humanity with possibilities. It is vital to our society’s success. And you are a part of that–sitting on your couch, agonizing over word choices, disseminating fact from fiction, sharing your thoughts in only the way you can.

To hell with the naysayers and dust bunnies. Take pride in your work–and even more so, the process. Writing is some of the hardest work I have ever done.

If you have encountered similar situations, how do you handle them?

Dear Readers and Writers, Got Stories? Want Free Books?

Announcing three Literary Events and what they mean to you.

  1. October 31: Call for Submissions. Short story submissions for the Winter’s Regret anthology must be received by this date. For all you aspiring writers out there, share your story of regret with Elephant’s Bookshelf Press and join other Seasons Series authors. Details can be found here: submission guidelines, while submissions can be sent to anthologies@elephantsbookshelfpress.com.
  2. November 1: Debut Novel Release and Prize Giveaway. This day marks the end of an Epic Ten Day Giveaway. Between now and then, A.T.O’Connor is giving away prizes left and right to celebrate the release of her debut novel, Whispering Minds. Prizes include six novels by fresh new writers, as well as other fun and delicious goodies. Check out her blog by the same name: Whispering Minds.
  3. November 1: The Official Start of NaNo. For those who thrive on crazy deadlines and nearly impossible tasks, NaNoWriMo is just around the corner. “What is NaNo?” you ask. National Novel Writing Month is that crazy thirty days where writers eschew all real life responsibilities and pen 50,000 coherent words. Yes, I will be NaNoing again this year, and you can join me. Hop over to NaNoWriMo and sign up now.

And that’s it. Three great things that happen in less than a week.

So, if you write, get your butt in gear. If you read, add to your bookshelves. And if you do neither, there’s no time like the present to start!

Hugs~

Mixed Massages: when what we say isn’t always heard

The view on the way down from Hanging Lake

Last week while visiting beautiful Colorado, I partook in a mixed-message massage that went something like this:

  • Masseuse: What are you looking for today?
  • Me: Well, I went hiking yesterday, so an overall massage would be great.
  • Him: Okay.

Only it apparently wasn’t okay.

I know because I’ve had massages before. Massages where my WHOLE body got a good rub down. Massages that actually targeted the muscles you specify. Massages that didn’t ignore the single largest muscle in your body, as well as the ever-important-to-mountain-climbing quads.

My masseuse, bless his heart, was either deaf or didn’t understand that my rear end was included in the I-went-hiking-whole-body-massage request. When it came time for working out the kinks in my gluteus maximus (aka, the largest muscle in the human body and one that is used extensively while hiking a mile and a half straight uphill to see an incredibly beautiful lake), he threw another blanket over my bum and poked at it like one might use a stick to prod a presumed-dead animal on the side of the road. When I rolled to my back, the only muscles not ignored were in my feet.

What I thought I said (a full body massage) and what he heard (only the parts you like most) were two completely different things.

Does this ever happen to you? Dear writers, how do you employ mixed messages to ramp up the tension between your characters? Dear readers, do mixed messages work in the books you peruse, or do you get tired of the main characters’ inability to communicate properly? 

As a married mother of four, I can attest that mixed messages occur on a regular basis. Thankfully, though, I’ve only had one mixed massage.

 

Diversity, Prejudice and Acceptance: how do you roll?

In my youngest and most formative years, I grew up a minority. I also lived in a string of apartments, a trailer house and a tiny home that was broken into despite the three German Shepherds guarding it and the ten foot high fence surrounding it. I did not have the typical white-washed childhood that many of my current community members have.

I grew up in a world of socio-economic, religious and cultural diversity. At one point, I was one of two white kids in my class. I played with anyone who was nice and steered clear of the meanies. Not because of their skin color or ethnic background, but because of their behavior.

Every day, I am thankful for my real-world education in Human Acceptance 101. On the flip side, I am saddened that my children will not experience the same abundant diversity that I did.

My predominantly conservative little town was recently made famous for two reasons: having a couple apply for the first same-sex marriage license in the state and for having a very public and adverse reaction to this application. While different opinions are great, the way we go about expressing them can be extremely destructive.

I was taught to respect others. I was taught to accept others. I was taught to express my views with open-mindedness and to always remember that everyone is entitled to his/her opinion. I was never taught to hate or to partake in fear-mongering. Prejudice was a dirty word in my home.

Funny, since my parents did this despite their lack of religious conviction. Of the six members of my childhood family, only two of us attend church and openly express our faith. Only three are baptized and confirmed. Two simply don’t believe in God. When I listen to the religious hatred that people use to justify their persecution of gays and lesbians, I can understand why my siblings don’t want to be associated with a church body that uses God’s love to hurt not heal.

This saddens me, though it does not rock my spirituality. You see, I have a strong faith. My love for God was hard-worn. I didn’t grow up in a church, but rather was drawn to it because of the promise God made: Whoever believes in Him shall not perish but have everlasting life.

Wow, WHOEVER believes. That’s powerful. That’s amazing. It was utterly unimaginable that He would love a child like me so much He would look past my sins and open His arms to my eternal redemption. But He does. He even promised to love everyone without providing a clause to exclude some believers and not others. In case you’re unfamiliar with His promise, look it up. John 3:16.

My faith in God is not dampened by His judgment–that is between me and Him. My faith in others, however, suffers greatly when the very sinners that God promised to save use His words to condemn those different from them. Personally, I feel this detracts from the message Christians wish to spread to the world. It turns people away from a faith we want them to embrace.

The only way that using God’s words against anyone for any reason is acceptable is if the individual using such words is sinless. I am not. I have broken many a commandment in my day. Sure I’ve never killed anyone, but I have gossiped. Same thing in God’s eyes. Neither have I robbed a bank, though I once took a small bowl from Perkins to provide water for my puppy. Thief either way.*

We are all sinners. We have all fallen short of God’s glory. We do so every day. Amen.

But that isn’t my only concern with this heated issue. I also get squirmy when people use the whole “breaking up traditional marriage” thing as a defense against allowing everyone in the world to openly love who they love. Why? Because there is no traditional family anymore.

None.

I work in the family law business. I provide custody evaluations. I help divorcing or separated parents figure out custody and parenting time arrangements. My job would be unnecessary if the traditional family wasn’t in jeopardy. And trust me, the reasons behind the divorces, separations and one night stands have nothing to do with whether a gay couple got married or not. Every single case I’ve worked in the past five years has been composed of two heterosexuals.

These families are broken by abuse, adultery, chemical dependency, crime and poverty. Currently, an estimated 65% of children live in mixed families. That is terrifying and in much greater need of attention than whether or not two women can lovingly live together.

One night stands between homosexuals do not result in unwanted pregnancies. In fact, babies adopted into homosexual families are hard-won. They are wanted and planned for, and often fought for despite extreme opposition. This isn’t the case for all babies. Cohabitation and casual relationships are becoming normalized by society to the point where over 40% of all babies are born to unmarried women, a number expected to skyrocket by 2016. (http://www.cdc.gov/nchs/fastats/unmarry.htm)

This, more than gay marriage, threatens the integrity of the traditional family, as does the rate of adverse childhood experiences. According to a 2009 study by the CDC, 59.4% of adults questioned reported having at least one adverse childhood experience including divorce, abuse (physical, sexual and/or verbal) and mental illness in the home. That’s a lot of suffering that has nothing to do with homosexuality.

I realize that some people reading this will agree with me and others will not. That’s okay. I accept and encourage different world views. After all, every one of us comes to a situation with vastly different life experiences and belief systems. Likewise, I am not asking anyone to change their opinion on this issue. Rather, I simply ask that everyone (those in favor of and those opposed to any hot-button topic) examines how they deal with ideas that challenge their beliefs.

Know that even if you are vehemently against same-sex marriage or enthusiastically for it, I don’t judge you personally. I only judge your behavior. There is room in this world to respect and accept others who differ from us in myriad of ways.

I was lucky to grow up among diversity. I love that we are all different. I hate television and haven’t turned one on in years. My Dear Hubby uses it to relax. He golfs: I don’t. My eldest loves spaghetti: my youngest does not. One neighbor is a vet tech while another is a retired PE teacher. My pastor is single, I’m married and some of my best friends have been divorced. My brother dislikes kids even as I would have a hundred of my own.

If we were all the same, life would be very boring and not worth living. If we continue to hate, there will never be peace–not within ourselves, our homes or our communities.

How do you deal with opposition in your life? Do you use reason or emotion to debate? How do you separate your beliefs and fears from the facts?

Curious minds want to know.

*The statute of limitations is long up on this infraction, though the memory of my theft still haunts me.

**I welcome any and all respectful comments. Those who attack will be deleted without apology.