Wednesday, October 31, 2012

A Family Fall Field Trip

We went to Windy Hill Orchard on Monday. The kids had off school so I decided it was a good idea for us to do something "fallish." When we homeschooled, we took the older kids to Windy Hill every year and I miss giving those kinds of experiences to our kids who go to school. So Curt took a day off work and we ventured off on a family field trip. My 12 year old took a friend because when you're 12 everything is more enjoyable with a friend along.
Here's the whole gang good-naturedly posing for a photo. It was cold!
This is the famous "How Tall This Fall" sign that I used to take my kids' pictures by every year. Always one for tradition, I insisted each kid pose by it.
This child makes me laugh.
I love this smile.
The adults even got into it.
We saw (and petted) pigs. There was an option that you could feed them a bottle for $5. We opted not to but my 12yo really wanted to. We chose to spend our money on food for us, not the pigs.
We also saw a cider press demonstration. And learned about the benefits of eating apples and also the history of Johnny Appleseed. This guy has been doing this presentation for at least 15 years. I was ridiculously happy to see him. I like it when things don't change.
Then he took us on a hayride. He speaks totally in rhyme and always seems happy.
After we were done with our tour, we got to sample apple cider donuts (this was why Curt agreed to come, I suspect), drink apple cider, fill a bag with apples and hit the farm stand, where we bought more apples, fried apple pies and cinnamon apple cider donuts to take home. Then we felt like this fellow. But that didn't keep us from stopping for lunch!

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Monday, October 29, 2012

I Am...

Going on a little family field trip today as the kids have off school. We're spending the day touring Windy Hill Orchards, coming home with pumpkins to carve, and having dinner out. Curt has even taken the day off!

Drinking more water these days ever since I read this in the most recent issue of Writer's Digest: "The brain operates on water, and becomes inefficient when it runs low. The optimal intake depends on your size, so instead of following the oft-suggested guidelines of 6-8 glasses per day, divide your body weight in half, and drink that many ounces daily." (p.27, Nov/Dec issue)

Preparing for NaNoWriMo. See my Twitter feed in the sidebar to find a great article I tweeted about last week called "How To Write A Novel In A Month." I liked the suggestions to write down a few notes the night before about what you plan to write the next day and also having a little NaNo nightcap of getting down just 200 more words before turning in for bed. I am going to try both!

Working hard on the story I plan to write next and on She Reads. Last week I made the tough decision to leave Southern Belle View. I look foward to seeing who they replace me with. I know whoever she is will be wonderful. I loved being with them but with Curt's work schedule and my family needs, there's only so much other stuff I can do. Sometimes living your priorities means taking things off your plate. Easy to say, hard to do.

Enjoying the colors of fall as I run down my neighborhood streets. Some days the wind blows just hard enough that it looks like a leaf storm as they fall from the trees as I go by. I will miss the leaves when they are gone.

Eating what I call "Mediterranean style." Lots of fresh salsa and kalamata olives and roasted meat and olive oil and fruit. Not sure any of it's especially good for the ole diet but it sure tastes good. I'm still managing to avoid bread and sweets, so that's good.

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Friday, October 26, 2012

Brown Sugar Garlic Chicken

(photo courtesy of

I made this easy four ingredient Brown Sugar Garlic Chicken for dinner last weekend and it was a big hit. The whole family loved it. I assmbled it early in the day and just refrigerated it until it was time to pop it in the oven. Pretty simple with delicious results. I served it with baked sweet potatoes (with a dish of cinnamon sugar handy to liberally douse) and green beans. The flavors all complemented each other nicely. A perfect fall meal followed by a dessert of carrot cake cupcakes with cream cheese frosting, courtesy of the very sweet ladies who hosted me at the Wingate University Friends of the Library event. I love it when a meal comes together!

What's for dinner at your house?
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Wednesday, October 24, 2012

Write Your Joy

On Monday I mentioned the book No Plot? No Problem. Today I'd like to share this quote from it:

As you plan your book this week, remember, above all else, that your novel is not a self-improvement campaign. Your novel is a spastic, jubilant hoe-down set to your favorite music, a thirty-day visit to a candy store where everything is free and nothing is fattening. When thinking about possible inclusions for your novel, always grab the guilty pleasures over the bran flakes. Write your joy, and good things will follow.

I can honestly say I did this with my first novel, The Mailbox. That novel didn't feel like work. It felt like a very fun hobby-- an activity I rewarded myself with when all my "have-to's" were out of the way. I wrote my joy... and I think it comes through in the story. While my writing might not be my best (I was still new at the novel-writing thing), it was made up for in the passion that is reflected in those pages. I had fun, and it showed.

I want to do that again with this new novel. Recapture the joy. Write for the fun of it. Work in music I love and themes I'm passionate about. Create characters who I want to spend time with. Create scenes I get swept up in. If you're writing-- or want to write-- a novel, this is the essence of creating a readable story. Not a rigid attention to rules, a checklist of what "should be" in a novel. Just story, told by someone who has a passion for it like no other. If you're that person then go for it! Write your joy.
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Monday, October 22, 2012

I Am...

Glad that October is almost over. From the beginning I knew it was going to be a packed month and, as we enter the last full week, I'm relieved that the end is in sight. November, dear November, you look so good with all your white space.

Excited about the growth that is going on over at She Reads. If you are a book lover and haven't spent time over there what are you waiting for? We offer guest posts from wonderful authors, reviews of not-to-be-missed books, and monthly selections you can read along with other women. It's a veritable festival of story!

Wondering when my seven year old will stop crying over small things. She has apparently never heard of the concept "Don't sweat the small stuff."

Thinking about committing to NaNoWriMo. I actually have a book I want to write so this is good timing. But do I dare attempt to do it in a month? And what happens if my edits come back during November? And remember the whole "November white space" thing I said earlier? Yeah...

Happy that all my meals for this week are planned and purchased. It's the little things.

Looking forward to a quick trip at the end of the week to the NC coast. I'll be participating in Litchfield Books' Moveable Feast on Friday and spending some time at my uncle's beach house. Am hoping to get in a long walk on the beach, time with a good friend, and maybe some writing.

Reading No Plot? No Problem! by Chris Baty, who invented NaNoWriMo. Am reading it in tentative preparation for NaNoWriMo, all while not admitting to myself that I'm actually going to do this.

Planning a trip to Windy Hill Apple Orchard next Monday when my kids have off school. My three youngest will love it. Sigh. I do love fall. I just wish winter didn't come with it.

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Friday, October 19, 2012

Easy Toffee Pecan Bars

I made these the other night for my family and they were a huge hit, so I thought I'd share the recipe. Rich and gooey and delicious and (more importantly) easy, they are a perfect surprise dessert for a fall evening.
First, mix the three ingredients above. (Melt a stick of the salted butter in your microwave.) Do not substitute margarine for this recipe. I don't know why but it said not to so I took their word for it.

Your mixture will look like this when you're done.

Then press that mixture evenly into a greased 9X13 pan.

Now mix these ingredients (specific measurements are in recipe below)

Your mixture will look like this when you're done.

Spread the mixture on top of the first layer you made and put it in the oven.

The bars look like this when they're done.

And your kids will look like this when they devour the yummy goodness.
For bottom layer:
1 box yellow cake mix
1 stick salted butter, melted
1 egg
Mix all together and press into greased 9X13 pan.
For top layer:
1 bag Heath bar bits
2 cups chopped pecans
1 egg
1 can sweetened condensed milk
1 Tbsp vanilla
Mix all together and pour over bottom layer. Bake at 350 for 25 minutes. Center will not look done but cooking will continue during cooling process.

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Wednesday, October 17, 2012

Prayer Triggers

I first heard of this concept in a magazine article. The author said she prayed for her brother every day when she was brushing her teeth. This made sense to me-- using everyday things in life to remind me to pray for those I care about. I need help remembering to do stuff, so I started incorporating these prayer triggers right away.

One of the funnier ones was a shared love of Howard Jones with my friend Mary. I made a promise to her that I would pray for her whenever I heard a HoJo song. (With my love of 80's music, this is more often than you might think.) Yesterday one came on the radio and, as I listened to the words of "Things Can Only Get Better" I was struck by how poignant this particular prayer trigger was. Mary's daughter has been in the hospital with something going on that is eluding the doctors. Mary has just returned from Haiti and was exhausted before her daughter got sick. And Mary has a new book debuting. Yeah, things need to only get better for my friend.

So I prayed for Mary-- thanks to HoJo, who will never know that he reminds me to pray for a long-distance friend via his 80's pop songs. I am glad to have reminders to pray for others woven into my daily life. Maybe you'd like to incorporate some silly and serious reminders in your own day-to-day activities, things that trigger a prayer in response, the best kind of reflex.

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Monday, October 15, 2012

I Am...

... thankful I made it through last week. I really enjoyed speaking and all the events went really well. I met some nice folks and felt like I actually helped some people. That's a wonderful feeling and an honor to be used in that way. But in spite of all that I am, and will remain, a homebody.

... thinking a lot about what my next book should be. I haven't been in this unknown place with my writing in quite awhile. At times it's unnerving but at times it's exciting.

... enjoying reading some YA titles. I've found I get on a YA kick about once a year. I'll read several titles in a row really fast. YA is fun in that the writing seems leaner and the books read faster. I've been kind of bogged down in more serious adult titles so a new literary direction has been a nice departure. YA-- it's not just for kids anymore!

... happy that I don't have to cook for the next two days. We've got a lot of leftover chili from a big pot I made on Friday. And we've got beef burrito filling I made for dinner on Saturday but we never ate because my in-laws offered to take us out to dinner. (Ummm? Yes?) So dinner is covered for the next two nights. (Picture Mel Gibson screaming "Freedom!!!")

... looking forward to two literary events I have coming up this week. I am doing a signing at Park Road Books in Charlotte NC on Tuesday night with authors Emily Colin (The Memory Thief) and Erika Marks (The Mermaid Collector). On Friday night I'm speaking at a Friends of the Library tea at Wingate University.  If you're in the area, I'd love to see you at either or both!

... planning a low-key week other than the two events. I've got errands and writing and (always) laundry and dishes. The usual. But I do love the usual.
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Tuesday, October 09, 2012

This Week

Between last Friday and this coming Saturday I am speaking five times. I'm not sure how this happened except that when I said yes to each of these things it sounded like it was far away and I apparently was overestimating my own abilities. Nevertheless I am committed... or I should be committed, one of the two.

So I will be kind of quiet this week, using all my words to share with the writers and women who have invited me to do so. It is an honor, to be sure. But it's also not something I do all that much anymore. I've gotten quite used to hiding out in my house, writing and puttering around. My husband says I'm about three steps away from becoming a complete hermit. He's not altogether wrong. I've had this conversation with several of my writer friends, who concur that large amounts of time spent alone and isolated comes with the gig. And the more you do it, the more you want it. I've heard more than one writer comment that the solitude gene seems to come with the writing gene. If you didn't have it, you couldn't spend the time you need alone, with only your characters for company.

The thing about your characters is they stay where you put them and do what you tell them. (Mostly.) What's not to love about that? (Yes, I am continuing to work on my control issues...)

Tomorrow I'm posting over at Southern Belle View about my favorite vacation spot. I'll give you two guesses what place I chose. And the first one doesn't count!

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Friday, October 05, 2012

Applesauce Spice Cake With Vanilla Glaze (Or, The Cake That Caused Me To Cheat On My Diet)

(I intended to take a photo but by the time I got around to it, half of it was gone.)

I'm not sure if it was that this cake was so delicious or I just hadn't baked in awhile but this cake was a big hit at our house on Wednesday night when I served it. So I thought I'd share it with you. Maybe you'd like to make it for your family over the weekend. It is good for dessert or a snack or even breakfast if you're a bit lax on what qualifies as breakfast like I am. And if you happen to be on a diet and it causes you to cheat, you will receive no judgment from me.

Applesauce Spice Cake With Vanilla Glaze

2 cups all-purpose flour
1 tsp baking soda
1 tsp cinnamon
1(heaping) tsp pumpkin pie spice
1/4 tsp salt
1/2 cup salted butter at room temp
1 cup sugar
3 large eggs
1/2 tsp vanilla
1 cup applesauce
1/4 cup buttermilk

2 cups confectioners sugar
1/3 cup milk
1 tsp vanilla

Preheat oven to 375. Spray bundt pan (anyone else think of My Big Fat Greek Wedding every time you hear the word Bundt?) with Baker's Joy and set aside.

Sift together the flour, baking soda, cinnamon, pumpkin pie spice, and salt. Set aside.

In an electric mixer, beat butter until light, add sugar and beat until fluffy. Add the eggs, one at a time, beating to incorporate after each addition. Add the vanilla and the applesauce and beat until smooth. Mix in half of the dry ingredients. Just before they are blended, add the buttermilk. Then mix in the rest of the dry ingredients, until completely incorporated. Do not over mix.

Pour out the batter into your prepared bundt pan, Place in the middle rack of the 375 degree oven and bake for 25 to 30 minutes or until tests done. While the cake is cooling, mix the glaze ingredients together. When completely cooled, pour glaze over cake.

Feel free to stick a mum in the center of your bundt cake, seeing as it is fall.

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Wednesday, October 03, 2012

I'll Never...

The thought started with the opening to a U2 song on the radio one day. Transfixed by the sheer talent of the Edge, I thought to myself, "I'll never do that." This isn't pity talk. It's just the truth. I will never stand on a stage and open a song in front of thousands of rapt fans, my fingers moving across the strings with a kind of magic and wisdom. I'm not a skilled musician.

The other day in my Bible study, we were talking about memories of favorite dresses we've owned. One woman shared a memory of making her own dress in high school, including the covered buttons, the belt, everything. She shared how in awe of her own ability she was when she finished; that she would never forget that dress. And the thought occurred again: I'll never do that. I'm not a seamstress.

I started looking around, noting the many things I'll never do.

I'll never plant a flag on the top of one of the highest peaks in the world. I'm not a mountain climber.

I'll never do an endzone dance after scoring a touchdown for my team. I'm not a football player.

I'll never paint a picture that will one day hang in a museum and be analyzed by art critics. I'm not an artiste.

I'll never grace the big screen with my stellar performance. I'm not an actress.

I'll never create code for a software program that makes people's lives easier. I'm not a techie in any way, shape or form.

I'll never reach inside a living human being and make something broken whole again. I'm not a doctor.

You get the idea. There are a lot of things I'm not and never will be. I don't have the interest, the skill, the desire to be any of those things. But man I appreciate and respect those who are. The fact is none of those things were what I was born to do. To try to be or do any of those things would be a waste of what I was put on this earth to do:

I am a mother of six. I will run my household and sign those papers and drive that carpool and bandage those knees and give out hugs and listen for hours as these lives are formed and shaped and molded.

I am a writer. I will write novels and share my stories with readers. I will go to events and speak on panels and participate in the literary world as much as possible. I will form friendships with other writers who understand this passion for writing that I possess.

I am a website owner. I will run She Reads, using that online community of women who love to read as a place to introduce readers to writers and writers to readers.

I am a blogger. Though I haven't been as good lately, I will keep sharing life with you guys, here and also at Southern Belle View.

So why did I post this? Because somewhere there is someone who is looking at the "I'll Never's" of life instead of the "I Will's." This person isn't looking at what she can do-- what she was uniquely put on this earth to do. Instead she's looking at what other people are doing and wishing she could do that (whatever that may be). Here's what I can promise you: you were born to do something. The challenge is to find it and do it with all of your heart, to not let the "I'll Nevers" distract you from the "I Wills." So I wrote this for you, whoever you may be. There are things we were never meant to do or be. But there are also things we were absolutely meant to do-- and do them with a style and passion that is all our own.
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Monday, October 01, 2012

A New Plan

Last week I announced my "mom's on a (new,self-imposed) deadline so we have to streamline her household workload as much as possible" plan. The kids smirked at each other and took bets on how long said plan would last.

Oh, it's gonna last people.

So, here's my plan that 1) cuts down on my kitchen commitments and 2) saves us money. My husband likes the "saves us money" part. I like the "cut down on my work" part. That is what you call a win-win.

Monday is heretofore to be recognized as "Soup Night." I will make a different soup every Monday night and serve it with some sort of bread. I will make a lot of soup. (This will come into play later, as you will see.)

Tuesday I will make what my kids call a "Real Meal." The basic meat, starch, veggie combo.

Wednesday will be "leftover night." There will be a choice of either leftover soup or leftover dinner. Every man for himself. This is my effort to both be a good steward and simultaneously clean out the fridge. We've had too many leftovers go bad lately.

Thursday is now "GYO night." (For those of you who are new here, GYO stands for "Get Your Own.") This might mean the kids make burritos with cheese and taco sauce or a bowl of cereal or an omelet. Or they can eat leftovers if there are any still left. Whatever they can find. The point is, limited-to-no involvement for me.

Friday night is grill night. Because we live in the south we should have mild enough temps to stick with the grilling out plan into November. Grill night means Curt mans (literally) the grill and I throw together a salad or veggie of some sort and a starchy side. Again with the limited involvement for me.

I haven't covered Saturday or Sunday but methinks there will be a pizza delivery night slated very soon. And in the past Sunday nights in the fall have been breakfast for dinner, courtesy of dad.

The point is, we are still eating well, but with the leftover and GYO nights included, I'm saving at least $40 a week. Times that by 4 and that's a nice savings. Plus I'm not preparing five meals a week, which allows me more time to work on writing. I'm happy with this new plan. And I will stick with it. My kids will be so surprised.
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