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

Thursday, April 28, 2016

Thursday Recipe - Cheesy Rice Dinner

This was one of those "I have leftovers, what can I make?" meals. It turned out pretty tasty. Feel free to change up the leftovers however you want. It's a great one-pot meal.

Cheesy Rice Dinner

3 c. cooked rice (brown works well in this and is healthier)
2 c. cooked broccoli, chopped small (or use frozen mixed veggies, or leftover green beans or brussels sprouts or asparagus or whatever you've got)
1/4 c. bell pepper, chopped small
2 c. shredded cheese (use whatever you've got, we mixed about six varieties because I was cleaning out all those little chunks left in the fridge)
2 T. dried parsley or 1/4 c. fresh parsley, chopped small
1/2 t. garlic powder
1/2 t. ground black pepper
1 t. salt
2 c. milk
2 eggs

Toss everything together except the milk and eggs. Spread in a 9x13 baking dish. Beat milk and eggs together, then pour over the top of the rice mixture.

Bake at 350° for 45-55 minutes, until it is bubbly and browned on top. Sprinkle with more cheese if you want. Serve nice and hot.

Feeds 4-5 normal people, or two teenage males.

Monday, April 25, 2016

Celebration Time!

It was official in December, but BYU makes you wait until April to do the official monkey walk across the stage.

You may now call me Master of Science.


Thursday, April 21, 2016

Thursday Recipe - Italian Meatloaf

This is a variation on the basic meatloaf. Make it into meatballs to go with your spaghetti. Or just eat it with noodles on the side.

Italian Meatloaf

1 lb ground beef
2 c. oatmeal
2 eggs
2 cloves fresh garlic, minced
1/4 c. onion, finely chopped
1/4 c. sweet bell peppers, finely chopped
1/4 c. mushrooms, chopped up
2/3 c. spaghetti sauce
1 t. Italian seasoning

Mix everything together. Use disposable gloves if you've got them, it will help keep your hands from smelling like garlic.

Grease a 2-quart casserole dish. Mound the mixture into the casserole. Sprinkle the top with parmesan and extra herbs if you like. Bake uncovered at 350° for 55-65 minutes, until the mixture is no longer pink in the middle.

Serve with garlic bread, noodles, and green salad. Serves 6-8.

Monday, April 18, 2016

Fear of Failure

Failure. Mistake. Negative words that we try to avoid at all costs, right? I'd argue against that statement. Failure is necessary and not a negative at all. Mistakes are opportunities. We learn from mistakes and failures but our educational culture teaches us that we can't fail, that we should avoid failure. And if we do fail, it means we're defective or lazy or stupid. I'd argue that if we never fail, we're defective, lazy, or stupid. Or all three. Because if you never fail, it means you've never tried.

Okay, think of popular failure-into-success stories. J. K. Rowling submitted Harry Potter to hundreds of publishers before one of them accepted it. Thomas Edison tried a hundred times to invent the light bulb. Both of these famous people failed at least a hundred times. Failure teaches us persistence, right?

Failure teaches us all sorts of things—about ourselves and about whatever we've failed at.

Are you stubborn or do you give up easily? Would you keep submitting the same manuscript over and over until someone finally accepts it? If I had written Harry Potter, I would have stopped after the first dozen or so rejections. I would have looked at the story again, made some changes, then sent it off to other publishers. I would have written different stuff, more stories. How do I know? Because I have stories that have been rejected multiple times. I've failed in my writing over and over. But each time, I learn. I take the time to figure out why that story might have been passed over. Was it not right for that publication? Did it need revisions? Was there something I could have done better? It's hard when you get a form rejection letter with no suggestions or feedback, but that's when you put on your editor hat and read the story with a very critical eye.

Now how about Thomas Edison? He failed over and over trying to find something that would glow when he ran electricity through it. Each time he failed at that end, he learned something new about that material, though. What if he'd kept experimenting after he found carbonized cotton thread? Would he have found something even better? How many times do we stop experimenting because we found something that works well enough? Sometimes, that is all we need. But each time we try and fail, we learn something new. Think of what we found out because of Edison's experiments with light bulbs. We found lots of materials that don't produce light as a by-product of resistance.

Failures can sometimes produce successes. How many of you use Post-it notes? Those were totally invented by accident. Just Google "things invented by accident" and you'll get a whole long list of items. People set out to make something and failed. Repeatedly. Instead of getting dejected and throwing out their mistakes, they found success. Sometimes it took years and fiddling, like with post-it notes; sometimes it was an instant success.

School teaches us that failure and mistakes are bad but life teaches us failure is an opportunity to learn, to switch directions, to create something new and different from your original plan. Mistakes can sometimes lead to new things even better than what we had envisioned.

Don't fear failure. Learn to embrace it. This is a lesson I need to remind myself of regularly. It's okay to fail. It's okay to make mistakes. It's okay to get messy and try something new. Because that's what feeds my creative side.

Thursday, April 14, 2016

Thursday Recipe - Meatloaf

I have no idea why I haven't posted this recipe yet. Maybe because it's such an old standby I didn't think I needed to post it. I mean, meatloaf, how can that be exotic and sexy and fun to cook? It's comfort food, though. And very tasty.

My daughter told me a while back that she had no idea that meatloaf is usually made with bread crumbs until she was in college. We always used oatmeal. I had oatmeal in my pantry, but bread crumbs? Never. My mom used oatmeal, too, probably for the same reason. It worked when we were dealing with food allergies. I had one child allergic to oatmeal when he was little, though, but that's a whole different story. I'll just mention that mashed potatoes do not work as a binder in meatloaf. Still tasty. Rice can work as a filler, but only if it's cooked first. Now I'm getting off topic. On to the recipe.

Meatloaf

1 lb ground beef
2 c. oatmeal
1/4 c. finely minced onion
2 eggs
1/2 c. barbecue sauce
1/4 c. ketchup

Mix everything together. This works best if you squish it in your hands. Wear those disposable food gloves if you've got them.

Lightly grease a 9-inch loaf pan. Pat the meat mixture into the pan. Bake at 350° for about an hour until the edges are toasted and the meat is no longer pink in the middle.

Serve with extra barbecue sauce on the side.

For meatballs - shape into balls. Place on a baking sheet, the kind with a rim, and bake at 400° for 12-20 minutes, depending on the size of the meatballs. Once they are no longer pink inside, they are done. Glaze with a mixture of 1/2 c. jelly and 1/2 c. barbecue sauce.

Monday, April 11, 2016

Yarn is My Weakness

I love yarn. Every time I walk into a craft store or the megamart, I have to find the yarn aisle. I drool over the colors. I touch the skeins to feel the texture. Is that yarn as soft as it looks? Is that one scratchy? How thin is that one? How fat and lumpy?

I adore the ombre yarns, the multicolored ones. Most of them are loud and scream, "I escaped from the seventies!", but that's what I love about them. When I work with them, I never know how the colors are going to turn out. That's part of what attracts me to them. They're chaos and anarchy in a bundle of fiber, but not really. There is a pattern to them, an order, but the only way to really see it is to make something with them.

This is where I run into problems. I get all fired up with ideas of what I'm going to do with that yarn. I know the exact thing I want to make from that gorgeous shade of lilac, or from that skein of mixed blues and purples and oranges, or from that whole pile of easter egg spring pastels. So I buy the yarn and bring it home. And it sits in my yarn bins because I either ran out of time or energy or I got bored with the idea or I can't find the pattern I was hoping to use.

Every once in a while I go on a burst of crocheting energy and finish stuff up, though. Yarn gets used. I work my way through skeins, leaving nothing but small balls of leftovers and finished projects behind.

My house would be overrun with crocheted doohickies except I've found ways to sell projects or give them away. It's all good. I keep the ones I really love.

I rarely crochet intricate things or fiddly patterns and I rarely use fine yarn and small hooks. Partly because I don't like fine work; my eyes are going bad and my coordination isn't the greatest. Crocheting little threads with tiny hooks is hard work, not what I'm usually craving when I sit down to crochet. I like to use thick yarn and big hooks and make things that work up quickly. I like to see progress.

Most of what I make are amigurumi - crocheted toys shaped like big-headed people or animals. It's fun, not too taxing on my eyes or brain, and people love them. Babies, especially, love the texture of the yarn and the squishiness of the toys. As long as I avoid using buttons for eyes, I'm good.

It's a creative escape. I get to play with fun colors and feel the yarn and end up with something at the end. The actual process can get boring, which is why I tend to stick to small projects. Working stitch after stitch of single crochet gets repetitive in a hurry, but sometimes that's what I crave. It's soothing. I get into a rhythm and just keep it going. I can see whatever it is I'm crocheting growing under my fingers. It's tactile, not intellectual.

And it gives me an excuse to buy more yarn. I really need more of that rainbow ombre...

Thursday, April 7, 2016

Thursday Recipe - Ham Bean Soup

No, not "ham beans" but ham and bean soup. We had ham the other day, spiral cut with the bone in the middle. The bone makes tasty soup, so don't throw that away. And if it has chunks of ham still on it, even better.

This soup is best made in a slow cooker or crock pot. Long, slow simmering really pulls the flavors out. So make it the day before you want to eat it, or start it the night before.

Ham Bean Soup

2 c. dried white beans, like navy beans
1 ham bone
4 carrots, sliced
2 stalks celery, sliced, use the center of the bunch with the leaves for best flavor
2 bay leaves
1 t. Italian seasoning
2 t. salt
1 t. ground black pepper

Rinse the beans under cold water several times. Put the beans in a large saucepan. Add enough water to generously cover them, about 6 cups. Bring to a boil. Turn off the heat, cover and let the beans sit for an hour.

Drain and rinse the beans. Add 6 c. of fresh water. Bring to a simmer and cook for 3-4 hours until the beans are tender. You can do this in a crockpot - cover and cook on low for 8-12 hours or overnight.

Place ham bone in a large slow cooker. Add beans and the rest of the ingredients. Add extra water if needed to cover all the beans and vegetables. Cover and cook on low for 4-6 hours until the meat is falling off the bone and the vegetables are very tender. Remove all pieces of bone and the bay leaves from the soup and throw them away.

Stir and add more salt if needed. Serve with crackers or fresh bread.

Makes about 3 quarts of soup, enough to feed at least ten people and still have some leftovers. Unless those people are teenage males.