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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!