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

Monday, January 30, 2012

Book Reviews and Contests!

Who doesn't like to win free stuff? Who wouldn't want to win free books and free candy? I've got two contests coming up this week, both with some great prizes.

First up, BestsellerBound authors are hosting a giveaway. Enter to win lots of great books by some really talented indie authors. The link will go live sometime on Feb. 1 so check back for the details. And while you're at it, check out BestsellerBound, it's a great community of authors and readers and people interested in discussing books, writing, publishing, and all sorts of other topics. The people there are very supportive and loads of fun. I've pushed them before and I'll push them again. Of all the online groups I've joined, this community is one of the absolute best.

Second, make sure you check my blog on Thursday. I've got a fun food-centered author interview with Frances Pauli as part of her book launch blog tour for Spiders From Memory. As part of my post, I'm giving away three packages of fairy offerings and guava candy to three lucky commenters. So stop by on Thursday and make sure you comment. Frances Pauli is also collecting comments for a lucky winner on her blog tour who will win all three books.

To get you set for the book, which is the third and final book in Frances' fairy urban fantasy, I'm going to post reviews and teasers for the first two books.

A Moth in Darkness starts the series off. A Fly in Paradise continues the wild ride. Spiders from Memory is going to finish the story, or maybe not, according to the author.

The three books tell the story of Elizabeth Larson ten years after she and two friends managed to open the gates to the fairy world. This is not a happy bright little story with happy bright little Tinkerbells flitting around. These stories are dark fantasy delving into addiction and politics and all sorts of what-ifs.

The fairies are bright little creatures, true, but they invite people to join in their dance, to partake of their offerings, which to humans and elves alike is a highly addictive and hallucinogenic experience. Elizabeth Larson has been fighting her addiction for years, but it's ruined her life and her reputation.

The elves are similar to humans, but consider themselves much more refined, cultured, and just plain civilized than us brutish humans. Other fairy-tale creatures also come to vivid life in the books.

Go read the synopsis from the web pages if you want the full setup.

I thoroughly enjoyed the darkness of these stories. The characters are wonderfully imperfect. The political tangles are vast and complicated. Frances Pauli does a marvelous job of creating a world where the Seelie Court rules the fairytale races with a heavy hand, the fairies are at once innocent and devious in their temptations, and the elves are annoying, ruthless, driven, loving, and complex as humans. I can't wait to dive into book three and see how it all works out.

Go read the books. You won't be sorry.

Thursday, January 26, 2012

Thursday Recipe - Slow-Cooker Oriental Beef

This is one of those "open the fridge and see what I've got" meals. It turned out tasty enough my kids asked me to write the recipe down. So, here it is.

Slow-Cooker Oriental Beef

1 lb beef stew meat (small chunks and very lean work great in this one)
1/4 c. sliced green onions
1 green bell pepper, chopped
5 carrots, cut in small chunks
1/2 c. celery, sliced
1/2 c. ketchup or catsup
1/4 c. soy sauce
1/2 c. Thai Kitchen sweet chili dipping sauce

Dump everything in a 3 - 4 quart slow cooker. Cover and cook on high for 2 hours. Stir. Turn to low and cook for another 1-4 hours, depending on how long you have and how soft you want your carrots. Serve over rice.

You can garnish it with more chopped green onions, finely chopped peanuts or cashews, bean sprouts, or whatever else strikes your fancy.

One of these days, I'm going to find the recipe for sweet Hawaiian Beef that my neighbor taught me years ago when I was twelve. It had raisins and coconut and all sorts of good stuff in it. I haven't managed to recreate it. This recipe is sort of like it. Anyone out there have a recipe for Hawaiian Beef they want to share? I'd love to have it again.

Monday, January 23, 2012

Life Experiences

I write science fiction. I make up worlds and technology and aliens and all sorts of stuff. It can be a challenge to make them believable.

The best way to create a believable setting is to base it on reality. Use real science as your beginning point for your tech and aliens and worlds. You're on your own coming up with a great plot, that's a different topic.

So how do you go about creating a real-feeling situation and/or world? Learn, study, read, experience. Store them all in your head. Rely on your great database of information. No, do not spout it all onto the page when you're writing. Give us enough to ground your story or make your aliens feel real. Too many writers make the mistake of wanting to show off everything they've learned and created for the story. Save it for your webpage, for the die-hard fans who want to know all that. Put it in your story and you'll kill it with information dumping overload.

Some of my favorite sources to learn about bizarre things, science, technology, etc. are:

1. Television, especially PBS specials like Nature and Nova. If you watch channels like History or Discovery, just take some of their shows with a big dose of disbelief. Many of them are trying too hard to be shocking or groundbreaking. They push the show from real science into speculation. But they are highly entertaining and can lead to a lot of great what-if questions.

2. Magazines and online science websites. National Geographic is a great resource. It's got pretty pictures. The articles range from cultural to biological to astronomical to ecological to a lot of other disciplines. It's written on a high school level so it's accessible to almost anyone. I also love for their pictures and articles.

3. Personal experience. I'm talking about camping, hiking, travel, museums, etc. If you want to write about the oceans on a planet, it helps to have experienced at least a little of Earth's oceans. When you travel, take time to record the smells, textures, sights, colors, the whole deal. Don't forget to record how the air feels - dry and hot, dry and cold, humid, etc. Spend a moment just feeling, just breathing, just being. It's a great way to experience different environments.

4. Education. If you haven't gone to college yet, do your best to get there. And while you're there in whatever you're majoring in, don't be afraid to try out some of the other beginner level classes. Take an astronomy class, a geology class, a drawing or sculpture class, a music class, or whatever else tickles your fancy. Step out of your comfort zone.

If you aren't in a position to go to college, try a community class. Try a cooking seminar or an art class or a craft class. Many communities offer these classes in the evenings for a few weeks at a time. The cost is usually minimal. Many stores like Home Depot and craft stores offer seminars on a variety of topics. Learn how to lay tile, even if you never plan to lay any yourself.

Take an online seminar or join a club. Expand your horizons by trying something new.

And while you're taking those classes, indulge in people watching. Study your fellow students, study the teacher. Learn how to create believable characters for your stories.

Take whatever you have experienced in your life and use it as fodder for your stories. Synthesize them into something new.

Thursday, January 19, 2012

Thursday Recipe - INDEX

I'm sure you've been waiting for this one. I know I have since I can't remember what recipes I've posted. Over on the left side, I put up a link for recipes. I'll try to keep it organized and updated, but I'm only human.

It's an alphabetical list. I'll also get one up that's divided by category.

Monday, January 16, 2012

Recipe Index

Accidental Brownies
Apple Cake 
Apple Cinnamon Pancakes
Applesauce Cookies
Bacon Bread
Baked Yams and Winter Squash
Barbecue Beef Short Ribs
Basic Bread
Beef Stew
Biscuits and Gravy
Bubble and Squeak 
Butter Toffee 
Butter Rum Popcorn
Butternut Squash Custard
Candied Popcorn
Candied Yams
Candy Cane Cookies (aka Smash-em up Cookies)
Cake Mix Cookies
Cherry Bars 
Cherry Chocolate Tarts 
Chicken Mushroom and Leek Soup
Chicken Noodle Soup 
Chilled Monkey Brains (gelatin dessert)
Chocolate Chunks
Chocolate Freezer Cookies
Chocolate Frog Cookies
Cookie Mix in a Jar (Oatmeal, Brownie variations) 
Cranberry Sweet Potato Muffins
Cream Puffs 
Cream of Tomato Soup
Curried Pickle Chunks
Dairy-Free Cream of Vegetable Soup
Date Cake
Double Turkey Gravy
Eyeball Gelatin
Eyeball Soup
Fish Variations
Freezer Cookies
Fresh Cranberry Sauce 
Fresh Fruit Salsa
Fresh Guacamole
Fresh Salsa
Fried Noodles 
Fruit Cream
German Potato Salad
Ginger Honey Chews
Gluten-Free S'Mores Bars
Goat Cheese Spread
Gorilla Poop Cookies
Green Gelatin Salad
Green Tomato Mincemeat
Green Tomato Mincemeat Cookies
Gummy Bear Gelatin Salad
Hagrid's Thumbprint Cookies
Hawaiian Turkey Loaf 
Healthy Brownies
Hot Citrus Punch
Hot Fudge Sundae Cake
Island Chicken
Jello Cookies
Jello Cookies (includes Gluten-Free variation)
Jungle Salad
Kale Soup
Lazy Lasagna
Mango Salsa
Meatloaf, Crockpot Style
Minestrone Soup 
Monster Cookies
Mud Pie
Nacho Stacks
Navy Bean Soup
Ninja Turtle Soup
No-Bake Cookies
Not-so-Hot Wings
Oatmeal Supreme
Oregano Fried Noodles
Oregano Rice
Oriental Beef
Peanut Chews
Pie Crust
Poppy Seed Lime Salad Dressing
Potato Salad
Pudding Supreme
Pumpkin Cookies
Pumpkin Custard
Quick Peanut Fudge Sauce
Rhubarb Pie
Roast Garlic
Roast Turkey with Gravy
Roasted Pumpkin Seeds
Rosemary Roasted Potatoes 
Seafood Salad
Slow-Cooked Pot Roast
Spiked Lemonade (non-alcoholic)
Spinach Bacon Salad
Spinach Salad with Bacon Dressing 
Split Pea Soup, Ham
Split Pea Soup, Vegetarian
Spotted Dick
Sticky Buns
Stuffed Zucchini
Sweet Na'an
Tandoori Chicken with Golden Rice
Tropical Southwest Chicken
Turkey a la King
Turkey Poop Soup
Turkey Stuffing
To-die-for Frosting
Vinagrette Salad Dressings
Watchagot Stew
Winter Fruit Salad
Zucchini Bread and Butter Pickles
Zucchini Cheese Pie

NaHoImMo Update

They look better in real life, promise.
November is long gone. NaNoWriMo is long over. But at my house, NaHoImMo is still going strong. Maybe I should change it to NaHoImYe (National Home Improvement Year) since it's taking me so long to finish projects. My family room is finally together, except for one curtain panel that Wally's World has yet to deliver and the paintings that need to be hung. Only two, we're keeping it simple.
Finally framed this print. Now to hang it.

My living room is finally complete - junk removed, walls cleaned, carpet sort of cleaned (the pros are coming in March), furniture rearranged, extra books and furniture removed, AND valance curtain sewn and installed. Doesn't it look pretty?

The cat's butt has been washed again. He was so heavy when we adopted him last spring, he couldn't reach it. So my son washes it for him. The cat has finally lost enough weight he can reach it now, but he apparently doesn't know how to clean himself. Or else he has the IQ of a pickle.

AND, on top of everything else, I'm now officially a grandma. He's a week old today.

Now to tackle the master bedroom and bathroom.

Maybe I'll take a nap and write some stories instead.

Living room valance is done.
Chunkalicious finally has a clean butt, for a day or two.
My grandson being held by his aunt, my youngest.

Thursday, January 12, 2012

Thursday Recipe - Tandoori Chicken with Golden Rice, my version

Tandoori Chicken is a traditional Indian recipe. I don't have a tandoor oven and I don't have access to all of the spices they use, but this recipe is a pretty good imitation. It's Indian comfort food, perfect for the freezing January weather we're having here. It also cooks in a crockpot or slow cooker so it's a great lazy recipe.

You can buy a tandoor oven (or here) if you want, but be prepared to spend some serious money.

You can put cilantro on top of this if you want, but that weed is banned from my house. I think it's nasty, it gives me migraines, and it makes my tummy very unhappy. It's not allowed here, but if you like it, feel free to add it to the recipe.

Tandoori Chicken with Golden Rice

4 - 6 chicken breasts, about 2 lbs, cut into fourths
1 onion, sliced
1 bell pepper, sliced
1 8 oz can pineapple chunks
1 t. ginger
1/2 t. cayenne
1/4 t. ground cloves
1/2 t. black pepper
1 t. salt
1/4 t. ground cardamom
1 t. cumin
1 t. garlic powder
1 t. paprika
1 T. lemon juice
1 c. plain yogurt (optional-it just makes the sauce creamier)

For chicken: Place onions in the bottom of a 2 - 3 qt crock pot or slow cooker. Layer chicken on top. Add peppers and pineapple. Mix all spices with lemon juice. Pour over chicken. Cook on low 4 - 6 hours, until chicken is tender. Stir yogurt in just before serving.

2 c. rice
4 c. water
2 t. salt
1 t. turmeric

For rice: place rice, water, salt, and turmeric in a 2 - 3 qt sauce pan. Cover and bring to a boil. Turn heat to low and cook 18 - 20 minutes, until rice is tender. Fluff with a fork before serving.

Monday, January 9, 2012

Migraine Monday

The title says it all. I didn't read the ingredient list yesterday and ended up with an MSG triggered migraine today. Why do they put that stuff in everything?

Since I'm out of it, go read some of these blogs instead. Lots of fun, lots of topics, just lots of stuff to have fun with:

Speculative Friction, Frances Pauli's author blog - She's coming to The Far Edge of Normal the end of the month on a book promo tour.

The Troubadour, a look at the inner workings of the Christa McAuliffe Space Education Center where I work. My boss is freaking hilarious.

I'm a Lazy Mom - she's funny and down to earth. She has hordes of followers so I'm not doing this for a favor. I'm doing this because I enjoy reading her posts.

The Pioneer Woman Cooks - fun recipes complete with great pictures. She also has hordes of followers, but she's funny and gives great recipes that don't call for all sorts of weird ingredients.

Momentum Gathering - so positive and uplifting and honest. Bring tissues when you read these posts.

And if you haven't discovered this one yet, be prepared to laugh yourself sick. Cakewrecks!

Want to nominate a blog to list? If I get enough interest, I may make this a monthly feature. Just list some of your favorite blogs in the comments.

Friday, January 6, 2012

Thursday Recipe - Spinach Salad with Bacon Dressing

It's New Years, everybody resolved to lose weight, right? So eat more salad. This recipe, while healthy with fresh spinach and cranberries, isn't going to help you lose weight. It uses bacon and bacon grease. But it's so good. If you're feeling really guilty about eating it, make it the main course for your meal.

I posted a Spinach Salad before. This one is a bit different. It has a hot bacon dressing you pour on right before serving.

Good luck with your weight loss. I made that goal, too, since I've put on weight recently due to changing medications, stress, and just eating too many cookies again. It's time to revisit my eating plan and find time to walk the dog more often. Anyone have some spare energy lying around? I'm going to need it.

Spinach Salad

1 lb baby spinach
1 can mandarin oranges, drained (reserve juice)
1/2 c. craisins (sweetened dried cranberries)
1/3 c. pecans from a salted nut mix

Toss together. Pour hot dressing over the top. Serve immediately. 6 - 10 servings

Bacon Dressing

4 strips of bacon, cut up small
1/2 c. vinegar
1/3 c. mandarin orange juice (reserved from salad)
1 T. corn starch
1/2 t. salt
pepper to taste

Fry bacon until crispy. Remove from pan, reserving drippings, add bacon to salad. Stir vinegar, juice, and cornstach together. Add to bacon fat. Cook over medium high heat, stirring constantly, until mixture thickens and boils. Add salt and pepper to taste. Pour over salad and toss.

Monday, January 2, 2012

On Setting Goals

This time of year, people write New Year's Resolutions. Vague statements that make you feel better but really aren't much use. There is no way to measure progress, no specifics of how you will accomplish your lofty ambition.

-I resolve to be a better writer this year-

Nice, but how am I going to accomplish that? Goals give you specific targets with measurable steps to achieving the desired result.

-Goal: publish four stories this year-

 Big problem with that goal. Is it measurable? Yes. Is it achievable? Yes. But it depends on someone else, not just me.

Several years ago, I participated in Woodbadge, the adult leadership training course put on by the Boy Scouts of America. Great program. If you're involved with scouting in any way, I highly recommend this course. It takes a week, or two weekends, but it's worth it. At the end of the course, each participant set five goals related to their scouting position. When the goals were achieved, you were awarded your beads. The hardest part of setting the goals was making sure they weren't dependent on someone else.

For example, a scoutmaster might set the goal to have all of his scouts at first class by the end of six months. Nice goal, but it depends on the boys earning the rank. A better goal would be to provide the activities, classes, and opportunities the boys need in order to earn their first class during the next six months. Achieving your goal no longer depends on someone else. You are the scoutmaster, you can organize the necessary classes and campouts the boys need. Whether they take advantage of it and earn the rank is up to them. But you can still achieve your goal.

Back to my goal: Publish four stories this year. Unless I choose to self-publish, I have no control over when or whether my stories will be published. A better goal would be write and submit at least four stories this year. Is it measurable? Yes. Is it achievable by just me? Yes. Does it depend on someone else? No.

Another problem with many resolutions and goals is that they are vague. Vague is hard to measure.

-I resolve to lose weight this year-

Most of us make that one, but do we set up any goals to figure out how we are going to shed those pounds?

-Goal: I will eat healthier-

Pretty vague. Specifics are easier because we can see exactly what we need to do and it is measurable. Eating healthier is hard to measure without some kind of comparison or scale.

-Goal: I will eat at least 10 grams of fiber a day for the next two months-
-Goal: I will only eat one small dessert per day, except Sunday-

Are these specific and measurable? Yes. Will they help me lose weight? Maybe, if I add enough other good goals to my list. Once I achieve these goals, I can make new ones. They can be simple and short or long and complicated as long as they are specific, measurable, and don't depend on somebody else. Breaking a big goal into smaller ones is also easier, go with baby steps instead of one giant leap.

-Goal: my husband will lose ten pounds this month-

Nope, can't set that one. I can't lose weight for my husband and I can't make him lose the weight. He can set that goal, but I can't. I could set the goal that I will cook low-fat, healthy meals this month and not make the gooey desserts he loves. It's something I can control and I can measure.

Good luck with whatever you resolve this year. May 2012 be a great year for all of us. And may you reach the goals you set.

Just for the record, one of my goals is to set up a recipe index for this blog so I can find what I've posted.