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

Thursday, December 29, 2016

Thursday Recipe - French Toast

This is one of those easy to adapt recipes. Need it gluten-free? Use gluten-free bread. Even the really dry ones work for French toast, they may need a little longer soak time, though. Need it dairy-free? Use a nut milk, rice milk, soy milk, or even orange juice instead. Want it vegan? Um, sorry, you're out of luck. Eggs are essential to this dish.

We also like to spice it up at our house. Try adding a few drop of almond extract or orange extract or even rum flavoring. Add some cinnamon, nutmeg, ginger, or ground cloves for a twist. Play around with some of your favorite flavors. Or try parsley, sage, rosemary, and thyme for stuffing flavored french toast. Just leave out the sugar on that one and serve it with gravy and sliced turkey.

Try different breads. White sandwich bread is the standard, but I prefer french bread or even sourdough. Cinnamon raisin bread is also very tasty. Rye bread is kind of weird. Play around. This is a great way to use up all those ends of the loaves and bread that's on the stale side. As long as it isn't growing mold, you're good.

French Toast

For 2 servings-
2 eggs
1/2 c. milk (or other liquid)
1 T. sugar, optional
pinch of salt
desired seasonings
4-6 slices of bread, depending on size
butter or oil for frying

Heat 1-2 t. of butter in a large non-stick frying pan over medium-low heat.
Beat eggs with milk, sugar, salt, and seasonings until smooth. Dip bread slices one at a time, making sure to coat both sides. Place 2-3 slices in the frying pan. Don't crowd them or they are hard to flip and end up steaming instead of frying. Fry 2-3 minutes. Flip over and cook the other side for another 1-2 minutes, until egg coating is browned. Repeat with remaining bread and egg dip.
Serve hot with jam, yogurt, fruit, or syrup.

Monday, December 26, 2016

Merry Christmas!

This video summarizes what Christmas is for me. May you find peace and joy this season and all year long.

Thursday, December 22, 2016

Thursday Recipe - German Pancakes

These are sometimes called Dutch Babies, for no reason I can find on the internet. They are related to popovers and cream puffs but a little easier to make. If it poufs up, great. If it falls flat, it's like a cross between an omelet and a pancake. Either way, it tastes great with sliced fruit and yogurt on top.

German Pancake

4 T butter
3 eggs
3/4 c. milk
3/4 c. flour
pinch of salt
1 t. sugar, optional

Heat oven to 400° F.
Place butter in a 2 quart casserole dish. Put it in the oven for 5 minutes, until butter melts.
While butter is melting, use your blender to mix the remaining ingredients until smooth.
Pour batter into the hot casserole dish. Bake 15-25 minutes, until puffed and golden brown. Deeper dishes will need a longer cooking time. Flatter, wider dishes will cook faster but may not puff up as much.

Serve hot with sliced fruit, yogurt, pudding, etc on top.

Monday, December 19, 2016

More Kid Crafts - Dreamcatchers

My Cub Scout den made dreamcatchers a couple of weeks ago. We tried several different methods. This is the one that worked the best. Unfortunately, I forgot to take pictures and didn't save any examples. But they were easy and cheap and the kids had a lot of fun with them.

A lot of sites give instructions on making them with paper plates, but I didn't like the look of those. I found another one that used bracelets that I liked much better. This post has a lot of cool ideas, and was the inspiration for what I eventually did with my scouts.



  • plastic bracelets - the kind with the beaded-bump thingies around the outside are the best but any will do. Cheap ones are just fine for this.
  • pipe cleaners - optional but they help hold the yarn in place
  • yarn or colored string
  • ribbon - optional, but thin ribbon could be used for the inside of the dreamcatcher as well as for tying things on
  • assorted pony beads and other dangly bits like feathers, jingle bells, plastic bear claws or buttons

1- Wrap pipe cleaners in a spiral around the outside of the bracelet if desired.
2- Cut a length of yarn or string about 3 feet long. Tie one end to the bracelet. Wrap the string back and forth across the bracelet to make a spiderweb type design. You can loop it around and tie it if you want the string to stay in place better. Add beads to the string if you want them in the middle of the dreamcatcher. Tie off the yarn when finished.
3- Add beads, feathers, and whatever you want to add to the bottom of the dream catcher with additional lengths of yarn or ribbons.
4- Add a loop at the top to hang the dreamcatcher.

Thursday, December 15, 2016

Thursday Recipe - Finnish Sweet Bread aka Pülla

My sister spent two years in Finland. She shared some of the culture and cooking with us when she got back. I love this bread. It is a traditional holiday bread. Not too sweet, nice and chewy, and definitely rich, it really hits the spot when you want something fancy and showy for those holiday get-togethers.

This is the time to pull out your fancy braiding skills. This loaf is traditionally braided and the dough is so soft and easy to work with, go ahead and get all fancy. Try a four-strand braid. Or stack a couple of braids of different sizes on top of each other. Or do a braided wreath.

You really do need cardamom for this recipe. It's pricy, but I found a pinch added to most yeast breads really brings out the flavor of the bread. Plus it makes the bread smell amazing while it is baking. Cardamom also adds a great taste to pumpkin pie filling, blueberry cobbler, and baked apples. It's also great to add to curry seasoning mixes.

Finnish Sweet Bread

2 t. yeast
1/2 c. warm water
2 c. milk, warmed to room temperature
1 c. sugar
1 t. salt
1 1/2 t. cardamom
4 eggs, beaten
8 - 9 c. flour
1/2 c. melted butter

Dissolve yeast in water. Let sit for 5 minutes. Add milk, sugar, salt, cardamom, eggs, and 3 c. flour. Beat until smooth, 3-5 minutes. Add 3 c. flour and beat again. Add butter. Beat until dough is glossy.
Stir in enough remaining flour to make a stiff dough, 2-3 cups. Cover with a bowl and let rest 15 minutes.
Knead until smooth.
Place in bowl and let rise until double, 1 to 1 1/2 hours. Punch down. Let rise again, 30 minutes.
Punch down and divide into three pieces. Divide each piece into three equal size pieces. Braid loosely.
Place on greased baking sheet and let rise for 20 minutes.
Brush with additional beaten egg if you want a shiny crust.
Bake at 400° for 25 minutes, until golden brown. Use a toothpick to test for doneness. If it comes out sticky, the bread needs a few more minutes.

Cool and serve with plenty of berry jam and butter.

Monday, December 12, 2016

Cheap and Easy Crafts for Kids - Cub Scout Musical Instruments

Not the prettiest instruments, but they work!
Rain stick on the left, candy cane sistrum on the right.
I've been doing Bear Cub Scouts for several months now. It's a lot of fun, even if the boys wear me out. I'm a little disappointed that the requirements don't include as many arts-n-crafts projects as they used to, but there are still some in there.

We just finished the World of Sound elective. It was easier than I expected. There are only three requirements - make three different ancient instruments. These are easy enough you could do them with kids, even really young ones. I'm planning on doing this with my grandkids over Christmas when they come visit. The materials were really cheap or even free, so no big expense.

I do suggest if you want to start doing stuff like this, you create a big craft bin. Take a large plastic tub and start collecting things like empty cardboard boxes, toilet paper tubes, scraps of colored paper, magazines, buttons, feathers, pine cones, beads, markers, glue, scissors, yarn, foil pie pans, etc. All sorts of random stuff comes in so handy for these types of projects and best of all, it's free since you're recycling junk you would have thrown out anyway.

Sistrum - these are ancient Egyptian rattles. You can find a few videos on YouTube about these, including some really creepy ones. Don't go there with the kids.

I wanted something easier to deal with than the suggested way of chopping wire coat hangers and bending them into a Y. I've got arthritis. Chopping thick wire isn't going to happen. I used candy canes and florist's wire and it worked great.


  • candy canes - get the larger size ones, miniature ones won't work for this
  • florist's wire - the thin green wire used to wrap flower stems, craft stores sell it cheap and a single package goes a long way
  • big buttons (the kind with 2 or 4 holes through the middle) or jingle bells or similar items
  • colored tape - masking tape or duct tape both work for this
  • pipe cleaners or yarn for decoration

1- DON'T UNWRAP THE CANDY CANE. Leave it in the plastic to keep everything from getting too sticky.
2- Cut a piece of florist's wire about eight to ten inches long. Wrap one end of it around the longer end of the candy cane near the top where it bends over into a crook.
3- Thread two or three buttons or jingle bells onto the wire. Don't crowd it, you want enough space they can slide back and forth and rattle against each other.
4- Wrap the other end of the wire around the short end of the crook. Pull it tight enough that it looks mostly straight and the buttons can slide easily.
5- Use small pieces of tape to secure the ends of the wires in place.
6- Decorate your sistrum however you want.
7- Play it by shaking it back and forth to make a clacking/rattling/jingling sound depending on what you used. Experiment with different sizes of buttons or different materials for different sounds.

Rain Stick - made in a lot of cultures, these make a gentle rattling sound kind of like rain. The trick here is to make the rice fall slowly enough that it doesn't just slosh from one end to the other. There are a lot of videos about this one, too, some of them just way too much work. This is a simple, easy way that even young kids can handle. My 9yo scouts had no trouble doing this themselves.


  • cardboard tube - toilet paper are too short so use paper towel or wrapping paper tubes
  • paper grocery bag
  • aluminum foil
  • scissors
  • tape - we used duct tape which worked really well
  • rice
  • stuff to decorate the tubes

1- Cut a square out of the grocery bag twice as big as the end of the tube. Fold over the tube, creasing the edges around the bottom of the tube. Tape in place. This needs to be fastened tight enough to seal the end of the tube.
2- Pull out a length of aluminum foil about 2.5 times as long as the tube. If you are using regular foil, cut it in half lengthwise with scissors to make two pieces. I had the heavy-duty stuff so I cut it into thirds lengthwise.
3- Scrunch the foil into a rope, it should be about twice the length of the tube when you finish. It should be too small, though. Keep it about 1/4 the diameter of the tube.
4- Coil the foil into a long spring using your finger or a pencil as a guide. It should be about the length of the tube when you are done. Do this loosely, the rice needs to be able to slide through the foil coil.
5- Slide the foil into the tube. Squeeze it a bit when necessary. You are trying to partially block the tube with it so the rice takes a minute or so to slide through to the bottom of the tube.
6- Add about 1/4 c. of dry rice to the tube.
7- Cut another square of paper from the bag. Seal the other end of the tube the same as you did in step one. Tape securely.
8- Decorate as desired.
9- Tip the tube upside down to hear the "rain" fall to the bottom. A gentle shake may be needed to keep the rice moving.

Mbira or Thumb Piano - these are weird but cool instruments from Africa. There are tons of videos about these, many of them way too complicated for younger kids to master. I wanted something they could do mostly on their own so I got creative. The instructions in the Cub book are still too complicated for most boys and take a while since you're waiting for glue to dry. Making these would take a couple of den meetings and a lot of materials I don't have ready access to. Maybe we'll do these with wood in January for the woodworking badge instead. I used cheap cookie tins from Walmart. They worked great.


  • small metal tins - Altoid tins, cookie tins, whatever you can find cheap, they do need a flat surface, either the lid or a side. I found square tins and they worked really well.
  • heavy-weight bobby pins - don't use the really small cheap ones or plastic ones. You need a  heavier metal pin for this to work.
  • duct tape

1- Cut a few bobby pins in half with heavy wire cutters. I had my son do this for me because arthritis. (Getting old is so much fun!)
2- Bend a piece of bobby pin in the middle to make about a 120° angle - enough so that when one end is flat against the tin the other sticks up about 1/2 inch or so. You can bend these with your fingers.
3- Tape the flat end of the pin on the tin near the edge of the flat surface with the other end pointing in to the middle.
4- To play, tightly hold down the flat end with one thumb. Flick the end sticking up with the other thumb. If the sound buzzes or is flat, try moving the holding thumb up and down on the flat part to get a better sound.

Enjoy playing your new instruments! Maybe next week I'll tackle comb kazoos and rubber band guitars.

Thursday, December 8, 2016

Thursday Recipe - Piroshky

These are interesting sandwiches. The first time I ever had them, I was teenager in California. I can't remember exactly where we were or why we bought them, I just remember that they were very tasty.

This is a good recipe for them. I think the filling is more of a traditional Russian one. Many cultures have a similar sandwich, the difference is more in the filling than anything else.

These can be baked or fried. Either way, they make a tasty lunch or dinner.


1 c. warm water
3 T. sugar
1 T. dry yeast
1 c. milk
1/4 c. butter or margarine
1/4 t. salt
3 eggs
4 - 4 1/2 c. flour

Dissolve yeast and sugar in warm water. Set aside. Heat milk and butter with salt just until butter melts. Don't get it too hot.
In mixing bowl, beat eggs until fluffy. Stir in milk mixture and yeast mixture. Beat until mixed. Add 3 c. flour and stir well. Add just enough of the remaining flour to make a soft dough. Cover and let rise for 1 - 2 hours, until doubled.

1 T. butter
1 c. chopped onions
1 lb hamburger
1 t. salt
1/2 t. pepper
4 hard-boiled eggs, peeled and chopped

Melt butter in a large frying pan. Add onions. Cook until soft. Add meat. Cook until hamburger is browned, stirring often to break up larger chunks. You want it small. Remove from heat.

Add salt, pepper, and eggs. Toss to mix. Set aside to cool.

Roll dough out into a large rectangle. Cut into 4-5 inch squares.

Fill each square with 3-4 T of filling. Fold dough edges together to seal over the filling. Pinch tight. You don't want any of the filling showing. Set aside on floured baking sheet until you have all the piroshkies assembled.

If you have extra dough, make it into rolls or scones. Bake or fry as desired.

Deep fat fryer - Heat oil to 350°. Fry 2-3 minutes per side, until nicely browned and dough is done. Set aside to drain.

Baked - Heat oven to 400°. Bake piroshkies for 12-15 minutes, until dough is browned and done. If you brush them with a beaten egg wash (1 egg, 2 T. water beaten until foamy), they will turn a shiny brown.

Serve warm or cold with plenty of mustard for dipping. Use some gourmet mustards, don't just stick with the yellow stuff.

These make great leftovers so don't be afraid of the quantity.

Monday, December 5, 2016

Christmas Gift Ideas

These are the things I'd love to get for Christmas. Best of all, most of them are FREE.

1 - A clean house. One that I don't have to make happen. If my kids were to sweep and mop all the floors, vacuum the rugs, scrub the baseboards, scrub the bathrooms, wipe off the windowsills, clean the dog prints off the windows, dust, you get the idea; then write up a card and wrap that to put under the tree, it would be one of the best presents EVER!

2 - Laundry done and folded and put away. See the above post.

3 - Doing the dishes for me on my night. See #1 again.

4 - A backrub. Or foot massage. Or just lotion rubbed into my feet. I promise I'll even wash them first.

5 - An uninterrupted bubble bath, with chocolates and sparkling cider and candles. Okay, how about just a good book or magazine and a nice long bath?

6 - Dinner cooked for me. Where I don't have to plan out the menu or buy the ingredients or do any other kind of prep for it. It doesn't even have to be gourmet.

I'm seeing a trend here. I'd love to have a break from being mom and housewife. I want someone to pamper me for a change. Most moms would adore that.

Okay, second list. Here are some gifts you can give people who are NOT your mother or wife - 

1 - If your friend writes books or sells crafts or does anything similar, leave them a review. Share a post about it on social media. Help do some promo for them. You don't have to be obnoxious or pushy about it, just a comment or post that "Hey, this is really cool. Check it out." They appreciate it more than you know.

2 - Share a plate of cookies or a loaf of bread or some other holiday goodie with your neighbors or coworkers or even just random strangers in the park. Give them a smile whether they accept or not.

3 - Shovel someone's walk if you live where it snows. Or rake their leaves. Just do something nice for a neighbor. My husband pulls up sticker plants whenever he sees them, no matter what lawn they are growing in. Or pick up trash as you walk your neighborhood. It's a small thing, but helps make the area that much nicer.

4 - Be polite, especially to retail workers. They may be grumpy but that doesn't mean you need to be grumpy, too. Maybe they've been at work for ten hours straight. Maybe their feet are achy and sore. Maybe the last ten people have been rude and impatient and unreasonable. Maybe they are worried about their children or their parents. Whatever the reason, being patient and polite and kind won't cost you anything and you might just lift their spirits.

I could go on, but this post is already getting longer than I thought it would be. We focus so much on gifts and giving this time of year. We get bombarded with messages to buy, BUY, BUY, BUY!!!! But sometimes the absolute best gifts are small, simple, and free. Find a way to serve someone. I love the way it makes me feel so much, I try to do this all year.

And don't forget to make your mom's day - scrub the kitchen until it shines! Wash the windows! Mop a floor! Without her asking. Even if you haven't lived in her house for decades, she'd still appreciate it. Unless you went over in the middle of the night, snuck into the house, and started vacuuming. Then you might get shot or arrested.

Thursday, December 1, 2016

Thursday Recipe - James' Parker House Rolls

My husband makes these every Thanksgiving. He uses every cookie sheet in the house. Every surface in the kitchen ends up covered in flour and butter and dirty dishes. It's a huge mess, but he cleans it up and the rolls are delicious. I just stay away while he's cooking so I don't say something stupid.

James' Parker House Rolls

2 T. dry yeast or 2 pkg yeast
2 c. warm water or milk, very warm bathtub temperature
1/2 c. sugar
2 eggs
2 t. salt
1/2 c. shortening
6 c. flour
1/4 c. butter, melted

Dissolve yeast in water. Set aside. It should start to foam after a few minutes. If it doesn't, your yeast may be old or the water is too cold.

In a separate bowl, mix sugar, eggs, and salt. Add flour and yeast mixture. Stir until it forms a soft dough. Mix in shortening. Knead gently until everything is well mixed. Add more flour if needed to keep it from sticking.

Cover with a dish towel. Let rest for 15 minutes.

Roll it out about 1/4 inch thick. Spread melted butter over the top. Cut into circles, fold in half, and place on a greased cookie sheet. Cover and let rise for 2 hours, until doubled in size. Brush with more butter if desired.

Pre-heat oven to 400°. Bake 10-15 minutes, just until golden brown. Watch closely! They burn easy.

Serve hot with more butter, honey, jam, or whatever you like on fresh rolls.