Thursday, August 28, 2014

SUMMER FOOD

 

Like most people, I like to eat and fresh garden produce is surely some of the best eating ever. Our garden space isn't very big and we supplement it with wooden barrels.  Between the two, we've enjoyed potatoes, beets, chard, carrots, onions, tomatoes, bell peppers, rhubarb, chives, strawberries, and peaches this summer. Some items have done better than others; a hill of potatoes produces enough to feed us for three days while the strawberries could be counted on my fingers---and the birds got most of them. 

There were no nearby grocery stores carrying fresh produce where I grew up, so I looked forward each summer to the goodness grown in my mother's garden.  Fresh fruits and vegetables were a much appreciated respite from bottled or canned fruits and vegetables.  Fresh produce is readily available now all year long, but I'm convinced the store bought versions aren't as good as those picked from my garden. They certainly aren't as fresh. 

Each year I feel sad when summer begins to draw to a close since that means the end of our garden.  Already the potatoes are down to two hills, I picked the last of the peaches this morning, and the beets and carrots are getting a little sparse. During the cold, rainy spell we've had the tomatoes stopped ripening, but I expect with a break in the rain we'll have enough for us and our neighbors again soon.  The zucchini hasn't done as well this year as other years, but I've had enough for some of my favorite recipes.  I'll include two of my favorite gluten free zucchini recipes for those like my husband who has Celiac. (For those who don't do gluten free cooking, use regular flour and leave out the Xanthan gum). 

Gluten Free Zucchini Cake 

4 eggs
2 cups sugar
1/2 cup canola oil
1/2 cup applesauce
2 cups grated zucchini
3/4 cup potato starch
3/4 cup corn starch
1/2 cup all purpose gluten free flour (May substitute all purpose gluten free flour for both starches as well.  I prefer the King Arthur brand.)
1 tsp xanthan gum
2 tsp baking powder
2 tsp ground cinnamon
1 tsp baking soda
3/4 tsp salt
1/2 tsp ground ginger
1/4 tsp ground cloves
1/2 cup raisins (May omit)
Cream Cheese Frosting  (Use Pillsbury cream cheese frosting if lactose intolerant)
1/2 cup chopped nuts 

Heat oven to 350 degrees.  Lightly spray pan:  15 1/2 x 10 1/2 x 1 (jelly roll) or 13 x 9 x 2
Beat eggs, sugar, oil, applesauce, and zucchini.  Stir in dry ingredients. Mix in raisin.  Pour batter into pan.  Bake until light brown, 25 to 30 minutes. May take a few minutes more for 13 x 9 size pan. Cool frost with cream cheese frosting. Sprinkle with nuts.
 

Zucchini Brownies 

1/2 cup vegetable oil
1/2 cup cocoa powder
1 1/2 cup sugar or Splenda
2 tsp. vanilla
2 cups gluten free flour
1 tsp. baking soda
1 tsp. salt
1/2 tsp. baking powder
2 cups grated zucchini 

Nuts, raisins, or chocolate chips may be added to taste.  Mix all ingredients together thoroughly. Bake at 350 degrees for 25 to 30 minutes.  Ice with favorite fudge icing.  (Pillsbury chocolate fudge is lactose free.)

Thursday, August 21, 2014

Recommending Favorites

Yesterday someone asked me to recommend a good book that wouldn't take forever to read, wasn't about or for teens, but would be exciting and clean.  As most of you know I write a review column for Meridian Magazine and I knew just the book to recommend--Ring Around the Rosie by Julie Coulter Bellon.  You can read my review of that book here http://www.ldsmag.com/article/1/14787

I come in contact with a lot of people and I'm often asked to suggest books they might enjoy.  This discussion often begins with "I've read all of your books, can you suggest . . . "  Last night I had this discussion with a fourth grade teacher and I had to admit I don't read a lot of middle grade books, but I did recommend my daughter, Janice Sperry's Rebel Princess. Someone else asked about books for teenagers, again an area where I don't read a lot, but I told him I was enjoying a series by Margot Hovley and one by Robert Wells.

Discussions on book recommendations usually bring up a question I don't answer well.  What is your favorite book?  I don't have a favorite whether we're discussing books I've written or books I've read.  I read well over a hundred books a year, representing nearly every genre.  I'm currently writing my twenty-fifth novel and I've never stuck to just one genre. Out of all those books I can't settle on just one favorite, but I could probably name a dozen favorite authors.  When it comes to my own books, that's like being asked to name a favorite child. Each one has its own special place in my heart and memories.

Years ago I was told no one reads the same book someone else wrote, meaning we each bring our own life experiences, prejudices, value system, etc., to each book we read and they may not be the same as the author's.  I've always been aware that my tastes in reading material changes as my life changes and I think it's the same for most people.  In the fourth grade I devoured fairy tales.  By the sixth grade it was Nancy Drew, The Hardy Boys, Trixie Beldon, and such young sleuth type of books.  I went through a science fiction phase, a detective phase, read tons of romances,  and even read every Western I could get my hands on.  Somehow Westerns led to Historicals.  The one common thread I've detected in my reading taste is action.  I much prefer characters who do something over ones that philosophize.

I've never been a big fan of the so-called Classics though a few like Silas Marner and The Light in August made a lasting impression on me and are among the few Classics I've reread. I've never regretted reading the classics and enjoyed most of them, but I'll admit I prefer genre fiction.  This is why I try to be careful when asked to recommend a book for another person.  Just because I love a certain book doesn't mean everyone will.  When giving or recommending a book to someone else it's helpful to know something about the person, his/her tastes, age group, other books that person has enjoyed, and their values.

As I've gone through my different reading phases I've learned that reading one sole genre for months or years on end is not a good thing.  There are some genres I seldom read or enjoy anymore because of my prior saturation reading.  It really is a good idea to try new genres and new authors.  I find as a reviewer I enjoy my "favorites" much more by interspersing them with a wide array of "others". And sometimes I strike gold, finding a new "favorite".

For any who are interested, here is a list of the books I've read this summer.  If I were giving these books starred ratings, none would rank lower than three stars and many certainly deserve five. 

Mystery/Suspense
Ring Around the Rosie - Bellon
Run for Your Life - Mathews
The Insider - Bessey

Romance
Imperfect Love - Talley
Becoming Lady Lockwood - Moore
Waiting for You - Halverson

Science Fiction
Assault on Cambriol - Borrowman

Fantasy
Rebel Princess - Sperry
The Keeper's Defiance - Nelson
I'm Not Cinderella - Montgomery

Western
Trouble at the Red Pueblo - Adair
Willow Springs - Steele

Action/adventure
Persona non Grata - Stirling
Quantum Breach - Acey
Twisted Fate - Abramson, Luke, Black

Classic/Literary
Counting Candles - Bradshaw
Behold Your Little Ones - Brown

Historical
Hope - Wilkins
In All Places - Ayleworth
Men of Destiny - Brobst

Wednesday, August 13, 2014

Introducing my Daughters

I'm too tired to think straight so instead of blogging I'm going to give you a link to my daughters' blog.  Two of my daughters, Janice Sperry and Lezlie Anderson, are writers too.  Janice's book The Rebel Princess came out in June. You may have read short stories by her in several different publications and her Christmas booklet, The Candy Cane Queen, was released a year ago.  Lezlie's Christmas booklet Snow Angel will be available in October. Janice has been writing a blog for a couple of years, but the two have decided to join forces and blog together.  Their blog is called Come Out When You're Happy.  Here's the link http://comeoutwhenyourehappy.blogspot.com/2014/08/blog-changes.html


Saturday, August 2, 2014

A Mini-Vacation to Long Beach

 
 
 
 
 
With our fiftieth Wedding anniversary coming up later this year our son and his wife gave us a joint Christmas/anniversary present by taking us to Long Beach, California where we stayed a couple of nights on the Queen Mary, visited the Aquarium of the Pacific, and spent a day at Huntington Beach where the surfing championships were taking place. We had so much fun with them and our littlest granddaughter. We had our picture taken at one of the booths.
The Pier at Huntington Beach.

A really long hall just outside our room on the Queen Mary.

A gazebo on the Queen Mary where weddings are often performed.

Our little granddaughter was fascinated with the red telephone booths on the ship.  (The phones are long gone.)

 At the aquarium.

 Our son's family.

Super friendly birds at the Aquarium.

Me on the beach.

 Gracie playing in the sand.

 The view from our table our last night.

Thursday, July 31, 2014

Reading In the Rain

 (This was supposed to run a few days ago, but I guess I didn't schedule it correctly.)

"Listen to the rhythm of the falling rain." I don't remember a July with such lovely long rainstorms as we've had this past week or so.  July storms in my experience are usually more boom and flash than substance. It's been wonderful to have deep soaking rain during the hottest part of the summer.  It hardly seems fair that the rain I'm loving is creating havoc in other parts of the world. Some places are getting too much rain, causing flooding, and other places are so dry, water is restricted and horrible fires are destroying every dry morsel before them. 

Have you noticed that books are like rain?  Some are cool and refreshing.  They soak  in giving rise to knowledge, pleasure, and personal growth. Often they inspire the reader to be a better person, to stand up for beliefs and principles, to think deeper thoughts, and set loftier goals. Some are light sprinkles; they entertain for a moment, then are forgotten.  Then there are those like a severe drought, devoid of anything of worth. They appeal to those who care only about their own whims and pleasures.  They waste precious time and leave minds barren and discouraged.  

We don't all have the same taste in reading material and that's a good thing, but within almost every genre lurks both refreshing rain and dismal drought. I've always read a wide range of genres and my favorites have varied from time to time, but always I enjoy books that uplift over those which leave me depressed.  (If I want to be depressed I just turn on the TV and watch world news!) In my weekly review column I try to give readers a preview of one uplifting new book each week. 

As a reviewer for an LDS magazine, I don't often get to pick which books I read, but I'm seldom disappointed with the books that fall within the parameters set for my column and which are sent to me by LDS publishers and authors.  I read books that appeal primarily to LDS adults and older teens.  They don't always have a direct reference to the Church, but they do portray values compatible with Church teachings.  Of course I don't review every book I receive, but I try to read all of them. My reasons for reviewing some and not others depends on a number of factors. It's not dependant entirely on the book being the best book, but on the overall impression it gave me, whether it's something fresh and new, whether I've recently reviewed a book that dealt with the same subject matter or was written by the same author, how well it was researched, and sometimes if the errors and format made reading the book more chore than pleasure. I don't review teen books unless there's a strong adult interest cross over and I don't review books that use crude language. Lately there has been a flurry of excellent novellas printed and I don't review those either except as part of my annual Christmas column. 

Hmm!  What shall I read next?  Should it be a romantic suspense by one of my favorite authors who never disappoints me?  Or the new author with an intriguing world view premise?  There's nothing else quite like curling up with a good book while the rain beats a rhythmic tune on the window pane.

 

Tuesday, July 22, 2014

Thanks!

This isn't a blog as much as a thank you to my grandsons.  I've certainly learned grandsons are handy to have around. I have eight grandsons and during the past little while they've come to my rescue numerous times. (I have five wonderful granddaughters too, but today is for "the boys.")

Spencer has kept our lawn mowed while his grandfather recovers from his injury. Jayden removed a vent I can't reach and fixed it so I have air-conditioning in my office.  Calton picked up a huge bag of pinecones that were littering the lawn and flowerbeds.  When we get together for family events, it's David and Nathan I can count on to haul chairs from the basement, set them up, and put them away afterward. David has also taught me a few helpful computer pointers.  Conner and Brandon are the ones I count on to make dozens of trips up and down the stairs to get things for me, they put away dishes left on the table, and help tend the little girls. Conner has assured me he'll mow the lawn anytime Spencer can't.   Right now I'm feeling particularly grateful for Chris, who fixed my desktop computer,  improved the connection for my new laptop, and did the same for my husband's computers. He works so much overtime it was difficult for him to find time to look at my computer when it died almost two weeks ago, but was finally able to schedule a few hours.  It's working better now than it did when it was new.  In today's world, it's a good thing to have an IT man in the family!

Being a grandparent is great and I've had a lot of fun doing things for my grandchildren, playing with them, going to their games, concerts, and recitals, buying them things, taking them places, etc.  I've enjoyed doing things for them, but with the health problems my husband and I have faced over the past two years, it's been rewarding and something I hadn't anticipated, how much they've done for us. Thanks guys!

 

Friday, July 18, 2014

Crisis to Crisis


I was once asked to describe my lifestyle.  At the time I thought that was a dumb question so I flippantly responded  "crisis to crisis." How true that turned out to be.

After losing both a brother and a sister to cancer and almost two years of fighting my way through two knee replacement surgeries, a pancreas surgery, followed by a fourth surgery to completely remove my  luck.  Or maybe this is the new normal. Four weeks ago my husband stood on a platform sawhorse to boost a sheet of plywood onto the roof of the shed he's building.  There was a sudden strong gust of wind that sent him and the plywood crashing to the cement below. Though no bones were broken his back, hip, and knee were seriously sprained. He's getting around on crutches now and will begin physical therapy next week. That put an end to most of the travel plans we had for this month and kept me so busy I didn't get much writing done.

And about the book I'm working on.  I finally reached the point where I could do between 500 and 1000 words a day and both of my computers died. Fortunately the chapters I've written are saved on a thumb drive.  I bought a new laptop, a DELL with all the bells and whistles, but I'm convinced the new Windows 8.1 was designed by a sadist! Also it connects to the internet just fine at Best Buy, but back home it won't run without an ethernet cable connection.  I really need my oldest grandson to come for a visit!

I've mentioned before that I'm a news junkie.  That's what comes of years of being a news reporter and editor; it never quite gets out of your blood.  However today's news  is so depressing and scary it makes my personal problems look like nothing in comparison.

I'm not a naturally pessimistic person so I keep telling myself to think of good and happy things.  Well, let's see.  My insulin pump saves me four to six shots a day.  That's definitely good. We're enjoying peppers, onions, potatoes, beets, and chard from our garden and they're very good. My flowers have been beautiful this summer.  I've had a good supply of excellent books to read and review this summer. I'll have a story called Santa Loves Me in my publisher's Christmas anthology called Christmas Treasures    which will be released in October. A grandson has kept our lawn mowed since his grandpa was injured. And though I'm a day late my new computer will let me post this blog. 

I found Rebecca of Sunnybrook Farm a tiresome book when I was a kid, but I have to admit, if we really try we can find an up side to most discouraging events. 

Wednesday, July 2, 2014

Proud to Be An American


Even with all of the problems our country currently faces, I'm proud to be an American.  Those words have resonated with me ever since I attended a convention a few years back and the man seated behind me suddenly stood and began singing those words.  He was nearly down the aisle, striding toward the podium before I realized he was Lee Greenwood. It was an exhilarating experience, but I've always been glad I was born in the USA.  I take great pride in knowing someone in my family took part in the Revolutionary War, the Civil War, the War of 1812, the Spanish American War, both World Wars, the Korean War, Vietnam, and Iraq. My family has been represented in all four branches of the military. I come from a long line of patriots who fought for freedom.

Even more important than military service is the way my family, like our country, is built from a conglomeration of ethnic and cultural backgrounds. My mother is a descendant of some of our country's earliest European settlers.  My father grew up in Canada and his grandmother was a runaway wife of an English nobleman. She joined the Mormon Church and was disowned by her husband. She then stole her children and fled to America.  Another of my great grandmothers, a native American, grew up on an Indian reservation in the eastern part of this country.  One of my brothers-in-law is part Shoshone and another is a descendant of the Trail of Tears Choctaws. My husband's great grandfather was a Danish fisherman, a descendant of the fierce Vikings.  One of our nieces married a Japanese-Hawaiian man, a nephew and his wife adopted three African children, our daughter-in-law's father is Puerto Rican and her mother, Hispanic, and another niece adopted five Russian children.  Our oldest grandson's wife is from Russia. Throw in a few kings, queens, pirates, outlaws, bootleggers, preachers, farmers, cowboys, a cobbler, an express rider, and a Mountie to complete the family picture.

When I hear of the limits on education, particularly for girls, in some countries, I want to weep.  I'm grateful for the public education and the choice of colleges I attended here in America.  I feel great gratitude for those who taught me to read and write. I'm thankful for the freedom to attend the church of my choice.  My life has been richly blessed with the family I grew up in and the family I parented as an equal partner with the man I chose to marry.  America is a land of great beauty and I appreciate my upbringing in the mountains and along the streams of the west, but many of the cities from Seattle to San Antonio from Salt Lake to Washington DC hold special places in my heart as well.  I love the freedom this country affords me to work and play, the choices it gives me, and the expectation of fairness.

Of course, there aren't always happy outcomes, even in the land of the free. Though this country's constitution is based on justice and freedom for all, I can think of many injustices that have occurred throughout our nation's history.  Many of those injustices touched my family.  The Trail of Tears was a horrible example of injustice as native families were forced off their rich tribal lands into a long march to barren Oklahoma land with many suffering and dying along the way.  One of my ancestors, a young man from Wales lacked the means to build a handcart to travel west in the 1850s so he indentured himself to raise the money for a later trip.  He disappeared and the rumor persists that because he was a dark skinned Welshman, he was sold south as a slave.  Just recently a family member who has risked his life numerous times to save others and who has been awarded two Purple Hearts for wounds he suffered in our nation's armed forces, was the victim of a court case based on a lie and the liar won. 

Immigration, jobs, freedom of religion, medical care, racial animosity, war, bullying, education, politics, energy development, biased journalism, judicial activism, homosexual rights, and the list could continue of those issues that divide our country. Some of the solutions proposed by both the left and right are absurd.  (I heard one opinionated man propose a law that for every illegal alien who crosses our Southern border we deport a liberal democrat to wherever the illegal came from.)  We won't solve anything with absurd one-sided nonsense. We're not going to solve these problems by not getting involved.  We won't solve them by shifting responsibility to a bigger and more powerful central government anymore than we'll resolve these problems by tossing out the rule of law and becoming a bunch of vigilantes. On this Fourth of July, our nation's birthday, it might be well to remember this country has a constitution, one many of us believe was inspired by God.  It is our own unique set of laws by which this country is to be governed and by no other. Real solutions come through open discussion, compromise, respect for others, and turning to God.     

America isn't perfect.  Our history has its share of heroic events, dark tragedies, idealistic splendor, and cruel injustice.  It isn't enough to say "but it's better than any other country in spite of its faults."  It's up to us to be aware and be involved, to make it the best. Though I respect and admire all the many lands my family derived from and wish them well, even cheer for them in sporting events unless they're playing America, the USA is my native land and I'm proud to be an American. 

It's customary on birthdays to wish the one celebrating a birthday many more birthdays.  On this birthday of America it is my fervent wish that all we Americans in our various shades of red, white, and blue get our act together and make sure we have many more birthdays to celebrate in the future. Let's ensure many more Fourth of July celebrations by standing up for what is right, getting involved, and appreciating what we have.

 

Wednesday, June 18, 2014

RED PENCILS


Correcting errors, pointing out weaknesses, stating my opinions!  I'm not sure if this is a tendency of years of editing, my role as a critic, if I can blame it on a Type A personality, or what, but I have a tendency to notice flaws and I can't help wanting to do something about them. Editors and school teachers use red pencils to make corrections.  Sometimes I wish making all kinds of corrections could be that easy. 

As I read social media posts, I groan at the abundance of incomprehensible sentences, misspelled words, and the incorrect usage or omission of words, even though I know a good share of the blame for the problem can be placed on spell checker or simply trying to type as fast as the writer thinks. With the sudden emergence of e-books and independent publishing on the world, the error rate has gone up in the books I read.  I wonder if a certain amount of the blame might also go to our schools for not spending as much time on educational basics as they once did.  Itty bitty keyboards can claim some of the blame too!  Where's my red pencil! 

I'm a news junkie and I've always been keenly interested in politics.  Today's politics provide plenty of disgust and annoyance whether you lean right or left.  Mistakes, errors, and downright incompetence and dishonesty abound.  Most of the time I'm glad I'm no longer an editor or reporter, but sometimes I get an urge to write what I think, then I remind myself we, the people, voted for these people because a) we were too lazy to get informed, b)we've confused government with fairy godmothers, or c)we're gullible and actually believed their campaign rhetoric.  I also blame today's news organizations since most belong to wealthy individuals who are more interested in their bottom line than real journalism. And what's with posting a cute story about a sweet little kitty on the front page and informing the world of the atrocities being committed by ISIS on an inside page?  I need gallons of red ink! 

This world is full of things I can find fault with; big uncovered bellies that hang over the tops of skirts or pants, people who think they know more than God, texting drivers, Federal ownership of most of the Western states, dresses that are too short on both ends, neighbors who don't water or mow their lawns, yapping dogs, boys' pants that sag below their underwear (if they bother to wear any), the price of gasoline, unvaccinated people, the lack of rights for Islamic women, people who believe rules are for other people, playing the race card, cancer, the cost of prescription drugs, atheist bigots, wasted tax dollars . . .  It's going to take more than a dozen red pencils! 

This world is full of problems, big and small.  Perhaps my impatience with some of these problems can be attributed to the fact I'm getting older, but I think I've always been aware mistakes, errors, weaknesses, and dishonesty can be readily found.  They're everywhere.  Some bother me more than others.  I remember asking my dad once why God allows bad things to happen and why some people seem to have worse problems than others.  He said he didn't know all the reasons, but he believed some were so we'd have something to work on while we're here.  This life is like school he explained; you can't get an A for just sitting in class or for not bothering to show up for class.  Assignments are given and homework has to be done. He also said some people aren't tempted by things some other people are because they've already passed those items off before they got here and don't need to prove themselves again.  It was his belief that we weren't all given the same talents and abilities because like at any good school, we aren't all taking the same classes. He assured me that in the end it all evens out. He left me a firm believer in doing my best to pass the tests that come my way, change what I can if it needs changing,  and that it's a good thing that God's the one who wields the red pencil.