Monday, December 31, 2012

Hiding Behind the Christmas Tree

Josh, Mom, Dad, Nathan, Casey.
I don't want this month to end. After working so hard to "win" NaNoWriMo, I really needed some time "off." I have always been a lover of all things Christmas so the timing was perfect, especially considering all the changes that are taking place in my family. My eldest son is moving from Atlanta to Los Angeles in January; my middle child is transferring to Georgia State University and leaving home for the first time. Also, my parents had decided to make the trip from southern Illinois to spend Christmas with all of us here in Atlanta. Realizing it might be a long time before I might have the opportunity to have the people I love best under my roof all at the same time, I elected to make the most of it.

I bought a fresh cut tree and trimmed it with all my favorite ornaments. I set the pictures from my boys' first Christmases on the mantle and hung the mistletoe from the ceiling. I shopped online and ordered handcrafted baubles from Etsy. I beaded and knitted and sewed. I wrote a Christmas letter, printed the photo of my kids at my birthday, and tucked them into cards. I wrapped gifts, baked dozens of cookies, and mailed packages. I taught my piano students holiday music and went to Celtic Christmas and Nutcracker. And I didn't miss a single party. 

Yes, there were moments I was tempted to slip into the "woe is me" mode. "There is so much to do I will never get it all done. I am so tired. This is so much work." Whenever I felt myself falling into that trap, I shook myself metaphorically and changed the self-talk. "Nobody is making you do anything, Pam. Do what you enjoy and let the rest go. Get some rest. Then get up again and play." 

That's why half my Christmas ornaments and household decorations are still in the boxes, two of my handmade gifts didn't get finished, and the Chex Party Mix is still unmade. It's also part of the reason why this was truly my best December ever.

My parents arrived safely at my brother's house the evening of the 22nd. We had Italian food at my house on the 23rd, opened presents at my brother's house on Christmas Eve, and shared Christmas dinner back at my house on the afternoon of the 25th. We ate and drank and talked and laughed and took hundreds of pictures. It all went by too fast. But I am left with wonderful memories and lessons learned. 

Now it is New Year's Eve, a time to reflect upon the previous year and make plans for the months ahead. More about that tomorrow. Because there's going to be a shindig at my house tonight. I think I'll whip up a couple of batches of that Chex Party Mix, after all.

Happy New Year!

Wednesday, December 26, 2012

Last First Date


My short story Last First Date is featured today over at Petit Fours and Hot Tamales (click HERE). Leave a comment at the end for a chance to win a handcrafted beach-themed necklace from The Wishing Box at Etsy. Then come back and leave a comment here with the bartender's name for a chance to win a $10 Amazon gift card. I am looking forward to hearing from you! Happy reading!

Thursday, December 13, 2012

Family Favorite Holiday Recipes

Styrofoam Santa has hung on my parents' front door at Christmas time for as long as I can remember.
I am blogging over at Petit Fours and Hot Tamales today about some of my family's favorite holiday traditions. When I was a little girl, my mom spent hours in the kitchen baking cookies and making candy, then serving it all up on huge serving platters and letting us all munch to our heart's content. Here are a few recipes that have become family classics.

BEST-EVER PEANUT BUTTER COOKIES
Ingredients:
1/4 cup butter
1/4 cup Crisco
1/2 cup sugar
1/2 cup brown sugar, firmly packed
1 egg
1 1/4 cups flour
1/2 teaspoon baking powder
3/4 teaspoon baking soda
1/4 teaspoon salt
Directions:
Cream butter, Crisco, peanut butter, sugar and brown sugar. Stir in egg. Sift together dry ingredients and combine with liquid ingredients. Chill dough. Roll into balls the size of large walnuts. Place three inches apart on lightly greased baking sheet. Flatten with fork dipped in flour; crisscross. Bake at 375 degrees for 10 to 12 minutes until cookies are set but not hard.

CHRISTMAS WINE COOKIES
Ingredients:
3/4 cup brown sugar
1/2 cup butter
1 1/2 cups flour
3/4 teaspoon baking soda
3/4 teaspoon baking powder
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/2 teaspoon nutmeg
1/2 teaspoon cinnamon
1 1/2 tablespoons milk or cream
1/4 cup sweet red wine
2 eggs, beaten
3 cups chopped pecans
1 pound candied fruit
1/2 pound golden raisins
1/2 pound chopped dates
Directions:
Mix until all ingredients are even. Drop by teaspoons on slightly greased cookie sheet and bake at 350 degrees for 12-15 minutes. These are still moist when done.

HELLO DOLLY SQUARES
1st layer: Melt 6 tablespoons butter; mix with 1 cup graham cracker crumbs and spread evenly in 13 by 9 inch pan.
2nd layer: 1 cup chocolate chips
3rd layer: 1 cup chopped pecans
4th layer: 1 cup flaked coconut
5th layer: 1 can sweetened condensed milk
Bake at 350 degrees for 30 minutes. Cool and cut into squares.

WHITE TRASH
Ingredients:
3 1/2 cups Cheerios toasted oat cereal
3 cups Rice Chex
3 cups Corn Chex
16 ounces M&M's plain chocolate candy
2 1/2 cups salted mixed nuts
2 cups small pretzels
2 (11 ounce) packages white chocolate chips (Ghirardelli brand preferred)
Directions:
Dump the cereals, M&Ms, nuts and pretzels in a large bowl.
Melt the white chocolate in the microwave or in a double boiler. Melt very slowly, stirring occasionally, being careful not to burn the chocolate.
Dump melted chocolate over the rest of the ingredients and fold over and over until you have well-coated hunks and chunks.
Spread the whole mess out on parchment paper and set in a cool place until it sets up, then break it into pieces.
Store in zip-top bags or air-tight containers.

Finally, for my snickerdoodles recipe, click HERE.

What are your family's favorite holiday recipes? Leave a comment below and feel free to share the ingredients and directions. I am always on the lookout for something new!

Monday, December 10, 2012

Caging Christmas Humbug


If you frequently give yourself permission to doodle, wander, and be totally unproductive, Pam , and you actually relish such interludes, I can guarantee that your genius, creativity, and productivity will increase exponentially.
~ The Universe

It's a great day when I find Note From The Universe in my email box. One of last week's messages, quoted above, was very timely.

After my marathon writing effort to finish NaNoWriMo, I was exhausted. Other than a bit of journaling, I haven't done any writing since. I have spent time with my kids, gotten the house ready for Christmas, experimented with a fruit cake recipe, finished my holiday shopping. I have kept up with my piano students, shipped a few orders from my Etsy store, promoted Seasons and Seashells. I have eaten well, exercised a bit, gotten plenty of sleep. I have read a little, watched some television, planned some holiday craft projects.

As a matter of fact, when I'm not fretting about what is not happening, I am having the time of my life. But those nagging reminders about the credit card debt and all the repairs that need to be done around the house and the extra fifteen pounds I am carrying around and all those unfulfilled dreams run like a ticker tape through my head, looping and repeating, taking me out of the present moment and robbing me of my joy. So I decided to do something about them.

I got out a pad of paper and wrote all the negative stuff down. Then I folded up those three sheets of college-ruled paper, tucked them into an old wooden box, and shut the lid. I even went so far as to retrieve an old lock from my boys' scouting days, latch it to the front of the box, and turn the key. In January, after the celebrating is finished and the decorations are put away, I will release the monster from its cage, make a plan, and get to work.

In the meantime, there are cards to write, packages to wrap, cookies to bake, gifts to make, events to attend, and friends to visit. I will do the simple things that mean the most to me and leave the rest to Martha Stewart.

I hope you are having a happy holiday season. Don't miss a single precious moment.

Monday, December 3, 2012

Last First Date


For the past several years, the Petit Fours and Hot Tamales bloggers have joined forces to give their supporters a free read during the holiday season. This year, our offering is an anthology of short stories entitled Seasons and Seashells. Scheduled to run December 17-28, each of our stories tells of a beginning and an ending and features seashells in various contexts.

"Our" stories? Yes, my short story Last First Date is a part of the anthology. And I am pleased to announce that the entire collection is currently available in various e-book reading formats at Smashwords (click HERE). Best of all, Seasons and Seashells is FREE! I hope you will download your digital copy immediately, and then share it with your friends everywhere. And let me know what you think!

Wednesday, November 28, 2012

NaNoWriMo/ROW 80 Update


Fifty thousand words in thirty days? 1,667 words a day. Piece of cake, right?

It seemed like such a good idea on November first. But as of 9:00PM on Wednesday, November twenty-eighth, I'm at 38,627 words. Which means I have another 11,373 words to complete before midnight on Friday.

Sigh.

I know I can do it. I wrote over four thousand words on Monday and dashed off an astonishing 5,314 words yesterday. That was a new record for me.

But it won't be easy. And the truth is I was so far behind by Thanksgiving that if I hadn't already purchased my Winner's T-Shirt (isn't it beautiful?) I would have probably dropped the ball completely. So I am glad I have the extra incentive to make the push. Because I have learned a lot about myself as a writer the past several days. I have figured out how to silence my inner critic and draft without editing. As a result, I have discovered that I am capable of writing two or three times faster than I thought possible. Granted, some of those words won't survive revision. But many of them will.

And there have been some crazy surprises along the way. One of my main characters just turned up dead--really!--and while I began writing from the point of view of a sixteen-year old girl, today I switched to the point of view of her best friend's mother. I'm not sure which I will choose for the final draft, whether this book will end up young adult or women's fiction. But NaNoWriMo gave me a thirty-day pass to experiment with a new genre and writing style, and I feel so much richer because of it.

I am in desperate need of a cut and color, my laundry basket is overflowing, I haven't been out for a run in almost a week, and I heard through the grapevine that Christmas is coming. I'll get around to all of that on December first.

But right now I have a novel to finish.

Wednesday, November 21, 2012

Pendants from Grandmother's Button Box

My blog post about using buttons from my grandmother's button box was inspired by a Facebook friend who sent me the following message:

Do you make any jewelry with buttons? If so, could I commission you to make six sets of something with a button collection I've had since childhood?

I accepted the challenge. Since my friend wasn't sure that all of her sisters have pierced ears, she requested necklaces. Inspired by this tutorial, I came up with the prototype below, using shell buttons from my grandmother's collection.


Close-up. The crystals on the sides are from a broken necklace that belonged to my grandmother.
Finally, I was ready to begin work on my commission. Here are five of the six button clusters I created, using wooden beads and copper findings in addition to the buttons. Since my Facebook friend also reads this blog, I am omitting the picture of her necklace, which incorporates Swarovski crystals along with the buttons and copper findings.


Although I love them all, this necklace is my personal favorite of the five.


Now that I know what to do and how to do it, I think I will offer these on my Etsy site as a commissioned item for anyone who wants it. Do you have a button collection you would like to share in a special way with family or friends? Email me or convo me on Etsy and let me help you!

* * *

ROW 80 update: Now that all my special order jewelry has been shipped I can spend more time on my NaNoWriMo project. I am definitely behind on my word count goal but I crossed the 20K mark late last night. Three thousand words a day between now and the end of November will put me in the winner's circle. Here I go! 

Tuesday, November 20, 2012

Choosing Joy

The choice to adopt a moment by moment attitude of gratitude is the choice that differentiates those who suffer the slings and arrows of misfortune and those who are blessed with a joyous and abundant life.
~ Leslie Fieger

Rock Star. October 28, 2005.
It seems like only yesterday that I was adamantly not making any New Year's resolutions, and now Thanksgiving is upon us. Many of my Facebook friends have making daily posts of gratitude; most of the bloggers I know are sharing their gratitude lists this week. Yet I have been sitting here with my laptop open for more than an hour, sifting through old photos and scratching my head, unable to begin.

It's not that I don't feel thankful overall; my Happiness Jar is overflowing. The past few days, though, it's been tough to maintain perspective. I am struggling financially, the kids are bickering and unhappy, I am perpetually exhausted and overworked, I have zero romantic prospects, and there is no end in sight for any of it.

But as stressful and challenging as this time is, there is also a bright side. The boys and I are healthy; we have a roof over our heads and food to eat and clothes to wear and many creature comforts. I get to make music and satisfy other creative urges, artistic and literary, on a daily basis; and I have family and friends who love me.

That is quite a list. Fear or courage? Anxiety or confidence? Despair or hope? Loneliness or love? It seems just plain wrong to bow down to the dark gods of fear, anxiety, despair and loneliness.

I choose joy. May you have a joyous and abundant Thanksgiving.

Saturday, November 17, 2012

Liam, Joseph and Philip

As you might recall, my piano student Liam Butler-Lawrence was invited to the stage at the Whisperings Solo Piano Concert a couple of weeks ago. Here is a video of his performance. 


Would you like to see a little bit more of the concert? Here is Joseph Akins playing a medley of two of my personal favorites, Feeling Joy and In the Country.


And finally, here is Philip Wesley with Light and Shadow.


Thanks to Sam Bennett of Piano Works in Duluth for making these great recordings and sharing them with the world. I hope you enjoy them as much as I did.

Tuesday, November 13, 2012

Meaití Jó Shéamuis Ó Fátharta

Regret for the things we did can be tempered by time; it is regret for the things we did not do that is inconsolable.
~ Sydney J. Harris

Pam Asberry and Meaití Jó Shéamuis Ó Fátharta
On the heels of two days of selling my handmade jewelry at the craft show last weekend, all I really wanted to do Saturday evening was go home, change into my jammies, and crawl into bed with a glass of wine. But I had promised my friend Julia that I would attend her house concert Saturday night, so I did. As is always the case, I was so thankful I made the effort.

The featured artist was acclaimed Sean nós singer, Uilleann piper and flutist from Connemara, County Galway, Ireland, Meaití Jó Shéamuis Ó Fátharta, also known as "Mattie." He shared all of his gifts with us. And in between songs and musical sets, he educated us about the history, culture and music of his beloved Ireland. If I hadn’t already wanted to visit, I would have after spending an evening with Mattie.


 

My favorite performance came at the very end of the program, when Mattie invited my piano student Liam to be his accompanist on his final set on the Uilleann pipes.



At intermission, I bought a copy of Mattie’s CD Bóithríní an Locháin (click HERE for more info) so I can listen to his beautiful music anytime, anywhere. If you love Irish music or would like to get a taste of it you can’t go wrong with this one.

Thanks to Julia, Liam and Mattie for letting me be a part of a magical Saturday night that otherwise would have been completely forgotten.

I’ll sleep when I’m dead.
~ Warren Zevon

Saturday, November 10, 2012

Bloom Market


Today I'm selling my handmade jewelry at Bloom Market in downtown Buford, Georgia. Click HERE to read about each of the other twenty-three vendors and her wares; better yet, stop by and pay us a visit! 

554 West Main Street 
Buford, Georgia 30518
Hours: 10-4

I look forward to seeing you there!

Wednesday, November 7, 2012

These Shoes Were Made for Voting

They got me where I needed to go.
It's been a crazy month so far. I'm teaching full time, beading a few last-minute items for Bloom Market this weekend, and attempting to restore some sense of order to my busy home in preparation for the holidays--all while trying to keep up my daily word count for NaNoWriMo. As of Sunday night, I was right on track.

But Monday I managed to eke out only about two hundred words; yesterday, I didn't write at all. But I did vote--and it took longer than it might have. Although I only had to wait in line for about thirty minutes, since Rock Star has been using my car to get to and from work every day, I had no transportation other than my own two feet. I almost talked myself out of going. But then I thought about all the people in the world who would give up a lot more than a couple of hours of their time and a few hundred calories for the right to vote. So I put on my running shoes, bundled myself up against the cold, grabbed an umbrella, and walked two miles to the polling place. The muddy shoulder between my subdivision and my destination and the stoplight at the big intersection there were my biggest challenges. But I made it. I cast my ballot, got my sticker, and made it home in plenty of time for my first piano student at two o'clock. By the time I finished my day at eight-thirty, I was too tired to do anything but join the rest of the country in watching the election results. But it was a good kind of tired.

I made my best effort to catch up this morning but had to stop with only 884 words to show for my morning's work. The good news is I'm at 7,777 words, with 42,223 remaining towards my end-of-month goal. However, I already I know I won't be able to write at all on Saturday, November 10th or on Thanksgiving Day. So my revised daily word count goal is 2,011 words. I will succeed!

Tuesday, November 6, 2012

Shop Local, Shop Handmade

Lampwork Glass Stocking Earrings
I just added twenty pairs of holiday earrings to my Etsy store. Whether you're looking for a gift for someone special or a new addition to your own jewelry wardrobe, I hope you will pay my online shop a visit!

Monday, November 5, 2012

Joseph Akins/Philip Wesley Live In Concert

l-r: Joseph Akins, Liam, Pam Asberry, Philip Wesley
Saturday night I had the privilege of hearing two of my favorite Whisperings Solo Piano Radio artists, Joseph Akins and Philip Wesley, perform at Piano Works in Duluth, Georgia.

Philip Wesley
Joseph Akins
Each artist played four original compositions on the beautiful Bosendorfer concert grand piano in during the first half of the show. Then, right after intermission, there was a surprise performance by one of my very own piano students, Liam. He did an outstanding job. I couldn't have been more proud!

Liam
It is a Whisperings tradition for the artists to conclude an evening of solo piano music with a joint improvisation. Joseph and Philip did not disappoint. They started out slow and easy


but ended up wild and crazy.

Notice the shades!
These talented and personable musicians hung around after the show to chat and autograph sheet music and CD's. I love listening to this type of music when I write as well as playing the sheet music myself. But there is nothing like hearing it played live by the composers on a concert grand piano. I hope you will visit these artists' websites and consider adding some of their CD's and/or sheet music to your own collections and getting on their mailing lists to find out about upcoming concerts in your own area. Or visit Whisperings Solo Piano Radio on the internet to sample music by them and others. It's available twenty-four hours a day and it's FREE!

Thursday, November 1, 2012

NaNoWriMo, Day One

Our local NaNoWriMo kickoff party was a huge success! Most of my writer pals showed up in costume. Although I was the only one wearing a tutu


but I was not the only witch on the premises. 


We feasted on pulled pork sliders prepared by our host, Mike



along with an assortment chips, dips, desserts and other goodies provided by everyone else in attendance.

Tony and Alex
Kaitlyn
Julie
Esme
It was like New Year's Eve. We thought midnight would never arrive. But finally it did!

Our fearless leader, Shawn
Thirty minutes flew by, but everyone had already completed at least five hundred words. Forty-five minutes later, although I was too tired to to do anything besides make the long drive home, I was well over a thousand. I slept a few hours, and wrote some more. By the time I had to shut down my laptop and start my teaching day, I had 1820 words under my belt. I posted this total to the NaNoWriMo website; my username is pamasberry, if you want to be my writer buddy there. If you are not a participant but want to follow my progress, I have added a word count widget to the sidebar on the right of this blog.

I am totally stoked about this project and can hardly wait to get back to work on it tomorrow. It is a young adult novel, narrated in first person present tense--a new genre and a new writing style for me. I am enjoying getting to know my characters and telling their story.

How did you spend your Halloween/NaNoWriMo Eve? Do you NaNo? Yes, I am using that as a verb...

Wednesday, October 31, 2012

Boo!

I didn't attend a fireworks display on the fourth of July and have felt rather deprived ever since. So when I received an invitation to a Halloween/NaNoWriMo kick-off party tonight, I determined I wouldn't miss any more holiday fun.

Even if that meant donning a costume. But what to wear? I did a 5K race on Saturday and noticed that several of the participants were wearing tutus; this is fairly common at such events. "I have always wanted a tutu," I sighed to my brother and sister-in-law, who ran with me. So a couple of days later, when I discovered this tutorial online, I knew exactly what I would be for Halloween. A tutu-wearing witch! I located the purple and black striped tights and black witch hat at a local Halloween store. I found a purple feather boa, too. But I adapted the tutu directions as follows.

I used one-inch black elastic, wrapped it around my waist to fit, and sewed it closed on my machine. Then I cut three yards each of 54-inch black glitter tulle and purple tulle and one yard of 54-inch violet sparkle tulle into 4" by 27" strips; finally, I cut the violet tulle strips in half (4" by 13 1/2"). To create the tutu, I attached the strips according to the directions in the tutorial in this order:

*black/purple/black/purple/black/violet/purple/black/purple/black/purple/violet/repeat from * until elastic is covered

Except I didn't actually fold the strips in half and then in half again before attaching them to the elastic. I just kind of bunched them up in the middle and tied the knot. I am very pleased with the results.  My first tutu!

Now, here's hoping my NaNoWriMo novel (that's a commitment of 1667 words a day, no matter how you slice it) goes as well!

Monday, October 29, 2012

Making Soap

I crossed item #52 off my bucket list on Saturday. I made lye soap!
Lavender oatmeal soap, to be exact.
I am addicted to handmade soap. Not only does it smells good, it is gentle on the skin and it lasts a long time. I rarely come home from a craft show without a bar or two. Sweet, floral or spicy, I love it all. 

I have long toyed with the idea of making soap myself but I was never able to muster the courage to attempt it in my own kitchen. Lye is highly caustic; handled improperly, it can be downright dangerous. Then I met Emilie Sennebogen. She was selling her line of handmade body products at a local festival. I admired her wares and purchased a couple of bars of her all-natural soap. When I learned that she had just opened a small shop in Decatur, Georgia and planned to offer soap making classes at some point, I eagerly signed up for her email list. And when she announced her class schedule, I was one of the first to register.
Rebecca and Liz of Mama
My sister-in-law SeDonna went with me on Saturday. Just walking into the shop is a sensory delight. It is sunny and bright, well-organized and filled with delightful smells. There were six of us in the class; our instructor, Rebecca, began with the history of soap making, discussed safety procedures, and guided us through the recipe we would follow. Then we set to work in teams of three to make lavender oatmeal soap.

We lined our cardboard molds. We measured our ingredients. We melted our fats and mixed up our lye solution. Then we added the lye to the oil (never the other way around) and mixed it up with an immersion hand blender.
My team mates SeDonna and Mike.
 Last, we incorporated the oatmeal and lavender essential oil and poured the mixture into our molds, covering them with thick towels. We each came home with a pound of soap; after waiting the required 24 hours, I cut mine into bars and set them on a brown paper bag to cure. Although the soap is ready to use now, we were advised to wait a couple of weeks for it to harden so it will last longer.

I am hooked! I came home with enough supplies to make three more pounds of soap, spent hours online yesterday, researching soap making and other sources for ingredients. Eventually, I plan to make all of our  household soap and shampoo, lotions and scrubs. In the meantime, I am looking forward to sharing my handmade soap with friends and family members over the holidays.

Whether you want to learn to make soap yourself or simply buy some wonderful handmade body products, I hope you will visit Mama in Decatur, Georgia. The address is 743D East College Avenue. They accept mail orders too; click HERE for the details. Tell them I sent you!

Friday, October 26, 2012

The opposite of irresistible


Since Jack and I parted ways last summer, I have avoided the dating sites. I have been too busy with my children, my piano students, my online jewelry store, and my writing to spend time thinking about what might be missing in my life. Earlier this week, though, in a moment of weakness, I made a brief foray back into the world of online dating.

During that time, I was hit upon by a married man, a twenty-three year old, and three guys I had spoken with previously who, for reasons unknown, never made the effort to go beyond messaging back and forth on the website. I also received this (unedited) introductory message from Mike*, an age-appropriate and geographically desirable male person:

YOU SOUND LIKE ME...SO ARE YOU A TRUE BELEAVER IN UNCONDITIONAL LOVE...AND WOULD YOU EVER BE A PERSON THAT WOULD LIKE TO BE IN A THREE SUM...DO YOU LIKE TO GO BAREFOOT AND MAKE LOVE IN THE RAIN...AND WOULD YOU BE A WOMEN THAT LIKES TO JUST CLEAN OR COOK OR JUST BE NAKED ALL THE TIME IN THE HOUSE WITH YOUR LOVER...AND WOULD YOU EVER SAY NO TO A MAN WANTING TO TAKE YOUR CLOTHES OFF ANYTIME ANYWHER...AND MAKING LOVE TO YOU OR JUST TO GIVE YOU ORAL PLEASURE...THATS UNCONDITIONAL LOVE

I couldn't make this stuff up if I tried. Please excuse me now while I head over to OKCupid and delete my profile...for the LAST time...


*names have been changed

Wednesday, October 24, 2012

THE NEXT BEST THING by Jennifer Weiner


Inside cover blurb:

Actors aren’t the only ones trying to make it in Hollywood…

At twenty-three, Ruth Saunders left her childhood home in Massachusetts and headed west with her seventy-year-old grandma in tow, hoping to make it as a screenwriter. Six years later, she hits the jackpot when she gets The Call: the sitcom she wrote, The Next Best Thing, has gotten the green light, and Ruthie’s going to be the showrunner. But her dreams of Hollywood happiness are threatened by demanding actors, number-crunching executives, an unrequited crush on her boss, and her grandmother’s impending nuptials.

Set against the fascinating backdrop of Los Angeles show business culture, with an insider’s ear for writer’s room showdowns and an eye for bad backstage behavior and set politics, Jennifer Weiner’s new novel is a rollicking ride on the Hollywood roller coaster, a heartfelt story about what it’s like for a young woman to love, and lose, in the land where dreams come true.

I really enjoyed this book and the glimpse it offered me the world of television production. Orphaned and disfigured from an accident when she was too young to remember, Ruth has faced more challenges in her life than the average girl. Raised by an amazing grandmother, another character we grow to respect and admire, Ruth has dealt with her share of struggles we all can relate to: being dumped by a best friend, being taken advantage of by a guy she is crazy about, worrying that she isn’t good enough in a thousand different ways. Most of all, though, this story is about our creative dreams and how far we are willing to compromise to see them realized. Although I got off to a slow start due to a couple of editorial issues, once I got past them I couldn’t put this book down until I reached its highly satisfying conclusion.

Recommended!

NOTE: I received a copy of this book for FREE from the publisher, Atria Books, a division of Simon & Schuster, Inc., in exchange for a written review. There was no expectation that this review be either positive or negative, and I was not given any financial compensation to read the book or write the review. This information is disclosed in accordance with the Federal Trade Commission's 16 CFR, Part 255 [...] Guides Concerning the Use of Endorsements and Testimonials in Advertising.

Monday, October 22, 2012

Butch's All-American BBQ

Friday I had the pleasure of dining at Butch's All American BBQ restaurant.

Located in Buford, Georgia at the intersection of Braselton Highway and Old Peachtree Road, don't let the unassuming exterior deceive you.


Butch serves up some of the best southern food in the area: slow-cooked barbecue, scrumptious sides, delectable desserts, and plenty of sweet tea. The menu is huge; I had a terrible time deciding what to order. I finally settled on a chicken barbecue plate with potato/spinach/onion/cheese casserole, collard greens and corn cakes. For dessert, I chose banana pudding. I ate every bite of everything.

 

Owner Butch Walker is a native southerner who's been cooking barbecue and doing catering for thirty years. According to his website, "after along career in the corporate world, Butch traded in his necktie for an apron and is now fulfilling his passion, offering an upbeat dining experience where people can gather together to enjoy the pleasures of good southern food and warm hospitality." Butch is supported in this family run business by his wife, Linda, and his daughter and c0-owner, Melissa Kamphuis.
Linda and Butch
You owe it to yourself to pay Butch's All American BBQ a visit. Print a copy of this blog post and present it at the counter to receive ten percent off your order. You just might see me there!


Sunday, October 21, 2012

Tweaking the Plan

I'm torn between two lovers: my revision-in-progress, with two outstanding requests, and National Novel Writing Month, aka NaNoWriMo, which starts in just ten days.

The revision is going well from a certain standpoint. However, doing what needs to be done to to improve the story has meant cutting almost fifteen thousand words in the past two weeks. Of course I am adding words, too, but the word count is increasing very slowly. At this point, I might as well admit there is no way I will have a completed manuscript by my self-imposed October 31st deadline.

Meanwhile, NaNoWriMo is right around the corner, and I am more than ready for a fresh start. In the three years that have passed since I started writing The Wishing Box, I have learned much about craft and am chomping at the bit to put those skills to work. However, in order to be successful, I realize that I need a plan. I have discovered that I am neither a "pantser" nor a "plotter" but more of a "puzzler." And if I am going to end up with a novel worth finishing on November 30th, I need to do some prep work.

Chris Baty, the founder of NaNoWriMo, has written a couple of books to help writer wannabes. I read No Plot, No Problem a couple of years ago; recently, my writer pal Shawn presented me with a copy of Ready, Set, Novel which I am eager to dig into. This blog post seems to be kind of a condensed version of Ready, Set, Novel. It's all good stuff.

Regardless of which approach I use, though, I need to set aside a few days to gather my thoughts, decide what my story is going to be about, get to know my characters, and outline key scenes before midnight on Halloween night. So I am revising my #ROW80 goals to reflect that. This evening, I will put the final sheen on the first three chapters of The Wishing Box and submit them to the agent who requested them at the Moonlight and Magnolias Conference. Then I will set that project aside and spend the next ten days building momentum for my NaNoWriMo novel, which just might turn out to be the book that actually lands me a publishing contract.

Friday, October 19, 2012

The Complaint Department Is Closed


See if you can catch yourself complaining in either speech or thought, about a situation you find yourself in, what other people do or say, your surroundings, your life situation, even the weather. To complain is always nonacceptance of what is. It invariably carries an unconscious negative charge. When you complain, you make yourself a victim. Leave the situation or accept it. All else is madness.
~ Eckhart Tolle

This quote, which appeared in Mastin Kipp's daily newsletter yesterday, hit me right between the eyes. The more I thought about it, I realized how much complaining I do and how counterproductive it is. It does nothing to improve my circumstances; as a matter of fact, it seems to promote a general feeling of discontent. For example, it was chilly outside when I took my dog out this morning. Barefoot, dressed in pajama pants and tank top, I was shivering--and grumbling--by the time Karma finished his business. But it's October in Atlanta; chilly mornings are to be expected. Suddenly recognizing the futility of being upset about this, I stopped myself, took a deep breath, allowing the resistance to pass through me. I smiled, acknowledging the change in seasons, hustled back inside, pulled on a pair of fuzzy socks and a comfy sweater, and started my morning coffee. And just like that, my whole attitude towards the day had shifted.

The lesson here? If it is within my power to change something I don't like about my life, I will change it. If it is not, then I will accept it with gratitude. I refuse to continue to add to the din of crazy in the world with any more useless complaining.

Thursday, October 18, 2012

Cake Decorating 101

You've got this life and while you've got it you'd better kiss like you only have one moment, try to hold someone's hand like you will never get another chance to, look into people's eyes like they're the last you'll ever see, watch someone sleeping like there's no time left, jump if you feel like jumping, run if you feel like running, play music in your head when there is none, and eat cake like it's the only one left in the world!
~C. JoyBell C.

Yes, they taste good. But my cakes have never been things of beauty.
Casey's 11th birthday.
Sprinkles hide a multitude of sins.

I often thought about taking a cake decorating class but somehow never got around to it. That is, until a couple of weeks ago. Eager to knock a few items off my bucket list, I marched myself into my local Michael's, signed up for Wilton Course 1, and purchased my supplies. 

I learned enough in the very first session to feel that I had gotten my money's worth from the class. Tips to bake flatter cakes. Tips to keep the cake from sticking to the icing while trying to spread it. How to smooth the icing once it's on the cake. How to use those intimidating decorator bags and tips. 

Then, using purchased Wilton decorator icing, we practiced making stars on the cookies we brought with us to class. I found it the icing stiff and hard to work with, but here are my first efforts.


There was prep work for the second session. Using recipes we were given in class, we were to make two batches of icing: one thin for putting on our cake, and one medium for decorating it. We were also to bake an eight-inch layer cake. When we got to class, we colored our thin icing blue and put it on our cake


then colored our medium icing yellow and red and filled our decorator bags.


Finally, our patient instructor showed us how to create the patterns we would need


and how to transfer line designs. Then she turned us loose to decorate our cakes . 

The homemade icing was much easier to work with than the stuff from the can, and I had a lot of fun squeezing and swirling and finishing my project. Here is my masterpiece.


Next week we will learn how to make various types of flowers and leaves and practice them on cupcakes. And in our final class, we will learn how to print and write words and make ribbon roses and use them to decorate a two-layer cake. Look out, Cake Boss! Pam is in the kitchen now!