30 January 2013

Book Review: WRITE FOR THE FIGHT

 
 
WRITE FOR THE FIGHT (edited by Diane Hughes, cover art by Bea Thompson) is a "collection of seasonal essays" by Tess Hardwick and Tracey M. Hansen, as well as eleven other writers (Gordon Bonnet, Galit Breen, F. Jo Bruce, Derek Flynn, Jesse James Freeman, Laura Kilmartin, Marni Mann, Karla J. Nellenbach, Terry Persun, Laura Tiberio, Laura Zera) who answered the questions:
 
· What do you miss about being 5 years old?
· What would you tell your 20-year-old self?
· What, at this point in your life, do you want, wish and dream of for your life going forward?
· What would you want said about you on your 80th birthday?
 
I don't usually read collections like this. In fact, ever since I graduated from college and my grades don't depend upon reading essays, I kind of avoid them like the plague. (If I'm being completely honest, I didn't actually read many of the essays I was supposed to read in college either. You'd be amazed how much you can actually learn if you simply pay attention to the things a teacher says in class!) Anyway, my point is that this isn't normally the kind of book I would pick up if I saw it on the bookstore shelf. The main draw for me initially was the fact that the proceeds from this book go toward breast cancer research. Because I'm always a sucker for a good cause... and after going through my own radiation treatments and such, I sort of have a soft spot for anyone who wants to help kick cancer.
 
(Yes, I realize that breast cancer and brain tumors aren't the same thing. And since my tumor was "as benign as a brain tumor can be," according to the doctor who took the time to explain my treatments to my totally stressed out mom, I do realize that I'm not actually a "cancer survivor." But trust me, when you're sitting in the cancer center waiting room, getting ready to go in for your sixth week of radiation treatments, or waiting to talk to an oncologist about whether you should start chemotherapy now or if surgery should be the next step, you don't spend your time thinking "that guy with the brain tumor over there understands what I'm going through because we have the same thing but that girl with the breast cancer and the one with the lung cancer will never understand how hard this is." And the one with the breast cancer? Or the one with lung cancer? They aren't setting themselves apart either. We're kind of all in this together.)
 
I was pleasantly surprised to find that I truly enjoyed this collection. Since the essays were each only a few pages long, it was the perfect "in between" book to pick up for a quick read whenever I only had a minute or two, and the essays were well-written and thought-provoking. I was especially impressed with the variety of writers included in this collection. There was truly a voice for every reader to relate to.
 
Within this collection, I found writers who made me laugh out loud, some who totally touched my heart and made me cry, and one that I did not care for at all. (Her style totally rubbed me the wrong way, and although I did attempt to read each of her entries to the collection, there was only one that I didn't end up skipping over.) But that's the great thing about it! With 13 authors to choose from (each answering the 4 questions), I didn't even feel like I was missing out when I skipped an essay or two.
 
And the best part about this book is the way it got me thinking.
· What do I miss about being 5 years old?
· What would I tell my 20-year-old self? (I've already discovered what my 20-year-old self would tell me, but would I have any wisdom to impart to a younger me?)
· What, at this point in my life, do I want, wish and dream of for my life going forward?
· What would I want said about me on my 80th birthday?
 
I'm going to give it some thought... and this weekend, I'll try to answer these questions.
 
What about you? How would you answer?

27 January 2013

Becoming Perfect, One Day at a Time

This morning, in my daily devotional study, I came across the following from Lorenzo Snow (President of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints - the Mormon Church - from 1898 to 1901):

Do not expect to become perfect at once. If you do, you will be disappointed. Be better today than you were yesterday, and be better tomorrow than you are today. The temptations that perhaps partially overcome us today, let them not overcome us so far tomorrow. Thus continue to be a little better day by day; and do not let your life wear away without accomplishing good to others as well as to ourselves.
Each last day or each last week should be the best that we have ever experienced, that is, we should advance ourselves a little every day, in knowledge and wisdom, and in the ability to accomplish good.
 
 He didn't say that we shouldn't expect perfection. In fact, he encourages each of us to eventually attain perfection in our lives by striving each day to be a little bit more perfect than we were yesterday.

This advice is going into my permanent file of encouragement. Because it applies to every aspect of life.

Yes, I will make mistakes as I strive to be the best mom ever. There may be times when, tired and discouraged, I will lose my temper and yell, and then send the kids to their rooms, instead of taking the time to calmly discuss the issues we're struggling with. Or I may, from time to time, serve cold cereal for dinner instead of a 4-course gourmet meal. But these little setbacks don't mean I've killed my chances for ever being a good mom. (Heck, sometimes we need a cold cereal night more than we need a gourmet dinner!)

Yes, I will make mistakes with my writing. I might write a truly terrible first draft of a story, full of two-dimensional characters and totally lacking depth and direction. But I can revise, rework and edit that story until it shines. I might accidentally send a query letter for my story about a little clown who struggles with the fact that he doesn't have over-sized feet like the other clowns to an agent who has a terrible fear of clowns... and then discover a tweet from that same agent where she admits her phobia and advises that all clown stories should be destroyed immediately. But I can research other agents, looking for one who loves clowns before I send other queries. (Note: this is a hypothetical situation. I don't have such a story... although now I want to write it... and if I do, I promise not to send it to any agents or editors who have openly admitted their Coulrophobia.)

Yes, I will make mistakes as a wife, a friend, a daughter, a sister, and a Christian. There will be moments when I am far from perfect. But that's the great thing about this life. We have second chances. When we make mistakes, we can pick ourselves up, dust ourselves off and fix them. We can move forward each day, working to make ourselves today just a little bit better than we were yesterday.

And we will have moments (many, many moments) when we are perfect. That cake recipe you've been struggling with for years? Finally came out perfectly... That complicated piano piece you've been practicing? You didn't miss a single note this time... That phone call you made to a friend, just because you were thinking of her? It was exactly what she needed at a particularly low point in her life. - We may not see or recognize all of our perfect moments, and we may stumble and fall more than once in between those moments. But that's okay.

Because the Lord only asked us to "Be ye therefore perfect," (Matthew 5:48). He didn't say "and I expect you to do it all today."

25 January 2013

Crock Pot Gourmet: Super Spaghetti Sauce

 
Last week, I promised that I'd share my famous spaghetti sauce recipe today. It's super-easy and totally delicious. On many occasions, I've served this sauce to children whose parents insist "my child refuses to eat sauce. He'll only eat the noodles," and in all but one instance (the one time when the child stubbornly refused to take even the tiniest first taste), the picky eaters have come back for seconds on sauce. The combination of pumpkin and V-8 juice gives the perfect amount of natural sweetness to the sauce.

The basic ingredients you will need:

2 large cans V8 juice (original flavor)
1 large can pumpkin puree (NOT pumpkin pie filling - you want pure pumpkin)
Italian seasoning
minced garlic
 
I often add:
 
1 large onion, diced
1 or 2 large bell peppers, diced
8 oz. mushrooms, sliced (or 1-2 oz. dried mushrooms - they'll rehydrate as the sauce cooks)
1 can chopped black olives
1 tsp. rosemary
 
And sometimes, I add:
 
1 lb. Italian meatballs or sausage
or 1 lb. ground turkey or hamburger, browned and drained
1 tsp. crushed red pepper flakes
 
First, dump the pumpkin puree into the bottom of a 7-quart Crock Pot.
 
Add Italian seasoning (about 3 Tbsp, I think - I always just measure out a large handful).
 
Add 1-2 Tbsp. minced garlic. Or, if you have fresh garlic, add several whole cloves.
 
Toss in any of the "extra" ingredients you like.
 
This time around, I used chopped red bell pepper and meatballs, because that's what I had on hand. But my absolute favorite is a combination of bell pepper, onions, mushrooms and olives. The flavor is so full that you won't miss the meat, even if you don't often cook vegan dishes!
 
You can choose to make this as a delicious vegan sauce...
 
Or add your favorite meat, if you're more of the carnivorous type.
 
Cook on low heat for at least 4-5 hours. Flavor intensifies the longer you keep it cooking, so I'll often throw everything together first thing in the morning and let it cook all day long.
 
For a thicker sauce, add more pumpkin, or use only one can V8 (I'd probably use a smaller Crock Pot, in that case). When pumpkins aren't in season, sometimes it's difficult to find the cans of pumpkin puree in the store. In that case, I'll use pureed carrots or sweet potatoes instead. A little bit more work (peeling, cutting, cooking and mashing), but it's every bit as delicious!

22 January 2013

Book Review: HOP! PLOP! by Corey Rosen Schwartz

 
I read this adorable picture book (HOP! PLOP! by Corey Rosen Schwartz) before our move last summer, and I've been thinking about it ever since.
 
Elephant and Mouse are best friends, and they want to spend the day playing together at the park. Unfortunately, the size difference between them makes traditional play impossible. (The see-saw won't budge, for example.)
 
 
But instead of giving up, or deciding that elephants and mice aren't meant to play together, these two friends find a different way to play.
 
Because children are like that. Where we all too often see differences and divisions, children see kindred spirits and new friends. This book reminded me of our visit to Korea in 2008, when my husband was stationed there with the Air Force. One afternoon, I took my four little, blonde children to the park near my husband's apartment, and as they played, several Korean children joined them. Now, my children only knew how to say "Hello," "Goodbye" and "Thank you" in Korean, and the local children didn't speak much English... Yet they played together all afternoon, speaking in smiles and gestures.
 
Like Elephant and Mouse, the children found a way to make it work.
 
And maybe more of us should learn a lesson from our children.
 
Originally, I thought I'd end this review by encouraging you to read this book to your children... to teach them the importance of understanding and embracing differences. But maybe instead, you should read HOP! PLOP! with your little ones (or all by yourself, if you don't have a little one to read to), so they can teach the lesson to you.

20 January 2013

One Lovely Blog Award

I've been given an award!!
 
Okay, it's kind of more like a blog hop than an award, but it says "award," so it still counts, right??
 
 
The rules state that I must share seven things about myself and then pass the award on to seven other bloggers*. The lovely Cassandra Page (who sent the award to me) added a challenge rule: that the seven things I share may not be anything I’ve previously revealed on this blog. (And you know I have trouble with saying no to a challenge, so of course I'm following this rule too!!)
 
 
1. This blog award is extra perfect for me, because I'm kind of obsessed with pink roses. - When I was in 8th grade, I was having a horrible birthday. Everyone I knew (including my family) seemed to have forgotten. No one wished me a happy birthday or made a fuss over me or even acted like there was anything special about the day. (I had to eat Cheerios for breakfast, instead of the traditional birthday breakfast of crepes or waffles and fresh fruit that my mom always made for me!) But then, after lunch, I was called to the school office, where a giant bouquet of pink roses was waiting for me with a note: "Happy Birthday, from your Secret Admirer!" - Of course, the "secret admirer" was my parents, but carrying around this giant bouquet of roses for the rest of the school day totally ensured that I got plenty of birthday attention!! Ever since that day, the mere sight of pink roses makes me smile, because it reminds me that even the worst days can turn into something wonderful. (And when I learned, years later, that pink roses symbolize perfect happiness and gratitude, that made it even better!!)
 
2. I chose to study handwriting analysis as my science fair project in 10th grade, to protest the fact that we had to participate, whether we wanted to or not (it was the least scientific science project I could think of). And I was fascinated to discover that logical, thinking people actually believed that you could get to know a person's inner self through something as silly as handwriting. So then I consciously altered my handwriting to reflect the person I wanted to be, instead of the person I thought I was. (I decided I could fool the world into thinking I was something wonderful, if I developed the kind of handwriting that said I was.) Over the years, the conscious effort to ensure that my handwriting consistently reflects the character traits I want people to see in me (honesty, integrity, caring, fearlessness, etc.) has led to the development and cultivation of those characteristics within myself. (Maybe there's something to this whole handwriting analysis "science" after all...)
 
3. It's a well-known fact that I'm a chocoholic. When I was in high school, I once went an entire month eating almost nothing but chocolate and fresh fruit. And I could totally do it again, if my metabolism could handle such a diet. But...
 
4. If given a choice between a grapefruit and chocolate, I'll almost always choose the grapefruit. It's one of my favorite decadent treats and so much more satisfying than even the richest chocolate. And I think grapefruit juice is the perfect accompaniment to a beautiful piece of rich chocolate cake (thanks to my dad, who heard Bill Cosby's story of chocolate cake for breakfast and decided to try it at home)!
 
5. My obsessive love of baking started in 9th grade, when I brought in cookies for my English Literature class (I don't even remember what the occasion was), and one of the boys in class (Greg Dover) interrupted the teacher's lecture (three times) to ask if he could have more cookies. He said they were the best cookies he'd ever eaten, and even though I realize that it's entirely possible that he was only telling me what I wanted to hear, it made me feel like I was a superstar. Ever since that day, baking has become my stress reliever. Whenever I feel down-in-the-dumps or not-so-spectacular, I bake some kind of rich dessert (often a recipe of my own creation) and give it to someone.
 
6. I want to go skydiving someday, because I've always wanted to know what it feels like to fall through the air... and I figure it would be safer to experience the thrill of falling with a parachute strapped to my back than simply jumping off the top of a tall building. :)
 
7. I totally chickened out and decided not to post the #7 that I originally thought of for this list. I like to keep things light and upbeat. I'm a firm believer in the idea that your thoughts determine who you are, and because the reveal I considered posting for item #7 was more of a dark and serious topic, I deleted it. Maybe it will find its way onto the blog another day, when I'm feeling serious and contemplative. But today, I wanted to end on a cheerful note, so I'll just leave you with this reminder from Psalms 146:5 instead - "Happy is he‍ that hath‍ the God of Jacob for his help, whose hope is‍ in the Lord‍ his God:" - Instead of worrying about the things we cannot change, let's look to the Lord for help and guidance through our trials!
 
 
... And now, to pass the award on to others. I nominate:
 
1. Brenda Drake - an amazing writer (I'm totally looking forward to next year, when her debut novel, Library Jumpers, will be published!!), and she has a truly amazing blog, where she dedicates her time to helping aspiring authors as they follow their dreams.
 
2. The 1988 Project - movie reviews and interviews with actors/actresses/movie people from 1988. Who would have guessed that a website devoted to a single year in movie history could be so fun and entertaining??
 
3. Sheryl Rose - whose blog, Menu Makeovers, is full of totally delicious tips for creating gourmet meals on a shoestring budget. (The blog has been on hold for a bit, but it will probably be up and running again before too long... and while we wait for new posts, those of you who follow my blog for the weekly recipes will LOVE checking out her archives!)
 
4. Jamie Corrigan - a talented writer who brightens the lives of everyone she meets with her cheerful encouragements.
 
5. Laura Shovan - poetry and writing prompts for every occasion (She was in the top 10 for the "Most Fascinating Education Blog" awards for Creative Writing... and she totally deserves it!)
 
6. Ashley Turcotte - one of the best critique partners ever, whose novel-in-progress, Luminary, is absolutely and totally amazing. (Of the 15 books I've read so far this year, this unpublished manuscript is my favorite - and it's not even fully edited and polished yet!!)
 
7. Leigh Ann Kopans -  who is one of the nicest, sweetest, most encouraging people I've ever met. (And I can't wait to read her upcoming novel: One!)
 
* Note: If I've tagged you, and you don't want to participate (or you already have, but I somehow missed it), please feel free to disregard this post. :)

17 January 2013

Crock Pot Gourmet: French Toast Casserole

This is one of my favorite super-easy recipes to make for breakfast. I can quickly put it in the Crock Pot before I go to bed, and it's ready for us when we wake up in the morning.
 
French Toast Casserole
(adapted from a bake-in-the-oven recipe I got from my BFF, Susie Rosenquist)
 
You will need:
1 loaf french bread
8 eggs
4 c. milk
1 Tbsp. vanilla
1/4 c. sugar
2 Tbsp. cinnamon

 
Cut the french bread into roughly 1 1/2-inch chunks - it doesn't have to be perfectly even
(actually, usually, I don't bother with the knife and just tear the bread into chunks by hand).
 
Put about 1/2 of the bread chunks into a greased, 5-quart crock pot
 
Sprinkle with 2 Tbsp. sugar and 1 Tbsp. cinnamon.
Repeat layers.
 
In a large mixing bowl, combine milk, eggs and vanilla.
 
Whisk to combine thoroughly.
 
Pour milk/egg mixture over the bread cubes.
 
 
 
Cook on low for about 6-8 hours, until knife inserted in the center comes out clean.
(You can cook it for about 4-5 hours on high, but the edges of the casserole will get hard and crusty.)
 
Serve warm.
I often top it with applesauce or fresh fruit,
but you can also use maple syrup and powdered sugar or whipped cream...
or serve it plain (it's delicious as is).

16 January 2013

Book Review: THE BROKEN LANDS by Kate Milford

See? What did I tell you? Life has a way of getting in the way, and between the extra craziness of the kids having a delayed start to the school day (due to inclement weather) and the way I got so wrapped up in the manuscript I'm critiquing for a friend right now (seriously, guys, it's amazing - I can't wait until it gets published so I can tell you all about it)... I completely forgot to post the book review I had written for yesterday. (If anyone can tell me how to schedule a post in blogger and make it actually appear on the blog on the day and time that I schedule it for, please let me know!! This is crazy!)


I recently read THE BROKEN LANDS by Kate Milford, illustrated by Andrea Offermann.

In this prequel to The Boneshaker, fifteen-year-old Sam Noctiluca spends his days hustling cards on Coney Island, and he’s good at what he does. But he dreams of doing something big and important with his life, something his father, who died while helping to build the Brooklyn Bridge, would be proud of. When evil forces threaten New York City, it’s up to Sam and his new friend, Jin, a Chinese girl with a talent for pyrotechnics, to bring together the five people who can keep the city from falling. These five “pillars” must work together to claim the control over the city before evil can take hold.

This book wasn't exactly my cup of tea. It was very well-written, with strong imagery and captivating language, but supernatural suspense tales like this aren't usually the kinds of books I prefer, and I must confess that I didn't enjoy it as much as I wanted to. Perhaps, if I had read The Boneshaker, it would have been easier to get into this one, but I didn't realize it was a prequel when I received this copy for review.

Though the novel starts off very slowly, as Milford sets the stage for the epic battle between good and evil on the still-under-construction bridge, the suspense and sense of danger gradually builds until even I had trouble putting the book down in the last third of the story. The characters gradually grew on me, and Milford succeeded in making me care about the outcome of the battle in the end. Offermann’s haunting illustrations add to the dark mood of the novel, pulling the reader into the fantastical world of Milford’s nineteenth-century New York and setting the chilling tone for the climactic battle on the bridge as Sam, Jin and their friends take on and defeat the demons who would make New York City their own.

Reminiscent of folktales from early American literature, such as “The Legend of Sleepy Hollow,” this story of love, courage and friendship might appeal to history buffs and lovers of the fantastic and the supernatural. Since I don't often read this genre, I don't have any current titles to compare it to (sorry!), but it would probably appeal more to fans of Bram Stoker's Dracula than to the fans of Stephanie Meyer's Twilight series.

14 January 2013

No is Not a 4-Letter Word

As I've reflected this week on my plan for 2013, I've found myself thinking a lot about my favorite quote from one of my all-time favorite books, Alice's Adventures in Wonderland, by Lewis Carroll. Lost in Wonderland, Alice meets the Cheshire Cat and asks for his advice on how to proceed with her journey...

"Would you tell me, please, which way I ought to go from here?"
"That depends a good deal on where you want to get to," said the Cat.
"I don’t much care where--" said Alice.
"Then it doesn’t matter which way you go," said the Cat.
"--so long as I get SOMEWHERE," Alice added as an explanation.
"Oh, you’re sure to do that," said the Cat, "if you only walk long enough."

(Alice's Adventures in Wonderland, Chapter 6)
I'm determined to "move forward" with my writing career this year, no matter what it takes, and I've realized that I need to be willing to say no to the many distractions that pop up in my way. The challenge is recognizing the difference between those things that will propel me forward along my path and those that will take me off on unproductive detours.

In 2012, I accepted nearly every challenge that was presented to me... I took on (and conquered) every writing challenge presented on the SCBWI MD/DE/WV blog... I said "Yes!" when some friends suggested that I should write a how-to book on knitting with recycled materials... I entered every online writing contest I could find... I agreed to add a weekly Crock Pot recipe feature to my blog, and turned my attention to creating gluten-free and vegan recipes as well, for my friends and readers with special dietary needs. And while each of these challenges taught me a little bit more about who I am and what I am capable of, I realized that I've been spreading myself pretty thin. Although I believe that it's never a good idea to close the door on any possibilities, I've realized that I won't ever arrive at my destination, if I don't have a clear picture of where I want to go. And it's possible that I said "Yes" too many times in 2012.

Unlike Alice, I know where I want my journey to take me. "Somewhere" isn't good enough.

That's why  decided that "No" will be an acceptable answer in 2013. I'm determined not to feel guilty when I can't do it all, because maybe we're not meant to be all things to all people, all the time. I probably won't accept every challenge presented to me this year. And that's okay. I'll focus on the opportunities and challenges that will help me to move forward toward my ultimate destination.

As of this moment, I don't have any plans to drop any of my current projects. This year, I'd like to finalize (and find a publisher for) the knitting book (I have the patterns written, I'm just working on putting it all together in book form)... I'll continue to accept many of the SCBWI MD/DE/WV writing challenges, though I may not complete them all... I'll write/revise/edit my YA novels and picture books, and I'll even swallow my fears and start sending my manuscripts out into the world...

And I'm going to be more consistent with my blog postings. My official 2013 blog schedule will be:

* Tuesdays: Book Reviews
* Thursdays: Recipe (either Crock Pot Gourmet or a Gluten Free or Vegan dish)
* Sundays: What I've Learned This Week (updates on my goals and progress, reflections on what I'm grateful for, etc.)

However, as I began writing this post last night, after spending the day sick and in bed, I realized that it was silly to force myself to stay up, pushing myself past my limits, in order to write a blog post about how I wasn't going to push myself to do more than I can this year. So I went to bed instead. And honestly, this probably won't be the only time it happens this year. I will do my best to stick to the official schedule I've set for myself, but I reserve the right (if life gets crazy) to sometimes post on Wednesdays, Fridays or Mondays instead! (And if I get really excited about a recipe, like this one, I reserve the right to post it as soon as it's ready, instead of waiting for the next Thursday!)

13 January 2013

Crock Pot Gourmet: Mock Pine & Apple Upside Down Cake

Last week (January 3, 2013), when I posted this recipe for Pineapple Upside Down Cake, my friend, Summer (also known as @Fizzygrrl - the driving force behind these Crock Pot Gourmet blog posts), mentioned that she is allergic to pineapple.

Tragic!

Obviously, I had to get right to work to fix this problem. And so I present to you: Mock Pine & Apple Upside Down Cake! (Printable recipe - Printable recipe without pictures)

Originally, the plan was to tack this recipe onto the end of the original post, so I didn't take as many pictures as I usually do while putting the recipe together. But I realized that tacking it onto the end of the first recipe might make the post really long, and possibly a bit confusing... So here we are, in a post all its own:

You'll need:

2 medium apples (I used one gala and one golden delicious, because that's what I had on hand.)
1 box yellow cake mix
1/4 c. brown sugar
1/4 c. oil
2 eggs
1 1/4 c. orange juice
(You can use either a 3-quart or a 5-quart crock pot for this recipe.)

First, slice the apples into rounds 1/2-inch thick.
 
With a paring knife, cut out the core from each slice. 
 
Spray crock pot with cooking spray and line the bottom of the crock with apple slices. (The slices will fit better without overlap in a 5-quart crock pot, but if you want a thicker, taller cake, you can overlap slightly in the bottom of a 3-quart crock pot, as you see here.)
 
Sprinkle with brown sugar and set aside.
 
In large mixing bowl, combine cake mix, eggs, oil and orange juice.
 
Stir until smooth, then spread on top of the apple slices.
 
Cook on high for approximately 2 hours (if using a 5-quart crock pot)
or 3 - 3 1/2 hours (if using a 3-quart crock pot), until knife inserted in the center comes out clean.
 
Run a knife around the outer edge to loosen the cake, then invert it onto a platter or cutting board to remove from the crock. Let cool slightly before serving.

The kiddos stayed up past bedtime to taste-test the finished product, and they were surprised to hear that no pineapples lost their lives in the making of this cake. :)

11 January 2013

Crock Pot Gourmet: Stacked Chili

What holiday visit to see family would be complete without the traditional holiday flu virus? While visiting my parents for New Year's Eve, we all got to take turns feeling sick and run-down. Of course, this meant that no one was really in the mood to cook elaborate meals, and we did a lot of crock-pot cooking. Comfort foods like this "Stacked Chili" with easy ingredients from Mom and Dad's pantry  were just what the doctor ordered!

For a printable version of this recipe, click here.
For a printable version without pictures, click here.
I used my parents' 5-quart crock pot, and it was a little too full. (We ended up with some chili overflow mess.) The next time I make this chili, I'll use my 7-quart crock pot. Or cut the amount of tomatoes and corn in half (one can of each, instead of two).
 
First, gather your ingredients:
 
2 cans (28 oz) diced tomatoes
2 cans (15 oz.) black beans
1 can (15 oz.) creamed corn
1 can (15 oz.) corn niblets
1 can (6oz) diced green chiles
1 large onion, diced
2-3 Tbsp minced garlic
3 Tbsp. Italian seasoning
1 Tbsp. rosemary
5-6 dried arbol chili pods (optional)
1 lb sharp cheddar cheese, shredded
1 lb. corn tortillas

In a large bowl, combine everything but the chili pods, cheese and tortillas. Mix well to combine. (Do not drain the cans of veggies. The juices will combine to make the broth part of the chili.)

 
Pour about 1 c. of the mixture into the bottom of your crock pot.
 
 
Layer with tortillas.
 
Add another layer of the vegetable mixture and a couple handfuls of shredded cheese.
 
Add another layer of tortillas and the dried peppers. You can crush the peppers and mix them in with the other veggies, if desired, but I kept them whole, because they aren't as spicy this way, and anyone who prefers a milder flavor (like my youngest daughter) could easily choose to set the whole chili pepper aside instead of eating it.
 
(For my carnivorous friends, you can add in your favorite meat here, as you layer your ingredients. We tried it with leftover turkey, and it was pretty good, but you might also have leftover steak, chicken or ground beef, or even meatballs, though I would cut those up if I planned to add them to this recipe. Whatever suits your fancy - this chili is very adaptable.)
 
Continue to layer tortillas, vegetable mixture and cheese, ending with a layer of vegetable mixture and cheese. (You'll want to leave about an inch and a half at the top of the crock pot, so it won't bubble over while cooking. Don't fill it to the tippy-top like I did here.)
 
Cook on high for about 3 to 3 1/2 hours or on low for 6 to 7 hours. Serve. (You can top with sour cream or non-fat, plain Greek yogurt, or simply eat as is, like we did.)
 
(By the way, if anyone has any tips for taking pretty pictures of food, I'd love to hear them. I feel like the pictures I take never look as yummy as the food really is!)

09 January 2013

Book Review: THE CATASTROPHIC HISTORY OF YOU AND ME by Jess Rothenberg


When Brie’s boyfriend of eleven months tells her that he doesn’t love her, it breaks her heart. Literally.

Now that she’s officially dead and gone, she has to try to make sense of love and life before she can move on. With the help of Patrick, Brie’s new guide and resident Lost Soul, she will learn how to navigate the strange new world of the dead. Patrick teaches her how to zoom from place to place in the blink of an eye, how to go back to visit those she left behind in the real world, and even how to move objects. In her visits with her loved ones, Brie discovers that she didn’t really know her family, her friends, or even herself as well as she thought she did.

In this fun twist on a paranormal romance, Rothenberg gives us a story that is both sweet and sentimental, a heartbreaking yet hilarious look at the grieving process from the other side of the grave. As she moves through the five classic steps of the grieving process, Brie discovers that learning to live again isn’t just for those who have been left behind.

This book is a fun and thought-provoking read for anyone who has ever loved and lost.

06 January 2013

What I Learned in 2012, and My Plan for 2013

2012 was my year of challenges. I took great pride in accepting just about every challenge presented to me - and conquering almost all of them.

In May, I wrote a 20,000-word middle grade novel in 72 hours (actually, I was about 500 words shy of the goal, but as I write my drafts by hand, I wasn't aware of the deficit until after I finished typing... and the 72-hour deadline had expired. I still count it as a victory, though, because I was awfully close, and I did write a complete story in that time.)

In November, I wrote 50,000 words on my new novel (although, once again, my slow typing got in the way, and I only managed to actually type up a little more than 49,000 words before midnight on December 1st), and I took the PiBoIdMo challenge, coming up with more than 30 picture book ideas (as well as a few ideas for YA and MG novels) within the month.

I accepted the challenge to create and post Crock Pot Gourmet recipes on my blog weekly... which then led to the additional challenge to create delicious Gluten-Free and VegetarianVegan recipes for my friends with special dietary needs.

And I conquered numerous other challenges in 2012, always proudly proclaiming "I won't back down from a challenge!"

I learned that I can do a lot, when I put my mind to it. I can conquer just about any "impossible" task that I set my mind to. I also learned that taking on too much is totally unhealthy. Just because I CAN do everything, doesn't mean I SHOULD do it all! Because I can only keep pushing myself beyond my limits for so long before I crash and burn. And as my month-long illness in December (following my way-too-crazy, sleep-deprived November) showed, the human body can only do so much before it has to shut down.

So the biggest thing I learned in 2012:

I can do anything I set my mind to. But I can't do it all at once.

And my plan for 2013: I'll keep moving forward. I won't allow fear of failure to stop me. But I'll move forward wisely. This year, I'll be more selective in the challenges I accept for myself, because sometimes, a new challenge can show you things that you didn't even know you were capable of... but sometimes, they lead you off on tangents that prove to be more distracting than enlightening.

2012 was the year of embracing challenges. 2013 will be the year of "no." I will not be afraid to say "no" when I have too much on my plate to take on one more thing. I will remember that my body has limits, and that I, like all other mortals, need to sleep sometimes. And I won't feel guilty about taking time for myself from time to time. Because you can't pull water out of a dry well. And sometimes, you have to take the time to refill and renew.

I'm not giving up. I won't stop moving forward. But this year, my challenge is patience. I'll take the time to remember that I don't have to reach the end of my journey today. The important thing is to keep moving forward, one step at a time!

*Note: Hubby's latest picture would be perfect here to illustrate my desire to break out of the "doing everything because I feel like everyone expects me to" rut, but blogger is being a pill and won't let me upload the image, so I'll share it via this link instead.

03 January 2013

Crock Pot Gourmet: Pineapple Upside Down Cake

Visiting my parents for the holidays, I wanted to make a quick dessert for our dinner. Dad suggested pineapple upside down cake, so I raided the pantry and gathered the ingredients I needed.

For a printable version of this recipe, click here.
For a printable version without pictures, click here.

1 can (15 oz) pineapple rings, drained (reserve juice - about 1c.)
1/4 c. brown sugar
1 cake mix (white or yellow)
1/2 c. orange juice
1/4 c. oil
2 eggs

 Spray the inside of the crock with cooking oil. Line the bottom of the dish with pineapple rings, allowing the pineapple rings around the edges to go partway up the sides of the dish.


Sprinkle brown sugar on top of the pineapple.


Pour cake mix into a large mixing bowl.


Add eggs, reserved pineapple juice, orange juice and oil.


Mix until batter is smooth, and then pour on top of pineapple slices.


Cook on high for 2-3 hours, until knife inserted in center comes out clean.


Invert onto a serving platter and serve.


(For a prettier, more festive look, you could put a half of a maraschino cherry in the center of each pineapple slice before adding the brown sugar and cake batter.)

 *Note: I have a friend who is, sadly, allergic to pineapple. If you are too (or even if you're not), you might want to try my "Mock Pine and Apple Upside Down Cake" instead!