25 November 2014

A Grateful Heart

Thanksgiving has always been my favorite holiday. Whether gathering together with family and friends or in solitary contemplation ... eating until there's no room for even one more bite or enjoying a small, simple meal... The day is all about being grateful for what you have.

Trials inevitably come. The waters of life will never run smooth for long. But shooting the rapids can be fun when you're protected with a buoyant raft of gratitude. May you all have a wonderful Thanksgiving, full of love and laughter and a healthy attitude of gratitude!

19 November 2014

Recipe: 1-Hour Garlic Oregano Bread Bites

For special occasion meals, there's nothing better than fresh-baked bread. But I'm too impatient for hours of waiting for the dough to rise. These little rolls take almost no time to make. From start to finish, you can have fresh bread in about an hour. Perfect for your Thanksgiving feast!

Garlic Oregano Bread Bites

For approximately 6 dozen bread bites, you will need:
1 c. + 3 Tbsp. warm water
2 Tbsp. yeast
1/4 c. sugar
1/3 c. oil
1 tsp. salt
1 Tbsp. oregano
2 tsp. garlic powder
3 1/2 c. flour

In a large mixing bowl, combine water, yeast, sugar and oil. Let sit for 15 minutes.

Turn on oven to 400 degrees Fahrenheit.

Add salt, oregano, garlic and flour. Mix until a dough is formed and all flour is incorporated.

Turn out onto a floured surface and knead until smooth and elastic. (The dough should be no longer sticky, and you should be able to stretch it without it breaking immediately.)
In your electric mixer, with the dough hook attachment, knead dough until smooth and elastic.

Shape into 1-inch balls and place on a greased cookie sheet. Dough balls should be spaced approximately half an inch apart to allow room for them to rise. Let sit in a warm place (like on top of the preheating oven) for 15 minutes.

Bake for 10-15 minutes, until rolls are golden brown. Serve warm.

14 November 2014

Living with an Expiration Date

After reading THE FAULT IN OUR STARS over a year ago, I promised myself that I would never read another "cancer book." Too difficult. Too personal. Hits a little too close to home. But Julie Murphy's SIDE EFFECTS MAY VARY was too intriguing to pass up. The story of a girl who, upon being diagnosed with leukemia, makes (and completes) a revenge bucket list, only to discover that she's not dying after all? That would absolutely be my luck, if I ever tried to do the whole revenge thing. (I do have a bucket list - started when they discovered my brain tumor - but there's nothing even remotely revenge-related on it.)

So I broke my self-imposed rule and read the book. And of course it set me thinking all kinds of thoughts and pondering life. As books like this are bound to do.

The one part of the story that really stuck with me (not an exact quote - I didn't think to mark the passage at the time, and I know I'm not quite strong enough mentally to read back through to find it in the novel) was when Alice makes an off-hand remark about living life with an expiration date. I absolutely understand this sentiment. I feel this way a lot. I can't count the times I've lay in bed at night, staring at the ceiling and wondering if my family will be okay when I go. Most of the time, I know they will be. They're strong. They're amazing. And even when I go, I don't plan on going far. We're a family forever.

Still, that "expiration date" is scary sometimes.

A couple of months ago, I woke up in the middle of the night to use the bathroom. I didn't turn on the light, because I never turn on the light when I wake in the night. I've never had to. In fact, my nighttime senses have always been sharp enough that I can find my way around in the dark even when I'm not in my own house. And as soon as there's any kind of light shining, my brain decides sleepy-time is over for the night, even if it's only one in the morning.

So turning on my bedside lamp? Yeah, that thought didn't even cross my mind.

Until I took a wrong turn and fell over my writing area in the corner of my room. I landed on my "writer's block" - the pencil holder where I keep my sharpened pencils standing at attention ready for service when I'm writing a new manuscript - and then I and the entire contents of my little writing table went crashing to the floor.

My husband woke up at the sound of the crash and was immediately concerned about the injuries I'd sustained. A valid concern, especially since I had a couple of good-sized gashes in my leg from those broken pencils.

Me? I barely thought about the physical injuries. Instead, I was all shades of nervous about my brain. "I've never lost my way in the dark before," I kept saying. "That doesn't happen to me." And of course, I started imagining all kinds of worst-case scenarios. (Let me just say, I'm REALLY good at worst-case scenarios.)

My sweet husband, always the voice of reason, finally convinced me after two days of fretting, that I was getting too worked up over this. "It was dark. You tripped. That happens to people. A lot. Even people without brain tumors. Because people don't see very well in the dark."

I finally conceded that he was right.

Took a deep breath.

And promptly walked straight into a wall. In broad daylight. Because my feet simply decided to turn and take me on a path perpendicular to the one I was trying to walk, and it had nothing to do with being tired or losing my balance or getting distracted. My brain just had a blip where "walk straight" got totally mixed up with "turn left," and even though I could see that I was walking toward the wall instead of down the hall I intended to walk down, I couldn't make my feet move in the direction I wanted them to. Or even stop moving when I saw the wall approaching. (I did put my hands out and stop myself instead of crashing into the wall face-first.)

Yeah. Sometimes my brain does some stupid things.

And sometimes, it's terrifying.

Sometimes, I worry about that "expiration date."

 Because unlike the canister of chocolate milk mix in my pantry, I don't have a "best if used by" date stamped on my backside. I have no idea when my "expiration date" is coming. It could be tomorrow, or next week, or twenty years from now. And while I hope it's twenty or thirty or more years away, that little "what if?" monster keeps whispering "it could be tomorrow."

But isn't that the point? None of us will live forever. That's the nature of life on earth. We all have an expiration date. And none of us knows when that date will be.

So instead of worrying about that day when I might not be there to kiss my kiddos goodnight, I'll give them extra kisses tonight and every night, as long as they'll let me. Instead of worrying about what might happen if I'm not there for my daughter's senior prom, I'll celebrate every Princess Dress-Up moment with her now. And instead of hiding from the camera because I'm not as thin as I once was, or I'm having a bad hair day, or I didn't put on any makeup, I'm going to ham it up and leave as many memories of laughter and fun as I can.

I have no plans to die today. But if I did, I want my family and friends to know that I lived every moment up until the last. And that every moment, for better or worse, was totally worth it.

11 November 2014

So Grateful for Veterans

Happy Veteran's Day! 

I just want to send a giant Thank You to all of the men and women in the Armed Forces, those who are currently serving, and those who have served in the past. The daily freedoms we enjoy are ours because of their selfless service.

Thank You!!

05 November 2014

Recipe: Giant Oatmeal Cookies with Red Chile

A week and a half ago, I had the pleasure of attending the SCBWI Handsprings Writers' Conference here in New Mexico. Writing conferences are one of my favorite things ever, because what could possibly be better than hanging out with a room full of people who all totally get your special brand of crazy? But this conference was extra-special, because I got to help out as part of the planning committee. Specifically, I got to be in charge of the FOOD!

So, you know me. I can't just go to Costco and buy a big tray of cookies. If I'm in charge of the food for an event, I'm going to do my best to find the perfect food for that event. So, since this was a New Mexico writers' conference, of course we had to have something with chiles in it, right? And what goes better with chiles than cookies??

Giant Oatmeal Cookies with Red Chile
For approximately 36 giant cookies, you will need:
2 c. butter or margarine*
2 c. dark brown sugar
1 c. granulated sugar
4 eggs
2 tsp. baking soda
1 tsp. salt
2 tsp. vanilla
4 c. oats
4 c. whole wheat flour (you can also use all-purpose, but whole wheat tastes better)
1/2 - 2/3 c. diced dried red chiles (these can be as mild or as spicy as you like)
1 pkg. chocolate chips (opt.)
2 c. raisins (opt.)

In a large mixing bowl, cream together butter and sugars. Add eggs, baking soda, salt and vanilla, and beat until creamy. Stir in oats. Add the flour, 1 cup at a time, beating well after each addition.Mix in chiles, chocolate chips and raisins, if desired. Preheat oven to 350 degrees Fahrenheit. Using an ice cream scoop**, portion the dough onto an ungreased cookie sheet, leaving a few inches of space around each cookie, so they don't run together when they expand. (I fit 8 cookies on my large half-sheet pan. A normal cookie sheet would probably fit 6 cookies.) Bake for 12-13 minutes, until bottom edges are slightly golden brown. Remove from cookie sheet and cool on a wire rack.

*note: You want the butter to be slightly softened to make it cream together with the sugars well, but if butter is too soft, the cookies will end up being super-flat when you bake them. I recommend taking the butter out of the fridge approximately 10-15 minutes before assembling the cookie dough, so it will soften slightly but not too much. If your cookies are coming out flat, consider chilling your dough for an hour or two in the fridge before baking.

**note: You can make regular-sized cookies instead of giant cookies, if so desired. Simply use a regular cookie scoop (or tablespoon) to dish cookie dough and bake at 375 degrees Fahrenheit for 9 minutes instead.