Wednesday, December 17, 2014

Happy Holidays

In my house, its Merry Christmas, but to my Jewish friends, Happy Hanukah.

I've already celebrated with my children once, traveling to visit my Darling Daughter and her family along with One Young Son. There's a certain amount of freedom knowing that the last-minute crunch is over (although that meant it came early this year). We will celebrate again on Christmas Day with more family.

For me, the holidays this year mean excusing myself from the day job for two full weeks, during which time I intend to polish up the second in the Kundigerin series and the sequel to Mist on the Meadow. As I write this post, the only original writing left is the last chapter, and I know what it needs to say, so that's just a matter of time to put it down. It's coming along nicely, I'm happy to report! I have a date with the editor in February, so I'm on schedule.

AND holiday time for me is binge-reading time. I have five books on my TBR list, four of them are paperbacks! (One was a Christmas gift.) If I know my DH, I'll have a gift certificate to buy more for New Year's week.

What's on your to be read list?

From me any my assistant (below), Merry Christmas!

Wednesday, December 10, 2014

It's Christmas Cookie Time

I have a page on this blog dedicated to some of my favorite recipes, and more that I've scrounged on Pinterest. Why? Because I'm a cookie-holic. It's a trait handed down through the family.

Every year, my sister hosts a cookie baking party, which I have snobbishly snubbed several times in favor of my own private baking party with my kids. This year, however, my nest is empty and the kids are more difficult to round up, so the prodigal sister is joining in the fun.

My signature Christmas cookie is the pinwheel. It requires a lot of work, but they're pretty on the plate, and they taste out of this world. They lend themselves to several variations, including sprinkles on the edges, or a mint layer, but I tend to stick to the standard chocolate and vanilla. We also make tassies (mini pecan pies), toffee bars, the essential cut-out cookies and/or spritz cookies (which keep the next generation of little ones busy). I've recently (!) discovered that my DH loves shortbread. Now, I knew he liked the pecan fingers (which are shortbread in nature), but since I'm not a nut aficionado, I tend to shy away from those, although I make a token batch just for him. This year, I'm trying another shortbread recipe that looks pretty and festive. Maybe I'll throw some pecans in for him.

I'm cutting back on the cookies this year, mainly because of my inability NOT to eat them (and I need to pay attention to my weight), but cookie baking is part of the holidays--a longstanding tradition that I won't soon part with.

Do you have a favorite holiday cookie? I'd love to hear what you make, and if you don't have a favorite cookie, check out my Pinterest cookie page for some fun ideas, or my Pinterest Christmas page!

Don't forget - in case you haven't already read Touched by the Sun or Intimate Distance, both books are still $0.99! My Christmas present to you.

Wednesday, December 3, 2014

Confessions of an Introvert

Thanksgiving weekend. Every year, my DH and I go into the Big City to the Christkindlmarket and brave the crowds. Like last year, the weekend brought warmer than normal temperatures - a couple of moderate days sandwiched between bitter cold. Perfect weather to walk in the city... with a million of our closest friends.

The Christmas market is confined to a city block, a plaza. There are dozens of booths with ethnic gifts and holiday food offerings. I like to go for the warm, spiced Gluhwein or a cup of hot chocolate, and a piece of strudel. On those years where we don't have to elbow our way through the crowd, I like looking at the hand-made ornaments and cuckoo clocks and this year I even thought about buying a handmade hat. I have embroidered table runners and doilies that I've purchased in the past. This year, with the weather being favorable, we spent two hours trying to buy one cup of cider and the strudel. We couldn't get close to the vendor stands.

There are some days I actually worry about becoming agoraphobic, but statistically speaking, I should be past the point where it becomes an issue. The trip, while worth making, was more stressful than heartwarming. When the weather is colder, the plaza is warm because of all the warm bodies crunched together. My favorite time to visit the market is when it is snowing. People aren't so anxious to be out in the snow - but I am, especially because they aren't.

I'm the sort of person who blends into the background more often than not. I'm more comfortable there. The more people in the room, the further into the corner I go. Or into another room. The exception is when I have time to prepare myself mentally.

There's an old German adage: Children should be seen and not heard. The problem with that adage is that those children become adults who don't know how to be heard. As I get older, I have outgrown some of the shyness and I have learned that I have something to share. Thanks to some good friends, I have found my voice in group settings. Am I still uncomfortable? Yeah, you betcha! But I no longer shrink from my turn to speak, either professionally or personally. And I don't avoid going out into a plaza packed with people, because I'd rather have the experience than deprive myself of the yummy strudel I can only get this time of year and the way the Gluhwein warms you from the inside out.

Wednesday, November 26, 2014

Happy Thanksgiving! - Traditions

As time passes, traditions change.

Two things I love most about the holidays - spending time with the people I love, and taking time to relax and curl up with a good book during the quiet times.

When I was young, we traveled to Wisconsin for Thanksgiving, or the Wisconsin rellies traveled to us in Illinois. Until the year of the big snow. And then we didn't travel so much anymore. When I started having children of my own, a new tradition grew. I hosted my in-laws or my in-laws hosted us. But children grow and move away. Family dynamics change. Elders pass on. New traditions are born.

Traditions. Some of them don't change.

I love baking, and the holidays provide the perfect excuse to make all my favorite treats. Two years ago, I posted a recipe for Ofenschlupfer, a recipe I discovered while writing Kundigerin 1 - Mist on the Meadow. This recipe has become a new staple in my house, celebrating my German heritage. And then there's the Christmas cookies, a tradition that begins right after Thanksgiving.

What are some of your traditions? The ones that survive despite evolutionary changes? And what new traditions have you begun?

I'm nearly done with my first draft of Kundigerin 2 (tentatively titled Gathering Mist), and one of the first things I do when I finish a novel is pick up a new book to read. Take a break. I'm a chapter or two from the end, and jumping back and forth with the conceptual editing. Then on to technical edits. By Christmas, I should be able to indulge in some binge reading, and I'm already building my TBR pile.

And speaking of reading, I'm running specials on two of my books. The e-book versions of my first two books, Touched by the Sun and Intimate Distance are on sale for just $0.99 for a limited time! Touched by the Sun is the first in the Northwest Suburbs series (stand-alone stories, familiar characters).

To you and your families, Happy Thanksgiving, inviting you to remember those less fortunate and wishing you happy traditions in the weeks to come.

Wednesday, November 19, 2014

Giving in to the holiday spirit

No, I'm still not ready, but ...

I read that short Christmas story I bought. Couldn't help myself. And you know what? It made me feel better. It was like watching a Hallmark Channel movie, and it was short and sweet and "feel-good." Sometimes that's all it takes to let go of the hustle and bustle of what lies ahead.

Hey, Thanksgiving is next week! That means I get to cook and bake. Yummy! Cookies! And sweet rolls. And turkey and mashed potatoes. Do you have traditional holiday dishes?

One of my favorite things to do with extra time off is to curl up in my favorite chair and read. And because I'm feeling the holiday spirit, I'll be running specials on two of my books in case you'd allow me to tell you a story. The e-book versions of my first two books, Touched by the Sun and Intimate Distance will be on sale for just $0.99 for a limited time! Touched by the Sun is the first in the Northwest Suburbs series (stand-alone stories, familiar characters).

Sharing the love, from me to you, and hoping you'll pay it forward.

Wednesday, November 12, 2014

Pre-Holiday Stress

In case anyone hasn't heard, I do love Christmas. Really. Carols, movies, books, cookies, the whole she-bang. But you know what? It's November 12. Know what else? I went to a store two weeks ago, right after Halloween, and heard Christmas music.


I watched television the other night, and they are running Christmas ads.


The babies are having birthdays this weekend. Thanksgiving is around the corner. And yes, Thanksgiving is late this year, which means less time for Christmas shopping. And THEN, I got an email about Christmas cookies. Now I am a cookie-holic, and I will always set aside time to make Christmas cookies, but right now, I'm feeling overwhelmed.


All of that aside, yes, I got suckered into a Christmas movie on one of those channels that run Christmas movies all through December (and now through November as well).

Taking a deep breath. Everything will fall into place. Kundigerin 2 is two-thirds written and isn't due to the editor until February (of course a lot has to happen to it once I finish it, so that is less time than you think!) Next year is already presenting challenges for me, but one day at a time. Right?

I will visit the babies first (I have their birthday presents!). Then I will look ahead to Thanksgiving and enjoy the people I am able to spend the day with. And THEN I will venture into Christmas territory. The writing part of it will fall into place and if all else fails, I still have vacation time at the day job that I can use to accomplish any of the tasks that fall behind.

The advertising agencies may be trying to rush me with premature holiday stress, but in the end, it's about sharing the season with the people you love. All the rest is just window dressing.

Did I mention I bought my first holiday book to read? Yeah, I'll get to it eventually. In the end, I'm still a sucker for the holidays. Even if I'm not ready.

If you're looking for holiday cookie ideas, visit my Pinterest Cookie page. Happy to relieve whatever stress I can!

Wednesday, November 5, 2014

Writing (and Rearing Children) -- Phases

We spend our lives living through phases. "Oh, she's just a kid." "High schoolers. What are you gonna do?" From graduating kindergarten, when children don't know anything other than what their parents teach them, to grade school, where the world begins to open up to them, to middle school when hormones begin to rear their ugly heads, life is a series of phases. From "I can't live without my mommy," to "I love my mommy," to "I hate my mother!", parents have generally seen it from all angles. The only thing we can rely on during these testing years is that we lived through them ourselves. Every time we enter a new phase, we relive our own lives during that difficult period and remember how we felt. Well, maybe not every phase, but generally. It's the only thing that makes some of the ugly parts bearable, knowing it will pass and life will shift once again.

Writing isn't altogether different. In many ways, our novels are our children. From the discovery phase, where the story is exciting and intriguing and new and fun--we are attached to it in a symbiotic bond that we're sure can't be severed. Until the dreaded middle. Suddenly, the story is acting up. This isn't how it was supposed to go. The characters are fighting with you, the plot isn't working the way it should and you are in a state of distress. How am I going to survive this phase? Until eventually, you find your way again. You make peace with your characters, the plot moves on, and you get to the end of the story with a feeling of accomplishment, that you created something good. Granted, not all novels are good. Some require more effort on our part as an author. And some are beyond help. Writing, as in parenting, requires one thing. You can only do you best. When the time comes to let your baby out into the world, you hope you've done everything you can to launch them successfully.

I'm so pleased with (and thank you for all who were a part of) the launch of Return to Hoffman Grove, and yet I still wonder if it will succeed. This one is my altruistic child, my do-gooder. Those are the ones you want to see do well because they are the ones who help others along their journey (I'm still sharing royalties with the crisis center).

Meanwhile, I'm struggling with my "teenager" of a book, my next project. Through the excitement of discovery where I was putting down pages at breakneck pace, I'm now in that middle section where I'm arguing with every word. It's a struggle, just like raising teenagers. And every one is different. Some are easier to work with than others. The thing that keeps me going is realizing this is a phase. This, too, shall pass, and then I'll look back fondly on this moment and know that the effort was all worth it in the end.

But while you're in the thick of it, it's still a struggle.