Wednesday, November 30, 2011

The end of NaNoWriMo 2011

Today is the last day of NaNoWriMo 2011. There are many thousands of people out there right now frantically writing away, knowing they have to have their books validated by midnight to "win." It's been fun going on the forums today and seeing lots of purple "winner" ribbons popping up everywhere. I'm a little bummed (only a little!) that I finished early and am not joining in the last-day revelry.

So what did I learn in November? A lot, actually:

*  I can set a difficult goal and accomplish it.
*  I can write 4000-6000 words a day and survive (although it makes me very tired!).
*  I actually am creative!
*  There are a lot of people out there who are crazy, too.
*  I have great kids who were amazing cheerleaders all month.

*  I can plan a week's worth of dinners and stick to the menu. (This is actually a biggie!)
*  Outlines aren't all bad.

There is probably more. I know my husband learned that it wasn't the big pain in the behind he was afraid it was going to be, so hopefully he'll be a little more excited about it in 2012.

All in all, I am enormously thankful to Chris Baty and for the whole thing, and I really had a blast. Now for the editing... I'm kind of afraid of that part, but even if it's complete garbage, I still wrote 88,651 words in 23 days, and that's awesome!

Sunday, November 27, 2011

Pie Crust 101

I know a lot of people who swear they can't make pie crust. I am convinced everyone can make it, and make it crazy flakey, so here's a pie crust primer.

Pie Crust
1 3/4 c all purpose flour
2/3 c shortening
1 tsp salt
1/3 +/- cold water

(I usually double this because I have big pie plates.)

Put the flour in a bowl, and add shortening.

Using two knives, cut the shortening in. This means you cross the knives against each other in a cutting motion.

When it looks like this, quit.

Add about 2/3 of your cold water, and use a fork to gently mix it in. If there is flour not damp, add more water. Depending on the weather, it might take a little more than the recipe calls for. That's ok! NONE of the flour should look particularly wet... mix it JUST until all the flour is exposed to water.

Like this. Don't overwork it at this stage - that's the most common problem. THIS IS PERFECT!

Using your hands, gently gather it all into a ball. Cover it with a dishcloth and put it in the refrigerator for at least 1 hour.

When it's cold, remove half (if you're making a pie with a crust top). Carefully roll it into a ball. Don't worry about cracks, or even small pieces falling off. Put it on a very floured surface.

Roll it out with a floured rolling pin (you will need to keep adding flour along the roller to keep it from sticking). When it's the right size, roll it up onto the rolling pin. Use a metal spatula to help get it unstuck if necessary - gently!

Fill with yummy goodness! This is apples. Repeat for the top crust.

Make sure to cut some vent lines (or a nice design). Trim off the overhanging crust. Bake it per your recipe - for apple I bake it at 425 for about 45 min. Cover the top with a loose piece of foil if it gets brown before the apples (or fruit) are soft.

Now for the best part! CINNAMON CRISPIES!

Cut the dough edges that you removed from the pie into 3-4" sections and place on a baking sheet. DON'T reroll them or do anything to them. Just cut the scraps up and put it on the sheet. Brush with a little melted butter, then top with cinnamon sugar.

Remove from the oven when they're golden brown and eat hot (you can see some are gone from this cookie sheet, and they just came out of the oven!).

See all those layers? That's because we didn't overwork the dough. The pie crust is just like that... YUMMY DELICIOUSNESS!

You can do it! I believe in you!
Let me know how it goes...!

Friday, November 25, 2011

NaNoWriMo - Winner! (And the book is done!)

I technically "won" NaNoWriMo on Nov 12 when I went past 50,000 words. But today was both the first day the validator was available, so I could upload my manuscript and have the words verified by the site for the win, and also the day I FINISHED THE NOVEL!



I haven't read it yet. It came in at 88,651 words, which is a little over 253 paperback pages. On Dec 1, I will print it off and begin the first edit. I'll let you know how bad or good it is then... It's a crapshoot, you know!

But I am so proud of myself for getting it done; so thankful for my family for putting up with it; and especially grateful to my kids, who were my biggest cheerleaders. It was an amazing experience, and something I had no idea I could do. Even if it's bad, I wrote almost 90,000 words in 23 days (I took 2 days off, and 2 days I only wrote 1000 words). And that is freaking amazing!

Very happy with it, and loved the experience.

Wednesday, November 23, 2011

Biscoff Nutella Cheesecake

First a word on photography.... I love photography. I love to photograph skies, zebras, the African plain, children in the slums, my family  on vacation. I do not love to photograph food or remodeling projects, when by "photograph" we mean, basically, a still life. My good camera, perfect lighting and focus, and all that. There are bloggers who do that, and do it beautifully (like Ree, the Pioneer Woman). So I am going to start a new blogging food photograph genre...

Like this... this is fun... Especially since I was in Africa, not at a zoo...


It's fast. It's easy. I email it to myself and I'm done. Seriously, how can you beat that? Who has time in mid-cooking (besides Ree) to figure out all that technical stuff? I'm always in too much of a hurry for that (because of my patience issues...). So that's it. If you have a problem with my pictures, please direct your inquiries to Apple. The End.

NOW, for the recipe for this fabulously delicious cheesecake I invented last week. Illustrated by my fabulous iPhone. (This is not a paid endorsement, although if they wanted to give me free Apple products for life, who am I to complain...)


Preheat oven to 350 degrees.


1 package Biscoff cookies, processed in a food processor to crumbs
1 stick of butter, melted
3 blocks lite cream cheese, at room temperature
1 c sugar
1 tsp vanilla
1/4 c flour
2 lg egg yolks
1 whole lg egg
1/2 c 1% milk
13 oz Nutella 

Mix the Biscoff and butter, and press into the bottom of a springform pan. You can use the bottom of a glass to press it, and it can go up the sides some if needed. Bake for 10 minutes.

In a mixer bowl (preferably one with a flat paddle) blend the cream cheese, sugar, vanilla and flour until just combined. Add the egg and blend until just combined. Add the milk and Nutella and beat on medium until completely combined. This can take a good long while!

Pour into the springform pan. Reduce the heat to 300 degrees and bake 1 1/2 hours or until the center doesn't jiggle when you shake the pan. Cool completely on a wire rack.

And when you eat it (bottom right of my very strangely arranged photos here...), it is absolutely AMAZING. Sinful. Crazy. Wonderful. All those words that describe yummy deliciousness.

You can use a nicer plate, though... My paper plate doesn't do it justice, but with our pantry remodel going on, I was avoiding more dishes.

Saturday, November 19, 2011

"We expect that..." Life over 40.

My wonderful doctor, who I have been seeing for almost 18 years now, started saying, "We expect that..." to me when I was pregnant with my son. There are a lot of weird things that happen to you when you're pregnant that not even the "What To Expect When You're Expecting" books mention (or the ancient versions around in 1992 and 1996).

Now that I'm in my *ahem* mid-forties, I hear it pretty much every year, followed by my age.

"I'm not sleeping well."
"Oh, we expect that when you're 42."

"My middle is flabby."
"Oh, we expect that when you're 45."

"I'm tired!"
"Oh, we expect that when you're 46."

Except here's the thing... we DON'T expect it!

I tease her about this every year, and she didn't realize she said it quite so consistently. It's become a bit of a joke between my husband and me now that we're in our mid-forties and *cough cough* early fifties.  So here are some other GOOD things I didn't expect:

I don't feel middle aged. I don't feel much different than I did ten or twenty years ago, actually (with the exception of the aforementioned issues). I feel much wiser. I feel much calmer. I feel... ok, only a bit, but a bit more patient.

How could you not feel calm looking at this?

I feel more willing to look stupid. Hey, I'm 46! If I want to write a crappy novel in 30 days, I have no problem doing it. If I paint a picture that's really bad, while I may tear it up for scrap paper, it's not going to convince me I'm a "bad" artist and to put up my brushes. (This has actually happened in years past.)

Good, bad, good...

I find a lot more things funny. This is because I don't take life so seriously anymore. I'm not in such a hurry anymore. Life is short, even if you live to be 100. Laugh!

There are a lot of things I don't "have" to do. You realize as you get older, and especially as your kids get older, that you've done a lot of things because you have some vague sense of "have to..." And then it begins to dawn on you that you really don't. Sure, there are still some. Until they invent paper clothes or I get a servant, I'll have to do laundry. But I don't have to serve on any committee; I don't have to go to every meeting, game or event that comes along; I don't have to be at church every time the door opens.

I can be fit and ready for whatever God has for me without killing myself in the process. OK, I admit I've only learned this one in the last year. I like to challenge myself - it's the individual sport person in me. So we did Insanity last spring, and I did TurboFire this spring. But what happened in these extreme programs? (Besides admittedly getting into good shape and losing some of that flab in the middle?) I tore a muscle in my back. I tore a tendon in my knee. I got plantars fasciitis, which has plagued me now for 6 months. And I finally (slow learner) realized... It's ok to walk. To do Zumba. To do kinder things for my body, which, while not feeling middle aged, isn't 20 anymore.

What have you learned after 40? Aren't you surprised?

I love getting older, because I can see all the areas where I have matured and gotten wiser and lived through things by the grace of God that have made me both stronger and more merciful. Age really is just a number, and even if it's 3 digits, on this earth it's going to be short. Live it! Find freedom, and walk it out.


PS. I also learned last night that I can make up a killer cheesecake from a weird idea. I hadn't made a cheesecake since New Years Eve 1999. So maybe I'm a cheesecake prodigy and didn't know it! How 'bout that?

Friday, November 18, 2011

Taking a day or two off...

I have always known that I would be taking Saturday, Nov 19, (that's tomorrow for the calendar challenged out there!) off to do Mistletoe Market for our Ten Eighteen fundraising. And, of course, Thanksgiving day. But I just decided I'm taking today off. I'm not sure why, but I am absolutely exhausted today, there's been a lot going on around here besides NaNoWriMo this week (our kitchen remodel being one), and every time I sit down in my sunroom and pick up the laptop, I just can't do it.

I wish I was somewhere with sand and a blue green ocean...

I have written close to 70,000 words in 17 days. I haven't taken a day off so far, although last Sunday I had planned to. I ended up writing about 1000 words that day. My brain... is toast. It's a lovely day, and I think I'm going to walk, go shopping for some things for my new pantry, and maybe watch a worthless movie. Tomorrow I will be up and out by 7:15am, enjoying the day telling people about Uganda. And Sunday... Back at it with (I hope!) renewed vigor.

This is my friend Suzanne's orchid, which bloomed for the first time last trip to Uganda. It's gorgeous! And has nothing to do with this post. It just makes me happy, and it's bright and cheery.

All that said, I think I only have 5 days of writing until the story is done, which should come in somewhere around 85,000-90,000 words.  I may go and start editing and adding description, or I may just call it a day. We'll see on Friday, the 26th, the current expected completion date. Overall, I'm really happy with my progress. And even if it's crap, it's not everyone that can write 90,000 words of crap in 26 days, so I'll be happy with that, too!

And this is coming up SOON. Can you believe it?

Wednesday, November 16, 2011

Life and NaNoWriMo and stuff.

In one of those amazing confluxes of cosmic timing, I have a medium-sized kitchen remodel starting today. That means, first off, that my old extra fridge is now gone. Did I consider that Thanksgiving is next week when I planned this? Nope.

This is a lady cooking in Uganda. She doesn't even have one refrigerator. Or a roof. Or a pantry. So this is my inspiration... Although I may not go so far as to cook Thanksgiving dinner outside on charcoal. Just sayin.

I also have to empty all my pantry out, and move all my baking stuff out, and all my fine china and crystal out. "Out where?" you ask. Well, therein lies the problem. I started moving it out to my dining room, thinking it would be easy to get pasta and cereal and all that stuff we use everyday. UNTIL the realization that IT IS THANKSGIVING NEXT WEEK once again hit me. I don't know about you, but Thanksgiving eaten on a sofa with a plate on your lap while looking longingly at a table full of stuff where you should be eating just ain't the same. So...

After moving a whole bunch of stuff to the dining room, I re-moved it to another room which is way less convenient. I only got halfway done because I had writing to do (oh NaNoWriMo, how you consume my time!). So this morning I woke up in a panic because demo starts today (and for those of you who have never had the joys of remodeling, that's demolition not demonstration) and I still have a TON of stuff to move. Stuff I need. Stuff we use. Food stuff. Stuff stuff. OK, there's a lot of STUFF, but it still has to be moved!

Our portable storage unit. We don't have a garage. Do I have this here now? No. More bad planning? Yes.

On a good note, I wrote almost 5,000 words yesterday and crossed the 60,000 word mark. A shout out must go to my #1 son Zeke (mostly because if he reads this and there isn't one, he'll post a comment that says, "you're welcome"), who insisted I keep writing when I realized I was a little less than 700 words from 60k. He said, "Come on, mom, that's only a short essay!" (Later on he said, "I don't know how you people do NaNo... I'm having trouble with my last paragraph!" So apparently the cheerleading was a load of bull, but it did get me over that milestone.)

In other news... ok there is no other news. This is the sum total of my life in November. The good other news is that we're past the halfway point, and there is the promise of uninterrupted sleep only two weeks away.

Meet Tavish. He's my grandmother's dog. He's cute. The end.

Happy writing, fellow WriMos!

Monday, November 14, 2011

NaNoWriMo and cooking

On the one hand, participating in NaNoWriMo has forced me to be a lot more organized about dinners. (Everybody around here fends for themselves for breakfast and lunch.) I can't do my daily shopping trip and still have time to write. I can't make things that take more than about a half hour to prepare. So I've been making a weekly list and actually following it (a first!).

Typically we have things in one of two categories - super quick, or super long (crockpot). Super quick possibilities are shrimp, seared tuna and/or scallops, roasted chicken with salad and bread, steak... I love all these things! The only problem is seafood needs to be eaten the day you get it, so I can only do that on shopping days. We try not to have red meat more than once a week, so I can't do steak too often. You're seeing the problem, I know!

Super long crockpot things aren't my speciality. I grew up in Florida, so we didn't do a lot of the "comfort food" foods like pot roast. In fact, I'm pretty sure my mom never in my life cooked pot roast. And pot roast is a red meat, as is my favorite recipe for the crockpot, Italian beef sandwiches. Really all my best/favorite crockpot recipes involve red meat. So you are seeing problem number 2.

Cooking in Uganda... maybe we'll do this! (Thanks Keren and Bosco!)

And now, I am having half of my kitchen redone. It will not involve my main appliances (I will lose my old spare fridge for a couple of weeks though, which is bad with Thanksgiving on the horizon), but it will involve all my food storage. Pasta. Rice. Cereal. Baking supplies. Syrup. Snacks. Crackers. OK, not cans... but pretty much everything else will be relocated to... somewhere... from which I will have to pull reasonable meals for my guys.


I really love to cook. I do. I really don't like trying to figure out dinner every night (cakes and pies and big celebrations are way more fun!). I think my crockpot is going to get a lot more use these next two weeks. Hey, can you cook a turkey in there??

Saturday, November 12, 2011

And we have a win!

Today, at approximately 6:30pm (but who was looking), I crossed the 50,000 word mark in my novel for NaNoWriMo. Now, some of you are thinking, "wait, wasn't that supposed to take 30 days?" And some are you are thinking the same thing as my husband, "Great! Now you're done!"
Am I done? Nope, not even close!

On the first one, to "win" at NaNoWriMo you have to write 50,000 words, validated by the uploader on, by Nov 30. But many people write many more words, and my goal for Nov has always been 105,000. I am currently on pace for 120,000 but I don't know if my story will carry that far. If not, I'll go back and edit/add description. I know I'm light on that and heavy on dialog and action, so I figure I can get 105,000 or more, either way.

On the second - nope! I've 'won', and I'm very excited. But I'm not done, and am not quitting on the 12th and leaving my novel half done. My goal was to average 15,000 words for each of my seven locations of my treasure hunt. I can't leave these people in Zimbabwe! And I've got momentum and motivation, so I'm going to keep going until Nov 30, taking my 2 planned days off on the 19th and Thanksgiving day.

Have I done 15,000 words per location? Nope, I've only got 2 locations left, and 55,000 words. OK, they're not done in Zimbabwe, and I'll get another few thousand out of that. But the final location, where the treasure is... we can stretch that one out a good way. And of course, the climax of the book can't be skimped over. So I'll get close. And then I can go back and add that pesky description.

Bottom line, I'll go as far the book takes me by November 30, and I am really motivated to reach my goal. Does that mean 50,000 is "easy?" NO WAY! Had I not had a treasure hunt, which I researched during a lot of hours in October, there's no way I'd set such a high goal for a first draft. When I do it next year, will I set that same goal? Depends on if I'm doing an adventure again, or something else.

50,000 words is a LOT of words, and takes a lot of creative thinking. It's tiring! Some days it's exhausting. My 6,000+ today would have been exhausting if I hadn't had the emotional high of crossing that milestone. But is it worth it? Ooooohhhh yeah. It's awesome!

Fellow WriMos - keep on going!!! If you're thinking about it doing it next year, or Script Frenzy in April, or Camp NaNoWriMo - go for it! It's a great accomplishment, even if your novel is crap on further examination. Do it! You'll never know what will happen until you try.