Friday, December 24, 2010

I Used Up All My Words

Late afternoon. I climb the seven stairs from my lower level office to the kitchen, put on an apron, and begin mixing the dough for the calzones we’ll be having for dinner. K is in the living room, which is open to the kitchen, watching the early news.

I don’t say a word.

“How’d it go?” His eyes are glued to the TV.

“Fine.” I add olive oil to the dough in big, gold-green dollops, not bothering to measure.

“You okay?” he asks from the recliner.

“Yup.” Now I’m sprinkling flour on the kneading board.

The television goes off, the chair creaks, and K comes into the room. “What’s the matter?”

He’s concerned because I can be such a chatterbox. Because when I’m upset I get quiet. Because I’m not giving him enough information to know what’s going on.

So I turn to him and shrug. Smile a smile that feels apologetic though I didn’t really mean it to be.

“I used up all my words,” I say.

He relaxes and a grin splits his face. “That’s great. Really great.” And he wraps his arms around me in a big hug.

I stand there with my arms straight out. My hands are covered with flour, so I can’t really respond in kind without leaving big white hand prints on his sweater. He doesn’t care, just gives one last squeeze and goes back to the news.

‘Cuz he gets it. I’ve been writing all day. He doesn’t know the details: emails, an article, an interview, 9 pages of new material for my WIP and almost ten pages of character work and brainstorming for another possible project.

But he doesn’t have to know the details, just that I used up all my words, that I wrote and wrote and that’s really great. Not having to explain more is the best Christmas present he could give me.

Happy Holidays to you all. Thank you for stopping by, for reading the words I spill out here, for your comments and feedback and well wishing. I appreciate each and every one of you.

Wednesday, December 22, 2010

Winter Light

120910 033

Love the faded, golden light that angles through the trees.

120910 035

Owls call from these ginormous branches each night. For a little perspective, the bat house in the lower right corner is sixteen feet tall.

120910 037

Stark, craggy goodness

The lunar eclipse on the solstice was breathtaking. My little camera doesn’t take great night pictures without a tripod, and frankly I wasn’t inclined to mess with it while turning into a prune in the hot tub at 2:00 a.m. Plus, there were bound to be plenty of truly fabulous pictures of such an event. If you’re in the mood for some, check out these over at the Huffington Post.

Monday, December 20, 2010

Things That Make Me Happy

hc blog 022610 008

Last week was a slog. You know what I mean. Some days go smoothly, with everything falling into place and at the end it feels good. And some days don’t. Last week there were a lot more of the latter than the former.

So I did a few things to get out of my funk. I took a long walk. I cleaned house (makes me feel better after I’m done). I talked to friends on the phone. And on Saturday I went to the indoor Farmers Market.

I tell you, it fed my soul. And, of course, our stomachs. I picked up an assortment of local, grass-fed beef cuts from a new source so we can taste-test it before committing to ordering an eighth. I bought a pound of locally grown mushrooms, a bag of cold-frame-grown greens, and a hunk of my friend Meg’s fabulous artisan cheese, then went on to talk to a personable young man looking to sign up folks for a poultry CSA share.

Oh, this last one was big. For one thing, finding local pastured birds has been difficult, and we eat quite a lot of chicken. Yet I’m really digging my heels in about not buying any kind of “regular” chicken at the grocery store, given the way that industrial agriculture allows (forces) them to be raised – unhealthy for us and cruel for them.

Plus, I do my best to eat (and consume in general) locally. So when someone gives me the option to buy into a poultry CSA, I’m all over that.

Jodar Farms offers two different programs. One is a regular CSA model where you get X amount of birds per month. The other is a Farmers Market program, where you pay up front and then pick up what you need each week at the summer Farmers Markets until you’ve used up your prepayment. 

Get this: not only do they offer chickens, but also ducks, turkeys, Cornish game hens, eggs – and a limited supply of pastured pork (!!!). The pork isn’t on the website, but Aaron Rice, a CSU graduate who tends the flocks mirroring the models of food advocates like Michael Pollan and Joel Salatin, mentioned it. The only thing harder to find than local, pastured poultry is local, pastured pig.

I came home energized. For dinner we had a completely local dinner:  soufflĂ© made with CSA eggs, Meg’s cheese, piima cream, local mushrooms cooked down in homemade butter with a red onion from the garden and thyme and parsley from the window sill, along with a simple salad of baby greens. So good!

Last night we tried some of the ground beef cooked up with local corn, home-canned tomatoes, herbs and the rest of the artisan cheese, all stuffed into green peppers from the freezer and baked with bread crumbs on top. Tonight the rest of the mushrooms will go into hearty tomato soup to be eaten with fresh bread and butter.

These are things that make me happy. Turns out I’m not the only one. There are lots of us. If you’re one and live in northern Colorado, check out Jodar Farms. If you don’t live in this area, take a look at Local Harvest to find food producers near you.

And now I’m off to write up a storm. Because, contrary to the mythology, I write more – and better – when I’m happy. Talk about Win-Win.

Sunday, December 19, 2010

Week Link

I encourage you to add TheBreastCancerSite.com to the list of websites you regularly visit. Sponsors pay for free mammograms when you click the button to give, and you can click once a day. Not only that, but notice the tabs where you can do the same thing for other causes: hunger; child health; literacy; rainforest; and animal rescue.

It’s cost free to you, doesn’t bring a bunch of charity-based address labels to your mailbox, and does some real good in the world.

Friday, December 17, 2010

In the Mailbox

Four copies of the large print edition of Something Borrowed, Something Bleu showed up unannounced. Amazon doesn’t even have a cover image yet, but www.worldcat.org indicates that libraries are already stocking copies. So now the only book in the Home Crafting Mystery Series that isn’t available in large print is the very first one.

121610 008

Love the bloody knife …

Thursday, December 16, 2010

Winner!

Congratulations to Beverly aka Bookwoman! Via random number generator she won the $25 Amazon gift certificate. Bookwoman, please contact me at CricketMcRae@gmail.com with your email address, and I’ll have your winnings zinging through the ether to you in no time.

Thanks to everyone who entered the contest either here or on Facebook, and welcome new Followers and subscribers!

Wednesday, December 15, 2010

Happy, Cheesy Accident

A quick reminder: Today’s the last day to enter my contest – see the details above. I’ll announce the winner tomorrow.

As for the happy accident – well, I think it will be good thing. Time will tell.

121510 020

A couple days ago I decided to make cottage cheese. It started by mixing a packet of direct-set mesophilic culture into a gallon of whole milk heated to 72 degrees. That sat on the counter, wrapped in towels, for 24 hours while I did things like write, organize the basement, wrap presents and sleep.

Yesterday I cut the coagulated mass into curds and heated them very gradually to 112 degrees. After half an hour at that temperature I should have been able to strain out the cottage cheese, give it a quick rinse, mix in a little cream, and sample the goodness.

But the curds were too custardy inside. I cooked them and cooked them, added a bit of rennet to encourage the process, and then even a few drops of apple cider vinegar. Finally, I gave up, strained the dang curds and put them in a cloth-lined cheese mold hoping to salvage a hard or semi-hard cheese.

I rigged up a press by perching a cast iron Dutch oven filled with bricks on top of the mold. More bricks increased the weight to about 30 pounds (50 would have been better) pressure. Again, it sat on the counter overnight.

This morning I unwrapped the tidy round above. The plan is to let it dry at room temperature for a few days, turning often until it forms a rind. Since it’s more or less farmers cheese, it should be ready to eat in a month or less.

Wonder how it will taste …

Sunday, December 12, 2010

Week Link

rockwellThis Norman Rockwell is called Fact and Fiction

Recently I was trolling the web for pictures that reflect the feel and reality of earlier times. I stumbled across the mother-lode in the Library of Congress Prints and Photographs Division. You can search by format, subject or date, find photographs, illustrations, old cartoons, Japanese prints, collections by artist, film stills, old advertisements and copies of famous paintings. Whether you need material for an art project, to spice up a blog, or are just interested in images from an earlier time, this is a fun place to explore.

Saturday, December 11, 2010

Homemade Toffee

Friday kind of got away from me. Much of the day I was immersed in a proposal for a new mystery series. Hours later, I swam back to the surface and the remainder of my task list.

Then there was the chunk of time devoted to going through all the accumulated Christmas junk. At least a hundred ornaments and assorted kitschy crap are on their way to the thrift store. The place feels lighter for it, and the basement area where I want to set up a sewing area is slowly getting cleared and organized.

K has been busy most evenings at the studio. This is the time of year people want to record that original Christmas carol or compilation CD. I needed a few more gifts, so I skipped dinner and took advantage of the time to make toffee. Soon the burnt-sugar smell of a high school chemistry lab filled the house.

Toffee

I doubled this recipe. You’ll need a thermometer that goes to at least 300 degrees unless you’re an experienced candy maker and know how to test for hard-crack stage without it. Also, this stuff gets HOT. Be careful, for heaven’s sake don’t try to taste it when it’s liquid, and keep little ones away, especially during the pouring process.

Oil a jelly-roll pan or 8 x 8 inch square pan. Combine 2 cups firmly packed dark brown sugar, 1/4 cup butter, 1 Tablespoon apple cider vinegar, 2 Tablespoons boiling water and a pinch of salt in a heavy 3-quart pot. Place over moderate heat and stir until well blended. Continue to stir as the sugar dissolves and mixture comes to a boil.

120910 053

Cover and let boil for 2-3 minutes. Uncover and continue to boil slowly, stirring gently without touching the edges of the pot only if it starts to scorch, until the mixture reaches hard-crack stage (290 degrees). Don’t go beyond that temperature or the result will be too hard.

Pour toffee onto the oiled pan, spreading quickly with a rubber spatula so it’s about 1/4 inch thick. Allow to cool. (By the way, all that heat will quickly transfer to a cool pan, so have the pan on towels and pot holders at the ready.)

120910 066

You can stop here, but I went ahead and melted about 3/4 cup of super-dark chocolate and spread it over the cooled toffee. Yeah, I should have used a double boiler to melt the chocolate, but I’ve been melting chocolate in this little pan for over twenty years. The enameled cast iron distributes low heat quite nicely without burning.

120910 074

Then I sprinkled course salt over a third of the batch, sliced almonds over another third, and left the last third plain.

120910 086

It was taking too long to cool, so I put the pan out on the porch for fifteen minutes. Back inside, I broke the cold toffee into pieces by dropping it about eight inches onto the pan.

120910 107

Not terribly elegant, but effective!

Wednesday, December 8, 2010

Clustering

First off, the information for both the Hearth Cricket Giveaway and the BookEnds Contest is now in the header above so as not to flood subscribers with daily posts containing clues. That should tidy things up a bit until December 16th.

We all have tools we regularly use to solve problems. Some people are list makers, some like to talk things out, some research to see what other people have done in similar situations, and some simply pray and wait. I’ve been known to do all of the above, but another tool I like is clustering.

cluster picI first learned the technique in Gabriele Lusser Rico’s Writing the Natural Way. You simply begin by circling a key word in the middle of the page and add more circled words around it. It’s best to work quickly and not judge. Sometimes the words that come to mind don’t seem related at all, but that’s okay.

Soon you’ll be adding more lines to more circles, working outward from the initial trigger word (or concept – I often put a question in the middle circle). After a while something happens. A pattern may develop that you hadn’t noticed before, your thinking may become more focused in one area, or a sudden realization may hit you like a cartoon anvil.

Because of the non-linear nature of the process, it taps into the right side of the brain which allows for new perspectives, emotional responses, and a better view of the big-picture. Clustering used in combination with more linear, pro/con approaches affords a double barreled approach to figuring things out.

I used this technique a lot in writing, often for discovering my character’s motivations but also to work out the flow of individual scenes. However, it’s also a useful tool for any thoughtful problem solving. Recently, I clustered my Christmas gift list! Other examples include prioritizing writing projects and developing a winter exercise regimen I can actually live with.

Tomorrow I’ll be talking about another problem-solving technique over at the Midnight Ink Author Blog, Inkspot. If you have a go-to tool for working out solutions, please share!

Tuesday, December 7, 2010

Clue #5

The BookEnds Twelve Days of Bookmas clue for today:

The name of this series is also a movie title

Monday, December 6, 2010

Writing Community

The BookEnds Twelve Days of Bookmas clue for the day

Shippensburg Provost

_____________________

120610 022

Patricia Stoltey reads from The Desert Hedge Murders

All over the country there are vibrant pockets of writers who have come together to connect and network. Many such studios are associated with Universities and offer a variety of programs, tools, and support for student writers. Online writing communities abound as well. However, there are a few brick-and-mortar studios open to all writers, of any age. Most have an online component as well. Places like Redbird Studio in Milwaukee and The Writers Place in Kansas City. And, lucky lucky me, the Northern Colorado Writers organization right here in Fort Collins. I’m pretty sure I must have mentioned it on Hearth Cricket before.

Kerrie Flanagan is the driving force behind NCW, and she has a great support staff. She says, “The purpose of NCW is to encourage and support writers of all levels and genres on their journey to writing success.” And to that end there is an extensive member website with chat rooms for virtual meetings, a physical studio with wi-fi, tea, coffee, snacks, copier, printer, and a creative vibe in the air. There’s room for critique groups to meet and to teach the frequent and varied classes. There are member coffees and lots of opportunities to network about marketing. In the spring there is a writing conference with agents, editors, speakers and workshops galore.

I wrote a good chunk of Wined and Died at the studio, as a matter of fact. It was like going to the office when too many projects at home tried to snag my attention. My basement office has three doors, and that means three times the opportunity to escape.

Anyway.

This weekend Patricia Stoltey, Ellen Javernick and I read at the Northern Colorado Writers Holiday Mart. Shoppers perused the many offerings Kerrie and her crew had gathered, many of which were writing related, and then paused as each of us gave a quick reading and answered a few questions before signing.

I scored a Christmas present in Ellen’s Birthday Pet, got to see Patricia after I don’t know how long, check in with Kerrie, talk with a friend’s daughter who is an aspiring writer, and reconnect with Jenny, as well as pick up a few final stocking stuffers.

And then there are these:

120610_2 003

Michelle Mach is a writer and a jewelry designer. For the holiday mart she created several sets of earrings based on books. How cool is that?

If you can recommend other writing communities, please leave a comment to let us know. I’ll compile a reference list and post it on the site.

Sunday, December 5, 2010

Week Link

If you’re a knitter, you may already be aware of the Hoxton Handmade blog and the Electric Sheep podcast that goes with it. If you don’t know about it, definitely check it out.

And if you aren’t a knitter? You might want to check it out anyway. She’s a thirty-year old who lives in London and chats about a lot more than knitting. She’s smart, funny, articulate, and a lot of fun to listen to.

Friday, December 3, 2010

Unbelievables

First a few contest details, and then the easiest cookie recipe in the world.

We’re trying to post the BookEnds contest clues a little later in the day so folks in the western part of the U.S. will have more opportunity to participate. If you haven’t read Jessica Faust’s post for today, check it out here.

And the clue for today is: The name of this series is all about location, location, location. 

-------------------

$$The Hearth Cricket Holiday Giveaway$$

I will be giving away a $25 Amazon electronic gift certificate to one lucky winner on December 16th. You can enter once each day between now and then, by one of the following methods:

  • Leave a comment on that day’s Hearth Cricket blog post
  • Leave a comment on my Facebook page
  • Become a Hearth Cricket Follower (at right)
  • Subscribe to Hearth Cricket posts via email (also at right)

Be sure to check back on Monday for the next BookEnds clue!

_____________________

Since Thanksgiving I haven’t been doing much baking, perhaps subconsciously trying to lighten up on the calorie front. But last night we wanted a little something after dinner so I threw together these cookies. My mom taught me to how to make them when I was a teenager. They’re fast, gluten-free, and only have three ingredients!

unbelievablesUnbelievables

Thoroughly mix together 1 cup sugar, 1 cup chunky peanut butter, and 1 large egg. Roll into small balls. Put on cookie sheet and flatten with a fork. Sprinkle with a dash of salt, then bake 12 to 15 minutes at 350 degrees.

How easy is that?

Have a great weekend, everyone!

Thursday, December 2, 2010

BookEnds Clue #2

It’s the second day of Bookmas, and you can find Kim’s quiz over at the BookEnds Blog if you haven’t already checked it out.

And the Hearth Cricket clue is: The main character in this series should know how to lay bricks.

Don’t forget about the contest going on here at Hearth Cricket, too. Comment on a post here, comment on my Facebook page, become a Follower (at right) or subscribe to Hearth Cricket posts and you’ll be entered to win a $25 gift certificate to Amazon!

Wednesday, December 1, 2010

Let the Games Begin

box of books Today begins the BookEnds Twelve Days of Bookmas Giveaway. If you haven’t read today’s post yet, here’s the link:

http://bookendslitagency.blogspot.com/

And here’s the clue: Grain Sown Young by a woman whose first name means “honey” or “sweetness".

And it’s also the first day of:

$$The Hearth Cricket Holiday Giveaway$$

I will be giving away a $25 Amazon electronic gift certificate to one lucky winner on December 16th. You can enter once each day between now and then, by one of the following methods:

  • Leave a comment on that day’s Hearth Cricket blog post
  • Leave a comment on my Facebook page
  • Become a Hearth Cricket Follower (at right)
  • Subscribe to Hearth Cricket posts via email (also at right)

Be sure to check back tomorrow for the next BookEnds clue!