Nativity Story

This year we’ll be celebrating Christmas with close family and friends.  One of my daughters won’t be here, but she and her husband will be present in our hearts as they spend the holidays with his side of the family.

That reminds me there are many types of families and many different kind of friends.  For better or for worse, there’s the family in which we were born.  And then, there are those special friends that become as close as family.  Some of those special friends have special names.  One of them is heart-sister, as opposed to blood-sister.  One of my heart-sisters sent me a cool video of the Nativity Story in the age of the digital world  -> The Digital Story

free_3440184Merry Christmas

and

Happy New Year

from the white north.

On the road

I live north, not too far from Santa, and the closest city is 5 hours south, so when I leave town for the weekend, I’m looking at a minimum of 10-hour drive.   I have a husband that loves to stay behind the wheel, so what do I do during all those hours on the road? I write… I write a lot!

Here’s my list of “on the road” necessities:

#1 – Laptop. That one is kind of obvious. I won’t go debating the merits of a MAC vs a PC, but on road trip I need a screen that will minimize the glare of the sun.  If it gets too sunny, I go sit at the back, and pretend I have a private chauffeur. Maybe I should add a “chauffeur hat” to my Christmas list to give to my hubby.

#2 – imagesPower inverter. That’s one handy little thing that I keep in my glove compartment. No matter how long a laptop battery is supposed to last, there comes a time when it needs to be recharged. The power inverter connects into the lighter socket, and can also be used to charge a cell phone or an Ipod. It makes a perfect stocking gift for anyone driving/riding in a car.

#3 – Internet stick.  It allows me to do online research while writing, though there are some gaps in the wireless coverage along the way.

#4 – Good radio station, or satellite radio. Since there’s no radio signal for most of the way, I rely heavily on my satellite radio subscription.

#5 – Something to munch in, and I can have a very productive 5 hours.

119821495821CzEMNow, there’s one book that I’d like to mention, and it would make a nice stocking gift. The BBI Dictionary of English Word Combinations, by M. Benson, E. Benson and R. Ilson.  It tells me which words are commonly associated with a specific word.  For example, if I look for Christmas tree, it will say:  Christmas tree (noun) –  to decorate,  trim a Christmas tree

That’s it. Have fun decorating your Christmas tree!

Sweet weakness

I have to admit I have a weakness…I love my chocolate. And a dessert without chocolate is like a sundae without a cherry. It’s just missing something.

I dug among my favourite chocolate chip cookies recipes, and realized most of the come from Lorna LOL  Since I didn’t want to step onto Lorna’s cookie territories, I chose a recipe from my daughter’s best friend.

Since it’s cold out here, and I don’t have much plan for the rest of the week, I may just bake some for my friends.

Double Chocolate Chip Cookies

1/2 cup softened butter or margarine
1 cup sugar
1 egg
1 teaspoon vanilla
1 1/2 cups unsifted flour
1/3 cup cocoa
1/2 teaspoon baking soda
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/4 cup milk
1 cup chocolate chips

Cream butter, sugar, egg and vanilla in large mixer bowl until light
and fluffy.

Combine flour, cocoa, baking soda and salt. Add alternatively with
milk to creamed mixture, blending well.

Stir in Chocolate Chips.

Drop by teaspoonfuls on to greased cookie sheet. Bake at 375º for
10-12 minutes or until almost set. (Do not overbake). Cool 1 min.
Remove from cookie sheet, cool completely on wire rack.669816_santa_takes_the_bait

Make almost 3 1/2 dozen cookies… and they are delicious still warm.

Tip from the North Pole…  Santa loves them with a big glass of cold milk.

Enjoy!

Passion First

I have many passions in life.  One of them is reading. I’ve loved books for as long as I can remember, which is really strange since I don’t recall ever seeing my parents or siblings read.   After my children were born, I wanted to share my passion for books with them.   I remember holding a paperback in one hand while I rock a baby in the other. Poor baby had no clue what was going on, but my children got used to see me with a book.  When they became able to sit on my lap, I taught them how to hold a book with both hands.

The first books had more images than words, and as they grew older, the balance shifted the opposite way. When they were little, I’d read each of them a separate story in bed. It was my special one-on-one time 1226191582SkHrbVwith them. Later on, they were allowed to stay up an extra hour if they use that hour to read in bed. I knew I’d hooked them on reading when they turned their flashlights on and hid under the blanket once their hour was up, to be able to finish a book.

Books entertained them in long car rides, in camping trips and cold winter nights.  They went through many reading phases and genres.  I never stopped them from reading whatever they wanted. I figured it was more important that they learned to love to read.  Sometimes they picked a book for the cover, sometimes for the title, sometimes for the blurb. Sometimes they like them, and sometimes they didn’t, and ended up not finishing the book. In my opinion, it was all good.  As their passion for reading grew, their taste developed, and they became more “picky” on what they read.

During their youth and teenage years, books have been their favourite birthday/Christmas gifts.  Twenty years later, it’s mostly books that I still wrapped at Christmas.

Do I have titles to recommend? Not really, but I still have all their books store in a dozen huge plastic bins lined up under the stairs or in closets.  My children warned me not to give any books away. They want them for their o1204977753K8w9ETwn children. They may need a few bookcase with them.

Me, I’m looking forward to the next generation of little hands grabbing those same books.  So, give your children, or grandchildren, a book… and watch their imagination soar.

No surrender for me…

I don’t like the term surrender. To me, it means throwing the towel and giving up.  I won’t surrender to the word surrender.  Instead, I’ll start the post with a  prayer I love…

God grant me the serenity
to accept the things I cannot change;
courage to change the things I can;
and wisdom to know the difference.

Every day, we face new challenges, new fears, new decisions, new problems…  and everyone wants to sail right through them without encountering any storm. But in reality, no one can avoid the obstacles in their path.  Sometimes, we have to push through the inclement weather to sail forward, while at other times, we have to steer away to stay clear of an iceberg.

First thing for me is to accept what have been thrown into my path.  It may not be fair, I may not be happy, but I have to live with. It helps to remember that God never throws anything more than we can handle…I hope He doesn’t think I’m some sort of superwoman, or I’m in big trouble.

Second is to determine if the fight is worth it or not. There are good battles and there are losing battles. It seems obvious, but sometimes, seeing the difference isn’t that easy.

How often do we keep banging on a close door without seeing the one that opened beside it? Or cry over what we lost and forgot what we gained? Changing path isn’t the same as giving up, it’s the wisdom of seeing past what is no longer there.1287435_pedra_e_mar

Fear, sadness and adversity are the opposite coins of courage, happiness and success.  One cannot exist without the other.  They allow us to grow, to discover the potential hidden inside of us.

God doesn’t throw obstacles along our path to stop us from achieving what we want.  He does it so we remember to look around for other doors, so we learn to steer in other directions… so we can grow stronger and better.

Did someone say Math?

When someone asks me what my favorite school subject was, the answer was always MATH.   Then I’d get the you-can-not-be-serious look.

I’m a number girl and I particularly love algebra. All those lovely numbers mixed with a, b and c or x, y and z to form magic formulas that I could twist and break and recreate without losing any coherence. I don’t know if my love for writing began with the a,b,c and x,y,z, but it was influenced by a certain math teacher.

I’m taking you back in grade 8. I would have been 12 or 13 years old at the time. I was in all-girl class. I quietly sat at the back and liked to be left to my own device. Of no fault of mine, I excelled in math. That must have been the way my brain was wired. I could listen with one ear and both eyes closed, and I’d still get the concepts.

That year, I had Mrs. Bergeron as math teacher. She was a petite brunette with short hair and a very soft voice. 1273113579jev09FShe never yelled or raised her voice, and she had the patience of ten angels. She would explain the same thing ten different ways a dozen times until the single last student of the classroom got it. She was an amazing math teacher. Me being me, I found it quite boring to listen to the dozen explanations when I’ve already learned all I could from the first one, so I had to find something to keep my mind busy.

That year, there was a science fiction show that I liked. Week after week, my head kept imagining different endings to the weekly episode. So, I decided to write a complete episode. I would put my math textbook up on my desk like a screen and I would write my little heart during all my math classes. That may come as a surprise, but I didn’t like my language class. I hated writing poems, or stories, or essays, or anything else for the matter. There were just too many rules and conventions to follow, and they stifled my creativity. In my mind, I was a math kid, not a language kid.

Back to my math class and my secret writing. When Mrs. Bergeron asked a question or walked near my desk, I would pretend to pay attention or work on my question sheets. I didn’t need more than one ear to listen, and I always handed my completed question sheets at the end of the class. I never had any reason to suspect that she suspected something was amidst.

As the end of the school year neared, I finished my little story, which I typed every day at home after school  on that old typewriter. I even got a nice little binder for it and I made a book cover with cardboard. If you wonder, I still have “my first story” hidden somewhere in the house. I never told anyone, not even my closest friends.

Last week of school. The grades came out. I’d finished first in math. Mrs. Bergeron came to my desk to congratulate me, and then she said “If you’re done writing that story, I’d very love to read it.”

Mrs. Bergeron is the only one who has ever read it. She said she liked it. I suspect she was being nice. Nevertheless, for a full year in her math class, she allowed the heart of a writer to grow.

Today, 1280234870h2F7JEshe would be anywhere between 65 and 80 years old. I wonder what she would say if I told her I published a novel.

But I know what I’d like to say to her…Thank you!

Read? When?

I have a confession to make… I cannot remember the title of the last book I read.

Yes, it was that long ago, so I figured I needed to make a trip to the bookstore.  As it turned out, I ended up ordering online and I got Lorna’s book at the same time.

I won’t say much about Making Waves, since I read more versions of it that I can remember, but I can tell you they were all good. The book is excellent and I intend to savor the final version in front of my fireplace sometimes this winter.

I’ll talk about the second book that was in the package.  A friend of mine – you know who you are – recommended an author named Kristen Heitzmann.  My friend thought I would enjoy her style.  On Monday, I received Indivisible in the mail.

I’m at page 64, so even if I wanted to give some spoilers, I cannot.  I have no real clue as where that story is going, but I love it.

istockphoto_2227074-light-of-candleThere’s a candle-maker named Tia who’s estranged from her family and has guilt written all over her forehead.  She rents a room to Piper, a teenager (I think) with more mug shots on her family tree than leafs.  Piper works in a bakery, she likes to try new recipes behind her boss’ back, and likes to pry.

There’s also a new vet, Liz, and her sick little sister, Lucy. Not sure where those two fit just yet, but Liz feels responsible for Lucy’s condition.

On the male side, there’s Jonah, the chief of police.  He sounds like a tough, hunky type of guy who harbors a dark past and who gave up on women after a failed relationship with Tia’s sister.

There’s also a stranger who’s germaphobe, who keeps showing up at the candle store and the bakery. Not sure what to make of him, either.

Add to that dead raccoonsistockphoto_5559390-wild-raccoon-looking-at-camera-close-up surgically sewn together that keep showing up on the forest path, drug busts that go dry, and a dog named Marlene, and you get a pretty picture of a not-so-quiet little town.

Indivisible is my book for the week.  Thank you my friend for suggesting it.

So? What are you reading?

Imagine not being afraid

Simone Weil once said, “Imagination and fiction make up more than three quarters of our real life.” If imagination and fiction are such an intricate part of our lives, why are we so afraid to imagine?

I can hear many of you arguing that we’re not afraid., that we imagine things all the time. And yes, sometimes we do, but too often we don’t.

Picture a new writer sitting in her cold basement and writing on a computer for which they don’t make spare parts anymore. While the kids are gone to school and the husband is at work, she indulges her passion for writing–her secret passion for writing. If a friend calls her, she’ll say she’s busy doing housework. If her mom phones, she’ll say she was exercising. Why is she afraid to admit she’s writing?

Well… How do we call a woman who spends her days imagining stories in her head? Planning the perfect date with a dashing young lover that is more athletic, more romantic and twenty years younger than her husband? Plotting the perfect murder of a wicked mother-in-law? Delving into the mind of an arsonist?

Once past the shock of her wandering mind, we’d call her a writer, of course, though some might be tempted to add a few adjectives to complement the word writer.

Remember what Simone Weil said we do 75% of the time? After a wh1224578963zF5cr7ile, that poor writer would inevitable start having contact with other people like her…people who spend the remaining 25% imagining a different life for people who don’t exist.

We all know how much the support of our fellow writers mean for us. They support us, they encourage us, they guide us…

Can you imagine how easier it would have been for that writer if she had had access to all those wonderful people at the beginning of her journey? But no, she was afraid, so she walked the first stretch alone. But now that she has her writing friends, she can’t imagine a life without them.

Let’s look at our poor writer a few years later. She goes to her first conference with 929523_business_carda brand new manuscript, some business cards, a synopsis she spent more time on that the story itself and a one-page. Poor writer had no idea what a one-page was until one of her newly found writer friends told her that she couldn’t imagine going to the conference without that essential piece of information.

By the way, when I say poor, I mean it in every sense of the word, because until you publish that novel you do stay poor.

For days before that conference, our poor writer imagines all those authors, and publishers, and agents…and she becomes a nervous wreck. So, what happens at the conference? She becomes afraid they won’t like her story, or her style…or her shoes. She can’t remember her pitch line, let alone her name or the title of her story.

By now, you may have started to wonder, if you’re still reading, what my point is. There’s a quote from Leo Buscaglia that I love, “Our talents are the gift that God gives to us… What we make of our talents is our gift back to God.”

Just imagine how we could develop all those talents if we didn’t let fear, doubts or any other obstacles hold us back.

Great potential live within all of us, so let’s start imagining what we can do…and let’s reach for it.1094771075QXCP9U

Closet writers–Imagination is a wonderful and powerful tool. Use it wisely and proudly.

Conference goers—Imagine the possibilities and grabbed them with both hands. And don’t forget to have fun!

One word…two words…six hundred words

This blog is the perfect example of my lack of self-discipline. I’ve known the subject ahead of times. I know every other Thursday is my turn.  I knew I’d be on vacations.   You think I would have written it ahead of time. Considering there is a nice little button that let you pick a date and time for when you want it to appear online, that would have been the disciplined thing to do. But no… it’s 11pm Wednesday night.  I’m at the hotel and I’m typing this. My husband thinks I am insane, and he might be right.

So, how did I manage to finish a book and be more than half done with my next? Good question. Unfortunately, there is no miracle answer.

I tried many things. Schedules do not work for me. I cannot say I write from 9am to 3 pm or from 7 pm to 3 am.  Life always interferes with my plan, so I learned not to plan things by the hours.

I tried to prioritize my writing. Amazing how quickly it can go from the top of the list to the bottom, replaced by grocery shopping, in-laws visits or kids’ frantic phone calls. On the other hand, writing still comes before vacuuming and dusting.

I tried working by draft (or layers). Go with the skeletons on the first draft, add branches on the second, and leaves on the third. Not for me, either. I see the scene in my mind  and I have to write it as it unfolds in front of my eyes with all its details.

I guess that also rules out the writing out-of-order thing. While I do have a general outline of where my story is going, every time I wrote a scene before it was actually time for that scene to play out, I had to rewrite it completely because the dynamic had changed.

So, how do I write a book? I write it in chronological order, one scene at a time with all its detail in the first draft.

What kind of incentives do I give myself? I set myself a daily word count based on how busy I am with other things. Right now, it is 600 “good” words, which means I may have written a thousand or two, but I kept at least 600.

Now, there are days, nothing works. I find bubble baths are my best friends when I have no clue on how to approach a scene, and I quit at 2am.  After that, I’m totally useless.

I think the idea is to find what works for you.  It can be a challenge you set for yourself, it can be to be accountable to a friend, it can be a reward to indulge on… whatever it is, use it to motivate yourself to write.

Happy writing!

From East to West

Initially, I was not going to do a cross-country trek, but Lorna’s fried cheese sent me on a trip back East.

Like Kav said on Monday, the only thing we fry in our neck of the woods is French fries and onion rings, and sometimes fish. So, what do we do with cheese curds besides eating them fresh from the bag? It’s called Poutine.

Poutine (imagespronounced poo.tin) is a French-Canadian dish that dates back from the mid 1950s. It consists of French fries, topped with fresh cheese curds, and covered with a copious amount of brown gravy. In Québec, poutine is as common as French fries and pizza. Doesn’t that look appetizing?

Now, back on the West coast. Also in the mid 1950s, a woman from Nanaimo, British Columbia, entered her chocolate squares into a local cookbook fundraising event. Her chocolate squares became known as Nanaimo bars, and they are delicious.

There are three layers to a Nanaimo bar. The bottom layer is a no-bake chocolate crumb-based. The middle layer is custard flavored butter icing. And the top is a layer of chocolate. In most recipes, the bars contain nuts or walnut, but since I have a child who’s allergic to nuts of every kind, I modified the bottom layer to meet her needs.

MY SPECIAL NANAIMO BARS

Bottom layer:

¼ cup melted butter or margarine (I use margarine)

1 cup chocolate chips

1-1/4 cups graham crumbs

¾ cup coconut flakes

*Melt cimages-3hocolate chips into melted butter. I use my microwave and stir every 10 secs until melted.

*Blend crumbs and coconut into the melted chocolate, then press the mixture into a greased square pan. I use a fork, but feel free to use your fingers.

*Place in the fridge. I find it easier to add a new layer when the previous layer is cold.

Middle layer:

¼ cup butter or margarine (I use margarine)images-4

2 cups icing sugar

2 TBSP custard powder

2 TBSP milk

½ tsp vanilla extract (or orange or mint or whatever flavour you like)

*Mix with an electric mixer. The icing should be thick.

*Spread over the bottom layer, then send the pan back into the fridge.

Top layer:

1 tsp vegetable oil

1 cup chocolate chips

*Melt chocolate chip in oil. Again I use my microwave and stir every 10 secs until the mixture is all smooth.

images-2*Spread over the middle layer.

*Send the pan back into the fridge for a few minutes until the chocolate solidifies. Cut into small rectangles. Keep refrigerated.

*It makes 24 bars.

Enjoy!