Marketing? Stop Complaining, Diane.

BellingwoodBoxedSet1-3Marketing is a pain in my butt. I hate it, hate it, hate it. I spend money to give my books away for free and then I spend hours filling out forms on various websites that ask me more questions than I’m comfortable answering sometimes. I won’t be surprised to find a question about the color of my underwear one of these days. None of the marketing sites ask exactly the same questions, so it’s always a tossup as to which answer I need to create.

As I sat here complaining to myself (well, and the cats, too), I realized that I want my books to just do the work for me. And then I laughed because you know what? I’m a lousy manager.

What in the world, Diane? Non-sequitur much?

Not really. See, when people work for me, I just want to assign the work and then have them to it without anymore input from me – unless a crisis comes up. But that’s just not reality. People are people. And I’m a horrible, horrible manager. It makes me cry to have to manage people.

Consequently, I no longer do that. And I don’t cry over that anymore. (I cry over everything else, though – sheesh – what waterworks these eyes are).

Notice their tails? I did that. Because I love messing with them while they sleep.

Notice their tails? I did that. Because I love messing with them while they sleep.

This is one of the things about self-publishing. There isn’t some little lackey out there in media / publishing land who creates promotions and spends hours finding new and creative ways to convince the world they should buy your books. Nope. It’s all about dimly lit rooms with computer monitors and cats surrounding you. (Wait – that’s probably just me – not every other author who self-publishes likes kittens and dimly lit rooms.)

Okay – enough complaining. The awesome, amazing, wonderful side of marketing my own books? When it’s all over and the forms filled out, the money gone from my account and the dates are scheduled, I know that I’m about to meet really fabulous people who are introduced to my Bellingwood books and fall in love with the stories.

Little by little, person by person, my books really do begin doing the work for me. You share with your friends and family, they share and the network grows. That network means that I get to meet and find out about some of the coolest people in the world. I am continually blown away by how fun that is.

Moving out of Sigourney - 1980

Moving out of Sigourney – 1980

When I was growing up, we moved a lot. Methodist ministers didn’t stay in one place much longer than 5-6 years. I loved it. Absolutely loved it. As much as I adored the friends I had already made, I knew that this was an opportunity to meet so many more great people. This had a lot to do with my parent’s attitudes about change. They taught us to greet it with anticipation and expectation. Mom, especially, prepared us to have fun with all of the new people we would encounter. (The funny thing – both she and Dad were hermits, too!)

So, just like the hated days of packing up the house (we had a lot of stuff) to move, I got through this day of scheduling marketing – knowing that on the other side, something great is going to come.

You always have to look for the fun – right?

Oh … wanna know the dates? Tell your friends!

I’ve scheduled the Bellingwood Boxed Set to be free on February 19-20 and then again on March 3-5. Don’t worry. You’ll see those dates again as we get closer, but if you’ve been waiting to share the series – the time is here!

Little Moments

It really is about the little moments in life, isn’t it!

The cats and I just had a blast and because words rattled around in my head, I needed to share. However, because I was busy processing on the words – there are no photographs of this actual event.

Tuna casserole has been tantalizing me for a few months. Don’t know why it took so long to make it – it’s a simple recipe and it’s one of my favorites.

Mom didn’t make casseroles. That’s not how she learned to cook, so we didn’t have them unless someone in the congregation made one and gave it to us. Tuna was something she purchased to create tuna salad. Well, heck, when she was on a diet, she just ate tuna and cottage cheese. That happened often.

Anyway. Tonight was the night. Last night I made sure I had all of the ingredients so all I had to do was cook some noodles and mix the ingredients.

Three cans of tuna. Three cats. Perfect equation. What was fun was watching their little personalities at play throughout this extravagance.

For the kittens, this was new. As soon as TB smelled tuna in the air, he was right there in front of me. He knew this would be awesome.

IMG_4827

The kittens will do nearly anything to be close to TB – no matter how uncomfortable it might be.

I squeezed the tuna juice (water) into three little dishes and put his in front of him immediately, then one in front of Grey – because she was in a PANIC! If TB was that excited, it had to be great. Earl sat on the floor in front of me, desperate to be in on it, but he couldn’t think fast enough to get to a chair that would give him access to the table. I put his on the floor so he could participate right away.

TB hunkered in. This was his to enjoy.

Grey dashed back and forth, trying to figure out where the most fun would happen. Was it at the dish of tuna juice? Maybe one of the empty cans of tuna. Would Mom let her near the casserole dish where all of the ingredients were landing? Oh my, oh my, oh my!

And Earl? That little sweetie just kept looking up at me – he’d found nirvana. I could read it in his eyes. “Thank you, Mom. You’re the best ever.”

They are so distinct in their personalities and those few moments – over dishes of tuna juice – were pure pleasure for me. Each cat was able to experience something simple that I could do for them and they experienced it in their own way.

So what if Grey was all over the place. That was her joy. So what if Earl couldn’t figure out how to get to the top of the table (he usually can, he was overwhelmed). I could make it easy on him and he was content. And TB? This was old hat and one of those few moments that I let him (them) be involved in what I’m cooking.

IMG_4850

I love this face.

Apparently I need to make tuna casserole more often. We all love it.

As I watched each of them find their own way through the moment, I thought about how wonderful it is to do things for other people. I love to give gifts. I’m making quilts right now. Who knows where they’ll end up – or even if they’ll work out. I’m kind of a newbie at this. But those moments of someone else’s joy pile up in my mind as I cut out pieces of fabric and plot a pattern.

When I first started writing, I didn’t have very many readers. I could identify most of the people who were reading my books. And you know what? I wrote the story as if I were telling it to them. Their reactions to bits and pieces of the book were in my mind at all times. Those moments were surely only mine, but once the book was published, it became something that I shared with them, even if it wasn’t at the same time.

Some of the most fun I have is in the moments – whether they are shared immediately or put off until later. I don’t want to miss any moments because I’m too caught up in negative crap. I agonize for those people who spend so much time looking for (and finding) ugliness, anger, bitterness, betrayal and frustration. They miss moments of joy.

Silly little moments. Perfect moments that add up to so much more.

Edit:
Hehe – I re-read this and thought: someone is going to think I’m an imbecile because I used the word extravagance instead of extravaganza. When, in truth, I wanted to use the word extravagance. Just thought I’d put that out there.

Vittimins

What a great day.

After days of gray skies, sunshine ripped through the clouds and charged my Vitamin D batteries right up. All three cats spent the day moving around, holding on to sunbeams as long as they could. I found Earl perched on top of the coffee pot so he could look out the kitchen window. Grey wasn’t too far away. She’d found a sunbeam in a tiny space left beside my toaster. The poor thing had braced herself into that spot, her front legs draped over the counter. I did the only thing I could. I moved the toaster.

After the excitement of spraying water the other night, Jeremy came out Friday afternoon and fixed my world. Not only did he fix the broken pipe, he dealt with many other plumbing issues that I’d just let hang out there. I’m the daughter of a Methodist pastor. Whenever we moved into a parsonage, we adapted to whatever it handed us. I became quite good at it throughout my life. I’m odd. The surface of my living space isn’t all that important to me. I create a work space that fits my needs, but after that, all I want is for things to work. Oh. And I like lots of fabric around me. Blankets, quilts, pillows, curtains, more blankets and maybe a few more pillows. Anyway – all of that to say – once things work well, I’m content.

Today, I’m content.

Jamie is such a Greenwood in this picture - taken in late 1964.

Jamie is such a Greenwood in this picture – taken in late 1964.

This afternoon I finished the first edit of another book from my brother. It’s nothing like either of the two other series that he’s written. I’m so proud of him. He keeps branching out and he does a great job with all of it. This is an urban paranormal mystery and it’s fun. That’s all I will say until he’s ready to give you more information.

You may not see the connection in all of the things I just wrote about, but it’s there. In about thirty-six hours, the Midwest is supposed to get slammed with a blizzard. Not just snow, but snow and huge amounts of wind. With plenty of warning, we have time to set in supplies and be prepared. I’m going into town tomorrow to pick up mail and a few groceries and then, I’m cracking a bottle of wine. Hmmm, wine … writing. There might be a party at Beryl’s house.

With every other snowstorm that has come, I’ve been stressed. I need to travel or do something or go somewhere. The thing is, I love a good blizzard. Just not when I need to be out in it. I’m enough of a hermit that I like being stuck in the cabin anyway. This is just one more opportunity for me to watch the snow swirl around and tuck my head back under the blankets.

Are you preparing for the Midwest storm or are you out of its path this time? Whatever your weather, I hope that you are able to sit back and enjoy the days as they pass. One of the things that bothered me most about my excitement for the storm was that I was overlooking the absolutely gorgeous days that had arrived for the weekend.

I found this wonderful picture of TB and my dachshund, Leica. Taken in 2011.

I found this wonderful picture of TB and my dachshund, Leica. Taken in 2011.

Long, long ago (seriously, I was in junior high – it was forever ago), I listened as a preacher reminded us to focus on the moment and not always look forward to the next great thing or worry about what was coming. He encouraged us not to waste so much time looking ahead that we forgot what the present was offering to us.

I have a tendency to wait for days and events that are stressful to pass and then lose track of the moments that were happening while I waited. It’s something I’ve been working on my entire life.

Now, as for this blizzard, maybe I’d better make sure there is wine chilling. Hmmm, chocolate chip cookies and homemade bread. I’ll get those started, too.

Rely on Others / Be Self-Sufficient

The cabin in spring

The cabin in spring

My dad really messed me up and last night I finally figured out what it was that he did to me.

Here’s the story.

Late Wednesday night (early Thursday morning – about 1 am), I was sitting on the edge of my bed with my computer on a tray table, writing madly away on Book 13. All of the lights in the cabin were off, but the moon was bright enough the cats were still playing. The scene I was writing was a good one, my fingers were flying across the keyboard as I sent Polly and Henry out in the middle of the night to take care of something.

Then I heard a strange sound, one I identified as spraying water. That’s not good. I hauled my old knees into service again, flipped a light on at my desk as I dashed to the other side of the cabin. I turned another light on and water was spraying up from under the sink at an alarming rate.

Winter at the cabin

Winter at the cabin

We have eternal construction happening here. I’m completely fine with that. In fact, it’s actually quite comfortable. Someday all of our family’s ducks will be in a row and we’ll finish more parts and pieces of the inside, but for now, it’s a perfect place for me to hide and write.

One of the things that my brother learned from Dad was that you have more than one shut-off valve for water throughout a house. Right there in plain sight was my salvation. I twisted and twisted and finally, to my great relief, the spray ceased. Now I had a mess to clean up. I sopped water up off the concrete floor (thank you for a concrete floor) and glared at the problem. The fitting had failed because of the incredible amount of lime in our water. It took seven years to fail, but it was now lying on the floor, taunting me.

I'm in the middle. We're a crazy little family. (1966)

I’m in the middle. We’re a crazy little family. (1966)

Now here’s my problem and how my father completely messed me up. I was talking to my brother about the situation tonight and it hit me. Dad raised me as a girl. That’s the first half of the issue.

Dad could fix anything. Plumbing, drywall, the roof, electricity, appliances (well, kinda). He could fix it. He built this cabin. He had help finishing a lot of it, but this was his dream. He could do anything.

He raised me as a girl. I helped him because I was the oldest (tallest and took direction well). But my help generally consisted of him telling me which tool he needed. I was darned proud of myself when I learned to anticipate his needs and have the right one ready. He didn’t teach me how to change fittings in a sink or put new guts in a toilet or (the list goes on and on). He didn’t teach me to fix cars or how to change the oil. I’m certain that he hoped I’d marry someone who was as handy as he was (that did NOT happen, by the way).

Now if you think about the girly-girls out there in the world, what’s one thing you know about them? They are quite adept at asking for help.

There’s the second half of my problem. Not only did my father raise me as a girl, he raised me to be self-sufficient. I don’t easily ask for help. I can now fix many things because Dad taught me to pay attention and figure it out. I was never going to get away with being a whiny little girly-girl. If I worked hard enough, maybe read the stupid manual or directions, and kept at it – I could fix it. On my own. Without any help.

Do you see the complexity of my problem? A) There are things I don’t know how to do and B) I have trouble asking for help in getting them done. I know nothing about plumbing fixtures and I don’t have the time or inclination to learn. I have a book to write, for heaven’s sake.

~~~

Graduation 2

My friend, Kim, went to Arizona for the graduation ceremony, then sent me her cap and gown and insisted on pictures. I got my Master’s Degree!

There’s a wonderful young man in the area – and he’s actually one of the reasons I wrote the first Bellingwood book, though he has no idea. When I knew I was going to spend time here finishing my Master’s Degree and starting my writing career, we needed to install a furnace. The wood stove was a mess and wouldn’t do. I called Jeremy, he gave me a great price on full installation and then did the work. Whenever there was a problem with the furnace or A/C, he came immediately and fixed the thing, charging me a more than fair price (read: ridiculously low for what I was used to in Omaha).

I was at my wit’s end today. Other (minor) plumbing issues have cropped up over the last years and I’ve just been living with them. But now I was over the edge. It was either call my brother and beg him to spend a day with me fixing things or suck it up and ask for help locally.

I finally called Jeremy. He’s one of those young men that grew up learning how to do everything. Though he installs furnace and A/C systems, I suspect there isn’t much he can’t do. I asked if he knew anyone, though, that could do some (apparently) simple plumbing fixes.

“I’ll be there tomorrow, Diane. I’m not a certified plumber, but I’ve been doing this stuff all my life. I can take of it for you. All of it.”

He didn’t see, but I cried when I ended the call. He was coming out to help me.

I’m still frustrated that I can’t easily do these things myself and I’m still frustrated that it’s so difficult for me to ask for help.

Building small cabin 2You don’t need to lecture me. I know who I am. I’ve been this person for a lot of years. You can laugh at my conundrum and commiserate with me on my insanity. You can send chocolate and well-wishes; you can drink wine as you chuckle, but you don’t need to help me. I have Jeremy.

It is nice to finally identify that strange split that happened in me years ago. Dad would smile. Mom would howl with laughter, but hey – she married someone who was handy, even if he did make her get up on top of the cabin to hold plywood while he built this place.

Am I a nut? Oh heck, yes.

It’s a Gift

4316677_thumbnailGiving gifts is much more fun for me than receiving them. And I have a BLAST receiving gifts. So imagine the joy I have.

We quietly re-gift things that we will never use, hoping that no one will ever know, but I believe this is something we should stop feeling guilty about. Gifts should have no strings attached.

If you came to visit us when I was a child, it was dangerous to tell my mother how much you loved something that sat on a shelf or in a bookcase. She’d hand it to you and tell you that it was yours. Sharing the things we loved was as much fun as receiving them.

My mother grew up with plenty. She never wanted for anything; there was always more than enough. Once she married Dad, the whole ‘plenty’ thing went away and she learned to stretch dollars in incredible ways, but still – if she believed you might enjoy something as much as she did, it was yours.

Now, on the other side of that, I know plenty of people who hoard every thing they own – especially if an item was given to them. I know one woman who can’t throw away something as simple as a magazine because her daughter gave it to her – no matter that it was on a stand in the aisle at the grocery store. And the car that is falling apart and needs to be replaced? She still owns it because her husband bought it for her. Well, uhhh … he’s bought several vehicles. The house is filled with items that were given to them over the years, so much so that they are constantly putting things into storage. This poor woman created her own strings and attached them to the gifts she was given.

That old story about bringing out all of the things that an aunt or a mother-in-law or grandmother gave you when they come to visit … or wearing a horrible sweater that was knitted for you … or using an awful butter dish that showed up as a wedding gift is more real than any of us like to admit. We are made to feel guilty if we don’t love a gift that was given to us – no matter that the giver took no time to find out what our tastes might be or what we might enjoy.

I’ve lived in that reality too and it is no fun. Gifts with strings attached are not truly gifts, but points of manipulation.

Last fall I gave something to my sister and … terrible me … I asked her about it. She gasped and told me that she’d given it to a young woman who really needed it and then apologized. OH NO! No apology needed. I was absolutely thrilled that it had found a home where it would be treasured. That was all that was important.

A young TB enjoying the front porch on a sunny June day.

A young TB enjoying the front porch on a sunny June day.

Because I love giving gifts, the joy for me is not seeing that gift in someone’s hands, it’s about the moment that I am able to share with them. The best thing? That’s when I discover that the gift moved on to someone else because my friend was comfortable enough to share it forward. I want all my friends to know that I understand their home might only be a temporary stop for that gift. They don’t have to treasure it simply because I purchased it, thought of them and gave it away. I will think of them again when I see other things.

My relationship with my friends isn’t about the things I’ve given them, it’s about the moments we share. It’s important to me that they are able to share moments with others and if they look at a shelf and see something another friend would enjoy, that’s where it should end up. I consider it an honor that a friend believes something I made or purchased for them is special enough to share with someone else.

It’s hard to convince people of this – we place a lot of importance on material possessions and attribute to them greater worth than they should have.

In the last few years, friends of my mother have begun returning gifts to us that she gave to them. Art that she painted, ceramic pots that she threw on her potter’s wheel, books that she signed to them. The giving of those gifts represented a moment in time – a moment that was important between Mom and the recipient. That time has passed and I can’t begin to tell you how special it has been to receive these items back into our family.

Maybe it’s about generosity and never allowing it to stop, but sharing so that it grows.

Some gifts are given and are not intended for just a single moment in time. I think of the gift of God’s Son. Sharing that gift with others, branching beyond the small country where the disciples and those who knew Jesus lived was as important as the original gift. They couldn’t be stingy and hoard it among themselves; they had to share. It was in those moments of sharing that the greatest change the world had ever seen occurred.

Give gifts and know … hope … pray that they will bring joy to not only one person, but to many.

Wise as Serpents, Harmless as Doves

I’m either entertained by or completely stressed out by people. Most of the time, I try to observe and be entertained. It’s more fun that way.

Snow 03 aMy sweet little postmaster entertained me today when I stopped in to mail more packages. She’s young and quite innocent. We’ve gotten to know each other this last year, so I enjoy talking to her, but wow is she young and innocent. When I got there today, the first thing she said to me was that two separate people had told her that we could get twelve to forty inches of snow next week.  She was wide-eyed and worried about it.

Now, it wasn’t my job to tell her that for something like that to happen, many things have to line up perfectly. We really aren’t in a place for forty inches of snow to fall in a twenty-four hour period. But she was ready to believe and no protestations of reality will change that. I smiled and went on my way.

Earlier this morning, a telemarketer called me. She was insulting and then asked that I donate money to her cause. She implied that I had donated before and I just needed to give her my address again so she could send a pledge card. I knew full well that the phone number she used is not on any list and I do my best to protect it. She was using a random list of numbers.

 

Many years ago, when my sister, Carol, was young and innocent, she was fun to play with. One of our paper salesmen was chatting with us at Insty-Prints and he gave me the look. You know, the one that says, play with me here, this will be fun. She was a perfect foil. And it was one of the simplest tricks.

“Carol,” he said. “Did you know that the word gullible isn’t in the dictionary?”

She looked at me in shock and I nodded. It took longer than I thought for her to recognize we were playing with her because the next thing I knew, she was reaching below the counter for the dictionary. We let her get the thing open before she looked into our faces and realized we were messing with her.

IMG_4699I live with three cats that epitomize these characteristics. TB is skeptical of everything. He never relaxes unless he is certain that everything around him is safe and it takes so little for him to think that it’s not safe. When he sleeps, it is always with one eye mostly open. I feel like it is my purpose in life to make sure that he is always safe. But after four years with me, he still worries more than he should. The UPS truck scares him into the deepest, darkest hiding place he can find, even though it’s been here numerous times and has never done a single thing to harm him.

IMG_4697On the other hand, Grey is the most relaxed feline I’ve ever known. She drops into my arms, knowing that I’ll catch her. She curls up against TB and stands in front of him when he’s being pissy. She explores new things, completely trusting that she’ll be safe. When she sleeps, she sprawls all over the place and won’t wake up until she’s ready to be awake.

Earl exists between those two. He is safe when he’s with me or with Grey. Otherwise, he’s on his guard, wary and alert. Until you prove that you are trustworthy, he’ll hide from you. It took a long time for him to fully trust me, but now, he curls up in my arms to sleep and relaxes against me. It fills my heart to watch him come alive.

I don’t know how to teach someone how to choose whether or not to be wary or trusting in any given situation, but for now, I don’t think I’m prepared to believe that there will be forty inches of snow next week.

What Makes You Happy?

What makes you happy?

This grey weather makes me introspective. So many danged things rolling around in my brain. I dread the upcoming political races. I like my friends right now and am not looking forward to being exposed to all of the garbage that’s about to come. Since I want y’all to continue liking me, I’ll just keep my mouth shut.

It’s interesting, growing up as a pastor’s daughter, that was one of those things wIMG_4655e kept quiet. Our political beliefs were never made public because Dad’s role was one of a healer / mediator rather than someone who drove a wedge into relationships. Oh, there were plenty of political debates and discussions within the four walls of the parsonage, but just like most other things that didn’t need to be aired in public, those walls were a barrier to not only keep us safe, but that level of privacy also ensured that relationships on the outside could remain healthy. I still believe that is important, even if privacy has become a less-than-valued commodity these days.

Even through all of this, I am so grateful for meeting new friends online and finding family and old friends in ways I never imagined.

What makes you happy?

Bell's Dell Cats (1 of 1)-17January is one of those months that makes me introspective. Looking back to the past and ahead to the future happens every single year. It feels as if that introspection happens faster every single year. My goodness, but the year turns more quickly as I get older. Thankfully, I find that good memories live longer in my mind and heart than bad memories do. In fact, if you were to ask me to tell you about the bad things that happened last year, I’d have difficulty bringing them to the forefront of my mind.

Good memories? Oh my. My brother’s family grew in amazing ways. Two weddings and a brand new baby. It is such a joy to see those kids that I have loved for a long time grow into themselves. The years passed quickly and sometimes I find myself stuck in their childhoods, but they make me happy.

Bell's Dell Cats (1 of 1)-16Kittens and cats. Day and night these little furballs entertain me and love me. I grew up with dogs and learned what it meant to care for someone else because of them. It’s quite a change to have felines in the house, but they’re wonderful. Every single day. Every day. That’s almost too much happy for one girl.

What makes you happy?

This life is something I could never have imagined. I tell stories that live inside my head. I am independent of employers, though if I think about it, I laugh a little at the fact that my readers are probably more tyrannical than anyone I ever worked for! I have met the most amazing people and am able to spend time interacting with folks that make me laugh and teach me about how life is lived outside of my own little world.

There are still so many stories to tell. Do you realize that imagination is like a dish that never empties? Like love, the more you use, the more you create. When I am at my most creative, my brain overflows with ideas and I can barely stem the flow long enough to get words written.

What makes you happy?

My family has always put great emphasis on learning and education. My father was a huge educational snob. It often annoyed me, but he couldn’t help himself. The thing about learning is that it isn’t always about books, professors, and grades.

Bell's Dell Cats (1 of 1)-12This journey began for me when I finally took the time to get my Master’s Degree. The idea of never working for another person appealed to me so much that a year before I finished the program, I knew that I had to find a way to make that happen. Then it hit me – if I could finally make me dream of writing novels come true, the world changed for me.

Learning continues to be important – I’ll never stop. Whether I’m learning to quilt, reading and learning about how words, grammar and the English language works so my stories are more easily read, researching ideas that come up for a story line or learning how to manipulate images in Photoshop, I never want to stop.

What makes you happy?

On grey January days when it feels as if the sun may never shine again, I look for it inside my own heart. Life has so much ahead, it seems ridiculous to focus on the grey.

Egg Casserole

funny_egg_picture_37This is an incredibly easy breakfast casserole and one of my go-tos when I have people in my space.

Quite a few years ago, I was in a group of great friends that met once a month for dinner somewhere and as we caught up on our lives, we spent a lot of time laughing and crying with each other. Babies were born, weddings happened, kids grew up and life was just … life.

Every one of us loves to cook, so we pulled together our favorite recipes and shared them. This is one of those recipes. Diana was another transplanted Iowan (we lived in Nebraska) and her grandparents lived near where I am now, so we had fun things in common. I love her and I love her recipe.

Diana Wilkey’s Egg Casserole

1 stick of butter (you can skimp on this – but the hash browns really like it)
32 oz. shredded hash browns
1 dozen eggs (ten will work, but why would you?)
1 C. milk
4 C. grated American cheese (1 bag – and honestly, any cheese will do – you want it to be cheesy)
1 lb. cooked sausage (this is on you – mild, hot, whatever you like)
Alternatively, you could use bacon or ham

Melt butter in 9×13 pan.  Spread hash browns out on top of it.

Mix together eggs, milk, cheese and cooked sausage (or whatever meat you choose – mix ’em up and fill it with joyous flavor!) Salt & pepper to taste.

Pour over hash browns

Bake at 350 degrees for an hour. Do NOT make my mistake and try to get by with 45 minutes. You want the middle of that casserole to be cooked through.

Let it sit for a few minutes while you make toast for everyone and then cut and serve.

My sister loves this casserole best when served with a side of sausage gravy.

New Year – Reading Challenge!

There is something refreshing and exciting about entering a new year. We all know in our heart of hearts that the minutes which separate December 31 from January 1 hold nothing of significance, but it’s still magical. For these first few days, we set aside all of the mistakes we made over the last year and anticipate the spectacular possibilities of the new year.

To some extent, we feel this at the start of every day, week, and month, but in January it’s bigger – holds greater impact.

Resolutions aren’t part of my New Year’s plans, but I set goals and allow myself to dream big dreams. As the dreams drop into place, I formulate plans to bring them to fruition. It’s become a favorite holiday of the year as my imagination soars into the future.

My friend, Alice, posted a link to a reading challenge for 2016 that caught my attention. I re-worked it and came up with this. Do you want to join me? It should be fun!

2016 Reading Challenge

Reading Journal
The other thing that I want to begin is keeping a better record of the books I read throughout the year. I write in my journal at the end of every day – just a few thoughts and a quick synopsis of the day’s events. The journal I use is amazing and though I don’t use it as intended, it has tons of room for me to be creative. There is a perfect space to write a few quick notes about the books I’m reading.

If you’d like to start a reading journal, be creative. If you’re like me, you have pretty little notebooks that have been given to you over the years and you hate the idea of using them for grocery lists. Pull them out and put them to good use. For that matter, you can use your grandson’s abandoned spiral notebook. It doesn’t matter – you just need paper.

Do not over-think the journal. Don’t make it such a big deal that it becomes overwhelming  before February arrives. You will find plenty of methods for these journals on the Internet. Don’t let them intimidate you. There’s no way I can stop and write in a journal while I’m reading a book. We’re lucky if I take the time to highlight a sentence or quote that I love.

Simply date your entry, the book and author, when you started it, when you finish it and any thoughts you have. This is a great place to write out quotes and passages, but don’t worry about that. If you miss a book or five, that’s no problem. Just come back and start again.

Whatever works for you – do that and maybe you’ve been keeping a reading journal for years now – yeah, you!

But maybe 2016 is the year for you to attempt something different … something new. This is my challenge to myself. If you’d like to join me, I’m starting on Monday (because that’s when I turn the page in my calendar – yes, you can laugh at me).

Home for the Holidays – Short Story

Book 12 100 dpiThese last few months have been absolutely insane. Writing Book 12 – Out of the Shadows was wonderful, but when I was finished, the characters weren’t.

There was one more story that needed to be written and for the first time, it was simply that … a story about Polly and her family. There is no mystery, no murder … just family at the holidays.

My wonderful beta readers received it not long after sending back their changes for Book 12 and even though I put them in a time crunch with their own family holidays, they were able to help me out. I’ve pushed this story out pretty quickly, though.

I will never write fast enough to keep up with your ravenous appetites. For a girl who is driven to succeed, to work hard and to please her customers, my deep, dark insane space in my head keeps pushing me. I am already a terrible work-aholic.

Just so you know – this year, I plan to stick to my schedule for Bellingwood books. You will receive a new book each quarter of 2016: March 25, June 25, September 25, and December 25. Short stories will happen randomly. I had no idea that this one was coming up, but then, there it was and it needed to be written.

Home for the Holidays 100 dpiI’m desperate to put my hands to other stories. There are so many interesting characters that live in my mind and I want to give them breath. I’m hoping to dig into those further this year as well.

This is going to be a fabulous year. I can hardly wait to see what happens and I’m so glad that you are all part of it. Thank you.

And now for the fun – there’s a new short story called “Home for the Holidays” available today on Amazon. Click the book cover for the link and enjoy!