New Year’s Eve Goal Review December 31, 2010
I’m Not an Expert, but I Play One in Real Life December 17, 2010
A very important part of accomplishing our goals and achieving our dreams is realizing that our way may work for us, but might not work for everyone else. This realization will stop us from believing that our way is the only way that will work. And this realization will keep us humble and open to new ways of doing the things we think we know how to do.
Think about this for a moment. Absorb it. Then walk into a bookstore or go online and you’ll see a lot of people have made money selling their way of doing things as “the way.” Sure, it worked for them. And maybe it will work for you. But don’t believe that every “expert opinion” is the answer and final solution to how you need to accomplish your goals.
In my writing life I have been to many conferences, workshops and chapter meetings that cover the craft of writing. I’ve also read a lot of books about how to approach my writing and how to craft “the book.” As a new writer, I eagerly followed the first bits of advice to the letter. I figured if I could master the other person’s way of writing a book then I could be successful, too. But the truth is, I had to develop my own approach. And I’ve learned that every book and every idea requires a different approach.
That’s my way. I have to dig into the writing in my own way while utilizing the bits and pieces of information that I’ve gathered throughout the years as tools to building my stories.
The same is true for any person pursuing any goal. It’s true for parents, too. Oh, as a parent I could go on and on about the expert advice I have received from other parents who had it all figured out for themselves. Oh, they were all too eager to make sure I understood their methods were “the methods” for raising my darling daughter.
I’m sure their judgement… oops, did I mean to say that? To some extent, I did. Because there is a fine line between giving information if asked versus someone coming in and saying “you should do it this way because I know it works the best.” There is a veiled judgment implied in that the person is actually looking at what you’re doing and they disagree with your methods so they feel compelled to tell you how to do it “right.”
There is no one “right way” to raise a child, process a move, clean a house, workout, diet, or write a book. Trust me. If there was just one “right way” to do anything, life would be pretty boring. We’d all be the same. And I don’t think we want to be cookie cutter people. I know I don’t want to be a cookie cutter person. Do you?
So the next time someone offers you unsolicited advice, even me, ask yourself what you can realistically use and toss the rest. And the next time you get ready to tell someone how well you know how to do something, ask yourself if you are actually judging that person’s methods.
Question your motives. This will take you a long way. And remember to be compassionate in your views of how others approach life. This will take you even further than you can possibly imagine. Be receptive, be understanding, and act like an apprentice instead of an expert. You’ll be amazed at how much you learn as a result.
Let Me Entertain You December 15, 2010
My current series in progress is set in a small town and one of my characters is a culinary wizard/lifestyle guru. She teaches her students how to cook, entertain, and decorate. Why did she pop into my brain? I guess it’s my secret desire to be Nigella Lawson or the Barefoot Contessa that spurred my creativity. Really. I want to be them. I want to eat luscious food, go shopping in quaint shops, and host fabulous dinner parties. And even better I don’t ever have to worry about being a size 4 or 6 or 8 again.
Nope. I’ll get paid to look voluptuous and enjoy doing it.
Of course, given my shellfish allergy I doubt I will ever have a career as a television cooking/lifestyle hostess. This is why I create characters who can live my dream for me. However, being a romance novel heroine, my character will be a respectable size 8 because this is a fictional piece of work.
Again, I’m just fulfilling another personal fantasy here. Cook, eat as much as I like, and be skinny, too. It’s a wonderful ideal for me and love to imagine this alternate world.
The truth is that I do love entertaining, but not at the level that some famous entertainers go for it. There aren’t catered events at my house. COSTCO is a place where I can get some mighty fine platters of goodies. And Pilsbury crescent rolls are featured in many of my appetizers. The point of entertaining isn’t to impress people, it is to bring them together and create a memory.
Over the years, I believe I’ve learned how to do this quite nicely.
When I was growing up, this wasn’t true at all. My mother would invite people over to dinner. She’d stress out about the house and we minions would be forced to clean all day. This cleaning usually involved polishing her silverware (ugh), and her ranting about the cleanliness in general of the house. She wasn’t the best housekeeper so I believe she invited people over just to force the house into a state of order again.
In addition to the stress of cleaning the house, she also had great anxiety about the menu. Experiments were held on us, and we were forced to eat many culinary dishes that were not fit for human consumption. I could possibly blame this fact for my shellfish allergy. I won’t. But I want to. Finally a menu would be established. And she’d be okay for a bit.
We’d set the table, put on our best manners and act as if it was seamlessly pulled off. I didn’t mind this too much during the year, but I truly resented this effort ON CHRISTMAS DAY! Yes, my mother would host this type of event on Christmas Day. And let me tell you, it’s no fun polishing silver on Christmas Day.
I swore that when I grew up I would not subject my family to this kind of stress. At least I wouldn’t do it to them on Christmas Day. Besides, that’s my day, too. Don’t get me wrong. I want to break bread. But I’m not polishing silver or breaking my back cleaning the house. In fact, I’m pretty much of that mind all the time when it comes to hosting parties at my house. Or dinners, for that matter.
A lot of people don’t entertain because they believe it will be the stressful event I’ve described from my childhood. I’m here to say it doesn’t have to be stressful or expensive. It is about bringing people together and having fun. It is about making memories.
I remember when I was a poor young woman living in a one bedroom apartment in Vancouver, British Columbia. I hosted more dinners around that little table than I can count. I was a wizard with a can of cream of mushroom soup, garlic and onions. If I had that, and a bit of white wine, I could make a sauce that my friends enjoyed and pour it over pasta. During that same era, I also hosted many interesting dinner parties with another friend. We’d ask each of our friends for $5 then we’d devise a menu based on the money we pooled together, go shopping and prepare a meal. We had fondues, clambakes (before the shellfish allergy came to light), barbecues and more. And it only cost us $5.
One year, the year we did the fondue, we took a plank of wood, two of them, and put them on top of upturned milk crates. Then we covered them with a tablecloth. We tossed pillows on the floor and seated 12 around that makeshift table. No one complained as they stuffed their mouths full of cheese, oil and chocolate fondues. What a great night!
In the years I’ve been married, I’ve hosted dinners and parties with varying levels of decor and degrees of difficulty. One thing my mother’s experiments taught me was that I loved to host parties. I loved the people part and the pulling together of the various elements. Sometimes my parties are BYOB and a side dish. Other times, I make a meal for 8 and we sit around the table. The size and volume varies. I have scaled back on the number of people I’ll host only because I want to socialize, too.
Tonight I am hosting a soiree for my hubby’s Scotch Working Wednesday Crew. I decided not to ask them to bring anything as they all work during the day, and I wanted to have fun with the menu. I’m providing 3 hot appetizers, two of which are hearty, and 3 cold appetizers along with an antipasto platter filled with cheeses, olives, interesting crackers and more. Most likely I’ll try to do something fun with the breakfast nook table (no one goes around the dining room table so I’ll just light some candles in there and leave it at that) and make it festive. But that’s because I love doing that kind of stuff.
And no, it won’t look like Martha Stewart’s elaborate decorations. I tend to go the Rachel Raye way of entertaining. If you are squeamish about hosting gatherings, here are some tips from an entertaining road warrior:
1) Don’t go crazy cleaning your entire house. Throw crap into baskets and hide them if you must. A candle lit house doesn’t show dust. I do a light mopping to at best.
2) Homemade is great, but store bought is great, too. If you have something you want to highlight, then make it and serve it with pride. Surround it with goodies you enjoy or foods that are easy to pull together or pre-made. No one will care.
3) Bring the outdoors inside. If you don’t have a lot of decorative stuff, then go clip some branches from your outdoor hollies or evergreens in the winter. In the summer you can clip flowering bushes, etch. Put them into every day containers that are unique. I have used soup tureens and trifle bowls for these kind of things. Really, who uses a soup tureen for soup? Not me.
3) Paper plates and plastic forks are great. Today I’m mixing and matching paper products with real mccoy stuff. That’s because it is a small group and I have tons of glass plates I can use that will be perfect.
4) If someone offers to help you, say yes! Unless you want to control the menu (today I did so I didn’t ask people to bring anything), if someone offers to bring food, say yes! You never know. You might get a new recipe for your recipe book. That’s one of the best things that came out of our Happy Hours at the townhouse in Fairfax, VA. Of course, my darling teen called them Happy Nights as they lasted a lot longer than an hour LOL.
5) Don’t apologize for the food. If something isn’t quite right, who cares? Julia Child’s said it best: never apologize. Period.
6) Don’t worry about everything matching. I have gathered a lot of silver platters and white platters over the years so I just coordinate the seasonal colors to match them. I do have a passion for dishes so I have Christmas plates which I’ll trot out, but that’s the only set I have that is “seasonal.”
7) Make a list of what you will do and plan ahead. I do make a list of the goodies I will make along with the number of people who are coming. I prep my grocery list based on the ingredients (unless they are store bought appies), then I shop for them. I make a list on the day of the event to make sure I don’t forget anything. I start with prepping the stuff that needs to be chilled (can be done day before), then move to the stuff that has to be cooked the day of the party. I pull my serving platters and use a trick I learned from a friend — I label with post its what is going where… helps me be on top of things.
8) I set up the stage–table–eating area–drink area, then give myself time to relax before everyone arrives. I usually have one thing in the oven when people get to the house. Most of our parties end up in the kitchen so I may as well wait to cook it all.
What are your holiday plans? Do you entertain often? Are you a control freak or a go with the flow kind of entertainer? And what is the best party you’ve thrown for the least amount of money?
Secret Recipe Revealed December 13, 2010
Ah, Christmas time is the season of blustery cold winds and bustling elves in the kitchen at the Glover house. This weekend we made Oreo Truffles, Praline Pecans, Mini Eggnog Muffins and loaves, Spicy Pecans, and *drum roll* my favorite cookie recipe: Chocolate Sambuca Cookies.
|Early morning Christmas Baking Elf
Darling Teen had a function to attend on Saturday so we got up early to work on the truffles. We had many truffles to make because she gives them away to her friends. The list grows yearly. I may have to take orders next year. We made over 100 truffles. In addition to the truffles, I made Praline Pecans and Spicy Pecans as well as the batter for the Chocolate Sambuca Cookies. The batter is runny and has to set up overnight before you can make the cookies.
|The cute mini loaf pan. It has Christmas Imprints in it.|
On Sunday morning Darling Teen and I had to buy new pants for Church choir and so off to Kohls we went despite the biting cold winds and unusually freezing temperature. Frankly, if this is what global warming feels like, I’m not impressed. Brrr! We found the dreaded khakis (who looks good in these pants? No one but the dudes in the advertisements), a few more presents for her Dad, and then we hurried home. DT had more musical stuff to head to in the afternoon, Darling Husband had football to watch, and I had cookies and muffins to bake. As you can see there is quite a lot to do when one is making the mini eggnog loaves. I love my new mixing bowls from my DT and DH which are brightly colored and they don’t slip on the counter when you mix the batter. And they seem to do well in the dishwasher, too. Whew. Cause I don’t relish washing them by hand.
The imprints are super cute. There are candy canes, trees, a santa, and bells. I’ll sprinkle these with powdered sugar then wrap them in cellophane before I give them away.
I had a lot of cute mini cupcake papers with Christmas themes on them so I thought I’d use them to make mini muffins.
|The chocolate sambuca batter is ready to be rolled into balls.|
|Flour for the hands and the sugar mix ready to dip the balls into for the cookies.|
|The balls of cookie dough are ready to bake at 350 degrees.|
|Sheer Yumminess is all I can say.|
After a wee break, and a bit of wine, I began making the Chocolate Sambuca Cookies. Now these aren’t clean cookies. These cookies require getting your hands good and dirty in batter, flour and a concoction of icing sugar mixed with regular sugar. Not for the faint of heart. But there is something about me that enjoys the whole process–like making really yummy mud pies that we can eat afterward.
Upended Traditions and Why I love A CHRISTMAS STORY December 8, 2010
One of my favorite Christmas movies is A CHRISTMAS STORY. I’m not sure how many of my followers have seen the movie, but it if you haven’t seen it, I might spoil it with this blog. It is set in the fifties and is about this boy, Ralphie, who desperately wants a BB Gun for Christmas. Everyone tells him he’ll shoot his eye out, even Santa. But he persists in his petitions to receive the BB Gun. Meanwhile, the movie is chock full of adventures, boy adventures, with bullies and snow and double dog dares. The parents are baffled, befuddled, but loving. The Dad (as played by Darren McGavin) is fabulous–especially when he receives his prize from a company: a lamp in the shape of a lady’s leg. Very fun. The entire movie just makes you root for Ralphie and it is heartwarming. I think the reason it works is that this is not a picture perfect family with all its ducks in a row. Martha Stewart traditions don’t prevail. In the end, even the best traditions get upended by the dogs. Their Christmas dinner is destroyed and stolen. What do they do? They go out for Chinese and they have a good time.
And this is how traditions become different for every family. For we all want to have the comfort of the same and the tried and true traditions as we approach the holiday season. But the truth is, traditions get upended all the time because of health problems, family problems, money problems, and the list goes on. Last year we traveled to Texas just before Christmas because my father-in-law was ill, and we wanted to see him one more time. I remember another year when my daughter was in pre-school and her teacher said her mom was so sick that year that they didn’t shop at all for Christmas. They clipped money to the tree, made a big pot of chili and hung out in their PJs. Then they went out the day after Christmas and spent their money at all the sales. A new tradition was born out of a serious necessity. This year I know a friend, my neighbor, who has ill parents on both sides of the family. They’ve got three young children. They won’t be home for Christmas because they’re traveling 14 hours to two different sets of parents to support them during this holiday season. Together we brainstormed how to create a solution and a “new” tradition for this year. One that would be fun for the kids and would take the pressure off the parents as they cope with their ailing ones.
See, that is why A Christmas Story works. Because it shows that it is in how we respond to the winds of change that we recreate new bonds and forge new traditions. So this year, as we head into the holiday season, my wish for all of my readers is that they kick back, lift off as many of the “shoulds” from their shoulders, and create new traditions in the face of any setback.
Happy Holidays and for Your Reading Pleasure click the links below to learn about other folks and how they cope with the holidays!
Goodness Me It Is Goodie Making Time! December 6, 2010
December is here! It’s time to make some goodies. And I’ve got some retro blogs with some of my favorite receipes for the holidays in them. First up? Oreo Truffles thanks to my Heart of Dixie friends at The Writing Playground.
Next? My fabulous friend Lori’s mini eggnog loaf cakes. Here is the recipe:
I’d love some more fun and easy recipes. What do you make every year that gives your family happy hearts?