Thursday, December 30, 2010

Something Old

So in honor of the year 2010 winding down to a close, I'd like to leave you with Something Old. Here is the recipe for my Mom's Jello Salad that I've carried with me for 20 years (note the date on the bottom.) My mother made it for years before that, for Christmas, Thanksgiving, or any special occasion.

Growing up, while my mother was inside cooking elegant meals, I was (alas) usually spending the day avoiding the kitchen by roaming the hills on my horse. But all wild young cowgirls eventually grow up, pick up the telephone and call their moms for that favorite recipe.

Now before you go making redneck jokes about jello salad, let me assure you that this is an elegant salad, with a somewhat tart and tropical taste that cleanses your palate while ingesting that heavy turkey, ham, or whatever else your holiday meal calls for. And in a pretty bowl, it looks lovely on the table. See?

So in case you can't read the recipe from the picture (and my scribbly handwriting) above - here it is again.

Mom's Jello Salad


One large package orange jello

One large package strawberry (or strawberry-banana) jello in

Two cups boiling water.

Add one large can frozen orange juice - stir until completely dissolved.

Add one 20 oz. can of crushed pineapple, with juice.

Add 2 small cans mandarin oranges, with juices.

Takes 4 hours to set-up.

Easy - peasy, huh? Enjoy this old recipe, and in a few days, we will celebrate the New Year of 2011 with something Bright. Shiny. and New on the blog! *jumps up and down in excitement*

Until then - Happy New Year, everyone!

Friday, December 24, 2010

The Perfect Gift

Books make the perfect gift, don't you think? Easy to wrap, easy to ship, and they last - day after day, year after year, right there on the bookshelf to enjoy again and again. Or pass on to someone else.

Here are some of the books I gave for Christmas this year:

Dial/ 2010

THE HELP, by Kathryn Stockett
Putnam/ 2009

THE HEART IS NOT A SIZE, by Beth Kephart
Harper Teen/ 2010

Atria/ 2010

Dial/ 2010

MINI MYSTERIES, by Rick Walton
American Girl/ 2004

Sourcebooks/ 2008

BINK & GOLLIE, by Kate DiCamillo and Alison McGhee
Candlewick Press/ 2010

A DOG'S PURPOSE, by W. Bruce Cameron
Forge Books/ 2010

I have read and loved most of the books above. All but two of them. Anyone care to guess which two I haven't read yet?

Merry Christmas, Everyone.

Happy Holidays and Happy Reading!!

Tuesday, December 21, 2010

A Friend to Animals

I was going to write a post about our adorable kitten Fred, sometimes known as Fred the Bad Kitten, or Fred the Sweet Kitten, or Fred Get Out of the Sack of Ribbons, or Fred Get Away from the Christmas Tree Before You Knock it Over, and other such nick-names. We got our wonderful kitten Fred from the animal shelter about three months ago - and he has filled our home with love and laughter (mostly.)

But on the way home from town, with my last minute shopping accomplished, I thought of all the other animals up the shelter, and I swung into the grocery story one last time and bought a sack of cat food. I drove by the animal shelter to drop it off, and while I was there, I stroked the fur of a few lonely cats starved for attention.

Then I put a leash on a black lab, took it outside for a walk in the grey December chill, let it run free in the outside pen for a bit, gave it lots of love, and afterwards shut it away inside its concrete kennel.

I wanted to do so much more. I really don't want to spoil your Christmas by announcing the percentage of these animals who will never make it out of the shelters. But it's high.

But what if we all cared a little more? Made a donation to the Animal Shelter? Bought a sack of pet food and dropped it off at the nearest shelter, either before or after Christmas. Took one half hour of your day occasionally to walk a dog or pet a cooped-up cat. Spread the word to your friend or neighbor about the importance of getting their dog or their cat spayed/neutered.

Or maybe go down to that shelter and see if there isn't one of those animals that wants to come home with you this Christmas? Or for the New Year?

Be a Friend to Animals!

Fred, and his friends still left at the shelter, say

"Thank You Very Much!"

Friday, December 17, 2010

The Piggybank of Dreams

Sometimes we get an unexpected surprise which turns our whole mood around. Like yesterday, when the UPS man showed up at my door with a thick envelope from a publisher. What's this? I puzzled.

Just so you know, I've been in a bah-humbug, blue funk lately. Attributing it to the short winter days of December and the fact that my publishing career seems to have hit kind of a standstill (come on, big best-seller, fancy publishing contract - where are you?) Truth-be-told, I had just written in my journal that I was having a hard time finding JOY in my writing. So imagine my surprise when I opened the envelope, and found six copies of my 2009 novel THE HORSE JAR . . . .

published in Spanish!!

I had no idea my publisher was working on a translation of THE HORSE JAR, but I am thrilled to pieces. The Spanish name for this version is:

LA ALCANCIA DE LOS SUENOS - The Piggybank of Dreams.

which pretty much says it all, don't you think? Here is the back cover, and I'll have to work on my Espanol to read it.

I wrote an earlier post (click here to read it) about the long road to publication for THE HORSE JAR. In fact, both of my first two novels, FINDING CHANCE and THE HORSE JAR are published with Mondo Publishing, an educational publisher. Not the biggest or the flashiest publisher, they sell directly to schools (although you can now buy each book on Amazon, right here.)

But with this new version in Spanish, I am extremely happy to think that a whole new bunch of kids (maybe some that just came to this country, and who aren't fluent in English yet) will read Annie's story and her words: "whenever things looked really bad, there was always something around the corner, sometimes surprising things, that made everything better."

So - I open The Piggybank of Dreams - and once again find - JOY.

Monday, December 13, 2010

Writing Christmas Cards

It's one of those chores I end up putting off until I tell myself I better do it, or they're not going to get there in time for Christmas. But in this era of electronic communications, social media, facebook, twitter, blogging, texting, and everyone staying constantly connected (not to mention 44 cents every time you slap a stamp on one) why do we even bother with Christmas cards anymore?

So I thought of the reasons I still send cards. And here's what I came up with:

1) I have some friends and family members who are older, and don't use computers/facebook/social media and with whom I like to stay in touch.

2) It's really nice to get something in the mail these days besides a catalogue, or junk mail, or a bill. An actual greeting, with maybe a scribbled note and a signature (especially if it says "love") is pretty darned nice to find in your mailbox.

3) I do like to pick out a special card for each person. Cat cards for my cat-loving friends, horse cards for my equine loving friends, and so on. Eventually, though, I just want to get through my list, and without being too particular, will grab a card, scribble a message, and send it. But that little note you write, even if it's just "hope you have a great holiday" is still much more personal than a facebook status, or a 140 character tweet, don't you think?

4) Sending and receiving Christmas cards is a tradition. Something I've done all my life, ever since I was old enough to write an address to someone far away. And just like playing Christmas carols on the piano every year, and opening up the same old box of ornaments and hanging them on the tree, I love traditions.

I might not send as many cards as I once did. And I hope you get one from me this year. If you don't - please know I wish you a Merry Christmas anyway!

So tell me - Do you still write Christmas Cards? Why or Why Not?

Wednesday, December 8, 2010

Meet Cynthia Willis

Cynthia Chapman Willis is the author of two books for young readers: DOG GONE and BUCK FEVER. I first became aware of her work when I stumbled upon her novel DOG GONE. As an animal lover, the title intrigued me, and since I’m always finding myself in the middle of returning lost dogs, I knew I had to read it. Please read her wonderful interview here, and at the bottom, learn how you can win your choice of one of her books!

Cynthia - tell us a little about how you came to write DOG GONE, and its path to publication.

DOG GONE is based on a sweet and adorable homeless and stray dog that my family adopted when I was about fifteen years old. While playing around with story ideas one day, I started thinking about how this beloved pup joined a pack of neighborhood dogs that began terrorizing local farm animals. My dog and this pack situation ended up becoming the premise for DOG GONE.

The path to publication began when I heard an agent speak at a conference. I liked what he had to say and, so, submitted my dog story to him. Soon after, he offered to represent me. That was thrilling, of course. But one of the greatest days ever came later, when he sold this novel to the amazing Feiwel and Friends, an imprint of Macmillan.

Was DOG GONE the original title, or did you come up with that after acceptance by the publisher?

DOG GONE is not the original title. I am beyond awful with titles. The original title for DOG GONE was GOOD DOG, BAD DOG. Luckily for me, though, the amazing and talented folks at Feiwel and Friends suggested DOG GONE.

How did you get your start as a children’s writer, Cynthia? Is it something you always wanted to do?

I fell in love with creative writing in the second grade and have always loved children’s books. However, I didn’t have the self-confidence to give writing as a profession serious consideration until a college professor nudged me toward it. After college, I became an editor of elementary textbooks where I had the opportunity to read lots of great children’s books as well as write books and materials for the textbook programs. This helped me to develop my own writing.

I just finished reading your second novel, Cynthia, called BUCK FEVER, and I love the premise. Tell us a little about that book. The details about hunting seem pretty real. Have you ever hunted, or do you come from a hunting family? How did you come up with the idea for this story?

I am not a hunter and I don’t come from a hunting family, believe it or not. However, I live in an area where there are lots of deer and where deer hunting is very popular. There are many different opinions about this, pro and con. These different points of view fascinated me and inspired BUCK FEVER. Since I am not a hunter, I did lots of research while writing, including interviews and learning how to shoot a rifle. The more research I did, the more interested I became in the subject matter and all the opinions surrounding it.

How long does it generally take you to write a novel, and what is your method.? Do you write from an outline, or by the seat of your pants?

I always start a new story with a blank book in which I write plot ideas, character sketches, setting descriptions, details that pop into my head, potential opportunities for humor, and all sorts of random thoughts. I also draw maps and sketch floor plans in the notebook. Once I have a skeleton of an idea, I develop an outline. I build upon this until it is quite meaty. Then, I try to write the first draft full speed ahead without stopping to revise or fuss, using my outline and my notes to keep me focused. After the first draft is finished, I revise and revise and revise, which is my favorite part of the process. The time it takes for me to write and revise a novel varies depending on the subject matter and how the process goes, but each book gobbles up at least a year.

How do you get your ideas, Cynthia?

Ideas pop into my head at any time and at any place--which can be really inconvenient. This is why I always keep a pen and paper with me. When a line from something I am reading, a song, a recollection, or a piece of a conversation deposits the seed of a story into my head, I am, at least, ready scribble down something about it. If an idea really appeals to me, I start asking questions that include What if? or What then? This kind of questioning helps me to figure out if my idea has the potential to grow into a full-fledged story.

Can you tell us about any new projects your working on? Any new books?

I recently finished the first draft of a new story. Phew! I am a wee bit superstitious about sharing what I am writing about, but I will say that this latest novel includes a dog that needs to be saved. The idea and the inspiration for this plot came from a news item that bothered me a lot. I could not stop thinking about it and started researching the subject at the heart of the news item. This led to the story idea and the first draft.

Any advice for aspiring authors, Cynthia? What’s it take to get published in today’s market?

Perseverance. My advice is always Do not give up on your dreams. This was the best advice I received and I like to share it whenever possible. I believe that persistence, meaning a devotion to improving one’s writing and stories, is the key to getting published. In my pursuit of improvement, I read as much as possible, fiction as well as books on craft. And, of course, I write whenever and however I can.

One last question, Cynthia. What’s your favorite animal? And why?

Oh, that’s a tough question to answer. However, I think the horse remains my favorite animal. There is a unique bond between a rider and her horse that, for me, surpasses even the connection between a person and a dog or a person and a cat. I’ve been lucky enough to share my home with lots and lots of critters, including a pet rat, but my horse and I had the greatest connection of all. Horses are unique and very special.

Cynthia - thanks you so much for stopping by! To learn more about Cynthia and her books, please visit her website:

And just before Christmas, we have time for One More Book Giveaway.

Win Your Choice of either DOG GONE or BUCK FEVER. But you have to act fast!

All you have to do to enter is leave a comment below, on why you'd like to win one of Cynthia's books. (Make sure I know how to contact you, too.)

Contest open until midnight, Pacific Time, December 15th, 2010, when I will randomly draw the name of the winner.

Books will be shipped to U.S. addresses only.

Good luck, everyone!

Friday, December 3, 2010

Grow Where You're Planted

Ah - the beauteous Northwest. Stunning vistas, mountains and trees as far as the eye can see. And rain. Lots of rain (fourteen plus inches already, since October 1st) and winter hasn't officially started yet.

So with moss beginning to form between my toes, this is the time of year I start wondering how a beach girl like me ended up here. And dream of running away to a cottage by the sea. *sigh*

Then, lo and behold, on a walk with my dog, I spy a most unusual thing in the middle of a forest of Douglas fir and cedar. Yes, I recognized it immediately. A broadleaf evergreen - still decked in its shiny green leaves when every other deciduous tree has long since dropped theirs. But how could it be? There are no trees like these within 30 or 40 miles, with their primary range starting 150 miles to the south.

I walked closer to be sure, and yes . . .

There was the telltale red peeling bark on its trunk. I know these trees - they grow all over Northern California and Southern Oregon, in climates a bit warmer and sunnier than here.

A Madrone Tree.

But what was it doing there - all by its lonesome? I've trekked through these woods on foot and horseback and never seen another. Perhaps a bird dropped its seed here? Or a madrone seed fell from the track or tire of a piece of equipment working in the woods? Never mind. There - in a sunny clearing where it shouldn't be at all - grew a small, but apparently sturdy and hardy little madrone tree, about 15-20 feet tall.

It made my heart glad to spot such a familiar face, and maybe there is a message for me here, too. Perhaps I should quit whining and complaining about my whereabouts - and dreaming about places far away - and do like the little madrone.

Thrive and grow where I am planted.
Trust me. I am working on it.