Tuesday, July 17, 2012

NO SWEAT HOMEMADE JAM

If you're like me, you don't have time to spend all morning in the kitchen whipping up something good to eat, but you still like to create a delight once in a while. This journal was created for busy people who like to learn new stuff, whether it's wandering the woods, researching for a book or story or finding shortcuts to keep wifely duties to a minimum.

If you make jams and jellies, you're gonna like this. Today's crops of berries and peaches are probably mostly in the freezer or canned by now, but I just had to share this wonderful product. No, I am not being paid for this information. Check out instant pectin. This saves lots of time and effort and makes a quick and delicious strawberry or peach jam in just a few minutes.

Standing over a pot of boiling berries is no fun on a hot summer day. I tried this out after reading a recipe in our local paper calling for this pectin. I got online and ordered a batch of it and within minutes of thawing some frozen berries (not sugared) had me a batch of freezer jam. The only work involved was mashing the berries and then stirring them into the sugar (I used Splenda) and pectin that I had mixed up. Watching the clock, I stirred for three minutes (not going near a hot stove) put the jam into some plastic containers, let them set on the table for 20 minutes then put them in the fridge.

Delicious, easy, and no sweat. A hint. I increased the ingredients on the label to 4 cups of berries, 1-1/2 cups Splenda or sugar, 4 T instant pectin. I used three the first time and found it a bit thin. You'll get about three pints of jam from this, but it's so easy and tastes so fresh compared to jams that are cooked for several minutes. You can also make fresh peach jam or from frozen peaches.

Let me know how your jam turns out.


Monday, June 25, 2012

IN A PICKLE



Did you ever think how many "other lives" we all live? Wonder if that might be a good premise on which to base a new romance. Mmmm. Ah, well, back to the subject.
Last Friday my daughter came in carrying a bucket of cucumbers her husband had picked from his garden. "Did you really say you wanted to make pickles?" Her expression was a little doubtful, as I don't spend any more time in the kitchen than is absolutely necessary.
But my answer was a sound, "Yes. I love to make pickles." Even though it would mean taking time out from my busy writing schedule filled with promotional ideas, writing new books, editing old books. Sure, why not?
I discovered something years ago, and that was other chores often foster brand new stories. Something never thought of. After all, how much concentration does making a batch of pickles take? Chopping the fragrant veggie into chunks leaves the mind free to wander. How crisp and green, and the aroma, both of the fresh vegetable and the one that eventually cooks in vinegar and sugar and spices. All lend impetus to our imaginations.
I've been asked to write something about my mother's experiences as "Rosie the Riveter" at Boeing during WW II, for an anthology. Because I hadn't thought of those days in a long while I'm not sure where to begin. I was very young, but I do remember that the one big change was my mother began to wear pants. I'd never seen her in pants until she went to work at that defense plant. And she tied a bandana around her gorgeous red curls before leaving for work.
"That's to keep from getting my hair caught in a drill," she explained.
We lived, at the time, in a housing development for the plant. Dad was serving in the South Pacific on a flat top named the USS Attu, and it was just Mom, my brother Fred and I. A neighbor looked after us while she was at work and we weren't at school.
What could I write about that? My mother had always been a stay at home Mom, though we didn't call it that back then. She was a wife and mother. She loved to cook and garden and can and sew. She made pickles, too, just as I was doing. That's why the smell of them cooking brought her back to me so sharply. Every detail. Her smile, the red, red lipstick she always wore, the freckles on her pale skin, and most of all that tumble of red hair.
Landing that job gave us the income we sorely needed while Dad was away at war, but it also changed her. She went from a farm wife to a working woman almost overnight. Gone was pickle making, canning, gardening, and all that went with it. So, my experience making pickles gave me the opening I wanted for my story.
In later years, Mom went back to doing all those things she loved so much. And she quilted and crocheted and went to work selling Avon after the war. I suspect that every jar of pickles I open this winter will be another reminder of Mom and how she became someone different out of necessity, yet kept in sight the things she most loved to do.

Tuesday, May 08, 2012

THE DAY I FLEW WITH JOE KITTINGER



High in the azure blue sky, looking down on the seven hills of Fayetteville, I clenched the floor of the plane with curled toes. Seated behind me, Joe tilted the small bi-wing plane till one wing was straight above us, the other out of sight below. Then we dropped toward the ground. Wind whipped at my face, grabbing each breath.  My stomach lurched and the adrenaline rush sent squeals of delight that melted in the hot summer air over Drake Field.

I learned later, while watching Joe perform for the crowd, he'd only illustrated a bit of his wild and crazy barnstorming act for me. Touring the country, offering rides and performing high in the sky was something he had done for years. A man like Joe could scarcely keep his feet on the ground for any length of time. In 1960 his daredevil act bailing out of a balloon had set records and proved man could survive a fall from 102,800 feet above the earth. At least a man like Colonel Joseph Kittinger.

How'd I manage to take a flight with America's first spaceman? A true American hero? All things come together in strange ways. After I went to work for the local rural weekly newspaper in 1990, each time air shows of any type came to town, free rides were offered to reporters. I was the first to volunteer to take advantage of the opportunity. When I heard Joe Kittinger was at Drake Field, I stood up. And so, there I was, hanging on for dear life in an open cockpit plane, sitting up front only a foot or so behind the propeller, and having the time of my life.

It'd been a while since I thought about that day---after all it was 20 years ago---until the news broke that a stuntman from the UK, Steve Truglia will attempt to break Kittinger's record. He's going to jump from a balloon at 120,000 feet. His body will break the sound barrier at 700 mph. It's been over 50 years since Joe accomplished this and lived to tell about it. He had far less equipment to insure his survival. He blacked out while free falling, as will Steve Truglia. But Steve will have a lot of fancy "fail-safes" to keep him from going into a spin, and that's good. Read about Truglia's plans here.

All this brought back such memories of my meeting with Joe Kittinger. My ride in his plane, and later interview that brought about two separate articles on this daredevil hero. His book is available on Amazon, and no, I wasn't paid to say that. Bought a copy myself. Joe is quite a guy and I'll never forget my time spent with him, on the ground and above the earth.


Monday, April 23, 2012

My adventures with Photoshop continue. I've now decided to change programs, as it's so messed up I can't get it to come up completely. Tool bar along the side has disappeared and I don't know what I must've done with it. Also, part of the upper tool bar is missing so I can't open new files. And that's enough whining.

Uploading my final back list book called for a celebration, but I'm too decrepit to dance, so I settled for hot chocolate and staying up late to watch Fringe on Hulu cause I missed last Friday's episode. What's with that new sexy guy? Does he think he can replace Peter? Never happen. Ah, well, a short visit to the future might be good for the Fringe crew, though I didn't see Olivia anywhere. Hope nothing happened to her. As absent minded as I'm getting, I may go back and watch last week's to make sure she didn't get killed off or carried away to another dimension.

It occurs to me that all my readers may not watch this weird-as-can-be show. But I'm so captivated by it I can't miss even one. I was figuring up the other day how much it costs nowadays to be entertained at home and to stay in touch with everyone. There's the Internet, then DirecTV, then as if 3-400 channels isn't enough, we pay Netflix and Hulu to fill in the gaps with streamed movies and TV shows. Then there's the cellphone, which I've only got one of those cheap dudes that costs about $20 every three months to keep it activated. That's not to mention the electricity it takes to power this stuff. And batteries! Good grief, I'm scaring myself. If they ever start charging for sites we activate online, there'll be that to add to the bill.

Imagine how much money we'd have to spend on "stuff" if we didn't have any of those entertainment/communication bills.

I can remember when I was a kid, back in the dark ages---and they were called that for a reason. Coal oil lamps cast very little light in the smallest of rooms---when we first got electricity we had one light bulb hanging from the ceiling. After all, that was a lot brighter than a lamp. Actually, I'm pulling your leg a bit here. If we'd stayed in Arkansas this would've been the case. My Aunt and Uncle, whom we visited regularly, lived out in the country, and REA didn't arrive there until I was a teenager, so they did experience this.  I thought it quite the adventure to spend time with them. Almost like camping out.

Then, along came Ozarks Electric and they lit up the world, and presented the first of many bills that would come along over the years just because we wanted to have a bit of light on the subject.

Wednesday, April 18, 2012

This journal is going to be used to vent today. For the past few weeks I've worked on a short story anthology that tells prequel stories of the characters featured in my six back list books now posted on Kindle. Not only are there stories, there are some sexy excerpts of scenes that might entice readers.
This is the cover I made that is the wrong size, and you'll note PS insisted on underlining everything. Who knows what my cover will eventually look like.
Now, I'm ready to upload it to Kindle. Formatting is done. However, and that's a big however, in trying to make my cover on Photoshop I ran into something that has not happened in the past six covers I've made there. Though plenty of other problems cropped up. The cursor for adding text to the cover makes underlines and no text. I can't figure out what button I must have pushed by mistake, but all it will do is make underlines. At first it insisted on underlining my text and I finally got it to stop doing that. Not sure how, and managed to get the title words where I wanted them. But to my dismay I cannot get it to add my name as the author. Just lines. Ugh.
My goal was to post the short story anthology today, enroll it in KDP and offer it free for five days to let readers learn about my books in an entertaining way.
In the meantime, Amazon changed the pixel size of books covers. With help I figured out that 1563 pixels is 1.6 of 2500 pixels required for the long side. So I made a cover in that size, but Photoshop, being the demon that it is, and I hope someone there doesn't decide to sue me for saying that, the size popped down to the size of the photo. So I began again, hoping for the best. This one has no author name on it and I've finally given up. What is it with me and Photoshop? It makes me feel so dumb and helpless I want to commit some sort of illegal act.
My goal to finish today is destroyed. I will return to Photoshop and try one more time, then I'll have to ask for help. Thankfully, my grandson's SO knows photoshop and can probably help me. Fingers crossed.
So, if you're working on publishing your books to Kindle and want to make your own covers, I suggest you first contact someone who is well-versed in Photoshop before you begin.
Have a lovely day. Looks like a good one.

Tuesday, April 10, 2012

WOMEN WHO WON THE WEST


WOMEN WHO WON THE WEST
Maud Dunlap Duncan arrived in a small railroad town not far from Indian Territory in Arkansas in 1887 when she was 14. The rugged area around Winslow contained several one-room schools and, educated through the eighth grade by her foster father, Dr. Albert Dunlap,  Maud began to teach the children who attended one of those schools. As yet, Winslow had no school, for the railroad had created the town in 1882 when the Frisco line laid tracks through the tiny valley to connect Northwest Arkansas with Fort Smith to the south. Previously a stage stop known as Woolem sat on the mountainside amid a tiny cluster of settlers known as Summit Home. The stage line was the only connection between this remote locale and the outside world.
After settling in Winslow, Maud's foster parents began to donate time, money and land to the booming town. Under their auspices, St. Stephen's Episcopal church was built. The large home the Dunlaps erected later became a school to educate the mountain girls. The town grew fast, and Maud grew with it. She played organ in the church on Sundays, but more importantly, she attended high school in Ft. Smith, then went on to get her teacher's certificate at the age of 16. Teaching at this young age was common in those days. Some of the boys in her classes were older and bigger than the petite Maud, but she didn't let that deter her.  As time progressed, she decided that teaching wasn't all she wanted to accomplish.
In 1894 she married a railroad worker, Hallam Pearce. The marriage would spawn tragedy.  After the birth of their second daughter, Virginia, who died in infancy, her husband left her. They said he just climbed on board a freight one day and never returned. No one ever knew precisely why, but it was thought that because Maud's mother Virginia had such a grip on members of the family, he grew tired of her interference. Those who knew her well said that Maud was so firmly under the thumb of her mother, that she did nothing without her permission. She had the marriage annulled in 1901 and her foster parents officially adopted her older daughter, Helen. Helen died at the age of 8.
Doctor T.E. Gray had begun a successful practice in town, and was soon courting Maud. Regularly they could be seen riding through town on their way to a picnic out by the falls. Everyone expected them to marry. And sure enough, they were soon engaged. One of her best friends made a wedding dress. Everything was planned, but something so dark happened that it was kept a secret until the only person who knew the truth passed away a few years ago. He told his long-kept secret to a close friend, making her promise not to tell anyone until he was gone. She shared that secret with me not long after his death.
It seems that Maud had a young friend who was having feminine problems. She went to Maud to ask her what to do, and Maud took her to see Doctor Grey. After a few visits, the friend came to Maud so distraught she could barely speak. Finally the truth spilled out. Doctor Gray had been sexually abusing the young woman and she didn't know what to do. Maud confronted the Doctor, broke their engagement and kept mum about the reason. The young girl left town, and folks were left to wonder about the broken engagement. We have to remember what those kinds of secrets meant in those nearly Victorian days. It wasn't something one talked about. We have to wonder if the good doctor went on to abuse other young women. No one will ever know. Before her death, and long years after this happened, Maud revealed the dreadful secret to a close friend who also kept quiet until right before his own death. Doctor Gray was murdered at the hands of a hitchiker in 1938.
Still, these sad occurrences didn't deter Maud from her constant efforts to do more with her life. Determined to forget she studied pharmacy under the tutelage of her foster father, and in 1906 became the second woman in Arkansas to register as a pharmacist. Soon after that she opened a pharmacy/drug store in Winslow. She and her foster father worked together in the M.D. Pearce Pharmacy. The M. D. stood for Maud Dunlap. In 1907 she petitioned the court to change her name back to Dunlap. Soon after that she announced her engagement to a young newspaperman, Gilbert Nelson Duncan, whose family had recently arrived in town.
Soon after their marriage in 1908 they purchased the monthly newspaper, the Winslow Mirror, changed the name to the Winslow American and in September began weekly publication. Maud began to write editorials on national questions such as women's suffrage and the paper supported the United State participation in World War I, taking part in large war bond sales. It appeared she had at last reached her goal in life.
But happiness was brief for Maud. Gilbert died in the influenza epidemic of 1918. Despite her sorrow, she picked up the shattered pieces of her life and became active in civic matters. In 1925, only a few years after women gained the right to vote, Maud and some of her friends who were businesswomen in town formed a full slate of women candidates and ran for city council. What had begun as a dare by some of the men in town became a reality when they won the election and took over the reins to the booming resort town. For two years they governed and found some fame in several newspapers.
One tale goes that Maud tore down the one-room jailhouse and announced that if anyone broke the law in her town, they'd answer to her. They raised money to build a new road to replace the steep one that ran straight up the mountainside. Women drivers had a tough time negotiating the difficult climb. Today that road remains in two long loopy S curves going west out of town. The women encouraged business owners to plant flowers and pretty up the town, which they did. After a second term, the women declined to run again. Their work was done.
The pharmacy burned in 1935. Maud continued to produce the newspaper over the long years after the Great Depression all but destroyed the town as a resort area. It became her only way to earn a living, and she would handset the lead slugs to print out three or four pages of notebook size paper which she distributed herself. Too stubborn to give up she would walk the streets, selling ad space so she could afford to buy wood for heat and food. Local people bought ads they didn't need because it was the only way they could help her. She refused charity. She died in 1958 and is buried in the cemetery at the church her foster father built so many years earlier.
In a time when it was so very difficult, women like Maud blazed a bright trail for those who came later. Their stories should be told and preserved.
Maud's story written by Velda Brotherton was published in Arkansas Biography, edited by Nancy A. Williams in 2000, by the University of Arkansas Press. For more information on this courageous woman see the Arkansas Encyclopedia Online.






Monday, March 26, 2012



Last week I traveled  a ways to visit with western writer Dac Crossley. He has some unique experiences and writes about his home state with authority. We talked about his writing among other subjects. We decided to exchange interviews, so while you'll read about Dac here, you can read about me on his blog. There's a link later on here. Welcome, Dac. This was a fun idea.

Q: Could you tell us something about the western era you write about?
A: I grew up in South Texas, that region between San Antonio and the Mexican border. Mesquite brush along the Nueces River, south through the Wild Horse Desert to the lush valley of the Rio Grande. My stories are set in the twentieth century, when the old west still lived, and ancient cultures clashed with modern ones. I’ve taken the Texas Rangers as focal points for my stories. The Rangers are still iconic today, if better behaved than their more violent predecessors.
 My latest novel, Escape from the Alamo, is set at the time of the Texas revolution. Well, all Texans have to write an Alamo story, sooner or later.

Q: Was it a difficult decision to publish your own work? How did that come about?
A:  I wasn’t getting anyplace with traditional publishers. Agents told me my work was fine but nobody would buy a western novel. I realized that I had to self-publish, get out there, begin to build the brand.
 Now, three self-published novels later, I’m attracting some attention from small presses.

Q: What is your daily work schedule?
 A: I’m not very good at keeping on a schedule. I try to write every day, at least a page, be it morning, afternoon or evening.

 Q: I was interested in your background. Readers will understand this question when they go to your blog and read about your background. Living in Arkansas, the study of chiggers fascinates me. How do you go about studying such a vicious, tiny critter?
 A: We find chiggers on their usual hosts – snakes and lizards, turtles, birds, and so forth. Their host relationships give us clues about their environmental requirements.

Q: Okay, back to your writing. I couldn’t resist asking that question. Tell us a bit about Guns Across the Rio.
A:  I grew up with tales of Mexican bandit raids. My grandfather stood on his street corner with his shotgun when a raid was suspected (his father fought Indians). Yet, I had friends who characterized the bandits as revolutionaries. Guns Across the Rio is the story of an Hispanic Ranger who lives in both worlds, Mexican and Texan.

Q: How do you divide your research and writing time?
 A: Good question. Research is readily done on-line now. It starts with an interruption of the writing, a quick question that leads to 2-3 hours of following leads.

Q: What are you working on now?
 A: A novel that will carry my Border characters forward to 1937, an uneasy time for the Rangers as politics singled them out.

Q: Do you outline your books or just let it flow?
 A: I’m not an outliner. I start with a question – “What if?” and push it forward. Restarts are inevitable. In Escape from the Alamo my hero was a Tennessee mountaineer. He kept telling me he wasn’t that old. After a dozen chapters I had to go back and make him a teenager.

Q: If a big publisher were to approach you and make an offer, would you take it, or do you prefer to publish your own work. And why?
A: I’d count such an offer as a mark of success, and I’d likely take it, all things considered. I like to tell stories and I want a broad audience. No matter how my stories are published, I’ll continue promoting them as best I can.

Q: How do you feel about social networking and how much do you do?
 A: I participate in several groups on Facebook. It takes time but it builds the brand. Most of my networking involves my blog. I try to blog twice a week and I notify my mailing list whenever I do. I’ve yet to do much with twitter or linked-in; maybe that comes next.

Thanks so much for spending some time with me.

Dac's books can be found on Amazon or at his web site.