Wednesday, November 30, 2011

All I Want for Christmas

Guess what the kids all want for Christmas. Yep, Legos. Yep, even the girls. I never considered Lego to be gender-specific. As a kid, I had the Castle system sets complete with horses, knights in armor and a princess in a stupid hat. They're a bit more advanced now, with better little people and more interesting designs.

Lego is one of those toys I don't mind buying my kids, even when the sets can be stupid expensive. They LAST. My boys are playing with my old Lego sets right now. Lego encourages the imagination, which I consider vital to childhood.

Case in point:

Yesterday, hubby and I drove by a sign that said "Do not block gate." I imagined, just for kicks, setting up literal blocks in front of the gate. Obviously not to provide a barrier, but more of a play on words. Hubby took it farther than that. "I could have Brandon build a padlock out of Lego."

I laughed. Until I realized my son actually COULD build a padlock out of Lego blocks. He's gotten to the point where, if he can visualize it in his head, he can build it with his hands.

That's pretty awesome to me.

I envision a Christmas morning full of that distinct plastic-brick-on-plastic-brick clanging. And that's okay with me.

Because then I get to sit back and see what they all create. :)

Friday, November 25, 2011


You're getting an After-Thanksgiving-I-didn't-post-Wednesday-making-up-for-it-now sorta post today.

Gratitude. It's part of a healthy lifestyle. I had 19 people at my house yesterday, and, though I love them, let's start there.

I'm glad they're not still here. :) Imagine the food consumption, the mess. No, yesterday was good. lol

I snuggled with my daughters this morning before getting out of bed and having cinnamon rolls. Yep, another gratitude moment.

I'm really glad my husband made the turkey yesterday. It was PERFECT.

A writer friend recently asked, as part of a contest, where/what would you be if you could have anything or be anything you wanted? I pondered this, probably more than I should, until I realized I'm LIVING it already.

I'm not saying my life is perfect. But perfect is boring. Challenge is growth and, please don't take this as an open invitation for challenges, but I know their value.

This is actually what I mean:

I wanted to be a schoolteacher for years. That was my goal, until I discovered writing. I'd always loved to write, but didn't think I could actually do anything with it--until I wrote my first book in high school.

My goals changed. I wanted to raise children and write books.

Then I got married. And we struggled. A lot. For a long time. When my twins were babies, I tried to get a job. Didn't work. I tried working at home. Didn't work. We moved from OK to UT in that time, and when my daughter was a baby I got an opportunity to work for my brother's new company. At home. In my jammies. It was a good job financially but, ultimately soul-sucking (at least for my creativity). So I tried day care. Fun and rewarding in its way; hard and challenging too. But between that and my own family, it left me almost no time to write. At least if I wanted to sleep. Ever.

Something had to give. After the first book came out in 2010, I struggled with time to write and money to live. We never seemed to be able to find the balance. In July, we visited OK again and chose to move back here.

Now, after so much (much of which I have not gone into here), I have a home for my family. I'm writing. I have time with my kids. And my husband. It's an amazing place to be in. That's what I've wanted since I was 14. Sure, there's room for growth and improvement. Furniture, at the moment, would be a great improvement.

But that's the fun of it. I wouldn't want to have everything I wanted right now. Where would the growth be then? ;)

Thursday, November 17, 2011

Cinnamon Rolls! And More

Or, I should say, the BEST EVER Cinnamon Rolls!

You know how it is when you take two things you absolutely love and combine them, and it comes out better than you could have imagined? Oh, ya. And I'm going to do my best to see you can recreate the magic for yourselves.

**Disclaimer! If you're looking for heart-healthy, low fat, gluten-free or anything nutritionally redeemable in these rolls, you won't find it. I'm talking real sugar, margarine (or butter if that's your preference), white flour goodness. You have been warned.**

I've got a killer breadstick recipe. It's a family recipe, and it's the kind of thing we eagerly anticipate every year for holidays or get-togethers. I can talk ANYONE into eating these delightful breadsticks. Even when they shouldn't. Light, fluffy goodness.

After 15 yrs of marriage, my hubby finally says, "I wonder how it would work to make cinnamon rolls using the breadstick recipe." That's right--I did NOT come up with this brilliant idea myself.

Here's what we did:

I put 2 cups of warm--not hot but very warm--water into my largest mixing bowl. Most times a yeast bread doesn't come out is because we either use too hot or too cool water. Warm is relative, which is why you'll find the actual temperature your water needs to be in certain recipes, and, sometimes, on the yeast package itself. I've been doing this enough that I simply do the pinkie test: dip my pinkie into the water to test the temp. I also factor in how much the water will cool when it gets into the bowl, so that the water I heat is slightly warmer than the water I use.

Add 2 envelopes of yeast to the water and let it activate. **Sugar** helps yeast activate, so I like to add the sugar next. For breadsticks, the recipe calls for 1/2 cup. I added 3/4 of a cup to sweeten the dough for cinnamon rolls.

Now we get to the fun part. This recipe calls for a 1/2 cup (1 stick) of butter or margarine. I prefer to bake with margarine and top with butter, but that's just me. Do what you want, but I don't suggest those buttery spreads. Not for this. The recipe also calls for 1 egg, slightly beaten.

(Once, and only once, I forgot to beat the egg before adding it to the bowl. And got tougher than normal breadsticks. I don't know why, but it is CRUCIAL to beat the egg first to obtain the desired effect.)

For the cinnamon rolls, I beat the egg in the 1/2 cup of melted butter. The recipe calls for softened butter, but I melt mine and then COOL it slightly so that I don't kill my yeast when I add it to the bowl.

Where was I? Oh, right. Mix all those ingredients together and you get a sloshy goo. Now, here's where I almost always mess up. Salt. Most of you know salt is supposed to add savory without masking the flavor. If you tastes salt in your food, then you've over salted. I'm notorious for under-salting my baked goods, though no one has ever complained. For years I didn't add salt to any recipe that was supposed to turn out sweet--seemed counter-productive to me. But I'm learning.

For this recipe, I added about 2/3 to 3/4 of a teaspoon of salt.

The recipe calls for 5 cups (or more) of flour. I always do the *or more* and I believe this is partly because I never sift my flour. It all breaks up in the kneading process, which I particularly enjoy, so I don't bother. But I probably end up using more flour than I actually need. Oddly, the bread NEVER comes out heavy.

Basically you add flour until you can knead the dough smooth and it's not sticky. But, again, if you pre-sift or buy the pre-sifted flour, you will probably be happier with the results.

Then you put the dough back into the bowl, cover it with a towel and ignore it. For 3-4 hours, or until the dough is doubled in size. You can probably do this the night before and refrigerate the dough for fresh cinnamon rolls in the morning, but I never have. Try it at your own risk.

My family's favorite part is punching the dough down. Oh, my.

So after the yeast has done its thing, and you punch the dough down, you can roll it out on a floured surface until you have as even a rectangle as you can make it. I don't stress this, as I'm just going to roll and cut it anyway, but my husband insisted on an almost ruler perfect rectangle.

Here's where it gets tricky. I don't measure ingredients for half of what I do. Which means, I can't tell you how much softened butter to smooth over the rolled out dough. I can guess we used about 1/4 cup. You really want it to be able to melt and be gooey, because that's part of what makes the cinnamon/sugar mixture inside the roll so wonderful. But, you don't want to put in too much because it really just falls or oozes out during the rolling and slicing process, leaving most of your work on your floured surface and not in the rolls. Sad.

My cinnamon/sugar mix: I literally poured a little of this and little of that into a bowl, mixed it with a fork, and spread it out across the buttered dough. I can guess that I used about 1/3 cup brown sugar and 1/4 cup white sugar. I use a blend. Brown sugar makes the inner mixture of a cinnamon roll particularly yummy. You can use all brown sugar if you want. It's a matter of taste. Then I added about 2 teaspoons (or a little more) of cinnamon. Mix that all together, spread it on the dough, and get ready to roll it up.

Here's where you'd add raisins if you like them, before the rolling up process. I don't. It's a texture thing for me--feels like eating baked bugs.

When you roll the dough, you start at one edge and roll as small as possible. When you get to the other end, you sort of pinch the dough together so that it doesn't unravel after you cut it into rolls. I always use the strand of thread method because using a knife tends to flatten the cinnamon rolls, making them silly-looking. Remember, we eat with our eyes first. :)

The strand of thread method is easy to understand. I cut a long strand from a spool of sewing thread and work it under the roll of dough, then bring the ends up and cross them to slice the thread through the entire dough. Repeat until you've done all of the dough, trying to be as even as possible. We got 23 rolls, but some ended up bigger than others. I'd say the recipe yields 24 (2 dozen) healthy sized rolls.

Always pan spray or grease your baking pans before placing the cut cinnamon rolls into or onto them. I prefer my 9x13 glass cake dish (fits 12 rolls), but that's me. Cover and let the rolls rise about another hour. Meanwhile, you can preheat your oven (350 degrees) so it's ready to go when the rolls are.

I baked them about 20-25 minutes, until they were a light golden brown and I could be reasonably certain the rolls baked all the way through.

Note: If you're wanting to just do the breadsticks, omit the extra 1/4 cup of sugar and the butter and cinnamon/sugar filling. You simply roll the dough out, cut and shape the breadsticks, let them rise and then bake them at 350 for about 10-12 min.

I let the cinnamon rolls cool about 10 min in the pan after they cooked before drizzling on the glaze. You don't want them too hot (been there) or the glaze simply pours off and pools at the bottom of your baking dish. Patience really does pay off, even though they smell amazing and you can't wait to bite into one.

Glaze: Really depends on whether you want a drizzling glaze or a spreadable frosting. Regardless, you start with 2 cups of powdered sugar. Add 1-2 teaspoons of vanilla extract. Then add enough milk to obtain your desired consistency. It doesn't take much, so I'd recommend adding slowly, like a Tablespoon at a time. Stir it with a spoon until smooth, spread or pour on your rolls.

And prepare to have your socks knocked right off!

Wednesday, November 9, 2011

Isn't it Great?

Isn't it great when a mother can leave town for 5 days and come home to find everyone has survived?

Survived being home unsupervised with their siblings for 5 hours, 2 days in a row?

Survived getting on and off the bus without incident?

Survived Dad's cooking? (kidding--he actually is really good in the kitchen) earthquake?

I find it ironic that we move from UT, where there's that lovely Wasatch fault line that could potentially decimate the civilization out there, to an area literally nicknamed "Tornado Alley" and we feel an earthquake.

Just so you know, we live almost 2 hrs south of Oklahoma City, where the quake hit hardest. In fact, my family didn't feel it at all. My father in law did, only because he got up to use the bathroom about the same time it hit. If he'd been asleep, like my kids, he'd probably have slept right through it.

My son thinks he may have felt an aftershock early this morning. I'm not holding my breath as his evidence is a little shaky (terrible pun, I know), but if you hear about it you can say I told you first. :)

As much as I loved my time away, I'm glad to be home. I'm even more glad to not have any plans to go anywhere for at least the next 6 months. I've spent the last 2 days helping my in laws spoil the kids to pieces. Now I'm going to work on getting this house in order. We have a table and chairs and a microwave (yay!!), but I have no bookshelves to place my beloved books and only one little love seat. This house is completely devoid of dressers (and that is just weird) and the boys are still sleeping on air mattresses. They've been great about it, but I'm starting to feel like a bad parent.

All that being said, what am I still doing here? :)

Wednesday, November 2, 2011

City of Light Preview, Continued

If you missed the beginning, you can go to my AUTHOR BLOG for a recap.

Chapter 1, continued

People packed the streets, as though they had all come from their houses to trace the source of the voice. Genna led Aisilyn through the throngs, anxious until she saw the high walls of their home. She breathed a sigh of relief when she saw her mother standing at the doorway. Her mother would have a solution.

Her mother wrapped both daughters in her embrace. “Come inside.”

Genna stepped into the house, her childhood home. Never before had she appreciated how safe she felt there. As they entered the main living area, her father, who had been sitting on a well padded chair, rose to his feet. He took Aisilyn by the arm and led her to the gilded chair by the fireplace. Her mother sat on the thick cushion at the foot of the chair. She put a hand on Aisilyn’s knee.

“You look pale, child,” she said. “I’ll have Sorai bring you water.”

“No, thank you.” Aisilyn put a hand on her arm.

Genna looked at her father. His deep frown was at odds with his trembling hands. He was nervous, she knew, but he would approach the problem with logic.

He didn’t disappoint. “The Council will check the birth records. I expect they will summon Aisilyn soon, along with any other women named Aisilyn.”

“How many can there be?” her mother asked.

“In a city this size?” He stroked his beard. “A dozen, perhaps, but I can’t be certain.”

Genna’s mother breathed a sigh of relief. “Then it may not be our Aisilyn.”

Aisilyn’s eyes found Genna’s. They didn’t realize, Genna thought. They don’t know.
Her father continued. “Exactly. I propose we not panic until we are given a reason.”

“What if it is her?”

Both her parents looked at Genna as though she’d grown a spare head. She regretted the words, but couldn’t keep them inside. She knew with a certainty that shook her that the chosen bride was her sister. She also knew Aisilyn felt that, too. How could she make them understand?

“Genna, child, you mustn’t worry your sister,” her mother said. “Your father is right. We don’t know yet who is the chosen Aisilyn. Besides, this isn’t the first time the City of Light has been threatened. We don’t know what is going to happen.”

“The Barrier of Light has protected our people from the demon’s agents for centuries,” said her father. “Even if he has a servant who can breach the Barrier, our soldiers could easily stop one, lone enemy.”

Genna thought of the soldiers, the peacekeepers of the City, who patrol in their shining armor but have not fought for generations. They have no trouble apprehending the odd cutpurse, but how would they fare against an enemy who could fight back?

She held her tongue; it did no good to argue with her parents, and she didn’t want to say anything that might further worry her sister. “Aisilyn and I made some purchases this afternoon. I’ll go help Sorai put them away.”