Sunday, September 30, 2007

Winter Vegetable Stew

Today I finally put together my first "veggie stew" since early spring. I don't know how many years I've been making it--probably close to twenty. Originally, it was from a recipe in a magazine, but I've modified it so many times that the recipe is now truly my own.

This stew/soup is delicious with some grated Parmesan on top and a big piece of crusty bread. Or with cornbread. It's just good, period. Even my meat-loving husband likes it--a lot. And, for the meat eaters, you could easily add beef or chicken or pork to the recipe, and use broth instead of water.

The amounts of various vegetables can be varied to suit your preferences and veggie supply in your home. This recipe makes a lot of stew/soup--you'll need a large stew pot--but you can always freeze it! I often freeze leftovers in plastic containers. Use within one month for best flavor. It's great to have on hand for a last-minute meal.

Vegetables should be cut into roughly one-inch cubes or chunks. Nothing fancy--just not too big to fit in your mouth!

Winter Vegetable Stew

1 med. to large sweet potato, peeled and diced
2-3 large carrots, peeled or scraped, and cut into rounds
1 med. to large onion, diced
1 small rutabaga, or portion of larger one, peeled and diced (optional, depending on your tastes and the season--personally, I love it)
1 med. to large potato, peeled and diced (also optional--I often leave it out)
1 can of vegetarian baked beans
1 can of chickpeas (optional)
1 large (28 oz.?) can of crushed tomatoes--must be crushed tomatoes
1 10 oz. box frozen spinach (you can substitute greens for spinach, if you like--I've used canned turnip greens and they were great)
1 10 oz. box/bag frozen peas
Salt, garlic powder, Italian seasoning blend, and pepper, all to taste (I never measure these!)

1. Combine sweet potato, carrots, onion, rutabaga, and potato in large soup/stew pot. Add enough water to cover vegetables. Bring to boil and cook until veggies are fork-tender (not mushy).

2. Add the frozen spinach and peas, and more water if needed. Bring to boil and cook for about five minutes. Stir often.

3. Add vegetarian baked beans, chickpeas, crushed tomatoes, and spices. Bring back to boil, then turn down low to simmer for five minutes--this will blend the flavors. Stir frequently so it doesn't stick to the bottom!

4. Turn heat off and let sit for ten minutes, stirring occasioally. If desired, serve with grated cheese on top of each bowl, with hearty bread or cornbread.

"Veggie Stew" is perfect for football watching!

Sharona

Friday, September 28, 2007

The Kindness of Singers

Earlier today I posted on the Fasola list that I'd hoped to attend the NE Convention this weekend, but amid the worries of the past few days, I failed to plan for it. I mentioned that my father is pretty sick, and asked for good thoughts and a prayer or two, if anyone wished.

I further said that my father has been very brave. He's dying of cancer, and he hasn't felt well in a very long time. But he is facing the situation head-on, with dignity. I don't know if I could possibly be that brave.

The compassionate, loving outpouring of concern I've received via email moves me to tears. I will thank each one of you individually, but for now, I say thank you here.

It's late, and I need to go to bed, but I'll leave you with the words of Isaac Watts. These words are not for my father--he is ready to pass on. They're for me. I'm the "tim'rous worm", and that's why I say I don't know if I could ever be as brave as my father has been, and is.

"Why should we start and fear to die:
What tim’rous worms we mortals are!
Death is the gate of endless joy,
And yet we dread to enter there."
--Isaac Watts, 1707


Sharona

Tuesday, September 25, 2007

Tips for Writers Who've Lost the Joy

(This is a cross-post from my other blog. But I think the information is important enough to justify my duplicating it.)

If you're a beginning writer, you may be thinking, "Lost the joy? I'm bursting with ideas and can't wait for the times when I can write. How could you lose the joy of writing? Why are you still writing, if it's no longer fun?"

Once it becomes a job, with contracts and real deadlines and such, you can lose the joy. For me, when I lose the joy is often when writer's block rears its ugly head.

I took an online course last week all about "block-busting" and recapturing the joy of writing. The presenter, Laurie Schnebly Campbell, presented an interactive workshop that gave me a whole new way to look at things. And, you know what? The joy has come back!

Laurie gives courses on a regular basis at Writer U. The courses are a very reasonable thirty bucks--we're talking month-long courses here. I'm signed up for her October workshop, "Creating Your Hero's Fatal Flaw", and, boy, am I looking forward to it!

I highly recommend her workshops. (Plus, she's a great person.) The one I took came at the problem from a psychological angle, tapping into fears you might not know you even have that are blocking you.

Below is a small amount of information I learned from the course. Happy writing!

***

Things that work, or have worked, to jump-start my writing:

--Timed writing.
--Club 100
--Writing every day, because momentum helps me (which is difficult for a number of reasons)
--Establishing personal deadlines (I've always responded well to deadlines, because I procrastinate!)
--If blocked on one WIP, work on another (though this isn't feasible if I have a committment and have to work on WIP #1)
--Going for a solitary walk - sometimes this frees the stuck place in my head. (It used to work like gangbusters when I was a tech writer.)

***

Things that I could do if I weren't blocked:

I could finish my two novels and sell them to a publisher with whom I'd make more money.
I could finish my two novels and land an agent.
I could finish my two novels and land a multi-book print contract.
I could send my current novella to the editor who really likes my work, and make more money.
I could write books faster.
I could become financially successful.
I could make enough money for my husband to retire.
I could be productive and not feel guilty about taking time off when my daughter returns from Egypt in five weeks.

***

As you can see, I have a lot of anxiety around money when it comes to my writing. And worrying about money always blocks me. The workshop reminded me that I need to write, and leave the money worries outside of my little writing sanctuary.

Wishing all writers productivity and happiness (which may be the same thing, who knows?)

Sharona

Monday, September 24, 2007

Just a Quick Note

I'd like to mention that Marcia James has a gigantic list of promotional material that you might find interesting. If you're a writer, you should take a look at the list. All you have to do is go to her web site and ask her for it. Use the "Contact Me" link on her site to access her email address. It's a fantastic list that worth checking.

More later!

Sharona

Friday, September 21, 2007

Things That Entertain Me

Okay, this post isn't about writing, Sacred Harp, or food, but lately I've felt moved to comment on the things that entertain me. I hope you don't find this too self-indulgent.

I like TV. And I don't apologize for it. I have favorite shows that do more than entertain me--they pique my muse and help make me a better writer by sparking ideas. So I always enjoy checking out the new shows. Fox started their season a week before the Big Three, and I've seen two winners: "K-Ville" and "Back to You." Check out my comments under "TV Recommendations" in the column on the right.

Remember when Fox was the much-pooh-poohed fourth network? People predicted Fox would fall on its face and fold. Here we are, over twenty years later, and Fox has some of the best television on television. Fox has been the home of numerous hit shows, and acclaimed shows, too. Whoever makes the programming decisions over there is doing good work. Keep it up! (I won't get into the shows Fox has that are really, really awful. Chacun a son gout, as the French say, and even star baseball players don't bat more than .400.)

I'm less excited about the show previews I've seen for ABC, NBC, and CBS. I suspect what will happen is that I'll check out about ten new shows, and end up watching the second episode of maybe three or four of them, and adding one (at most, two) to my regular viewing rotation. I try to restrict my viewing to two hours in the evening, so I'm choosy. ABC may have the best chance of roping me, because the two new shows I added last fall--"Ugly Betty" and "Men in Trees"--are both ABC shows (and they made me watch more than my two hours on Thursday nights because these shows are so good). ABC's also the home of my ultra-fave, "Boston Legal." These are three of the best shows you're not watching.

If you like "chick" shows, I do urge you to check out "Men in Trees" especially--I think it's not doing as well in the ratings as "Ugly Betty" and "Boston Legal," and I really do want it to survive. They've moved it to Fridays at 10 Eastern, where it will be up against the popular CBS show, "Numbers" (which my mathematician husband likes to watch because it has a lot of mathematics in the show). So I guess I'll be taping "Men..." this fall. Sigh. I hope it survives.

Sharona

Tuesday, September 18, 2007

Therapy Dogs with Guest Blogger Catherine Stang

I hope you enjoy reading about owning and handling therapy dogs. I met Cathy at a readers and writers conference--she's a great person and fellow author. Her eyeglasses are the best, too! You can see them on her web site--they're her trademark.

Thanks for sharing, Cathy!

Sharona

--From Catherine Stang--

Hi everyone:

Besides writing and reading I would like to share another passion of mine. Any of you who have been to my website have probably seen the picture of me with my little dogs. I have to brag on my little sweeties, because they have a special job. They’re therapy dogs. In my case, we visit the nursing the home each week, visiting every resident who wants to see us.

I got interested in therapy dogs after I had one visit me while I was recovering from complications after surgery. On a day when I really needed something good to happen in walked this lady with a dog. It was just what I needed to cheer me up.

A few months after I got home, I lost my 17 year old Border Collie mix, Sigmund. When I began to think to about getting another one, I thought about the therapy dog lady and began looking for a dog I thought could be a therapy dog. I got a Papillon puppy, Rudy, who was VERY BUSY, so we got his brother, Remy, to keep him company. (I have to warn you that Papillons are social dogs. You rarely see an owner having just one. Trust me. We have three.)

Anyway, to be a therapy dog all you need to be is social. They have to like people and not be afraid to let strangers hold and pet them. Also, they can’t be afraid of things like wheelchairs, carts, oxygen tanks or be easily spooked. They can be big or small. Their loving personality is the most important thing.

We go to the nursing home, but I have friends that do hospice visits, and go to schools. It all depends on what you feel comfortable with doing.

There are several groups that you can work with. We belong to Therapy Dog, Inc. Their link is on my website. You can read all about that they do. I also have a link to my breeder, so you can read more about papillons. Check out her cute dog pictures!!

If you are interested in being a therapy dog handler check with your local kennel club. They often have classes.

Thanks for letting me share my other passion with you!

Catherine Stang

In my world… anything’s possible

Crossing the Line – in print & e book from Whiskey Creek Press

Ravensthorpe Heir – from New Concepts Publishing

Ravensthorpe Legacy – from New Concepts Publishing

Sweet Serenity – coming in Nov from Whiskey Creek Press

In the Blink of an Eye – coming in Dec from Whiskey Creek Press

Monday, September 17, 2007

A Brief Note About Music and God

I received a flyer in the mail today from one of the two churches I occasionally attend (I admit it, I have no regular church). The flyer, about the music ministry at the church, contained the following remark, and I found it, well, remarkable:

"Our Mission:
To make real the experience of God's supernatural presence among us through the infinite and wondrous glories of music."

Isn't that terrific? For me, that says it all. The remark has nailed one of the big reasons I love to sing Sacred Harp, and sacred music in general. "The infinite and wondrous glories of music"--boy, I wish I'd said that.

Guest blogger tomorrow. Come read about therapy dogs!

Sharona

Sunday, September 16, 2007

Black Bean Chili/Guest Blogger

First, on Tuesday, Sept. 18, I'll have a guest blogger. Author Catherine Stang will post here about her hobby, working with therapy dogs. I promise it will be interesting and inspiring!

Second, the weather cooled off enough here that I began hankerin' for my black bean chili. So, without further ado, here's the recipe. After that, I'm off to watch football! Have a great Sunday.

Sharona

Black Bean Chili

Notes: Although this dish is vegetarian, if you wanted, you could add cooked ground beef, or maybe some ham or a ham bone. Personally, I think ham would go better with the black beans.

The two "secret ingredients" are absolutely essential to the flavor of this chili!

Serves 6 generous portions

3 cans black beans, drained and rinsed (you could cook your beans from scratch, but canned beans work fine)
2 cans tomato and green chili mixture (you could use Ro-tel, or you could use a similar mixture that you can find in the Hispanic foods section of your grocery store--I like the Hispanic version better for the chili)
1 to 2 chopped sweet peppers, any color (amount of peppers varies according to how large your peppers are, and how much you like peppers)
1 medium onion, chopped
2 Tbsp. olive oil
2 Tbsp. chili powder
1 Tbsp. garlic powder
1 tsp. salt
1 Tbsp. unsweetened cocoa (secret ingredient #1)
1 Tbsp. blackstrap molasses (secret ingredient #2)

Put olive oil, peppers, and onion in a large pot or cook's pan (I have a nonstick 5-quart pan I use) and cook over med-high heat, stirring often, until peppers and onions are growing soft.
Add 2 cans of tomatoes and chilis and drained black beans. Stir to mix.
Add all remaining ingredients (chili powder through molasses) and mix well. When mixture begins to bubble, turn heat down to med-low and cover pan. Let simmer at least ten minutes for flavors to blend, stirring frequently. (Take care not to let the chili burn on the bottom, if you're not using a nonstick pan.)
Turn heat off and let it sit another five minutes. Stir well at end of five minutes.
Serve and enjoy, preferably with fresh cornbread. If you like, top the chili with shredded cheddar or "Mexican blend" cheese, and/or sour cream.

Thursday, September 13, 2007

The Funniest Video I've Seen in a While...

I received the link to a video on YouTube this morning that may be the funniest thing I've ever seen on the subject of being a mom. I investigated, discovered who the comedienne is, and obtained the link for the video ("Total Momsense") on her web site. She's Anita Renfroe. The woman is talented!

The video is G-rated, so no worries if the kids walk into the room while you're watching it. However, your kids may not like what they hear.

(The video takes a while to load, so be patient. It also seems to start in the middle of the song, and I don't know why. But what's there is hilarious.)

Pass it on to all the moms you know--maybe even your own! Aw, c'mon, it's less than two minutes long, and the best laugh you'll get all day.

Still laughing,

Sharona

Wednesday, September 12, 2007

My Favorite Cornbread

We're enjoying a beautiful Indian Summer day here in southern NJ. This morning there was a tiny nip in the air, and with the approach of fall, I bake more often.

I love cornbread. My late Granny made the best in the world. (Only my opinion, of course.) I've come up with a recipe that's almost as good (probably the bacon grease she used made her cornbread taste better, but I don't do bacon grease any more). Note that this is Southern-style cornbread--not a speck of flour in it! No sugar, either!

My Favorite Cornbread

1 3/4 c. yellow corn meal
1 tsp. baking soda
1 tsp. salt
1 3/4 c. buttermilk
1 large egg (if eggs aren't large, use 2 smaller eggs)
4 Tblsp. melted *salted* butter (I do use real butter, not margerine)
An iron skillet (you are planning to use an iron skillet, right? Though in a pinch, a glass one--or other baking dish--will do, as long as it can take the high heat)

1. Preheat oven to 475 degrees.
2. Mix together the corn meal, baking soda, and salt.
3. Beat the egg, then combine it with the buttermilk. Mix.
4. Add the buttermilk-egg mixture to the corn meal mixture.
5. Beat until the lumps are gone--this is best done by hand, it doesn't take long.
6. Melt the tablespoons of butter in the skillet. If not using a skillet, then melt the butter in the microwave and swirl the melted butter in the pan to coat the inside. If not using a well-seasoned skillet, a non-stick baking pan is recommended.
7. After coating the pan's inside with the butter, pour the rest of the butter from the skillet into the batter. Mix.
8. Pour batter into pan and bake for 15-20 minutes. I like to check mine at the 15-minute mark. Cornbread is done when it is a nice golden brown.
9. Turn skillet/pan upside down over a plate. (Watch out--the pan will be very hot!) Cut into wedges and enjoy the cornbread hot with plenty of butter, and preferably with some pinto beans and greens.

Sharona

Tuesday, September 11, 2007

Remembrance and Time

Most likely you know what today represents to the thousands of families and friends who lost loved ones six years ago today.

September 11, 2001, hit me so hard that all I have are prayers and tears, not fancy words. I have nothing special to say, except a kind of memento mori--cherish your family and friends while they are on this earth, for tomorrow they may be gone.

In a post on the Fasola (Sacred Harp) list, singer Mike Hinton posted about the recent United Convention's 104th Annual Session. As part of that post, he included a poem which I find especially powerful and meaningful on this day. I beg his indulgence, and Barney Lee's indulgence, for reproducing it here. Barney Lee is one of David Lee's uncles.

The poem:

The Clock of Life, by Barney Lee

The clock of life is wound but once
And no man has the power
To tell just when the hands will stop
At late or early hour

Now is the only time you own
Live, love, work with a will
Place no faith in tomorrow
The clock may then be still

"Now is the only time you own"--I could not have said it better.

Say "I love you" today to those you cherish.

Sharona

Saturday, September 08, 2007

Birthdays!

Two birthdays I want to mention.

My daughter turns thirty tomorrow (the 9th). Happy Birthday to her! She and her dig buddies plan to go into the nearest town for ice cream. She's not much on eating cake, but she loves ice cream. Having a milestone birthday in an exotic locale is, I'm certain, pleasing for her. She's always been quite the world traveler, unlike her homebody mom. (Not that I don't enjoy traveling--I do. Just not as much as she does.)

And.... Happy Birthday, Jeff Sheppard! Jeff and Shelbie and family are some of my favorite singers/Sacred Harp people. May you have many more, Mister Jeff! Sending hugs and love to you.

Sharona

Friday, September 07, 2007

Clutter

Some people like to clean out their living spaces and get rid of stuff in the spring. For me, fall has always been the time of cleaning and preparation. I think it has something to do with all those years I spent in school--September is one of my favorite months, and one of my busiest. It has the feeling of new beginnings to me.

After grieving my daughter's absence (she is finally at the dig house, safe and sound, in remote southern Egypt), I became energized with a plan: not only would I write every day and finish a couple of manuscripts I want to submit, I would clear out my clutter, deep-clean the house, and surprise my daughter when she returns from Egypt. (I don't think she reads my blog.)

When she returns, she will only be home about a month before she embarks on a ten-month stay in Cairo, where she will live while researching her dissertation and consulting with curators at the various museums. (Her grant requires that she spend the entire ten months in Cairo.) During the month she's home, I am going to do as little work as possible so as to spend time with her, and celebrate what I've dubbed "HallowThanksMas" (because we'll celebrate three holidays at once during that month she's home).

I'm looking forward to that period of respite. But for now, I'm going back to work.

Sharona

Tuesday, September 04, 2007

Empty Nest, Empty Heart

My heart flew coach yesterday.

My daughter's in Cairo, where she and her group will stay for a couple of days before taking a long train ride to the remote area where the dig is, Abydos. She's worked at this dig before, but for some reason, this time her leaving hit me like a Mickey Finn.

I've never been a clingy mom. I've always encouraged my daughter to be independent, even tough. I taught her how to take care of herself and how to be streetwise. And, while I knew that mothering was a life-long job, I always figured her departures would get easier, the older she grew.

Well, she'll be thirty in days, and let me tell you, her departure this time was the hardest one yet. I cried a lot after taking her to the airport. I mean, A LOT.

I tear up easily, but I don't usually have crying jags that go on and on and on. Yesterday, I did. Everywhere I looked, I could see her absence, and it hurt so much. I couldn't sleep last night, anxious to hear that she'd arrived safely in Frankfurt, where they changed planes. And this morning I was never more that a few feet from both my email and phone, waiting to hear that she and her group had made it to Cairo. The space behind my eyes aches because it's full of unshed tears of longing for her.

So, today, my heart's not in my chest. It's in Cairo. And my house is as empty as my chest feels.

Sharona

Monday, September 03, 2007

Chat! Chat! Chat! Tuesday Night Online

I'm doing a chat on Tuesday, Sept. 4, from 8 to 10 PM EDT, with a bunch of other authors. I think it's going to be great fun! For instructions regarding accessing the chat, be sure to read all the way to the bottom.

I hope you can join us for at least part of the time!

Sharona

CHAT AT COFFEE TIME ROMANCE TUESDAY, SEPTEMBER 4, 8 PM TO 10 PM EDT

Do you need a girl's night out after a long Labor Day weekend with
the kids? How about taking a virtual one? Come stop by the Coffee
Time Romance chat room Sept 4 from 8-10 pm EST for some hot talk.

CHAT INSTRUCTIONS:

First of all you might want to log into our Chat System so you can be
familiar with the system. It is easy to use and quick. Then you
will be set for the Chat that evening. To get to the chat
room...click on this link:

http://www.coffeetimeromance.com/ctr_chat.htm

When you get the screen completely uploaded (JAVA) it will you for
your User name prior to going into the room.

Username - Please put in your full Author's name. This way readers
who remember your author name

Avatar - To get yourself an Avatar once you are in the room look in
the top left hand corner. Click on "Action" and then select "My
Avatar" And choose a picture.

Just so you know....during the chat...the room will refresh
occasionally...you will hear a little bing. The Chat Room also makes
a ding sound when people enter or leave the room.

One other thing you can cut and paste into our chat box. This will
help for you to be able to put in a full 6 lines about your book when
you are asked about it. This is a wonderful feature that will help
cut down on your typing. So you might want to get your book blurbs
read in advance and have them available for easy access. Also you
might want to have your web site address available to copy and
paste. Here are some quick instructions:

· Highlight the area that you want to copy
· Either right click and select copy or hit CTRL "C" (same time) and
that will copy
· Then put your cursor where you want to paste the material (in the
box of the chat room) and either right click and select Paste or hit
CTRL "V"
· Your text will appear in the box

VERY IMPORTANT: Make sure you share this information with your
groups/blogs/readers. Or you can send me the links and/or information
and I will have our promo person send a beautiful promotion to your
group. Just let me know!

Also please realize that this is not a moderated chat.

"Marine Corps Railroad-Style Barbecue Sauce"

Time for a recipe! I haven't tried this one yet, but it sounds mmm-mmm good. I found it on a web site called The Dollar Stretcher. You'll have to read the entire article to understand why it's called "Railroad-Style".

Marine Corps Railroad-Style Barbecue Sauce

1 24-oz. bottle ketchup
3-4 tablespoons molasses
a couple of good shakes Tabasco sauce
2 tsp. apple cider vinegar
1 tsp. onion powder
1 tsp. garlic powder
1/2 tsp. MSG (optional)
1 tsp. salt
1/2 tsp. black pepper

All ingredients can and should be adjusted to suit your taste.
This sauce turns out differently every time I make it, but it
is always delicious.

Mix all ingredients, and pour liberally over and under your
favorite cheap meat in roasting pan. Cover and cook at 275
degrees F for 3 to 6 hours or until tender.

Copyright "The Dollar Stretcher, Inc." 2007. Permission granted for non-commercial reproduction.