Thursday’s Thoughts: Decisions, Decisions

My friend Michelle brought up something on her blog recently that runs alongside what I’ve lately been thinking.

I’m sure you’ve noticed, and it’s hardly worth mentioning, but there’s a lot of conflicting advice out there. About everything, from health (are eggs bad for you?) to finances (what’s the best place to put your money?) to the effect running your car’s air conditioning has on the gas mileage on a hot day (is it better to drive with the windows down instead?). And, of course, as Michelle observed, about writing.

Some things are no-brainers; if you’ve got common sense, use it. Some issues require trial and error to solve. Still others deal with matters that are in such a state of flux, by the time we figure out what works best, it doesn’t anymore.

Do you ever feel overwhelmed by it all? If you’re alive, my guess is you do. So what do we do about it?

First, view with suspicion any advice that contains the words “always” or “never,” unless they acknowledge exceptions to the rule. Second, give greater heed to the voice of experience than to the authority who goes on book knowledge alone. Use your own judgment; only you know the details of your particular situation.

Above all, accept the fact that you’re going to make mistakes; you’re human. Do your best to make the right decision, and if you mess up, deal with it and move on.

And be patient with others who are in the same fix. Once you’ve reached the point where you never make a bad call, you’re free to criticize others when they foul things up. Until then, cut them a little slack.

At least, that’s the way I see it. I could be wrong, though…

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Monday Musings: Sweet!

When Craig and I were married in October of 1975, we had different ideas about Christmas. (Among other things.)

In his mind, there was only one good thing about the holiday, and he loved that one thing: cookies. As far as I was concerned, cookies didn’t have much to do with Christmas.

It took us quite a few years to work through this difference of opinion. When I made a few batches of cookies to humor him, it wasn’t enough to satisfy, which put us both in bad humor. When I refused to make any at all, he made them himself. When I felt guilty about leaving the cookie-making to him, I put on the baker’s apron again. Finally, about twenty years into our marriage, I was making a lot of cookies every year and, following his mother’s practice, making up tins and collections of my handiwork to pass out to family, friends, the mailman, and the paper carrier.

Then, four or five years ago, we discovered the reason Craig had been sick almost every day of his miserable life: he couldn’t tolerate wheat gluten. This was a life-changing revelation. It was Christmas-changing, too. Not being able to eat wheat closed a lot of doors where cookies were concerned.

This is not to say he can’t eat any cookies, because there are some gluten-free options. But most of his old favorites, the things that made Christmas tolerable for him, were now off-limits.

Over the years, though, I’ve learned to adapt some of those old favorite recipes so that he can eat them. Two of them are fruitcake (yes, good fruitcake is a true gastronomic delight. But too many of the perversions that call themselves “fruitcake” give all the breed a bad rep) and pumpkin cheese roll.

You know, the rolled pumpkin cake with the decadent cream cheese filling? I discovered I can make my old recipe with a gluten-free flour without ruining it. And I don’t make that claim lightly. I find most gluten-free baked goods—that is, things that are ordinarily made with wheat flour but are adapted to suit a wheat-free diet—barely edible. But in this case, the substitution yields a good enough result that even us gluten-eaters enjoy it.

The reason might have something to do with a combination of the small amount of flour in the cake along with the fact that the cake itself plays second fiddle to the cream cheese filling. In baked goods where flour is the foundational ingredient, wheat is too vital to switch out for another flour.

Are you interested in the recipe? I’m happy to provide it!

First, though, I’ll give you directions for making my handy-dandy gluten-free flour mixture. As noted above, you can’t just substitute this for wheat flour in any old recipe; but in some situations, you can use this mix instead of ordinary all-purpose flour. Simply combine:

1½ c. white rice flour
1 c. brown rice flour
1 c. potato starch
1 c. tapioca flour
½ c. cornstarch
½ c. bean flour (soy, garbanzo, or fava)
2. T. xanthan gum

I keep a container of this in my freezer at all times, so when I want a little bit of flour, it’s always available. Why the freezer? Sometimes, flours can get rancid over time if kept at room temperature. Because I don’t use them very quickly, I keep all my flours in the freezer so they’ll still be good when I want them.

Okay, now for the pumpkin roll recipe:

Cake Ingredients:
3 large eggs
1 c. sugar
2/3 c. pureed pumpkin (or whatever winter squash you have handy)
1 t. lemon juice
¾ c. flour (for the gluten-free version, use ¾ c. of the mix described above)
1 t. baking powder
2 t. cinnamon
1 t. ginger
½ t. nutmeg
¼ t. salt
1 c. finely chopped walnuts (these can be omitted if someone in your family can’t eat nuts)
powdered sugar for sprinkling

Filling ingredients:
6 ounces cream cheese, at room temperature (2 3-oz. pkgs or 3/4 of an 8-oz. pkg)
4 T. butter, at room temperature (use real butter—not margarine)
1 c. powdered sugar
½ t. vanilla

Grease a jellyroll pan (17 x 11”). Line with parchment or waxed paper. Grease the paper generously. Set aside. Preheat oven to 375 degrees.

In a mixing bowl, beat eggs and sugar until thick, light, and creamy, about 3 to 4 minutes. Mix in pumpkin and lemon juice.

In a separate bowl, stir together the flour, baking powder, cinnamon, ginger, nutmeg, and salt. Fold it into the pumpkin mixture. Pour into the prepared pan; smooth top evenly. Sprinkle the chopped nuts over the top.

Bake for 12-15 minutes or until the top springs back when lightly pressed with fingertip and cake begins to pull away from the sides of the pan.

While the cake is baking, place a clean dishtowel on the counter. Sprinkle powdered sugar onto the towel. When the cake is done, remove it from the oven and immediately turn it upside-down onto the towel. Remove cake pan and paper. Beginning at narrow end of cake, roll towel and cake together; set aside, seam-side down, to cool.

Make the cream filling:
In mixing bowl, blend cream cheese and butter until light and fluffy. Slowly beat in sugar and vanilla extract.

When the cake is cool, unroll and remove towel. Spread cheese filling over the top. Roll again. The nuts will be on the outside of the cake.

Refrigerate for several hours.

May be wrapped in foil and frozen for one month.

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Saturday SitRep

I’ve remembered to be thankful and to post what I’m thankful for for the first three days of the planned 365. You’ll also notice that since I promised it, I’ve been keeping my Monday/Thursday/Saturday blogging schedule through thick and thin. I don’t know how any of this benefits anyone, but I find an intangible satisfaction in setting a goal and keeping it.

I’d find it more satisfying if it all translated into book sales.

Thanksgiving Day was a success in our house; good food and good visiting with good people. It would have been nice to have all the kids here, but we’ll have to wait for Christmas to get the whole gang together.

Yesterday, with the help of our son, Craig undertook a project he’s been wanting to tackle for quite some time: replacing some old, leaky plumbing in the basement. Because the leak was on the pipe coming into the house from the well, they had to shut off the water to the whole house. (This is why I persuaded him to save the project for after Thanksgiving instead of doing it earlier in the week, when I was cooking and cleaning in preparation.)

Prior to shutting off the water, we drew several bucketsfull (is that word?) to use for toilet flushing and washing up, and we had plenty of bottled water for drinking. So not having water wasn’t as much an inconvenience as it would have been had we not planned ahead for it. You know, like when there’s a storm and the power goes out and the well pump doesn’t work. That’s happened often enough that it seemed odd knowing we had no water, but I could still use the microwave and get things out of the refrigerator without worrying about letting the cold out, and work at the computer all afternoon. Just didn’t seem right.

So they finished the project about 5 pm. But the glue had to set for 12 – 24 hours before you could run water through it. The lunch dishes were still in the sink unrinsed, and I didn’t feel inclined to cook and eat supper but not be able to clean up until the next day; I’m not the best housekeeper, but I do have a strong aversion to leaving dirty dishes laying around. So we had to go out for dinner. (Something else to be thankful for!)

But I’m supposed to be writing about my writing situation, not plumbing. On that front, I’m not making as much progress as I’d like, thanks to the holiday. But rest assured, all’s well in Gannah.

We saw the season’s first flits of snow last night and a few more this morning. I’m ready for winter. Also, long to-do list in hand, I’m ready to have a good, productive weekend.

Wishing you the same!

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Thursday’s Thoughts: Thanks 365

It’s Thanksgiving Day!

And I won’t wax eloquent about it. You’ve probably already heard/read just about all you care to about the historical myths and truths surrounding it, the traditions associated with it, and the proper handling of leftover turkey.

As I probably mentioned last year, we often see lengthy discussions of Thanksgiving that make no mention of giving thanks, or who we’re expected to give thanks to. But not all discussions leave that out; there’s plenty of talk about gratitude as well.

But is it like Christmas, where the holiday glow creates warm fuzzies of goodwill toward our fellowman for a time, but we soon start sniping and griping again?

I don’t know about you, but I’m fed up with complaining. It seems the more we have to be thankful for, the more we whine. I’d like to make my home today a “Gripe Free Zone,” allowing only gracious speech and thankfulness to pass the lips of all who enter. But I doubt my ability to enforce such a measure.

So instead of trying to press the rest of my family into a mold of my choosing, I’ll concentrate on conforming myself to it and let everyone else do as they choose. This is what I plan to do: today and every day for the next year, I’ll post to this blog on my newly-created “Thanks 365” page, one thing I’m thankful for.

I expect that at first, it’ll be difficult to limit myself to one per day. When I start listing my blessings, one thing leads to another until praises tumble out all over the place. But unless I miss my guess, sooner or later the flow of gratitude will slow and I’ll have to work at it. We’ll see how bubbling-over with thanksgiving I am a few months from now, when I’ve exhausted my standard praise list.

Have you ever read the book One Thousand Gifts by Ann Voskamp? I hope to some day, but haven’t yet. I’ve heard a lot of good about it, and I like the concept. From what I’ve heard, it has a similar premise to what I propose today. I’m not copying Ann Voskamp’s idea or trying to build on what she’s started. But if you see this as a spin-off, that’s okay. Whatever gets us praising God instead of feeling sorry for ourselves.

So, you may well ask, what’s the first item on my list, the one thing I thank God for today? My cup is so full it’s hard to pour out a one-drop oblation, but here it is: I’m thankful God is leading me to appreciate the value of gratitude; I want it to take over my life.

The next time you hear me griping, remind me of that.



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Monday Fun Day: Quiz Results #1

Some of us weirdlings find this quiz thing fun, so I just might do it again. The days that I dedicate to fun and games shall now hereby be known as Monday Fun Day instead of the usual Monday’s Musings.

Today is the day you’ve awaited the past week: The Great Answer Reveal, when you get to find out how well you did on the “Do You Get Gannah?” quiz. I’ve reproduced the ten questions below, with the correct answer in blue as well as the percentage of respondents who chose each answer. As you can see, most of the whopping eight (count ’em, 8) people who took the quiz know Gannah pretty well. But the only thing everyone agreed on was how Gannahans take care of their teeth.

Mintstick, anyone?

1.   The name Gannah is from the ancient language of the planet, which is similar to:
The Earthers’ classic Greek
The Karkar traditional Xlxoklokish
X   The ancient Hebrew of the Terrestrials   [62.5%]
King James English                                                       [37.5%]

2.  Dassa grew up in the province of Ayin, which is known for:
X   Trees with multi-colored foliage  [75%]
A dense population of elves
Mild winters                                                     [25%]
A low literacy rate

3. To the best of anyone’s knowledge, Dr. Pik is the only one of his kind in the galaxy. That is, he is the offspring of:
A Karkar father and an Earthish mother                   [28.6%]
A Glenmarrian father and an Earthish mother
A Karkar father and a Cephargian mother
X An Earthish father and a Karkar mother  [71.4%]
[One respondent skipped this question]

4. The Gannahans were known throughout the galaxy as:
A violent, warlike people [12.5%]
A short, stocky race with near super-human capabilities
A people with bright-colored, piercing eyes
X All of the above        [87.5%]

5. The Karkar physical characteristics include:
X A tall, lanky frame                                            [50%]
Six fingers and toes on the left, five on the right [12.5%]
A swarthy complexion
All of the above                                                           [27.5%]
None of the above

6. Dr. Pick loves to play a strategy game similar to the Earthers’ game of chess. The game is called:
Hockphttf                [14.3%]
X   Hmmmjckt    [71.4%]
Chinese checkers
Ultimate zikzak
None of the above  [14.3%]
[One respondent skipped this question]

7.     Which two characters are starship captains?
X Edwin Broward and Dortius Dmitry    [71.4%]
Edwin Broward and Lawbby                                [28.6%]
James T. Kirk and Ferdinand Magellan
Dmitry and Lawbby
[One respondent skipped this question]

8. Before the Plague, Gannah had an unusual economic system. It involved:
Subcutaneous chips that are scanned upon making purchases [14.3]
Coins made from metal that changed shape according to the owner’s eye color
Paper money in the shape of leaves
All of the above
X None of the above                                                                        [71.4%]
[One respondent skipped this question]

9.     Which of the following describe the relationship between animals and humans on Gannah?
Humans considered all animals untrustworthy
Animals and humans could communicate                 [14.3%]
It was forbidden for a human to capture and imprison any animal for the purpose of domesticating it
X All of the above                                                        [71.4%]
None of the above
[One respondent skipped this question]

10. What did the Gannahans use for daily dental care?
A water pick
An air hose
A high speed rotating infrared laser brush
X A twig cut from a mintwood bush. [100%]

So there you have it. Have a great week!

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Saturday SitRep

Is it Saturday again already? How’d that happen?

It occurred to me a couple days ago that this Thursday is Thanksgiving. Ordinarily, I clean house from top to bottom — cabinets, closets, everything — for the occasion, but have decided not to do that this year, for a couple of reasons. So that’s why the holiday crept up on me; the flurry of activity that usually accompanies it is notably absent. I’ll do the basic cleaning-for-company type of thing in the coming week, but will save the thorough job for another occasion.

Have been moving forward on my WIP. Not sure why it’s such an agonizing ordeal, but it seems like I sweat bullets over every sentence. Lots of sweaty bullets lying around my office floor these days. They’re a pretty small caliber. Probably not worth much, but one of these days I’ll sweep them up and see what I have.

My first post as an official contributor to Speculative Faith went live on Wednesday, in case you missed it. I may not contribute to The Borrowed Book until February, which is good. I’ll have time to get ready before it’s time to jump in.

My last piece of news: I was contacted by a writer who asked me if she could pay me to critique a book she’s working on. Her message came in a couple hours after I’d prayed about the possibility of doing paid critiques. She and I went back and forth a little about the practical aspects of her request, came to an agreement, and have set in motion this new facet of my writing career. Expect to hear more about that later, as I consider launching a new website and marketing my critique services after the first of the year.

In the meantime, I’m collecting the results from the “Do You Get Gannah?” quiz and will share them, along with the correct answers, on Monday.

Have a great weekend!

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Thursday’s Thoughts: What Constitutes a Fantasy?

Had an interesting email conversation yesterday with a writer friend. The name of author Larry Woiwode came up, and she sent me a link to a blog interview she did with him in 2006.

It’s an interesting interview. At first, this statement of his confused me: There seems a mistaken conception that the primary genre of Christian fiction is fantasy. Who, exactly, has this alleged misconception? Most people would tell you the overwhelming majority of Christian fiction titles aren’t fantasy, but romance.

But then I read further. It appears he considers that romance is fantasy. Hmmm…

I see his point. Romances are unrealistic. They don’t portray an accurate view of the real world, but pander to the emotion and imagination. All in all, they’re pretty fantastical.

He also appears to lump the classic murder mystery/detective story in the same “fantasy” category. Interesting!

But let’s go back to the first statement and say romance novels are fantasy. If that isn’t what makes up the majority of Christian fiction, what does?

It appears he gives the name Christian fiction to a different sort of novel from what’s shelved under that label in the bookstores: “…the tradition has been almost wholly realistic, from Chaucer to Dostoyevsky to Flannery O’Connor, serving as application of the gospel.”

He has a different way of looking at things. And I think I like it.

I’ve recently ordered one of Mr. Woiwode’s books (a short story collection, Silent Passengers) and will move it to the top of my to-be-read list as soon as it arrives. I’m really curious about this guy.

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