Monday, November 24, 2014

A little slice of Australia...

I've always been fascinated with history, and last weekend my boyfriend and I had a chance to explore a little piece of local history. 

I live in a small town in country Victoria, Australia. The discovery of gold in the area in 1857 set off a bit of a boom, though most of the area is known for farming, and there are some beautiful old homesteads in the area from that era that remind me a little of the one from The Man From Snowy River, which is one of my favourite movies (I'm not sure if this is a movie Americans might have seen, but its definitely a fun one!). 

So when one of the local homesteads, 'Lexington' was opened for the day for an Open Garden, I was keen to explore. Market stalls, a band, gorgeous gardens, and delicious food. Count me in. 

Here are a few of the photos, to show a little bit of a different Australia to the one usually seen in tourism photos. 

The style of the house is set facing the South, which is Georgian apparently. 




The local Grampians mountain range.


I adore rose gardens, and this one was beautiful. 



The best part of the day, however, was the home-made ice cream one of the stalls was selling. Salted caramel ice cream in a waffle cone. Unfortunately I don't have a picture of that one: it didn't last long enough. 

Question: Out of curiosity, has anyone seen any Australian films? I'm actually not certain if they distribute worldwide. 

Friday, November 21, 2014

MOCKINGJAY!!!


Today is the day thousands of Hunger Games fans have been waiting for. Mockingjay (Part 1) has arrived in theaters! W0000T!

So far I've been very impressed with how the films are staying true to the books. I had been especially leery of CATCHING FIRE and was relieved that it did not disappoint.

I admit to being disappointed about the movie being split into 2 parts, mostly because it'll be torture waiting yet ANOTHER year to see the next installment, but also because I worry that there is not enough material to merit 2 movies. They'll have to put stuff in, or extend battle scenes, or something. Let's hope they don't put in anything ridiculous or out of character, or turn the movie into an overdose of gratuitous CGI explosions.
I also admit that I won't be joining the masses on opening day. I have major issues with crowds so my son and I are going on Monday.
Who else is looking forward to Mockingjay? Do you think it will live up to the book?

Thursday, November 20, 2014

AUTUMN COMFORTS: Scalloped Potatoes (A Recipe Post)

November may not be the shortest month of the year, but it always seems to fly past--possibly because it’s one of the busiest. Holidays, elections, shopping at its most insane (Black Friday, anyone?), personal challenges like the Great American Smoke-Out and National Novel Writing Month . . . finding the time to relax, reflect, and simply be in November is an ongoing challenge, even with that extra hour we regain when Standard Time resumes.

This year, after a challenging summer, I’m trying to take autumn slow and easy. That doesn’t mean being less productive--while I’m not participating in NaNoWriMo, I am on course to finish my WiP this month--but rather to enjoy the journey and not stress out so much about the destination or how fast I get there. And to savor whatever comforts the season has to offer.

I count cooking among those comforts. As the weather cools and the days grow shorter and darker, I find the kitchen one of the pleasantest places to be. Especially when something that smells wonderful and tastes even better is bubbling away on the stovetop or in the oven.

This recipe for scalloped potatoes is a family favorite, freely adapted from several recipes in our collection of ancient cookbooks. The proportions can be adjusted easily to feed a larger crowd (as written, this serves about 3 or 4 people), and it makes a delicious accompaniment to anything from Thanksgiving turkey or ham to humbler meatloaf or chops. And yes, it makes the house smell heavenly!


SCALLOPED POTATOES WITH CHEESE

3-4 medium to large baking potatoes (Russet or Yukon Gold)
1/3 c. flour
3 Tbsp. butter or margarine, cut into small pieces
1 c. grated cheese (I used sharp cheddar, but if you prefer milder cheeses, Gruyere is an excellent alternative)
Salt
Pepper
1 1/2-2 c. milk

Preheat oven to 375 degrees. Butter and flour a 1 qt. casserole dish.

Peel potatoes and slice into rounds no thicker than ¼ ".  Place a layer of slices on the bottom of the casserole dish. Season with salt and pepper, then sprinkle about a Tbsp. of flour over the potato slices. Dot with butter and add a layer of cheese. Repeat until potato slices are used up (you’ll probably end up with about three layers). Sprinkle the top with any remaining cheese.


 Heat milk in saucepan until scalding. Pour over stacked potatoes. The top layer should still be visible through the liquid. (If you have more milk than you need, set it aside. You can always add it later in the cooking process, if the potatoes absorb what’s already there.)

Cover casserole with foil and bake for 40 minutes. Remove foil and bake for 20 more minutes until potatoes are fork-tender and golden-brown on top.


Serve hot, as a side dish to just about anything!


Pamela Sherwood

Wednesday, November 19, 2014

A Time for Thanks by Victoria Roberts


Meet James Theodore. Wee Jamie is the newest bairn to our clan. He's my handsome nephew who was born on September 30, 2014. Can you believe all that hair? He was welcomed home by his big sister, Maisy.

I was fortunate enough to spend a week at my sister's house to help her out after the baby was born. How quickly we forget how much it truly takes a village to care for a newborn. But don't get me wrong. There's nothing like the feeling of a new life curling up in your arms. Babies truly are a miracle. My sister and I had a great time, and I really enjoyed being able to help her out. I didn't get the chance to do that when my niece was born because my niece and my son are only seven months apart. The two of them are so funny because they fight like an old married couple one minute, and the next minute they're playing like BFF's.

This was wee Jamie's first trip to Toys 'R Us. He makes for a fine pirate. Aargh!

Our clan has a lot to be thankful for this holiday season. Our families are happy and healthy, and a new life in the world makes you realize how grateful you are for your own.

What are you thankful for this holiday season?

Tuesday, November 18, 2014

Feeling a Lot Like Christmas

by M.L. Buchman

I've been discovering one of the great joys of the Christmas season that comes with being a writer. Throughout the year I work at my craft, I develop my novels, I consider where I want my series to go. And, because I'm a research hound, I plunge off into the world of research to learn about attitudes, practices, equipment, world events, etc. etc. etc.

And then comes Christmas!

Christmas comes early for a writer. In July or August, we start to consider what story we want to tell. What character wishes for a cheery holiday season. Which one wants to just cut loose and find a holiday romance. Will everyone else (at least north of the equator) is sweating it out, writers wander off to far cooler climes.

Through August, September, even October (and occasionally November because after all we're writers and schedules can be a severe challenge when a book takes far longer than you planned), we delve away on Christmas tales. It is a splendidly merry time of year to be a writer!

And this year I realized that I have been gifted with the joy of diving into this particular Santa's bag of joy three years in a row, each time in my Night Stalkers world of military romantic suspense. How cool is that? And how much fun!

In just two days, my Night Stalkers series will grow its third Christmas story, a Christmas at Steel Beach.

Yes, that's a hovercraft in the background. After all, what's Christmas without a hundred-ton hovercraft? Right? Of course right!

A "Steel Beach" is a day off on the Navy ships when their part of the world is momentarily quiet and then can simply stop. There are barbeques, sporting events (like tricycle races, seriously), sunbathing, and swimming off a "Steel Beach."

The supreme joke on this writer?
I didn't learn that "Steel Beach" was a real thing until after I finished and named the book! (Writing is such a peculiar job...in all the best ways.)

Here's three years of Christmas Triple joy!

I can't begin to tell you how much fun it is as a writer to give yourself such a present each year. To have something like this to look forward to, to play with! I can only hope my readers have as much fun as I did when I jumped off the Steel Beach for Christmas (look for it in just a few days).


Oooo! I can't wait for next summer!

Monday, November 17, 2014

romance among the stars

Some of my favourite TV shows are sci-fi. I grew up watching Doctor Who and Star Trek, moved on to Farscape, returned to the rebooted Doctor Who, and loved the rebooted Battlestar Galactica (I never saw the original).

There is something about sci-fi that I love. Maybe it's tech or the cool aliens (Farscape did aliens so well)...or simply the human drama of being in space and trapped on a ship with limited supplies where danger is never far away.

Farscape and BSG also threw in some romance which I loved:)  Who didn't want John Crichton and Aeryn Sun to get together?

It was only a matter of time before I started writing sci-fi romance.

The ES Siren series has no aliens but plenty of human drama as the ship makes it's way to the new colony. What's extra fun about this series is that Mel Teshco and Denise Rossetti also write books in the world so on release day the publisher puts out 3 books...yep 3 at a time so there's no waiting around to see how the mini crisis resolves.

The first three books are available now and the next three are out on 25 November...and there will be more, just got to get my contract signing pen out ;)

If you like SFR come and join Mel, Denise and I (and some friends who also write SFR) for an evening of aliens, tech, romance and giveaways at our Facebook party.



Shona
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Saturday, November 15, 2014

Turkey, turkey, turkey!

Remember that movie, Homeward Bound, when the two dogs and the cat make their way back home and the younger dog runs in the house saying, "turkey, turkey, turkey"?

That's the feeling that we get around our house as Thanksgiving approaches. It's the holiday when all our kids, their friends, their in-laws or whoever they can get in the van, the truck or in the car to bring with them come home for Thanksgiving. And just like Chance, the dog in the middle in the picture, I can just hear them saying, "Turkey, turkey, turkey" as they park those vehicles and come running toward the house.

Dinner, served buffet style, goes on the bar, the fold out table, the dry sinks in the dining room and the stove. Feasting begins at noon as soon as the blessing is said. Sometimes Mr. B says grace but he has been known to call upon the youngest child in the house to say the prayer before "turkey, turkey, turkey" begins.

It's our holiday to the kids so they don't have to bring a thing but at the end of the day they do have to take home leftovers. That's the number one rule. So that means Mr. B and I start planning and cooking ahead of time seein' as how there will be anywhere from thirty to fifty people here for the day. With that in mind, I thought I'd share a couple of our recipes with you today.

One of the questions I was asked at the Readers 'n Ritas conference last weekend was what was my favorite Thanksgiving food. And I did not hesitate one minute before saying, "Mr. B's pecan pie." He makes an almighty mean one and his secret is to never substitute margarine for butter, to always use dark Karo syrup and to always, always chop the pecans very fine.
 
Pecan Pie
1 cup sugar
1 cup dark Karo syrup
3 eggs
1 t. vanilla
2 T. melted butter
1-1/2 cups pecans, chopped very fine
1 9 inch pie crust, either homemade or purchased at the store

Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Mix all the ingredients together and pour into the pie shell. Set on a cookie sheet and bake one hour. Remove from oven and let stand several hours before cutting.

I'm pretty sure I'd be booted out of heaven if I didn't make my famous hot rolls for Thanksgiving. You can pretend that they take hours and hours of slaving to make but really they aren't that hard to make, folks!
HOT ROLLS
2 cups of warm water
2 packages of dry yeast (or if you buy it in bulk like I do, 2 T. yeast)
1/2 cup sugar
Stir together and let stand until it foams
Add 3 cups of flour
2 eggs
1/2 cup cooking oil
1 Tablespoon salt
Stir well and then add 2-3 more cups of flour.
Knead a few times in the bowl. Cover and set aside until doubled in size. If I'm making rolls for dinner (that would be the noon meal here in southern Oklahoma), I make it up just before I go to bed and then it's ready the next morning, but it can be ready in about an hour and a half if you want to wait to make it.
Turn the dough out on a floured surface and knead a few times then pinch off rolls about half the size you want them to be and place in a 9x11 baking pan. This will make two pans or about 24 rolls. Cover and let raise again for about an hour, then bake at 350 degrees until golden brown. Brush melted butter over the tops while they are still hot.

The rest of the meal is fairly traditional...baked beans, macaroni and cheese, cranberry/orange relish with pecans of course, ham, "turkey, turkey, turkey", smoked brisket, meat balls, loaded mashed potatoes, candied sweet potatoes, fruit salad and this year we're adding pumpkin enchiladas and of course there are desserts in addition to the pecan pie: cherry pie, cherry cheesecake, pumpkin cheesecake, traditional pumpkin pie and triple fudge cake with chocolate strawberries (this is because our daughter was born on Thanksgiving and we always have her birthday that day and now our new grandson-in-law has a birthday two days after hers). Oh, I almost forgot the hash brown casserole and those fancy potato things that my son-in-law, the chef, makes. The menu might seem big but hey, the kids love the leftovers and you never know just how many friends they might bring with them.

Let the cooking, the feasting and the fun begin...
"turkey, turkey, turkey!"

What's is your absolute must have food at the holidays?

Friday, November 14, 2014

How Do Eyes Frame Truth and Emotion?

Your eyes give you away. A split-second, angled glance speaks volumes to the person facing you.

You may be rolling your eyes, thinking: "Come on. A quick glance up means something?"

Yes. Every tick, every angle, every number of blinks.

Think of your iris (your eye's colored circle). Researchers have measured 360 degree shifts of the iris to decipher our non-verbal communication. Those little movements mean big messages. Here's how those findings translate to you:


1. Length of a look



Have you ever wondered about that guy who made eye contact with you in Starbucks? Is he attracted? Or do you have a smear of latte foam on your face?

Here's how "the glance" breaks down. Two seconds or less is purely investigational. A noise might have distracted the guy and he looked your way.

If his look is at least four seconds...watch out! Once you break the four second threshold, attraction is in play. He's interested. He likes what he sees and is curious for more.

And, sure, you're not timing those glances, more like we feel the difference.

Now you're forewarned the next time you're in Starbucks.



2. Looking up
This shows thinking. Any teachers or moms out there? If your student/child looks up while doing homework or practicing their spelling words, then you most likely have a visual thinker on your hands. They need images to process information. The speller is picturing the word.

This next part gets a little sticky.

Looking upwards to the left typically means recalling information. Looking upwards to the right means someone is constructing a picture. This can also indicate lying. Ouch!

A simple truth is we all lie to some degree.

The left and right looks can be switched, too. The direction is dependent on which side is dominant for the person. Just ask someone to recall a simple fact and notice which way they glance up. Then ask them to imagine something and look at their eye direction. That's how you'll know their pattern.


3. Looks of Lust and Love 



Ever heard the term doe eyes? Eyes go soft and gewy over a love interest. Muscles relax around the eye. Focus changes. You're trying to take in the whole person because this is love and lust rolled into one look. The gaze is prolonged, pupils dilate, and eyes look shiny.

Historical romance buffs will like this: Ancient Egyptian and Babylonian women put belladonna in their eyes to lure men with dark, glossy-eyed looks. Don't try that home! While belladonna is a pretty plant, it's also poisonous. I used belladonna in my book, Meet the Earl at Midnight, but not for eye lust.

Whether you're communicating love, lust, or lies, your eyes speak volumes.

What are you saying to people today?

Thanks for stopping by today. Got any "eye" contact Starbucks stories you want to share?

Wednesday, November 12, 2014

What A Lady REALLY Needs for Christmas.... by Grace Burrowes

Where I live, the first frost has hit. My daughter in Denver has seen snow on the ground, and slightly north of her, the bitter cold and heavy snow accumulations have already started.

It's November, our next holiday is Thanksgiving, and for some people, that makes this the toughest time of year.

Cold keeps us indoors, shorter periods of sunlight can affect mood and energy. Most of us are making less Vitamin D, and that has all manner of metabolic implications. Flu season is upon us, driving can become perilous, and soon we'll be expected to come up with clever, insightful, tasteful, but not too expensive gifts for half the people we know or work with.

This can be a tough time of year, but NOT FOR ME.

I recently figured out that I sleep better in the colder weather, and thus I have more energy than when it's warm--despite the lack of sunlight. I also have more time to myself, and being a Warp Nine introvert, time to myself is another place I find more energy. Because of snow days and holidays, I have more time to stay home and marathon-write, and that's another source of energy and joy for me. When the leaves come off the big maple trees surrounding my little log cabin, my house has more natural light, and it's that sharp, contrasty winter light that seems to pierce all gloom.

I love this time of year, but not for the usual reasons. Not the getting together, not the holiday meals, not the time off from "work."  The depths of winter are Grace Holidays--solitude, big word counts, good sleep.

Often in our romance novels, the hero or heroine has to re-examine what is working for them, and what isn't. My heroines come to the realization that they loathe the shallowness and exhaustion of a London season. The heroes might have to admit they're not keen on hanging out in smelly, smokey, clubs; they aren't fond of brandy; and they like loud waistcoats.

We should all have permission to assess what about social assumptions works for us, and what doesn't, and to readjust accordingly. I've more or less backed into my ideal winter season, with lots of "writing holidays," time to myself, and cozy reading in the late evenings. Many other people thrive on the holiday shopping, the frequent socializing, and the hordes of house guests.

Where do you fall on the continuum between people who thrive in winter, and those who simply endure it? What's your ideal winter holiday, and is there a way you could have some of that, despite all the expectations you might have fulfill to the contrary?

To one commenter, I'll send a $25 Amex gift card, which I hope she'll use FOR HERSELF. To two other commenters, I'll send a signed copy of What A Lady Needs for Christmas.

Tuesday, November 11, 2014

Start of a New Series from Mia Marlowe!

I always tell the writers who pop by my Red Pencil Thursday that the beginning of anything is a delicate time. In the case of a series, a writer has to introduce a large enough cast in an interesting enough world with enough unresolved situations to make readers ready to come back for Book 2, but not so many that they don't feel Book 1 didn't address enough of them to be satisfying on its own.

As I said, delicate.

So far however, the reviewers seems to think I've managed it with A Rake By Any Other Name. Here's what some of them say:

"Marlowe shines with a delightful and delicious comedy of errors for the first book in her new series, Somerfield Park. There's an heiress, a reluctant groom, a superfluous fiancee, secrets and scandals galore. Fast-paced, well-plotted and populated with authentic and lively characters. Regency fans will love this page-turner!" ~ RTBOOKReviews



"If future installments are anything like this little gem, count me in as a loyal reader!" ~ The Romance Reviews

A Rake by Any Other Name "had everything I could ask for in a delightfully entertaining historical romance novel. There was romance, mystery, scandal, blackmail, a bevy of intriguing and colorful characters, and a couple of twists thrown in for good measure. I couldn’t put it down." ~ UrbanGirlReader.com

However, the review I'm really interested in is yours, dear reader. You can try the first chapter on my website. Please let me know what you think of the world of Somerfield Park! I introduce at least 6 characters. Do you have favorite?

Ebook: Kindle | Nook | Kobo | iBooks |

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Monday, November 10, 2014

Release Day: Lady Elinor's Wicked Adventures




Some years ago, I came across a treasure trove—four Baedeker guides from 1887. Maybe that isn’t everyone’s idea of a treasure, but it certainly is mine.

I don’t think it was those guidebooks that gave me the idea to have my Victorian characters go off traveling for their adventures, but they did remind me that guidebooks are a wonderful source for research. You can find out how people got from place to place, where they might stay, what they would see.

Guide books also tell you something about the people who were traveling too. People have always moved around the globe, but generally for a reason. Wealthy gentlemen in the 17th and 18th centuries might go on the Grand Tour to round out their education, and starting in the 18th century people like Lizzie Bennett and the Gardiners might go touring—with a guidebook to tell them which houses were worth looking at.

As an aside, I’ve always thought it must be rather fun to be a nobleman who could go up to a house belonging to total strangers, hand in your card, and expect to be invited to stay the night. For other people, it took a certain level of wealth and leisure to be able to travel, and that doesn’t really happen until the 19th century. 

There’s a guide book from 1770, The Gentleman’s Guide in the Tour Through France wrote by an officer.  According to its subtitle, its purpose is to urge travelers “Not to spend more Money in the Country of our natural Enemy, than is requisite to support, with Decency, the Character of an Englishman.”

Sure enough, the directions on how to get from place to place, what to see when you get there, and how to arrange for meals and a place to stay are all interspersed with warnings on how to avoid being cheated. 

The Napoleonic Wars made travel around Europe a bit difficult, but once Waterloo settled that problem, people were on the move. If you couldn’t find any other reason to travel, you could always do it for your health. In 1820, Mariana Starke wrote Travels in Europe for the use of Travellers on the Continent. It went through numerous editions, and was frequently plagiarized. By the 1839 edition, she was noting that both roads and accommodations had greatly improved, but still the “least fatiguing” way to travel, and the best for invalids, was to go by sea, or by sea and canal.

In the 1830s, the German publisher Karl Baedeker began putting out his Handbooks for Travellers, which were translated into English by the 1860s. And in 1836 the English publisher John Murray began putting out his own Handbooks for Travellers.The age of the tourist had begun.

These handbooks are full of practical information, and most of them are available on the Internet. I used them to figure out just precisely how Lady Emily and her family got from London to Rome and how long it would take them. I didn’t put it all in the book, of course, but I needed to know.

Aside from the useful stuff, something I find truly interesting about these guidebooks is the wealth of historical and artistic information they contain, and the total absence of information about shopping and entertainment. One of the ones I have, the 1887 guide to Southern Italy, has six pages of small type devoted to the history, architecture and decoration of Pompeii, followed by another eighteen pages guiding you through all the buildings that had been excavated so far. The original owner of the book was there in January 1890—he penciled the date in the margin—and checked off almost every building.

They were serious travelers those Victorians.
 


For more information on how Victorians traveled, check out my new release Lady Elinor's Wicked Adventures!

***

Harry de Vaux, Viscount Tunbury, has loved Lady Elinor Tremaine for as long as he can remember—but is convinced that his past makes him unworthy of her. He agrees to accompany the Tremaine family to Italy to explore Etruscan ruins, even if it chips away at his resolve to stay away from the delightful woman he loves.

The intrepid Lady Elinor is caught up in the Victorian fervor for exploring distant lands. But during her travels she is thrown back into the company of an old friend, Harry de Vaux. Amid the sightseeing and treasure hunting, Elinor comes to realize that she wants far more from Harry than friendship. But when a dangerous discovery leaves them fighting for their lives, it might just be too late...

Lillian Marek was born and raised in New York City (the center of the universe). At one time or another she has had most of the interesting but underpaid jobs available to English majors. After a few too many years in journalism, she decided she prefers fiction, where the good guys win and the bad guys get what they deserve.

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