Tuesday, November 30, 2010

The “Turkey Necks” of Life

I hope you shared a wonderful Thanksgiving with family and friends and counted your blessings with the five kernels of corn.  My oldest brother and youngest niece drove from the Deep South to join my family for this traditional gathering. My homemade pecan pie was a real hit, and my turkey turned out to be quite moist and delicious – despite the unexpected surprise while prepping the bird at my friend, Chrissie’s house.  You can enjoy the comedy in the kitchen ...

Yes, I was somehow the lucky one to pull out a turkey neck while washing the bird.  Typically the giblets and neck are neatly packaged in a tidy, white plastic bag.  I have decided to share my unscripted humiliation in the kitchen and view this moment as a unique lesson.  Each of us has our own “turkey neck” days, right? The messy moments of life aren’t always tucked neatly away in a disposable plastic bag.  Life can surprise us with something we don’t quite like the feel of or something we don’t know quite how to handle – like a turkey neck!  At first I had Chrissie deal with my problem as she so graciously finished pulling the turkey neck out and placed it in the sink for me.  But at the end of the video clip, I pick up that turkey neck on my own and throw it away.  I faced my fear of dealing with something that I didn’t expect.

What have some of your “turkey neck” moments of life been?  Would you mind sharing them with me?

My brother, Claude brings the turkey to the kitchen counter to carve.

Monday, November 29, 2010

Tuesday, November 23, 2010

Share Your Blessings (and WIN a book!)

Each Thanksgiving, my father would leave five kernels of corn by our plates. The backdrop for this family gathering was always a formal, Southern celebration held in the dining room with the Royal Copenhagen china and silver. The week before the festivities, I would sit in the kitchen and help my parents polish each silver fork, knife and spoon until they sparkled. My dad would whistle as he prepared the homemade cornbread in my grandmother’s cast iron griddle for the dressing while my mother baked the pecan pie and basted the turkey.
After each Thanksgiving dinner, my dad would tell us the story of the Pilgrims and how they faced starvation during that first winter. Each Pilgrim was allotted only five kernels of corn for a daily sustenance. As a very young girl, I confess that I enjoyed flicking these kernels of corn towards my brothers’ plates. But as I got older, I better understood the solemnity of this tradition. Each of us would take turns lifting the kernels by our plate and counting aloud five blessings – somehow these five kernels became three kernels as the years passed. Perhaps with two sons and a squirming daughter, my parents decided to shorten this tradition to keep our attention. However, this tangible act of giving thanks and counting our blessings was a lesson from childhood that I still remember.

Even today, this is special family tradition that I keep in an effort to remind my daughters to count their blessings, too. For simplicity sake, I use three “unpopped” popcorn kernels or frozen corn. I don’t always get around to polishing the silver, but I do try to make Thanksgiving dinner a time of remembrance and gratitude to God for all that He has done. Perhaps you can add this special touch of thanks at your table, too.  Let me know how it goes.  Happy Thanksgiving!

Win a coy of the Pearl Girls book - leave a comment and share your 'kernal' blessing here.

We'll give away three copies of Pearl Girls: Encountering Grit, Experiencing Grace. 

Contest ends 11/28.

Monday, November 22, 2010

Creative Chaos

Have you ever noticed that when you start an organization project or even a writing project that you create chaos?  As I was continuing to de-clutter my life last night, I seemed to create more of a mess with my attempt at organization.  But I didn’t get overwhelmed.  I persevered – separating the tangled cords of cellphones, cameras, and any other digital device into separate baskets, along with notebooks and papers and photographs.  The final result was accessible shelves.  A masterpiece.

As I rewrite my novel in an attempt to streamline the story, I am once again creating initial chaos.  But as I untangle the plot and better understand what motivates each character, I can then clean the clutter.  So when the reader opens the book, the shelves, or rather the pages will be accessible and easy to read.

What needs to be uncluttered in your home?  In your writing? What are you doing about it?

Thursday, November 18, 2010

Charity Chat: Healthy Home 2010

When their precious daughter, Colette was diagnosed with Wilms Tumor and passed away, Nancy and Jim Chuda looked in vain for any clues to the cause of her condition.  Much to their surprise, they found that there was very little scientific research on the link between the growing incidence of childhood cancer and environmental toxins.  These grieving parents became a voice for the nation and the world by founding the non-profit, Healthy Child Healthy World to educate parents about important things to do to keep their family safe from environmental toxins.

The recent construction of Healthy Home 2010 by Dior Builders in Palatine, Illinois is a culmination of over 16 years of scientific research and the collaboration of experts in a variety of areas to build a “Healthy Home” as a tangible means of educating the public about keeping families safe from environmental toxins. We spend at least 90% of our lives inside a home or building, so the quality of the environment can be essential to our good health.

This week Beth Engelman (aka Mommy on a Shoestring) and I had the opportunity to tour the stunning designer showcase, Healthy Home 2010.  Victoria DiIorio shared some insight into this wonderful project built by Dior Builders along with Cambria, Kohler, Holiday Kitchens, Susan Fredman Design Group, Greenguard and many other fine partners. 

Beth and I learned about the five steps to have a healthy home:
•    Avoid Pesticide;
•    Use Non-Toxic Products;
•    Clean up Indoor Air;
•    Eat Healthy;
•    Be Wise with Plastics

The first step is essential and easy to apply.  Take off your shoes before you enter your home and track in pesticides and other potential environmental hazards. Beth and I wore “slippers” to tour the Healthy Home 2010. For additional details on these steps, please go here.

How fascinating to learn about the intricate process of building and sustaining a “healthy home.” Much of the insulation was made from cotton and denim, including some recycled jeans! Almost all products were sourced locally. Chef George Economos from Whole Foods in Palatine discussed the importance of the kitchen in a healthy home and shared a great recipe for Classic Butternut Squash Soup. Here is my video interview with him 

In addition, I spoke with Penny Bonda, the Green Guru of America, about how her book and how she helped advise on ensuring that the interior decorating of Healthy Home 2010 is also environmentally safe.  Please enjoy that interview here:

You can purchase admission online to tour Healthy Home 2010.  All proceeds from the admission price go in full to Healthy Child Healthy World and to a local charity, Infant Welfare Society.  Tours are open to the public until November 21st.

Wednesday, November 17, 2010

Inside Guideposts Books

I just discovered wonderful blog posts by editors of Guideposts Books. Inside Guideposts Books provides a great insight into not only what books they are working on but also why they connected with certain stories. The website also provides video trailers with author interviews. It’s a great place to visit.

Beth Adams, a Senior Editor at Guideposts Books and I spoke on the phone today. We met years ago at ICRS in Denver. I asked her about Guideposts’ recent acquisition of Ellie Claire Gifts and its subsidiary Summerside Press.

Beth admires the success of Ellie Claire and Summerside Press and is thrilled to be working on the same team. She said with a chuckle, “For years I’ve been jealous of them and now I don’t have to be jealous anymore.”
Also on the Guideposts site, you can download for free the ebook Positive Thinking 2010: Rediscover The Power of Positive Thinking

Tuesday, November 16, 2010

Mise en Place

(Ranger Mike Designs)
I love the phrase “mise en place” – a culinary term, yet also a life lesson: “Everything in place.” Technically it means that before you prepare a dish, you have all the ingredients, bowls, and appliances you will need in one space.

As I conquer adult AD/HD, that culinary phrase takes on a whole new meaning.  I plan to apply “mise en place” on a daily basis – starting with my kitchen.  Last night was productive.  I tackled an extremely cluttered pantry that had cans of soup which had expired in 2008!  How empowering to clear that mess and put everything in order.  I can now open the pantry and see what items need to be replenished.

I have begun the process of preparing for my Thanksgiving Dinner.

Here’s what’s on my menu, what’s on yours?
  • Appetizer:  Baked brie with apricots
  • EntrĂ©e:  Turkey, homemade cornbread dressing, green bean casserole, mashed potatoes, sweet potato casserole,
  • Dessert: Traditional Southern Pecan Pie 

Do you have any special tips for “mise en place” for your meal preparation?

Monday, November 15, 2010

A Cluttered Life

image: greenhousearts.com

Last week I was officially diagnosed with something that I had suspected for awhile:  Adult AD/HD – not the hyperactivity type, but the “inattentive” type.  As I discussed my childhood with the doctor, I realized that my whole life I have had to work extra hard to stay focused and organized. In debating whether or not to share this information, I decided that perhaps my candor and transparency might help someone else who is going through the frustration of trying to balance the challenges.

Just because someone has AD/HD does not mean that he/she is not intelligent or able to succeed.  I graduated Magna Cum Laude from college and earned a master’s degree in international business; I lived in Brazil and even worked my way up to become a vice president at a very large New York City bank.  In retrospect, I realize that I always had to work a bit harder to stay focused – As a student, I would constantly misplace notes and papers from class, and as an adult, I constantly misplace the keys and my children’s papers from school.  So right now, I would like to say a special “thank you” to all my friends from elementary school, high school, college and graduate school who shared their notes.  In addition, I would like to say a special “thank you “to other moms who have faxed over school papers and cheerleading forms I have lost.  Thank you for your patience, understanding and support.

As I approach the second half of my life (I will be 49 in March), I look forward to having more focus and a greater productivity – both personally and professionally.  I even plan to “declutter” my closets along with my characters.  Yes, as I rewrite my first novel yet again, I plan to simplify and streamline the story.   I will tackle head-on the clutter in my life that holds me back.  A friend of mine mentioned to me about how her friend filled up a glass jar with pieces of paper of things that needed to get done around the house.  Then, each weekend, her friend would pick a piece of paper from the jar and focus on that project.  Will you join me for this challenge, too?

What would you like to “declutter” in your life?  What projects would you write down on those pieces of paper to put in the jar?  What does your jar look like?  Are you going to decorate it? Where will you keep the jar? Please send pictures along with your progress.  Together we can leave behind a cluttered life.  

Friday, November 12, 2010

Cooking with the Bible

Friday's are a “pinch” of faith here on From Finance to Fiction!

Since mid-September, the women’s Bible study group at Lutheran Church of the Atonement has been reading the Bible from cover to cover in 90 days! The discipline of this Zondervan study is to read 12 pages a day. I confess that I am still a week behind in my reading, but I am determined to catch up.

Throughout the pages of The Old Testament, I have not only been amazed by God’s relationship with humankind, but also I have been intrigued by the types of food mentioned in the Bible.  How delighted I was when I found this wonderful website and book called Cooking With The Bible. The recipes come along with the Bible reference and story.

Here’s the recipe from Cooking with The Bible for Raisin Cakes – the dish Abigail made to appease David after her husband had insulted him.

Raisin Cake
•    1 ½ cups raisins
•    2 cups water
•    1 cup white granulated sugar
•    1 tsp. Balsamic vinegar
•    ¾ cup butter
•    3 eggs
•    2 tsp. vanilla extract
•    1 ½ cups oatmeal
•    1 tsp. baking soda
•    ½ tsp. salt
•    1 ½ cups all-purpose flour
•    2 tsp. ground cinnamon
•    1 ½ tsp. ground allspice
•    1 tsp. ground nutmeg
•    2 tsp. baking powder
•    ½ cup chopped walnuts
•    whipped cream or vanilla butter cream
•    frosting

Preheat oven to 350°F. Lightly grease a 10″ tube pan or a 10″ square pan.

In a large pot, boil the raisins in enough water to cover (about 2 cups). Add the sugar and vinegar and stir. Set aside and let cool for about 10–12 minutes. To the same pot, add the butter, eggs, vanilla, and all the remaining dry ingredients. Mix well, then pour batter into pan. Bake for 35–45 minutes, or until tester comes out clean. Serve with whipped cream or a vanilla butter cream frosting.

Yield: 8–12 servings

Thursday, November 11, 2010

Charity Chat

Charity Chat

If you live in the Chicago area, please take the time to visit the Healthy Home 2010 in Palatine presented by Healthy Child Healthy World.  

This beautiful designer showcase built by the distinguished Dior Builders in collaboration with design industry leaders and indoor air quality experts sets a new benchmark for stylish green living with a focus on healthier indoor air quality.   And here’s another great reason to visit the showcase:  The $20 admission ticket will benefit Infant Welfare Society of Chicago, the local charity partner for Healthy Home 2010.

In 2011, the Infant Welfare Society will celebrate 100 years of delivering critical health care and wellness services to infants, women and children.  Last year Infant Welfare Society served more than 12,000 patients.  For more information or to support Infant Welfare Society, please visit www.infantwelfaresociety.org

On a personal note, I was a chapter president of Infant Welfare Society many years ago.  It’s a great organization, and Dior Builders is a wonderful company.  So enjoy a breath of fresh air as you support a great charity by visiting Healthy Home 2010 from November 6 – November 21st.

Tuesday, November 9, 2010

Flip Clips: Linda Evans Shepherd

In this recent interview we learn all about Linda's Potlock Club series and the great recipes found in those books!

Thursday, November 4, 2010

Grab Your Cape!

Waiting for Superman has made us all realize that change needs to happen within our educational system.  However, this paradigm shift in education will take time.  So what can be done immediately while a longer term plan is put into place?  The answer: Grab your cape and become a superhero! 

Growing up in Birmingham, Alabama during the late 1960s and 1970s, I learned the importance of education.  My mother was an English teacher at a local high school, and my father was then Dean of the Music School at Samford University.  My mother always taught me that “Education levels the playing field.”  That is why she would take an hour each week to sit down at the kitchen table with Flora, our African American cleaning lady, and teach her how to read and write.  Years later when Flora died from cancer, her sisters told my mother that a highlight of Flora’s life was learning how to read and write during those hours spent at the kitchen table with my mother.  Flora no longer had to sign her name with an “x” and she could read what she was signing. Even in her seventies, my mother still volunteered at local high schools and tutored at-risk students. She also designed remedial English programs to help struggling students understand the basic concepts of grammar.
My father also “grabbed a cape.”  He invested in the lives of students by setting aside and raising “seed money” to help educate students that otherwise couldn’t afford that opportunity.  In 1985, my parents flew to Rio de Janeiro to spend Christmas with me.  At that time I was earning a Master’s Degree in International Business at The University of South Caroline and was assigned to work at an international company in Rio as an intern.  My father was president of Palm Beach Atlantic University (then college).  During brunch, my father started a conversation with Edson who was waiting tables.   Edson had grown up in a favela, or rather one of the shanty towns made of cardboard houses on the hills of Rio.  A few days later, my dad offered Edson a full scholarship to Palm Beach Atlantic University.   However, my father told Edson that he must pay his own way to get to Florida.  My father knew the importance of a student personally investing in his/her own future to ensure commitment.  After a few years, Edson raised enough money to get to Florida and not only attended undergraduate school at PBAU but also earned an MBA there. After a successful career, Edson returned to Rio where he now helps educate children living in the favelas.  Education truly levels the playing field and empowers children with hope for a future. Learn more about that here.
What can an individual do right now?  Volunteer!  Check in with your local schools and offer your expertise.  Turn education into an action verb.  Grab your superhero cape!  Make a difference. In the process, you will change the nation one student at a time. 

Please share how you have “grabbed a cape” to make a difference.

Wednesday, November 3, 2010

Flip Clips: Exotic foods with Robin Jones Gunn!

During my agent's author retreat last week, I was able to catch Robin for a quick interview! Such fun!

Tuesday, November 2, 2010

Bread Crumbs of Grace

On Saturday evening, I went to my very first Steven Curtis Chapman concert at Harvest Bible Church in Elgin.  It was a night that I will always remember. Not only did Steven Curtis Chapman sing, but it was also a  family event. There wasn’t a dry eye in the house when Steven sang Cinderella and Heaven is the Face of a Little Girl.

The unforgettable moment of the evening was listening to Mary Beth Chapman share her heartache after the loss of their five year old daughter, Maria.  With candor and raw emotion, she spoke about her “freefall of faith” and how “bread crumbs of grace” helped her find her way through the darkness. I cannot imagine the deep abyss that must swallow one’s life after the loss of a child.  My heart weeps with mothers and fathers who have experienced that despair. Mary Beth Chapman’s book Choosing to See captures the journey of struggle and hope that she and her family experienced firsthand after Maria’s death. I couldn’t put that book down, and a lot of laundry went unwashed this weekend because of that. I highly recommend that you read this book, especially if you are going through a difficult time right now.

Read the rest of the post at the Pearl Girls blog.


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