Lost My Culinary Mojo

I’m from Alabama, which means by the time I was sink high, I knew how to fry a mean bird, mash a tator, and press a pie crust. I even like to cook. It’s one of those chores that relaxes me.  The hands-are-busy-mind’s-on-a-mini-vacation kind. And not bragging or anything, I’m not bad at it.  But I like to play Martha Stewart when I want to play Martha Stewart. Not because some spiky virus named after a beer takes the dinner-out option off the table. 

And my lack of inspiration has materialized in some of my less-than-glowing meals.  Hubby knows better than to complain—I didn’t marry an idiot—but that doesn’t stop him from snickering. Especially when I set the fire alarm off the second time. Do you know how bad burnt cabbage smells?  And how long that scent hangs on?

I’ve tried getting my culinary mojo back by trying some new recipes. I posted about this on Facebook and got some great recipes.  Below I’m posting a link to a recipe for Crispy Hasselback Potatoes with Rosemary and Garlic.

How are you faring in the kitchen?  Any cooking calamities? How about new recipes that might help keep the culinary gods on my side or chase the smell of scorched dog fart out of my house? 

https://tinyurl.com/ybtbe3bh

How Will This Change us?

My grandmother went through the Great Depression and it left her with a waste-not-want-not mentality.  In addition, her father had died when she was eight and there were six siblings, so I’m pretty sure there were nights she went to bed hungry.  

Even in her eighties, she wouldn’t throw anything away.  I loved that woman, but eating at her house was more dangerous than eating sushi on a clearance rack at a convenience store. You never knew how old something was.  God forbid she cleaned out her fridge the day you came over.  We were taught to never eat her soup.  The family even named it, fridge-clean soup. And it wasn’t just food she fretted over.  She reused aluminum foil, and if someone didn’t dirty up their paper napkin too much, she’d use it again.

When at restaurants, she’d guiltily slip a few packets of sugar in her purse.  And if she had more than a bite of a sandwich left, she’d put that in her purse too.  

I still remember when hubby and I flew to Florida for him to meet her.  Before arriving, we picked up a few groceries and he bought cranberry juice. When he went to get some later, she’d poured half of it into another bottle and added water so the juice would last twice as long.  I told him like I was told growing up, “It’s not really her fault, she went through the Great Depression.”

Now, while I haven’t ever gone to bed hungry—except for nights when I stayed over at Grandma’s house—I’m wondering how the corona virus is going to change me? Already I buy extra when ordering my groceries.  I mean, why not have some extra can tuna or chicken in the pantry?  And when I get an option to buy a larger portion of anything, I go with the large one without even thinking.  My friends are telling me that they too are fighting the compulsion to stock up on things. 

It’s not just the food issues either.  Texas is slowly opening up, but with hubby on immune suppressant drugs, we are still sheltering in place.  And I wonder how long it will be before I’ll really feel safe standing in a crowd.  Others tell me they will forever be aware of handwashing. 

I can’t help but wonder if when I’m in my eighties someone will say, “It’s not really her fault, she went through the corona virus.”

Do you think this time is going to tweak your behavior?  What will you do, or view differently when this has passed? What item will you stock up on after this is over? 

Ten things to do that can boost your mood.

  1. Listen to music.  Happy music lifts your spirit, but they say sad music provides emotional release.  Maybe even listen to music you normally wouldn’t. And sing along with the music. Singing lifts your spirits.
  2. Connect with strangers.  (In person, at a social distance, or do it online.  Reach out to someone you normally don’t reach out to. People are lonely right now, try offering the gift of conversation.)
  3. Stay connected, at a distance.  We have been doing happy hours and even dinners out, or I should say dinners outside, on our front porch.  Everyone brings their own food, drinks, and serving ware.  Sort of a picnic. We sit about ten feet away and enjoy visiting.
  4. Make someone else smile.  Like a yawn is contagious, so is a smile.
  5. Find beautiful things to look at. Several studies have been done that prove just looking at beautiful things reduces stress and creates calm.  Try searching online for beautiful images. Or simply look around.  Hubby and I have been walking and a while back he said, “You know how people who live by the ocean stop appreciating the beauty of it?  Well, we have all these beautiful trees and I think we forgot they are beautiful.”  So, we’re trying to appreciate our surrounding a little more.
  6. Count your blessings. I know, this is a very trying time, but we can all find something in our lives to be thankful for. And if you can, give to help others.  
  7. Work a puzzle.  While the hands are busy, the mind can wander, or focus.  I have worked two jigsaw puzzles during the last few weeks.  Experts say that while we work on puzzles, or brain is sorting and making sense of random patterns.  We aren’t consciously aware of the work.  We focus more on images and shapes which are more pleasurable. It’s sort of a brain vacation.
  8. Read.  You knew I was going to list this, right?  Reading is an escape and like music, you can read a funny book to give you a boost or even a sad one to offer emotional release.  
  9. Use this time to learn something new.  Learning not only opens your mind, but it feeds your soul.  Even if all you do is watch a documentary on something, it can give you a learning high.
  10.  Take care of yourself.  It’s hard right now to eat healthy and to exercise, but the truth is we feel better when we are eating right and staying active. I don’t think we should constantly be depriving ourselves during this time, but don’t let yourself go off the deep end and neglect your health.  

What are you doing to chase away the blues during this difficult time?

Surviving Quarantine

How are you doing during this trying time?  What are you doing to pass time?  To keep yourself and those around you sane? 

Hubby and I are doing okay.  As hard as this is, we both realize how fortunate we are.  I think like most of us, we are trying to limit how much news we watch.  Too much news seems to equal a quicker path to panicking.  

I have been working.  I’m finishing the revisions on Don’t Look Back, my last book in the Texas Justice series.  I’m getting it done, but it’s coming slow. It’s hard to be creative when life feels so bat shit crazy. 

To hold off boredom, I’ve been working a jigsaw puzzle.  In the evenings, we’ve been binge watching a few shows. I’ve been reading, but even that is hard.  I walk every day.  In fact, I’m still walking with a friend—we take turns driving to each other’s house, we walk, talk, but stay ten feet apart of each other and don’t even go into each other’s homes.  Then hubby and I go for a shorter walk in the afternoons. As much as I dislike this quarantine time, my dog is loving it.

We order groceries and have them delivered. So far, we are not out of toilet paper.  Then there’s cooking. Hubby fixes his own breakfast and lunch, but I cook dinner.  With hubby being a transplant patient, it’s imperative that we keep him and myself virus free, so even ordering in is too risky. Now, I actually like to cook, but when this is over, I’m making hubby take me out for a month. 

I hope everyone is doing okay and staying safe.  Tell me what you’re doing?  What shows are you watching?  What books are you reading?  How are you staying sane?

Mortal Sight

I met Sandra Rhoads at a conference years ago. We ran into each other at writer’s events and kept in touch. Now, I’m so excited to announce Sandra’s debut novel, Mortal Sight releases today, April 14th. I’m excited because Sandra is a friend, but I’m even more excited because Mortal Sight sounds like an amazing YA.

I am fortunate to have Sandra as my special guest this week. She agreed to answer a few questions.

1. Mortal Sight is the first book in your Colliding Line series. I can’t wait to read it. It sounds amazing! How many books do we have to look forward to in this series?

The Colliding Line series is a duology, so Mortal Sight is the first of two installments.

2. Was there a defining moment when you realized you wanted to be a writer? How did that come about?

For me, the lightning strike moment happened in middle-school. I was given an assignment to write a descriptive paper. The whole class grumbled about it, but I was thrilled. I drew with words the first scene that came to mind. It was a place that time forgot: a place with a dirt road, a field, and a wire fence where trees swayed with joy. I crafted somewhere I could step into and escape from the numbing madness of the middle school world—a place I thought no one cared about but me. It was my teacher’s note that flipped the writing switch. At the top of the paper, scrawled in green ink she wrote: “You possess a gift.” I don’t remember her name, but her words sparked a desire to keep telling stories. And I did. Poetry, short stories, script-writing, journals, and now a novel.

3. You studied literature in college, and John Milton in particular, getting your masters on his work. Milton’s poem, Paradise Lost, is widely regarded as the greatest epic poem in English. In Mortal Sight, Cera often finds herself thinking about Paradise Lost. Was that poem your inspiration for this book, or was it something else?

Milton sort of forced his way into the story. The original story seed came from a “what if” question. What if someone never felt like they belonged—because they didn’t, they were really born for a place they couldn’t see? And if so, what things in the everyday world would shout out this truth, point to this other world, and trying at whatever cost to get their attention in order to let them know that the restlessness is intentional. The verses from the poem kept popping in my head (not unlike Cera) and as I skimmed through the poem, I carved the idea that artists could play an important part in pointing to this other realm; Milton’s words in particular because he speaks of invisible battles and unseen wars.

4. Who is your favorite character from this book, and why?

Oh, I love them all so much, but in Mortal Sight, besides Cera, I think my favorite character is Gladys. I loved writing her. She’s such a balm for Cera and the epitome of grace. And I’d want to eat her cooking all day long.

5. In Mortal Sight, all Cera wants is a normal life, but instead, her life is turned upside down. She has visions and is drawn into a war against unearthly creatures. Why do you think the story of the reluctant hero resonates so well with readers?

I think a reluctant hero’s tenacity is what resonates. Standing up for what is right, seeking the well-being of others, and putting their own needs aside are admirable traits. Cera has a heart to do what is right, but ends up making a lot of mistakes. Those mistakes keep her from thinking she has the power to do anything “great” but gets up, dusts herself off, and she tries again.

6. You were born in Queens, N.Y., but now live in Dallas, TX. Is there anything you miss about N.Y.? What do you like about Dallas?

Snow—but only for so long. I’ve lived in Texas for so many years now (Houston, Austin and now, Dallas) that my blood has thinned. I also miss how the trees look to be on fire with the changing fall season. It’s not quite the same in Texas.

As far as Dallas? I like the weather (which at times feels like SoCal) and I love Mexican food—fajitas and street tacos, in particular.  I also love the arts culture in Dallas.

7. Is there anything else you’d like us to know about you or your book?

I am so excited to share this story. I have a deep love for artists and the creative community and love encouraging others to tell stories through art, whether it’s visual, music, poetry, dance or writing. Art is so needed in the world. 

I also have a book trailer coming out that can be found on my website: sandrarhoads.com and It will be on Instagram @sfrhoads.author as well as my FB author page, Sandra Fernandez Rhoads – Author. 

Thank you so much for letting me share a little about this story!

Mortal Sight

When Worlds Collide, Shadow Wrestles Light

Seventeen-year-old Cera Marlowe wants a normal life; one where she and her mom can stop skipping town every time a disturbing vision strikes. But when a girl she knows is murdered by a monster she can’t explain, Cera’s world turns upside down.

Suddenly thrown into an ancient supernatural battle, Cera discovers she’s not alone in her gifting and vows to use her visions to save lives. But why does John Milton’s poem Paradise Lost keep interrupting her thoughts?

In a race against time and a war against unearthly creatures, will decoding messages embedded in the works of classic literature be enough to stop the bloodshed and protect those she loves? 

You can order Mortal Sight now from Amazon and Barnes & Noble.

Camille Faye is Back!

Last year, Camille Faye entertained on my blog with tales of her Butterfly Voodoo series. I’ve read the first three books in the series, and I’m eagerly awaiting the release of the next book. So I reached out to Camille to find out what she’s been up to and when I can expect her next release.

Welcome back to my blog! I loved your Voodoo Butterfly series and now, I understand your first book in the series, Voodoo Butterfly is releasing on audiobook. That’s always exciting.

 

 

 

  1. First of all, can you tell me a bit about the series?

In the series, my main character, Sophie Nouveau, unexpectedly inherits a New Orleans voodoo shop. Only problem? She knows nothing about voodoo or her family’s secret power. The women in Sophie’s family are Mind Changers, specialized priestesses who have the magical ability to change evil people good. Throughout the series, Sophie learns to harness that inner power. I cover different types of creatures than in typical paranormal books, drawing on New Orleans and Cajun culture, lore, and flair. These creatures include the rougarou, skinwalkers, angels, bokors, loa, and jinn.

  1. I thought Sophie Nouveau was a really interesting character. Is she based on you or someone you know?

The Voodoo Butterfly Series actually began with a dream I had in New Orleans. The first flash of the dream showed me a woman walking through the French Quarter at night (that character became Sophie). I knew that she wanted someone to attack her because as soon as they touched her, their mind would change from evil to good. The second flash of the dream showed me at Saint Louis Cathedral in NOLA absolutely covered in monarch butterflies. That plague of butterflies became my opening scene. As I developed Voodoo Butterfly, I decided that since voodoo and Catholicism are such vital parts of the culture in New Orleans, I would make my main character unexpectedly inherit a voodoo shop.

Sophie can be stubborn–ahem, determined–which is a characteristic we share. She wants to make the world a better place, stands up for her beliefs, and cherishes family. That’s me, too. Other than that, she was made up in my imagination.

  1. On one of your recent blogs, you posted your top ten favorite books of all time. It’s an interesting list, mostly classics, like To Kill a Mockingbird and Little Women, but a few were more modern titles. Which authors have influenced you? Did they make your list?

All of the authors on that list have formed my ideas about good storytelling and what makes a good book. Harper Lee’s Atticus Finch, Mark Twain’s Huckleberry Finn, and Roald Dahl’s Matilda showed me how normal people can fight injustice and change the world. All of those themes are important to Sophie’s story. I loved Louisa May Alcott’s portrayal of family and sisterhood in Little Women. Family is important to me and one of Sophie’s greatest desires is finding a feeling of belonging and learning about her family history. Stephenie Meyer’s Twilight Saga got me excited about reading again and inspired The Voodoo Butterfly Series. The covers were inspired by hers, too.

You can read more about my favorite books here: https://www.camillefaye.com/blog/2018/5/27/my-fave-books-of-all-time

  1. The last time we spoke, you were revising your fourth book in the series and drafting your fifth. How has that gone? When will book 4 be released and what’s Sophie up to now?

The fourth book, Courtship, is currently in edits with my publisher and is slated for release on May 27, 2020. In this installment, Sophie will tangle with a skinwalker, which is a Native American shapeshifter and all-around nasty creature. There will be a wedding, three major characters die, and a huge battle scene ensues in the middle of New Orleans, so I’ve whipped up quite a lot of obstacles and conflict for Sophie.

  1. What’s next for you?

I plan to submit the final book in the series (Book 5) to my publisher in June 2020. I’m not sure what project I will work on after that, but I have some ideas about a new series in either urban fantasy or paranormal cozy mystery.

  1. So when will Voodoo Butterfly be available on audio and where can you purchase it?

Voodoo Butterfly released in audiobook format on April 4, 2020. It is available on Audible, Amazon, and iTunes.

You can find Camille’s Voodoo Butterfly series HERE.

Social Distancing

These are strange times. School suspended, stores closed and toilet paper is becoming its own currency. So, as I’ve said before, since my husband had a kidney transplant a few years ago, we have to be extra careful he doesn’t pick up a bug.

And I’m just talking a normal, run of the mill bug, not this crazy super virus we are all facing now.  Because of COV19, we are having to self-quarantine to be safe. Which is pretty normal for me because I’m a writer. Writers are known to be recluses. But even I get antsy at times, and I thought you must be too. So, I did some research and came up with a few ideas of things you can do while you’re staying home.

  • Read a book (or several). Didn’t you know that would be at the top of my list?
  • Start journaling. Yes, it’s something you’ve said you were going to do for years.
  • Bake! Try that 4 tiered cake your grandmother used to make, or just experiment.
  • Interact with your family. You might be surprised at how much you like them.
  • Take an online class. There are lots of great cooking, photography, language classes, etc.
  • Learn to knit or crochet. If you already know how, make something for me. J
  • Start an online book club.
  • Play video games (but limit your time).
  • Take a walk, but stay away from others.
  • Use Facetime, Skype, WhatsApp, Zoom, or any other means to hold an online party to chat with your friends.
  • Clean your house. Why not? What else have you got to do?  (This one didn’t work for me. LOL.)
  • Do yard work. You’ll feel great when it’s done and it looks great.
  • Binge watch a fabulous TV series
  • Play cards or games.
  • Tackle a project in the house. Yes, it’s finally time to build that new book shelf!
  • Write that book you’ve always want to write.

Well, that’s about all I could think of for now, but I’d welcome any suggestions you want to add. What are you doing to pass the time while social distancing?

It’s That Time Again

I’ve been sneezing, coughing and my nose is running. No, I don’t have COVID 19. I’ve got seasonal allergies. As most of you know, I live outside of Houston, and this time of year, all of SE Texas has a layer of fine yellow pollen EVERYWHERE! The pollen is so thick that when it rains, there are rivulets of yellow running along the ground. So, March is peak allergy season here.

Did you know that according to the National Institutes of Health, more than half of all Americans have one or more allergies? Fortunately, I don’t have any food allergies (that I know of, thank goodness). Allergies to shellfish, nuts, fish, milk, eggs, and other foods cause an estimated 150 to 200 fatalities a year in the United States. And of course there are the allergies to animals, the most common being to dogs and cats. Again, I’m thanking my lucky stars I don’t suffer from animal allergies. I’ve always had dogs and cats.

I’ve never actually been tested for allergies, but I know there is something every spring that sets me off. And the bad news? As the world gets warmer, allergy seasons lengthen. Researchers report that ragweed pollen season in North America has lengthened since 1965—by 16 days in Minneapolis, for instance.

 

At least I know that by mid-April, most of what bugs me is gone—until next year.

Do you have any allergies?

Saying Goodbye

Losing a parent is something we all face.  It’s a painful, a personal type of grief, that we must all find a way to internalize and get past the emotionally crippling feeling, and then to live with the emptiness that fills our chest and lives. There is something so hard and lonely about knowing that the person who loved you more than anyone, the person you knew would do anything to protect you, is no longer in this world.  And I don’t think there’s one way, or a right way to deal with that feeling.  Everyone deals with this kind of grief differently.

I recently lost my father, and I’m coping by doing a lot of remembering.  Taking a stroll down memory lane, reliving the good times.  Letting a memory of laughter soothe the ache.  And there was a lot of laughter where my father was concerned.  Like the time we visited a casino when he sat beside me while I played poker slots, and when the option for double or nothing would appear, he’d hit it before I could decline.  I’d say, “Why did you do that?”

 

He’d laugh and say, “Look, I just won you twenty dollars, and when I didn’t win he’d blame it on me for not holding my mouth right, or because I didn’t curl my toes.  Before long, we had attracted a huge crowd all laughing with us, waiting to hear what crazy thing Dad would say next.  It was an example of how people love to be around happy people and laughter.

 

I will never forget the time he had open heart surgery, and I stayed to take care of him for two weeks.  He had a heart a shaped pillow and he would have me come close, he’d put the pillow on his chest and I would press against him so he could cough.  This one time he sat on the edge of the sofa, I stood right in front of him.  He had it bad and for several minutes, coughing and dealing with the pain that came with it.  I had tears in my eyes, knowing he was hurting.  I would lean my head down and say over and over again, “I’m sorry, Dad.  I’m sorry.”

He managed to say, “Christie, I need to tell you something.”

“What?”

“It’s . . . hard to say.”

My chest filled with emotion so tight that it hurt, I waited for him to tell me how much he appreciated that I was there.  How much he loved me.  Then in a raspy voice, he finally got the words out.  “You need a breath mint.”

I burst out laughing.  He started laughing, and that hurt him even more, so he told me to leave the room.  “Now.  Get out.  Leave.”  When I walked back in, he’d take one look at me and start laughing again.  I spent the next few hours going in and out of the room.

When he was in the hospital once, he told me in his deep tone, “You have to be a real man to deal with this kind of pain.”  Then he cut his twinkling blue eyes up at me and said, “I’m not a real man.”

We laughed our way through heart surgeries, knee surgeries, lung surgeries, and the time he almost took his leg off with a saw.  The time he fell off a ladder.  There was the time he got shot in the stomach with a nail gun.  Someone once accused him of doing things just to get to me to come to Alabama to visit.

I loved that man. And even more importantly I knew I was loved.

But in between smiling at those memories, I will have those brief moments, sometimes only seconds when I forget he’s gone and I think of him as still here, still alive.  I want to tell him something, call to check and see if how he’s feeling, but when I remember he’s gone, I tear up and feel that wave of emotion that I thought I’d moved past.

I know it’s going to take time.  It’s a process.  It’s a part of life.  A universal feeling that most all of us must face.

I looked up quotes and inspirational saying about grief, and I keep them close by to read.  Below are a few that have touched me the most.

Those we love never truly leave us.  There are things that death cannot touch.  — Jack Thorne, Harry Potter and the Cursed Child – Parts One and Two

“Don’t cry because it’s over, smile because it happened.”    Dr. Seuss

“Remember that people are only guests in your story—the same way you are only a guests in theirs—so make sure the chapters are worth reading.”  ― Lauren Klarfeld

 

 

 

 

Binge Watching, Binge Reading

Recently, hubby and I have been binge watching some series on Netflix and Prime.  For some reason, we’ve been doing a lot of British shows. We’ve finished D.C. I. Banks, then we went to Happy Valley and we are now watching Last Tango in Halifax.   I’m afraid I might slip up soon and use the word bloody, when I’m upset at something.

It occurred to me that binge watching is sort of like reading in that you don’t have to wait a week or longer to read another chapter.  I think we just follow stories better when we don’t have a week between episodes.

But that isn’t true when we refer to book series.  And yes, I got plenty of pissy emails saying I left a reader hanging and now they have to wait until the next book.

I won’t deny that as a reader, I want to be able to grab the next book right away—especially if there’s a hook at the end.  And when I have to wait, I’m biting my nails.  And yes, as a writer, I use hooks at the end of my books in series.  It’s part of good storytelling, leaving a reader, or viewer, hanging on, feeling just a little desperate for the rest of the story.

To be honest, if there isn’t a hook, I might very well finish the book and grab a different series.  A friend of mine was just talking about a series she’s binge watching and she said, “I may watch the first season and then move to something else.”  And having watched that series, I can tell you there isn’t a hook at the end.  So it might be easy for her to do that. As an author, that isn’t what I want.  I want the reader to be chomping at the bit for the next book.  And the way to do that is to leave them with some questions.  But I also know waiting is hard.

I know a lot of readers who wait until a series is finished before starting it.  And recently, I’m hearing about a lot of Indie writers who are actually finishing a series before putting it up.  Then releasing each book in the series a week or two apart.  As a reader, is that what you would prefer? Or don’t you mind if one book from a series is released every year?

Do you binge watch shows?  What shows are you watching now?

Happy Reading!