Lake Atitlan, Panajachel, Guatemala

Tuesday, December 31, 2013

End of Year Reflections and a Really Big Change

One reason I love blogging is feeling connected to a larger community of writers. Exactly why I started this blog 4 years ago, and why I titled it "Coming Down the Mountain."

As writers, we must seclude ourselves for long lengths of time to get the work done. To me, it's like being on a high mountain away from people. And then it's time to come down to re-enter life, because after all, life fuels the writing.

The past year I've felt the desire to "get back on that mountain." Not just with the writing itself but by providing myself with an environment to better support my creative nature. I craved such an environment.

If my fondest dream were granted, it would be to live in the south of France or an Italian cottage and write full-time. To get out of the Western suburbs where we've been for so long-- a wonderful place to raise a family but too full of distractions to suit my current needs.

Of course, I knew it was an impossible dream. My husband and I raised a large family on one income--his-- and now we run a publishing company: neither of which point the way to wealth and prosperity.  No way could we escape to the south of France.

But if there's one thing I've learn it's that dreams do come true. Sometimes they're tweaked a bit to fit the circumstances-- in which case they often turn out better than imagined.

In January, my husband and I will be moving to Panajachel, Guatemala, where our daughter and son-in-law are preparing to open a small resort hotel. Bruce and I will continue to operate WiDo with the assistance of our staff in Salt Lake City and Houston. And we will become part of the vast expat population migrating to Central America from the US and Europe, seeking a simpler lifestyle where one can live well on less.

Most of all, I am excited to leave behind the traffic and noise and shopping centers and constant coming and going of the suburbs where we now live, and get back to that "mountain." We won't even have a car. We won't own a home. I may not have a dishwasher. Or a cell phone. There's no Costco.

We will, however, have the Internet. Thankfully. WiFi allows us to continue working for WiDo and to stay connected online and to Skype with family members, while we live on a third of what it costs us to manage in the States.

And giving up so much will give me what I really want: the kind of environment and schedule I crave to write more books. A year ago when I mapped out my year and wrote out my New Year Resolutions, I never imagined all this was in store for 2014.

My new goals will be very much like they were last year (lose weight, exercise more, eat less sugar, write another novel, be nicer to people) only set in a different locale, even a different country, with one stand-out addition: Become fluent in Spanish.

Wednesday, December 11, 2013

Christmas Transitions

Our parents loved to take photos of their four daughters, especially at Christmastime. The traditional Christmas photo in front of the tree is scattered in our old picture collections.

In this one, I got to hold the new baby, our youngest sister. I remember feeling so special that I was the one to hold her for this picture. You can see a much bigger smile on my face than usual. Normally I just stared at the camera with big eyes as though to say, "Huh? Really?"

Here we are as teens/young adults. My sister set the picture in front of a pie made especially for our recent Christmas gathering. Can you guess which one is me?

And so this weekend when we all gathered in Minnesota for a sister reunion, we of course had to recreate the Jones Girl Christmas photo:

Leaving to go home is tough. I sure love my sisters! And I'll miss them until next time we can all get together again.

Merry Christmas to all of you, my dear blogging friends, as you celebrate the season with your loved ones. I will see you all next year!

Monday, October 7, 2013

What Malcolm Gladwell Teaches Writers about Success

Malcolm Gladwell, bestselling author of The Tipping Point: How Little Things Make a Big Difference and Outliers: The Story of Success, among other books, was recently interviewed in Costco Magazine.

Having just re-read The Tipping Point and Outliers for the third time, I was thrilled to see that Gladwell has a new book out. It's called David and Goliath: Underdogs, Misfits and the Art of Battling Giants. Wow, sounds great! Especially knowing how Gladwell takes a subject and analyzes it inside and out, writing about it in a way that makes me think of new things in new ways.

But what I really appreciated about the Costco article is how Gladwell seems to epitomize what to me is the ideal attitude for a writer's success and productivity.

What does Malcolm Gladwell know?

He knows his audience.

"I write for people who are curious and who don't mind having their beliefs challenged. If you think going to a library is an exciting event, you will probably enjoy my books."

He knows how to write what he loves.

"People sense that I'm doing things out of pure enjoyment. I'm not pandering to an audience or following a formula. I'm just writing about cool stuff that interests me, and people respond to that."

Despite his astounding success, he knows there is so much more to learn.

"The more I write these books, the less convinced I am of my own inherent wisdom. I've convinced myself that I'm pretty bad at making sense of the world and need a lot of help."

He knows that money and acclaim isn't what it's all about. He never set out to write a bestseller.

"I never had any great desire to be well-known or to sell a lot of books. I've only ever wanted to do my own thing. and all of this happened just as an accident."

He knows where he came from, who he is, and it is all just fine with him.

"Canada is a deeply unpretentious place. You can't grow up in Canada and have all kinds of airs."

Regardless of where any of us are in our writing journeys, I'd say we can all learn a lot about success from Malcolm Gladwell.

Wednesday, September 18, 2013

Characters Who Jump Off the Page

Today I am visiting Wendy Ewurum over at Fabulosity Reads, talking about writing characters who come alive.

Wendy's blog is a real treasure for both writers and readers. She does guest posts, interviews with authors, book reviews, and more. She is so willing to help out with a book release. Her reviews are thoughtful, in-depth and always contain quotable blurb gems.

If you're looking for someone to help with an upcoming release-- or to review your book that's already out-- please consider asking Wendy. Her Fabulosity Reads blog is truly fabulous!

See you over there!

Thursday, May 30, 2013

It's Here! Just in Time for Dinner

I'm very excited to announce that Farm Girl Country Cooking: Hearty Meals for the Active Family (WiDo Publishing, June 2013) is now live on the Kindle!

And at the Friends & Family pre-release price of $1.99! If you enjoyed my recipes from A to Z in April, they're all included along with many more, here. (Print release will be June 18.)

Seriously, it was as difficult and time-consuming to write a cookbook as it ever was to write a novel, only in a different way. Revising involved testing recipes and tasting. Lots and lots of tasting. I gained 8 lbs LOL. (I can laugh about it now because I've since lost it. Ha!)

But it was fun, loads of fun and if it does well, I already have another one planned....


Although preparing regular family meals can be difficult, it is worth every effort. Dinner provides an opportunity to gather and refresh while spending time together around the table enjoying a meal.

The author has collected and tested the book's 100 recipes of main dishes, sides and desserts from years of experience cooking for a large family. Whether you are feeding a family on a budget or need ideas on menu planning, this cookbook is the perfect companion for the busy, working cook.

Hearty home-cooking using basic ingredients, plenty of fresh vegetables (and don't forget the bacon) you will return to these recipes again and again when planning dinners for your family or entertaining for company.

Tuesday, April 30, 2013

Zucchini with Bacon and Cheese

A huge thank you to Arlee Bird and his A to Z Team for giving us another fantastic Challenge. I'm rather sad to see this one come to an end. I found some really fun and interesting new blogs to follow, and I enjoyed talking about food and recipes and family dinner traditions with all of you. As always, thank you so much for sharing your comments!

I hope you have enjoyed my Recipes from A to Z this month. It's been the most enjoyable marketing for a new book that I've ever done. I appreciate all who followed along as we went from Amber Pie to Favorite Zucchini.

All of this month's recipes will be in my forthcoming cookbook, and many additional ones are posted on my website.

A food theme is easy when it comes to the letter Z thanks to good old zucchini-- one of the most versatile vegetables ever and plentiful year-round.

Favorite Zucchini
Because everything is better with bacon and cheese
2 strips uncooked bacon, cut in pieces
5 or 6 medium unpeeled zucchini, cut in chunks
1 small onion, chopped
1 large tomato, peeled and chopped
Pinch of sugar
Salt and pepper to taste
½ cup Monterey jack cheese, grated

Place bacon in saucepan, add all other ingredients except for cheese. Cover tightly and simmer for 15 – 20 minutes, or until zucchini is tender. Add cheese just before serving. 4 servings.

Monday, April 29, 2013

Yesterday's Dinner

If you've been following along my journey this month, you may have the idea that I put out a feast every night of the week for my family. No, not really. Although I do follow the "rule of three" because it gives a sense of satisfaction, even for a light meal.

Usually I cook 3 or 4 times a week, and the other nights we have leftovers, most often disguised. Yesterday's dinner might show up the next night as a casserole combined with something new, like a can of cream of mushroom soup LOL and then baked in the oven.

What's your favorite way of serving yesterday's dinner?

Saturday, April 27, 2013

X Marks the Spot

I'm at a loss of a food beginning with X. And if there is one, I don't have a recipe for it in my cookbook. Therefore I'll use this opportunity to talk about X Marks the Spot. Or another way of saying --"Look here, this is what's important."

X Marks the Spot to find the treasure. My treasure is my family, and although preparing family meals isn't an easy task for anyone, it is so worth the effort. Dinner time provides a time for the family to gather and refresh, replenish, retreat from the outside world while spending time together around the table enjoying a meal.

It doesn't have to be a lavish meal. I believe in "the rule of three." That means if you can pull together three items, it feels like a meal. Take a bowl of soup, bread with butter and jam, and a glass of milk. That's a meal. It counts.

What matters is that food is set out, the family gathers, and magic happens. Not every time. Not all at once. But moment by moment, day by day, it adds up and then one day you look back and say, "Yes! It WAS worth it." Not just the meals either, but the whole thing of being a mom, having kids, raising them the best you can (although no one is ever as good a mom, or dad, as they'd like to be that's for sure).

And that's why I wrote my recipe book Hearty Meals for the Active Family. Because I believe in the value of home and family, and I believe that having regular family dinners together is key for uniting families. And that's where X Marks the Spot for me.

Friday, April 26, 2013

WARNING: the richest cake ever

I have a lot of cake recipes because with ten children, we had a lot of birthdays. Although prepared cake mixes are easy and taste fine, a cake from scratch really isn’t difficult to put together and makes the event seem more special. 

W is for Warning: What follows is the richest cake I’ve ever had in my entire life. I’ve always said it should come with a warning label, so here it is. With the butter and cream content, and the inch-thick frosting, it’s incredibly rich and should be cut into small pieces, no seconds allowed, and skip the ice cream. 

The main recipe uses pistachio pudding mix, with a variation given for Coconut Cream Cake, using coconut pudding mix. 
Pistachio Pudding Cake
2 ¼ cups flour
1 2/3 cup sugar
2 cups milk
4 teaspoons baking powder
1 teaspoon salt
2 small packages instant pistachio pudding mix
1 ½ sticks butter, melted
5 eggs
2 teaspoons vanilla

Preheat oven for 350 degrees. Grease a 9 x 13” pan, and also prepare a cupcake pan with liners. (This is too much batter for the 9 x 13” pan) so I make 8-10 cupcakes as well.) 
Add ingredients in order listed in mixing bowl and mix well at medium speed until thoroughly blended, for 2- 4 minutes. Stop part way through to scrape the sides of bowl. Pour batter into prepared pans. Bake at 350 for 35 – 45 minutes. Frost when cool. I have never yet been able to keep the middle from falling on this cake, but no matter. This frosting recipe covers it so thickly that you don’t notice a sunken middle when you’re done spreading it. 

Pistachio Frosting
1 small package instant pistachio pudding
2 cups heavy whipping cream
3 cups powdered sugar
¼ cup butter, softened
Stir pudding into one cup of the heavy cream and let set for a few minutes. Then add remaining ingredients along with rest of cream and beat until fluffy. Spread onto cooled cake. 

Coconut Cream Cake—Make as directed throughout, substituting instant coconut pudding mix for the pistachio, including the frosting recipe. After frosting, sprinkle top of cake liberally with sweetened, flaked coconut.

Thursday, April 25, 2013

Veggie Bake

I love vegetables. I love to find new ways of preparing them. This is one of my favorites. I cut up the vegetables in large chunks and usually end up changing pans at least once, to a larger one.

Veggie Bake
A hearty flavorful dish that is perfect for a winter day, served with meat, fish or chicken and biscuits. Everything can bake in the oven at once.

1 – 2 lbs. green and red peppers
1 lb. potatoes and/or yams, peeled
1 large onion, peeled
3 large carrots, peeled
1 clove garlic, crushed
¼ cup olive oil
Salt and pepper to taste
2 tablespoons Italian herbs

Preheat oven to 425 degrees. Trim and clean peppers, cut into 1 ½ inch vertical slices. Cut potatoes into thick chunks. Cut onions into thick vertical slices. Cut peeled carrots into thick slices.

Place vegetables and garlic in large roasting pan, such as used to roast a turkey. Add oil and seasonings, toss to combine thoroughly. Bake, uncovered, turning occasionally, 30 -45 minutes, or until potatoes and carrots are tender. Serves 6 – 8.

Wednesday, April 24, 2013

Upside Down Cake

Use either pineapple or apricots to make this fun and fruity upside down cake.

 Upside Down Cake
This can be used with either canned apricots or pineapple. It’s an easy, inexpensive cake that will make a simple family meal seem special.

4 eggs
1 cup granulated sugar
2/3 cup pineapple juice
2 teaspoons vanilla
2 cups flour
1 teaspoon baking powder
2 teaspoons cinnamon, divided
½ teaspoon salt
½ cup (1 stick) butter
1 cup brown sugar

Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Add butter to 9 x 13” baking dish and melt in heated oven. Sprinkle the melted butter with one cup brown sugar.

Beat eggs until thick. Gradually beat in granulated sugar. Add pineapple juice and vanilla. Add flour, baking powder, salt and ½ teaspoon cinnamon and beat for two minutes.

Arrange pineapple halves in two rows in baking dish. (If using apricot halves, place them cut side up.) Pour cake batter over fruit. Bake at 350 degrees for 35-40 minutes or until done.

Remove from oven and immediately turn upside down on serving platter. Do not remove pan for a few minutes to allow steam to soften and loosen cake. Best served warm with vanilla ice cream, or cold with whipped cream.