October 31, 2011

happy halloween!

Happy Halloween from Change the Word!

I love fall and Halloween is one of my favorite parts of it. At heart it's a holiday that fosters creativity. Think about it. During October, whether you're a writer or banker, you use your creative juices to come up with a costume, carve or paint pumpkins and tell spooky stories.

So, in honor of Halloween, I wanted to share a few of my favorite fall moments and how they helped get my creativity going just in time for National Novel Writing Month, which begins tomorrow.

Searching for a green pumpkin and baking it into a pie based on a dish described in Laura Ingalls Wilder's The Long Winter for my inaugural Reading in the Kitchen post. This series continues to challenge me as I look for new treats to try.

I also had a lot of fun baking and decorating Cauldron Cakes from the Harry Potter series. Though not necessarily Halloween-specific, making them certainly put me in the mood for a spooktacular Halloween weekend. (Hahahahahaha. OK, I got that pun out of the way, and I promise there will be no more.)

Painting a literary-inspired pumpkin as part of a tradition I started a few years ago. This year's book pumpkin features Pride and Prejudice and Zombies.

This weekend, I carved a pumpkin solo for the first time. I helped once, but doing it alone was a whole new experience. Keeping with my bookish theme, I featured none other than Edward Cullen on my pumpkin. And when the candle inside is lit, he's all shiny, if not sparkly.

I went apple picking in Nebraska City with my little sister. In addition to providing me with the apples to make Reading in the Kitchen dishes, such as applesauce, apple butter and Afternoon Ruby Tea Biscuits, it also gave me brilliant memories. I'm a firm believer that almost every experience we have can make inspire a story.

My Halloween costume: Royal Wedding Gatecrasher. Thought I toyed with a few ideas for weeks, the night before my first Halloween party I decided to do this. It was easy and fun. I made a ridiculously awesome fascinator from fake flowers, feathers, ribbon and a lot of hot glue. I paired it with a dress, high heels and sash, then carried around a champagne bottle all evening to toast the happy couple. I not only had a blast, but I met people who are sure to inspire characters in future writing projects.

As luck would have it, the red and black colors in my facinator also meant that it was a perfect accessory for watching the Huskers defeat Michigan State.

Thank you for continuing to follow me on this writing journey. I'm blessed to have you on board. Through this blog, Twitter and writing organizations I've recently joined, I continue to meet more and more fabulous people who are helping me become a better writer.

With all of you behind me, I know I'll be able to succeed this NaNoWriMo. I know I will not just cross the 50,000-word mark, but I'll also write a quality story worth reading.

If you need any last minute plotting tips, be sure to check out my post about how I plotted this year's book.

October 30, 2011

book review: destined to fail

Title: Destined to Fail
Author: Samantha March

Determined to secure a bright future, Jasmine Jones must address the dark past she hoped to forget in Samantha March's debut novel "Destined to Fail."

Ambitious, friendly and stylish, JJ seemingly has it made. She has a close relationship with her mother and a crushable boyfriend, Nate. And now, she is headed to business college in Des Moines with Abby, her best friend. JJ quickly settles in, but all is not well. Abby ends up pregnant by her abusive boyfriend and drops out of college, which causes a major rift between the friends. Also, JJ is guarding details about her past from her boyfriend, new friends and even the reader.

But when JJ finds herself pregnant and her new friends face tough circumstances, she gradually opens up to face her history, which is filled with abuse, abandonment, addiction and more.

The number of hardships JJ endures would seem excessive if they were not believably written. Even though she is slow to fully explain everything, March foreshadows well enough that the reveals are not unnatural or wholly unexpected.

The novel unabashedly covers sensitive topics ranging from domestic abuse, abortion versus adoption, safe sex practices, and so on. The book handles the issues with sensitivity and precision, which makes it approachable. Through JJ's narrative, March raises awareness for important women's issues without being preachy or judgmental. By doing this, the book becomes a solid read for young adults, the audience who probably most needs this message.

JJ is a well-developed character and an ideal narrator for the story. Flawed and damaged, but hopeful and hard-working, she is relatable and admirable. I would have liked to see more development in other characters, such as her friends and sister. They seemed to have stories wanting told, but maybe they will have their chance in the future.

The hours spent reading JJ's story were worth the time, and I would look forward to reading March's future offerings.

Rating: 4 out of 5

October 28, 2011

something delicious this way comes

Halloween is days away, and Harry Potter always comes to mind this time of year. I know the books take place year-round, and October is no more important than any other, but all the talk of witches and costumes sends my mind to Hogwarts.

So with this in my head, I decided I wanted to make a delicious Harry Potter-themed treat to share with my family and friends this Halloween. My dish of choice: Cauldron Cakes.

I checked the interwebs to see what these cakes were and found mixed results. A lot of people make chocolate cupcakes decorated in different ways to look like cauldrons. But that's not quite how I imagined cauldron cakes to be. I figured they'd be more pumpkin-flavored or have spices. And of course, they'd have awesome decorations, but not so they overwhelmed the integrity of the cake.

I checked with two of my favorite local Potter fans and they shared my thoughts. Fortunately, I found a recipe on Food.com for Cauldron Cakes that were described as spice cakes. Perfect. With the recipe down I focused on the decorations. I went to a craft store to select toppings. I decided to make copper-cauldrons to match the color of the cake. I found copper tins, gold/ sparkly gel and coppery sprinkles. Then, I picked up some green food coloring spray as a fun surprise. I also bought stick pretzels to be the spoon for the cauldron.

The next day I made the cakes during my lunch break to give them sufficient time to cool off before decorating that evening. The recipe on Food.com suggested decorating with sprinkles or frosting, so I decided I would make a pumpkin cream cheese freeze frosting and use some treats to decorate it more.

Here's what you will need to make the spice cakes:
2 cups flour
1.5 cups sugar
3.5 teaspoons baking powder
1 teaspoon salt
1/2 cup softened butter (I used a stick of unsalted)
1 cup milk (I used the soy in my fridge)
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
3 eggs
3/4 teaspoon cinnamon
1/8 teaspoon ginger (I had it in with my cooking not baking spices, but I guess they're all the same, or so Mom explained to me when I nervously texted her.)

I followed the Food.com directions and began by mixing the eggs, sugar, butter, cinnamon, ginger and vanilla for about 2 minutes. The mixture was smooth when I finished. Then, bit by bit I mixed in the flour, baking powder, salt and milk. I tried to balance adding the solids and the liquids so the mixture became neither too dry nor too wet.

Once done, I lined two muffin pans with the bronze liners. The recipe said it yielded 21, so I left three spaces empty in the pans. Then I poured the batter into the tins, making sure to fill it only about half way.

I placed both pans in the oven at 350 degrees for 25 minutes. I kept an eye on the cakes and ended up removing them a couple of minutes early, because they were done (and a lot bigger than when they started). I covered them with a paper towel and left them to cool for the afternoon.

The afternoon felt like forever. I was so excited to go home and decorate. I even doodles some plans. I knew I might not be able to execute it fully, but I wanted to have an idea of how to even try the decorations.

On the way home, I made a quick stop at the grocery store to pick up an orange and cream cheese for the cake frosting. After careful thought, I decided a simple vanilla or chocolate frosting wouldn't do for a cauldron cake. I mean, this is a Hogwarts-worthy cupcake, right? It should be something pretty awesome. I selected a pumpkin cream cheese frosting recipe I found in Country Living.

While perusing the candy aisle to see if anything struck my fancy, I hit the mother load: copper-colored licorice. Rootbeer-flavored and the perfect color, I took it as a sign of fate and bought some deciding I would use it to make cauldron handles.

Unfortunately, when I arrived home, I realized I had used up all of my powdered sugar in a previous recipe. I called my sister, who was coming over to keep me company while I decorated, and asked her to pick some up.

Meanwhile, I decided to stay productive. I started by trimming the licorice. I sliced each piece in fourths (down the middle both ways). This was probably the most time-consuming and annoying part of the process. Also, if you're making these with your kids I would encourage you to do it yourself. I almost cut myself and I'm 25.

Once this was done I cut holes in all of the cakes. Why? I wanted to fill them with the frosting and have it flow out so it would be like an overflowing cauldron. I made small holes and only went about halfway in so as not to remove too much of the actual cake.

Sister still hadn't arrived with the powdered sugar, so I decided to make the handles for the cauldrons. This turned out to be a good thing. Poking the licorice into the cake would have been much harder and messier if they were already filled.

I finished this up about the time Sis arrived with the powdered sugar. It's pretty basic, but here is what you will need:
1 package of 8-ounce cream cheese (which I let sit out with the butter at room temperature for about an hour and a half before mixing)
1/4 cup unsalted butter (half a stick)
1/4 cup canned pumpkin puree (I still have leftovers I'll use to make bread or pancakes this weekend)
1 teaspoon fresh orange juice (about half an orange)
4 cups confectioners sugar

You mix it for about 5 minutes until it looks like frosting. Next, I peeled back a little of the cupcake tin to make a rim for the cauldron. Then, I spooned it into the holes, making sure it overflowed a bit.

I topped it with the sprinkles and made zig-zagging motions with the sparkly gel. Next, I sprayed the frosting with the green food coloring. I practiced first on some mini-marshmallows so I could get a feel for how it would turn out. I decided to save those marshmallows for later. Tip: don't press the sprayer too hard or you'll end up with a mess. I also wore gloves while I did this so I wouldn't turn my hands green for a couple of days. I finished the cupcakes off by sticking a pretzel into the frosting to be the spoon.

I wanted these to look extra fun for my friends, so I layered the bottom of small plastic cups with the green and white marshmallows and extra pretzels. I hoped this would look like firewood with green flames. I placed the cupcake on top, covered with plastic wrap and called it good.

Though I don't think I will quit my job any time soon to sell decorative desserts, because they didn't turn out THAT good, I will say these were super cute. And they were yummy. Everyone who I gave one to say they thought they were cute and no one told me they tasted badly, so I hope that's a good sign.

Overall, this was a fun treat that perked up my friends' days a little (or so I'd like to think). It was also fun to do, and it's something I'd like to try again with my nephew or some of my friends' kids.

To see any of the other recipes I've tried out as part of Reading in the Kitchen, or to learn more about the series, click on the tab at the top of the page.

Please leave comment and tell me what you think — especially if you try it yourself — or follow me on Twitter @lmchap. We'll be back for another recipe next week.

October 27, 2011

bestie wrap party

Thanks for joining me on this countdown — it was definitely fun. Here's a final rundown of the list, which is also available on the Projects page.

Top Ten BFFs in books:
10. Kristy, Claudia, Mary Anne, Stacey, Dawn, Mallory and Jessi of Ann M. Martin's Baby-sitters Club series
9. Jane Bennet of Jane Austen's Pride and Prejudice
8. Mac, Emma, Laurel and Parker of Nora Roberts' Bride Quartet
7. Laurie of Louisa May Alcott's Little Women
6. Diana of the L.M. Montgomery's Anne of Green Gables series
5. Suze of Sophie Kinsella's Shopaholic series
4. Charlotte of E.B. White's Charlotte's Web
3. Dill from Harper Lee's To Kill a Mockingbird
2. Hermione and Ron from J.K. Rowling's Harry Potter series
1. Sam from J.R.R. Tolkien's Lord of the Rings trilogy

I set out to identify the person or people who were the best sidekicks, partners in crime and motivators to the protagonist. In some cases, such as in the Baby-sitters Club or Bride Quartet, at one point another they were the protagonist.

When I look back at the characters on this list, I'm struck by the common traits I found within them all: loyalty, dependability and selflessness when the time calls for it.

Also, in most cases, it was clear that the characters would be willing to do anything for their best friends and could count on the same treatment in return. For some of them that meant banding together against a butcher or obnoxious parent. In others, it meant facing death. No matter the situation, they could be counted on when it mattered most.

Likewise, these were the people who the protagonists most relied on and trusted. That says a lot about their value.

I may have wrapped up my top 10 favorite literary sidekicks, but that doesn't mean there aren't more out there. This time, I asked Mom, who is one of the greatest readers I know, who her favorite besties were, regardless of who I included in my list.

Mom's Top Six
•  Captain Arthur Hastings from the Poirot series by Agatha Christie•  Tommy Beresford and Tuppence Cowley from their own series by Agatha Christie (They later married, but were BFF, first.)
•  Dr. Watson from the Sherlock Holmes series by Sir Arthur Conan Doyle
•  Lula from the Stephanie Plumb series by Janet Evanovich
•  John Sampson in the Alex Cross series by James Patterson
•  Samwise Gamgee from the Lord of the Rings trilogy by J.R. Tolkien

There were also some BFFs who didn't make the list, but who I still enjoy. Here are a few that were close to making my top 10:
•  Jude, Shazzar and Tom from Bridget Jones's Diary by Helen Fielding
•  Charlotte Lucas from Pride and Prejudice by Jane Austen
•  Harriet Smith from Emma by Jane Austen
•  Adam Eddington from A Ring of Endless Light and Troubling a Star by Madeline L'Engle He was a bestie before he was a boyfriend, so I figure he counts.)
•  Mary Ingalls from the Little House books by Laura Ingalls Wilder

one friend to rule them all

No. 1: Samwise Gangee from the Lord of the Rings series by J.R.R. Tolkien

The Lord of the Rings trilogy shows how a person, even a small one, can make a big difference in his or her world. Sam, Frodo's travel companion and friend, exemplifies this throughout the series. A gardener-turned bodyguard and motivator at times, Sam rises above the expectations people have for him to become a hero. 

The history

Sam is Frodo Baggins' gardener. He was made Frodo's first companion on his journey to Rivendell. When the Fellowship split up, Sam accompanied Frodo and cared for him, carrying much of the burden of maintaing their survival. 

Favorite scene

In Return of the King, Frodo and Sam succeed in destroying the ring. Frodo finally shows his appreciation for his friend, who has stuck with him through great peril. He says, "For the Quest is achieved, and now all is over. I am glad that you are here with me. Here at the end of all things, Sam."

This is eventually followed by the ending and resolution, where Frodo and Bilbo leave for the west, and Sam bids his friend farewell in an immensely touching scene.

I also love a scene from the trilogy. It gives me goosebumps. Normally, I wouldn't include a specific one from the film, but it was this scene that made me love the trilogy, and it built my interest.

In The Two Towers, Sam and Frodo are taken to Gondor after nearly reaching Mordor, where they needed to go to destroy the ring. In their moment of devastation and personal darkness, Sam makes a powerful speech, which inspires his friends and those around him.

Sam, who has already shown his dedication and devotion to his friend by sticking with him, wins the title of best BFF in that moment. Sam, who was once innocent and unworldly shows how much he has changed, how his worldview has grown and how he will continue to stick by his friend. He also reminds Frodo what it is that they're working toward. His words are a game changer for the whole story, and his devotion carries them through to fulfill their duty. Though he didn't utter these words in the book, I'd like to think he would have.

Favorite lines
"It would be the death of you to come with me, Sam," said Frodo, "and I could not have borne that."
"Not as certain as being left behind," said Sam.
"But I am going to Mordor."
"I know that well enough, Mr. Frodo. Of course you are. And I'm coming with you."
Fellowship of the Ring

"How would this do: and they all settled down and lived together happily ever after?"

"It will do well, if it ever comes to that," said Frodo. 

"Ah!" said Sam. "And where will they live? That's what I often wonder."
Fellowship of the Ring

"I know we are going to take a very long road, into darkness; but I know I can't turn back. It isn't to see Elves now, nor dragons, nor mountains, that I want - I don't rightly know what I want: but I have something to do before the end, and it lies ahead, not in the Shire."
Fellowship of the Ring

"Though here at journey's end I lie in darkness buried deep, beyond all towers strong and high, beyond all mountains steep, above all shadows rides the Sun and Stars forever dwell: I will not say the Day is done, nor bid the Stars farewell."
The Return of the King

Why I love him

When I told my mom I was going to do this series she told me I had to include Samwise Gangee. She was right — completely right, as it turns out.

Talk about an epic BFF. How many buddies of yours would go with you to the end of the Earth and be willing to sacrifice their lives for you? How many of them have actually done it? There you go.

I knew about the LOTR trilogy as long as I can remember. My mom was a fan, so we watched the animated films growing up. As a high school student, Peter Jackson released his trilogy. I worked at a movie theater at the time, and this rekindled my interest in the series.

I read the books during college, admittedly not as faithfully or thoroughly as others I've read (and I do intend to reread them and pay better attention some day), but I was always moved by Sam in both print and film. Sam is loyal, courageous, kind and good. He shows the lengths he would go to for friendship in a way few others have had the chance.

There's not much else to say about Sam, because anyone who has read the books or seen the movies has seen his character.

Thank you for reading Project BFF. You can also read more about the series by visiting the "Projects" page, posted on the bar at the top of the page. Return this afternoon to read my final thoughts on the project and see some honorable mentions.

Please feel free to leave a comment or shoot me a message on Twitter. Follow me @lmchap. 

October 26, 2011

pbff countdown to the finish

The end of Project BFF is almost here. Before I reveal my No. 1 favorite bestie, let's recap who else made the list:

10. Kristy, Claudia, Stacey, Mary Anne, Dawn, Mallory and Jessi of the Baby-sitters Club by Ann M. Martin
9. Jane Bennet of Pride and Prejudice by Jane Austen
8. Mac, Emma, Laurel and Parker of the Bride Quartet by Nora Roberts
7. Laurie from Little Women by Louisa May Alcott
6. Diana Barry of Anne of Green Gables series by L.M. Montgomery
5. Suze of the Shopaholic series by Sophie Kinsella
4. Charlotte of Charlotte's Web by E.B. White
3. Dill of To Kill A Mockingbird by Harper Lee
2. Hermione Granger and Ron Weasley of the Harry Potter series

Who will be No. 1? Check tomorrow morning to find out.

In the meantime, who are your favorite besties in books? Share them with me on Twitter @lmchap or by posting a comment here, and I'll include them in my PBFF wrap-up tomorrow afternoon.

magic and more

No. 2: Hermione Granger and Ron Weasley from the Harry Potter series by J.K. Rowling

I often feel like a grew up with Harry, Hermione and Ron. I started the adventure when I was the same age as them, and it came to an end the summer before my senior year of college. I adore the books, and I enjoyed the movies, too, so no list would be complete without them.

The history

Harry leaves for his first year of Hogwarts without ever knowing what a true friend is. He's lucky to find a good buddy and partner-in-crime from the get go in Ron Weasley. Soon, Hermione goes from the annoying girl in their class to part of their team, completing the trio.

Favorite scene

It's hard to pick just one from all of the shenanigans these three kids got into, but I suppose I'll pick one from the final book, because it's the one I read most recently.

I love when Ron, Hermione and Harry crash the Ministry of Magic after they escape to London while they figure out their next move. Though a critical part of the story, it ends up being one of the lighter moments in this dark book. I also like that you see them using spells and magic from the previous novels to get them through it.

Favorite lines

Hermione Granger
"You said to us once before," said Hermione quietly, "that there was time to turn back if we wanted to. We've had time, haven't we?"

"Just because you've got the emotional range of a teaspoon doesn't mean we all have."

"Just because it's taken you three years to notice, Ron, doesn't mean no one else has spotted I'm a girl!"

"Imagine losing fingernails, Harry! That really puts our sufferings into perspective, doesn't it?"
Ron Weasley
"Hearing voices no one else can hear isn't a good sign, even in the wizarding world."

"We're coming for you whether the Muggles like it or not, you can't miss the World Cup, only Mum and Dad reckon it's better if we pretend to ask their permission first. If they say yes, send Pig back with your answer pronto, and we'll come and get you at five o'clock on Sunday. If they say no, send Pig back pronto and we'll come and get you at five o'clock on Sunday anyway." Ron Weasley

"From now on, I don't care if my tea leaves spell 'die, Ron, die,' I'm chucking them in the bin where they belong."

"Lockhart'll sign anything if it stands still long enough."

Why I love them

Though the trio has its ups and downs (an understatement, of course), they are always there for one another. Whether it's playing a round of larger than life Wizard Chess to help Harry find the Sorcerer's Stone (I'm American. That's what we call it here.) or fighting Deatheaters in combat, Ron and Hermione are always first in line to face possible death when Harry calls.

Isn't that the ultimate test of a friend? Someone who has your back no matter what you're up against?

And for all of his faults, and he has many, Ron brings some much-needed humor to the seriousness these three always find themselves in. And Hermione is awesome. She comes off as a know-it-all, but I find her empowering. She isn't ashamed to be smart, and for the most part she makes a great role model for young girls.

All three of them are brave, and tough Harry is the star, he would never have made it to the end without his friends. And he recognizes that.

And aside from facing the constant danger of Lord Voldemort, the trio stands up against other adversity. For example, Ron and Harry are always quick to come to Hermione's aid when she is criticized for being a Muggle. Likewise, Harry and Hermione back up Ron when he is teased for his family. Supporting each other in these moments was as important to their friendship as the final battle at Hogwarts.

I'm still not completely a fan of the Ron and Hermione romantic connection (and don't get me started on Harry and Ginny), and do you know what my biggest reason for this is (aside from the fact that I not-so-secretly always wanted Harry and Hermione to get together)? Because I would rather the three of them stay BFF without having to get hugging and kissing involved. They're such an awesome trio as friends, and it bummed me out that even though Harry apparently finds love, he's now the odd man out in the group.

I don't know if any of that rambling made sense to you, but in my head it works, so humor me please.

Return tomorrow to see who will be the No. 1 BFF. You can also read more about the series by visiting the "Projects" page, posted on the bar at the top of the page. Also, check back on Friday for a very special Harry Potter themed Reading in the Kitchen.

Please feel free to leave a comment or shoot me a message on Twitter. Follow me @lmchap. Click here to read more about PBFF.

October 25, 2011

buddy up

Last night, three friends and I collaborated on a short script, and it was one of the most enjoyable writing experiences I've had in a long time.

The short film will be created by a friend and her co-workers as part of a team building activity, but she wanted to have the script in place so they could focus on the performance. Tasked with creating something fun, we were free to write just about anything. And we did.

We were all laughing hysterically by the time the evening was done. Our conversations and activities weren't always on topic, but they all brought us closer to the finished product. No one else may find our script as funny as we did, but that's not what it was all about. By collaborating with three other individuals with different backgrounds and writing styles, I found one of the most rewarding experiences I've ever had.

So this is my challenge to you. Find other creative types with different styles to work with. Even if it's just a short film you throw on YouTube, a story for your blog or it never goes farther than your discussion, the process itself is incredible.

Check out these helpful links on how to get the most out of collaborative writing efforts:
Tips for Collaborative Writing
Tips for Collaborative Writing and Peer Reviewing
Collaborative Writing Resources

October 24, 2011

nanowrimo update 10/24

Today, I will begin giving weekly updates on National Novel Writing Month in hopes it will better encourage me to cross the 50,000-word mark. I'll give a progress report, set new goals and give any other reflections I might have.

Progress report:
•  I completed my 10-scene tool planner and chapter-by-chapter outline of the book.
•  I made revisions to the outline.
•  I cleaned and reorganized my kitchen as part of my de-clutter-and-simplify-my-life plan.
•  Installed and used a shoe organizer for my closet.
•  Created a writing space in the barbrary (free from distractions of Internet and TV).
•  Wrote two overdue book reviews.
•  Completed reading a new book for review (check back Sunday to read my full-length review).

Goals for next week:
•  Finish cleaning my bedroom/ great room.
•  Finish two more new books for review.
•  Write two overdue and three new book reviews.
•  Research and stock up on nutritious and convenient meals and snacks to eat on those days when writing is more important than cooking.
•  Sign up for weekly exercise classes to de-stress.
•  Finalize blog guest posts for November.

In case you haven't heard, this November my awesome friends will help me keep this blog afloat while I dive into the insanity that is NaNoWriMo. In addition to my weekly progress reports, book reviews and Reading in the Kitchen, the blog will feature guest posts from some of my fabulous and creative friends. Topics will include reading, novel writing, screenwriting, editing and more. I am blessed to have so many talented friends, and I can't wait to read their offerings.

Who knows? If this goes well, we might make this a November tradition!

creating a writing space

The focal point of the barbrary — the adult fiction and nonfiction section, complete with art gallery.

I have received requests for an update on the barbrary, but sadly I haven't had much to report since my original post. Until now.

With NaNoWriMo a week away, I have this desire to simplify and organize my life in a big way. My novel is already planned and ready to go, so I don't mind taking a little of the time I would have spend plotting tidying.

This weekend, that included me spending a couple of hours on the barbrary. For those of you who don't know, in May the kittens and I moved back into the house my three siblings and I periodically rent from our parents at different times in our life. Right now I'm living with my two older brothers, aka the broomies. Unfortunately, one of the broomies doesn't care for the kittens, so we've been sent to live underground. In the basement. Slowly, but surely, I've been turning the unwelcoming basement into a home. Part of this plan is my barbrary.

One of the cool features of our 1970s house is the built in bar in the basement. It is its own separate room, but includes an arched doorway and two arched windows, which open into the main area. Wanting to conserve space, I combined two of my favorite things into one (i.e. bars and libraries) and created a barbrary.

I previously loaded bookshelves and hundreds of books into the room. I later added some wall art, but the rest of the room was storage. (After fully furnishing apartments on my own for a few years, it's hard to know where to put everything in a shared space.) These weekend, I went through a lot of the boxes. Though there is still a lot of clutter on the actual bartop, I managed to move everything else out. This made room for my desk and computer, which previously sat in the main room.

My goal was to create a fun writing spot for myself when I need to buck down and write. Typically, I can work anywhere, but sometimes I need the discipline of a desk. Plus, my desktop computer is not hooked up to the Internet, so it cuts out on that distraction when it's crunch time. I imagine I'll put this area to use next month when I'm aiming at that 50K mark.

So, enjoy these photos to see the progress of where I am. Hopefully, by next year, I'll have everything put away, the bar itself re-finished and some fresh paint on the walls.

Check back later today for my weekly NaNoWriMo update!

My desk and desktop computer are now placed in the room near one of the windows.
That's a bookshelf with writing books and supplies on it up against the bar.

Next to my desk I have a memo board where I post notes for my current projects.
Check out all the reference and style books.
This is my young adult bookshelf, which is located behind the bar.

Eventually those baskets on the liquor shelf will be organized with writing and craft materials.
(I don't plan on having this bar stocked, because there isn't running water right now,
and the idea of unwashed sticky cups down there grosses me out.)

The Harry Potter pillow my sister gave me years ago *finally* has a place in my home.

I moved one of the kitten beds into the barbrary for the times I am in there writing.
Bingley is my shadow when I'm home, so I want to make sure he's cozy while I work.

Bingley approves of the new spot for our fab IKEA barstools.

October 23, 2011

book review: remember me?

Title: Remember Me?
Author: Sophie Kinsella

In Remember Me? Lexi Smart takes a fall at 25 and wakes up in a hospital bed three years later. Only, instead of having a loser boyfriend, crappy career and awkward appearance she is married to a successful millionaire, a corporate big shot and beautifully poised.

Though she seemingly has awoken with the perfect life of her dreams, Lexi comes to learn that appearances are not everything and that fabulous isn't always better.

It's hard to say much about this without spoiling all of the surprises, but I will say I loved this novel. I started reading it at about 10 p.m. thinking I could get through the first few chapters before bed. I ended up staying up most of the night to read it. I wanted to know what happened next and next, and sleeping didn't seem important.

The story is such a unique premise — a woman loses there years of memories and most live her life without knowing how she got there. And while she tries to fit into her new life and understand how she got there, she must deal with the frustration of being unable to trust her mind or heart.

Though elements of her story were emotionally difficult to read, Lexi was a refreshing and appealing protagonist I bonded with instantly. I was outraged or overfilled with joy on her behalf, which is what I most look for in a read.

While carrying Kinsella's signature wit and humor, the book also touches on tough issues, such as lost friends, backstabbers, adultery and family problems. But Lexi has a good heart, perseverance and a true desire to love that she tackles each problem as it comes.

As usual, Kinsella delivers a well-crafted and entertaining story about a woman overcoming the obstacles and challenges thrown at her.

If you're a Kinsella fan like I am, Lexi's story should resonate well with you and be interesting, because it is filled with new twists and issues not dealt with in her other stories.

Rating: 4.5 out of 5


book review: twenties girl

Title: Twenties Girl
Author: Sophie Kinsella

In Twenties Girl, Lara Lington is visited by the spirit of her great-aunt Sadie. Sadie wants Lara to find a beloved necklace that has gone missing, and she can't rest peacefully in eternity without it. Along the way, Sadie meddles in Lara's personal, professional and romantic life trying to press her beliefs and notions.

Honestly, Twenties Girl was not my favorite Sophie Kinsella book. In fact, it's probably the one I like least.

Not that it wasn't well-written. When you pick up one of Kinsella's books, you can always count on quality writing and witty banter. The characters and story arcs are well-developed. You can also always count on her books being fast-paced and entertaining, which makes it difficult to put down.

While the premise was interesting, I didn't connect with Lara the way I did with her other characters. And though Sadie could be entertaining, usually I wanted to throttle rather than embrace her. She frequently puts Lara in super awkward situations, and I cringed reading them, because I felt so bad for the protagonist. This left me tense throughout much of the reading, and I hate being tense.

And though he was not my favorite leading man, Ed was still OK as a love interest. It takes a while for him to seem like a suitable match for Lara or for him to be sympathetic to the reader. But, he gets there eventually.

I guess I just wasn't that into this book. And that's OK. You can't fall in love with every book. I would still recommend it as a read to Chick-Lit fans. Even my least favorite Kinsella novel is worth a read, because her work consistently shines.

Rating: 4 out of 5

October 21, 2011

the pumpkin game changer

While tallying up more than 2,000 miles on a recent business trip across Nebraska, Colorado and Wyoming, I took advantage of the hours of solitude by listening to two audio books. I recently discovered audio books, or at least discovered how they could fit in my life.

I don't know why I haven't done this before. When I lived in Houston, I borrowed a few books on tape from my mom and listened to them on the 14-hour drive home once, but other than that I never did it. I think about the 10s of 100s of thousands of miles I've driven in the past three years (and yes, I'd estimate it is more than 100,000 miles), I think about how many books I could have listened to and checked off my "to read list."

Regardless, I listened to two audio books, including Promises to Keep by Jane Green. I read the description on the back, and knowing it was a Jane Green book, I figured it would be light-hearted, funny and a great book to listen to while I drove.

I was wrong. I'm not saying the book was bad. I'm just saying it was sad. I mean really sad. Like, sad enough I sobbed out loud for about four hours total while I listened (split between two days, of course). I'm glad one of my Tweeps warned me, because I would have been completely shocked by the turn the novel took if she hadn't told me to prepare to cry. Without giving away any major plot details, I'll just say it was sad, and bittersweet, and did I mention sad? Thank goodness I listened to the most emotional part after I was done meeting customers, or I would have had to explain my puffy eyes, tear-streaked cheeks and stuffy nose.

The only thing that kept me from completely falling into despair was the recipes. This book is filled to the brim with recipes. One of the main characters is a vegan/ vegetarian chef (even better for a pescetarian gal like me), and the characters are always talking about food. Jane Green made it even easier for a book foodie like me by including a recipe with every chapter of the book.

And then she went ahead and put them all on her website. Ms. Green, thank you so much for doing that. After all the research and planning I normally have to do to find recipes, your website is a jackpot.

I made mental notes to check out a few of the recipes (which I may write about in future weeks), but one stood out to me from the rest: Pumpkin Gingerbread Trifle. I know. It sounds awesome, doesn't it? This particular dish was one a book club shared together and raved about, and my stomach rumbled when they described it.

I knew I would make this recipe when I heard it. I love pumpkin. I enjoy gingerbread. I was so distracted thinking about trying this dish, I almost missed an exit. Or I would have, if I weren't such an observant, dedicated driver.

The first day I was back from my trip, I went to the grocery store and bought the supplies to make the trifle. Unfortunately, I didn't read the recipe entirely, and I missed a couple of ingredients that I had to go back for later. Even then, I didn't have enough half and half, but I'll come back to that.

Following Jane's advice, I went for a box mix for the gingerbread. I'm not opposed to a little adventure in the kitchen, but I'm with Jane on this one, as she explains how she and a friend differ when making this dish:
The first thing The Sherpa does is make gingerbread, which frankly, seems to me to be absolutely bonkers. The Sherpa is a wonderful cook, but she and I cook very differently. She likes fine, French food, and I like throwing things together, very easily, and eating family style.
I'm not proud of my decision to half ass this recipe with a boxed mix. It was, I realize, the right choice for me at that time. Don't judge me. Or do. I don't care. I have no regrets.

The night before my friends were scheduled to come over to paint pumpkins, I decided to make the trifle. I wanted it to be a fun treat while we got creative, and I only hoped it turned out as well as I imagined.

I had just pulled the box of gingerbread out of the cupboard when someone knocked at my front door.

"I'm here ready to paint," my visitor said, waving a bag of mini pumpkins at me.

"Oh," I said, caught off guard. "We're actually painting tomorrow..."

Both of our smiles fell. If you love painting pumpkins as much as my friends and I do, you understand the sheer disappointment of being told you have to wait another day.

"Hey!" I said, brightening, "I'm being domestic and baking. Want to watch?"

So with an audience and a cooking buddy, I went to work. I started with the gingerbread. It was easy. I read the directions on the box, and I followed them. Fair enough.

While that was baking in the oven, and I was distractedly chatting away, I started the custard.

First, scald 3 cups of half and half in a saucepan. Her directions say that means, "take it to the edge of boiling" before removing from heat. This sounded easy enough, except I realized too late that I had only purchased a 1-cup container of half and half. Crap. I debated going to grocery store, but with gingerbread in the oven and a guest in tow, I went to plan b: check my fridge. I had a freshly opened carton of soy milk, and figuring it was worth a shot, I poured two cups into the sauce pan.

While the half and half got its scald on, I beat together 6 eggs, 1/2 cup white sugar, 1/2 cup firmly packed brown sugar, 1/3 cup molasses (yes, now I have molasses in my pantry to use up some how, too), 1/4 teaspoon salt, cinnamon and my always faithful pumpkin pie spice in lieu of ginger, nutmeg and cloves. Though Green provides suggestions for how much spice to use, I channel my inner cooking goddess and sprinkle it in until it feels right. It's like I become one with the seasoning and I just know. Actually, I've just made enough pumpkin pies and baked goods in the past two years that I'm good at ball-parking it.

Meanwhile, I basically abandoned the scalding milk while I gossiped and mixed. I realized this, too late.

*Expletive!* I shouted, as the milk overflows. (I'll let you imagine, which one I used. Hint, it is four letters, but not terribly shocking.)

I managed to salvage most of the milk, but still had the joy of cleaning it later. Complacency is dangerous, friends, and in the kitchen it can lead to bigger than normal messes.

Annoyed, and slightly embarrassed to have a friend witness my cooking faux pas, I poured in the milk and a large can of pumpkin puree. Green suggests 3 cups, but this was close enough.

By about this time the half-assed gingerbread was done. I still had not learned my lesson about the importance of paying attention in the kitchen, though. It had already cost me the correct amount of half and half and an overflowed pot of milk. The worst was still to come.

In my distracted excitement, I burned my poor thumb removing the pan of gingerbread. Burns happen in the kitchen, but his one wasn't good. I included the picture I took of it a few days later when it still hurt. COMPLACENCY IS BAD. Let my pain and suffering be a lesson to you all.

While the gingerbread cooled, I poured the custard batter into a greased 9x13 pan and threw it in the oven at 325 degrees. I bid my friend farewell and settled down to mope about my injured thumb.

About 25 minutes into the suggested 50-plus minutes of baking, I re-read the directions and realized I'd made another big mistake. The recipe said to place a smaller dish inside a larger dish filled with hot water.

*Another expletive.* Now I'd really done it. I could bare the mark of my disgrace on my thumb, but there was no way I was going to lose this pumpkin custard now that it was in the oven.

So I called Mom, hoping she would have some magic trick.

She did. She always does.

"Pour some water into another pan and put it in the oven on the rack under the one you have in baking," she said. "It might take a bit longer to cook, but that water should give you the humidity you need in the oven."

Mom saves the day again. Her suggestion worked, because after baking the custard for 10 minutes longer than suggested it looked perfect. As directed, I covered the dish and put it in the fridge to set overnight.

I assembled the trifle the next evening about an hour before my friends came over. I cut the gingerbread into little squares, which I planned to place in layers. Though in the book, and in Green's recipe, you are supposed to make one trifle in a large bowl, I decided to make individual mini-trifles in cups so I could more easily serve them to my friends.

I made whipped cream by taking a cartoon of whipping cream and adding some sugar, vanilla, gingerbread crumbs, cinnamon and molasses to it. I whipped it up into a batter and set it aside.

In each of the little cups I put a layer of gingerbread, a layer of pumpkin custard, a layer of whipped cream and then repeated once more. I shared a couple of servings with one of the broomies and his friend, and neither said much while they ate. Each of them mumbled that it was good, but both seemed pretty intent on eating their dish.

That seemed to be the reception I received from everyone I shared the trifles with that night and the following days. They would say, "it's good," then spend the next several minutes eating it, maybe making an appreciative sound or two, until they were done.

Then it was my turn. I took the first bite, and I was just about moved to tears all over again.

This dish is as unbelievably fantastic as the book was sad. I loved this dessert with a passion and depth I can barely comprehend

How can I describe it? Let's just say, if the Pumpkin Gingerbread Trifle was a man, I'd throw a big splashy wedding, settle down in a three-bedroom house in the 'burbs with our kids and kittens and co-chair the PTA with it. It's that good.

My sister gave me a more tangible review," Yes, it did taste good, but I really liked the texture of it. It wasn't so much like pumpkin pie, but fluffier."

I likened the pumpkin to being sweeter and more custard-like than standard pumpkin pie filling, but I still couldn't quite describe what made the dish work so well together.

Then one of my co-workers put it perfectly when she tried a few bites of it, "It's kind of like Tiramisu," she said.

That's exactly how I would describe this — the pumpkin and gingerbread lover's Tiramisu.

I happily ate leftovers for the rest of the week (this yields a LOT of servings). I can definitely see why the characters in the book raved about it. And I'll say this — I'm making this again, but this time, I'll pay more attention.

Thanks for reading. Please feel free to submit book food ideas by posting a comment here or messaging me on Twitter @lmchap. While you're at it follow me, and I'll follow back. To see more Reading in the Kitchen posts, click on the tab on the top tab. We'll be back next Friday for another recipe.

October 20, 2011

pbff announcement

I will not be posting Project BFF No. 2, today, because... I got caught up writing my National Novel Writing Month outline late last night. And I finished it.

I'm pretty excited and already feel a huge sense of accomplishment. This is the most on the ball I have ever been for any of these NaNo ventures (I was sadly unsuccessful at completing both sessions of Camp NaNoWriMo).

The work isn't over, though. I plan to continue to work on this outline to make sure the order makes sense and to further develop my characters to see if they have anything else they need to say in this book.

So, apologies if you visited, today, hoping to read PBFF. Never fear, I'll post it eventually.

While I'm at it, this is a good time to mention what will happen on this blog in November. I'm actually totally excited about it. To help me generate content while I NaNo, I have an awesome group of friends who have agreed to write guest blog posts for me. I'll feature aspiring and published novelists, journalists, editors, screenwriters, book-sellers and book lovers. I will continue to release a new "Reading in the Kitchen" post every Friday, as well as short update posts through the week, but the real excitement is going to come from these guest blogs. I can't wait to read what each of them has to say.

I am lucky to have such talented friends. Now I have the chance to show them off.

October 19, 2011

plotting for nanowrimo

It is less than two weeks until National Novel Writing Month begins. Are you prepared?

If you're a plotter like me, you need to know where your story is going and why before you write those first words come Nov. 1. This year, I'm already in much better shape than I was last time around.

Last Nov. 1, I decided to give NaNoWriMo a try for the first time. At 8 p.m. that night. I had an idea, a few characters, but no real plot. I was stressed, had no idea what my book was really about and have been paying for it since with revision after revision.

This year, I'm going with a more relaxed, more structured approach. Instead of throwing together a quick outline and character charts the day I plan to initiate writing, I'm doing it now. I also have a few twists that make this story planning different than any other time.

In previous posts, I've mentioned ways to develop characters, plan the 10 key scenes of the story and ultimately develop a chapter outline. For this book, I've done it all in a quick, mobile and easily accessible way. I'm creating a book planner to go. Here's how.

First, I picked up these supplies at a local drug store:
•  A pack of index card
•  An index card holder
•  Highlighters
•  pens

Next, I plot out the basics of each character on a card. I include their name, brief description and the role they will play in the story. I use more than one card for main characters.

Then, I determined the 10 main scenes that will appear in this book. Each scene gets a card. On one side I write the gist of the scene and on the other, I include what number it is in the order (1 through 10) and what kind of a scene it is (i.e. The Opener, Point of No Return, The Ending, etc.).

What is nice about this is that when I need to really consider the direction my story is taking, I place the cards in the order they would appear if I drew out the chart. I'm a visual person, and this definitely helps.

Another perk? If I decided I need to flip a scene or two around, I could do it easily.

I'm still working on the chapter by chapter cards, but again, it's the same benefits as the scene cards. They're easy to flip around. Plus, it helps me focus on each scene or chapter as it happens. Looking at one card at a time seems less daunting than reviewing a whole packet of info.

Then, I organize all of those index cards in the index card holder. I organize the tabs as I need them. For this book, I have four tabs named so far:
•  Main characters
•  Supporting characters
•  Top ten scenes
•  Chapter outline

I still have one tab up for naming, so we'll see if something comes of that.

In the end, it's so compact and easy to cart around. It slips into my purse, and I always have it, and spare index cards, with me. That means, if I have an idea, or want to remember where I'm at, I'll know.

What about the rest of you plotters? What are you doing to plan your books? Do you think this method would be at all beneficial?

Please feel free to post a comment or contact me on Twitter @lmchap. Be sure to vote in my NaNoWriMo poll, located at the top of the right-hand column.

October 18, 2011

the clown

No. 3: Dill from To Kill a Mockingbird by Harper Lee

Dill plays the sidekick and friend to Scout Finch and her brother Jem on their adventures. Their friend spends his summers in their small southern town.

The history

Dill's arrival is important to spurring the events that occur throughout the book. "...It began the summer Dill came to us, when Dill first gave us the idea of making Boo Radley come out" (Chapter One).

It is through Scout's eventual understanding of Boo Radley, and her coming to see him as a person and not a legend, that promotes some of the book's greatest themes — tolerance in an intolerant world, good and bad existing at once and the importance of having hope and faith in mankind.

During one of Dill's summer adventures home, the trio decide to sneak into the Radley home to sneak a peak at Boo. That event spurs other, future events, which culminates in Boo saving the Finch children.

Favorite scene/ favorite lines

After dealing with the disappointment of Tom Robinson's conviction, Dill says to his friends;
"I think I'll be a clown when I get grown," said Dill.

Jem and I stopped in our tracks.

"Yes sir, a clown," he said. "There ain't one thing in this world I can do about folks except laugh, so I'm gonna join the circus and laugh my head off."

"You got it backwards, Dill," said Jem. "Clowns are sad, it's folks that laugh at them."

"Well I'm gonna be a new kind of clown. I'm gonna stand in the middle of the ring and laugh at the folks."
(Chapter 22)

The words lighten the mood a little, but also show how the children's worldview has changed. Good scene.

Why I love him/her/them
Dill provides an innocent, and often light-hearted perspective in an otherwise serious story. Likewise, he faces the difficult times with his friends while they try to understand the often harsh realities of their world. He serves as a solid link between the two siblings and their pasts and their futures.

Dill was based on Harper Lee's childhood friend and fellow writer Truman Capote. The two helped each other with their writing careers — Lee conducted interviews for In Cold Blood — and info indicates they remained friends throughout life. To Kill a Mockingbird also suggests that Jem and Scout remain friends with Dill.

He meets two of my main criteria for a BFF: one who sticks with his or her buddies through the tough times and one who lasts a lifetime.

Plus, I just love the book. It is one of the few required school reads I actually liked and count among my favorite books. Granted, I read the book before it was required (that's the only way I can happily beat the system), but you get the idea.

Return Thursday to see who will be the No. 2 BFF. You can also read more about the series by visiting the "Projects" page, posted on the bar at the top of the page.

Please feel free to leave a comment or shoot me a message on Twitter. Follow me @lmchap. Click here to read more about PBFF.

October 17, 2011

nanowrimo connects writers

Blogger's note: Nebraska Writers Guild president and National Novel Writing Month Nebraska Lincoln region and Nebraska Elsewhere regions municipal liaison shares why NaNoWriMo works.

Lisa Kovanda
guest blogger

I’m a busy author—but I still do NaNoWriMo!

I write every day.  I’m the president of the Nebraska Writers Guild.  I have works sitting on publishers’ desks, and you can find my work on Barnes and Noble.  I also have a script that will be staged on Nov. 5, so I’m directing as well.  But I not only make time for NaNoWriMo, but I am the Municipal Liaison for two regions, the Nebraska::Lincoln region, and the Nebraska::Elsewhere region.  Did I mention that I’m also a full-time retail manager? Nothing at all happens in retail in November, right?  Yet here I am, planning events and getting ready to kick off another NaNovel.  And in spite of how it appears, I don’t have a death wish.  So, why do you find me manning the NaNo forums and entering my daily wordcounts into spreadsheets every November?

First of all, writing is for the most part, a rather solitary profession.  I sit at my computer and intermittently stare at the walls and pound at the keyboard as I flesh out a story.  I usually like my characters, but they really don’t do all that much to keep me company.  During November, everybody is roughly at the same point in the noveling experience.  We start on Nov. 1, and if the stars and planets align, we all finish by before the clock hits midnight Dec. 1.  That gives us all the same things to commiserate about. 

I love meeting all of the writers.  I’m a social butterfly, I admit it.  So, having the opportunity to meet so many like-minded individuals is really appealing.  I’m always thrilled to see how many teens and young adults are in NaNoWriMo. Those people are then future of writing in Nebraska.  Many of those new writers will find themselves on Dec. 1 asking, “Now what?” As the president of the Nebraska Writers Guild, I have answers.  I can point them in the direction of groups that can help a new writer grow in the craft, and navigate the path to publication. 

Most importantly, during the month of November, I set the course for the coming year.  I apply the glue to the chair, and I write.  50,000 words in a month averages out to 1,666 words a day.  I work 13-hour shifts, so I really only write full-time for half of the days of NaNoWriMo.  So, I shoot for closer to 4,000 words a day those days.  That way, when I don’t get anywhere near that word total on my paid-job days, I’m not stressed.  Participating in NaNoWriMo turbo-charges my writing process.  I allow myself the freedom to write without restrictions.  I let the words flow without giving much thought to form and style.  Yes, I know I’ll have to edit later, but some rare gems always manage to find their way out of the month of free-writing. 

Come join us for a month of writing with pure abandon at www.nanowrimo.org.  Because everyone has a story to tell.

Lisa Kovanda, President Nebraska Writers Guild, Municipal Liaison of the Nebraska Lincoln region and Nebraska Elsewhere regions of National Novel Writing Month.  Author, Screenwriter, and  Collector of shiny objects.