Homemade Coffee Creamer…Make Yours At Home!

A writing necessity! ūüôā

RECLAIMING YOUR CASTLE

Around My Family Table Around My Family Table

I love coffee for many reasons ‚Äď besides the necessary¬†dose of caffeine that I can‚Äôt function without in the morning, the flavored creamers bring a smile to my face. Chocolate Almond one morning‚ĶHazelnut the next ‚Äď but who can afford to buy all of those varieties at once? Hmmmm. Why not make them at home!

via Mrs Happy Homemaker

Start With This Base:

  • 14oz Sweetened Condensed Milk
  • 1 3/4 Cup Milk or Cream(whole, lowfat, skim, almond, soy, heavy cream, half¬†& half¬†etc ‚Äď whatever your preference, however the more fat, the more creaminess)

…and, here we go!

French Vanilla Creamer

  • 2 teaspoons vanilla extract OR vanilla coffee syrup

Vanilla Bean Coffee Creamer

  • 2 teaspoons vanilla bean paste

Chocolate

  • 2-3 tablespoons chocolate syrup
  • (1 tsp vanilla extract, optional)

Coffee Style 10 Coffee Style 10

Chocolate Almond

  • 1 tablespoon cocoa powder
  • 1 teaspoon almond extract

Strudel

  • 1 tablespoon cinnamon
  • 1 teaspoon‚Ķ

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My Tangled Character…and It’s Not Who You Think

Disney's Tangled (2010)

Disney’s Tangled (2010)

The other night, my mother came over to see my daughter. My little one had been having major allergy problems thanks to the schizophrenic Missouri weather, and my mom has to check on her sick grandbabies. After my mom’s usual Nana-kisses routine, she settled on the floor with my daughter, who was watching Tangled. (A movie that is played, at least, six times a week at my house.) A few moments later Maximus, the horse, came on the screen, and I heard my mother say, “There’s your mom; she never gives up.”

My first reaction: Did my mom just call me a horse? I’m a horse and not Rapunzel!

Okay, to be honest, everyone wants to be Rapunzel.

If you don’t, you’re crazy.

She is a brilliantly complex character and psychologically spot-on for a girl who has been locked in a tower for her entire life and brainwashed to love her captor, whom she thinks is her mother. Rapunzel regularly shows her heroic nature by demonstrating bravery even though she had been raised to be afraid of everything outside the tower, even willing to venture out into the dangerous world to achieve her goal. See, I kind of have an obsession with Rapunzel, although my hair looks more like Flynn Ryder’s (who is a super awesome character, too) and I don’t have a pet chameleon.

But this post is about Maximus and me.

Maximus

Maximus

So, after a few milliseconds of getting over my shock of being called a four-legged beast with large teeth, I realized the horse is an amazing character. Maximus is extremely tenacious. Even after his royal guard rider can’t keep up with the fleeing thief, Flynn Ryder, Maximus does. Nothing stops him. Not losing his rider. Not Flynn jumping on his back and taking his reins. NOTHING.When Maximus wants something, Maximus gets it. He catches Flynn, finds the stolen crown (along with the “Lost Princess” Rapunzel), and he makes “crime in the kingdom (disappear) almost overnight” when takes over the royal guard at the end of the movie.

So it turned out that my mother had paid me a huge compliment comparing me to Maximus the horse. And she was right. If there is a question that needs answered, a problem that needs to be fixed or a project that needs to be finished, I latch on like Maximus on Flynn’s satchel and don’t let go until I have an answer. (Open-ended statements drive me crazy!) When I want something I get it. I may have to travel through the forest for a while, sniffing the ground for the trail I need, but I always get it. I never give up. It’s not in my DNA.

Right now, I want my book finished, and I WILL get it.

So, which Tangled character are you?

Outlines, Synopses and Plots…Oh My!

Outlines, Synopses, and Plots...Oh My!

I’ll be honest. My writing process isn’t for the faint of heart.

Or probably even the sane.

I am not just a plotter but a Super Plotter. For most people, that would rank right up there with flying monkeys.

In my last post on my endeavors to write my synopsis (Synopses: Love the Burn) for my urban fantasy, From Olympus with Love, I was whining about how difficult of a task that can be. However, I would also like to point out that I have written my synopsis BEFORE I have written the book. If plotting gives you a rash, writing a synopsis before a book would more than likely make you pee yourself. I know it did me, and I am 100% plotter.

In another honesty moment, I have to admit, shortly after starting my synopsis, I stopped. Something was wrong. I couldn’t connect to the story. I couldn’t see it. I was frustrated. I had tried every varying type of writing process (pantser, pantsters, plottsers and plotter), and¬† my process still didn’t feel right. I was fairly confident I was a plotter, but, if that was true, I had a basic enough of an outline I should just be able to type everything out in my synopses and then hop to writing the book.

WRONG.

At least, not for me.

So I stopped–beat my head on the wall a few thousands times–and asked what was wrong. According to what I knew about plotting this should work, but why wasn’t it working for me?

Over the years, I have learned one very important thing about myself: I am an instinctual writer.

“Hold your horses,” you say. “A.M., you just said you were ‘100% plotter.’ You can’t be both.”

Au contraire mon frère. (Or ma soeur)oxymoron

I am a plotter in that I need a solid plot before I write a book, but it has to be extremely detailed and vivid. And the only way I can get that, I realized, was to do an almost completely free-flowing right brain outline with uber detailed scene notes (dialogue, emotions, conflicts, ect.). Sounds like an oxymoron, right?

Well, it worked!

After days of getting up at the butt crack of dawn, I ended with a thirty page outline of my book. Granted, it was a mess because it had been done all right brained, and I wouldn’t allow myself to interrupt the process to organize or doubt myself. I really enjoyed that part. I felt extremely connected to my story and my protagonist, Pandora. But being a plotter, I knew there were still too many unknown variables for comfort or a good story.

So I returned to my synopsis writing and, after multiple derailings by illness and other responsibilities, I completed my synopsis at nineteen pages. Overkill for some, but not for me. By the end of editing my synopsis, I felt very connected to my story and confident as a whole.

Does it still have holes, unknowns, and problems?

Yes.

But that is what I have GREAT critique partners for. Even though I am a plotter, I recognize that I can’t know some things until I actually write the story. At this point, if I worked on it any more, it would just be perfectionist procrastinating…and that is a whole ‘nother blog post.

Best iPad App For Word.

kid_angels_choirBest iPad App For Word.

I have been looking for months to find an iPad Word app that would actually let me use my Microsoft Word documents to their fullest extent–including tracking changes. And it finally happened! According to this article it is Office¬≤ HD by by Byte¬≤. It is compatible with¬† Google Docs, DropBox and Microsoft SkyDrive which means I don’t have to sign up for yet another service. And it has the added feature of¬†word count.dancing_girl_cartoon

Here is a snippet of the app’s description, but see their website for their full list of extensive features (too long for me to want to include here):

Office² HD, the most intuitive and straightforward office document editor available on the iPad, makes it easy to open, view, create and edit Word (DOC & DOCX), Excel (XLS & XLSX), and PowerPoint (PPT & PPTX) files right from your iPad!

Or watch this video to find out even more amazing features in the 5.0 version.

Synopses: Love the Burn

stress_lady

Writing synopses sucks! There is no two ways about it. They are evil little Gremlins that live to make you feel stupid and your family to wonder if you PMSing or going through “the change.”

A synopsis is, according good old Merriam-Webster, “a condensed statement or outline.” Sounds simple enough, right? Ha! Write one. Within a half-hour, you’ll be Goggling the height from the nearest window to see if it’s a long enough of a drop to render you unconscious–and therefore incapable of completing your synopsis–but won’t kill you.Baby crying

Whereas your actual manuscript can have moments of bliss when everything just flows, synopses rarely do. A synopsis is a “bird’s-eye view” of your story. The whittled down¬†plot of your three-hundred-page book minus the sub-plots, minus the plot layers, minus the romance line (unless contemporary romance, according to Camy Tang), minus the characterization, minus the emotion‚Ķ

Minus the will to live.

Okay, that’s being a little dramatic, but you get the picture. They are tough.

Right, now I am having trouble with identifying which of two beginning elements in my story is the inciting incident. The first one is important to the mystery, the ball that gets everything going, but isn’t the catalyst that sets Pandora on her external journey (external goal), i.e. find the mythical killer. The second one directly causes Pandora’s external goal for the book, but I worry that it is too far into the story to be considered the inciting incident. See what I’m talking about? Problems. That’s why I’m writing this and not my synopsis.

And that is the problem with a synopsis. It wants you to label everything. Writing is art; art isn’t labelable.

So why even do a synopsis?

Because it wants you to label everything.

peace_hands By having to label everything thing major in your story (and forget the rest), a synopsis can help you find holes in your plot or character’s internal growth (or lack of).¬† It makes you take a hard look at your story structure and look at it from a completely different mindset than when you actually write the book. For me, I’ve discovered having a solid, strong synopsis before I write the first draft is really important. First, it helps me to know beforehand that it’s not entirely a piece of crap and, therefore, gives me the will to actually write it. Second, it helps root me deeper into the story and gives me a sense of control (important for a control freak like me). And third, by having all the major plot issues already worked out, it frees my mind to focus on the emotions of the story and characters, and it frees my subconscious to work out any issues I hadn’t resolved in the synopsis like subplot issues.

A synopsis can be a very important tool, but that doesn’t mean it’s an easy one to use.

Professional authors write synopses. Plotster or panster. Before the book or after. They do.

So I’ll tell you the same thing I tell myself when I sit down to write a synopsis: “You better pull on your big girl writer pants, get to work and love the burn.”

(In a future post, I’ll talk about my synopsis process.)

Blog Hop!!

blog-hop sparkling

I’ve been tagged by S.D. Keeling (click on the link to learn more about her and her wonderful middle grade novel, The Amulet of Isis) as the next in a blog hop. A blog hop bounces from author to author and grills us on a few questions. I have to say I am surprised by how much fun it was to do this. It’s a lot of fun to link up with everyone and find out what they are up to.

Alright, time to put me under the hop interrogation spotlight.

1. What are you working on right now?

I am taking a break from my picture books and working on an adult urban fantasy, From Olympus with Love.¬† I usually don’t like to talk about my current projects during development (It can drain the creative drive if I talk about it too much.), but I am going to include my blurp because it’s a special event.

From Olympus With Love

Living in Las Vegas, centuries celibate Pandora is about as free of the gods as an ex-mother of the human race can be. Until she becomes mysteriously pregnant. Desperate not to relive past mistakes, Pandora’s sure it’s a divine mistake. A mistake she can’t undo fast enough as a string of pregnant immortal women turn up dead, their unborn children cut from their bodies.

 2. How does it differ from other words in its genre?

The series concept is planned around Pandora, the protagonist, being pregnant through the whole or most of the series. You don’t see very many urban fantasy heroines pregnant, especially for a whole series. I’ll admit; it is going to be tough to pull off. But I found the concept intriguing, so I thought, “Why not?”

3. What is the hardest part about writing?

Right now, time and focus. I’ve got a whirlwind of a toddler, who is potty-training and teething, and it’s hard to have enough time to eat a whole meal let alone have the hours and hours it takes to develop and write an 80,000 word plus novel. My family is extremely supportive and does try to help me get time. The funny thing is that when I do get big blocks of time to work I miss my daughter.

 4. Who are the authors that you most admire?

I always go blank when asked this kind of question because there are so many. Agatha Christy has to be mentioned first. Her novel And Then There Were None (or Ten Little Indians) was the first novel that showed me how impressive mystery fiction can be and introduced me to the surprise-never-saw-it-coming ending that I love. It’s my subconscious litmus test to every piece of fiction I read or write. However, I am currently obsessed with Richelle Mead. She’s a freaking genius with character development and emotion, and I find myself identifying with her style a lot.

Whew! *Sweat fling*

Checkout the wonderful ladies I’ve tagged for the hop spotlight next week:

Tierney James http://www.ptierneyjames.blogspot.com/ July 29

S.J. McMillan  http://clankids.wordpress.com/   July 31

Susan Keene http://www.musingsbysusankeene.blogspot.com/ July 31

Determination: Potty-training and Plotting

hippo (700x549)

That’s me: a rhinoceros with a dream.

Well, two really.

The past six weeks I’ve had two momentous projects: potty-training and plotting. Neither task is for the faint of heart. Both require blood, sweat and tears to see through.

In a previous post I mentioned how my daughter, at seventeen months, signaled she was ready for potty-training. I wasn’t. But I wasn’t going to pass on the opportunity. Potty-training ready toddlers are like race horses out of the starting gate. When the gate is thrown up, signaling a go, you better jump and grab on, or you have to wait until the horses makes it around the track back to the starting gate. And I don’t know of very many horses that would race around the track to say, “Please sit me on the little toilet, so I can go potty.”

It’s definitely¬†been an uphill battle.

We’ve done Pull-Ups then panties then Pull-Ups then panties. I’ve ran countless miles in a fifty foot radius just in trips to the bathroom. I’ve spent hours watching her for potty signals, and every other word that comes out of my mouth is either “potty,” “poopy,” “toilet,” or “panties.” Even if I am talking to someone besides my daughter–which has led to some pretty hilarious and awkward conversations.

During all of this, I have been plotting an adult urban fantasy.

I got the idea right before I went to the Romantic Times Booklover Conference 2013 back in May (which I highly recommend). The more I thought about it the more I loved it. I literally can’t wait to get back to work on it. With this book I felt that I needed to do something I had never done before: plot.

Okay, I had plotted before, but I got the feeling that with this book I needed to do the plotting equivalent of Sylvester Stallone on steroids. Urban fantasy usually has large fantasy worlds, and I had come to understand that I had to have time to explore the world and characters before I could start the first draft.

Which is really intimidating.

It raises a lot of questions:

  • How do I know when I’m done?
  • Is there too much plotting?
  • Is there too little plotting
  • Am I plotting too slow? Too fast?
  • How well do I need to know my characters before I can write them?
  • Does pounding your head against your computer count as plotting?
  • What if I’m not a plotter and I’m killing my story?!

Plotting can be intense (even sans potting toddler), and a lot of people avoid it.

For some people, it’s just not their style. It can kill their creative drive by taking the fun out finding out what is going to happen next. For others‚Ķit’s psychologically and emotionally painful.

Fiction writing is creation, birth, making something out of nothing. Plotting by definition is asking questions and wanting specific answers about that nothing that hasn’t been created yet. An exercise that can cause anxiety, pain and doubt in the creator because‚Ķ

In the beginning, there are no answers.

In the beginning, there is only chaos.

A chaos not dissimilar from the early stages of potty-training. Both start out with no decerable pattern, no signs of progress or signals that you are even on the right path. Each child potty-trains differently and each writer plots differently. And that’s the sucky part. There is no one way for either task. No guidepost to lead you successfully were you want to go and reassure you are on the right path.

And that is where determination comes in.

Every time I fall and swear I can’t get up and take my daughter on one more trip to the little toilet or figure out my character’s motivation for lopping off the head of a six headed monster‚Ķ

I do.

And sometimes it hurts. And sometimes it sucks. And sometimes I feel stupid for even trying.

But I do it any way.

A dream doesn’t become reality through magic; it takes sweat, determination and hard work.

-Colin Powell

And you know why?

Because. yesterday, my daughter started telling me when she needed to go potty.

Because my plot is starting to come together and feel whole and interesting.

Because a rhinoceros can become a unicorn. The rhinoceros’s just has to want it bad enough.

Wednesday Picks for Your Wee-Ones and Not So Wee-Ones

This week’s (or month’s since that is really how often I actually do one of these) selection is short: only one. I’ve take a break from my children’s writing and have started an adult novel project, so I’m not swimming in children’s fiction like I normally am. Here’s the only but the goody.

Drum roll, please.

Picture Book

Picture Book

Author: April Pulley Sayre  Illustrator: Jackie Urbanovic

Ages: 4-8

Formats: Hardcover       

Published:  Greenwillow Books; Scholastic Edition edition

 Amazon  Barnes & Nobel

If You’re Hoppy is a play on the childhood favorite song If You’re Happy and You Know It.¬† The book spins the song by replacing the “happy” with different animal attributes and then follows with what kind of animal it could be.

If you’re hoppy and you know it, you’re…a frog.

If you’re hoppy and you know it, you’re a frog.

Or a bunny.

If you’re hoppy and you know it, stretch your toes to really show it.

This book is a great combination of a playful song and fun illustrations. A great potty training choice. My daughter loves it when I sing the words of the book and she points to the different animals. Her favorite part is the “growling” section, and we always spend a few extra minutes growling at the bear and dog. I love the illustrations in this book. I particular liked seeing the cute little frog throughout the different sections. The ending felt a little abrupt, but it was sweet. The publisher has the reading ages at four to eight, but my daughter is eighteen months and she loved it. It’s a fun, simplistic read.¬†

Wednesday Picks for Your Wee-ones and Not So Wee-ones

It’s long over due, but here’s my next round of children’s reading picks for this week.

Ken Baker

Picture Book

Author: Ken Baker  Illustrator: Christopher Santoro

Ages: 3-7

Formats: Hardcover & Kindle       

Published:  Two Lions (Amazon)

Amazon  Barnes & Nobel

This is my number one favorite book right now. If I could, I would a wear an Old MacDonald had a Dragon T-shirt everywhere I went. I am a HUGE fan of Amazon’s stellar new picture book author, Ken Baker. He debuted with Cow Can’t Sleep (another fun tale), but Old MacDonald is his out-of-the-park hit. As of yesterday, it was ranked at number one on Kindle’s top purchases for Children.

Old MacDonald had a Dragon is a roll-on-the-floor fun story about a farmer who had a dragon in his version of the song (and on his farm). The animals are none to happy about the addition. As the farmer sings his song, each animal protests, only to get swallowed by the dragon, who progressively gets fatter. What I love is the way Baker uses the stereotypes for each of the animals and the farmer to produce great humor and memorable characterization.

“Not so fast,” mooed the cow as it moseyed up to the farmhouse. “I’ve got a beef with you.”

This is a must read. It doesn’t stay on my library’s shelf for very long because I push it so much. That’s how much I love this book. Besides being fun, this book is a great way to work on sounds (animal and vowels) and textures with your little ones.

Middle grade

Lower Middle Grade

Author: Greg Trine  Illustrator: Frank W. Dormer

Ages: 6 and up

Formats: Hardcover, Kindle & Nook      

Published:¬† Harcourt Children’s Books

Amazon  Barnes & Nobel

The hilarity continues with The Adventures of Jo Schmo: Dinos are Forever. This is the first in Greg Trine’s series of a forth grade girl who comes from a long line of crime fighters. After she inherits her uncle’s cape, it becomes Jo’s turn to join the family business. With her drooling sidekick, Raymond the dog, and new crime fighting tricks, Jo must stop Dr. Dasterdly and his gang of dinos.

It could be a bomb. On TV, dogs were always sniffing for bombs. Raymond gave the package the once-over with his nose, then looked at Jo in a way that said, “I detect snacks. Open it at once.”

The Adventures of Jo Schmo: Dinos are Forever is a laugh-a-line book. The humor and writing aren’t dumb-ed for the kids like some books. In fact, even adults will enjoy Trine’s humor.

Upper Middle Grade

Upper Middle Grade

Author: James Riley

Ages: 8 and up

Formats: Hardcover, library binding, paperback, Kindle & Nook      

Published:  Aladdin, Turtleback (reprint)

Amazon  Barnes & Nobel

This book is an NCTE Notable Children’s Book in the Language Arts 2011 and a current Mark Twain Award Nominee. I loved this book right from the beginning when Jack refused to save the princess dressed boy–tiara and all– from the evil witch. Half Upon a Time is about Jack, son of beanstalk Jack, who detests the idea of rescuing princesses and going off to find grand adventures. Even when a “Punk Princess” falls from the sky. But Jack reluctantly gives her help–she is kind of cute, after all, and, oh, her grandmother might be the long lost Snow White.

Jack sighed, grabbed May’s lollipop from the floor, and knocked the cackling witch on the head. May, meanwhile, grabbed one of the peppermint chairs and slammed it down into the peanut brittle floor to hold the door shut, just in time: The chair crunched into place just as one of the little giggling monsters outside pushed the door open, its little hand reaching in.

Half Upon a Time combines adventure, classic fairy tales and clean good humor. I loved Jack, especially as a reluctant hero.¬† Riley did a fantastic job of building and showing Jacks budding crush on May. This book was fantastic from start to finish, and I can’t wait until I can read the next two books in the series.

Death by Potty

potty-trained-main

Potty training is going to kill my creativity.

Straight. To the point. I don’t have the will or the ability to invent a witty or grand metaphor to covey it this morning.

It’s murder. Plain and simple.

And it’s already begun.

I had been planning to get my daughter a potty training chair when she was a year and a half. My PLAN was to put it in the bathroom and just to let her get use to it, and THEN I would start potty training her when she showed signs of knowing when she was going to the bathroom in her diaper.

Nothing ever goes as planned.

Friday my daughter, who just turned seventeen months, ran into the kitchen while I was making dinner and said, “Mommy, Mommy, poopy.” And started pooping her diaper. I bought a training potty that weekend.

So I got the potty and set it up while she was napping. When she got up, I put her on it just to make introductions. “Daughter, Potty. Potty, Daughter.” She went to the bathroom the first time she sat on it!

The potty training was on.

I have to say I was kind of hoping she was still too young. She might be ready for potty training, but I’m not. Unfortunately, what I want went out the window when I became a mom, and the chance of putting potty training off went down the toilet when she went pee in her potty.

Potty training is intense, and it’s kind of like watching for when a hen with it’s head cut off is going to lay an egg. Oh, and you’ve got to catch the egg. You’ve got to figure out what the child’s signs for needing to use the bathroom are and then get them to do it in the toilet.

A goal that would have Einstein shuffling away from a toddler, saying, “I’ll take relativity; you take the toddler.”

At this point, I am trying to figure out what is the best timing to take my daughter to the bathroom for success. I’ve done hour, half hour and fifteen minute incremental sessions. Still no potty. On top of that, she has the uncanny ability to pee her Pull-Up right before my timer goes off.

So I’ve got no time to write. Worse than that, I’ve got no time to think about writing.

All of my brain power and energy goes into thinking about pee. On top of that, all this thinking about pee makes ME have to pee more, not her!

All this pee business isn’t good for my novel development. Picture books, yes. I already have a new idea for one on pee. Potty training is just field research for picture books. But adult novels are a whole ‘nother bag and require a different mindset. A.K.A not pee on the brain.

I am trying to tell myself that this is the beginning and the toughest part (It doesn‚Äôt help that she woke up an hour and a half early this morning, taking away my prime writing time with her alertness.). It’s going to take a little bit of time to find our potty routine. I have to flexible with my personal goals and schedule if we both are going to survive and succeed.

I’m a mom.

A potty training mom.

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