Tuesday, September 30, 2014

ACFW Recap (Celebrating Tina, too!)

Tex here, fresh off the heels of the 2014 ACFW Conference in beautiful St. Louis, Missouri.

And what a conference it was. Nice and relaxing.
Probably because I didn't have any duties to worry about. Yes, I volunteered, but I gladly passed the torch of Carol Awards coordinator to the amazing Casey Herringshaw.
Isn't she cute?
She's now my fourth daughter and I couldn't be prouder of the way she handled not only the contest, but she rocked the Carol Award presentation. She was poised, polished and oh so comfortable with her new job. 

Yay, Casey!

So this conference, I had no worries. 
I attended a great session on marketing, as well as many wonderful workshops.

I got to hang with my editor, the incomparable Melissa Endlich.

And my agent, the fabulous Tamela Hancock Murray.

Oh, I got to eat some really, really good food.
I highly recommend the salmon at Charlie Gittos, a cute little Italian restaurant in downtown St. Louis.
Cooked to perfection.

Of course, the gala is always the culinary highlight of any ACFW conference.
Here is this year's menu.

Sorry, no pix of the salad, but hey...it's a salad.

But the entree...
The beef was tender and cooked just the way I like it!

And yes, this Trim Healthy Mama scarfed down all of her dessert.
The BURNT caramel cheesecake didn't taste the least bit burnt at all. :)

Then it was on to the awards.

Tina Radcliffe and I were both up for a Carol in the Short Novel category.
Talk about mixed emotions. Of course I would love to win, but I wanted Tina to win, too.

And the winner is...
The always lovely, yet hates to have her picture taken, Tina Radcliffe.

(insert crazy loud applause)

I am SO happy for you, Tina!

But alas, all good things must come to an end. 
By Sunday morning, we were all a bit foggy, including the banks of the mighty Mississippi River.
But, oh, the memories we made and relationships we grew will live in our minds forever.

Monday, September 29, 2014

Quilts, Pieces and Memories

I wanted to call this post, "Among the Things I Used to Do."

Our lives have seasons. Times change, circumstances change, people change. And the seasons turn from one to another.

One of the things I used to do in another season was quilt.

I love quilting! Everything from designing the quilt top, to selecting the fabrics, to cutting out the pieces with as little waste as possible, to measuring out each length of thread.

I'm an old fashioned quilter. The fewer machines that touch the fabric, the better.

The quilt I'm working on now I was working on before I signed my first book contract is a reproduction of a Civil War era quilt that uses tiny pieces, all hand stitched.

I wonder sometimes if I'll ever get back to it....

But I come from a long line of quilters.

This beautiful quilt was made by my great-great-grandmother, Eliza Mummert Sherck. The pattern is "Mariner's Compass." I mentioned it in my book, A Mother for His Children - it's the quilt Ruthy's mother made for Waneta's future wedding.

A quilt is a legacy of love, passed from one generation to another. Every hand that works on a quilt leaves a little bit of the quilter behind, and every quilter lives on in the quilts that are treasured for years after they pass on.

It's this love of quilting that makes my feet slow down when I pass the quilting room at Greencroft, the Mennonite home where my dad now lives. Go here if you want to learn about this fabulous place.

Down the hall from Dad's apartment is this place where quilters meet. Since we're usually there in the evening or early morning, I don't often see the quilters at work, but I've admired the quilts through the window.

The quilters, all Mennonite and Brethren ladies, with a few Methodists and Baptists, etc. thrown in, always have a quilt in the frame. Most of them are made by ladies in the community who bring their quilts in to be stitched.

The quilters all donate their time, and the money they earn goes to charity.

They stitch everything from quilt tops to wall hangings, and sometimes even a quilt one of their group has pieced.

Stitch by patient stitch.

With a lot of visiting going on around the quilt frame, too!

Before we left Goshen on our last visit there, I peeked in the window of the quilting room, and one of the ladies was already hard at work! It was a pleasure meeting Velma Plank and visiting with her about the Greencroft quilters.

Of course, a double pleasure, since one of my great-great-grandmothers was a Plank, and in Mennonite and Amish Country, that means we're definitely related :)

Velma spoke of the other quilters in the group, some planning to drop by a little later than her 8:00 starting time. But others, she said, gesturing to the photos on the wall with her needle, "have passed on."

Gone, but not forgotten in the quiet conversations around the quilting frame where past memories and present stitching weave through the hours.

It makes me hope that maybe - sometime in the coming years - I'll actually finish all the quilts waiting for me. Someday, when life is slower and friends are even more precious.

Do you quilt? Or is there some other "thing you used to do" that you may take up again someday?

Saturday, September 27, 2014

Cherry blackberry jelly and a flashback!

Hi everybody! The Fresh Pioneer is back and we've been having some wonderful fall fun! 
Here's a shot of my little guy (five years old!) on the dirt bike track. I brought a book, but I did more praying that reading. It was SCARY. But everyone survived and had a wonderful time! *whew*
This is a random picture of the super moon. I didn't even use the zoom. It was JUST THAT BIG.
Here's Mr. Edward at my desk back in 2010. My sister had given me a computer and I spent every nap time writing. I didn't have an office chair so I sat on an old toy box. The desk we got at a yard sale for $10. A steal, even if the drawers didn't really work!  I was finishing up Pride, Prejudice and Cheese Grits while my sixth baby nursed or slept in my arms and the older kids rested in the afternoons. Sometimes I think, "Why did it take me two years to write my first book?" Huh. This is why...
Anyway, I found my then 20 month old "talking" on my mouse. HAHAHA! Kids are hilarious.
Anyway, this post is really about blackberry jelly. If you've ever made it, then you know it's pretty straightforward. Cooking the blackberries with sugar, strain them, add the pectin, maybe boil again if it didn't dissolve enough. Well, my friend in Texas said she always adds about a cup of Bing cherries! She said it adds zip and zing.

I am here to tell you... I have never had jelly disappear so fast. I think there's only one of these little jars left. I'm going to have to make a much bigger batch next time!
  So, if you're a jelly/jam maker, consider adding some Bing cherries to the mix of your fruit. It's a winning combination!

  Take care and I'll see you all in October!!

Friday, September 26, 2014

Fall Kitchen Tour: Last Stop… The Belle

Missy, here. I was sick last week so didn't pull together a post of my kitchen. Today I'm going to share a couple of photos and also a nice homey recipe.

For me, the kitchen is the heart of the home. And if you read my stories, you'll see that that's is true in most of my books. In fact, I have to make sure I don't do too many "sit down to eat" scenes! I tend to get carried away. :)

Way back when, I shared my coffee corner. Here's the old photo, but since it was taken, I've also added my latte machine thanks to Virginia and Ruthy.

In the corner, behind all the coffee paraphernalia, is a huge stack of recipes printed from the internet, jotted on note cards and on real recipe cards. Many are from church members in our previous churches. A lot of those smaller cards are stored in an old Keds shoe box from some of my oldest son's first shoes. It's the perfect size!

The recipes remind me of old friends. Favorite recipes shared among church members. And of all of you here who've shared your recipes and your life and have added to my recipe stack!

These days, I put all my K-cups in a pretty copper basket.

My favorite thing about my kitchen?? The view. You've seen a good many photos of food taken on my counter. And the bay window is behind the table. Outside, is a small screened in porch, and then the deck. Off the deck, is a gorgeous view of tall pines and hardwoods. I went digging and found one of the photos. You can see the table and windows behind the little egg cooking gadget.

To give the full effect, here's an outside view off the deck.

It's peaceful to sit at the table and look at the woods, especially in the different seasons. I went digging for a better photo and found this panorama, the first time I used the feature on my camera…

Now, on to the business of making a nice, homey… breakfast. I just watched this recipe on a video from Everyday Food with Sarah Carey (from the Martha Stewart website). I love all her videos. And this one made my mouth water.

from Everyday Food with Sarah Carey

Put on a pot of water to boil
Gently drop eggs into boiling water using a spoon
Let boil for 5 minutes (for soft boiled). Set a timer! :)

While eggs are cooking, put bread in toaster. Sarah recommended good ol' white bread. Which I don't normally allow in the house. :) But my husband bought some when I was sick last week. I figured while I'm supposed to be eating a low-fiber diet, I'd take advantage of doing the recipe like she says.

Slather with butter. The real thing. The only thing worth spreading on toast! Well, except for Jelly or apple butter. :)

Once your timer (you DID remember to set the timer, didn't you?) goes off, pour off the water and run cold water over the eggs to make them cool enough to touch.

Take a knife and tap a circle around the shell to crack it.

Then slice through the crack.

Tear toast to fit your bowl. Use a spoon to scoop the egg out on top of your buttered toast. Season with salt and freshly ground pepper.

Oh my goodness, this was a fantastic breakfast. Crunchy, buttery toast. Creamy, rich egg, salted and peppered just right. Just some down home cooking.

With a cup of coffee from my corner and a nice view, it's the perfect morning!

Thursday, September 25, 2014

Harvest Fun and Cover Reveals!

Well, I am having the time of my life! I am knee deep in cowboys, ranching, weddings (fictional!), revisions (real!!!) and harvest at the farm.

Throw in a passel of cute kids, messy faces, scraped up knees (we have two 4-year-olds who are riding two wheelers on our big stone driver with no training wheels. OUCH!!! We wipe out often, but they climb back up! So cool!

Of course that fun load of work means there hasn't been much in the way of cookin' goin' on 'round here, and that's okay. Most nights! But tonight I made Lindi Peterson's Mac and Cheese...

And ol' Dave is grilling pork chops later so we've divvied up the work. And with this being Derek Jeter's LAST WEEK OF MAJOR LEAGUE BASEBALL....


There's been a lot of ballyhooin' going on around here! And if you want to see what all the hullabaloo is about, just imagine a 20 year career in the majors and NEVER BEING EJECTED FROM A GAME.... Plays like a gentleman. #loves the game.

Here's the Gatorade commercial they put together and released last week,

"The Captain says Goodbye to New York."

....runs.... grabs tissues..... recognizes these streets, this side of the stadium, the local bars and grills and eateries.... and the normal folks, coming to see a Hall of Famer in their time.
Okay, back to HARVEST!!!!

Oh, wait, cover reveals first! Silly me!!!

First there are these (and forgive me if you saw these in Seekerville, I posted them Monday, but I cannot resist (nor would you want me to!) showing them again!

Our soon to be released Seekers "Hope for the Holidays" historical collection:

 I ♥ History!!!!


Our also soon to be released "Hope for the Holidays" contemporary collection!!!!

Release date is November 10th and the price for EITHER COLLECTION is $2.99.... How cool is that??? 4 delightful novellas from old-time America or 6 wonderful present day Christmas stories of faith, hope and love.... and (being romances!!!) the greatest of these is love!

And then yesterday I got THIS!!!!

Scheduled release is February 1, 2015 and look how stinkin' sweet that is? My story "Prairie Promises" was so much fun to write! A very pregnant Irish immigrant has become a young widow, but will she give up her homestead? Throw in the towel? No, she will not! She teams up with the older widow on a neighboring claim and when the older widow's son comes west to bring his mother home to Philadelphia, well.... let's just say Jack's got a fight on his hands. A fight that ends with home, sweet home and the happily ever after neither one expected and both deserved!

AND THEN!!!!! A little later in February, there's THIS!!!!!

Charming, delightful, fun, poignant, I got to take 8 years of working in the wedding industry and be part of this amazing collection! Thank you, Zondervan and Becky Monds for including me! This story was so much fun to write, I don't want to belabor it because we've got a few months, but oh... DELIGHTFUL STORY AND OPPORTUNITY! I owe this to my friends at Bridal Hall, the wonderful family business run by the Hall family in Rochester NY. The Halls gave me a chance to work with brides and their families to put together each girl's wedding of her dreams. #love!

Okay, Harvest Stuff.... Kind of! Because in lieu of cooking, I promised facebook folks we'd let the scarecrows out of the CLOSET!!!! They've been in there for years, and this year I had Casey and Christina grab hold of some fall bounty and decorate!  SO FUN!!!!

Here's some of their handiwork:

Stinkin' cute, right? Scarecrows, blossoms and veggies!

And then they got creative with this:

And this!

And this was Seth's job over the weekend, bringing up pumpkins....

And lest you think I squander the minutes between writing bouts, this was my GUILTY CONSCIENCE pushing me to... yes.... I admit it.... wash curtains.


Here's a kitchen glimpse for you, LOL! I won't tell you how much dust and how many webs I destroyed to attain clean curtains, but yes! They're clean and ready to be re-hung. Who knows how long that will take????

I love doing cooking stories and blogs, but the past few weeks have been grab this and that, but soon....

Oh, soon!!!! We'll be cozying (once the firewood is in the garage!!!) inside at night, not rushing around doing this and that, and the busyness of spring/summer/fall will morph to a quieter time.

And then I'll cook again! And look what happened two nights ago!!!

Sweet babies! We always love to see sweet babies here on the farm!

Now, whilst Jan and Mindy are meeting up with sweet Seekers and Villagers in St. Louis, we'll stay here tending animals and brush-burned knees, grilling pork chops and grabbing a quick tuna sandwich, a Ruthy mainstay and celebrating how blessed we are to be Made in America!

Wednesday, September 24, 2014

My Favorite State, Part One.

Note:  My favorite state is our 50th in part because Man O, my dear hubby, works there on a semi-regular basis. Do I know how to pick 'em or what? In fact, we might have just been there and I'm now completely jetlagged. This blog post is a refreshed blog post from a while ago with added pictures. If you haven't read it before, yummy pancakes are at the end. If you have, it's still got some neat new pictures and I promise an entirely new Hawaii blog post coming next week. 

From the first time to Hawaii, I went along on one of ManO's business trips, I loved the people, the different beauty of each island, and the food. I wanted to see one of the most famous Japanese gardens outside of Japan that was supposedly in Hilo. I asked the concierge how to get there and he pointed and said, " Just walk all the way across our parking lot and you're there." WOW!  

I went to the Japanese garden all dawn, noon and dusk to catch the light and the shadows of all the statuary, ponds and bridges.

 A blend of native, Japanese, Chinese, Pacific Rim, and more, I never had trouble finding something to eat. Why? Much of the food was rice based or thickened with tapioca. But more importantly, people accommodated my needs with such grace.

No, this isn't where we stayed but seeing this ancient reconstruction of a Hawaiian village makes me want to stay in a hut on a beach some day.

When we visited Maui, we stayed at a gorgeous bed and breakfast, the Old Wailuku Inn, run by a native Hawaiian family.  The inn is considered the most truly Hawaiian bed and breakfast on Maui. Every room was decorated in colorful Hawaiian quilts (yes, quilting is big in Hawaii!) and local antiques and art.
This turtle bowl is from an artist on the island of Maui.  We found out her mother was from NC and was in the middle of a hurricane we were tracking back home. Small world connections.

I emailed ahead to share my allergies but figured I'd be eating scrambled eggs while everyone else ate the banana pancakes featured one morning. Yep, I am allergic to bananas along with wheat and corn. But the owner sat a plate down in front of me. Light, fluffy pancakes made with rice flour and topped with macadamia nuts and passion fruit! I almost fainted. I got to share the experience of slathering on coconut syrup and diving in like everyone else around the table. She didn’t take the easy way out but made the experience special for me. Mahalo, “thank you” in Hawaiian. I said it a lot that morning.

My "silver dollar" version with mango, on my Hawaiian apron showing the monarchs and hula festival that takes place in Hilo on the Big Island each year.

Here is the innkeeper’s recipe with the interesting touch of beating the egg white to peak and then adding for additional fluff.  Saturdays are made for shortcuts but this step really makes a difference!  Pamela's GF Baking and Pancake mix is a good alternative if you can't find rice flour.

Old Wailuku Inn Pancakes

1 cup rice flour (or other flour)

2 T sugar

1 T baking powder

    Sift all dry ingredients well before going on.

1 egg separated

    beat egg whites to peak

    beat yellow

1 T melted butter or margarine

1/8 t vanilla add to yellow of egg (optional)

1 cup water (make judgement as you mix)

¼ cup banana (optional)

Mix ingredients except egg whites.  Fold egg whites into mixture. Put two tablespoons of oil in skillet and cook in small batches on medium low heat.

Top with whatever tropical fruits and nuts you can get: macadamia nuts, coconut, pineapple, mango or banana slices. The fruit grows in almost every yard in Hawaii and can be found in most mainland grocery stores.

To make your own coconut syrup: Heat one can coconut milk (the real stuff) with one cup sugar until dissolved. Cool. Serve over pancakes.

Like I said above, we have been back more recently but we love this picture of our 30th anniversary celebration in Maui.

Tuesday, September 23, 2014

Meet Me in St. Louis?

Yes, it's that time of year once again. American Christian Fiction Writer's annual conference is always the high point of my year. It's like a giant family reunion. I get to see so many friends. And there's nothing quite like spending a few days with like-minded people. Especially we're bonded by God and writing for His glory.

Can I get an amen?

Conference prep is always a busy time. So much to do. I have to make sure all my clothes are clean. Not that that's exciting. Laundry is never exciting. 
Something that is exciting this year, though, is that, along with making sure things are clean, I find myself having to make sure they fit. 
Virginia might chastise me for this, but I've discovered that many of the clothes I'd planned to take to conference are now too big. And while that's good, it's also frustrating.

However, getting ready for conference isn't just about packing. It's also about making sure those I leave at home have clean clothes, as well as a stocked pantry and fridge. Of course, it's all males that I'm leaving behind, so the latter two elements are much more important than the first.

All this busy work and ACK!

I still have to fix dinner.

Shrimp is one of my favorite things to use for a quick meal. I always keep a couple bags of frozen shrimp on hand, because all I have to do is dump them in a bowl of cold water and they're thawed in 15-20 minutes. (I usually change the water at least once)

So we're going to whip up some quick grilled shrimp that is full of flavor and very versatile.

As already stated, first you need to thaw your shrimp. Once thawed, peel those little babies and toss them in a large zip-top bag.

In a small bowl, add 1/4 - 1/3 cup olive oil, 1/4 - 1/3 cup lemon juice, 4 cloves minced garlic, 1 tsp. dried parsley, a dash or two of Old Bay Seasoning and red pepper flakes to taste. 
In my case, that was a couple shakes.

Whisk together and pour over shrimp.

Mush things around to make sure everything is coated and tuck the bag in the refrigerator for 30 minutes.

This is a good time to fire up the grill.

Remove shrimp from fridge and drain.

Place on heated grill and cook for 3 minutes.

Turn them over.
And cook for another 3-4 minutes. The goal is to make sure they're opaque, but don't overcook them.

Now you can eat them however you like.
Of course, they're yummy right out of the bowl. Or, you could put them in a wrap or tortilla, maybe with some guacamole. You could toss them with pasta and add a little pesto sauce (LOVE this).
I put mine on a salad.
You can't go wrong, however you choose to eat them. 
Well, unless you opted for some chocolate sauce and then that would be just gross.

Your turn.

Will you be at this year's ACFW Conference?

If so, I'll see you in St. Louis. :)