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Monday, December 24, 2012

The End is Nigh

Merry Christmas, everyone! I hope by the time you read this you'll be exactly where you need to be. This will be my last post for the year. I won't be back until January 7th, but I'll be posting on Back to Basics so I hope you'll stop by and visit in between the relatives and eggnog.

But today we have winners from all the giveaways we had in the DIY Christmas 2012 blogfest. If you see your name, you'll be getting an email soon from my guest bloggers.

Winners

Carol Kilgore won an ebook from Shelley Munro's back list. Carol, Shelley's on vacation, so I'll be emailing you her address.

Angela Brown won a copy of Caught in Amber from Cathy Pegau

Suzanne Brandyn won  a copy of Giving Up the Ghost from Gwen Gardner

Terri Bruce won a pack of pet toys from Barbara Wright

Mina Burrows won her choice of ebooks from Angela Brown

Raelyn Barclay won her choice of ebooks from my back list from LD Masterson

Susan Gourley Brown won her choice of an ebook from my back list.

Congratulations to the winners! I hope you enjoy your goodies. And thanks to my fabulous guest bloggers. You guys have the best Christmas ideas!

***

But what about the future, Maria?

Glad you asked. I may be quiet, but I haven't been still. This is what my crystal ball tells me.

• I predict there will be even more indie-published authors in 2013.

• We'll continue to see sub-par books, but also great books. 

• Indie book covers will begin to surpass the quality produced by traditional publishers. (Big sigh of relief from me. It makes me hurt for those authors when they get ugly covers.)


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That's it for me. Visit me on Facebook or Back to Basics. Email me if you need a cover designed. And wait for me to come back on January 7th. I have a big surprise planned especially for my writer friends. My gift to you for the new year.

Have a wonderful holiday, everyone. It's been a pleasure talking with you throughout the year. I'll be visiting your blogs while I'm on hiatus. Love you guys.

Friday, December 21, 2012

Oh, Look. She's back!

The end of the world started a little early for me. If you thought I seemed scarce lately, it's because I was kinda-sorta dead. Where is Miracle Max when you need him?

For the past few days I've been sick with bronchitis. I kept fighting it for several days but it finally got me--and boy did it ever have its way with me.

I knew I had crossed the Rubicon when Greg insisted on staying so he could drag escort me to the doctor. And because I was a good girl (the half-dead don't struggle much) Greg stopped by a bakery and bought me a chocolate ganache cake. Wasn't that sweet of him?

Doesn't this look decadent? Chocolate ganache cake.


When I was conscious, we watched Dr. Who on Netflix. I think I like Christopher Eccleston better than David Tennant, but maybe Tennant hasn't grown on me yet.

As for the Doctor's companions--I've only met Rose and Martha. Martha is far more practical and proactive so I was glad when she took over. I got a little tired of Rose yelling for help all the time.

I'm beginning to understand why the Doctor is so popular. While the world building is a little cheesy, some of the story ideas are terrific. Like Torchwood, it all depends on who wrote the script for that episode. Some are better than others.

In other news: Tank has been feeling better. He goes for another follow-up on Monday. That lymph node is still enlarged, but not hard (imo), so I'm hopeful.

Poor Iko is still limping. (We think he jumped off the bed and landed wrong.) But Greg noticed he doesn't seem to limp when he's outside playing with Tank. Hmm... Do you think our boy is pulling a fast one?

And just before I got sick we were ravaged by a raccoon that killed three chickens in their pen and mortally wounded a fourth one that we had to mercifully put down. I hand-fed him for several days, but he just wasn't strong enough to make it.

It's been a rough few weeks around the homestead. With any luck that'll be the last of it for a while.

***

I hope you've enjoyed the last couple of weeks of DIY Christmas projects, traditions and food. We did everything from Advent calendars to decorating, to food--some of which I plan to try soon.

Today is the last day to leave comments on any of the DIY Christmas 2012 posts. Take a look around. There are a lot of good ideas and recipes. Winners will be announced Monday, December 24 so go back and drop us a word or two.

Now that I have codeine and antibiotics I hope to turn the corner soon and feel well enough to visit everyone again.

What are you guys up to? What can I expect of David Tennant and the latest Doctor, Matt Smith? Any good?


Thursday, December 20, 2012

DIY Christmas 2012 with LD Masterson


This is the last DIY Christmas 2012 post of the year, and doubly special because two people will be winners. Call it my own special treasure spree.

Please welcome, LD Masterson!
 
LD Masterson writes mystery and suspense, always with a touch of romance. After twenty years keeping the computers running at the American Red Cross, she now divides her time between writing and enjoying her “truly exceptional” grandchildren.  LD lives in Ohio with her husband and a neurotic Jack Russell terrier named Sophie. 

She's also a pretty cool grandma. Who else but grandparents know how to best get the whole family involved on Christmas!



Christmas Treasure Hunts

When our boys were small, I was a little obsessive about Christmas morning. I had to go downstairs first, put on some Christmas music, light the tree, and make sure everything was just so before the kids came running into the room. All the gifts were either wrapped and under the tree, or properly assembled and arranged around it.  Ready for the picture perfect moment.

Treasure Hunt Tree
As they got older, my perfect arrangement began to hit some snags.  We were starting to run into gifts that didn’t fit so neatly under the tree or even in our family room.  Bicycles.  Basketball hoops on tall posts.  Big boy toys.

It was my husband who came up with the solution: the Christmas Morning Treasure Hunt.  

The treasure hunt begins with an envelope tucked into the branches of the tree, bearing the name of the person who needs to hunt for their final gift (treasure hunts always start after all other gifts have been opened).  Inside the envelope is a clue leading to another location in the house. At the second location will be another envelope with another clue. We usually do five or six clues leading all over the house, with the final one leading, of course, to the gift. 

Die-hard fan
The clues changed as they got older, creating answers only that person would know. 

For example: “What is your coat doing on the kitchen chair?  Put it where it belongs.” – led to the front hall closet.  “Don’t scratch or I win.” – the pool table.    

“Pay homage to Mom’s Mecca.” -  my model of Fenway Park. (Go Red Sox!)   

Over the years, the treasure hunts became so popular we started hiding one present for each of the boys just for the fun of it.   We discovered the treasure hunts had the side benefit of getting the kids past that inevitable “let down” feeling after all the presents had been opened and the anticipation was over.  (Editor: Wow! Brilliant feel-good psychology!) In a way, it became the highpoint of our Christmas morning.

Now we have grandkids at Christmas and the treasure hunt is a favorite of theirs, too.  This year I’ve got plenty of presents wrapped and neatly tucked under the tree but I’ve got four others set aside for hiding.  You’ll have to excuse me now.  It’s time to write some clues.

***

In the spirit of Christmas, I’d like to give away an e-copy (your choice of format) of any of Maria’s books.  Just leave a comment to be eligible.  Already have them all?  I’ll be happy to send one to a friend as a gift from you.   

Editor's note: And to double the fun, I (Maria) am doubling the offer. Leave a comment here or on any previous DIY Christmas 2012 and you'll be entered in a drawing for a free book from anything in my back list.  

All giveaways will end December 21st, so leave a comment and tell me: What's been your most favorite Christmas memory so far in your life?

I'll tell you mine. It was the day we brought home our first pound puppy, Joey. Best. Christmas. Ever.

Wednesday, December 19, 2012

DIY Christmas 2012 with Angela Brown

This is definitely the house that love built--and we have it in a slideshow! Please welcome my good friend, Angela Brown.
 

An Almost Gingerbread Village

Hansel and Gretel nibbled at a house made of sweets and tasty goodness. Their tale had a few other issues we won't go into. However, building a gingerbread house for Christmas was the PERFECT family fun-time tradition to get into.

I spotted the kits at Wal-Mart while shopping for one or two items. I think my item count that day was fifteen lol! But I digress. Chipmunk showed enthusiasm about getting it and so I couldn't help thinking how much fun - kind of messy fun - it would be to make this. So we rolled out the paper towels and got down to the business of having fun. I took a lot of photos that would have you at this post for about five minutes until forever. So, here's a short slideshow instead:



Chipmunk and I had loads of fun! Clean up was easy since all the mess was confined to the pallet of paper towels. And the best part of all: Spending quality time with my most precious gift ever, Chipmunk.

All the gifts in the world are wonderful but the gift of love from family, friends and pets just can't be beat. Even after we tear down our almost-village, the memories of fun from this day will live on in our hearts and minds.

Isn't that what Christmas is all about?

***

Bio: Born and raised in Little Rock, AR, Angela now calls Central Texas home.

Reading and writing have been lifelong passions. It was around the time she gave birth to her forever-love, nicknamed Chipmunk, that she really took writing seriously. After all, how could she teach her child to follow her dreams if she hadn't tried herself?

As a YA fantasy/sci-fi reader and author, she favors the magical, mysterious, the darker side of life...even harbors a secret fright for things that go bump in the night.

NEVERLOVE is a special project spawned from a blog-challenge-turned-blog-opera, the Abby and Basil affair. It is the first in the Shadow Jumpers series.


Giveaway: Holy Downloads! Angela is giving away an awesome prize to one lucky commenter. Leave a comment for a chance to win Neverlove in digital format, and one other ebook (not to exceed $10).

Don't forget, you can leave a comment on any previous DIY Christmas 2012 post for a chance to win the prize on that post. Who knows? You might get lucky.

Other DIY posts from:

Shelley Munro
Cathy Pegau
Gwen Gardner
There are more great posts to come. All contests end December 21, 2012.


Tuesday, December 18, 2012

DIY Christmas 2012 with Raelyn Barclay

Raelyn is like the Martha Stewart of Nevada. Yes. She is that good!

Note the theme. Yesterday, Mike Keyton gave us a home-food British recipe with currants. I love raisins in all their forms.

Butter Tarts a la Raelyn Barclay

Cakes are delicious. Cookies are scrumptious. For me, it's all about the pastries. You know, pies and tarts and anything involving a crust.

These bite-sized treats are a tradition in our house. Both sides of my family have a version they swear by. The only difference seems to be one side uses golden raisins while the other uses currants. I prefer the version with currants.

Butter Tarts

Roll out uncooked pastry dough and line tart tins, then set aside. You can use muffins tins in a pinch.

Melt 1 tablespoon of butter. Stir 3/4 cups of brown sugar into the butter, mixing well. Add an egg and stir slowly till well blended. Don't beat. Add a teaspoon of pure vanilla extract, 1 1/2 tablespoons of cream (at least half-n-half, I prefer a whipping cream), 1/4 to 1/2 teaspoon of salt (this can be omitted), and 1/2 cup of currants.

Pour into unbaked tart shells and bake at 425 for 10-15 minutes or till brown. Makes about 12 large (muffin) or 24 mini tarts.



You can store these in the cookie jar for a few days...if they last that long! Or freeze them in a single layer, then bag. To thaw, just set out on the counter for 15 minutes or so. They even ship well if you are so inclined to send your baked goodies as a gift.

Of course, Santa loves seeing these on his plate.

How about you, what is your must have holiday treat?

Bio: Raelyn Barclay is an aspiring romance author who believes anything is possible in love and everyone needs a happily-ever-after. By day she tries to keep up with four sonic whirlwinds and dreams of a clean bathroom in heaven. In the wee hours of the morning and in the quiet of the night Raelyn hones her craft with an eye on seeing her name in print. She, her husband, and the wee beasties live in Nevada where scorpion hunting is a sport. You can find Raelyn on her blog.

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Don't forget, you can leave a comment on any previous DIY Christmas 2012 post for a chance to win the prize on that post. Who knows? You might get lucky.

Other DIY posts from:

Shelley Munro
Cathy Pegau
Gwen Gardner
There are more great posts to come. All contests end December 21, 2012.

Monday, December 17, 2012

DIY Christmas 2012 with Mike Keyton

Every time I talk to Mike, our conversations invariably turn to food. Separated by an ocean and sometimes by the English language, when I read Mike's recipe, it sounded strangely similar to something my mother made for cold Chicago nights, only without the "colorful" language.

Please welcome one of my favorite Brits, Mike Keyton.

DIY Eccles Cake

When Maria asked me to contribute I panicked. What could I write about that made my Christmas unique? We do much the same as everyone else, I thought. Perhaps make something up: the little known Monmouth custom of hopping to Midnight Mass, squirrel lurching, lying in dew-soaked grass looking for angels, or floating high on brandy scanning the grass for dew-soaked angels. None of it sounded all that convincing, and then I remembered the humble Eccles Cake.

Photo by Sean Whitton

Yes, it is named after the Lancashire town of Eccles and was first commercially sold in 1793 – for those who believe provenance aids digestion. For those who want to persuade their children to be adventurous the Eccles cake had various nicknames such as ‘Squashed Fly Cake’, Fly Pie’ or sometimes Fly’s Graveyard. Flys are optional but the name owes more to the appearance of the currents in the cake.

Why eat Eccles Cakes at Christmas? Well it is the easiest way to use up left over brown sugar and those surplus currants and peel from the Christmas cake you virtuous souls have just made - as well as making good use of any surplus pastry you might have in your freezer. And hot from the oven they’re fantastic. Beats mince pies hands down.

The Recipe.
3oz of butter
5oz soft brown sugar
5 oz of currants
1 tsp of cinnamon
1 tsp of nutmeg
3 oz of chopped peel
Approximately 14oz of flaky pastry or alternatively short crust pastry*

Method
Melt the butter in a small saucepan, take it off the heat, and stir in the filling ingredients. Leave to cool.

Roll out the dough onto a lightly floured surface and roll it out to an eighth of an inch thickness (3mm)

Cut the pastry into rounds using a three and a half inch cutter (8cm)

Put a teaspoon of filling onto each round, wet the edges, and fold into a small pasty shaped parcel. 

Flatten a little if necessary and then fold the two pointy ends up to the centre. Pinch and seal well.

Next turn your pastry parcel over so the smooth side is on top and gently roll it to a quarter inch flatness (aprox) and pat into a round shape.

Place them all on a greased baking sheet and gash each cake diagonally three times with a sharp knife.

Sprinkle with milk and sugar and bake in a preheated oven gas mark 7 / 425 F / or 220 C for 15 minutes or until golden brown.

Cool on a wire rack but eat warm!

*Eccles cakes are made with flaky pastry. But sixteen miles N.W of Eccles is the noble town of Chorley. The Chorley cake is exactly the same except that it uses short-crust rather than flaky pastry. Best news of all, is that neither Chorley nor Eccles cakes enjoy European Protected Status so they can be manufactured anywhere and still be labelled as ‘Eccles/Chorley’ cakes. You will put on some calories but be morally sound.

***
Quickie poll: What kind of desserts do you serve for Christmas? For me, it's cranberry cookies and pecan pie. It's the only time I throw calorie-counting out the window.

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Don't forget, you can leave a comment on any previous DIY Christmas 2012 post for a chance to win the prize on that post. Who knows? You might get lucky.

Other DIY posts from:

Shelley Munro
Cathy Pegau
Gwen Gardner
There are more great posts to come. All contests end December 21, 2012.