Friday, March 28, 2014

How Will You Choose?

This has been a hard week for me.

Nothing in particular has happened to make it  a "bad" one. Just life in general. Well, that and a lack of proper focus brought on by what I call "Social Media-itis." 

I have seen so many people posting on Facebook and Twitter about things I want. Places they are going, things they are doing, special events....and I have been having a pity party for myself. 

All. Week. Long.

Until tonight, that is.

Tonight, I was reading a dear friend's status update where she referenced some things her family has had to deal with over the past few months. Then she mentioned discussing with her children that their response to this was UP TO THEM.

They had a choice.  Were these circumstances going to make them Better Or Bitter?

Oh. Wow.  Can we say "Light Bulb Moment" for Susan?  Because it most certainly was.  I can be bitter about things in my life not being as I wish they were.  Things that are totally and completely out of my control.  I can moan and groan and wish for different outcomes for the ones I do control. 


I can be better.  I can choose to see the positives, the many positives in the things I do have. I can choose to work harder and smarter to achieve my dreams.  I can choose to let my light shine. 

What is your choice today? 

My choice right now, today, is to choose JOY.  I choose to be Better. 

And, I choose to have another cup of coffee. 


As my children's middle school counsellor used to say on the announcements every morning.  "Make it a great day. Or not. The choice is UP TO YOU."

Choose well, my friends. 

Oh, if you are wondering, my friend's children are choosing to be better.  I'm so proud of them. They went with the hard choice. But, the right choice. They are growing and maturing and becoming wonderful Godly people - just like their parents. 

Wednesday, March 26, 2014

Cooking 101: How to make delicious Southern Mashed Potatoes

As usual, I am writing Monday's blog on Sunday evening since I have obligations on Monday morning. Plus, I like working ahead of schedule as much as possible to prevent not posting - which happened Friday. I am still not sure why I didn't get around to writing then.

Anyway.... back on topic. Again. Today it is cold and rainy. For dinner I made chicken fried steak, mashed potatoes, peppered gravy (from a mix) and biscuits. It was delicious.

Since mashed potatoes are wonderfully easy and great comfort foods, I thought I would share with you how I make mine.  This is my version of my Mother's mashed potatoes. And, as we all know, Southern Moms are the BEST cooks in the world.  Mine in particular. I may or may not be biased.

So, with no further ado, here is how to make perfectly wonderful Southern Mashed Potatoes that are light and fluffy and perfect in every way like these.


Don't they look absolutely delicious.
Makes you want to dip into the screen with a spoon and have a bite, right?
Or is it just me?
Since we are now a family of four at our house, I only used 6 small potatoes.
These are Yukon Gold potatoes.
I prefer them for mashed potatoes.
Wash, peel and quarter them, then put them in a pot, cover them with water, and add salt.
Turn them on, cover and boil.
Just like below.

Once the potatoes have boiled and are nice and soft, it's time to drain off the hot water,
add butter, softened cream cheese and milk.

Looks like the beginnings of wonderful, don't you think?

Now that you have everything in there, put the pot back over low heat.
I like to do this so the butter and cream cheese melt into the potatoes nicely.
It also warms the milk so everything blends together beautifully.
Mash, mix, adding additional milk as necessary until the potatoes
are at your families preferred consistency. 
Salt and pepper.
Put in a bowl and serve.
Susan's Southern Mashed Potatoes
6 Yukon Gold potatoes, peeled and quartered
1/4 cup butter or margarine
1 Tbsp cream cheese, softened
1/4 cup milk
1. Put the potatoes in a pot, cover with water. Add salt (not too much).
2. Boil potatoes until soft. About 20 minutes.
3. Test with a fork.
4. When the potatoes are soft, drain.
5. Return potatoes in the pot back over low heat, add butter, cream cheese and a little milk to the pot.
6. Use a fork and begin to mash the potatoes, mixing in the butter, cheese and milk.
7. Continue mashing and mixing until all lumps are gone.
8. Add more milk as necessary to reach desired consistency.
9. Add salt and pepper to taste.
10. Serve and enjoy!!
**Note - Only keep over heat for as long as needed to melt the butter. Otherwise, you are going to burn the potatoes. Not very tasty. So, work relatively quickly or go ahead and turn off the heat. Better safe than sorry. 
Hope your family enjoys these potatoes as much as we do!!
***OOPS!!  Sorry I didn't get Monday's blog out until Wednesday. What can I say, life got in the way. I've barely opened my computer since writing this Sunday. Please forgive?


Wednesday, March 19, 2014

Doggie Days..

Bailey's world has been turned upside down today.

There are two men here working on our new HVAC system.  They are going in and out of the house, using power tools and making lots of noise.

Personally, I am thrilled our landlord decided to replace the system. Hopefully, it will be energy efficient.  Please, let the electric bill be lower this summer... 

Oops, back on topic.

Bailey does not know whether to be glad to see them or upset.  She isn't sure if she should protect me or if she should sit in my lap so I can protect her.  Most of the time she is sitting by me on the couch  as I blog, but when they are working on the front porch, she watches out the window and "talks" to them.

I'm not sure what the growls and barks mean, but I'm hoping it's friendly. She's wagging her tail, so I assume she is using nice doggie language.

Since she is still a puppy and unaccustomed to strangers, I am using this time for some intensive training. Especially the command "Stay."

Sam is also having problems dealing with the work being done. It's almost disturbing his sleep.

If only you could hear him snoring...

Monday, March 17, 2014

Menu Monday - Banana Pudding

Pi/Pie day, also known as March 14, was a good day to make dessert. But, I made a pudding, not a pie. Not just any pudding, my hubby's favorite pudding - banana pudding. 

I will be truthful. His mother makes THE BEST banana pudding in the entire world. Over the years, I have tried to duplicate hers....and failed repeatedly. Mine are good.  They just aren't as good as hers. 

Recipe after recipe has been close, but not quite. Finally, I combined elements of my favorite recipes  to develop this recipe. It is the one my hubby requests now. If I put meringue on top, it would be really close to THE BEST. But, my meringue is awful, so I don't make it. 

We all have our Achilles Heel's.  Meringue is mine.  So I top my banana pudding with Whipped Cream, either from a can (like this) or if I'm really channeling Susie Homemaker, I make my own.

Here is how I make "My Banana Pudding"....
First, I crush vanilla wafers.  Some really tiny and some bigger pieces and put them in the bottom of this bowl.

Next, I thinly slice some bananas. My hubby loves bananas and he loves banana pudding, but he doesn't like a lot of bananas IN his pudding.  Go figure. Anyway, today I sliced 1.5 bananas for the pudding.  If the bananas are small, I slice two.

Next, mix the bananas with the vanilla wafers. It makes it easier later when I stir in the pudding. 

Then, I follow my Grandmother's pudding recipe for the pudding. Well, almost. I rarely have cornstarch. So, I substitute all purpose flour for the cornstarch.  
I would love to tell you where Grandmother got her recipe, but I have no idea.  She had a box of recipes that she used frequently. She pulled them out of cookbooks, magazines, newspapers, etc.  This is a copy of one of those pages.

When I make the pudding, I assemble everything by the stove so I can grab it quickly.  First, mix sugar, flour and salt, add the milk and heat. 

When the mixture starts to thicken, put a spoonful in the beaten eggs to temper them.  Scrambled eggs spoil pudding, so this is the best way to do it.  I add a spoonful at a time, until the eggs are warm.  Then, I stir the egg mixture into the pudding.

Cook over medium heat for a couple of minutes, until it thickens.  Then, remove from heat and add butter and vanilla flavoring. Stir until the butter melts.

Now it's time to pour the pudding over the bananas and wafers.  Sorry for the out of focus picture. It was hard to snap a picture AND pour the pudding at the same time. 

Stir pudding into the mixture, smoothing out the top and cleaning off the sides of the bowl.  Doesn't that look yummy?

Time to finish by placing vanilla wafers on top.  Or, if you prefer, top with meringue and broil until the peaks are golden brown.
Serve and enjoy!!

Here are the step by step directions.
Susan's Banana Pudding
1 cup vanilla wafers, crushed
1.5 medium bananas sliced thin
3/4 cup sugar
4 Tbsp all purpose flour (or 2 Tbsp cornstarch)
1/4 teaspoon salt
2 cups milk (I use 2%)
2 slightly beaten egg yolks OR 1 well beaten egg (I use a whole egg)

2 Tbsp butter (Use the real thing, you'll be glad you did.)
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
Vanilla wafers for topping
Meringue, optional
Whipped topping, optional

Crush the vanilla wafers and put in bottom of a bowl. Slice the banana and mix with wafers.

Next, prepare the pudding.  In a  saucepan, blend sugar, flour and salt; add milk. Cook and stir over medium heat until thickened. Cook for 2 minutes, stirring constantly. Remove from heat.

Stir 1 Tbsp of hot mixture into eggs, adding 1-2 more Tbsp and stirring to temper the eggs.  Then, stir the egg mixture into the hot mixture. Return to heat and cook 2 minutes. 

Remove from heat, add butter and vanilla.  Stir to combine and melt butter.

Pour over banana and wafer mixture, stir. 

Top with vanilla wafers.  Or, if preferred, top with meringue and broil until golden brown.  Serve warm and enjoy!

Refrigerate left overs.

Friday, March 14, 2014

'Tis the "Achoo!!" Season...

Ahhh.... Spring is doing it's best to arrive in the Heart of Texas. The cold fronts aren't as cold and the warm fronts are getting warmer and lasting longer. 

It's raining - and pouring - enough for the grass to be growing.

Did you just sing that line? I did. 

And, growing grass means one thing at my house.  Allergies.  Lots of allergies.  Sniffling, sneezing, being tired and generally feeling "icky". 

Today, The Mr. and the teens mowed the yard. 

It took a lot of work, but they did a nice job. It's good to be able to see the squirrels as they are scampering across the yard.  Before they were getting lost in the jungle grass out there.

While they were cutting the yard and for a while afterwards, I ran away from home, in hopes of keeping my allergies from going into a full blown attack.

Panera is a great place to escape allergens. Coffee, food and lots of people to watch. Today, I was busy with the people in my mind though. It was writing day. In the midst of the commotion around me, I managed to write a respectable 1,137 words in just under two hours.

However, I discovered I have several minor characters who do not have names.  I need to name two husbands, a teen boy and a teen girl.

Do you know naming fictional characters is as difficult as naming your own children? At least, I find it to be so. Not going to speak for other author's on this point. But, it seems so important for them to have just the right name. You don't want a nice guy with a bad guy's name and vice versa. 

And, what do you name an attorney? I need to name one and nothing is coming to mind. My plan is for him to be a real jerk. Every book needs at least one, right? Or, maybe the management guy should be the jerk and the attorney should be a nice guy....  Who knows.

Writing is difficult. Can you tell?  So many different scenarios. So many different people. So many different ways they can act and react.

It boggles my mind.

But, I love it. Just give me another cup of coffee and let the ideas begin. 

Wednesday, March 12, 2014

Spring Break Week

Well, we are halfway through Spring Break week. I have been looking at Facebook and seeing what other families are doing this week.

I am a tad bit jealous.

Disney World looks like a lot of fun. Until I remember the two sons who still live at home do not like amusement parks. Going to one is a study in torture rather than fun.

I see pictures of the beach, the sun, the sand, the waves. These pictures make me jealous too. Then, I remember what it's like to go to the beach. The time it takes to get there and the fact that an hour later, everyone is ready to leave.  It's just not worth it.

The mountains are too far away. Camping is a joke with my city bred boys. I enjoy it more than they do! None of the usual things appeal to my family when it comes to this week break.

The Mr. and I have discussed cleaning our garage. It is in disarray and has been since we moved here almost two years ago. Finding something in the myriad of boxes is an adventure in frustration.

Our plan was to begin on Monday morning.  By now it was to be clean, organized and ready for the next move. Whenever that may be.  The Mr. and I are prone to wander. Doesn't that line make you want to break out in song?

Anyway, back on topic.  So far, all we have managed is discussing cleaning. One day we slept late. Another we had other things to do.  Today it is too cold. I don't have high hopes for tomorrow either.  But, who knows.

Maybe we will clean it out this summer. If it isn't too hot.  In Texas.  Excuse me while I laugh myself silly. 

What have we done so far this week of Spring Break 2014? The short answer is relax.

We have barely stirred from home. There have been days where we merely took showers to put on clean jammies so we could watch television and play video games. It's sad, but true. I have managed to cook and do laundry. 

Oh, and The Mr. and I took a walk around the neighborhood yesterday before the cold front blew in. It was nice. We were selfish and didn't take the four legged creatures along so we could amble along slowly, looking at the flowers and trees in our neighbors yards.

I predict the second half of this break to be similar. With the exception of the garage. I really hope we do at least a little work out there. But, if it doesn't happen, I am not going to stress out about it. It's been that way almost two years. What's another year?  Right?

I do have another project I am just about to work on. Right now. As soon as I publish this post. I am going to attempt - yet again - to get my new (from Christmas) camera to work with my computer.  The iPhone pictures are okay, but I could be using ones that are SOOOOOO much better...

Btw, if you are wondering about my lack of ambition today, it's because I have only had one cup of coffee all day...and I didn't manage to drink all of it!  Seriously low on coffee.  Wonder if I can convince the Mr. to make more? 

Monday, March 10, 2014

Menu Monday - Famous Butter Chicken

Menu Monday!!

Do you do menus for your family?  Weekly? Bi-weekly?  Monthly?  Per pay period?

Or, do you cook whatever sounds good that day? 

I have done all of the above. 

Currently, I am making monthly menus and shopping once a month to have everything I need on hand, with the exception of milk, bread and fresh veggies.  I buy those once a week. 

Yes, you read that right.  A months worth of menus in an Excel spreadsheet.  The top part of the spreadsheet has the proposed meals, the bottom part is what I cooked each day also noting the days we ate left overs.

Recently, I made an easy recipe from  Since my family enjoyed it so much, I am including it for you to try too.  Hope you enjoy it as much as we did.

Famous Butter Chicken

4 Boneless, skinless Chicken Breasts
1/2 - 1 stack Ritz Crackers, crushed
1 Egg, beaten with a splash of Half and Half or water
Garlic Powder to taste
Black Pepper to taste
Seasoned Salt to taste
Italian Seasoning to taste
2 Tbsp Butter, cut into small pats

1.  Pre-heat oven to 375.

2.  Lightly spray baking dish with oil.

3. Mix seasonings with cracker crumbs.  I used about 1/2 tsp of each spice.

4.  Dredge chicken breasts in egg wash and then coat with cracker crumbs.

5.  Place in baking dish.

6.  Put a pat of butter on top of each chicken breast.  Arrange the remaining butter around and between the chicken.  If you have any crumbs remaining, add them to the dish - optional.  We like lots of crunchies.  :)

7.  Put in oven and bake until done.  About 30-45 minutes, depending on the size of your chicken and heat of your oven.  Chicken is done when juices run clear. 

8.  Enjoy!

This is a link to the original recipe.

I changed the recipe slightly by adding more spices and less butter than the original recipe. 

Please note, this is not a "to die for" recipe.  But, it is moist, juicy and with the addition of Italian seasoning has a nice flavor.  It's a BASIC recipe and is child friendly.  Depending on what you family likes, you can change the spices to reflect what your family enjoys. 

Friday, March 7, 2014

It's All About Passion.

When I was in second grade my teacher introduced the class to writing with an assignment to write a made up story about Halloween. The best part? It was a contest!  The winner received a dime. Second place, a nickel.

It was exciting when Mrs. Gilbreath announced the top stories, beginning with third place, then second. Imagine my shock, surprise and delight when she began to read the winner's story and it was mine. I remember the day clearly. It was the day my passion for writing began.

Somewhere in my parents attic in a box of treasured papers, is that story with the dime still taped to the top of the page. Every now and then, I dig out the box and read my favorite stories, poems and papers from my years in school. I laugh. I cry. I sigh.

Those treasures, the dime, the poems, the A's on college papers "no one" got A's for writing from difficult professors, were what made me want to write. There was always a story whirling in my brain. I had a secret desire to become an actress.  Then I discovered I had no acting talent even though I loved and felt alive on stage.

In college, reality set in.  I gave up my dreams of acting or writing the next Great American Novel. Instead, I chose to direct my artistic talents to a more normal career path, public relations. I have never worked a day in this field.  But, my first job out of college was as a reporter for my hometown newspaper.

Writing again.  I was in heaven. I loved it. Writing the news in an interesting way, communicating to my fellow citizens, was incredible. I often reminded myself of what one of my professors called newspaper reporting.  She dubbed it "literature in a hurry."  I'm sure she was quoting someone else, but I do not remember who.

Literature in a hurry. Ahhhhh, literature.  I loved reporting the facts, but to write literature.  I could only dream.  And, for many years, dreaming of writing is all I did.  Until two years ago when my husband and I had a candid conversation about our life goals and dreams. He encouraged me to pursue my dream.  I began writing the next day.

My usual writing spot, complete with my writing buddy, Bailey.

In my mind, a group of fictional people became real. They walk, talk and demand their stories be told. Nuances of their personalities come to life as I watch and listen strangers in stores, restaurants and cars driving down the road. A snippet of a song can spark an idea that sends me running to my computer to capture the essence of the story while it is fresh in my mind. 

The name of a ranch spurs me to write a Western. The story formulates as I drive to and from Dallas. It haunts me as I work on other stories that are also pressing to get out. The new story demands research to get the facts right. How did they ranch in the 1800's? I will soon know.

In my almost completed manuscript, Doug and Julie overcome numerous obstacles as they repair their marriage in the midst of a new home, new jobs, and a new puppy.

In the book, Doug gives Julie a Black Mouth Cur puppy,
just like Bailey.

The ideas flow as I write their story.  Ideas not only for them, but for secondary characters who demand I tell their story in future books.  Beginning manuscripts for future stories, filled with beginning dialog, scenes, and possible conflicts, are waiting for me to finish.

Somehow, in the midst of it all, I clean house, cook dinner, keep the laundry caught up, play with the dogs and spend time with my family.

But, always in a corner of my mind, my characters are waiting, watching and whispering, calling me back to my manuscripts.  Insisting I tell their story.  Now. While it is fresh and new.  Now.  While the fire is burning hot in my heart. Now. While I have time to enjoy the luxury of being an unknown author.


Now, I need another hot cup of coffee as I return to the saga of Doug and Julie. I wonder what will happen today?

You've heard about my passion, where it began and how it burns to get out.  It's your turn.  Grab a cup of coffee and tell me about your passion. When did it begin? Do you have that defining moment where you knew this  was what you wanted to do for the rest of your life?

Saturday, March 1, 2014

When Life Intervenes

I am driven by schedules and to do lists.

The sense of accomplishment I feel when everything goes according to schedule and the last item is crossed off my list is like a runner's high as they push through the wall and run that last mile.  It is indeed a beautiful feeling.

When real life intervenes throwing off my schedule and preventing me from finishing my list, I get frustrated and angry.  It doesn't take much to ruin my day.

Sometimes it is from bad choices on my part. I have a bad habit of sitting down for "just a few minutes" on line or to watch a show I DVRed the night before and lose track of time. Hours later, I am behind schedule and angry.

Sometimes it is from necessity.  A doctor's appointment. A veterinarian appointment. An excessively long phone call. A 120 mile round trip to the commissary for the big grocery shopping once a month. Errands that must be run. A volunteer opportunity. A Bible study. A conference. A lunch meeting.

The list of distractions, of life, is endless.  And endlessly frustrating.

It is also indicative of a good life. We have a home. We have clean water, indoor plumbing. Electricity. Food. Phones. The freedom to come and go at will - to another city, to a Bible study, to meet with friends.

I recently realized something very important.  My sense of frustration, my anger when things go off schedule, is an attitude problem.

I have a bad attitude when things don't go my way. I blame everyone and everything for upsetting me. Rather than recognize my many blessings, I focuse on the negative.

So what if I had a long phone call. I got to talk with someone important in my life. That is a blessing. So what if they said something that upset me. I don't have to let it ruin my day. It is my choice how I react to what they said. 

Easier said than done. But, I'm a work in progress. I'm taking it one day at a time. Some days I take it an hour at a time. That's okay. Change is hard. Internal change is harder. It's worth the time and energy it will take.  I'm sure of it.

Do you deal with becoming easily frustrated too when your day doesn't go according to schedule? How do you cope? What helps you?  My coping mechanisms are music, prayer and deep cleaning.

And coffee. Lots of coffee. Speaking of which, my cup is empty. Time to pour more.