March 4, 2013

What Makes a Zombie Happy?

Graaahh... Mmmmrrrr... Braaaiinss...

These are typical zombie words. Little thought needed, focused. Zombies are wandering, mindless creatures, right? Not in my mom's house. In her house, Zombies make poetry. They make music and gourmet cuisine, too. Zombies have taken over the fridge, and they're not just using it to store body parts. The Zombies have become part of the family.

It all started with Mom's strange obsession. She's crazy about Zombies: books, movies, anything involving the living dead - she's there. Now, Sunday nights in her house involve snacks and The Walking Dead.

Last summer, I found a Magnetic Poetry kit (Zombie edition, of course) and thought it was the perfect gift for Mom. I was right. She couldn't wait to split apart the magnetic carnage and rotting flesh and arrange it on the front of her fridge. She even printed out the names of family and friends to include in the corpse-tales.

On her birthday last year, Mom opened the fridge to find this cake:

The zombies went all out for her birthday, too. They even left a few chocolate body parts as mementos, and stopped to arrange her a poem.

Soon, more magnetic poetry kits (Rock'N'Roll and Foodie editions) found their way to the fridge door, and made for some amusing combinations:

One left information for the organic-diet zombies:

Some came with words of warning, but as zombies are easily distracted, the warnings gave way to other matters:

Zombies have also demonstrated their fine culinary skills in our kitchen. Who doesn't love a good groupie-blood-chorizo?

And the most recent midnight find (because zombie poets only come out at midnight):

And there you have it folks. Zombie happiness is never having to say, you are almost prosciutto.

Can you beat the Zombies in their fine works of art?
Here's a random sampling of the words on the fridge:
(You can also use any of the words in the photos above.)


Happy writ-- BRAINS...

Magnetic Poetry is a registered trademark and in no way affiliated with this post.
This is purely for entertainment. Zombie lovers unite.

February 27, 2013

Jen's Mind-Bending Facts About Dreams

For those of you who write, or read, or have ever been inspired by anything, check out my friend Jen's blog: Between Asleep and Awake. Her latest post describes the inspiration for her blog title.

I dream vividly. Always have. I can remember dreams I had when I was seven or eight: beautiful visions of soaring over fields of lavender. Though, sometimes I remember dreams I want to forget: images of burning buildings, cars on fire, chaos and crumbling stairwells. I never could understand how I was able to retain dreams the way I do. I remember the colors, smells, and sounds. So much that upon waking, I occasionally forget my surroundings for a moment and taste the ocean I swam in during my dream, or feel the bark of a tree beneath my fingertips. I've advised people not to wake me, since sometimes I forget I'm dreaming and can throw a punch or two before my eyes are even open. (There are some who have seen this first hand and can swear by their bruises.) But once in a while, a dream has only the suggestion of an event, and that allows me to embellish in a story or poem. After all, what are stories but waking dreams?

February 17, 2013

What's The Strangest Thing You've Ever Seen?

Musical Farm Animals
Is it a band of farm animals singing above your produce section? Could it be a house with unique siding? How about a duck-shaped duck shop? Stranger still?

If you have a taste for the bizarre, are entranced by weird roadside structures, or look for the oddball objects hidden in everyday life, then check out my new co-authored website Roadsight Relics, where you can find bizarre sights on the open road and spaces in between.

At Roadsight Relics we embrace the weird. Our purpose is to sniff out and track down the most bizarre and under-appreciated places America has to offer. Nothing is off-limits. Not even wind sculptures depicting flying cacti. We find it. Post it. And share our wacky adventures with the world. Stop by to get strange. You won't regret it.

Know of a Roadsight Relic near your town? We invite you to contact us.

December 18, 2012

12 Blogs Of Christmas: Yummy Cookies Redux!

Ah, December. Again. Last year, we all gathered online to bring you the best of our holiday experiences, from cookies to memories, decorations to photos, and much more. This year, we're bringing Christmas back and we've got the goodies all over again.

And what better way to begin your holiday season than to stuff yourself to the brim with baked goods? Don't worry. You'll resolve to never eat another cookie again for the new year. Of course, by January 7th, you'll break that resolution, but this isn't January. Who cares about January? This is December. Cookies are in front of you now. And they smell delicious.

For those of you who missed it last year, here's the funny part of my annual Christmas Cookie Extravaganza. The Jewish Christmas cookie: Poppy Seed Hamantaschen. Though it's not a Chanukah cookie, my family always bakes it around this holiday. I mean, any excuse for a cookie, right? My family celebrates both Chanukah and Christmas, so we get twice the cookies. (Good deal from my perspective. I love cookies.)

My favorite holiday cookie is a toss-up between the Poppy Seed Hamantaschen and old-fashioned peanut butter cookies. Hamantaschen are also made with strawberry, raspberry, and apricot filling.
As part of the 12 Blogs of Christmas, and in the spirit of loving cookies, I've collected holiday favorites from a snazzy group of people to share with you! Ask a bunch of writers and bloggers what their favorite cookies are, and you get some great stories (and recipes!) to go with your rum-splashed-nog.

NKKelly, why don't you start us off. What's your favorite holiday cookie to bake?

KSG: Let me just put this out there: I am not a cook.  However, I do like cookies, and I like to have fun.  When my kids were little we made Play Dough Cookies for every holiday, varying the colors based on the holiday.  For Christmas, it was this simple:
  • Premade sugar cookie dough (Of course, supermoms can make their own)
  • Red food coloring
  • Green food coloring
Mix half the dough with red coloring and half the dough with green. Then grab a small ball from each and mix them together, swirl them, form a border with one, whatever you would do with Play Doh!  Then put them on a cookie sheet and bake per the directions. As they bake, the colors bleed together and become brighter.  You can add frosting or colored sugar afterwards, but every cookie is unique and it's fun to play with your food.

photo by rorobeans
NK: I love this idea. What a great way to get the whole family involved in baking! What's your take on the cookies, Raine?

RT: My favorite holiday cookie is a magic cookie bar.  My mom made these every year only at Christmas, and they're utterly divine!  Here is a link to the recipe: Magic Cookie Bars.

NK: Sounds yummy. Hey, D.C. how do you feel about Christmas cookies?

DCM: Holy shit, I love cookies. The only thing better than eating cookies is eating cookies in a gaudy Christmas sweater that covers my pooching stomach. I love pretty much all cookies but my favourite has to be the chocolate macaroon. Just thinking about all of that chocolatey chewy goodness makes me want to grab the mixing bowl and go to town.

I don’t know what goes into your macaroons but mine involve sweetened coconut (2.5 cups), bitter sweet chocolate (4 ounces), super high quality cocoa powder (1/4 cup), three egg whites, sugar (3/4 cups), salt (1/4 tsp), and vanilla extract (one tsp). Okay, I know what you’re thinking; where is the condensed milk? There is none in this easy recipe. Just melt the chocolate, mix the other ingredients. Mix melted chocolate into other ingredients and spoon onto cookie sheets. Let the little buggers sit in the fridge for a little while then bake in an oven at 325 F for ten minutes. Let cool and voila! Your dinner is prepared. Double the recipe if you have guests and aren’t so much into the sharing.

NK: Fabulous. I'm picturing the sweater right now. It looks like this: Christmas Sweater. Hey, Ciara, is there an Australian Christmas cookie?

CB: The closest I can get is 'Tonie's Truffles' - so called because I stole them from my aunt, Tonie. I love these, they are incredibly moreish - which is why I only make them at Christmas. I make them and take them somewhere knowing that I will probably eat most of them *shrug* that's OK right? After all, I went to the effort of making them. They are a strictly once a year food for me because they are really unhealthy (check the ingredients if you don't believe me). They're not really a Christmas food, although they do kind of look like snowballs. Um, yeah, it doesn't snow here in Australia. OK, well, if it snows wherever you are, you can pretend they're snowballs. I'll coat mine in chocolate sprinkles and pretend they're... no, nevermind.

*Tonie's Truffles*
1 packet of Nice biscuits
1 can of sweetened condensed milk
1 cup of coconut (plus extra for rolling truffles in)
1 tablespoon of cocoa
Chocolate sprinkles (optional - for rolling truffles in)

Crush biscuits (in food processor or by hand) and mix in a large bowl with the can of milk, the cup of coconut, and the tablespoon of cocoa. Mix until all dry ingredients are moistened.

Roll the mixture into bite-sized balls, wetting hands in warm water every 3 – 4 truffles to prevent mix sticking. Coat each truffle with coconut or chocolate sprinkles. Keep in fridge to set.  

Visit Ciara's 12 Blogs of Christmas: Decorations That Have Kangaroos in Their Top Paddocks here!

NK: Who doesn't love truffles? I'm bringing this recipe to the States! Amberr, what's your secret to holiday cookies?

No-Bake Chocolate Peanut Butter
AM: One of my favorite holiday cookies are my granny's famous no-baked cookies. They're so easy to make that even a child--or a terrible baker like myself--can make them without screwing up. My grandmother passed away the other year and took her exact recipe with her, but I've found a few that have come close since then. The other day, I came across this delicious recipe and decided to experiment in advance. Jackpot! The end result is a mouthwatering, delectable cookie that is pure poetry for the taste buds. I can't wait to make them again for our traditional dinner next week.

Visit Amberr's 12 Blogs of Christmas: Tasty Traditions here!
NK: I'm a huge fan of no-bake desserts! Glad you found a recipe that was almost as good as your grandmother's. As the only guy in this mix, Justin, I'm dying to know: do you bake for Christmas?

JB: I'm actually fairly competent in the kitchen. My father was the chef of the family and he taught everyone how to make a complete holiday meal. My mother made really great sugar cookies with decorative icing, but I somehow didn't get that cookie gene. I'm a terrible baker. So, my favorite Christmas Cookies are the store bought kind! Or any gift of homemade cookies from other friends and family -- love them (please send to the San Juan Islands LOL)!

Zippy and the new puppy-girl, Kipling, also cherish the tin the cookies come in, but I had to give them a lesson on sharing:

That gift is for the both of you!
Come on Zippy, please share ;-)

Zippy is very chagrined... he walked away and Kipling started to open the package!

NK: Pets deserve cookies, too! Make sure they save you one. Erica, you must have a story to go with your cookies.

ELD: Once upon a Christmas baking... My mother and I dusted out my aunt's cookie recipes to bake one of her holiday favorites. Not being big on reading the directions, we messed up a few of the ingredients and what we ended up with was way better than the cookies we set out to make. These are moist, delicious, dunkable Christmas cookies! (And they might even be healthy...unless you use the mincemeat with Rum in it.)
Too tasty to wait!

*Mincemeat Mistake Cookies*
(sift together and set aside)
3 1/2 cups flour
1 tsp baking soda
1/2 tsp salt

(cream together)
1 1/2 cups sugar
1 cup shortening
2 eggs

Add 28oz jar of mincemeat (or reconstituted dry mincemeat) to sugar mixture then mix in dry ingredients.
Drop by rounded spoonfuls onto cookie sheet.
Bake at 350 degrees F for about 8-10 minutes.
This recipe makes several dozen delicious cookies!

Visit Erica's 12 Blogs of Christmas: Somewhere in My Memory here!

NK: That's the best way to make a new recipe. Love the story. Melody, I hear you have a unique cookie for us.

MAJKYou have to know this – I hate fruit cake – I do with a passion.  I have all my life.  I hate fruit cake on a special level.  The word would just make my taste buds cringe.  This is important because my father in law messes with this constant in my life every Christmas by making the most ridiculously delicious Fruitcake cookies.  I don’t know the recipe.  I don’t care.  These cookies he makes are the most delicious, amazing, perfect food ever! Put me on a planet with nothing but these to eat and I will not complain … until they are gone.

I wait for the “Kma & Kpa Christmas visit” – as my son calls it.  This is the visit when they come over and bring presents and a big platter filled with all of the different kinds of cookies they have made.  This is where I discovered my father-in-laws fruitcake cookies.  I would eat them all if my manner didn’t stop me.  Yummy!! Really, they are on a level of “heaven in your mouth” kind of tasty. I’ve lobbied my husband for a name change because I still hate fruitcake.  I’m not getting much traction. I don’t care though as long as my wonderful father in law keeps making me those cookies.

Visit Melody's 12 Blogs of Christmas: Revisiting the Toy Shop here!
Courtesy of StockPodium

NK: Have to say, I'm not a fruitcake fan either, but those cookies sound great. Is there a cookie that sums it all up for you, Maureen?

MH: To me, Linzer Cookies mean Christmas. I always add raspberry jam to the middle and am liberal with the powdered sugar. Melt-in-your-mouth pecan-tasty goodness. (Click on the cookie link for a delicious recipe.)

Visit Maureen's 12 Articles of Clothing in the Christmas Clauset here!

NKThose look amazing. Karen, did I hear you have a Double-Peanut Butter Cookie recipe?

KDLEver since I could remember Reese's Double Peanut Butter Cookies have been my favorite. I used to fight with my mom because she would put a plate of cookies out for Santa and she'd put at least one of every kind we made on it. And boy did it piss me off when I would come down the next morning to see only a bite taken out of the peanut butter one. What a waste. Now that I'm the mommy I'm in charge of putting that plate of cookies out and you better believe that there are no peanut butter cookies on it. Santa can stick to the good ole chocolate chip cookies when visiting my house. 

*Double Peanut Butter Cookies Recipe* (from the Hershey's website):
  • 1/2 cup (1 stick) butter or margarine, softened
    Take two!
    3/4 cup sugar
    1/3 cup REESE'S Creamy Peanut Butter
    1 egg
    1/2 teaspoon vanilla extract
    1-1/4 cups all-purpose flour
    1/2 teaspoon baking soda
    1/4 teaspoon salt
    1 cup REESE'S Peanut Butter Chips

    Heat oven to 350°F.

    Beat butter, sugar and peanut butter in large bowl until creamy. Add egg and vanilla; beat well. Stir together flour, baking soda and salt; gradually add to butter mixture, beating until well blended. Stir in peanut butter chips; drop by scant 1/4 cupfuls onto ungreased cookie sheet, 6 cookies per sheet. 

    Bake 12 to 16 minutes or until lightly browned around edges. Cool 1 minute; remove from cookie sheet to wire rack. Cool completely. About 1-1/2 dozen cookies.

NK: Oh, my. I'm definitely making these!! Wait, we haven't seen a sugar cookie recipe yet. Marie, please tell me you have one.

MPChristmas wouldn’t be Christmas without sugar cookies, and this is, by far, one of the best sugar cookie recipes ever invented.  Of course, I might be a little biased, because it’s a traditional family recipe, but I seriously have yet to find a recipe that can replace this one.  I dare you to make it one of your traditional cookie recipes.  You won’t be disappointed!

Nibble on Frosty.
*Mom’s Old Fashioned Sugar Cookies*
1 cup margarine
1 ½ cups sugar
2 eggs
1 cup sour cream
1 teaspoon baking soda
2 teaspoons baking powder
3 ½ cups flour
1 teaspoon vanilla

Cream together margarine, eggs, sour cream and sugar.  Mix in dry ingredients and refrigerate until chilled.  Roll small amounts of chilled dough out in flour.  Cut with floured cookie cutters.

Bake 10-12 minutes @ 400 degrees.  Allow to cool completely, then frost and decorate. Store in an airtight container to retain softness.

Thanks for stopping by the 12 Blogs of Christmas: Yummy Cookies Redux. Remember to click the other 12 Blogs of Christmas links to read all about our holiday favorites and share your own!

What are your favorite holiday cookies? Do you have the best recipe ever? An unbeatable baking disaster story? Share it in the comments! 

A special thanks to all the participants of the 12 Blogs of ChristmasKelly Stone-GambleRaine ThomasD.C. McMillenCiara BallintyneAmberr MeadowsJustin BogdanovitchErica Lucke DeanMelody-Ann KaufmannMaureen HovermaleKaren DeLabar, and Marie Patchen!

Check out some of these great books by the 12 Blogs Authors:

By Ciara Ballintyne - Spells: Ten Tales of Magic 

By D.C. McMillen - A Decent December 

By Raine Thomas - Daughters of Saraquael

By Justin Bog- Sandcastle and Other Stories 

Coming 2013 by Kelly Stone Gamble - And They Call Me Crazy

Coming March 2013 by Erica Lucke Dean - To Katie With Love 

November 8, 2012

Picking Up After Hurricane Sandy

Hours before Hurricane Sandy reaches our town, I stand at the gas station pumps to fill up the gas tank in my car. Streets are emptying, stores are boarding up windows. Cold air whips around the station. I jump back into my car, crumpled receipt in hand, and turn to my mother. “There’s water on the wind,” I say.

“It isn’t raining,” she says.

I say, “The air is wet though.” Then we are quiet. Grey light fills the sky, turning a pale green, as I drive home.

We've been through hurricanes before; Irene just last year. We talk about Gloria, about how the power went out for weeks, and hope for the best. Nobody thinks it will be that bad. "Why is it always female hurricanes that kick our homes around?" I ask.

My mother laughs, but says nothing.

Our power flickers on and off all afternoon, sometimes disappearing for twenty minutes, sometimes only a few seconds. We have our flashlights, water, batteries, canned goods, water. Wind picks up and news reports speak of the impending landfall. High tide will follow on the night of a full moon, waves expected to be thirty feet, winds to reach 90 miles per hour. Roads are closed. Mandatory evacuations rush people away from the coastlines. I call my father and tell him to stay inside.

Debris smacks the house, little plinks at first; the sound of acorns falling, although we have no oaks nearby. Minutes pass and a large crack sounds; a tree next door has fallen. Shrubs just outside the window are blown sideways, as if a jet engine has turned on behind them. The air outside growls, a deep, visceral sound; the earth is huffing and puffing at my front door. Rain sprays the windows for moments, but quickly vanishes in the gusts.

Images of flooding spatter the television, roads a block away from my house are under water. I think of friends and hope they got out, hope their homes will be standing in the morning. Cars begin to park on my street; people moving them to higher ground, hoping my house is far enough away from the water to be safe. Then the fire station horn sounds, and the lights go out. There is nothing to do but wait, and listen to the storm. The air is screaming. Or maybe it’s people. I can’t go outside to check.

The rest of the night, every few minutes fire trucks deploy, sometimes speeding up my block, sometimes a few blocks over. Eventually, I fall asleep on the couch. When I wake a couple hours later, there is a haze surrounding me. Upstairs, it smells like matches after they’ve been blown out. There are no more fire trucks. I crack my bedroom window, and the sulfuric scent knocks me back. Homes are burning, and there’s no one to stop the fires, no way to get through the flooded streets. I close my window and pull the covers over my head, waiting for morning.

This is Lindenhurst (my hometown) - days after Hurricane Sandy left:

(This video is the property of Newsday.)

I was lucky. My home received very little property damage, and being without power is an inconvenience, not a travesty. However, I have friends whose homes, while still standing, are unlivable. Many families lost everything. Take a moment and be thankful for what you have this season.

How can you help? Here are some suggestions:

Donate a Gift Card to help buy supplies.
We suggest: TargetKMartBed, Bath & Beyond, or Home Depot

Gift Cards can be mailed to:

The Lindenhurst Fire Department
Sandy Relief Effort
225 South Wellwood Avenue, Lindenhurst, NY 11757

If you're Local:

February 8, 2012

Turn the Page

One month into my third semester, and I'm deep into the research for my critical essay. What is this critical essay, you ask? (Okay. Maybe you didn't ask, but I'm telling you anyway.) Simply put, it's an in-depth analysis of an author's body of work, focusing on an element of craft. (Terrifying, right?) Well, the hardest part so far was choosing an author.

Stacked at my bedside are the works of Cormac McCarthy:

In addition to these novels, I've found several dissertations, articles, and reviews that I plan to sift through in order to crank out this project. This term's reading list is not light, but it is fascinating.

After reading Child of God last term, I knew I had to read more. Lester Ballad is a gruesome main character, spun into a beautiful web of prose. McCarthy's writing is sparse - no frivolity in his words. Child of God twisted my stomach at times, but I couldn't put it down because of the author's gorgeous language. One of my favorite lines from the novel appears on page four: "Wasps pass through the laddered light from the barnslats in a succession of strobic moments, gold and trembling between black and black, like fireflies in the serried upper gloom." This line was so wonderful, so evocative, I read it over and over just for the sheer joy of hearing it aloud. It hooked me, and I had to turn the page. Since I'm editing my novel this term, I hope that McCarthy's genius will filter into my own work, if only a little. (A girl can dream!)

Why would I choose this author? McCarthy's characters are dark, unemotional, raw, and surprisingly beautiful. He weaves exquisite words around the darkest corners of human existence, shining light on worlds most of us would rather remain hidden, while instilling empathy the reader may not have been aware was possible. My protagonist is gritty, brazen, and sometimes quirky, facing an unforgiving world, (or at least I hope she is) and I'm working to craft my novel with a lyricism similar to McCarthy's style. In this way, I feel that studying his writing will help me in mine.

There are a few lines in my manuscript that I've come to love, though I'm sure they'll continue to evolve over time. Currently, a section in one of my chapters has the following excerpt:

     "Shadows of 1950s suburban development-houses crept over lawns as the truck passed. One-and-a-half story Capes, all white and close together, with two oak trees in the front yard, as if someone had cut the houses out like paper dolls; the shutter color the only thing telling owners which driveway to pull into."

Since I know there's more to a book than great sentences, I'm also working on making sure that I have enough of a hook at the beginning to keep readers turning the page. My first packet's feedback was wonderfully detailed and I'm excited to be elbow deep in editing again. I have a long road ahead of me, but here I go...

Do you have a favorite line from a novel or your own writing? Is there an author that's influenced you? What makes you turn the page?

I leave you with another musical snippet from Emily's day:

Turn the Page, performed by Metallica (cover)

January 23, 2012

We're All Fallible

This year began with my favorite kind of getaway. A writer's retreat. The Winter Residency for SNHU at the Mountain View Grand Resort and Spa. What could be more inviting than being surrounded by writers in an old hotel, where nothing matters more than words? (Okay, and friends. And possibly drinks.)

Mountain View Grand

And the location? New Hampshire's White Mountains are filled with beauty, silent snow, and of course, moose. Though I've yet to see one, I hear they're out there.

And I didn't even spill my drink!
In addition to spending a wonderful week with amazing friends and faculty doing things we all love (writing, reading, joking, extreme air hockey...) I came home rejuvenated and ready to dive into editing the first draft of my MS. Red pen in hand, I began to tear my pages apart. (Relax, this is a metaphorical tearing. So far.)

After about a page, I hit a snag. My protagonist was in a dark place. I wasn't. Having just spent the most amazing week away, with old friends and new, I was happy. Jubilant even. What to do? What to do?

All my words kept coming up daisies. And Emily is not a daisy kinda gal at this spot in the MS. I spent hours pining over her plight. In a desperate attempt to find her mood, I turned to music. Here are a few songs that put me right back in Em's mind:

First up: Fallible by Blues Traveler.

Next, Drive by Incubus.

And finally, Bad Day by Fuel.

Armed with these songs (and a few others) Em started speaking to me again. Telling me about her day, her struggle. Just how far up the proverbial tree she managed to get herself. Again. The music was a perfect reminder that sometimes we're all fallible.

As for me? I'm still editing, still happy. And Em's still talking to me.

Check out these blogs for more on SNHU's 2012 Winter Residency: