Tomato Jam and Applesauce

Tomato Jam and Applesauce

So, this past week I did not go to RWA National Conference. Nope. I didn’t stay up too late, drink too much, have great meals with wonderful friends, hug people I don’t see often enough. I didn’t pitch novels or jump up and down with glee with friends that had successful pitches, and I didn’t get to applaud the Rita and Golden Heart winners or console the losers.

Instead, I made tomato jam and applesauce and wrote my fingers off. It doesn’t seem to be a fair trade until I realize how happy my credit card is that I didn’t go!

So, it starts with tomato plants. The 20 plants I have in my yard yielded this:

Picked July 20, 2013

Picked July 20, 2013

(and there is plenty more where that came from) This is only 3 pounds; I had to go out and pick more. So after my post last week about tomato recipes, the hubby says well, when are we making tomato jam? And so…this weekend it was time.

After roughly chopping tomatoes (no need to skin them, thank goodness), they all went into the pot, along with chopped onion, finely chopped green apple, cumin, coriander, salt, half cup of brown sugar and one and a half cups white sugar.

Everything in the pot, all stirred up. Let's call it pre-jam...

Everything in the pot, all stirred up. Let’s call it pre-jam…

As it cooked down, it tasted really yummy – hint of spice plus a hint of sweet.  I was excited – there were so many possibilities with this tomato mixture. You could put it on nachos, spread it on sandwiches, use it with cheese and crackers…I wondered how many jars I’d get out of the deal. I had twelve 8 ounce jars in the canner, boiling. I’d have enough to give away to friends and family, and still have some left for us. I daydreamed as the mixture cooked down.

Finally, after two hours and change and lots of stirring so it wouldn’t stick to the bottom, we had jam.

It's jam!

It’s jam!

I prepped the jars, filled them, wiped the rims…then put them in the canner and followed directions.

5 jars of jam!

5 jars of jam!

After fifteen minutes, I pulled out the jars and wiped them before setting them on the towel-covered counter. It wasn’t the twelve jars I was hoping for, but five jars is better than none. Next time I’ll chop seven pounds of tomatoes instead of 3.5 pounds.

Note: We had some this morning with breakfast. And I was a bit disappointed in how sweet it was (well, hello 2 cups of sugar). Next time I’ll back off on the sugar, and maybe add another onion. Or some chili pepper, for an extra kick. I’ll still use what I have on nachos and etc, as the jam is definitely tomato-y and not strawberry-e, but I’m going to go for something a little spicier.

As for the applesauce? Four pounds of apples. 2 pints of sauce (cinnamon, no sugar). Here’s the proof.

It's a darn good thing we have more apples on the tree...

It’s a darn good thing we have more apples on the tree…

So, while I didn’t get to run myself ragged for a week in Atlanta with a whole bunch of old friends and new friends and friends I’ve yet to meet, I did soothe my inner farmer gal by harvesting what we’ve grown, and saving it for another day. Seems a fair enough trade.


Thanks so much for stopping by. Until next time, cheers!


Goal Setting 101- How do you do it?

Goal Setting 101- How do you do it?

Goal setting. Do the words send shivers down your spine, or do they make you want to dig out your day planner and your prettiest pen, and dig in?

I’ve studied goal setting under the Franklin Planner people; I’ve been a devotee for over twenty years of their system. I’ve learned goal setting (and mission planning) from Bob Mayer. I’ve done a five main goals for five years, completely under Debbie Macomber’s spell, during an RWA National Conference Keynote Luncheon.

And yet, I’m still figuring out how goal setting and I get along.  I know that a big mission is propped up with smaller tasks that must get done in order for the big mission to be successful. In other words, “life chunks” – those big rock goals – should be put into your life bucket first, so the smaller goals – those pebbles, the sand – can fit into and around the bigger goals. And your bucket still has room for water (lesser goals).

But I’m looking for more. I’m looking for your opinions. How do you set goals? How often do you review them? Do you have daily, weekly, monthly goals? A one year plan, five year plan, ten years? Career goals, personal goals, fitness goals? Do you separate out your goals (financial, fitness, career, house), or are they all a part of a master plan?

I’d love to know. Please leave a comment and tell me how you work your goals list. The comments will be open all week – and at the end of the week I’ll pick one lucky commenter to receive a $10 Amazon card as a thank you!

~ Until the next time, cheers – and remember to drink responsibly! ~

Demon Soul, Blood Dreams and Demon Hunt are all available for the Kindle! Have you fallen into the Caine Brothers’ world yet?

RWA 2012 Workshop Tidbits

Besides all the wonderful people I saw at conference, besides the fantastic roomies and the terrific luncheon speakers and the marvelous fun of watching the Golden Heart and Rita awards ceremony (though afterward it got to be way too much for my sense of balance, sigh), there were, first and foremost, the workshops.

This year there were a LOT of workshops on self-publishing. Of which I took, oh, um, none. But I’m not worried, I know the information is out there and I have some very good friends to lean on if I decide to go that route. But the point is, RWA is changing. Yes, slowly, but they’re changing. So huge props and kudos to them.

Of the workshops that I did take, well, I just flipped through my notebook full of notes. I learned so much, and reading through it refreshed my memory – but there’s far too much to share! So I’ll just do snippets.

Christyne Butler did an awesome workshop on the “Soapy Way to Writing Category”. In a nutshell? Watch the soaps. THAT’s how to write category. Each character’s voice is distinctive (which should be true no matter what you write); don’t waste words on places that aren’t a big part of the story. Plus she quoted Jenny Cruisie’s 2003 keynote speech – “don’t be a writer, be a storyteller”. It was the last workshop time of the conference – and I won a “Save the Cat” book by Blake Snyder! Very pleased, as I’ve been wanting that book. But I REALLY enjoyed Christyne’s presentation.

Tamara Hogan and Susan Sey gave a workshop on writing villains – they urged us to “embrace our inner sociopath”.  “A great villain forces you to create a great hero.” This resonated with me, seeing as how I’ve got to really ramp up my villain in my Demon series. This one wasn’t recorded, but they were very funny and I learned a lot.

Erin Quinn gave a wonderful workshop on the Simply Organic Structure, which I’m definitely going to use in my next book.  She highly recommends daily goals, and to keep track for a week or so to see how much, really, that you write in a day. Because as she put it, “if you don’t know how you do what you do, how can you replicate it?” Good question.  This is definitely a workshop to listen to if you have access to the CDs from the conference.

Harlequin Blaze Author Tawny Weber (one of my FAVs) and Blaze editor Brenda Chin gave an excellent workshop on “everything I learned about writing I learned from writing category romance”. The important stuff in category? The Foundation. Hooks, Plot, Character and Pacing. First, know what line you want to write. Next, character and voice are paramount – everything else can be fixed. The Blaze books are about 50/50 in both the hero and heroine’s POV. Plus, the reader must love the hero right off the bat. Remember, the heroine is just like you and me – connect with the heroine’s fears quickly. Plus the love scenes MUST move the story forward. (Okay, here my notes degenerate into scribbles. But trust me, this is a MUST LISTEN if you want to write for Blaze in particular.)

I’ve been reading a LOT of Blaze books lately, and I can tell you they are similar in one area – they are highly charged, emotional, sexy books with main characters you fall in love with. But that’s it. The field is wide open there as far as story lines go, which makes me very happy. The voice that sells the best is a light, humorous, snarky one, but they accept other voices as well.

As a side note, I got to spend some time with Brenda at conference – it felt like those first two days, we kept bumping into each other, which was fun. We chatted about kayaking and camping (neither of which I have done in too long, drat it anyway) and all in all, my editor-crush is still in full bloom. I also had a formal pitch session to her (my pitch sucked, and she called me on it, lol) and she helped me wrestle out a plot. I can’t wait to dig into it and am doing research on the sly, in between words on the current book (which MUST get done by the end of August). Seeing both her and Tawny so soon after Desert Dreams was too cool. I also got to meet Blaze author Rhonda Nelson, and I really enjoy her writing so that was neat!

I was absolutely delighted to sit in on a workshop by Yasmine Galenorn, an online friend and the author of the Otherworld series which I love. Titled “From Witches to Dragons”, she made a clear delineation between paranormal romance and urban fantasy. The goal in PR is saving the relationship. In UF, the goal is saving the world. That, right there, was a big ah ha! moment for many in the audience.

She had something to say about villains, too – she said the most interesting ones are the intelligent tricksters.  And sex scenes? She says to get comfortable saying the words out loud. Make the sex scenes emotional, find that connection between the two (or more) and make the reader feel it.

Plus use the magic of “What if”!

So that’s all for now…my brain is exploding again with all the good info. Sorry there aren’t any pretty pictures. I’ve sworn off them for now while I figure out the new WANATribe picture sharing stuff.

On a SIDE Note – a book club organizer has contacted me about coming to speak to their club – they’re going to be reading DEMON HUNT next! Yay!


Thanks for stopping by! And thanks for your patience with me – I promise to get back to the wine blogs this week. Pinky-swear!

Anaheim, or Bust #RWA12

Anaheim, or Bust #RWA12

Logo for RWA Conference 2012So, I’ve been packing since I got up this morning, around 6am. I’ve had 3 cups of coffee, wrapped a tote bag FULL of Los Angeles Romance Authors Books & Goodies, made a run to the store for apples and dinner rolls (to go with the salami and cheese previously purchased – there’s a fridge in the room), bought an apple fritter from the best donut shop for the hubby as a bribe and solace for taking me down to Anaheim, remembered ALL my hair thingies (curling iron, brush, comb, spray, etc), remembered the camera and the battery charger.

I think I’m ready.

Still flying high from  yesterday’s news which, yeah, haven’t shared here. But you know what I CAN tell you? Networking is important. Keeping a pleasant and positive public face online is important. Sometimes not doing something is just as important as doing something, and not doing it may get you to your bigger goal.

I know, cryptic, huh. Just know that good things are humming along, and at the perfect time for me. Talk about symmetry!

So I’ll try to blog this week, but I truly don’t know when I’ll get the time. I’ve managed to go digest on all my mail lists, and told my boss that he can call me all he wants, I’m not answering his calls or his emails, lol.

I’m off soon to live in a world of two thousand other romance writers for almost a week. Yes, you envy me!

The Uterus Chronicles, Episode 2

If you’re just joining the conversation, Episode 1 is here – “Does My Uterus Make Me Look Fat?”

Episode 2: Help! I Need a Good Doctor!

So, I really liked the OB/GYN I had gone to. I felt cared for, and listened to, and the next day I even wrote her a thank you note. I felt like I’d found my medical home, female-wise at any rate. The biopsy came back about a week later and it was negative for cancer, always good news. My new doctor and I talked for about twenty minutes about my options -one of which included Uterine Artery Embolization. She gave me the name of a place near her office that does this type of work, and suggested I talk to an Interventional Radiologist before I make a final decision. And, whatever I do, if I could let her know she’d really appreciate it.

I made the call. I got transferred to three different people before the office manager came on the line to tell me that, no, not only do they not do UAEs, but they have NEVER done UAEs. So I call the doctor’s office back, get the office manager, and she tells me that well, maybe this other place has one, and UCLA has one. But she’s not giving me any kind of referral (the bane of having a PPO instead of an HMO. I guess the Motion Picture HMO spoiled me, sigh).

So I back away from the phone and think some more. People make mistakes, I’m aware of that. But this mistake is kind of a big one. And do I want a doctor that makes mistakes because they didn’t do their homework? What if they make a mistake while in surgery? Or while prescribing hormones or something for me?

I’m not in any kind of an emergency situation, so time passes as I dither think about my options, and suddenly it’s time to see my GI doc.

This is the same doctor that did my colonoscopy two years ago – and when he comes into the patient room, I remember that I really like him. He’s got a big smile and a hearty handshake, and he listens to my entire tale before telling me not to worry. That the bleeding in my stool is most likely from the hemerroids (sp) caused by the fibroids (the trigger that started this whole drama). Unless things change down the road, he doesn’t want to see me for another three years and I’m happy to oblige, lol. He also told me to take a fiber supplement -one dose a day for the rest of my life. He says its like a miracle drug for all Gastro-Intestinal docs, and he’s been doing it for 20 years. So I’m now taking the generic equivalent of Benefiber each day.

So then, I started poking around on the internet. Found a highly respected doctor, fairly local (but then, anything within 50 miles is local in the Los Angeles area), with major expertise in removing fibroids without removing the uterus. Even big fibroids. Bingo! I checked him out thoroughly and made the call to get a consultation.

The pleasant person who answered the call barely heard me describe my symptoms before she told me, in a firm voice, that the doctor doesn’t take any insurance and it’s $250 to $450 to walk in his office door and talk to him. (After checking the website again, I see that you have to put up 20% of the cost of surgery prior to having it.) I put the phone down, once again confounded by doctors.

I wasted time did some more careful thinking about my options. I still hate the way I look and feel. More friends talked to me about how great they felt after their hysterectomy (after they healed, that is).

Finally I hit up the internet one more time, searched out several doctors, and found one closer than the other one. I filled out an online “consultation form”; and two days later, at ten o’clock on a Friday night, that surgeon emailed me back. He assured me that his office takes my insurance, and encouraged me to set up an appointment, which I did.

I took my husband to this appointment, and I’m really glad I did. This doctor specializes in minimally-invasive gynecology surgery as well as urinary tract surgery. He doesn’t deliver babies or see women on a yearly basis, and he’s done thousands of these surgeries. He talked a bit to both of us about options, and did an exam, and told me my uterus is 18cm and the fibroids are calcified, which means they can’t come out laparoscopically – as a calcified fibroid is basically rock-like, and they can actually break blades. (I know. Weird, huh?)

He also said they didn’t calcify overnight – I’ve probably had fibroids for years (most women do), they grew slowly, and over the past five years or so calcified. He couldn’t give me a reason why other doctors missed it so I’m doing my best to let that part of this whole thing go. (Change happens, and we’re not always aware of it. Got it.)

He drew pictures, gave me and my husband a straightforward view of how it all happens, as well as possible complications. He was warm, intelligent, caring, and spent quite a long time with us going over other options but in the end, I chose to have a TAH – Total Abdominal Hysterectomy – leaving in the ovaries.

This is a man I trust. This is a man who cares, who answers email from a stranger at ten pm on a Friday night, who spent time talking to my husband as well as to me.

On a high note, when I asked my nurse neighbors about this doctor, they both gave him a two-thumbs up (they work at my local hospital, and this doctor sometimes does surgeries there as well). Gee…I really should have asked them for doctor referrals earlier in my doctor search, but I didn’t think of it. Who better than nurses to give referrals to doctors?

Surgery is scheduled for August 7, 2012. I want to be as healthy as possible going into surgery, so I’m walking, eating healthy, and giving myself ballet classes (well I was until I sprained my ankle); I’m taking iron supplements (patients tend to lose 2 points in iron during abdominal surgery – I’m at an 11, over 12 is normal, he wants me at a 13); I’m also taking calcium and fish oil, but I have to stop the fish oil ten days prior to surgery (it’s a blood thinner, did you know?). 

So that’s the story. The takeaways? 1. ALWAYS see the proper doctor for the proper thing. 2. DO YOUR HOMEWORK when searching for doctors – ask friends, neighbors, nurses for referrals. 3. TAKE YOUR TIME if you can before deciding on any procedures. and 4. TAKE A FRIEND/LOVER with you to any important doctor appointments. They will often be thinking clearer than you and will both ask important questions, and remember the answers afterwards.

My next book, DEMON HUNT, comes out either July 15 or August 1st, so I have promo to do for that.

I’ll also be hitting up RWA’s Annual Conference in Anaheim at the end of July, then back to work for a week of getting Important Stuff Done; then I’ll go out on disability and have surgery. During recovery, I’m going to be a writing fiend, as I won’t really feel like moving much. Middle of September? Back to work. Middle of October? Start giving myself ballet classes again to get into shape. A busy summer/fall!


Thanks so much for stopping by! There’s a Midsummer Blog Hop tomorrow, and on Friday I return with a Wine Blog – sorry about the absence of that feature! Cheers all, and remember to Drink Responsibly!