Friday, February 27, 2015

10 Items You Need in Your Pantry

Okay, so like I said in my last post, I don't like to cook for longer than 30 minutes during the week. That was sort of a lie. I don't like to cook for longer than 30 minutes ANY day of the week!

Either way, I need to have some things on-hand in order to do this. I'm not as organized as some people I've seen, but I have learned to keep these 10 things stocked in my pantry. As soon as I notice I've used the last one, I add it to my shopping list and I re-stock.

1. Garlic powder
-- I use this on pork chops, pork roast, on vegetables, on everything! If I don't have this, then my asparagus actually tastes like, shudder, asparagus.

2. Onion powder -- Ditto the garlic powder. But I also use this in some dry dredges, mostly because I like the flavor of onions, but actually having diced onions in stuff sort of freaks me out.

3. Chicken bouillion -- I use bouillion in all my grains, like rice and quinoa. I also make soups and need it. And sometimes my pan sauces are greatly enhanced by a cube of bouillion.

4. Tomato soup -- I have several recipes that call for this, and it annoys me when I can slap together my sloppy joes if I don't have tomato soup. So I always keep it on-hand.

5. Apple cider vinegar -- Any kind of vinegar, really, but I find that I like the flavor of apple cider the best for salad dressings, to add a bit of acid to my sloppy joes and pan sauces.

6. Barbeque sauce -- I use barbeque sauce in several recipes, but sometimes I just need something to slather on my meat. I never want to be out of barbeque sauce.

7. Ketchup -- Ditto the above. My meat loaf topping has ketchup. If I'm grilling hot dogs, ketchup. Sloppy joes, ketchup. The list goes on and on. I hate not having ketchup!

8. Evaporated milk -- I use this in several soups, and I dislike being out of this crucial ingredient if I'm trying to throw a pot of food together. Plus, we throw this "canned cow" into hot chocolate to make it extra-delicious!

9. Taco seasoning -- Not only can't I make tacos, but forget about taco soup. I like mixing a packet of this with sour cream too, for a more flavorful condiment, especially if I'm trying to get down that fat free sour cream, which I often am.

10. Balsamic vinegar -- This is my absolute favorite marinade for vegetables. It's pretty much how I choke down so many vegetables! Give it a try (with salt and pepper and garlic powder. Yum!).

I use these ingredients ALL THE TIME in various recipes, and if I can't just go to my pantry and grab them out, I'm m-a-d. Because then I can't make dinner.

What have you learned to keep on-hand?

Thursday, February 26, 2015

Book Review: Five Days in Skye

Okay, so I've been reading a lot lately! Trust me when I say that if you haven't read any inspirational romance, you should start! I hadn't read any either, except for a good friend of mine who writes in that genre. She recommended that I pick up FIVE DAYS IN SKYE, and I couldn't be happier that I did.

About FIVE DAYS IN SKYE: Andrea Sullivan is so consumed by her hospitality consultant job that she's forgotten what brings her life. She travels the world yet shields herself from the exotic locales or another chance at love. She dreads her new assignment--a last chance to snag a high-profile client in Scotland. Yet the lush Isle of Skye transcends her preconceptions. As does the man she came to interview--the rugged, blue-eyed Scotsman James McDonald.

James is passionate about cooking but after six restaurants, four cookbooks, and his own television show, he has no desire to be a celebrity chef. Andrea and James begin to sense these five days in Skye may just be God's wild invitation into deeper life ... and truer love.

Things That Were Awesome:
1. The characters. Andrea and James were both complex, and real, and perfect. Well, far from perfect, but perfectly written. I really enjoyed reading their banter and their inner turmoil. I liked how their pasts colored their presents, and

2. Scotland! I'm not one of those people who has read everything to do with Scottish romance. In fact, this might be the first book ever! I haven't even read Outlander yet. (I say yet, like I might read it soon, but we'll see...) But as Andrea fell in love with Scotland, I did too. The descriptions were done well, without being overdone. I could feel the wind there. #brrr

3. The romance. I'm a sucker for romance, but I like the slow-stewed kind. Since this is an inspirational romance, I knew it would be clean, and I liked that there was definite chemistry and tension there, but that the characters didn't always act on it. The whole book only takes place over five days -- so the romance happens fast! But at the same time, it doesn't. It simmers away until you really believe these two people could be (and should be!) in love. And I loved that!

So if you like well-written characters, fabulous setting, and great romance, pick up FIVE DAYS IN SKYE. You'll be glad you did.

Wednesday, February 25, 2015

A Busy Mom's Weekday Dinner

Okay, so I work outside the home. And with a busy sixteen-year-old son, and a ten-year-old daughter who dances competitively, I need to get dinner on the table, fast. I like to cook, don't get me wrong, but for a weekday dinner, I want something that takes me less than 30 minutes in the kitchen. And the fewer the ingredients, the better.

Many of you know I lost 60 pounds last year. That would've been impossible eating bland, flavorless food. So here's a recipe I grew up with that packs in the flavor, but not the calories.

Soy Sprite Chicken -- BONUS! This recipe only have 4 ingredients, and one of those is the chicken! I should get, like, an award or something like that.

 I get home from teaching about 2:15. I whip up this marinade and get it going then. I try to have dinner on the table about 5:00 - 5:30, so it's a quick marinade that doesn't take hours or overnight, though you certainly could do that.

If you follow my life saga (and it's a saga!) on Facebook, you'll see why I recommend this next step. I mean, no one wants a huge, oily, soyly mess in their kitchen, right?

So use a tupperware or bowl, and use your friend, the ziplock bag. It maximizes coverage.

After a few hours in the fridge, you're ready to grill! I am a habitual over-cooker of poultry! I've never been able to get it right. So I started timing, and then taking the meat off even when I think it's not done. And you know what? It usually is done!

Since I'm a take-all-the-help-I-can-get-from-the-grocery-store type of cook, I whip out my bagged salad to go with this. I actually get angry if I have to eat salad for every meal when I'm dieting, but this chicken is so good, I don't mind it here. And there are a ton of different bagged salad choices now to also up the flavor. (Bonus: this one has my favorite food: BACON!!)

I always add extra croutons! They're pretty much the only bread I get, and yeah. Bring on the croutons!

You can simply slice this and eat it with your salad on the side, or put it ON your salad for a whole new meal! 


Soy Sprite Chicken:
2 chicken breasts, pounded to uniform thickness, all fat trimmed
1/2 c. Sprite (can use Sprite Zero, or Mountain Dew, Diet Mountain Dew)
1/2 c. vegetable oil
1 c. soy sauce

1. Measure the ingredients -- and let the kids help! My daughter makes this marinade while I trim and pound the chicken. Nothing better than cooking with kids!

2. Put the chicken in a ziplock bag, and put the bag inside the bowl or tupperware. DO THIS FIRST, so you don't end up like me with marinade all over your floor, and boots, and yeah.

3. Pour the marinade into the bag, which is securely held in the bowl. Again, kids can do this.

4. Squeeze out all the air, zip tight, and put chicken + marinade in the fridge for a couple of hours.

5. Heat the grill on high -- until it reaches about 400 degrees.

6. Grill chicken on the first side for 5 minutes. Flip. Grill for another 3 minutes, depending on thickness. Discard extra marinade.

7. Remove to plate and let sit for a few minutes while you open your salad and add those extra croutons! You can also add anything else you want, it just requires chopping. Some nights I feel like tomatoes, and some nights I don't.

8. Enjoy!

Dietary Information: I count calories, so that's what I'm looking at here. I don't know about fat and protein and stuff. But I'm sure I could Google it...
1/2 chicken breast: 250
Salad -- read package nutritional information.

I'm looking at a quick, easy, delicious weekday meal that's under 500 calories and done in less than 20 minutes. How much easier can it get? 

What's your favorite, quick, weekday meal? I might need to steal it from you.

Friday, February 20, 2015

Knowing What Kind of Author You Want to Be

Okay, so I've been exploring some new genres. Things I've always liked to include in my books, but that haven't been the entire book. It has been exciting and bit daunting. So I've found myself doing what I did when I first started writing YA speculative fiction: researching and reading.

I've spent a lot of time researching the genre I'm interested in writing. And I've purchased scads of books and I'm reading them. I'm taking notes of what I see every author doing, of what I like, what I don't, and what "rules" there seem to be in this genre.

I'm talking to people I know who write in this genre. And I'm realizing that there is a wide range of what goes into this genre.

As I finished a book over the weekend, I realized that I needed to decide where I would fall along the broad scope of what's acceptable for this genre.

This was very eye-opening for me, and it helped focus my outlines and goals as I'm preparing to write. I think I'll be able to feel more confident about penning words in this new arena, now that I know what kind of author I want to be inside the genre.

Have you ever done this? Really focused on what kind of author you want to be? How did you do it?

Wednesday, February 18, 2015

Why Failing Is Good For Us

Okay, so my husband always forwards me things that he thinks I'll like that pertain to writing. Over the weekend, he sent me a link to an interview that Will Smith did. In the interview (which is pretty fascinating, actually), he talks about how the failure of his movie, After Earth, changed him.

In the interview, he says he got the numbers for the movie's first weekend, and was upset--until he got a phone call saying his father had cancer.

"That Monday started the new phase of my life, a new concept: Only love is going to fill that hole,” Smith said. “You can’t win enough, you can’t have enough money, you can’t succeed enough. There is not enough. The only thing that will ever satiate that existential thirst is love. And I just remember that day I made the shift from wanting to be a winner to wanting to have the most powerful, deep and beautiful relationships I could possibly have."

I think sometimes I do this. I think my personal worth, or how valuable I am to my family (or others) comes from how successful I am in my writing. If my sales are high enough, then they'll like me.

But over the past couple of years, I've learned the same thing as Will Smith. Having "friends" who only want to be my friend if I'm getting major deals isn't going to fill the hole. I can't win people that way. No amount of money will buy them. As he says, there is not enough.

I've shifted my attitudes, perceptions, and expectations about five thousand times on this publishing journey. I'm sure I'm not done yet. But really, I've realized that writing is not my life. It is something I do. Something I enjoy. But if I didn't do it, I would still be me. I would still be valuable. I would still have my family, my personal worth, and be happy.

I don't think I would've learned that without some of the failures I've experienced in publishing. So I am grateful for them, and hopefully I can continue to learn from them.

What have you learned on your publishing journey?

(There's a recap of just that part of the interview here. The full interview is here. I recommend reading the whole thing, because it has a lot of other great stuff in it.)

Friday, February 13, 2015

The Most Amazing Book

Okay, so I have been reading more, and not just to prove I can! I am enjoying the things that I've been reading, and I have so many books on my Kindle, it's a little overwhelming.

But I was asked to read a book for a friend of mine. I agreed, because I love Jo, and I knew her book would be fantastic. I wasn't disappointed!

About AGAINST HER WILL: My name is Cassidy Connor and my parents hate me. Well, they can go to hell. After yet another fight with my manipulative lawyer father and bible thumping mother, I disappear onto Hollywood Blvd among the other street kids. Or so I thought. The cops pick me up for a BS crime I didn't commit, and Dad announces the only way I can avoid charges is to voluntarily admit myself into Oak Dale, a psych ward for crazy teens. I don't belong there -- my parents are the real nutjobs --but it's not like I have a choice.

At Oak Dale, everyone is going on about the kid who just killed himself trying to escape. How could they dump me in a place like this? I'm thrown in with my anorexic roommate, Erin; foster care system victim, Gina; and pyromaniac Tony. Guess he likes to light 'em up. All of us are unwanted baggage, here against our will.

I quickly learn only the strong survive Oak Dale -- and some of us won't make it out alive.


I absolutely loved this book in a sort of love-hate way. I couldn't stop reading it, and I wanted to yell at the characters. Things like, "No! Don't do that!" Or "Please eat something." Or "This is a bad idea..." Or "Tell someone! Tell someone!"

AGAINST HER WILL is an emotionally powerful book -- I called it a train wreck I couldn't look away from. It stuck with me long after I finished it, and I find myself still thinking about it from time to time.

I think the reason it impacted me so much is because it is the polar opposite of my experiences as a teenager. Cassidy's story opened my eyes to things I knew about, but didn't really KNOW about, if that makes sense. It is a fantastic read for anyone -- if you relate to Cassidy's story, if you don't, and anywhere in between.

AGAINST HER WILL doesn't come out until March 30, but you should pre-order it now so you can devour it then.

Have you ever read a book that you just can't shake? Which one?

Wednesday, February 11, 2015

We Are All Bart the Cat

Okay, so last week I was driving to parent-teacher conferences, and my friend Erin called me. She was all excited about this cat that had clawed his way back from death. I think the conversation went something like this:

Erin: Have you heard about Bart the Cat?

Me: No. I'm driving to work.

Erin: It's this cat that got hit by a car in Florida.

Me: O-kay. Great. One less cat in the world.

Erin: No! Elana! It's a great story.

Me: If you say so. Tell me about it.

Erin: So there's this cat that got hit by a car. And the owner was so upset about it that he couldn't bury the cat. So his neighbor, who was trying to be helpful, buried Bart in a shallow grave.

Me: Great.

Erin: But then five days later, Bart the Cat showed up at his owner's door. He had clawed his way out of the grave and dragged himself home.

Me: The dead cat?

Erin: Yes! The dead cat! Only he wasn't dead! He'd survived for five days in the grave!

Me: Okay.

Erin: Don't you see what we can learn from this?

Me: That we can be buried for five days and claw our way back to the surface?

Erin: Yes!! Just like when I thought my book was dead last fall, remember? It was dead! Buried! And then that agent emailed, and it came back to life!! I'm Bart the Cat!!!

(And if you've ever met Erin, you know that all these exclamation points are warranted.)

Me: You're so right! So when we feel like we've been hit by a car and buried in our neighbor's backyard in a shallow grave, we can drag ourselves back out and try again!

Erin: YES!!

(And if you haven't heard Erin's news yet, you should go over to her blog. We're dual-posting about Bart the Cat today.)

So there you go. We can all be Bart the Cat. We can pull ourselves back from the shallow grave when we feel like quitting, when our eyes have been gouged out, when we think we've had enough of this business.

I'm still not sure if I'm all the way out of the grave, but I'm not dead yet. Just like Bart the Cat.

What do you think? Are you inspired by Bart the Cat's story?

Monday, February 9, 2015

New ELEMENTAL Series Covers!

Okay, so I had some new covers designed for my ELEMENTAL series! I think they're fantastic.

They're available on all platforms now, and you can enter to win $10 Paypal cash by entering the Rafflecopter below!

About ELEMENTAL RUSH: Eighteen-year-old Adam Gillman has trained for twelve years to earn a coveted spot on the Supreme Elemental’s elite sentry squad. His brother, Felix, is the commander, but Adam is still thrilled when his official assignment to serve Alexander Pederson comes.

He moves into nicer quarters and can stop getting up at four a.m. to complete his mandated work out time. He still rises early though, because he needs the solitude of early morning to practice his airmaking Element—something that Adam has kept secret from everyone, even Felix, because he can’t be both an Airmaker and a sentry.

When Alex assigns him to kill a group of rogue Elementals, he balks at completing his mission for the first time. See, his only friend is Isaiah Hawking, and he’s the Earthmover on the accused Council. When faced with the prospect of killing him, Adam finds he can’t do it.

He’s well trained in assassination, but he thought he’d be murdering bad guys—not innocents.

When Alex buries the Elemental Academy—and kills over one thousand Elementals—in a fit of rage, Adam’s loyalty cracks. When he discovers that Alex is really a woman, and his brother’s lover, he defects. He hops from city to city, from Elemental school to Elemental school, always escaping only minutes before Felix can embed a knife in his heart or a tsunami can make a classroom his watery grave.

He tries to fight back, but he’s just one Airmaster with exceptional tracking skills. He does his best to warn those in danger, but as the last Elemental school goes up in flames, he knows he needs to get some real firepower on his side.

Amazon | iTunes | B&N | Google Play | Kobo | Goodreads

About ELEMENTAL HUNGER: Sixteen-year-old Gabriella Kilpatrick can shoot fire from her hands, which would be great if she didn’t get blamed for a blazing inferno that kills 17 schoolmates. When Gabby is commanded to Manifest her Element, everyone knows what she is: a genetic abnormality. Not to mention guilty.

So she does two logical things to survive.
1. She runs.
2. She hacks off her hair to assume a new role—that of “Gabe”, because in her world, only boys are Firemakers.

Not only does she have to act like a guy, she has to pretend to know everything a Firemaker should know. When Gabby meets Airmaster Adam Gillman, he believes her act and pledges to serve on “Gabe’s” Council. But Adam has the mark of a sentry and spent years obeying Alex, the Supreme Elemental. And Alex wants Gabby-the-genetic-freak dead and gone before she can gather the magical protection of a full Council.

With Adam’s lies that sound like truths and rumors that Alex isn’t really a Firemaker—or a man—Gabby sets out to charter a Council of her own. In order to uncover the truth, Gabby will have to learn who she can trust, how to control her own power, and most of all, how to lead a Council of Elementals, most of whom have more control over their power than she does. If she can’t, she’ll find herself just like those 17 schoolmates: burned and six feet under.

Amazon | iTunes | B&N | Google Play | Kobo | Goodreads

About ELEMENTAL RELEASE: Two months after returning to the capital city of Tarpulin with a Council of his own, Airmaster Adam Gillman is ready to start repairing the relationships in his life. Up first: his Councilman and the girl he’d like to be more than friends with, Gabriella Kilpatrick.

But first, he has to figure out how to be the Airmaster his Firemaker needs. In order to do that, Adam attends Elemental training and discovers that to truly command the air, he must first be in control of his emotions. And in order to master those, he has to grieve for the loss of Hanai, make amends with his brother, and earn the trust of Gabby.

Amidst all that, Adam must also learn how to grapple with the jet stream, because a dangerous Airmaster is loose in Tarpulin. And Adam will need to find his emotional center in order to work with the atmosphere and defeat the threat.

Amazon | iTunes | B&N | Google Play | Kobo | Goodreads

Help spread the word about these new ELEMENTAL covers!

a Rafflecopter giveaway

What do you think of the new covers??

Friday, February 6, 2015

Writing, The Best Medicine

Okay, so sometimes life gives you lemons. I know you all know this. I've gone through some good years and some bad. I'm currently in the middle of quite the lemony year.

Things at work are stressful. My son's car died just a few months after we bought it. So we poured more money into it. Writing stuff. Yeah, I'll just leave it at that.

But I can't seem to stop writing. I've decided it's the best medicine to a lemon-filled life. It's an escape--and always has been for me. I started writing eight years ago as a method of escape from a really sucktacular year.

When I stopped writing last year, things got even more sour. Now that I'm back at the drafting thing, I'm feeling more centered. Not everything I write is great, or even good. But it doesn't matter. I'm writing. And that's been making things a little easier to swallow.

What about you? Does just the act of writing help you?

Wednesday, February 4, 2015

IWSG: When You Feel Like A Loser...

Okay, so it's the first Wednesday of the month. That means it's the Insecure Writer's Support Group. I don't participate often, but I am this month.

So I live in Utah. You may or may not know this, but there's about five million authors that live here. Big, famous ones like Brandon Sanderson, Dan Wells, James Dashner, Shannon Hale, Jessica Day George, Ally Condie, Brandon Mull, and Jennifer A. Nielson. (And that's only a few of the authors who live here.) All New York Times bestsellers. I know most of them. Have their emails. See them at conferences and in more casual situations.

So it's pretty easy to feel like a loser. In fact, I went to a launch party last week for a good friend of mine, and it was super-fun. I went with five other people (which sort of goes against everything in me, but that is another blog post for another day). Of the five of us, I was the only one without an agent, a new book deal, or some other Amazing Thing.

I felt like a loser.

As I was downing my southwest Caesar salad (love it, try it) in an attempt to stay out of the conversation and get this dinner over with! I remembered something my husband said a few weeks ago.

How you feel is your choice. Those were not his exact words, lest he read this (which he will) and be like, "When did I say that?"

His exact words were "You choose to be happy." And not exactly in that order, but that's what my brain heard. Just like it heard "How you feel is your choice."

So at the restaurant, I slowed down on the food consumption and tuned back into the conversation. I asked other people about themselves, their agents, their publisher imprints. I decided right then and there that I was not a loser, that I could be happy for my friends even though my writing career hasn't gone exactly how I wanted it to go.

Those people are my friends. They work hard. They weren't "making me" feel a certain way. I was feeling that way all by myself. And I have the ability to change it.

I did. I won't say it was easy, because it wasn't. I had to concentrate on it the whole night. I was exhausted when I finally got home. But I had a great time, and I was happy--with myself and for my friends. No loser-ness in sight.

Have you ever had to work to change how you feel? How did it go for you?

Monday, February 2, 2015

WATER SO DEEP by Nichole Giles

Dude, today is release day of WATER SO DEEP by my good friend, Nichole Giles! We are going to lunch to celebrate, of course. Monday is the day for lunching.

About Water So Deep: Seventeen-year-old Emma Harris is drowning on dry land.

No one knows what’s happening to her, and she’d like to keep her evolution from human to mermaid a secret, but the truth is getting harder and harder to hide. From her adoptive family, from her friends, and especially from the irresistible James Phelps.

Her time in the ocean is spent dodging a possessive merman, while her time on land is split between caring for her special-needs brother and squeezing in every last possible moment of human life. She soon realizes falling for James is unavoidable when he constantly comes to Emma’s rescue and somehow manages to see through her carefully constructed icy facade to the vulnerability she lives with every day. Everything about James makes Emma yearn for a life on land she just can't have.

When Emma’s brother disappears on her watch, James is the only person she trusts to help her save him. But even if they can save her brother, nothing can prevent her return to the sea. Whether she likes it or not, Emma is changing—unable to breathe without yielding to the tide—and it's only a matter of time before she's forced to surrender forever.

Buy Links:
Amazon | Kobo | iTunes | Goodreads

About Nichole: Nichole Giles, the author of the Descendant trilogy, has lived in Nevada, Arizona, Utah, and Texas. She loves to spend time with her husband and four children, travel to tropical and exotic destinations, drive in the rain with the convertible top down, and play music at full volume so she can sing along.

I had the opportunity to read WATER SO DEEP a few weeks ago. I have a few things to say about it:

1. I love that this is a book with a mermaid theme, that doesn't take place in the water. Hardly at all. I found that intriguing, and the transformation from human to mermaid fascinating. So lest you think this is just another mermaid book, you'd be wrong.

2. Emma and James have a certain chemistry that makes the book un-put-downable. (Yes, that's a word.) I like romance with two characters that feels real, and this felt real.

3. The sibling relationship between Emma and Keith felt believable and well-rounded. I liked how she was over-protective of him, and I liked that he had issues of his own he was dealing with. Some of them directly impact Emma and her predicament, so it wasn't a relationship for nothing.

I hope you'll consider getting WATER SO DEEP! It is a fantastic and fresh addition to the YA paranormal romance genre.

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