Gardening: How To Compost

This is for the gardeners out there. The ones heeding the siren call of spring.

Yesterday, I turned the compost that's been "cooking" for the last 6 months. I think the compost I use in the garden is one reason everything grows so beautifully. If you don't compost, you should.

What is compost? It's a combination of nitrogen-rich and carbon-rich organic matter.

The nitrogen-rich is made of trimmings from raw vegetables and fruit, grass clippings, yard trimmings that are relatively small, coffee grounds, tea leaves, etc.

The carbon-rich is "brown" organic matter like straw, dried leaves, hay, small twigs, sawdust, etc.
Any of this brown organic matter should be small pieces. You wouldn't want to dump in a hay bale into a small home garden compost pile.

Dirt, time, rain, earthworms, beetles, etc. do the work of turning this waste material into rich soil for growing plants.

I have 2 compost piles in the back corner of my garden. Landscape rocks separate them from the rose beds and from each other.

I think of one as the active pile and the other is the dormant pile where the elements are doing their work.

The active pile is where I add raw organic matter every day followed by a shovelful of dirt over what I added. I turn it over once a month usually.

The dormant pile was completed months ago. It's gestating, I guess you could say. I turn this pile over every other month. It's amazing how many earthworms inhabit it. They go back and forth I imagine between both compost piles.

When the active pile is ready to be allowed to rest, I start using compost from the dormant pile. This is the old school method of composting.

You can buy many different kinds of compost bins at your local nursery center or Home Depot. There are ways to make compost faster, but my method is fine for me because my garden is small.

Takeaway Truth

Gardening is a stress-reducing activity that yields untold rewards. It provides joy to the senses when you walk out into your garden and see the beauty and smell the aroma of flowers and herbs.

What's Your Reward

If you're a Goal Setter, do you do to reward yourself when you achieve your goal?

Big Goals are made a thousands of baby steps one must take to finally achieve that goal.

Every time you hit a checkpoint in your journey to the goal, you should reward yourself.

Reward System

If you have a set of Goals, then you should have a Reward System. Unfortunately, most people don't. To misquote Martha Stewart, "This is a bad thing."

If you don't reward yourself, you risk burnout. When you're always working hard to achieve something, and then you do, what happens? Do you celebrate the achievement in some appropriate way? Or do you just move on to the next goal and put the old nose to the grindstone and start working hard again?

That "work hard, accomplish the goal, start on the next goal," and repeat the process leads to burnout. You end up feeling overworked, exhausted, and even worse, you start wondering why you're working so hard.

Don't just shrug and think you'll do something special at some future date.

Don't think that just achieving the goal is reward in itself. It's not. You deserve a reward so design a Reward System for yourself.

If your garden needs weeding, and that's your goal and you do it, reward yourself. Maybe your reward would be a new plant for your garden or maybe an ice cream cone.

If your goal is to write a chapter, reward yourself with something appropriate--maybe meet a friend at Starbucks for a cappuccino.

If your goal is to write a book, then you have checkpoints and rewards with each chapter finished. At the end, when the book is ready to be published, reward yourself with something suitable.

I just finished a book. It's going through final edit now. Next week, I'll tell you how I rewarded myself.

Takeaway Truth

Remember that old cliche? All work and no play makes Joan a dull girl? Okay, okay, it was originally "Jack a dull boy."

It's true so avoid turning into a dull, pale version of yourself.

Saturday Share: Cheesy Chicken Oven Dinner

One thing I do that helps me put dinner on the table quickly is to cook a bag--the whole bag--of boneless, skinless chicken breasts in advance.

I put the chicken in a big Dutch oven with enough water to cover it. I also add a couple of stalks of celery, a couple of carrots, a large onion, a little thyme, and salt and pepper to flavor the broth.

When the chicken is done, I shred the chicken and store it in freezer bags. I usually put the equivalent of 3-4 chicken breasts in each bag.

I freeze the broth in 1 cup amounts in smaller freezer bags. When I need to cook quickly, I just grab a bag of the frozen cooked chicken and a couple of cups of broth if needed, and I have the ingredients for a meal like the recipe below. This easy and delicious casserole serves 6 to 8.

Cheesy Chicken Oven Dinner

  • 8 ounces cooked drained noodles of your choice
  • 1/4 cup chopped celery
  • 1/2 cup chopped onion
  • 1/4 cup canned water chestnuts, drained & rinsed, optional
  • 2 tablespoons butter
  • 1 cup sour cream
  • 3/4 cup milk
  • 12 - 14 ounces of cooked chicken
  • 1/2 cup canned sliced mushrooms, drained
  • 1 cup frozen peas
  • 1/4 - 1/2 cup grated Parmesan cheese
  • Preheat oven to 350°F.
  • Butter a 2 quart casserole or spray it with Pam or a similar product.
  • In a saucepan, saute the celery and onion in the butter until tender and translucent.
  • Stir in the sour cream, milk, chicken, mushrooms, peas, and noodles.
  • Pour into 2-quart casserole and sprinkle the cheese over the top.
  • Bake 25 to 30 minutes or until bubbly.
Takeaway Truth

Have a wonderful weekend!

Plant a Tree for Arbor Day

Today is National Arbor Day. Let's all plant a tree! We planted a Gala Apple tree between the Pink Lady Apple tree and the Kieffer Pear tree. I say we, but my Darling Hubby did the manual labor part, and he did a great job.

I look at yards without trees, and they look sad. Trees enhance the beauty of any lot and add value to your property. Ask any realtor if you don't believe that.

The giant live oak tree at left was one reason we bought our present home. This is how it looked before we removed the "ring" around the tree.

We created a rock "river bed" style in the entire area where there was grass so the roots now have more room. The tree was there long before the houses were built, and I want it to stay healthy.

Why Plant Trees

Strategically placed and planted, trees and shrubs can shade a house, making it cooler in the summer, and in the winter protect it from the bitterly cold wind. Landscaping for energy efficiency can reduce air conditioning costs by 15%.

When choosing trees consider whether you want them to block the sun or lose their leaves to let the winter sun warm your property.

How To Position Trees

1. If you need protection from harsh winter wind, then evergreens are a good choice. 

2. To shade your house from the summer sun, plant trees on the east, south and west sides of the house.

3. Plan ahead by drawing a sketch of your property. Make sure the site on your lot where you want to plant has room for the growth of a tree. You don't want a mature tree to crowd the eaves of the house or the roof. You certainly don't want to plant to close to your house because the roots can ruin your foundation.

4. Plan wisely by calling your utility hot line. They'll send someone out to mark your underground utility lines so you won't cut a cable or phone line or blow yourself and your house up by hitting a gas line. (My neighbor didn't do this, and he cut the underground phone cable. He didn't like the $750.00 bill the phone company presented him with.)

I'll close with Trees, a poem by Alfred Joyce Kilmer that is now in public domain. Known primarily as Joyce Kilmer, he was born December 6, 1886 and passed away on July 30, 1918. Mr. Kilmer is  mostly remembered for Trees, published in 1914 in the collection Trees and Other Poems.

CC0 License:
Trees by Joyce Kilmer

I think that I shall never see
A poem lovely as a tree.

A tree whose hungry mouth is prest
Against the earth's sweet flowing breast;

A tree that looks at God all day,
And lifts her leafy arms to pray;

A tree that may in Summer wear
A nest of robins in her hair;

Upon whose bosom snow has lain;
Who intimately lives with rain.

Poems are made by fools like me,
But only God can make a tree.

Takeaway Truth

Now go out and plant a tree. 

Happy Birthday, SlingWords

I've been in deep lurk as I've been writing my new book.

Hurray! Yes, all you readers who have waited for Book 2 of All Brides Are Beautiful, that time is finally at hand.

(I'll write more about that later and do a cover reveal for Second Chance Bride which is now in its final edit.)

I've been so engrossed in writing and meeting my needed word quota each day that I missed the anniversary of my first blog post 13 years ago.

Celebrating 13 Years of SlingWords

That's right. SlingWords debuted on April 12, 2005. To date, counting today's post, there have been 2,972 posts published here. Every post from the beginning can be found in The Archives. To keep the blog looking fresh, I've changed the theme 4 times.

I've written about books; the art, craft, and business of writing; authors; reviews of music, television, movies, books, videos, and software; humor; all things Texas; history; trivia; video book trailers; and occasionally a truly personal post.

Blogging Frequency

Once I blogged every day which is why SlingWords grew in popularity. Readers always want new content.

For the last few years, real life has prevented my maintaining that consistency. However, my goal remains to provide content that's interesting, informative, and entertaining.

I've always seen my blog as a way to pass on what I've learned, and I've always written it informally--like a conversation with friends.

I've particularly enjoyed hosting  hundreds of authors on the blog. It's always interesting to hear what they have to say about their own books.

A Look Back

The first post I wrote was entitled, Japanese Proverb, and I wrote it to encourage a friend who had suffered a series of setbacks. Here's that first post in its entirety.

There's an old Japanese proverb--perhaps old is redundant since, I guess, all proverbs are old--but I'm digressing. This proverb is about how to succeed.

Fall down 7 times; stand up 8.

Ah, if only success were that easy! By that I mean, if we only had to fall 7 times. Too often that 7 is multiplied by a hundred or more. I've been falling regularly of late. The interesting thing though is that with each fall, it hurts less. I mean if you're already covered in bruises, one more isn't going to matter.

I added the Takeaway Truth at the end of each post about a year later. If I were to add that to the first post above, it would be: So keep trying. The next time you stand up may be the time you go on to win the day.

Takeaway Truth

Writing this blog has been a joy and sometimes the only thing that kept me producing words. I thank you for reading and hope to keep you as a member of the audience for SlingWords.

Sound Protection

I read articles about self-protection. One I've never really thought of is to use an air horn as a layer of protection.

Actually, this is probably a good strategy since criminals want to be as inconspicuous as possible. This kind of noise would wake anyone!

The Sabre Sport & Safety Horn has a 115dB horn and can be heard up to half a mile away. It's small enough to fit in your pocket.

This air horn would be a great emergency signal if you needed help right away like going camping and getting lost in the woods or breaking a leg.

Hmmm. I'm thinking of some ways this could be used in a book. It might be a great plot device.

What I Use Mine For

I have an air horn, but I use it to shoo the thousands of starlings away from the house when they're nesting. They're such messy birds building their mud nests under any overhang like the eaves of your house or under your porch.

The air horn temporarily makes them seek another location. Unfortunately, you have to monitor throughout the day or those pesky birds will have globs of mud before you can yell, "Shoo."

This Sabre Sport & Safety Horn is available from Amazon at a price of $11.99. Shop around and see if you find it cheaper elsewhere. If you do, let me know.

Takeaway Truth

Readers, any of you carry an air horn product for protection or emergency signaling? Have you ever used it? Did it work for you? Let us know.

Love The Planet: 3 Earth Day Tips

Luv The Planet Reusable Grocery Bag
Happy Earth Day! Want to know 3 things you can do in the name of ecology that pay lasting rewards?

1. Get some cloth or canvas tote bags and throw them in the trunk of your car. Use these for bagging your groceries. The bagger at the checkout will use your bags instead of those flimsy plastic ones.

Where do you get bags? My goodness, they're usually given away at events, or you can order online, or make them yourself if you have a sewing machine.

The Luv The Planet Bag shown at left is from WriteWay, my CafePress shop, and comes in 2 sizes. The one shown is Medium, and it's 10-ounce weight natural canvas. The graphic is on both sides, and it features full side and bottom support gussets, measures 15"x18"x6" and has 22" reinforced fabric handle. It's a good size for groceries. Earth Day Price is $13.99 for this week only.

2. Recycle paper, plastic, aluminum, glass, and empty food cans. If you have curbside recycling, separate the items into the specific colored bin as necessary. A lot of curbside recycling takes everything in 1 bin. Unfortunately, my small community doesn't have curbside recycle, so we got some cheap plastic kitchen trash containers and lined them up in the garage. Plastic in one, aluminum in the other, etc. When full, we empty into a large trash bag and take to the big county park near us and dump the stuff into their huge recycle containers.

3. Learn not to be conservative consumers. Avoid conspicuous consumption. Back in the day, people were taught this mantra: "Use it up, wear it out, make it do, or do without."

While this Spartan philosophy may seem alien to you, it's the basis for being thrifty and ecologically practical. Use what you've got rather than running out and buying something new. Learn how to re-purpose, re-fashion, or up-cycle. These 3 skills are hot trends right now. There are books and websites that espouse and teach these skills.

If you just want something new for the sake of newness, don't throw away something that's perfectly good. Donate it to a charity thrift store where it will be recycled and/or re-purposed.

Takeaway Truth

Simple practices like the three about can change the way you live and might just save you money including saving the landfills and reducing the taxes too.

Stamped By Romance

Souvenir Sheet, Great Illustrators, $4.25
I was delighted to hear that artist Will Davies has been honored by Canada with a postage stamp.

Mr. Davies, one of five artists honored, was an illustrator who created more than 500 covers for Harlequin, originally a Toronto-based company.

Back in the day, cover art was created from original drawings or paintings which were then photographed. Each book cover featured distinctive and original art work.

Of course, his body of work included magazines, fashion layouts, and much more, but he's known more for his book cover art, especially by romance authors and collectors.

His cover art was so highly prized that authors would request he do their covers. The resulting cover, each unique and specific to the book, was one of the factors in the growth and popularity of romance novels and helped build the global brand that is now Harlequin.

Takeaway Truth

You can order the stamps online. The series is known collectively as Great Canadian Illustrators. You can even get a set on eBay, or have a Canadian friend mail you one.

Barbara Bush, Missed But Never Forgotten

Since Sunday, all of Houston has known that former First Lady Barbara Bush was on Comfort Care. We knew that meant it was just a matter of days before this amazing woman passed.

Word came yesterday afternoon that she was gone. We've lost a treasure, not just a former First Lady.

Barbara Bush was everything I admire in a woman. She was like so many women of my mother's generation: strong, stalwart in the face of adversity, loving, kind, intelligent, and giving.

She was everything I strive to be.

Here in Houston, it was common to see George and Barbara Bush around town. They acted as if they were ordinary people, and everyone in this town, regardless of political belief, loved them. Bush sightings created excitement, and the Bushes never failed to be exactly who they were--modest, respectful, polite, and friendly--to everyone who came in contact with them.

If young girls are looking for role models, don't bother with the latest hot craze in sports and entertainment or pretend super heroes. Look to someone who really was a super hero--and a mother, grandmother, and wife. Look to Barbara Bush and all the seeds of love she sowed in her lifetime.

Takeaway Truth

Rest in peace, dear lady. You are mourned and will be missed.

Image Information: Photograph taken in 1989 by David Valdez, White House Photo Office and obtained from Wikipedia. This image is available from the United States Library of Congress's Prints and Photographs division under the digital ID cph.3g01701.

This image is a work of an employee of the Executive Office of the President of the United States, taken or made as part of that person's official duties. As a work of the U.S. federal government, the image is in the public domain.

Video Book Trailer: Unforgettable Trouble

Today, I uploaded Unforgettable Trouble: Passion and Thrills, my latest video book trailer, to YouTube.

I love making videos, and this one was particularly fun because of the music.

I found some music with a cool Quentin Tarentino movie soundtrack vibe. If you've watched his movies, you know what I mean.

Take a look at the embedded player below, but, first let me give you a...

Video Production Tip

(1) Think about the vibe you want the viewer to get when watching your video. This is usually easy with books because a book or a collection of books has an overall theme. So look for something that reflects that theme.

Takeaway Truth

Unforgettable Trouble: Passion and Thrills is available for pre-order now at only 99 cents.

Writing New Book Like Pulling Teeth

Hey! Actually, I started a new book a few weeks ago. Then real life intervened, and I didn't get much done.

However, this past week I started cranking out the words. I've often thought getting the story down is like pulling teeth at first.

It's not until I'm a fourth of the way in that the writing begins to flow.

One reason for this painful process is that I no longer have the luxury of writing every day.

I'm trying to create a new work discipline based on my new normal, but that's also been like pulling teeth! I find myself bemoaning that I can't go to my office at 8 each morning, coffee cup in hand, and devote myself to writing.

I even went back to an old motivation trick. I stick a little gold star on the calendar for every day I crank out words--any number of words even though I set my quota at 2200 words a day.

The new book is Second Chance Bride, Book 2 of All Brides Are Beautiful. I'll do a cover reveal
when I dive into polishing the draft. The cover is really beautiful and perfectly matches the story.

Second Chance Bride tells the story of Constance Quinn, Maddie's stepmother, who first appeared in Book 1, April Fool Bride.

A few reviews mentioned how hateful Constance was, but have no fear. She will be redeemed in her own story which reveals why she was so cold and distant in the past.

Only $2.99
New NetGalley Review of April Fool Bride

"April Fool Bride was a fast, fun read. What appealed to me about this story is that it is—technically—a second chance romance and a marriage of convenience, two of my favorite tropes.

Years ago oil heiress Maddie had a huge crush on the housekeeper’s son, Jake. One night she decided to act on that teenage crush and let’s just say that it didn’t end all that great for him. Or her, really.
Fast forward to the future and Maddie needs a man she can trust and there’s only one man she’s ever met who fits the bill. Jake.

One of the things I enjoyed most about this story is the deft way Joan Reeves was able to flesh out the characters by using the other character’s perspective. When we first learn about Maddie, it’s through Jake and it ain’t pretty. He makes her seem almost irredeemable, which did color my opinion of her. But we learned more about the new grownup Maddie through Jake’s perspective, which also made it clear why he fell for her.

This is a fast read, only about 120+ pages, but it reads like a full length story in that there are no elements missing. The mom and the stepmom were fun, meddlesome, characters who added a few layers of depth to tell us who our hero and heroine really are. It was hot, fun and fast, but most of all it was a good time!"

Takeaway Truth

Nothing in life is guaranteed. Changes happen.

You can rail against them or accept them and move on, changing to work with the new normal.

I always think moving on is the best choice!

Focus: What Can You Do Today

One of my favorite quotes is from Thomas Carlyle.

He said: "Our main business is not to see what lies dimly at a distance, but to do what lies clearly at hand."

So many people dream about what they want to do "some day" or worry about what may happen in the future.

Forget all that. Think about today. What can you do today?

If you have a goal, what can you do today to achieve that goal? Figure that out and then take action. The failure to take action leads to the failure to achieve a goal.

Do something every day. Take action every day. More importantly, take action on the most important goal or task at hand. I did this by writing a chapter of my new book. That's why this blog post is late. I love writing my blog, but writing my book has a higher priority.

Takeaway Truth

Do what lies clearly at hand.

Review: The Foreigner

After the news tonight, Darling Hubby and I decided to rent The Foreigner starring Jackie Chan. At only 99cents plus tax, it was an easy decision to try it. We had wanted to see this thriller when it was at the theater, but we never made it.

I was brain-tired but physically not tired enough so we decided a movie would help us unwind.

Since I'm beginning to write more suspense with my romance novels, I'm always interested to see how the stage is set and how the suspense/thriller storyline is developed. How character motivation drives an action thriller.

Although one might at first glance think this was a period film since bombings by the IRA are part of the plot, but it's not. It's contemporary with a believable plot involving "The Troubles" in Northern Ireland that never really go away.

Plot and Story

Although not an original vengeance story, there is a nice plot based on a "what if" political scenario. It will hold your attention and make you think. Of course, I remember as a young girl hearing about all the bloodshed associated with Northern Ireland, the IRA, and the English Army.

After I was old enough to learn the history, I understood it in an intellectual sort of way. I don't know if young people in America truly understand the historical background of this film, but that won't detract from its "watchability" to coin a word.

Starring Jackie Chan

Mr. Chan always gives a good performance, but he's especially good in this as a heartbroken, grieving father. Like the Liam Neeson character in Taken, the bad guys learn they messed with the wrong old man. Great fight scenes--smart and choreographed well. I wondered if Jackie is still doing his own stunts!

Quick Download

This was the first time we'd purchased a rental, using our new Kindle Fire TV Stick. It was so easy no instructions are needed. I think I've already told you how much we love this little gadget that is the only Plug and Play device that truly is Plug and Play.

It turns any TV into a Smart TV. We liked it so much we're giving them as birthday gifts this year. At only $29.99, that's an inexpensive gift that delights.

Takeaway Truth

So if you're looking for a solid action thriller, choose The Foreigner for your weekend entertainment.

I Want Romance Giveaway Continues

You still have more than a week to enter the I WANT ROMANCE GIVEAWAY.

Who couldn’t use a little more romance? Not to mention a pink Marc Jacobs leather wristlet, a Kindle Fire 7, or maybe the newest romance bestseller on Amazon.

Just visit the Giveaway page on I WANT ROMANCE GIVEAWAY and click "Read More." The page will open with pictures of the great prizes, the Rafflecopter entry form, and more.

67 Authors and 8 Great Prizes

That's right there are 67 Authors participating and a slate of 8 prizes to give away, including a Kindle Fire 7 tablet, a Marc Jacobs pink leather wristlet, 4 ebook prize packs, and 2 Amazon gift cards.

Then there's the Book Fair filled with amazing novels where you can shop. Choose from books in genres from contemporary romance to romantic suspense to PNR for $2.99 or less.

You’ll even find a bonus giveaway so be looking for it!

The Giveaway ends April 22 so enter today and tell your friends too. You could be one of 8 lucky winners to add new ‘romance’ to their lives!

Sponsoring Authors

Alexia Adams • Allyson R Abbott • Amy Ruttan • Anne Stone • Aubrey Wynne • Becky Lower • Bethany-Kris • Brenda Whiteside • Brighton Walsh

Cailin Briste • Calinda B • Candace Sams • Carla Krae • Carrie Whitethorne • Cate Tayler • CB Samet • Cecy Robson • Charmaine Ross • Crystal Dawn • Donna R. Mercer • E.B. Black • Eliza Daly • Elizabeth Meyette • Elizabeth Rose • Holly Cortelyou

J. L. Lora • J.E. Parker • Jacquie Biggar • JC Andrijeski • Jen Doyle • Jennifer Dawson • Joan Reeves • Joanne Dannon • Josie Riviera • Julieann Dove

Karly Morgan • Kim Petersen • Kris Michaels • Kristin Holt • Kristy Tate • L A Cotton • Lana Campbell • Laurel Greer • Linda Carroll-Bradd • Lola Karns

Madeline Iva • Mari Carr • Marilyn Peake • Megyn Ward • Melissa Belle • Melissa McClone • Michele Barrow-Belisle • Nancy C. Weeks • Patrice Wilton • PG Forte • Renee Ann Miller • Ruth A. Casie

Sarah Williams • Shereen Vedam • Soraya Naomi • Stacey Joy Netzel • Stacy Gold • Susan Jean Ricci • Susanne Matthews • Sydney Aaliyah Michelle • Victoria Saccenti • Aileen Harkwood

Remember, shop our book fair where you can choose from books in genres from contemporary romance to romantic suspense to PNR for 2.99 or less. You’ll even find a bonus giveaway!

Takeaway Truth

This event is a great one, Readers.

Enter the I WANT ROMANCE GIVEAWAY today, and Party Hearty!

Review: Episodes

I'll confess that I wasn't a Friends watcher, but I did see and remember one episode that was simply hilarious. It featured Matt LeBlanc as Joey, an actor trying to learn some French lines for a part.

Therefore, it should have come as no surprise that Matt LeBlanc, one of the stars in a Showtime Original called Episodes, is laugh out loud funny.

This irreverent comedy series, now on Netflix, is not family fare, but it is indeed binge-worthy for adults.

I started watching it because the short blurb said it was about two writers, and indeed it is. Tamsin Greig is Beverly Lincoln and Stephan Mangan is her husband Sean, two happily married Brits who write for an award-winning comedy series on British TV.

All is well in their happy little bubble until Merc Lapidus, a Hollywood network executive portrayed beautifully by John Pankow throws flattery and a ton of money at them and convinces them to come to America and create an all-American version of their sweet but funny British show.

The end result is hilarious. The American network changes everything, lowers the intelligence level of the American version, adds a lot of gratuitous sex, and names the show Pucks--to rhyme with, you know.

The Brits think the show is a disaster and their marriage is in shambles, but the test audiences loved
the show! Go figure, right? Pucks may be a horrible cliche, as is this rendering of what goes on behind the scenes in Follywood, but Episodes is brilliant and so is Matt LeBlanc who stars as himself.

In truth, I think the attitude expressed by the network executive is how that odd breed of folk feels about writers in general--their a necessary evil in the business of making television and movies.

Takeaway Truth

Episodes is like watching a train wreck. Your jaw is agape and you wonder what the heck is going to happen next--even as you laugh hysterically. It's irreverent, disrespectful, and downright funny.

Naming Characters: Most Popular Names Last Year

A couple of weeks ago I blogged about choosing character names. There's a lot that goes into picking a name. One thing you might consider is whether the name was popular when the character was born.

When our youngest was born, Jennifers, Ambers, and Melissas were popping up all over the place. I wanted something different which is how our daughter ended up with the name of Adina. In all the years since, I've only seen a few Adinas.

So if you want your heroine's name to stand out, do not choose one that was extremely popular in her birth year. If you want the name to be commonplace then pick one that was hugely popular.

Last year, 2017, these were the top 20 names chosen nationwide. You may find significant differences if you look for the top 20 in your state.

Trends come and go even in names. For decades, the name Michael was the #1 name given to baby boys. It has fallen in the last few years to #16.

RANK                      GIRLS                        BOYS

1                               Sophia                       Jackson
2                               Olivia                        Liam
3                               Emma                        Noah
4                              Ava                             Aiden
5                              Isabella                       Lucas
6                              Mia                             Caden
7                              Aria                            Grayson
8                              Riley                           Mason
9                              Zoe                             Elijah
10                            Amelia                        Logan
11                            Layla                           Oliver
12                            Charlotte                     Ethan
13                            Aubrey                        Jayden
14                            Lily                             Muhammad
15                           Chloe                           Carter
16                           Harper                          Michael
17                           Evelyn                          Sebastian
18                           Adalyn                         Alexander
19                           Emily                            Jacob
20                           Abigail                         Benjamin

Takeaway Truth

The thing I note most about last year's Top 20 names is the influence television and movies have on naming babies.

Mother Nature Is Whacked

I don't know about your part of the country, but Mother Nature is having a mental meltdown here in Texas.

This fine Sunday morning, it's 45 outside!

"If you don't like the weather in Texas, wait five minutes. It'll change."

That quotation is attributed to just about every famous person from the past.

I waited five minutes. It's still cold.

Takeaway Truth

Everyone complains about the weather, but no one can actually do anything about it. Have a warm cozy Sunday!

Love Paranormal Romance? Get Mystic Realms!

If you love Paranormal Romance, then Mystic Realms, priced at only 99 cents, was created just for you!

20 riveting paranormal stories for only 99 cents.

Limited-Edition Collection of Paranormal & Urban Fantasy Romances

What goes bump in the night? What causes you a fright? While the answers for each may vary, I promise that these stories will not leave you wary.

From vampires and demons to shifters and creatures that you’d never suspect, this set will leave you breathless in the best possible ways.

So, don’t be afraid. Come, step inside our realm. Allow the mysticism of romance in many shapes and forms fall over you like a veil of sweet, soothing, spine tingling comfort. We promise…you won’t be sorry.

You'll find Mystic Realms at: Amazon * iBooks * Kobo * Nook.

Titles and Authors of Mystic Realms.

Secrets of the Hollows (Book 2) by Nicole Morgan
What’s a girl to do once she falls in love with a demon?

Fallen by Tamsin Baker
Gabriel thought he’d do anything to earn his way back into Heaven. He was wrong.

Cursed by Tracy Goodwin
Forbidden love. Dangerous prophecies. Limitless power. Fate is a witch.

Avenging Aingeal (Protectors of the Earth 1) by Lynn Crain
Bound by vengeance, she is humanity’s one hope…

Her Fate, His Mate (Wolves of Windsor Woods) by Krista Ames
Can she accept all he is and all he stands for?

Sleeping in the Dragon’s Den by Lexi Thorne
His Hungry Dragon My Curious Desire. His Tattoo Curse My Wet Dreams.

Dark Side of the Moon by Laura Baumbach
Vampire rentboy vs. the world.

Angel Vindicated by Viola Estrella
Some sins are hard to avoid...

A Wolf’s Touch by Christine Donovan
Can she love him--wolf and all?

Dr. Magic (Vampire Island, Book 1) by Jo Grafford
One more dance with the devil...

Dark Heat by Jan Springer
Betrayed by her two forced mates, she hides within Vampira.

Torkel by Mardi Maxwell
Love unites them in the mists of time.

Silent Storm by Sadie Carter
Sometimes the monster is the good guy...

Tangled Sin by Georgia Lyn Hunter
She was the light in his eternal darkness...

Seduction’s Scent by C.I. Black
Giving in to temptation threatens everything.

Ghost Mate by D. Anne Paris
She was going to kill him even though he was already dead.

Living on the Edge (Clan Book 1) by Laverne Thompson
Mate wanted. Dead or alive.

The Warrior’s Curse by M. Elliott & T. Eden
What comes next may be the end of it all.

Three Days From Hell by Dariel Raye
Can a permanent resident of Third Hell be trusted?

Just Tell Me What You Want by Tina Donahue
Her wishes will leave him breathless…

But Wait, There's Much More

Three, count 'em, 3 Big Giveaways. Enter today, and you might just win one of these fabulous prizes.

Mystic Realms Goodreads Giveaway
1 Kindle Fire * 1 - $50.00 Gift Card * 1 - $25.00 Gift Card

Books & More Giveaway

2 Kindle Fires with Alexa * Kindle Fire TV Stick * $200.00 Amazon Gift Card * $100 Amazon Gift Card * $50.00 Amazon Gift Card * $25 Amazon Gift Card * 3 - $10 Amazon Gift Cards * 5 - $5 Amazon Gift Cards.

Mystic Realms Paranormal & Urban Fantasy Boxed Set Preorder Giveaway
20 ebooks from 20 authors (one winner per author).

Takeaway Truth

A collection of Paranormal Romance and Urban Fantasy doesn't come along every day. This limited edition won't be around forever. Get your box set now. Mystic Realms publishes on April 10--just a few days away.

You'll find Mystic Realms at: Amazon * iBooks * Kobo * Nook.

Cooking Under Pressure: Sloppy Joe

Power Pressure Cooker Brand
Last fall I bought a Power Pressure Cooker -- the 8 quart one. I'd had enough insomnia that I'd watched a lot of infomercials about this particular item.

There's something really soothing about watching infomercials where the products they advertise seem to work like magic.

Fortunately, the Power Pressure Cooker did work like magic. It was literally a meal saver for me. I'd reached the point where I was so short of time and so sleep deprived that I couldn't seem to plan ahead for dinner.

With the Power Pressure Cooker, I could literally take frozen chicken from the freezer, drop it into the cooker with maybe some rice and frozen vegetables, seasonings, and broth and in about a half hour have an edible meal ready. I must say, not just edible, but good.

Now instead of ordering pizza delivered or grabbing a burger, we have real meals again. I've used my Power Pressure Cooker for 8 months now and have had no problems with any function of it. I still garner recipes from online but I've also adopted many of my own recipes.

My Homemade Vegetable Beef Soup now takes 10 minutes instead of simmering all day. Chicken Fricassee with raw rice takes 25 minutes. Best of all, you can cook dry pasta with the other ingredients and come out with a 1 pot pasta meal.

Darling Hubby and I watch YouTube videos for recipes, and load up the Power Pressure Cooker with the ingredients as we watch the cooking videos.

CrockPot Pressure Cooker Brand
I loved this magic appliance so much that on Black Friday, I bought 3 at greatly reduced prices for CrockPot Pressure Cooker went to my daughter-in-law because it could be used as a pressure cooker or as a slow cooker.

She loves it because it helps her get dinner on the table fast after a long day at work.

The second CrockPot brand was for me -- for my house in the country. That's how much I like these appliances--plus, the price was so low on Black Friday that I could justify it.

Instant Pot Pressure Cooker
The third one was an Instant Pot Pressure Cooker for one of my daughters who had been hinting that's she'd like that type. I think the Instant Pot brand was perhaps the first of the power pressure cookers.

If not first, it was a fast second to the Power Pressure Cooker. In any event legions of fans--especially those who eat Paleo--fell in love with the Instant Pot.

I know my daughter uses her Instant Pot Pressure Cooker every week and just loves it.

Buying Tips

Any power pressure cooker recipe can be used in any of the brand name appliances. They pretty much all work the same way. They're nothing like the old pressure cookers your mom or grandmother used on the stove.

You can find thousands of recipes and videos online for a power pressure cooker. As you can see from the pictures of the 3 brands I've bought, they all pretty much look the same. Some may have more pre-programmed buttons or a Teflon lined cooker insert, but they all work the same.

Favorite Sloppy Joe

This recipe is one Larry loves--especially when accompanied by a dark beer. Tip: get all your ingredients ready beforehand because this goes fast.

  • 2 pounds of ground beef
  • 1 chopped onion
  • 1-2 crushed or minced garlic cloves
  • 1 large chopped bell pepper (in a pinch you can use 1 can chopped green chile, drained (I keep canned green chile in the pantry just to have on hand in case I don't have a fresh bell pepper)
  • 8 ounce can of tomato sauce
  • 1 tablespoon packed brown sugar
  • 2 tablespoons ketchup
  • 4 ounces dark beer (you can use light beer but dark gives it the best flavor)
  • 1 teaspoon Worcestershire Sauce
  • 1 tablespoon spicy brown mustard
  • 1 teaspoon ground mustard (you know, the yellow powder from the spice section)
  • 1 1/2 - 2 teaspoons chili powder depending on how spicy you want it
  • 1 teaspoon garlic powder
  • 1 teaspoon salt
  • 1/4 teaspoon black pepper, more if you want it spicy
  • 2 tablespoons olive oil
  • If your pressure cooker has a browning function (the 3 above do) then brown the ground beef.
  • Pour off the fat. I dump the browned ground beef in a colander to drain it.
  • Put the olive oil in the cookpot and dump in the fresh onion and bell pepper. If you're using canned chile, don't put it in until you add all the ingredients.
  • Sweat the onion and bell pepper, that just means saute them until they're translucent but not browned.
  • Just before you think the sweated vegetables are ready, add the garlic cloves. Garlic burns easily so stir and pay attention.
  • After about a minute, dump the ground beef into the vegetables in the cookpot.
  • Now add the rest of the ingredients. If you're using the canned chile, add them now.
  • Stir everything around then put the lid on and set it to come up to pressure according to your appliance.
  • Cook on high pressure for 6 minutes. That's usually the Rice Setting.
  • Let it naturally release the pressure or do a manual release if you're ready to eat.
  • Serve on a bun--I use homemade French bread, and it's delicious. Add a dollop of sweet pickle relish to your Sloppy Joe. Now it's super delicious!
Buying Tip

The prices on all of these, regardless of brand name, have increased dramatically since Christmas. If you want one of these, add it to your Amazon Wish List so you can monitor it for a price drop.

If you can wait until Amazon Prime Day in July or Black Friday in November, you can probably pick one up on sale. I'm getting gifts on Black Friday for 2 other family members.

Takeaway Truth

Of course, if you can't wait for one of these big sale days, go ahead and get one. You'll love the convenience and the time saved with this appliance--plus the food tastes good.

26th Annual Lone Star Writing Contest Now Open

The 26th Annual Lone Star Writing Contest, 2018, is now open!

Now is your chance to enter this prestigious writing competition. For 26 years, this contest has produced contest finalists and winners who have gone on to become bestselling authors. You could be one too.

Read the details below, and if you have more questions, contact Contest Coordinator Dana Morales - damorales66 @ hotmail dot com.

  • Competition is open to published and unpublished authors.
  • Entry must be an unpublished work – (it cannot be published or under contract in any form or format, not in digital or print prior to the announcement date in October 2018). If the entry is disqualified, a letter will be sent to the contestant and the entry fee will be forfeited.

Final Round judges will be chosen from experienced editors and agents within the romance publishing industry. A complete list of final judges for each category will be provided before the contest opens.


CONTEMPORARY: Present day romance novels or novellas that focus on the romantic relationship. Word count is between 20,000 and 70,000 words.
HISTORICAL/REGENCY: Romance novels or novellas with a time period prior to WWII. Projected word count between 20,000 – maximum open.
FANTASY, FUTURE AND PARANORMAL: Romance novels or novellas in which the future, fantasy or paranormal elements are an integral part of the plot. May include vampires, ghost, time travel, werewolves, etc. Projected word count: no less than 20,000 – maximum open.
INSPIRATIONAL ROMANCE: Novels or novellas in which religion or spiritual beliefs (in the context of any religion or spiritual belief system) are a major part of the romantic relationship. Projected word count: no less than 20,000 – maximum open.
ROMANTIC SUSPENSE/INTRIGUE: Novels or novellas in which suspense, mystery or thriller elements play and integral part of the plot. Projected word count: no less than 20,000 – maximum open.
YOUNG ADULT: Novels or novellas that fit into the following: Young adult; geared to young adult readers between the age of 16-25 (Most fall in audience range of 12-18 yrs old) . Projected word count: no less than 20,000 – maximum open.
SINGLE TITLE:  (includes Women’s fiction and Chick Lit) Novels that may have subplots, but the romance is the central part of the story. These are usually stand-alone novels and have a word count of 75,000 to 100,000 words.

Judging and Awards

In the primary round three (3) judges, at least two of whom have been published in novella or book length will judge each entry.

The lowest of the three scores from first round judges will be dropped from the final tally. This means that although an entrant will receive three critiques, only the top two scores will be used to determine which three finalists go to the editor and agent judges.

The top two scores will be added then divided to achieve an average score. The entries with the top three average scores will advance to the final round. In the event of a tie, the third dropped score will be consulted to determine the finalist.

Finalist will be sent back the scores and comments from the first round judges and given one week to make edits on manuscript before they are sent in to the final round judges. Finalist will receive a seal to place on their website announcing they are a finalist in the Lone Star Writing Competition.

Editors and agents will judge final round entries. Each editor and agent will rank and score the finalists from first through third.

Winners will be announced in October 2018 at the Northwest Houston RWA meeting held in Spring,
Texas (and notified by telephone/email).

Winners in each category will receive a certificate, $50.00, and a seal/banner announcing they are a winner in the Lone Star Writing competition.

Grand Prize – To be determined.

DEADLINE FOR ENTRIES: June 8, 2018 at midnight CST

Takeaway Truth

Get your entries ready now!

Erotic Romance: More Than Just Sex by Anna Lores

Today, my friend Anna Lores stopped by to talk about her Erotic Romance, Ella's Triple Pleasure, which is featured in an International Promotion by BookBub in April.

Since there's a special promotion going on,  Ella's Triple Pleasure will be on sale until April 30 for only 99 cents.

What Is Erotic Romance

A lot of readers think Erotic Romance and Erotica are the same thing, but, in actuality, they're not. Erotic Romance is sometimes called Romantica. Anna said that most people think Erotic Romance is about nothing but sex. Here's what she had to say about this perception.

Erotic Romance: Just Sex…Or Something More?
by Anna Lores

A good story is a good story is a good story. We’ve all heard it. But what about those genres that allow a reader to go into the bedroom with the characters? Do they have a story attached to the love scenes?

As an erotic romance writer, there is a wide assumption that the only thing I write is sex. That just isn’t true. Now, don’t get me wrong, I take readers into the character’s homes, and specifically into their bedrooms for some steamy scenes, but a compelling love story is what takes them there.

We all have hopes and dreams, successes and failures, and so do the characters in my erotic novels.

The love story is the main focus of each of my novels, and the complexity of real life carries through to each of the characters.

The earth doesn’t stop spinning because a person is living paycheck to paycheck, struggling to get out of debt, or when one random problem turns into a dozen. Life continues on. But, in an erotic romance novel, a bright side arrives, and with that – similar to real life – hope, love, and yes, smoking hot sex.

An interesting story is the foundation of every romance novel and what pulls us in, takes us on a ride, and lets us celebrate the happily ever after, which is the hallmark of a romance novel.

So, yes, I write sex scenes that might make readers fan themselves to cool off, but, just like a traditional romance, a solid story with heart and reality mixed in. That's the driving force of any erotic romance I pen, as well.

A good story is a good story is a good story – whether that's sweet romance, mystery, or erotic romance.

Takeaway Truth

Readers, if you'd like to sample an erotic romance, grab a copy of Ella's Triple Pleasure while it's on sale for only 99 cents!

Paying Income Tax

I did my taxes this past weekend. Would you like to commiserate with me?

Rob Knauerhase said: "Isn't it appropriate that the month of the tax begins with April Fool's Day and ends with cries of May Day!?"

I don't think I've ever known anyone who rejoiced at paying taxes, but if you think about it, maybe we should. After all, it means we are employed and earn a salary.

To Celebrate That I Finished This Task

This year, I finished the tax forms before the day they were due. Hooray for me! Rather than gripe about this annual necessity, I'd rather laugh so here are 12 funny quotations that show taxpayers all have one thing in common regardless of political party affiliation or any of those other demographics: hatred of income tax and those complicated forms, schedules, and instructions.

Funny Income Tax Quotes

"The hardest thing in the world to understand is income tax." ~ Albert Einstein, Genius

"The income tax created more criminals than any other single act of government." ~ Barry Goldwater, former Senator and Presidential Candidate

"Be wary of strong drink. It can make you shoot at tax collectors... and miss." ~ Robert A. Heinlein, Author of Science Fiction

"The income tax has made more liars out of the American people than golf has." ~ Will Rogers, American Humorist

"Look at it this way: If you don’t spend your dollars on the IRS, you’d probably just squander it on foolish things, like food, rent." ~ Cindy Adams, NY Post Journalist

"The only difference between a tax man and a taxidermist is that the taxidermist leaves the skin." ~ Mark Twain, American Author

"I am proud to be paying taxes in the United States. The only thing is I could be just as proud for half of the money." ~ Arthur Godfrey, Radio and Television Humorist

"There’s nothing wrong with the younger generation that becoming taxpayers won’t cure." ~ Dan Bennett, Comedian

"Unquestionably, there is progress. The average American now pays out twice as much in taxes as he formerly got in wages." ~ H. L. Mencken, Author and Curmudgeon

"Income tax returns are the most imaginative fiction being written today." ~ Herman Wouk, Author

"The difference between death and taxes is death doesn't get worse every time Congress meets." ~ Will Rogers, American Humorist

And, last, but not least, let's hear from an IRS professional who was quoted as saying: "The trick is to stop thinking of it as your money." ~ Unknown IRS Auditor

Laugh, Don't Groan

Once you have your taxes filed, escape from the tedious world of reality. May I suggest my romantic comedy APRIL FOOL BRIDE?

Oil heiress Madeline Quinn needs a husband by the time she turns 25 in order to claim her full inheritance. Mad Maddie, as the tabloids christened her, learned the hard way that men only see dollar signs when they look at her.

She decides a marriage of convenience is the answer and turns to the one man in the world she trusts, her housekeeper’s son who always treated her like a little sister--to her dismay--when they were kids growing up together.

Jake Becker hasn’t seen Maddie since the night she tried to seduce him. Why should he help the woman who changed the course of his life? Simple. Revenge.

Or is it something else? Something hot and smouldering that will not be denied?

Takeaway Truth

Be a good citizen. File and pay your income tax. Then have some fun reading.

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