Check your sleep.

Check the quality of your sleep. This monitors how long and how well you slept. It can even wake you up with a gentle vibrating alarm that won't awaken your partner.

Tuesday, December 29, 2009

a few first snowy Christmas shots




Here are a few shots of my nieces' first white Christmas. More to come!





Friday, December 25, 2009

This year is far more blessed

I'm having a wonderful Christmas with my brother and his daughters. The girls are used to a very hot Christmas in northern Australia, so Canada is by far a culture shock for them. All of us here wish you all a very merry Christmas and a happy new year!
Blessings
Barbara

Saturday, December 5, 2009

Stargate Universe






Okay, I'm a Stargate Universe fan. I like the show so much, I'll stay up to midnight to watch it. And if any of you know me, that's saying something because I'm definitely a morning person.



I like that they analyze the show afterward. It helps with my writing, believe it or not.



Take last night's show for instance. It was the fall finale and was excellent.



For those of you who aren't up on this show, it's a spin off from the other Stargate shows and this one has an unlikely and sometimes unlikeable humans who are on a distant planet by way of the stargate, but when the planet is under attack, they are forced to take the gate, hoping to get back to earth, but who find themselves on an ancient star ship far from earth. The mix of people is delightful, and each has both good and bad qualities.



Colonel Young, the leader, dislikes Rush, the leading scientist, because he's a bit of a know-it-all who is bitter about the loss of his wife. Eli is the nerd who can do just about anything because he's smart, but has pretty much no incentive unless his butt is on the line. There's a nurse who is struggling to be doctor to all, and there's Young's protegee, Scott who appears to love Cloe, the senator's daughter who adds a bit of class to every room, but whose virginity was lost sometime around the Clinton administration.

There are some darker characters, but what I love about the show, especially last night's episode, was how the writers are putting the pieces together slowly and tantalizingly. The space ship has a chair that appears to be able to inject all the ship's knowledge into whoever is seated in it, but could kill you in the process.



Rush refused to risk his own life, but rather was willing to risk others, much to Young's fury.



But Young isn't so perfect and justice filled, either. He's already proved that he could beat up people who act up, as he did in a previous episode.



Last night's show had one scientist, a secondary character succombing to the temptation and sitting in it. He's in a coma now. Young blames Rush, of course, because he doesn't like him.



This isn't all that's happened. A troubled soldier on board commits suicide, and Rush decides to frame Young, to get him out of the leader's seat and get Rush more freedom to experiment on the chair, something Young refuses to allow.



In the midst of that, the gate opens and allows them to check out a planet, something they need to do for food, water, etc, because so far, no replicators on this ship. The recon team finds another space ship, and Young takes Rush to investigate. But there, Young confronts Rush about his framing him for murder, then beats the snot out of the scientist.



Then leaves him on this distant planet.



Now, you may not like Young for this, and people are saying the stress of being on this space ship is getting to him, but I think he had it in him all along.






Now you may be bored stiff here, but let's look at this from a writer's POV. Young has already proved he'll do the dirty stuff if he feels like it, but we were fooled to think it was for a good reason only. He's been shown to prevent a fight by punching the aggressor, and he's already beat up a rival colonel for sleeping with his wife. All for the greater good, you think.



So this latest is a believeable act for him. Only, it's not for the greater good, at least not completely.



And because we've learned that there is another spaceship and Rush is now alone on the planet with it, we know Rush has everything he needs to get home. He's smart, motivated, and has a ship now.



But the motley crew on the ancient ship aren't without an ubersmart scientist. They have our nerd, but also that scientist who sat in the chair. Sure, he's in a coma, but they aren't up a creek without a paddle. It's amazing how the writers are piling on the problems for the people, but hope dangles in front of them. Our nerd who won't get off his butt is now motivated to step in and help. The writers have left some big carrot for us to follow.



Can we authors leave some carrots for our readers? Can we make our characters as believeable, too? Can we twist our plots around but still have them fully motivated, like they did with Colonel Young? Can we add tension and hope all at the same time?



Check out the show if you can and see for yourself how the writers are planting motives and suppositions in our minds, only to turn them around.



You'll be impressed.

Wednesday, August 19, 2009

Primal Obsession

My summer read this past July was Primal Obsession and I loved it so much, I had to review it!

Primal Obsession by Susan Vaughan (at http://www.susanvaughan.com/) is a tense, exciting mystery set in the Maine woods. Mix the smooth, poetic prose of H. D. Thoreau with the sly suspense of Stephen King, and you have Vaughan’s masterful style.

In Primal Obsession, reporter Annie Wylde has already connected various unsolved murders together, catching the attention of the killer, who finds in her an outlet for his murderous cry for notoriety. But when she decides to scatter the ashes of her best friend, one of his victims, over a placid Maine lake, and leaves the story to a co-worker, the killer becomes enraged.

Sam Kincaid is a burned out, injured major league player whose return to his roots as a wilderness guide only punctuates his sense of defeat. Even when the innuendo-filled banter with Annie is unsuccessful and the hodgepodge mix of vacationers he must guide bicker, he knows this trip will either make or break him. But ‘The Hunter’, as Annie dubbed the serial killer, has decided Annie needs a reprimand, and if it takes killing everyone on the backwoods canoe trip to do it, so be it.

Primal Obsession has all the great story telling of a whodunit, the sophisticated suspense of a master storyteller, and enough twists and turns and surprises to keep the reader enthralled. It’s a big story, both in pages, (369 in trade paperback size), and in depth and plot and is excellent value, promising and delivering a great read. Vaughan uses her finesse at suspense to keep readers guessing up to the end. And her knowledge of the setting is perfect for anyone who enjoys man pitted against nature. Like Rainsford in ‘The Most Dangerous Game’, by Richard Connell, Sam and Annie must either fight back or become easy prey for the ruthless Hunter.

Primal Obsession is an edge-of-your-seat story you won’t want to miss. Vaughan’s characters are realistic people to root for and worry for, right up to the exciting, satisfying conclusion.

Friday, July 24, 2009

Blog 5 of 5!

PLEASE NOTE! This series is about to end. Feel free to pass it along to anyone who needs a good laugh and is considered a conference for the first time.

Now, before I tell you about my experience at pitching to an unknown editor, let me tell you about the Harlequin Ball the night before. Each year, my publisher puts on a ball. They go all out, and this year, it’s extra special because Harlequin is 60 years old. And it’s always held at the Grand Ballroom of the Ritz Charlton. A bunch of us authors climbed into a cab and off we went. Excitement was as high as the heels and nerves were as weak as our bladders. A stop in the restroom was in order.
Whoa. Stop. Pause. Hold on to the moment. The restroom was the fanciest I’d ever been in. They even had towels instead of paper, with which to dry your hands. I asked a fellow author to take my picture.
“Would you like it on the throne?” she quipped.
“No, but this Queen Anne chair in front of the marble make up table and gilded mirror would do just fine.”
Pictures were taken, and we went off into the ballroom. Some incredibly talented and inventive person had chosen the decades theme, with each small bar featuring a bevy of fancy cocktails from that decade. Beside them was a selection of famous desserts from that time period. I had tapioca pudding from the fifties, chocolate fountain from the eighties, and crème brulée from the nineties.
One gal sat down at our table, a long red drink in her manicured hand. “It’s a Singapore Sling! I haven’t had one of these since grad night!”

(Those of you concerned for my well being please note that I did NOT drink any of those that night.)
We danced, sang, “Fame, I want to live forever,” yakked and talked and had a fabulous time.
But at midnight, and each of us being our own Cinderella, we were finally kicked out of the room. I danced my way into the cab, and up to my room, waking up those patient roomies of mine as I sang out “It’s raining men!”, until they shoved me into my jammies and into my bed.
The next day brought a definite need for coffee. I had that editor appointment for which I had been so well prepared. Now, just to find that piece of paper and head off into the bowels of the hotel.
And I mean bowels. It had a row of loading docks, and the first day, we’d all been down there for the literacy signing. Remember me mentioning that? Two thousand plus romance writers, about a third signing books, and line ups for the likes of Nora Roberts and Debbie Macomber rivaling Russian lines for soup shortly after the war.
But today, tables upon tables, each a few feet apart, covered in snowy tablecloths, with two chairs. At the near end, the parade marshal trying to keep order. We were to line up, five rows, ten minutes before our appointments, and marched down the side of the echoing room, the sergeant major keeping time. One author, not a retired soldier like me, likened it to a cattle call. I can see that. But I know my army husband would have loved it, despite the fact he told me he’d rather watch paint dry than attend a romance writers’ conference.
I met the editor, a nice man young enough to be my son.
I pitched four projects.
I got four rejections.
Oh, well. It wasn’t for lack of preparation. Or maybe it was. Who knows? I didn’t mind, and was kind of secretly glad that part of the conference as over and done with. Mind you, there wasn’t much of the conference left. The grand finale, the awards night went nicely, with more glitter and sparkle than the Oscars. Heck, even the old ladies polished up their walkers for this one.
But remember I mentioned that rich food, and my simple system’s reaction to it?
It caught up with me. Big Time. Heartburn hotter than all those feet shoved into sling back heels for several hours. I had to escape as soon as the evening ended, but found myself stuck behind some glittery lady whose walker wouldn’t allow much more speed than the thickening crowd would allow.
Upstairs at the reception, the food needed better access, and many authors got nothing for their patience. I however, found the buttered shrimp and Beef Wellington hidden behind a large support pole, but the heartburn won out. I had to return to my room.
And apparently, so did my roomies. And their friends. So, clad in jammies, I sat and chatted and schmoozed some more, until everyone was tired.
Then I checked out. Yup, checking out at one a.m. beats fighting the crowds at seven, in order to catch my ride to the airport, generously supplied by another author and her gentleman husband.
My first conference was over. I thought I was schmoozed out, until I met some other authors at the airport. But I did learn a lot, one good thing being how the lovely southern ladies, “Bless your heart,” and what it really means. Thank you, Lenora!
But most importantly, thank you, roomies, who shall remain nameless at their own requests, because of that big foot of mine heading for my mouth at the worst possible moments. I loved it. I loved Washington, and I loved meeting all those gals I’d only talked to on line.
Thank you all of you, for making this newb’s memories so delightful.

Thursday, July 23, 2009

My First Conference, Blog 4 of 5

WARNING! Deer in the headlights crossing ahead!

By this time in my life, I should be way more observant than I am. I wish I had a dime for each time my roomie poked me and said, “Don’t you know who that is?”
I’d give her a blank look, and again she’d patiently tell me it was some famous agent or author or editor. I have a confession to make, though. The names usually went over my head. I’m pretty sheltered, I guess. My own doing, I imagine. I’ve been too lazy for too long and have rarely bothered to learn the names and faces of all the people with whom I should be schmoozing.
I did meet a very nice, good-looking man from amazon.com. He used to be an editor and I innocently asked him why the switch. Apparently, it’s practically a promotion. I don’t know. He must own amazon.com or something, because I didn’t figure it would be moving up in the world. Regardless, he was uber nice, so my early foray into schmoozing must have been a success.
In fact, my schmoozing went pretty well throughout the conference. I met agents and authors, chatted with veterans and new recruits. I ate rich food, drank good wine, and recharged my batteries each morning with sharp and strong coffee.
Then came the day of my meeting with the editor. Okay, I’d been too busy with my life beforehand to bother with the pitch. As expected, my roomie insisted I write something legible down. She practised her marvelous pitch on me, and I scribbled down a few words in a notebook with an old pen. I wasn’t nervous. I wasn’t anything but wide-eyed with extra caffeine, fighting cronic heartburn from all the chocolate, and right after lunch, at a workshop, I sat down in a warm room, filled with other romance writers, a panel of editors and veterans, all soft spoken, discussing the pros and cons of inspirational writing, and bang, it came.
The noise. At soft snore, followed by my forehead hitting the back of the chair in front of me.
I had fallen asleep.
I threw up my head, meeting the eyes of the editor. She could probably hear the crack and see the growing welt on my forehead. I did manage to stay awake the rest of the workshop, thankful that they were all being recorded and I could purchase them in the front foyer for a nominal fee. They take all major credit cards.
One great thing about the conference, like I mentioned before, was meeting some pretty cool people. I met a gentile Hungarian woman, ZsuZsa Simandy
http://zsuzsasimandy.com/index.htm, whose life was so interesting she’d written her memoirs, so delightfully entitled, Gathering Roses, Thorns and All. And she was also impressed with me. She was to have an interview with my old editor, and I wished her the best. It turned out that she dropped some names at her interview, mine, of all people, and received an invitation to submit. Whoa, she dropped my name, as if I was someone special. How cool is that? Now, I’m really rooting for her. To the right is me with my roomie, and Zsu Zsa. Roomie Lina Gardiner is in the centre. Oops, cat's out of the bag, my roomie's been disclosed!
Back to the conference. But I still had to print out my pitch for the editor. I headed up to the business office, only to discover the printer was broken. It turned out to be a good thing, as the cost of using the computer was a mere $25 an hour. In fact, the quality hotel was getting infamous for charging for every small convenience. Thank goodness those of us on the sixth floor could pick up the McDonald’s wifi for free.

Tomorrow, the conclusion of my blog series.

Wednesday, July 22, 2009

My First Conference! Blog 3 of 5

CAUTION! Pictures of many romance-loving ladies ahead. All men should be prepared to be overwhelmed.




I’d registered, slipped the conference lanyard around my neck, and toured the Goodie Room, a place where promo items are given away. A gal can’t have too many bookmarks, right? My conference tote was designed by Harlequin, and featured an old Harlequin, back when men wrote the adventure stories of that time. The cover featured boasted a scintillating title. “You never know with women.”
How true. And this being my first conference, well, I didn’t know. Women of all shape and size were there, all styles, and all talent. And I learned you can fit 2500 romance writers in a basement loading area of the Marriott.



I did learn something else pretty quick. The more famous you are, the thinner you are. Nora Roberts is a size double zero, I figure. If she sells another book, she’ll disappear. Me? I’m a size fourteen, so I have a lot more books to sell, I see.
I wanted to go to the Newbie’s meeting, (or Newb’s meeting, as my teen son would have called it) but was told I wasn’t a newbie, that I knew the ropes, so I took their word for it. And, surprisingly, I did know more than I thought. Not being a shy person, I simply walked up, sat down beside and met many people just by shoving out my hand and introducing myself.
And I discovered that many people know me. Mostly editors, which begs the question on how they know me. Hmm. My brilliant, clear, concise prose?
Or my obsessive nervousness that pretty much seeps into my emails and phone calls? I guess I’ll never know.
My roomies were impressed, saying it was my writing. As I was up for a Daphne award, we went to the Death by Chocolate party. Okay, everyone. I like chocolate as much as the next person, but to be frank, am I supposed to eat that much? I am a little out of practice, here. But the stalwart soldier that I am, I gave it the old college try. I didn’t win a Daphne, but met an agent to whom I had spoke years ago. I joked about a bomb back then, and she remembered me. (Remember my roomie poking me when I shoved my foot into my mouth? She was at another table.)
Well, I didn’t win the award for which I had been nominated. But I eat a ton of fresh fruit, including black raspberries the size of large strawberries, and little cheesecakes drizzled in chocolate. I couldn’t leave without smothering my sorrows in sugar. Okay, there wasn’t any sorrow, but I gave it the old college try, remember?
The next day there was a breakfast, and I learned that you have to get to the food before all the other starving artists got there. Coffee is exceptionally valuable. I’d brought my own meal replacement bars, but with a complimentary continental breakfast, which included cheese and those giant raspberries again, those bars got shoved into my suitcase.
And I was discovering something else. My tummy isn’t used to rich food. It better adjust quickly, though. I’d paid for three more rich meals.
Well, it didn’t quite turn out the way I wanted it to…


Tune in tomorrow for the next installment!

Tuesday, July 21, 2009

My First Conference Blog 2 0f 5

WARNING! Moments of Country Mouse in the City ahead. No laughing at my expense allowed.





Day two dawned bright and sunny. My writers’ group was unable to get the White House Tour, so I decided to do something even more exciting. My all time favourite painting in the world is Renoir’s Luncheon of the Boating Party. And it was just down the road from where I was staying. With a free subway pass in hand, I hopped the Metro and trotted up to the small gallery called The Phillips House.
It was closed til 9, forty-five minutes from there. I decided to walk around the neighbourhood, admiring the variety of old money townhouses and embassies, not realizing until then that my knowledge of foreign flags was sadly lacking. But it was cool just the same.
Needing to practice my schmoozing, I started up a conversation with a young gal who was also waiting for the gallery to open. She was a British art student, splitting her time between DC and London and who was as friendly and charming as I knew the British could be. But too soon the gallery opened and I flew in, preparing myself to finally view the Luncheon of the Boating Party.
It was there, all right, its own lighting, bench and room. Gorgeous. I can tell you honestly that the postcard, prints and such don’t do the colours justice. And big, one of the biggest paintings I’d ever seen. A coup for the Phillips Collection, indeed. I’d finally completed a life long dream.
It was on to the next one. A wander around the Smithsonian. It even had its own Metro stop.
Speaking of the Metro, it’s hot down there. And the escalators were the longest I’d even seen. I took a picture of them, being the country mouse I am. But the trains are clean, and everyone appears to behave themselves. Or maybe they were on edge because of a recent train collision on their red line.
I exited the Metro at my stop, and found myself on the Mall. Okay, it’s not the mall I visit back up in Canada, and the lawn was being reworked, but how many malls have you been to that have an Egyptian obelisk named for George Washington, at one end, and the Capitol building at the other? Why, not even the Champlain Mall in Moncton can boast that much.
Pictures were in order. I didn’t see the reflecting pool, and still don’t know where it is, in relation to where I was, but pics were still needed. And after the appropriate snaps, I was off. Smithsonian forgotten, I wanted to see the White House. And according to my map, it wasn’t far away.
I pity the poor cops on Pennsylvania Avenue duty. Standing in the middle of the barricaded section of street. One bicycle cop was checking his email on his smart phone. I still got a couple of good photos, despite the tourists, cops and cement barricades. Enough to say I was there.
With tummy rumbling and guessing that the hotel food would be expensive, I noticed a Subway restaurant icon on my map. I was off down the street to the Ronald Reagan building for lunch. I figured I arrived at his airport, so I may as well eat at his building. Then I could tell everyone I had lunch on Penn Ave. It ended up being a wrap from Great Wraps, but who needs to know that?

Tune in Tomorrow for my official start to the conference.

Monday, July 20, 2009

My first conference! Blog 1 of 5

WARNING! May contain moments of lapsed memory, proof of conference head, and symptoms of chocolate withdrawal. Reader discretion advised.



I’m going to attempt to blog about my trip to Washington, DC this past week. I went there to attend the Romance Writers of America’s national conference, and I must say the experience was well worth it. First up, I got a terrific deal on the flight, and then I finaled in Daphne, a contest showcasing excellence in mystery and suspense. How cool is that? It was accompanied by a Death by Chocolate party. Well, if you can’t die peacefully in your sleep at age 100, death by chocolate would be a great alternative.


I arrived unable to meet up with a friend to catch a shuttle to the hotel, but decided to brave the subway. How hard can it be?


I’m proud to say it wasn’t hard at all. The biggest problem was trying to figure out the vending machine that spits out subway tickets if you manage to decode the instructions. Just as I was feeling a bit like Tom Hanks on an adventure to save humanity, a very nice couple walked up and offered me a pair of tickets, good anytime until Thursday. I snatched them out of their hands in a flash, and was off. I actually met up with some fellow writers and we traveled to the hotel together. I’d begun my conference!


You see, I went there for the schmoozing. I roomed with a pair of veteran conference goers and wow, they really know what to do. One gal, and she knows who she is, took me under her wing. Because she knows me, she told me she’d nudge me when I was in danger of putting my foot into my mouth.


I’m bruised all along the left side of my body now. But I did manage to shove that size 9 into my mouth one time, telling a strange man waiting for the elevator beside me that he looked terrible. Oh, well, nobody’s perfect, right?


Of course, too late did I realize that I could be telling the man with whom I had an editor appointment that he looked awful, but I have to live dangerously once in a while.


We stayed at the Marriott near the zoo. One roomie did her research and discovered the older part of the hotel was the best deal. It sure was. On the sixth floor, you could pick up the local McDonald’s wifi, which was more than others could do.


I personally don’t think that a hotel of the Marriott’s caliber needs to charge for wifi in their standard rooms. The room was lovely, with a dressing room and spacious bathroom, and yet, oddly, two three-quarter beds instead of double. And you can’t tell me that’s the US double beds are smaller than in Canada. You Americans aren’t any smaller than us Canucks, and being from the Great White North, we need to cuddle in the night to keep warm, so if anything, we’d take the three-quarter beds, not you down in sweltering DC.



Tune in tomorrow when I begin my first full day in the US capital.

Tuesday, June 30, 2009

dog days of summer

Many of you get dog days of summer. But where I live, a hot day is something over 20 degrees celsius. That's room temperature. We did get it this weekend past, but alas, Monday came and our perfectly hot and humid weekend was over.


But that didn't stop us from doing everything summer, like attend our son's soccer game. Here's me bundled up against the rain and cold watching my poor son deal with a soggy field. You wouldn't know it by my smile that they lost.


Friday, May 1, 2009

fill 'er up!

Sometimes a writer has to ‘fill up’.  It can be forced on them through a writer’s block, or it can be taken gently through a time between deadlines.

 

I’ve been on vacation this past week.  I forced myself to finish my manuscript so that I could mail it from the States where it would be cheaper, right at the beginning of the holiday.  Then I was free, and surprisingly, I didn’t feel like writing until today, a week later.  

 

This need to ‘fill up’ is hard to describe for those whose work or recreation doesn’t include any creativity.  I’m not being pretentious here.  As a soldier in the military for many years, my job wasn’t creative.  A fellow soldier said once that we could train apes to do our job.   It didn’t require creativity, that’s all, and unless we had a hobby that did, ‘filling up’ time was a hard concept to grasp.

 

It’s kind of like a holiday for the brain.  We all need a holiday but this is something more.  It’s a pushing away of any creative thoughts.  It’s denying the urge to write.  It’s absorbing the world around you without analyzing what’s going on.  Some writers don’t experience this need, and that’s great.  They have the creative stamina to keep working.  But I do, occasionally. 

 

And I’m glad it’s happening somewhere sunny and warm.

Wednesday, February 11, 2009

Technology saves the Day!!

I gave my kids cell phones because I wanted them to be reachable. But I told my son to use the house phone when he was at home to save our minutes. Yesterday, he was talking to his girlfriend on our house phone. I needed to remind him of something, so I texted him using my computer. Our service provider allows that. I don't have the brain capacity to learn such a high tech computation.He answered, adding that he was going to bed soon, as he felt 'garbagey'. New word, but rather apt, I suppose. He was a bit under the weather. I'd noticed that much when I went downstairs to the inner sanctum of the basement's TV room to tell him to clean that pig sty up.Well, this morning, my husband flicked on his bedroom light and told him to get up. It was what we do every school day.I added my voice to that order when I got up.Nothing happened, which in itself is the norm. He's a teen. Jumping out of bed early on a school day is against their personal code of honour.Finally, his older sister came downstairs."What's with Alex?""He's not up yet," I answered."He's sick.""How do you know?"She shrugged. "He texted me."Oh. He texted her across the house. Hmm. I went into his bedroom, and found him peeking out of his blankets. "I'm sick," he whispered hoarsely. "And you and Dad don't care.""Why didn't you tell us?""Too sick to talk."He was warm, and a bug had been flying around his school, so this wasn't unexpected. I told him to go back to sleep, I'd deal with him later.When I returned to the kitchen, I asked my daughter what her brother had said in his text."He wrote, 'I'm sick. Help. Save me.'"So, I pondered, technology has saved the day. We would have kept yelling at him until someone got mad and it set the whole house on edge, especially since I had to drive my daughter to her university classes within the hour."So the cell phones earned their keep," I commented. "Don't you think that's nice?"My daugther gave me one of those unsympathetic, older sister looks. "He's faking it."Technological changes may be new and exciting, and we're grateful for them, but there are some things that never change.

Friday, January 16, 2009

Desserts!

I'm going to round out this healthy eating series with desserts.
Many times, I don't make desserts. I want my family to eat healthy foods and often send them back for more vegetables if they are still hungry. But some desserts are both healthy and economical and I'm not talking about fruit here.
Not being a great fruit fan, I was never one to offer it as a dessert.
But having said that, my daughter often cuts up a pear, then adds a few slices of cheese and is quite happy with that and a cup of herbal tea.
But even dark chocolate can be a nice dessert in moderation.
An important thing to note is that if you're eating a bit of chocolate for your dessert, take a small piece, put the rest away in the freezer, and eat the chocolate with a hot drink. The warmth from the drink helps to smooth out the flavour over your tongue as you savour it. You'll get maximum flavour from the small piece.
Another good dessert is rice pudding. The traditional rice pudding we ate in England has only three ingredients. Milk, rice and sugar.
Mix 4 cups of skim milk, 1/2 cup rice, 1/2 cup sugar in a large, deep casserole dish. Bake for one hour at 300 degrees, or until rice is tender and the top is brown.
This is economical in that you make it only when the oven is turned on. My mother used to make a roast beef dinner every Sunday and cooked the rice pudding in the oven, maximizing the heat. I have one in my oven right now, because I decided to bake bread and a casserole for my sister in law who has hurt her knee. The rice pudding is forgiving about the temperature, so don't worry if your other dish needs 350 degrees.
If you're into making muffins, throw in some shredded carrot or zuchinni for extra nutrition.
I have grown zuchinni in my front flowerbeds because it's such a decorative plant that loves full sun, and then shredded the zuchinni and frozen it in 1 cup baggies. Bring it out in January, thaw and drain it. You can add it to a muffin mix, or even a chocolate cake mix. You can do the same for apples, especially those that don't live up to your children's high standards of quality for lunch. I've always asked my children to return the food they don't eat back home, not just to see what they have eaten, but also to not waste expensive fruit or other snacks. I don't mind them giving some of their lunches away, as they have when other kids forgot theirs, or say they forgot theirs, it's just that I don't want perfectly good food to end up in the garbage, and if you've ever been to a school cafeteria, you know what I mean.
If you like fruit, and ice cream, especially bananas, consider buying the cheaper over ripe bananas, peel them and freeze them. Later on, put two or three into a food processor while still frozen, and puree them. They taste like the best ice cream ever. Top with thawed fruit for a really healthy dessert.
And remember that over ripe bananas are really just ripe ones. We've just got so used to eating green bananas, that we don't realize a good ripe one when we see it.
So you've got a few good ideas on how to save money and how to eat healthily. Enjoy! And don't forget to leave a comment.

Tuesday, January 13, 2009

Real Healthy cinnamon

Cinnamon
The name conjures up toast, buns, sweets of all kind. Now it’s also beginning to give hope for triglycerides, blood sugar problems and digestion.
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Cinnamon has a great article on it, but often we just don’t realize that the cinnamon at our stores is not true cinnamon at all, and worse, it’s about 50% fillers.
It’s cassia. Cassia is like a cousin to true cinnamon, and stronger in flavour, hence the use of all the fillers, but with less of the health benefits, I’ve been told. And worse, it’s the only cinnamon generally available in North America. Yes, there’s some question as to which cinnamon is being tested, as these two articles used different kinds of cinnamon,
http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/10641152?dopt=Abstract
And this study which used cassia,
http://care.diabetesjournals.org/cgi/content/full/26/12/3215
but most articles I’ve read insist it’s Cinnamomum verum that matters, the real stuff. Still the jury seems still out on this matter, so I’ll let you know as I learn more.
This begs the question, where can we get true cinnamon? Some sites say they can import it for you, but before you rip out your credit card, why not check around in some unlikely sources?
You see, I’ve found true cinnamon at our local apothecary. We have one in Moncton New Brunswick that dispenses the real stuff in both capsule and powdered form. For 450 grams, or half a pound, approximately 2 cups, I paid $15.00. So if we are to compare it with the spices in the grocery store, it’s a pretty good value, and better still, it’s 98% pure. The pharmacist told me that it’s only true cinnamon that has the benefits for type 2 diabetes.
I’ve been told that one quarter of a teaspoon three times a day is a good measure of what I should be taking. (My own triglycerides are up) and I’ve sprinkled it on toast, mixed it with plain or sweetened yogurt, and even put it in curry dishes or on porridge.
I haven’t been for my annual bloodwork yet, (I’m due) so we have to wait to see if there is any health benefit to taking this stuff. But it’s certainly a tasty and benign way to help your body, plus it’s cheaper than I expected, and forces me to eat yogurt every day, which we all know is good for us.
So consider searching out real cinnamon in your area, and try some for your health.

Saturday, January 10, 2009

Chicken fried rice that's full of veggies

In this recipe, you get a full meal. I usually throw in some frozen veggies because my son wouldn't eat that many unless he's forced. If you don't have chicken, consider any leftover meat, or sliced sausages from breakfast, or cubed tofu that has been dipped in soy sauce.
Also, remember my previous post on cooking chicken thighs? I hope you saved the broth, because here you can use both the thighs and the broth.
Want less salt? Use low sodium soy sauce, and refuse to put the salt shaker on the table. Increase the spices instead for extra kick.

2 tsp olive oil
3 chicken breasts, cooked, or 6 boneless chicken thighs, cooked, and chopped coarsely
1 onion finely chopped
1 stalk celery, chopped
½ cup frozen peas and carrots
½ cup frozen corn
1 finely chopped clove of garlic
1/8 tsp ground ginger
2 cups of the broth you saved from cooking the chicken thighs

1 cup long grain rice
Dash soy sauce
1 thinly sliced green onion
Preheat frying pan over med. high heat, then add oil, onion, celery, garlic. Sauté until onions are transparent, then add chicken and cook until browned.
Reduce heat to med., then add water, bouillon and rice.
Simmer until rice is cooked, stir in soy sauce and green onion.
Makes 5 1 ¼ cup servings. Each serving is only 350 cal, 5 g fat, 45 g carbs, 4 g fibre.


Next time, I'm going to talk about cinnamon and what I've started to do with it.
Enjoy!

Thursday, January 8, 2009

chicken thighs

Chicken thighs. They're cheaper, tastier, and two little ones can be substituted for one breast. They can give you more value for your money, and can be used in low calorie recipes just as easily as the breasts.

Boil them until just cooked. Remove skin and fat and gently pry meat off bones. The meat is an excellent and flavourful alternative to more expensive and drier chicken breasts.
Take the bones and skin and boil them in the water you cooked the thighs in for about 10-15, and then cool in fridge. Chip off the fat that has set on the top and you have a great chicken stock for soups and casseroles. You can flavour to taste with either herbs and garlic, or salt and pepper, or one teaspoon of chicken bouillon per two cups of stock.
Freeze in ice cup trays. One cube equals about ¼ cup of stock.

Next, we'll look at some recipes in which you can use chicken thighs.
And of course, the broth you made, too!

Tuesday, January 6, 2009

a few great recipes!

Here is a really fast, yet hearty recipe. You can even do this in the slow cooker all afternoon, then puree and add the cream just before you're ready to serve it.

Cream of carrot soup
Cook until tender in lots of boiling water, about 2-3 cups of winter carrots and one onion.

(The more vegetables, the thicker the soup)
When done, transfer into a 3-4 cups of preferably homemade chicken stock, or Campbells’ low sodium chicken stock.
Heat until warm. Puree or mash vegetables thoroughly.
Cool slightly, add ¼ cup cream and ½ tsp dried parsley. Add ¼ tsp cumin, pinch of nutmeg, coriander and chili. Or, as as an alternative, ½ to 1 tsp curry or garam masala.
Stir and serve. Makes about 5 servings.

Garam Masala is a mix of curry-like spices usually found in Indian food. It comes in small boxes and can be bought in most grocery stores in the international foods section. It's mild enough for most children to appreciate.
For a lower fat variety, substitute 1/4 cream with lower fat 1/4 cup evaporated milk.
Not enough carrots? Try mixing carrots with squash, pumpkin, parsnip, or potatoes.

Next, I'll be giving you some substitutes that are not only better tasting, but also money saving, as well.

Saturday, January 3, 2009

eating smart in the new year

The new year always brings about challenges, and usually, we find ourselves sick of our December eating habits. We want to change them, but we know how difficult keeping long term dietary goals alive can be.
We need to implement smaller changes, the type that don't feel like harsh diets or denying ourselves things. We need to change our attitudes and think healthier.
My sister-in-law has asked me to give her some ideas that her brother, my husband, and I have used regularly. She's the typical mother. She works outside the home, has two kids, one a teen, her husband works odd hours and she often comes home too tired to do too much. Add to that checking in on her parents, and housework, she's left with precious little time to cook up healthy meals.
So, in the next few blogs, I'm going to put together some ideas we can all use in order to make healthy choices.
Do you have any? Feel free to comment on mine, and offer your own.
Okay, the first one:
When making your own pizza, which is just as easy as buying one nowadays with the bread machine, try these simple tips:
Cut down on the mozzarella cheese by one half, and sprinkle on about 1 tbsp to 1/4 of parmasen cheese. This adds flavour, while cutting fat.
Instead of pizza sauce, use ground tomatoes. Many brands of canned tomatoes are offered in pureed or ground tomatoes. Smear the tomatoes on, then sprinkle with powdered garlic, dried oregano, basil and pepper. Avoid the salt, as the canned tomatoes usually have enough. This change will often cut out sugar, as many sauces have sugar and adulterates in them.
Do you like pepperoni on your pizza? Try a meatless version, available in the deli section of most grocery stores. They are often less fatty, and have less chemicals. The strong flavours in your pizza often compensate for the usually milder meatless pepperoni, and many people don't notice the difference.
if you make your own crust, substitute 1/4 of the flour for whole wheat flour. Do this for a few months then increase the amount of whole wheat flour slowly, weaning your family off the white flour.
While the pizza is cooking, offer a salad, or raw veggies or hot tomato juice that has had a few drops of worchestershire sauce or hot sauce added. This will help to fill your family up (with good stuff) so they don't eat as much pizza.
Next, we'll talk about trying different dishes that can be very low fat, but high in flavour. A few small changes like these aren't as intimidating as full blown diets that are hard to stick to.
See you later, and eat right!
Barbara