Monday, December 29, 2008

Amish Friendship Bread: Chain Mail with Food!

If you've read my blogs for awhile--or if you just know me--you know my low opinion of those "forward me" e-mails that never seem to die. You know--the kind that beseech you to pass it on to 5 or 10 or 50 of your "closest" friends--but only if you truly love them? The gift that keeps on cursing!

Little did I know that the Amish have their own low-tech version of the "forward to your friends" curse.

At after-Mass fellowship early in December, Rob brought over a bag full of dough and a sheet of paper: Amish Friendship Bread.

"Thought you might like to try it. Could be fun," he said.

Warning bells should have gone off. After all, was he going to make the bread? Was he going to clean up afterwards? Did he read the instructions? But no, naïve and trusting, I thought, "Sounds neat," and took the little bag of trouble home.

And actually, it was kind of fun. For five days, all you do is squish the bag. Kind of takes you back to when you were a kid and got to play with dough--only not as messy. Day five, you add more ingredients and continue to squish the bag for five days more. (And of course, realize that I have not read ahead in the directions.)

Day ten, they drop the bomb--or, to keep it Amish, swing the scythe.

Now you pour the bag into the bowl, add more ingredients and separate out four more bags of the stuff to give your friends!

It's a chain letter with food guilt!

It gets better: The instructions for actually making the bread are more complex than any I've worked with in a long time--with 11 ingredients, plus the starter. One of the ingredients is Instant Vanilla Pudding! (So much for being Amish. Or did they take pity on us "gentiles"? So Amish women really make vanilla pudding from scratch just to toss into this bread recipe?)

I was a sport. I made the bread. It's not bread. It's dessert! It's so wonderful, it's almost sinful. If I'd been on a diet, it would have ruined it totally. I decided to save one bag of starter for myself and give the other three away.

Did I mention that most of my friends are long-distance? By the end of the week, I'd only managed to find two victims--er, friends--and those were the boys' teachers, who would never turn down such a loving gift from such a sweet face. (The boys', not mine.) Meanwhile, squish, squish, squish.

Christmas rolled around, and I still had two bags of the stuff. I decided to go ahead and do a mega-bake-off, cook the entire contents of one and split the other. I'd give folks a completed bread and the starter and the instructions--with the additional instruction of "If you don’t want to hassle, just toss it. I won't be offended!"

That was three days ago. I've managed to give one bag away.

Which reminds me. I'd better go squish the dough.

Monday, December 22, 2008

An Author's Christmas Wish List

It's time once again for my annual Author's Christmas Wish List. In keeping with just about everything else in my life, I'm late on it, but the good news is--none of these are limited to the Yuletide season. You can make any author in your life happy with these gifts--some of time, some of talent, and some of treasure.

Gifts of Time:

Take my book to a store and ask the owner to stock it
Mention to friends or user groups about my website or blog
Babysit the kids so I can have a few quiet hours for writing
Help me set up a book signing at your local bookstore or library (especially appreciated if we live far from each other and I'm coming for a visit)
Contact your local newspaper or radio station about me and arrange an interview--also a great idea if I happen to be coming for a visit

Gifts of Talent:
Create a website for me--or better yet, teach me how
Make a template I can modify
Ideas on how I can market myself or my books--and help me to put them into practice!
Design a banner, book "sell sheet" (a one-page flyer about the book), or other marketing materials

Gifts of Treasure:
Music to write by
Amazon gift certificates to get books
Buy my book--order it from a bookstore
Buy me a domain name for my website
Bookmarks with my cover, name and website
Subscription to writers market
Book signing gear--poster with my photo and name on it (see link), a roll-away carrier to put the books and materials, book stands
Business cards
Gift certificate to a printer/VistaPrint if they do that
A really good pen!
Large envelopes
Business-sized envelopes

Wednesday, December 10, 2008

There's (Definitely) No Place Like Home for the Holidays

'Tis the season for family, friends and fellowship--at least that's what countless movies, books and TV shows have told us. Ebenezer Scrooge in A Christmas Carol wants nothing more than to be left alone, yet he is bullied by three spirits who force him to see the joy of family and friends. Songs extol the virtues of being home for the holidays, and the message is implicit everywhere—lots of people: good. Solitude: bad.

As I grow older, I find myself becoming more and more Scrooge-like. I no longer enjoy the hustle and bustle of Christmas, and I would rather have a root canal, a mammogram and a colonoscopy all on the same day than go to a mall at Christmas-time. Hell, I'd even forego the anesthesia!

The family I grew up in is not close, although my parents are under the illusion that we are. I'm quite a bit younger than my three older sisters so in a lot of ways I am the only child of my parents' second family. My three sisters and my parents share experiences that I only know of through stories—memories of a life together with routines and traditions all established before I was born. They all remember the babysitter who took care of my sisters for years before I was born; they remember the houses, the towns, and the schools.

By the time I came along, my family had moved to a new town, I had a new baby sitter, and we had a new life, very different from the one my family lived before I was born. As I grew up, I was still the one left out, the one who was too young to go along with the big kids, the baby of the family, and, I admit, the spoiled brat. I've always felt different from my sisters. One of them told me one time that she thought I set myself apart from them, and maybe I did. Still, during the rare times when our family gets together, it is hard for me to feel a part of things when they start laughing and talking about life before I was born. They all have a history, one of which I am not a part.

After Bill and I got married and the girls were born, we spent four years in upstate New York, isolated from our parents and family. Oh sure, they came to visit us, but never on holidays, so Bill, the girls and I formed our own family traditions. Lo and behold, when we moved back to Texas, we found that we really enjoyed the rituals we had developed, and we liked having holidays to ourselves. This desire to be alone has become even stronger as the demands on our time have increased—we have so little time to ourselves that when we do have a rare day off, the last thing we want to do is spend it with other people.

So here's to all the people out there who like keeping to themselves at the holidays. You're not alone, and there is nothing wrong with you and there is no law that says you have to visit family at Christmas. If the prospect of doing so does not fill you with joy, then stay home and curl up with a mug of hot chocolate and a good book. You'll find your holidays are much less stressful if you do.

Monday, December 8, 2008

Christmas House Light Show

This has been the craziest year for Christmas events. In the past weekend, we attended four parties, one of which I coordinated with my friend Melissa Healy, and we hosted the after-Mass fellowship. Further, in addition to the Christmas presents to our-of-towners, I sent out about 20 copies of Leaps of Faith and Infinite Space,Infinite God to contributors and reviewers--and the first royalty checks for ISIG! (Imagine splitting royalties 17 ways--it takes a while to build past pennies.)

At any rate, I have neither the time nor the inclination to decorate the outside of my house. I'd rather use that time to some much needed prayer and playing a game or watching TV with the kids. And maybe mopping my floor...

However, here are some folks with time and inclination. I love to watch these!