Monday, September 20, 2010

Quick Fix for Blah Writing and Chocolate Crackle-Top Minis


Tallgrass, a novel by Sandra Dallas, was lent to me by Stella. The novel's narrator is a thirteen-year-old girl in a small town in Colorado where the government opens a Japanese internment camp during World War II. That would cause enough turmoil in a small town, but then a young girl is murdered. This book gives a balanced portrayal of prejudice and fear through the eyes of compelling characters and vivid details of the 1940s. Notice how the small everyday details of how everyday life was lived bring the story to life. Useful whether you are writing life story, general nonfiction or fiction.


Quick fix for blah writing. Go to Hutchinson Dictionary of Difficult Words  I love this place. Here is how they explain it. “Do you aim to become a member of the literati, or do you wish to be a savant? Do you want to avoid being verbigerative and be succinct instead? Search the Hutchinson Dictionary of Difficult Words' A-Z index of over 13,900 difficult words to increase your vocabulary or just find out what those words really mean!”

2010 Johnson County Master Gardeners Tour

While we don't want our writing to be as overblown as this lady's "hairdo,"  we can add richness, depth, and texture to our writing by expanding our vocabulary. You may not even use the word itself. Explore the subtlety of meaning. Use those shades in your own writing.

Find more resources such as this at


Write about the worst hairdo or haircut you ever had. Years ago I moved to a new city. Soon I needed a hair cut. When I emerged from the salon, my bangs were about one inch in length -- if that long. Or they seemed that way to me. Guess I was too young to realize hair grows. I cried for an hour and couldn't stand to look at myself in the mirror for weeks. Write for ten minutes about hair, what it means, how you relate to it, what you have done in the name of beauty. Let the writing rest for a few days. Revise and rewrite. Add it to your life story book or -- shape it into an essay or story and send it out for publication.


This recipe is lifted directly from Peggy Trowbridge Filippone's recipes on  I'm not crazy about peanut butter, but the photo that was in Peggy's newsletter looked super yummy. She writes, "The peanut butter topping crackles to reveal dark chocolate base in these delicious mini-muffins. They begin with a boxed cake mix, so they are simple to make.  These little morsels are not overly sweet as you might expect. If you want that extra sugar kick, dust the mini-muffins with powdered sugar just before serving."  © 2010 Peggy Trowbridge Filippone, licensed to, Inc. Thanks, Peggy.

Chocolate Peanut Butter Crackle-top Minis

Bottom Layer:

1 package (about 18.4 ounces) devil's food cake mix
1/2 cup (1 stick or 8 Tablespoons) butter, melted but cool
1 Tablespoon water
2 eggs, lightly beaten
1 cup semi-sweet chocolate chips

Top Layer:

1/2 cup creamy peanut butter
1/2 cup confectioners' sugar, sifted
6 ounces (3/4 of a large block) cream cheese, at room temperature
1 egg
Powdered sugar for dusting, optional


Preheat oven to 350 degrees F. Line mini-muffin tins with papers.
In a large bowl, combine cake mix, butter, water, and eggs. Mix just until combined. Batter will be thick. Fold in chocolate chips.
In a small bowl, cream peanut butter, confectioners' sugar, and cream cheese until smooth. Add egg and mix just until incorporated.
Fill each mini-muffin paper with about 1 Tablespoon of the chocolate mix. Top with about 1 teaspoon of the peanut butter mix.

Bake for about 15 minutes. Remove from oven and let cool on racks. Just before serving, dust mini-cups with powdered sugar.
Yield: about 60 mini-muffins

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Tuesday, August 31, 2010

Think Tomato for Interesting Characters and Chocolate Tartuffo


Have you noticed the list of favorite books in the column to the right? Look now because those books will be going away and a new list will start with the next post.

Also, a new Beginning Life Story Writing Class starts Sept. 7, 2010, the day after Labor Day.

If you can't take a class, just click here for lots of answers to frequently asked questions about life story writing. 

Scroll to the bottom of this post for a new bit of Chocolate Trivia.


One of the best ways to make your story interesting, whether you are writing life story, other nonfiction, or fiction, is to develop characters who can help you tell the story. Other characters in the story present challenges to life writers: how to capture the quality of an admirable person and how to portray people you would just as soon forget. The solution is as simple as picking a tomato.

This morning I spotted a beautiful little tomato on my patio tomato plant. I admired it from the kitchen, anticipating it's rich juicy ripeness. The sun reflected gold on its red skin so it almost glowed.
But when it came off in my hand, I saw the bottom was black and ugly. One way the tomato looked perfect; another way it looked totally ruined.

Then as I turned it in my hand, I saw there was a third angle -- almost perfect, but with a small blemish.

And that's how the characters in your story should be -- neither perfect nor totally ruined. Isn't that what we all are? We have our good side; we have our bad side. We are slightly flawed. Reveal the struggles and small flaws of your good characters. Tell some good about your bad characters. Your characters will be believable, and your story will be interesting.


Think of a family member who is not your favorite. Put that person's name at the top of a page. Make two columns under the name. Good Qualities. Bad Qualities.  List their qualities. Then do the same for a family member you dearly love. It may take some time to think of good qualities of the unfavorite person or bad qualities of the favorite person, but spend some time thinking about it. Write a paragraph narrative about an intereaction you have had with the unfavorite person, and write a paragraph about an interaction with the favorite person.


This is an Italian dessert recipe from Jasper Mirabile, chef-owner of Jasper's restaurant in Kansas City, Missouri. He prepared this recipe for Hen House Supermarket. Find more info at

Jasper's Bing Cherry Tartuffo

1 pound grated chocolate or finely minced chocolate biscotti
16 bing cherries (pitted)
1 pint vanilla bean ice cream
chocoalte syrup

Remove pits and stems from cherries. Scoop 4-oz. portions of ice cream and form into balls using your hands. Make a hold in the middle and place 3-4 cherries inside, cover with ice cream and place on a baking sheet. Continue forming hand-made balls with the remaining ice cream. Roll ice cream balls in the grated chocolate or biscotti and drizzle with chocolate syrup. Place in freezer. Serve with whipped topping.

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Monday, August 16, 2010

Feel the Smile and "Remember When" Pot Luck with nutty sandwich


I was just reading the online newsletter of a fellow teacher of life story writing. I'm not going to mention his name because I totally disagree with what he has to say in his newsletter today. I disagree with him that writing about one's life is hard, arduous, psychologically painful, delayed gratification, and generally very difficult and unpleasant. According to his theory, we are all hunkered behind the flowers of our life like the woman in the picture. (Who is that woman, anyway?)

Here's a little experiment. Think of a favorite meal your mother made for you when you were a child. Think of your first bike or skates or sleepover.

Now, do a face-check. Are you smiling? Probably so.

Sit with a group of peers and say, "Remember when . . ." and mention something from the past. For example, "Remember when ladies wore white gloves and hats?  Remember when we slept outside in summer? Remember when we got a new movie theatre in town?"  Is everyone smiling? Are people talking?

Quit hunkering in fear. Step out. Pick up your pen or sit at your keyboard and write exactly what you were thinking or saying. There you have it. You have begun writing your life story. (Oh look, the woman in the picture is smiling.She's no longer in hiding.)

Okay, I admit, I am simplifying -- but not much. Recently I have shared here about writing about some unhappy and uncomfortable experiences from my own life. So I know we all have memories that are miserable, and we all have endured pain, heartache, betrayal, and illness. "Remember when  . . . Dad got drunk and crushed your favorite toy?" That is part of our story too.

How did you survive those times? What sustained you? Who held your hand, held your head, or held your heart? "Remember when . . . years later when you were an adult, your mom bought you a toy just like the one your dad destroyed as her way of saying 'I remember, and I'm sorry.'"? Write about that and you cannot help but feel strong and joyous, and somewhere, somehow, some part of you will smile.


Make a list of "remember whens." Remember when -- women went to the beauty shop every week, we wore can-can slips, men wore neckties and tie clips,  we played music on turntables and then the smaller 45 records were the newest thing, we used typewriters and they weren't electric, you got your first microwave oven, first cordless phone. Remember when Sally Field made her You-really-like-me Oscar acceptance speech or the time Kanye West took the microphone from Taylor Swift when she received a VMA award?

Make a more specific list of "remember whens" -- things that apply to you personally. Remember when your parents agreed you could have ballet lessons? Remember when you got your ears pierced?

There you have enough topics to have fun with for weeks. Pick one, write ten minutes or longer, put it away, re-write, polish, add to your notebook.

And -- keep smiling.


Have a Remember When pot luck. Bring a dish from your past. Here is something yummy from Ronnie's past that she  brought to the summer gathering of the Advanced Life Story Writing Group. (Thanks, Ronnie.)

First a little history of Chock Full o'Nuts, the source of Ronnie's recipe. (No, the recipe doesn't include coffee.) According to Wikipedia, the Chock Full o'Nuts chain was founded by William Black (1903-1983), a Russian immigrant who sold nuts in Times Square to theater-goers. In 1926, he opened a store on Broadway and 43rd Street, and began selling coffee and sandwiches. By the 1960s, the chain had approximately 80 restaurants in the New York City area. Hygiene was a selling point, with the sandwiches advertised as "untouched by human hands". Cooks used tongs to assemble them.

Their signature "nutted cheese" sandwich, made of cream cheese and chopped nuts on dark raisin bread, cost a nickel with a cup of coffee when the company was founded.

By the time Ronnie, as a young girl in NYC, was enjoying the sandwiches, the price had risen to thirty-five cents, still a bargain. Here is how Ronnie made the sandwiches she brought to our gathering.

Chock Full O' Nuts Sandwich

Mix softened cream cheese with honey to taste.
Stir in coarsely chopped walnuts.
Spread liberaly between slices of raisin bread.
Cut sandwiches into four triangles.

Since our goal here is all things chocolate, I think it would be delish also to stir in some mini chocolate chips. Enjoy your sandwiches with a cup of Chock Full o'Nuts coffee which is availabe in some local supermarkets.

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Tuesday, August 10, 2010

Books and Stella's Earthquake Chocolate Cake


Howdy Y'all.  As you know, reading is important to being a writer so today's post will be a roundup of books I have recently read, skimmed, or rejected, and where I got them and how I read them.
Fourth of July Pre-Rodeo Parade, Estes Park, Colorado

Most of the books were obtained from my local public library. Recently a friend, an avid reader, asked me if our little local branch library had improved since the building had been enlarged and renovated. "They don't have much on the shelves," she said.

Smart reader though she is, she is like many who do not realize you are not limited to the books on the shelves in a particular branch. You can go online and request any book. The library system, in my case, the Johnson County (Ks.) Library, ( will find the book and deliver it to your local branch library, usually in a day or two. You then will be notified by email or phone that your book is in. You go to your branch, find your book on the Requested Book shelves, and check it out yourself. It is a fabulous service. Your city probably has this service too. You may have to visit the library to establish your password, but after that, you're all set.

Do you think of yourself as a "book person"? You love and collect books? You love the experience of holding and owning books? Me too. However, I have to confess, I have gone over to the dark side. I now own a Kindle, and I love it. Never would I have chosen to use an e-reader, but I wanted to purchase a particular book that was only available online as an e-book. I ordered it. Had to download an Adobe e-reader onto my computer. It was so easy to use, I immediately began rethinking. Then, Gentleman Friend and I had an anniversary, and I "allowed" him the pleasure of making a guy-friendly gift purchase -- something electronic -- a Kindle from

I received an email saying the Kindle had shipped and was on its way to me. Meanwhile, I selected Isabelle Allende's new bookIsland Beneath the Sea: and ordered it. When the Kindle arrived, there was the book, already on it, 500+ pages, ready to easily carry on vacation. Definitions of selected words appear at page bottom, notes can be made, highlights, pages bookmarked; and, yes, you can read several books at a time. Plus, you can get individual issues or subscriptions to magazines and newspapers. While on vacation, I ordered book review section of The New York Times, and within minutes, there it was on the Kindle. With his gift, GF included a black leather cover so it feels as if I am holding a book. So immersed was I in the reading experience, that I reached up several times to turn the "page." And, yes, even for a non-techie such as I am, it is very easy to use. A Novel

Now, for some books. The Happiness Project by Rubin Gretchen. Gretchen grew up in Kansas City, attended Yale Law School, clerked for Justice Sandra Day O'Connor, and now lives in NYC.  Undertaking a project a month, she spends a year in the pursuit of happiness and learning to live in the moment. Because the author is a good writer with honesty and a sense of humor, this book is much better than it sounds. She has a blog I continue to follow:

Island Beneath the Sea, a novel by Isabelle Allende, follows a young girl in slavery in 1700s Haiti to New Orleans after the Louisiana Purchase. An epic, with war, cruelty, love, heartbreak, forgiveness, redenption, history and politics as only Allende can write. Fiction.

The Story of Stuff by Annie Leonard relates how our obsession with stuff is trashing our planet, communities, and our health -- and presents a vision for change. I skipped around and read parts of this book. Overwhelming, but good information presented with some solutions. Nonfiction.

The Mapping of Love and Death by Jacqueline Winspear is a Maisie Dobbs mystery, set after WWI. A cartographer's body is found years after his death, and the search is on by private investigator Maisie Dobbs  for his cause of death, family, and nurse who was his love. Mystery fiction.

Moonflowers on the Fence by local poet and friend Judith Bader Jones takes us to the heart of life and loss in images that are both vivid and melancholy. Because I know Judith, I imagine I know the subtext of some of the poems, but even to a reader who picks up the book at random, the poems touch a universal response to shifting time. Available from

The Forgotten Garden by Kate Morton spans several generations and relates the story of a child abandoned on a ship of turn-of-the-century immigrants to the US. Novel.
See more books listed in the Favorite Books Column to the right. Oh -- almost forgot -- thank you to those of you who have let me know you are reading the books on the Favorites list.


Bookshelf. One of my grandmothers had a small three-shelf mahogany bookshelf beside her bed. I wasn't really allowed in her bedroom, but the few times I was there, I tried to see what the books were. In my memory now, they were all about the size and color of hymnals, black or dark blue. The edges of the pages were yellowed and looked brittle. What were the books about? Were there pictures? I didn't dare remove a book and look. Although, now that I think back, I realize how much she loved reading so I think she would have been fine with showing me her books. In fact, it was she who first introduced me to the public library, my very favorite place when I was a child. What thoughts come to your mind when you think of the word bookshelf.

Write for ten minutes or so. Put your writing away for a few days. Come back and continue writing and see if you can complete a story or essay. Put it away again for a few days. Return, edit, rewrite, polish and add it to your body of work.


Stella twice has brought this super-yummy cake to gatherings of the Advanced Life Story Writing Group. She got the recipe from her sister, Martha. I don't know why it's called Earthquake Cake. I kept calling it Tornado Cake because every time Stella brought it, I went into a whirling eating frenzy. Or, it could be called German Chocolate Upside Down Cake.

Earthquake Cake

1 cup chopped nuts
1 (3.5) ounce can flaked coconut
1 box German Chocolate cake mix batter, prepared according to directions
1/2 cup margarine
8 ounces cream cheese (softened)
1 (one pound) box confectioners sugar

Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Grease 9 x 12-inch cake pan. Cover bottom of pan with nuts and coconut. Pour the cake batter on top. Melt margarine in a bowl, add cream cheese and confectioners sugar. Stir to blend. Spoon over unbaked batter.  Bake 45 to 50 minutes.

Stella's Note: You cannot test for doneness with a cake tester, as the cake will appear sticky even when it is done. The icing sinks.

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Monday, August 2, 2010

Smooth as Glass and Chocolate Cake Pops


When I gave an essay I had written to Trusted Mentor to read for me, I was pretty sure my writing was just as smooth as Lake Sprague in the Colorado Rockies on the day I hiked its flat one-half mile perimiter earlier this month. Since we all need editors, you won't be surprised to learn TM found my lake of writing had a few rough spots.

She pointed out that I had used the word "hope" twice in the space of just a few sentences. As writers, we know to avoid that, yet there it was. I had used the word as a verb: I hoped. . . . And again: I hoped . . . .  An easy fix, right?

Not so easy when I began looking below the smooth surface. The essay was about seeking self-direction and control in my life, yet here I was hoping for outcomes -- not once, but twice. What did that mean -- about my past, my present, what I wanted for the future? Where had I learned to rely on the whims of hope? Was that good or bad or something else?

Later in the essay, I had written, "I didn't say anything." There was TM again. "Why didn't you speak up? Where did you learn to be silent?"

I harumphed a bit. Well! The answer should be obvious to the reader.

Yes, it should be obvious; but it wasn't. Because I had not written it. And I hadn't written it because I hadn't thought about it. I had skimmed the surface.

I re-examined what I had written and, not satisfied to skim across the smooth surface, I went deeper. Was it uncomfortable? Yes. Is the writing now more interesting and more meaningful? I believe it is.

As comfortable as it is to be lulled by the prettiness of a glib first draft, make the effort to dive deeper. Question yourself. Make a few waves.


Hike, hiking. What is a hike? Where do hikes take place? How is a hike different from a walk. What is your favorite hike?

Write for ten minutes. Put away the writing. Maybe take a hike. Come back to the writing in a few days. Find places where you can go deeper in your writing.


Today's recipe is so fabulous you just won't believe how good it is and how easy it is to make. It is made with almond bark, but if we call that "white chocolate," it will still fit our chocolate category. I had these at a wedding shower so they were made with white cake and the almond bark, but I don't see why they couldn't be made with chocolate. Melinda, made them and told me how she did it. Go to for other cute, cute, cute ideas for decorating these little Cake Pops and Cake Balls. (Thanks, Melinda.)

Cake Pops

These can be made with sucker candy sticks in them so they are like a cake Tootsie-Pop. At the shower I attended, they were served in fluted paper cups, a little smaller than cupcake size, without the sticks.

Use desired flavor cake mix and bake in a 9 x 13-inch pan.
Let cake cool. Cut into squares, size doesn't really matter.
Crumble into a large mixing bowl.
Add a container of already prepared frosting. For a white cake, use white frosting.
Mix and squish with hands until cake and frosting are thoroughly mixed.
Roll into balls, about ping pong ball size, or desired size.
Place on cooling rack with wax paper underneath and coat with melted almond bark.

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Monday, June 21, 2010

Hot Writing and Chocolate Sprinkles Latte Cake


Last week after a little rain shower, I stepped outside to take photos of the caladium on the front porch. The humidity was so high, I could practically feel my hair frizz. Even the camera lens steamed up. I shot the picture anyway. Yep, the image was hidden behind a watery glaze.

Carefully I wiped the lens with a clean lens cloth -- the tail of my
t-shirt -- and tried again.

There was a big difference between the two images. Just as there can be a big difference in the effectiveness of our writing, if we go for clarity. Part of the fun of writing is using words precisely.

Here are three word combinations where the lines seem to be getting fuzzy:

flesh out - flush out    Flesh out means to add substance, make something more weighty; while flush out means to uncover something or drive it into the open. We need to flush out the culprits in the BP oil incident in order to flesh out the report of what went wrong.  (Find more about this at

famous - notorious   Fame refers to a widespread reputation of a favorable nature. Notorious refers to being widely and unfavorably known. Tiger Woods once was famous, but he is now notorious. (Find more about this at

eager - anxious Eager refers to a feeling of happy enthusiasm. Anxious is about fear or failure or disappointment. I am eager to have a paycheck again but anxious about starting a new job for which I am underqualified. (Find more about this at

Anxious, notorious, and flush out are so widely used now for either of the two possible meanings that I fear (yes, dahling, I fear) the nuances of the word pairs may be lost. The first photo above wasn't just hideously frighteningly horrible. Nor is it horrible if we use these words a little sort of maybe vaguely. However, better is always better. (You follow that, right?)

Let's keep the humidity out of our writing.


Put a Diet Coke in the freezer. Do a ten-minute writing using one of these words: humid, steamy, muggy, sweaty, drippy, or a hot word of your choice. Get the Diet Coke and drink it. Write more.


This cake is light, low calorie, very low fat --  and it has chocolate and coffee. What could be better?  From

Chocolate Sprinkles on Latte Angel Food Cake

1 box (1 lb) white angel food cake mix
1 1/4 cups cold coffee
1 tablespoon unsweetened baking cocoa
1 tablespoon chocolate candy sprinkles

Mocha Topping
1 envelope whipped topping mix (from 2.8-oz package)
1/2 cup cold fat-free (skim) milk
1 1/2 teaspoons vanilla
2 tablespoons powdered sugar
2 teaspoons unsweetened baking cocoa

1. Move oven rack to middle position (remove other racks). Heat oven to 350°F. In extra-large glass or metal bowl, beat cake mix, cold coffee and 1 tablespoon cocoa with electric mixer on low speed 30 seconds; beat on medium speed 1 minute. Pour into 2 ungreased 9-inch loaf pans. Sprinkle with candy sprinkles.

2. Bake 35 to 45 minutes or until top is dark golden brown and cracks feel very dry and not sticky. Do not underbake. Immediately place each loaf pan on its side on heatproof surface. Cool completely, about 1 hour. Run knife around sides of pans to loosen cakes; remove from pans.

3. Make topping mix as directed on package, using milk and vanilla; add powdered sugar and 2 teaspoons cocoa for the last minute of beating.

4. Serve cake with topping. Sprinkle with additional candy sprinkles if desired. Store in refrigerator.

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Sunday, June 13, 2010

Writing Like a Bird and Chocolate Raspberry Burritos


I came across this poem by Ted Kooser, the Nebraska poet who became Poet Laureate of the United States, in a paperback copy of his book, Delights & Shadows. The title of the poem is "The Necktie."

His hands fluttered like birds,
each with a fancy silk ribbon
to weave into their nest,
as he stood at the mirror
dressing for work, waving hello
to himself with both hands.

Like the hands in Kooser's poem, the little bird in the photograph above was fluttering around under the lily leaves when I spotted him. Later he managed to get some elevation with his wings, but his flight was straight up, then down. Again he tried. Up, then down. Then he managed a few inches of forward momentum before it was down again. Finally, off he went. Across our yard and into the pear tree across the street.

I think writing is like that. We try, try again, and finally get something that takes flight. One of the devices that helps our writing take flight is the use of similie and metaphor. When I was a young writer, I thought beautiful images just poured forth from some writers. I knew I was not one of those writers. Then I attended a meeting of writers where Sue Monk Kidd was speaking. She told about being on vacation and sitting at the beach creating lists of metaphors from the things she saw around her.

"You gotta be kidding," I thought. "Consciously draft images? Don't they just flow from gifted writers like milk and honey?" Somehow I had the idea that working at these things was cheating. Well, hey, this ain't no Scrabble game. I learned it is not only fair and acceptable, it is necessary, to use any and all resources of which we can avail ourselves.

In my library copy of her book, Writing Personal Essays: How to Shape Your Life Experiences for the Page, Sheila Bender writes:

Another exercise for writing good description is to describe one thing as if it were something else usually thought to be unrelated. In bringing the two together, the reader gets an immediate, refreshed experience of your subject. (p. 29)

She goes on to suggest practicing by starting with similies: a window is like. . ., children in a classroom are like.... For example, a window is like a movie screen, children in a classroom are like a flower garden.

The operative word here is practice. Like the little bird in the picture, your comparisons will improve. Some day you may soar like Ted Kooser.

(Note: Some of the books mentioned today are out-of-print. Check your library or used book sales for copies. You might find them online at very high prices. Keep looking. You can find cheaper copies. Or just read a library copy.)


Practice similies. Let's start with easy ones.
Chocolate is like . . .
Exercising is like . . .
Getting a teenager to clean under her bed is like . . .
Think of it as Brain Training. Keep adding to your list.

This recipe is from 101 Things to Do with a Tortilla by Stephanie Ashcraft and Donna Kelly. I purchased this little spiral bound book at the gourmet housewares store on Pearl Street in Boulder, Colorado. An abridged version of this cookbook would say, "Open your fridge or pantry. Take out anything or everything. Roll in a tortilla." That's how I cook so I love the book. (Does that qualify as cooking?)

Chocolate Raspberry Burritos (Three of the most beautiful words in the English language.)

2 cups semi-sweet chocolate chips
2 cups fresh or frozen raspberries
8 medium flour tortillas
4 tablespoons butter, melted
4 tablespoons sugar
2 teaspoons cinnamon

Place 1/4 cup chocolate chips and 1/4 cup raspberries in the center of a tortilla. Fold edges in and roll up to form a burrito. Bake seam-side down on a baking sheet 20 minutes at 425 degrees, or until light golden brown. Remove from heat and brush with melted butter, then sprinkle with sugar and cinnamon. Makes 8 servings.

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Monday, June 7, 2010

Write Toward the Light and Chocolate Can't Leave Them Alone Bars


Are there events in your life that you are hiding  in  darkness? Cramming to the back of memory and avoiding writing about? It's okay. Most of us have had times that were sad, frightening, or even embarrassing.

The problem is, it takes mental, emotional, and physical energy to keep stuffing them away. We work harder and harder at not remembering. That energy could better be used for our writing.

Ample research has shown that writing about traumatic events is therapeutic so the best treatment is just to write about it. Bring events into the light.

I can now support the research with my own experience. Recently I gathered my nerve (and my blood pressure medication) and began writing about an unhappy time in my life. Right now the writing is just for myself. When I read The Glass Castle: A Memoir, I cringed at what the author, Jeannette Walls, revealed about her life. My experiences are nowhere near as bad as hers, but I am not ready to share them with the world. That's okay. In this instance, it's the writing that is important.

As I wrote, my heart thumped, my feet got freezing cold, and I hunched closer and closer over the keyboard. When it felt like my head might explode, I got up, walked to the window and looked out at the new young mom on the block pushing her baby boy in his stroller. Her blonde ponytail bounced and his little feet kicked. I smiled. I breathed. I went back to the computer.

After it was all on paper, I felt better. Actually, I was surprised by how much better I felt. It's over.The computer had not gone up in flames, and I had not fallen onto the floor, curled into a fetal position, and sucked my thumb. I printed it, and in a short time, it became a piece of writing that I could look at objectively. Maybe I ate chocolate somewhere in this whole process.

I showed the writing to my gentleman friend and a trusted writing mentor. My gentleman friend hugged me and said, "You are a good writer." My mentor said I had a good start, but she pointed out places I could improve on the piece.

The next morning dawned sunny but foggy. What an odd combination for May. It was perfect for the way I was feeling. Those old events are still in my memory, but the pain is foggy and being burned off by the light.

Don't let old fears and memories hold you back. Write toward the light. It feels good.


I am not a psychotherapist, nor do I play one on TV, so don't give yourself a crack-up by writing about old wounds. Start small. Write one or two sentences. When you feel strong enough, write again. Or just let it all out on the paper in one smelly heap. Write: I wish things had been different, but . . .


Okay, after that writing prompt, you are going to need some serious chocolate. This recipe is from my young advisor's company cookbook, contributed by Jodi, who calls it Can't Let Them Alone Bars. This seemed perfect for today. You know how even though you have a hundred happy memories, your mind keeps returning to the one unhappy memory -- can't let it alone. Let's drown that unhappy memory in good writing and good chocolate.

Can't Leave Them Alone (Chocolate) Bars

1 package white or yellow cake mix (divided)
2 eggs
1/3 cup vegetable oil
1 can sweetened condensed milk
1 cup semi-sweet chocolate chips
1/4 cup butter

Combine dry cake mix, eggs, and oil. Press 2/3 cup mixture into greased 9 x 13-inch pan with floured hands. Set aside remaining mixture. In microwavable bowl combine milk, chocolate chips, and ubtter. Microwave 45 seconds or until smooth. Pour over crust. Drop remaining dough by spoonfuls over top. Bake at 350 degrees for 20 - 25 minutes.  (I would probably add nuts because I like to have the Big Three: chocolate, butter, and nuts.)

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Photos by Carol Newman ©2010
All Rights Reserved ©2010 There's An Angel In Your Inkwell®

Monday, May 24, 2010

Intended Meaning and Chocolate Cappuccino Frozen Cake


These tulips came wrapped in a protective sleeve with printed instructions on how to care for the flowers. From this angle, the message is hard to read. What about the angle of your writing? Is your writing clear? Sure some of the words can be read, but is the reader getting the message you intended? I had a recent experience where the answer was "no."

In a welcome burst of energy after almost two years of retreat and contemplation, I joined an online personal essay writing class offered by Story Circle Network. I looked forward to a chance to refresh and renew my thinking as well as my writing.

For our first assignment, I submitted an excerpt from a longer piece I had written, a piece I intended as a denouncement of guns. From the facilitator's comments, I could tell the denouncement part worked pretty well; but what I had not expected was, from the questions the facilitator asked,  I seemed to have portrayed my family as a bunch of gun-totin' red necks. "How do you feel about your husband having a gun in the house?" she asked.

A gun in the house? My Gentleman Friend? How could the facilitator have so misread what I intended?

Intended. The word reminded me of the best writing advice I ever received -- advice I have even preached to others. In fact, the advice came from My Gentleman Friend. One time I asked him to read something I was writing. He said, "This is confusing." He pointed to a few sentences. "What does this mean?"

I harumphed a little and said, "I was trying to say . . ." To which he replied, "If you were trying to say that, why didn't you just say it?"

Ah yes. As I have said so many times, the only way the reader knows who you are or what you mean is by the words on the page.

I re-read my gun essay. What I had intended to say was only hinted at on the page. Important parts of the essay were still in my mind. For example, I wrote that an ill family member committed suicide on a "never-to-be-forgotten Christmas." The class instructor/reader interpreted that to mean that guns could be used to relieve suffering. And, as, of course, the event would not be forgotten, it was unnecessary to state that.

What I had meant was that that event damaged the entire family and every Christmas forever. For my mother and her siblings, Christmas became a dreaded time of depression. The event created suffering; it did not relieve suffering. What I meant is quite different from what I wrote. However, as I didn't actually include any of that information about depression, dread, and Christmas, how is the reader to know what I intended?

We know writing is a three-part process, don't we? I will be visiting part three: re-writing. And I look forward to it. Refreshing and renewing my thinking and my writing.


Write about something you know very well and to which strong emotions are connected. You might write about the birth of a child, a wrong that was done to you, or a social injustice. Write. Put the piece aside for a few days. Look at it again. Have you written what you intended? Can you expand, fill in, flesh out, or clarify? Have you included setting and dialogue? Have you included all the senses? What about your feelings? Are they included?


Frozen Chocolate-Covered Cappuccino Crunch Cake

Thank you, Becky, for sending this recipe. It has all my favorites: chocolate, coffee, ice cream, candy, and cake. Becky said she substituted vanilla ice cream and a teaspoon or so of coffee for the more expensive hand-packed coffee ice cream. It calls for a springform pan, but a regular cake pan can be used. The recipe can be doubled. The recipe was created by Beth Royals of Richmond, Va. Don't worry about the length of  the recipe. Mainly, all you have to do is thaw stuff and assemble it. You can do it. Fast.

1 (10 3/4 ounce) frozen pound cake  
3/4 cup heavy whipping cream
1/ 3/4 cup (11.5 oz.package) milk chocolate chips
4 cups (1 quart) coffee ice cream, softened
1 cup frozen whipped topping, thawed
1 3/4 cup coarsely crushed malted milk balls
Frozen whipped topping, thawed (optional)
Coarsely crushed malted milk balls (optional)  (Not optional in my world.)

Slice pound cake into 1/8 to 1/4-inch slices. Place half the slices on the bottom of a 9-inch springform pan, (see note above)  press down firmly. Set remaining slices aside.
Bring cream just to a boil in medium saucepan. Remove from heat. Add chocolate chips, let stand 5 minutes. Whisk until well combined and smooth. Pour half the chocolate mixture over pound cake in pan, spreading evenly to 1/4 inch of edge of pan. Cover; freeze for 1 1/2 hours or until chocolate is set.
Combine softened ice cream and whipped topping in large bowl. Fold in 1 3/4 cups crushed malted milk balls. Spread over chocolate layer in pan. Cover; freeze until ice cream is firm, about 2 hours.
Top ice cream with remaining pound cake slices; press down firmly. Spread remaining chocolate mixture over pound cake. Cover; freeze at least 6 hours.
To serve: remove sides of pan. Garnish with additional whipped topping and sprinkle with crushed malted milk balls, if desired. To cut cake evenly, run a knife under hot water and dry with a paper towel before making slices.
Or. if you used a square or rectangular cake pan, slice into squares and serve.

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Monday, May 17, 2010

Try Dancing and Easiest Edible Topiary with Chocolate

Remember the dreaming kitty in the previous blog post about the importance of dream time for a writer and how I thought no one listened to my advice? I heard from Rachel Gifford who had this to say:

I can tell you I DO remember when you told me to spend time dreaming, going to a movie, having a latte...because all those things are part of writing. I took your words to heart, and I have given up guilt not only for Lent, but forever!

Did it work for Rachel? Absolutely. In 2007 she self-published her memoir, A Gift in Wolf's Clothing: Life with Diabetes. If you know anyone with diabetes, with diabetes in their family, or among their friends, you will want to give them this book. Rachel is a nationally renowned diabetes educator and speaker. And, she has diabetes. Her book is funny, angry, sad, instructive, a great story and a great read. You can order it from Author House  or from Amazon.


How to organize the many elements of a book-length project is always a problem for writers. This weekend at The Writers Place in Kansas City, Missouri, Barbara Bartocci suggested writing chapter titles or individual scenes on Post-It Notes and then sticking the notes to a wall. The organization can be seen at a glance and notes can be rearranged as needed.

Another suggestion was to use half-sheets of notebook paper labeled with chapters or scenes and then stack them into your desired order. It's the old college-term-paper-index-card method but with paper.

Barbara's suggestions are for a plan-first-then-write approach. I think that in some instances a write-first-then-plan approach works. If you are writing your life story or memoir, it is perfectly okay to write a series of stories or chapters first. I then suggest you print them, lay them out around your dining table, and chose and move them into an order your like.

This is part of the fun of being a writer. You can be like these girls dancing in a fountain at Kauffman Gardens in Kansas City. There are many approaches, and the only "Best Way" is the way that works for you.


Get a deck of cards. Arrange the cards in an interesting way. See how many ways you can arrange the cards. By color, by suit, by number (all the 1s, 2s, 3s, etc.), by even and odd number, ascending, descending, whatever you like. Remember, the goal here is to arrange them in an interesting way.

Now do the same with several chapters, stories or poems you have written. Move them around. If you move a middle or later chapter up to the beginning, does the story become more interesting? Does moving the pieces create new patterns or themes? Do you see your writing with a new eye?

Writing prompt: I see these themes in my writing.


Today's recipe is really just a scribbled note on a scrap of paper that surfaced on my desk today. It must be from a television show on the Food Channel, but I don't remember which one.

Edible Topiary with Chocolate

Dip large strawberries in melted chocolate and set aside to harden.
Or purchase chocolate covered strawberries. (I have seen some gorgeous ones that were special ordered from Costco.)
Stick toothpicks, regularly spaced,  into a green foam cone, from craft department, something food safe.
When strawberries have set, stick them on the toothpicks.
I think I remember you work from the bottom up.
Fill in any empty spaces with mint. This gave it the pretty, finished look.
Easy, pretty, yummy, and healthy dessert.
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Copyright 2010. All Rights Reserved. There's An Angel In Your Inkwell®