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Monday, December 24, 2012

Christmas Traditions

Merry Christmas Eve! I hope you are having a wonderful day as you get ready for Christmas. Personally, I love Christmas Eve! More than I like Christmas, even. I also love Christmas Eve Eve, which was yesterday. I don't know. There's just something about the anticipation that gets me all giddy.

My stepson, now 15-years-old, often counts the days down. I still remember a few years ago when it was "only two days ‘til Christmas," for about a week. Wishful thinking?

I can’t help but share his enthusiasm. I love Christmas. I love the lights, the bustle of people (okay, maybe not the bustle of people), and wrapping gifts in cheerful paper.

Inevitably at some point today, he will ask, "but when are we going to read the little book?" The first time he asked (a few years ago) my heart filled with joy.

You see, "the little book" is one of my Christmas ornaments. It is a 2x2" red leather bound copy of The Night Before Christmas. It has crisp aged white pages with gold edges and an inscription in my mother’s perfect cursive: "To Sherri: With love from Mommy & Daddy. Dec. 1979." I was two years old when my parents gave that to me and it has hung on the Christmas tree every year since.

The first Christmas I spent with my husband (then boyfriend) and stepson, I suggested we read it before going to bed on Christmas Eve. We all piled together under a blanket and took turns reading. We have continued to read it before bed on Christmas Eve every Christmas since.

Though it's always in my plans, what has really surprised me is that my stepson asks for it. In fact, last year when he asked what we were doing for Christmas Eve and I mentioned visits with family and friends and tying up loose ends, he immediately asked, "But we're going to read the little book, right?"

As parents we want to know that we are making a difference. As a stepmom I often wonder if I'm having any positive impact. That one question of his, the way he looks forward to a silly little thing that I also look forward to... that is magic. A little activity that I started five Christmases ago has become a tradition that would be missed if we didn’t do it. Christmas really does bring people together.

Happy holidays to you and yours! May you cherish your family traditions, big and small.

Friday, December 21, 2012

Anyone else feeling a little frantic today?

Red jingle bells

Winter solstice is here. It is the shortest day of sunlight for the year. After today each day will get a tiny bit more light as we work our way back to long summer days. Eventually.

Today is also the day the Mayan calendar ends. I saw one weather report for the week showing clouds and cold temperatures all week long with today's forecast showing firey meteors hurtling down and a high temperature of 1250 degrees. Saturday's weather was blank.

No meteors here. Let me know if you see anything suspicious.

More pressing, though, (more pressing than the potential end of life as we know it?) is Christmas is coming. In just four short days, we must be ready for family, gift exchanges, and trying to remember what Christmas is really about in the middle of all that family time and gifting.

Fortunately we aren't hosting Christmas. That means I don't have to cook- yay! There is still plenty to do and I'm feeling a bit frantic today about it all.

I'm running my washing machine pretty much non-stop thanks to the mountain of clothes that has developed while I was doing other things. I have presents to wrap plus more presents I hope will be delivered soon so I can wrap them.

We had a painter at our house earlier this week painting our two-story foyer that we've never figured out how to reach. While he was here he repainted our kitchen and living room after I tried to touch up paint and this happened:

Patchy walls

Not so good. More on that debacle some other day.

Anyhow, we couldn't put our Christmas decorations up until the painters were finished, so Wednesday night at approximately 11:00 p.m. we brought our decorations out of the attic. We assembled the pre-lit Christmas tree and hung the stockings on the mantle (with care, of course).

Yesterday I added a few miscellaneous decorations around the house and put some lights on the bushes outside (I don't have a good excuse for why that wasn't done yet. It just wasn't, okay?) Last night we decorated the tree.

So now, 4 days before Christmas, it's beginning to feel a little like Christmas.

Which brings me back around to the presents that need to be wrapped and the family visits. For which I'm accomplishing nothing because I'm doing all that laundry and cleaning the house. And blogging. Right.

Sometimes I just have to write. It can be grounding. Grounding is good.

You know what else is good? Christmas lights.

Christmas lights

And now that I have some to look at, my inner child is beaming.

I guess my whole point here is that I suspect I'm not alone in feeling frantic today. If you're feeling frantic, too, feel free to vent in the comments. As aforementioned, writing can be grounding.

And if you're in tip-top shape, totally calm and prepared for the holidays... yay for you! Maybe we can follow in your footsteps next year.

In the meantime, here's wishing all of you a weekend that is loving, productive, and dare I say calm? Yes, calm.

Wednesday, December 19, 2012

Interview: Sara McClellan

Each Wednesday is Wonderstruck Interview day. Hearing other people’s stories is a great way to see things from a different perspective and perhaps find something new to apply to our own lives.

Today's interviewee is one of my closest friends and author of the new book The World Needs Hope, Sara McClellan. (The very same book I've been mentioning here recently because it also includes my first print credit.)

Sara is a writer with nearly 20 years of creative communications experience. She chose to transform personal loss into a mission of positive change. Sara dedicates her voice to awakening the world to the inspiring presence and power of hope.

What have you been wonderstruck by recently?

SaraMcClellan

Just a blink ago, I was wonderstruck by the emphatic sound of an escaped cockatoo traversing the neighborhood. After trying to woo it over to my patio with an ├╝ber-healthy breakfast cereal—to no avail, I might add—my bright white friend, instead, opted to serenade me from the vent to my attic on the second story. I use serenade here because I hopefully assume that it was not speaking poorly of my inability to offer sanctuary. At least, being in Arizona, the temperature was not a ghastly threat to its well-being. The most fun for me is to ponder what message nature has for me in all this, “Sara, welcome others graciously . . . shape perseverance through surprise challenges . . . marvel at the beauty of quirky little moments . . . or, work on your communication skills.”

What part of your day are you grateful for?

Every moment. That was easy. Ah, but I suspect my dear friend and owner of this splendid blog would appreciate a pinch of expansion. Well, I am grateful to wake up in a comfortable bed with shelter overhead (the rhyme makes me giggle, as it sounds Seussian). I am profoundly grateful for my shower, which I augmented with a chlorine-filtering showerhead (best. purchase. ever). I am grateful for the traffic, yes the traffic, as it helps me pause to lose my mind in strategic thought or playful whimsy. I am grateful for the supportive texts, wall posts, tweets and calls from friends all over the world—they always find me at exactly the right moment; what a blessing. I am grateful for every face and for having the privilege of seeing how a simple smile can light someone else’s day. I am grateful for learning compassion through service to others, from holding a door to pausing to empathetically hear about how another soul is feeling, not just doing. I am grateful for a wellspring of unending hope, in every beautifully revealed form.

What part of the day is tough? How do you move through it?

Depending on the day, every moment can be tough. To be an optimist, a hopeful messenger and a soulful human, it is necessary to recognize, face and overcome the tough moments. Through the climb from shadow to light, we appreciate the sweet, the comforting and the enriching moments that teach us to realize our potential and treat others with more care. My greatest ally is hope, as perspective guides our actions and our reactions.

What do you wish you were more conscious of?

I consistently challenge myself to be more conscious of the words, the foods and the images that feed and influence my overall state of health. We nourish ourselves through all of our senses—every pore, every sight and every interaction. I believe that how we respect and nurture “self” is how we reflect hope and love to the world.

How do you stay focused on what is truly important to you?

Like all creatives, I enjoy thinking, composing and dreaming in the same instant. Mostly, I surrender to the frenzy. However, in the instances where a task or goal must be accomplished (like this charming interview), I imagine that I am speaking to a friend or demonstrating a process to a child. By humanizing it, I find I naturally focus and invest the best of myself. It helps prioritize my efforts and more fluidly proceed. Of course, my failsafe is a cup of tea. It centers me, washing over my whirring mind like a wave of clarity. Current favorite: high mountain oolong.

More About Sara McClellan:

I am honored to share the launch of my first book, “The World Needs Hope.” It expresses, in real terms, how to recognize, create and share hope in our modern world. You will find succinct, meaningful statements that enable you to pace your read to fit your busy lifestyle and explore chapters in the order you need them, as creative examples from 20 contributing artists bring hope into focus in your life.

The book is available for sale on Amazon and it is listed on Goodreads. May “The World Needs Hope” inspire you to see the hope that is all around you.

Follow Sara and her message of hope here:

Facebook: Facebook.com/worldneedshope
Twitter: @worldneedshope
Pinterest: Pinterest.com/worldneedshope
Instagram: Instagram.com/worldneedshope

Monday, December 17, 2012

Pinterest Recipe Review: Blackberry Cider

Each week in December I've been reviewing recipes that I found on Pinterest. It seemed about time to actually try some of those things I kept pinning, so I thought I'd share the results in case you were looking for something new to try for the holidays.

I've already reviewed Cherry Pie Poppers, Apple Cider Sangria, and Cookie Dough Balls. Next up: Blackberry Cider.

Here is the pin: Blackberry Cider on Pinterest

... which leads to this recipe on the Driscoll's website.

Check out the photo through either link. I forgot to take pictures.

I won't repeat the recipe here. You can get that from the links above. I'll just let you know how it went for me.

Stellar! And here's why... my husband made it. Anything I don't have to make is okay by me.

While I was busy working on Thanksgiving side dishes, my husband took it upon himself to take my printout of this recipe and get to work. I love him.

The basic idea is to simmer apple cider with blackberries, oranges, cinnamon and star anise. Garnish with a few blackberries, an orange slice and a cinnamon stick.

There isn't any alcohol in this recipe, so it's perfectly kid-friendly. For those of you with an eye for mixing your own concoction, I'm sure you could kick this up for the adults. Share your ideas in the comments.

We deviated from the recipe a bit. We left out the cinnamon sticks (because I didn't remember to get them at the store) and star anise (because I don't really know what that is. Hey, I'm a basic home cook, not a culinary expert).

Anyhow, my husband threw all the ingredients in a large pot on the stove and let it simmer. He's not big on garnishing drinks, so he didn't reserve any blackberries or oranges- he put them all in the pot.

The cooking process took longer than we expected. Be sure to get a head start on this recipe.

When it was finished cooking, we poured it into a large glass drink dispenser (the kind with the little twist spout on the front). You can serve the recipe warm or chilled. We chose to serve ours over ice.

This drink was a hit with the family! We did have some leftover because we had doubled the recipe. We poured the leftover blackberry cider back into the jug the apple cider had come in. For the next few days we enjoyed blackberry cider right out of the refrigerator.

Verdict: Make again. It was easy and delicious- crisp enough to be refreshing, yet rich enough to feel like a special holiday drink.

Do you have any ideas for tweaking this recipe?

Wednesday, December 12, 2012

Interview: Ellen Gregory

Each Wednesday is Wonderstruck Interview day. Hearing other people’s stories is a great way to see things from a different perspective and perhaps find something new to apply to our own lives.

Today's interviewee is fantasy fiction writer Ellen Gregory.

What have you been wonderstruck by recently?

silvereye chicks

A few weeks ago, when rigorously pruning in my garden, I chopped down a branch that held a birds’ nest (which I initially didn’t realize) and two tiny recently hatched chicks tumbled out. Improvising madly, I got the nest back into the tree and spent the next several days avidly watching the two parent birds (Australian silver eyes) feed their chicks. I watched those little chicks grow stronger and larger, develop feathers — felt amazingly protective, fascinated and definitely wonderstruck by them. Unfortunately they disappeared from the nest when I went away for a few days, so I like to believe they found their wings and flew away.

What part of your day are you grateful for?

I suspect my answer here will not be unique — I just can’t go past my first coffee of the morning! Sometimes I want to weep when it ends. My preference is to drink it at my dayjob desk, and the best mornings are when my coffee has been delivered just before I arrive at the office. I’m not really human until the first sip of that coffee — a skim milk cafe latte — and only once I have it in hand am I ready to function. Weekends are similar, only I get to enjoy that coffee in one of my favourite cafes instead.

What part of the day is tough? How do you move through it?

Sigh. Getting out of bed in the morning. I need two alarms going in tandem on the other side of the room and sometimes that doesn’t even work. The only way I can get through the first part of the morning is by having a set routine. Activities. Tick boxes. Timeframes. Not a physical list, but a mental one. I’m generally in a zombie state until my first coffee (see answer to previous question).

What do you wish you were more conscious of?

I’m finding this a tricky question, but my mind keeps bouncing back to ‘other people’s feelings’. I think I wish I was better able to read people, to understand how differently they might be perceiving a situation compared with how I perceive it. I tend to take people at face value, and that of course is often naive.

How do you stay focused on what is truly important to you?

There are two answers to this question. When I want to do or experience something and I’m feeling confident, then nothing will stop me. I can stay very focused and driven so long as I have that self-belief. I am rather prone to taking on challenges, such as NaNoWriMo this year (writing) or the Oxfam Trailwalker (an endurance charity event) I completed a few years ago. I make lists, I set schedules, I blog about them, I hold myself accountable. But it’s possible to lose that self-belief and confidence from time to time (like when I decide I’ll never make it as an author!) and those are the times I have to dig deep. There’s a lot of self talk, eating of chocolate, and small achievable goals set. I’m then able to inch forward, one step at a time, until I can rediscover that self-belief.

Ellen Gregory

About Ellen Gregory:

Ellen Gregory lives with her devilcat in Melbourne, Australia. She mainly writes fantasy fiction and is currently working on a novel. One day she would love to publish her work. Her vices include ye olde favourites of coffee, red wine and chocolate — but she is also fond of carnivorous plants and mismatched furniture.

Website: http://ellenvgregory.com/
Twitter: @ellenvgreg

Tuesday, December 11, 2012

Pinterest Recipe Review: Cookie Dough Balls

Each week this month I am reviewing one recipe I found on Pinterest. After collecting a number of scrumptious looking foods on my Cooking board, I realized I should probably start actually making them. Novel concept, I know.

I've already reviewed Cherry Pie Poppers and Apple Cider Sangria. This week: Cookie Dough Balls.

Here is the Pinterest pin: Cookie Dough Balls

...which leads to this recipe: Cookie Dough Balls on Love and Olive Oil site

I won't reprint the recipe here. You can get that from the links above. Basically, you make egg-free cookie dough, roll it into balls, freeze on a cookie sheet, then dip in chocolate and refrigerate.

I'm going to say right off the bat, I had some ups and downs with this recipe.

Mixing the cookie dough was easy. Rolling the dough, also easy. At a friend's recommendation (who had previously made the same thing with a different recipe), I rolled the balls a bit smaller than the recipe called for. My friend had used a melon baller and thought they were a bit big and would have preferred something more bite sized.



So, I rolled mine to the size of.. I don't know, a small radish? On the "how big is my unborn baby" scale, they'd be about week 9 - a large olive.

Anyhow, this seemed about the right size for popping one in your mouth and avoiding the whole melting chocolate on fingers dilemma. At worst, they were two bites.

I lined them up on a cookie sheet with walls and, when one layer was full, put down a sheet of waxed paper and filled a second layer.

Now, as most people probably would, I tasted the cookie dough at this point. It was very sweet, sweeter than the dough I make for chocolate chip cookies, which had me worried about the finished product. But once the dark chocolate went on, the bitterness from that balanced out the sweetness of the dough. The finished cookie dough ball was better than the dough alone.

Speaking of the chocolate coating, I sucked at it. This was the most frustrating part of the process for me. You should know that I'm not overly culinary. I can follow a recipe and even jazz things up a bit, but my technique is fairly poor. I say this so you know that this could be an easy process for someone else. You might even be a pro at coating. For me, it was tricky.

The recipe suggested using a fork to dip the balls into the chocolate. When I did that, I had trouble getting the ball off the fork after dipping and I'd end up smudging the chocolate off while finagling it off the fork.

Then I tried to keep the cookie dough a little looser on the fork, sort of barely sticking it with one tine. With this method the cookie dough fell off into the chocolate and I had to fish it out resulting in a really thick and messy chocolate coating that slowly oozed off and made a flat chocolate disk under the cookie dough ball.

I tried toothpicks and spoons and, ultimately, returned to the fork and just struggled through. I had two full cookie sheets worth of balls, so this was a long process during which I had to keep reheating the chocolate as it cooled. And the more i reheated the chocolate, the harder it was to work with.

So yeah, coating was tedious.



When all is said and done, the cookie dough balls are quite tasty. We served them alongside the Cherry Pie Poppers and a pumpkin pie at Thanksgiving. They weren't as big of a hit as I thought they would be and, because there were so many, I had quite a few left over even though half of them were eaten.

Verdict: Good. Maybe make again if I can figure out a better way to coat. Or maybe find a way to make the dough a tad less sweet and leave them uncoated. (I originally wrote "leave them naked," but then I was laughing like a 12-year-old boy at the notion of "naked balls." You're welcome.)

I'll hang on to this recipe, but it won't be one of my "go to" desserts because the chocolate coating makes it a bit too time intensive, particularly when I have an active toddler running around.

What do you think? Have you made something like this? Do you have tips for coating?

Find me on Pinterest at pinterest.com/smhutchinswrite.

Friday, December 7, 2012

The Book is Here! (And also, a quick poll)



It's here! It's here!

The book with my name and my creative work in it arrived on my doorstep on Monday! The World Needs Hope is an inspirational book written by my good friend, Sara McClellan.

I copyedited this book. It's my first print credit. :)

Even better, I contributed art. A photograph and short passage of text, both by me, appear at the end of Chapter 2: Comfort. (Yes, I'm smiling as I type this. It's so freakin' exciting!)

Holding this book in my hands, flipping through the pages... I can't describe the feeling. It's amazing. This is a beautiful project and I feel so lucky to be a part of it.


Please Answer a Poll Question


In other creative news, I've been working behind the scenes on this blog and I could use your help.

There is a poll at the top of my Facebook page right now asking whether you read this blog on a computer or your phone, on the Live Wonderstruck site or in a reader. I'm still tweaking design and I want to make sure I'm delivering content in a way that is easy for you to read.

Will you please take a minute and answer the poll question? Thank you!

P.S. If you haven't already, click that little "Like" button while you're there. I'd love to meet my goal of growing to 100 Likes by the end of the year.

Wishing you all a wonderstruck weekend!

Wednesday, December 5, 2012

Interview: Siri Paulson

Each Wednesday is Wonderstruck Interview day. Hearing other people’s stories is a great way to see things from a different perspective and perhaps find something new to apply to our own lives.

Today's interviewee is science fiction and fantasy writer Siri Paulson.



What have you been wonderstruck by recently?

Sunsets. I used to live in Alberta, which has the most glorious sunsets. Then I moved to downtown Toronto, to an apartment in a cluster of high-rises, and could barely see the western sky. I thought Toronto just didn't have nice sunsets. But this spring I bought a house, and my new writing space has a good western view...and boy, is it spectacular some evenings. If I'm at home at the right time of day, I try to remember to look.

What part of your day are you grateful for?

Any part I get to spend with my husband. Our schedules aren't meshing that well right now, in part because we're both so busy, so the time that we do get to spend together is precious. We often come home from work together on the streetcar, and even on days when we don't talk much during that ride, it's nice to have him beside me.

What part of the day is tough? How do you move through it?

Mornings. (That seems to be a common thread in these interviews!) I'm a night owl, always trying to squeeze a little more out of my evenings, so mornings are tough. I get through them by thinking of the book I'm going to read on the streetcar and the coffee I'm going to have when I get to work.

What do you wish you were more conscious of?

I have a terrible tendency to get eaten by the Internet. I wish I were more aware of when it starts happening and better able to shut it down quickly.

How do you stay focused on what is truly important to you?

To be honest, I'm struggling with that right now. Writing is what I live for, but I haven't been writing much lately. I went through some positive but monumental life changes this year (buying a house was one of them!) and they sucked up all my time and energy. I'm still working on finding a balance again.

About Siri Paulson:

Siri is a science fiction and fantasy writer and an editor at Turtleduck Press (http://www.turtleduckpress.com). In her spare time (when she has any) she dances, knits, and dissects movies.

Her work can be found in the new Turtleduck Press anthology Seasons Eternal. Four writers have taken the idea of a world where the seasons have stopped changing, and each has found a different angle to explore. Seasons Eternal is available at: http://www.turtleduckpress.com/toybox/index.php/turtleduck-works/43-longworks/221-seasons-eternal

Blog: http://siripaulson.wordpress.com
Twitter: https://twitter.com/siri_paulson

Tuesday, December 4, 2012

Pinterest Recipe Review: Apple Cider Sangria



A few weeks ago, I was looking at my Pinterest boards at all sorts of ideas I've collected since joining.

That's when my husband came up and saw my "Cooking" pin board and asked, "How come you never make any of these? That looks good and... ooooh, that one... and this one, this, this, and... get on it, woman!" (He says these things in happy love, not like a drill sargeant.)

So, I've been trying some out.

From now until Christmas, I'm reviewing one recipe found on Pinterest each week. Last week was Cherry Pie Poppers (yum!). This week, Apple Cider Sangria (also yum!).

Here is the Pinterest pin: Apple Cider Sangria

...which leads to this recipe: Apple Cider Sangria on How Sweet It Is (www.howsweeteats.com)

Be sure to visit that link for the beautiful photography. Your mouth will water! (Aside from which, I didn't take any pictures.)

I won't rewrite the recipe here. You can get that through the above links. The basic idea is to mix white wine, apple cider, club soda, and brandy. Garnish with apples and pears.

I made this for our first ever Halloween party. It's perfect for fall because of the apple cider, but I think it can carry you right through the holidays.

This sangria is really easy to make (which is important to me since I'm not overly culinary).

Once mixed, the color isn't as appealing as other sangrias. After all, this recipe calls for apple cider so you end up with kind of a blah brown concoction.

Garnishing helps with presentation quite a bit. I didn't have pears, so I only used apples. I'm wondering if perhaps a couple blackberries might also be a nice touch.

I doubled the recipe (except for the brandy - I had only the amount the recipe originally called for) and served it in a large glass drink dispenser with a little on/off spout. This way guests could serve themselves and I was free to attend to other hostess duties.

So, how did it turn out?

DELICIOUS! It was both refreshing and comforting (in that comfort food kind of way). It was quite a hit with the adults at the party.

Verdict: Definitely make again. It would be great for a small dinner party or an evening with my girlfriends. It works great for parties. For the holidays, try garnishing with cranberries or cinnamon sticks in individual glasses.