In The Vanishing, there are protector animals called Guardians. Most of them are enormous creatures, but there is this one tiny, little hawk named Ismael. What most people don’t know is that he is named after another little guy with a big heart.
This is Ismael Arreola. What a cutie, right? When Miracle Maker first came out, I signed a copy of the booklet for his uncle and aunt to give to him. Ismael was excited to have his very own book, signed to him personally. He showed everyone at his school.
Needless to say, I was beyond thrilled that this amazing kid was telling his friends and teachers about my Miracle Maker. Then something terrible happened. His little copy of the booklet fell into a puddle and was ruined. By that time, the Miracle Maker booklets were selling out everywhere, and I was out too. Because the holiday season was wrapping up, no more booklets were being printed. I had nothing to replace it with for him. I felt terrible. I got him one when they were printed the next year, but waiting a year is forever when you’re a little kid.
About that time, I was toying around with a new idea for a middle-grade book with dice rolling. I asked my son, Brenick, to help me come up with some interesting twists for it. I spent the next couple of weeks running ideas by him, and we talked about different characters and plot points. He was sure I was trying to trick him into becoming an author (he was kind of right). My main focus was to write a book that kids like Brenick would actually enjoy enough to keep reading, even when reading didn’t come easy. One day, Brenick was frustrated with me pulling info out of him. He said, “Mom, the guy named John needs to fight with a staff, and the giant bear will protect him.”
“What?” I sputtered. “There isn’t a guy named John, or a giant bear.”
Brenick just looked at me, and without even a blink he said, “Oh, there will be.” Then he went back to doing what he was doing, and the wheels started to spin in my head. The Guardians became an exciting new part of The Vanishing, along with a character named John.(Of course)
As I brainstormed each animal and the person they protect, this little hawk kept coming to mind. At first, I shrugged off the idea. How could a tiny hawk help fight against the horrible creatures in the Gamekeeper’s world? Then I remembered my own, personal hero, Ismael who championed my little booklet with such amazing kindness. I realized you don’t have to be big to make a big difference. So, when you read the book and come across this little champion, just know that what makes him so amazing is his huge heart and the special boy he was named after. Thanks, Ismael. You will always be my hero.
If you would like a copy of The Vanishing, you can pre-order one through Kickstarter for only a few more days. Here is the link. CLICK THE K IN THE TOP LEFT CORNER AND IT WILL TAKE YOU THERE.
As the mother of a family of struggling readers, I can relate to the constant fight to get kids to read. I have five children. All of them suffer from some type of mild learning disability, (yay, heredity) and I have spent hours upon hours trying to find books that would persuade them that reading isn’t torture. I get it. Reading is hard for them, and while I sympathize, I know it’s also important.
It wasn’t until I was doing some homework with my youngest son that I stumbled upon an idea that changed everything. We were trudging through his reading homework,(where most of my gray hair comes from) and he started working out how much more he needed to buy a game he wanted. He was stalling, and I knew it, but when we started reading again, something unexpected happened. It was as if all the wires in his brain that tangled up when he read, somehow unwound. Something about the math had given his brain a chance to reset.
We owned a game shop at the time, and later that week, I saw my son and his cousins playing a strategy, battle game where they rolled dice and added and subtracted points. That’s when the idea for Battle Books hit me. If I could somehow incorporate this method of dice rolling into a book I could peak his interest, and help his brain reset to continue reading at the same time. Throw in some monsters and swords and now we had an interesting story.
I’m not a doctor. I can’t tell you the science behind it, nor can I guarantee that it will work for you child. However, as a parent of a kid who struggles, I know that you’re always on the lookout for something that makes your kid want to read. . . or at least not whine quite so much. It’s my hope that THE VANISHING is that book and that they want to keep discovering new battles and adventures with each new Battle Book as it comes out.
Please follow this link and pledge to our campaign, as a way to preorder this new type of book. If you click on the K in the left-hand corner, it will take you to the main page.
Fruit and Cream Cheese Pastries
These pastries are light and have a great combo of chewy and flaky– Like if a danish and a turnover had a baby. These can be simplified even more if you use a store-bought fruit sauce, but I really hate our local grocery store, (my motto- if I can’t buy it at Costco don’t I really need it) and I tend to cook on a whim, so homemade fruit sauce is like a staple in our house. It’s great to turn plain pancakes or waffles into something festive, throw on top of cheesecake or angel food cake, or even just as a quick version of homemade jam, but again, totally optional.
1 package of frozen puff pastry- thawed
1 egg (optional if you want to use an egg wash)
2- 8oz packages of cream cheese (room temp)
¼ cup of powdered sugar
Lemon zest from one lemon, and about a Tablespoon of the juice.
2 teaspoons of vanilla extract
Fruit Sauce (if using homemade, if not, buy pie filling in the can or just use fresh fruit)
1 cup frozen blueberries
1 cup frozen strawberries (I used whole, stemmed garden strawberries I had frozen)
½ cup white sugar
½ cup water
1 Tablespoon cornstarch
Heat your oven to 400 degrees. Then use a sheet of parchment paper if you have it, since they are a bit messy. Actually, I always forget to buy parchment paper, so I used a Crisco- greased, pampered chef stoneware bar pan, but I had to scrape off any sauce that ran over, so the next batch didn’t get a burnt sugar taste. It was a pain.
Follow the recipe below to make the fruit sauce, or just open the can of pie filling and skip to the next step.
Combined the frozen fruit into a pot. In a separate bowl mix the sugar and cornstarch to avoid clumping. Pour over the fruit and toss a bit to coat the fruit.
Then add water. Bring the mixture to a boil. Stir it well, and even constantly, as it gets toward boiling with a rubber scraper. It will thicken as it boils. If your fruit seemed to melt away in the sauce, just add a bit more fruit after it’s boiled. This is where using whole, frozen fruit and not over cooking help. Don’t let it stick to the bottom! It will burn and taste terrible. If you’re using different fruit and don’t have a tart fruit like strawberries, make sure to add a little lemon juice to give it balance. You don’t want it too sweet. After it boils and thickens, set it aside to cool a bit.
Get out your puff pastry. You purchase this in the freezer section, and then just leave it overnight in the fridge to thaw. This stuff is super versatile and makes everything you make with it look like you took hours- it’s the rice crispy treat version of baked goods.(If you’ve seen that commercial, you know what I’m talking about.)
Flour your surface and then take out one of the sheets. Lightly roll it out with a rolling pin, just a bit to compress the layers. Then, take a 4-inch diameter circle cutter, and cut out the shape. Lay it on the cookie sheet and then use a second cutter about ¼ inch smaller to score the shape. Don’t cut all the way through. If you’re like me, you probably don’t have all these nesting cutters, so I ended up using the outside casing to a chopper I had, or the on-the-go blender cup that came with my ninja blender.
I hated having to have so much dough wasted while I cut out the circles, so I started to cut out squares. You can get about nine squares out of each sheet with no waste and no rerolling. For the squares, I just cut them and scored them with a butter knife. Prick the insides shape a few times lightly with a fork. It helps keep the filling in place.
Blend the cream cheese and powdered sugar. It really needs to be room temp, or toss it into the microwave for about 10 seconds to warm it up, but don’t melt it. Mix the cream cheese first, and then add the powdered sugar to avoid lumps. Wash the lemon and add zest to taste. Then, put in the lemon juice and vanilla and blend well.
Drop about a teaspoon of cheese filling on each shape. The squares hold a bit more, another reason to skip the circle cutting. Spread it out a bit. Don’t go past your score lines though, because this is where it raises. You can mix the egg with some water and do an egg wash if you want, but I didn’t because it’s just another step, and although they look a bit pale in the picture, they were fine in real life.
Spoon about a teaspoon of fruit sauce over the cream cheese filling. They might run bit, but perfection isn’t necessary. Place in the oven (again 400 degrees) for 15-18 minutes or until the sides are puffed up and golden brown. Let them sit on the pan for a minute or two before moving to a cooling rack. Then grab the other sheet of puff pastry and continue the process.
When the pastries are cooled, you can take a ½ cup powdered sugar and a few teaspoons of water and whisk it into a glaze. Then drizzle it over the finished pastries. It makes them beautiful and tastier. If you’re a little nervous about your drizzling skills, put it in a Ziplock bag. Cut one end off, and use squeeze it in thin lines over the pastries.
I reposted this picture because I wanted you to see the how the glaze is drizzled. Lots of explanation, but again, not that hard. ENJOY!!
Are you a wader, or a cannon baller? Do you slowly walk up to the water, dip a toe in carefully, then wade in step by agonizing step, trying to get used to the cold? Or, are you the kind of person who would rather just get it over with, cannon ball in and take the cold all at once like a giant wave? Well, I hate cold, so when it comes to the water, I am definitely a wader. When it’s something I’m afraid of though, I just can’t take the torture of wading slowly. I run as fast as I can, close my eyes, and jump before I chicken out. “CANNON_BALL!”
This might seem like a strange way to start a cover reveal blog post, but I promise, I’ll bring it around. In my writing career, it seems like I am always having new experiences. This is one of the things I love about it, but also the thing that keeps me up at night chewing off all my fingernails. New is terrifying!
My latest nail biter is publishing, not only my first middle-grade novel, but my first solo self-published project. I love this book. Watching my kids struggle with dyslexia inspired me to write it, but also my son is my co-author. (More about that later.)
Love for the project does not make it any less terrifying, and it definitely doesn’t make the learning curve any smaller. So, for my first “learning experience” I knew I needed to hire a designer for my cover. I chose to go with a company called 99 designs because they offer a forum where tons of designers can offer up their vision of your book cover. I really didn’t have a definite idea of what I wanted, so it was a lot of fun to see each of the designs come in. Some I loved right away, some needed a few tweaks, and some not so much, but the level of talent was amazing. In the end, I had I think 41 designers and 118, designs.
Some of the designs were just small changes, like different font styles, but believe me, as someone who has a terrible time with decisions, it was HARD. I finally narrowed it down to my top 8, then 6, the three and finally chose a winner. (I literally closed my eyes to push the button.)
Besides the obvious visual aspect of choosing, I also had to weigh in the designers themselves. Since Battle Books has a bunch of books in the series, I needed a designer with longevity to give the series continuity. He also needed to be workable, prompt, and good at communicating, as well as being able to draw all his own art because we write about mythological creatures that don’t always have any stock art. The designer who made my design is named, Dragan Paunovic. You can check out his portfolio on 99 designs by following the link below. He is amazingly talented, and a dream to work with.
Thanks to everyone who helped with their input and advice in the early design polling, and thanks in advance for supporting this terrifying little dream. And without any more squawking, here is the beautiful cover.
Lately, I have been facing a lot of intense deadlines. I have so many irons in the fire (like so many of you also have) most days I feel like a blacksmith. Since the people in charge of cloning are being super slow at filling my wish list, it seems inevitable I’m gonna drop the ball once in a while, or lots of them— okay some days the whole place looks like a ball pit I drop so many, but that’s just life. Sometimes everything else needs to stop to make time to bake chocolate chip cookies. It’s not practical, but who wants to live in a world where all the “adulting” gets done and there are no cookies. Today was that kind of day. I super stunk up the day. It was a day full of a lot of not-even-close-to perfect, major insecurity, wish I hadn’t done that moments. So, as I was lying on my kitchen floor with a mouth full of cookie dough- don’t judge, it could be you tomorrow- I remembered this video a wonderful friend of mine sent me and decided maybe you could all use a little laugh about life. Tim Urban is hilarious. This is about being a procrastinator, which is so totally my specialty, but there’s also a great life message in here.
Well, since it’s February now, and my last post was December 7th, I’m forced to admit that I really stunk up the whole blogging through December thing. In all fairness, it was an insane month for our family. One of those crazy I-can-do-it-all moments when you find out you really can’t. I finished my capstone project, a 35-page business plan with financials, and received my bachelor’s degree. (I hate that bachelor’s degree isn’t capitalized. It was sooooo much work. It should at least get a capital letter, or some sparkles, or unicorn tears. . . something. Sorry the pain is still fresh.)
With Miracle Maker coming out in hardcover there were also book events- singings, book launches, and school visits (one of my favorite things to do). Add this to the already full month of Christmas events, shopping, and visits with extended family, and it all makes a lousy time to try and do a blog fest. We didn’t even get a Christmas tree this year. I know right. . . simply scandalous. My kids are probably traumatized forever, but it’s just as well. We always seem to have a dead tree in our yard until practically summer, and I know some day a bunch of banjo playing hillbillies are going to start hanging out on our porch.
Anywhoo- it is snowing here today, and I have this great cocoa recipe that I was going to post in December, so it’s CHRISTMAS COCOA DAY IN FEBRUARY TODAY!!!
This is a super easy recipe and it makes a TON of cocoa. I store it in Tupperware and leave in a half cup measuring cup to make it easy. I can’t really say how long it stores because my family never lets it last more than about three days. (When you see how much it makes you will be amazed by this feat, but yeah, we are gifted in gluttony.)
I made this recipe up years ago, and have tweaked it over a decade. It’s only four ingredients- five if you like mint, so it’s super easy.
*For some reason I don’t have the powdered sugar in this photo. I’d love to provide some great story behind it, but I was probably just chocolate-jonesing and was loopy for my fix.
Here is the recipe.
2 cups powdered non-dairy creamer
3 cups powdered milk
4 cups Nestle quick powder
2 cups powdered sugar
Then you can add mint extract or my personal favorite peppermint essential oil. (On the latter, it really only takes like 5-10 drops or your eyes will water and your sinuses will be clear forever.)
Mix the first three ingredients together. The best way is to put it all in a big bowl and mix it with a big wooden spoon. Then add the mint oil and sift it into another bowl with a big strainer (see the picture to clarify). The powdered milk can be a bit too chunky to go through the sifter, depending on the brand. Just add what won’t sift into the mix and give it a stir. After that is sifted a few times, add the powdered sugar, and sift again a few times to mix it all in.
To make a cup just add ½ cup of mix to hot water and stir. Easy-peasy.
** If your felling fancy you can even crush up some of those old candy canes that have been hanging around since you emptied out your stocking, and put that into the mix for color.
Looking for a good family flick for Christmas? Sally Meyer, screen-writer extraordinaire let me interview her about her new film The Christmas Project. (There’s a trailer for the movie at the bottom of the page)
The Christmas Project
ME: Tell us a little bit about the movie.
The movie is about a family, the Buckley family. Pam and Ralph are raising four boys and Pam is expecting her fifth child, and wouldn’t you know it, she’s hoping for a girl. She decides to wear pink always, to ensure that she will have the girl she wants so badly. The story centers around the four brothers, Simon, Matthew, Peter and John who are your typical all American rambunctious boys. Christmas is approaching and they begin to wonder who their family will ‘Elve’ this Christmas.
Every year it’s a tradition to choose a family and take out gifts in secret to them. All the boys look forward to it, and this year is no exception, until their Mother chooses the Hagbart Family to Elve. The Hagbarts are a poor family, consisting of Finn, Feeb, Fae and Little Francie. The Hagbarts bully the Buckley’s every day, so their dilemma throughout the movie is having to endure the bullying, during the day, and at night deliver treats to their enemies in secret. The story is heartwarming and hilarious, and teaches a message that I personally hope people will take to heart.
ME: What was your favorite part about making this movie?
My favorite part was working with all the children on set. I love kids, and I love working with them. They bring so much to their parts, and it’s fascinating how they can create a character and make it their own. I loved having my granddaughter play a part in the movie, as well as my daughter. Even my wonderful fur baby, Bridget, my Shih Tzu, had a small role. I loved that it snowed too, lots and lots!! My first Christmas movie with “real” snow! Yay!
ME: Is there a funny story to share?
There are so many, but one or two stand out. There’s a scene with Matthew and Juniper, (the new girl in the neighborhood) they are in the pirate ship with the dog. It was critical that Bridget should eat a candy cane on cue, because. . . well, watch the movie and you’ll see why. I’d practiced with Bridget at home, and we both love candy canes. Every practice she would happily crunch hers. I was confident that the scene would go off without a hitch. However, on that cold night, Bridget turned up her nose at the candy cane.
After a few takes it was obvious that she wasn’t going to eat the candy cane, until by accident Juniper dropped it and it broke into pieces. I then realized that I’d always broken the candy cane in piece, so she could manage to eat them. She could not eat one whole, ha ha. So, the scene went off without a problem after that. She crunched the candy cane, and the line was delivered.
One of my favorite parts is when the actor playing Allen has a hat over his head with eye holes, so his face is hidden as they Elve the Hagbarts.. He wears glasses, so they were put on top of the hat. Because it was so cold, the glasses steamed up, so he couldn’t see, but he just went with it, and delivered his lines, without batting an eye (pun intended).
ME: Is there anything else you’d like people to know about the film?
I’d love for people to watch the movie with their children and grandchildren. There will be a lot of moments that children might ask questions as to why this happened, why the bullies didn’t really get what they deserved in the end, and why they acted the way they did.
There are many teaching moments during the movie. Kids will love the movie because they can relate to the antics of boys, and the magic of Christmas. I hope audiences will enjoy the humor and heart of the film. One cute thing is that it has become my 4-year-old grandson McKay’s favorite movie. He watches it every day. He even quotes lines from it. I’ve always wanted to write a movie where someone quoted my lines.”
This film can be purchased online from Amazon.com, Desert Book, or Seagull books.
I had planned to announce the winner of the Miracle Maker movie today, but we had way too much fun at the book launch last night and I was too tired. So, my procrastination is your gain. You still have one more day to enter. I will post the winner in the morning! Good Luck.
Today is the first edition of TOY STORE TUESDAY!
I LOVE TOYS. I love researching them, buying them, and okay, I’ll confess it- I love playing with them. What I hate is buying a stupid, badly thought out, or cheap toys. I call these toybox fodder, because they end up in the bottom of the toy box, a worthless pile of plastic
Because I run a daycare I basically get paid to play with toys and watch kiddos play with toys. I thought it would be fun to include toy reviews to help you out with your holiday shopping.
For this review, I chose Fisher Price’s Double Poppin’ Dino. I saw this one at Costco, and had to try it out.
To sum up this toy, it’s a cute little dinosaur that plays music and has a little mechanism inside that pumps balls up and down, bouncing them around. It has two levels to put balls on and comes with six different colored balls. They balls also roll out of the dino’s mouth. There is a roller in the front, making it easy for little ones to operate without adult help and a blessed on/off button for those days when crazy kid music needs to be silenced. Fisher price has a few different varieties of these- a blue dinosaur and a hippo, that I know of. I really like the ease to the balls and the two tiers of ball popping.
Sorry the picture is a little blurry – I’m a really lousy photographer. 🙂
COST- $ $ I checked a variety of different places. They first thing you should know about this one is that the price varies A LOT. Anywhere between $17 dollars and some change to around $35.00. (Amazon seems to have the best deal I could find and you don’t even need to leave the house. Whoo hoo.) **It does take 3 C batteries though, so add that to your cart so you don’t forget them.
AGE- This is listed for ages 6-36 months. (I won’t even get started on why I think people should stop referring to ages in months after 1 years old, but that is what it says.) This age limit is accurate, although even older kids will play with it too.
EASE OF ASSEMBLY- You guys, this one is awesome! It takes like three clicks and a screw and you’re golden. Very well thought out plan. Fifteen minutes, tops- but you do have to find a screwdriver. Honestly, that part took me the longest to do.
QUALITY OF MATERIALS- LOVE IT. Solid and sturdy. Great colors and this little guy can take a beating. It need to because this toy will get plenty of action.
OVERALL IMPRESSION AND RATING * * * * *
Five stars!! I love this toy. If you’re purchasing it for a relative I wouldn’t give it to anyone over 2 because it will seem like a baby toy, but I know for a fact that my four- year-old’s will play with it, and even some of my older kids. The two-year-old’s LOVE IT! I has a great song that comes on when a wheel thingy in the front gets rolled and the balls jump around like crazy, leaving them cracking up. They play with this thing for hours.
**The only downside at all is that the balls roll out so easily that they get lost. Best if played on carpet, so they don’t roll so far away. Especially for crawlers.
Thank for taking a look at my first toy review. I love it if you’d leave a comment and let me know if it was helpful for you. Also, you still have time to enter the drawing for the Miracle Maker movie by signing up for the Newsletter. Don’t be afraid. I know we all hesitate to give out our email because we’re drowning is spam, but I promise this one will be painless. They’ll have great info about books and book deals, as well as some inside info, and will only be about once a month.