Read to Write

Every November thousands of people worldwide sit down at their computers, typewriters, or blank notebooks and take up the challenge to write a novel in a month: 50,000 words in 30 days. Affectionately known as NaNoWriMo, the challenge attracts everyone from the youngest beginners to seasoned authors and, ten years after first hearing about the challenge, I finally participated as well. Since one of the best ways to become a better writer is to read more, here are a couple of titles for your consideration: one that might spark some inspiration to write from your own experiences, and another one to help you get started with your writing.

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Bless Her Heart” by Sally Kilpatrick

When Posey married Chad Love, she told herself she was doing it for the sake of stability; once they were married, they would have children, a beautiful house, and a perfect life, so Posey devoted herself to being the perfect wife. When her husband left the Baptist church to form his own ministry, she followed; when he took control of their finances, she believed him when he said it was to take the worry away from her. When he appointed himself head of the household and began making all their decisions, she accepted it as the price of stability.

But when Chad suddenly runs off with another woman, sells their house out from under Posey, and makes off with all their money, Posey is cast adrift, so she returns home to her grandmother, her mother, and her two teenaged siblings; of course, after cutting ties with them nearly 10 years ago, their reunion is somewhat strained. When her sister remarks that being a model Southern wife did not work out for Posey, Posey resolves to try something new: namely, living exactly how she wants, ignoring all the rules, and doing exactly the opposite of everything she has ever done. What starts as an experiment grows into something much larger than herself, touching the lives of each of her family members; and though each of them have to confront some painful truths they find that happiness sometimes comes from breaking all the rules.

“Bless Her Heart”, while short, is a deceptively complex story; touching on spousal abuse, faith, and troubled family relationships, it doesn’t promise a no-strings-attached happy ending. The characters each have their own unique flaws and can behave rashly out of anger when things begin to go wrong; their unwillingness to be honest with each other spurs conflict, but by the book’s end, they begin making amends and learn to be more understanding with each other. Judging others less harshly is a major theme throughout the book, and one that all of them take to heart. Ultimately, “Bless Her Heart” is a simple reminder that the happiness we find isn’t always the happiness we were looking for.

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Story Sparks” by Denise Jaden

“Story Sparks” is an excellent primer for writers who either lack an idea for their book or the knowledge of how to start writing their book. Short and concise, it offers succinct solutions to a number of common problems writers experience. Jaden’s S.P.A.R.K. method serves as a great starting point for those new to writing; it encapsulates the bare bones of story development like seeking an idea, finding and utilizing allies to develop and refine your ideas, and maintaining momentum in developing your ideas.

Jaden spends a majority of time focusing on how to designing an idea, in both conceiving and refining. She details a number of methods that writers can use to spark an idea, which is infinitely more productive than waiting for inspiration to strike. These suggestions are especially useful for beginning writers who may have limited experience with actively searching for an idea and intentionally developing it. Jaden also sets out a number of good habits for writers to adopt, from the obvious, like getting organized and being positive, to more inventive habits, like getting active and changing your daily routine on a regular basis. The appendices are especially helpful, containing lists of potential character names, settings, motivations, obstacles, and themes; they’re a good resource for writers to refer back to for inspiration, or if they’ve reached a dead-end in their story.

Overall, “Story Sparks” is a great resource for new authors, addressing common issues writers can encounter and gently coaching beginners through the first few stages of story development. Its short length makes it an appealingly concise guide for writers who are eager to get to writing and its brevity makes it a good resource for those looking for a reference text that is easy to refer back to quickly.

If you like these books and would like to find similar titles, check out NoveList Plus; this online resource, available through the Mid-Continent Public Library, will help you find fiction books that appeal to your personal reading style. For non-fiction titles, check out Books & Authors.


Elizabeth Reinhardt is the Readers Advisor and Book Group Coordinator at the Parkville Branch of the Mid-Continent Public Library. She holds a Bachelor of English and Master of Library Science from Emporia State University.

 

Tackling Mealtime Madness

People tend to define themselves as either “morning people” or “night owls.” As for me, I have created a new category; I’m somewhat of a mid-morning person. My actual morning begins something like this. . . My alarm clock begins its unnerving beep far earlier than I would prefer. I then find my disoriented self pulling out of a deep sleep, trying to make sense of what day it is and what I have to do next. My brain synapses begin moving at a snail’s pace as I drag myself up and down the stairs a multitude of times, recognizing that the lazy days of summer are over and the hustle bustle of the school year has just commenced.

Finally, I load my first child in the car and head for the bus. My daughter hops out, and I see the friendly crowd of parents chatting at the bus stop. Half of them are dressed for work and the other half decked out in their gym attire. I wave from the inside of my car somewhat slumped down. I then think to myself, “YES, it’s me again.” “YES, I’m in my pajamas at the bus stop, AGAIN.” “NO, I’m not getting out of the car to go socialize as I probably should, and NO I’m not awake enough to go work out.” The bus pulls up and I breathe a sigh of relief as I realize the first awkward bus drop off is over!

I then repeat the process two more times. However, by the second and third run to the bus stop, the sun starts to shine. Like clockwork, I slip on my sunglasses (as if they magically camouflage my extremely disheveled appearance), and hope I can successfully get my kids off to school without being scrutinized too harshly for my poor early-morning social skills. My zombie-like state progressively improves and I manage to shower. By then it is about 10:00 AM and I finally feel ready to hit the ground running…

I have the pleasure of working from home, which is conducive to my very odd schedule. I work hard checking off the boxes on my “To Do” list throughout the day. Between my work responsibilities, and Mount Vesuvius (the name I have bestowed upon my laundry room), I remain preoccupied until about 3:00 PM. It is at this time that my kids begin to file in from school and I ask myself, “Where did the day go?” Once I get a school day report from each child, it hits me -- I have no idea what to make for dinner! With three hungry kids in the house reciting a chorus of, “I’m starving,” and What are we having for dinner?” I realize, I really must do something to feed them.

Over the years, dinner has constantly posed a problem for me as I want to feed my family healthy meals, yet often lack the time to do so. Juggling homework help and my evening occupation as the family chauffeur makes healthy weeknight meals seem virtually impossible. Because of this, I have developed a few strategies for weeknight meal success.

First – my family does not like to eat leftovers! So, to avoid the next-day-leftover issue, I make recipes that can be doubled, and freeze the leftovers in portioned-sized freezer ziplock bags. I have found that if they are frozen flat, I can then stack the leftovers in the freezer, maximizing my freezer space. It is so handy to pull out a freezer meal on nights that there is simply just no time to cook.

Additionally, I find that my food processor is my ally in taming the madness of mealtime. I use it to chop up multiple onions, celery, and other veggies. I then portion them out in quart-size freezer bags, so that on nights when I don’t feel like crying over dinner, I can just toss in my frozen onions instead of fresh, and expedite the process. I try to plan meals that use similar ingredients a few nights in a row as well. I have also discovered that Costco sells packages of their rotisserie chicken breast. I buy it, separate it and freeze it, so it’s ready to be dumped into whichever meal I choose.

Because I realize that mealtime can be madness, I’m also sharing a few of my favorite ridiculously quick and simple recipes, and asked all of the super busy ladies here at the The Real KC to share a few of their time-saving meals as well. I hope these recipes become a lifeline for you. Bon Appe`tit!

Lazy Lady Chicken and Veggie Soup

What You Need:

1 white onion chopped

2 cups of pre-cut packaged carrots

2 celery stocks chopped with celery leaves

1 bag of cabbage (coleslaw mix)

2 stocks of celery chopped with celery leaves

1 garlic clove minced

Kosher salt and pepper to taste

2 quarts of low sodium chicken broth

2 tsp of “Better than Bouillon”

2 cups of water

1/4 cup of Italian flat leaf parsley

Fully Cooked Rotisserie Chicken Breast from Costco

Directions:

Saute veggies in olive oil in order, with salt and pepper adding garlic just before you pour in the chicken broth, bouillon, and water. Add flat leaf parsley and, when veggies are tender, add the chicken and serve.

Crowd Pleaser Shredded Beef Sandwiches

This one is a LIFESAVER! It is crazy easy, and is my most requested recipe! If we have leftover meat, I mix it with some taco seasoning the next night; fill taco shells with meat and top with homemade salsa.

What You Need:

1 large beef sirloin tip roast ( I strongly recommend you use this cut)

2 packages of dry Italian seasoning mix

1 cup of water

1 package of sliced Swiss cheese

chopped or sliced tomatoes

1 bag of dinner rolls ( I like the huge bags you can get at COSTCO)

Directions:

Place roast in the crock pot. Dissolve one packet of dry Italian seasoning, mix in one cup of water, pour over roast. Cook on low for 8 hours or overnight. Shred the beef and add the last packet of seasoning (do not add any more water). Allow to cook for one more hour and serve on dinner rolls topped with tomatoes and swiss cheese.

Pork Chops with Chicken and Wild Rice Soup

What You Need:

Thin sliced boneless pork chops

1 can Progresso chicken and wild rice soup

pepper/salt to taste

Mashed Potatoes

Directions:

Brown pork chops on each side and season with pepper. Pour can of soup over top, and cover. Simmer on medium-low heat until chops are cooked through. Serve on top of mashed potatoes with steamed broccoli.

 

The Book Shelf: Craftiness

The Book Shelf: Craftiness

Whether your interest in craftiness extends to making projects at home with the kids or reading about cunning detectives, you will find something of interest in one of these books. Readers can check out some fabulous crafts that can be completed in a few minutes or be transported to another time with a great historical mystery. Now that fall is here and life is in full swing, these books will provide you with some reprieve from the daily grind.

Inspiration from the Golden Coast

Inspiration from the Golden Coast

Moderate climate, salty sea air, and charming beach towns all provide a convincing argument for vacationers to flock to the beaches of sunny Southern California. Although I have fallen in love with Kansas City, I still feel a tug at my heartstrings for California sunshine. You can take a girl out of California, but you just can’t take California out of the girl! Because of this, it's always an exhilarating treat for me to go back to visit my family and the place that I called home for so many years.

Yes, You CAN Make a Difference: Helping Others is Always in Style

Yes, You CAN Make a Difference: Helping Others is Always in Style

It can be overwhelming sometimes. We turn on the news and, within minutes, become saturated with stories that make our hearts heavy and faith in humanity weaken. We see images of those in need and struggle to believe that any effort we make can really ever truly make a difference. We appreciate our lives, yet feel guilty that we have so much. We just wish that we could give the world a hug sometimes.

Put On Your Mom Genes

Put On Your Mom Genes

Do you feel like you have to go to a thousand stores to find the perfect “jeans” without taking into consideration whether they actually fit your “genes”? What we generally fail to recognize is that thousands of years of genetic makeup cannot be altered by “perfect” eating, supplement-taking or hours spent exercising so you can fit into your ideal “jean.” 

e.l.f. - An Affordable Makeup Option Worth Considering

e.l.f. - An Affordable Makeup Option Worth Considering

The amount of money spent on beauty products continues to rise. Many women feel that beauty products are a need rather than a want. And, for whatever reason, we often believe that expensive means better. That is false. There are products that I get at my local Walmart or Target that are just as effective as those that I purchase from Dillard’s or Nordstrom.