Friday, December 19, 2014

Friday Fun - Got Some M & Ms?

In revisiting past blogs I found this piece that first appeared in October 2008. Thought you might enjoy the humor as you end the workweek and look ahead to the weekend. This is another one from Tracy Farr, a very funny guy who used to be a regular contributor to Winnsboro Today.com, an online community magazine where I was Managing Editor. Enjoy

 Peanut M & Ms Anonymous

Hello, my name is Tracy, I’m addicted to Peanut M & Ms, but I haven't had any for 13 hours and 22 minutes.

"Hello Tracy, and welcome to the group."

Thanks. To be honest, I was reluctant to come here at first because I didn't actually think I had a problem. I thought I could control my desire to eat Peanut M & Ms by myself, but I was wrong.

"Tell us your story, Tracy. You're among friends."

Well, I can say I'm luckier than most. Some kids are born with the need to eat M & Ms because their mothers ate M & Ms while they were pregnant. Even though the doctors warn and often beg these mothers to stop eating M & Ms during pregnancy, they don't listen. And then they have M & M babies -- newborns just twitching with the need to eat something round and chocolate. Luckily, that was not my case.

For me, my addiction started when I was quite young. I was hooked the first time I saw M & Ms, tore open a package and let them melt in my mouth and not in my hands. Those were just the plain chocolate kind -- the kind kids love -- but as I grew older and my tastes grew more mature, I naturally gravitated to Peanut M & Ms.

The first time I popped a Peanut M & M, my universe just sort of exploded with new possibilities. I could see things more clearly. I could understand things that I never understood before. It was like my senses were attuned to higher and more sensitive levels. And once you pop one, you have to pop another to keep that high going.

It wasn't long before I found myself buying a bag of Peanut M & Ms and eating the entire thing without even realizing it. And I'm not talking about the little $1 bag you get out of a vending machine. I'm talking about the family-size, 6-pound bag that costs almost $12 and should last a lifetime.

It finally hit me that I had a problem when my little girl said she needed new shoes and I told her I didn't have any money, when in fact I did. I was saving that money to score me another bag of M & Ms before the weekend. And that's why I’m here at this meeting.

I’ve tried stopping cold turkey, but it's just too hard. I figured with help, and with belonging to a group of people who have suffered through the same problem and survived, that maybe I, with support, could pick myself up, dust myself off, and start all over again.

But, maybe I should start slowly. Maybe I should only eat a small bag a day and ease off this addiction gradually.

Maybe this was a bad idea.

Is there a vending machine around here?

And can somebody loan me a dollar?

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You can meet Tracy at his website The Farr Place, where you can also find more humor. Be forewarned. He likes to write about goats.

Wednesday, December 17, 2014

Protect the Children

My heart is particularly heavy today due to the horrible massacre of children  in Pakistan. How Taliban terrorists could purposely target children in a school is beyond comprehension. Who can stand behind a gun and look at a child and pull the trigger? The death toll is 141, most of them children, and another 120 were wounded. 

When I went looking for an older post to share today, I found this one that had been written by a former contributor to the online magazine I managed.  Imelda Tatsch is the Executive Director at the Northeast Texas Child Advocacy Center (NETCAC) located in Winnsboro, and her "Caring For Kids" columns   appears in their bi-monthly newsletter. This essay first ran in December 2009, and what a contrast it is to the horror in Pakistan. This is how children should be protected and treasured. 


Now here's Imelda. She also makes the best cookies for my drama camp, so I thought we could all have one while we read. Enjoy...

 

Christmas is HERE! We just finished off the last of the turkey leftovers and here we are just days from the big day….Where time goes I do not know, but it sure seems to be going there faster every year.

This year we have rarely heard any good news on television or read anything hopeful in the newspapers. With all that being said, I would expect very little in the way of help for those in need. This is certainly not the case here in Northeast Texas. At least not that I have seen in recent weeks.

If you are a regular reader of these articles, you know that I work at the Child Advocacy Center. Each year we see several hundred children from the eight counties we serve. The children have possibly suffered either severe physical or sexual abuse, or may have witnessed a violent crime. Abuse is no respecter of age, gender, or social class. Many of our families are put in desperate situations due to the obvious interruptions to life when something like abuse takes place. The entire family is affected.

This can take a toll on the finances of an already struggling family. To ease some of this stress during the Christmas season, we offer our Angel Tree Program to the families of children that have been through the center during the year. Families are given the opportunity to place their children on the angel tree and while many decline the offer, many more feel the need to accept. This offer is not limited to only the child or children that come through the center but for their siblings as well. Our angel tree list includes families of one child to often as many as seven or more. This is where my favorite word for the month comes into play…. GENEROSITY!!!!

In a time when we only hear of the negative economic conditions, we have been extremely blessed by an outpouring of love for these children.

We know that the economy has brought several to the edge of desperation. The need is there and just as the need has risen, so have those with the heart of love. They feel such gratefulness for their own blessings that they have shared with generosity beyond measure. Because of this many children will have something for Christmas this year. Those caring for these children; parents’ grand parents or other extended family members are very grateful. They often tell us that without what they receive from the Angel Tree Program the children would have nothing at all. We are forever grateful to all of you who have opened your hearts to our little angels this year.

I realize this space is allotted to me to write something more specific to parenting or raising children. So, this is my two cents worth of advice for this month! If you are so blessed to have your children with you and your family, though you may struggle at times is functioning and remains “intact” then you are greatly blessed. Share that blessing with others and teach your children to be generous. This does not have to cost you a dime. Be GENEROUS with your time, your words of kindness, and a friendly smile. A few years ago someone started a challenge to counter the reports of “random acts of violence” with “random acts of kindness”.

Maybe we can revive this practice.

If children really are our future, what kind of future do we want? They will only know from what we teach them…Their eyes are always on you, so when you think of what kind of person you want your child to be, look in the mirror, do you see that person? Children learn what they live and as you know they don’t always do what you tell them but they will do what you teach them through your actions.

Monday, December 15, 2014

How do You Like Your Gourd Prepared?

You may have noticed I'm a bit late - okay, a lot late - with my Monday blog post. I went to the memorial service for a good friend this morning and then out to lunch with other friends, and we celebrated the friendships we have and the friendship we just lost. Bittersweet moments. Anyway, I wasn't even going to do a blog today, then I read this from Slim Randles and it made me laugh. I hope it makes you laugh and brightens your day. Enjoy....

We can blame it all on watermelon and pumpkin pie. Both are delicious and American, and both come from gourds. That’s the problem, you see. Cooks all over the world therefore think that other gourds can be made edible, too.

Gourds, for example, like squash.

Squash. One of the English language’s most painful words, along with maim and trauma and rend and okra and Liberace. Why would anyone want to eat something that sounds as though someone sat on it?

The bottom-line truth is, cooks all over the place love a challenge, and they have tried valiantly to turn squash into an edible dish. To do this, they take one tenth of a portion of squash, boil as much of the squashiness as they can out of it, then immerse it in nine-tenths something that tastes good and hope no one will notice. You know, stuff like chile, mutton, edible vegetables, nuclear waste, cottonwood bark and even chocolate. Then, when you can’t taste the squash in it, and most of the slime has settled to the bottom, they smile and say, “How do you like my ‘Squash Canneloni ala Hershey con Brio?”

They even try to fool people who might consider buying squash into thinking it tastes like something else. Something like butter. Or acorns. Or crooked necks. Hey, I’ll take a crooked neck over a squash any day.

Makes you wonder what crime against mankind Mr. Zucchini committed to be forever more squash-damned in the history books.

Let’s face it; squash is an unwanted growth on an otherwise perfectly good vine. It starts with a pretty little blossom that inspires Navajo jewelry and attracts bees. Then it begins its insidious malignancy into something that should probably be surgically removed.

But it’s fall now. Autumn, that time of year when children play in the lazy sunshine and squash vines go belly up. And when we enjoy our pumpkin pie and jack o’lanterns, we’ll smile quietly, knowing we’ll once again be squash free for a few blessed months.
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Brought to you by Saddle Up: A Cowboy Guide to Writing 

Sunday, December 14, 2014

Books to Gift

Instead of a review, I thought I would recommend some books if you have readers on your holiday gift list. These are some of the books I've read this year - or hope to read next year - as well as a couple from writers I've become friends with online.

First on my wish list is After I'm Gone by Laura Lippman. Here is just one of the rave reviews:
“Lippman stretches a richly textured canvas that depicts, with wit and sensitivity, the wounded but tough women Felix left behind. As she traces the matrix of longing, jealousy, and betrayal that led to Julie’s murder, Lippman incisively explores marriage, Jewish family life, class distinctions, and the power and liability of physical beauty, thus creating an involving and elegant novel of the psychological ravages of crime.” —Booklist
 
From Harlan Coben I have two books on my wish list. First is Missing You, which came out last year and I missed, and his new book due out in March, The Stranger. That book is available for pre-order,so if any of my kids are reading this... hint, hint.
"Coben... has written another twisty ripped-from-the-headlines page-turning stand-alone that could be his best yet."  Library Journal (starred review)


My reading tastes vary and often I like to read a mainstream novel. Orphan Train by Christina Baker Kline was a terrific story. I did a short impromptu review last month when I was reading the book because I was so captivated by the story and the writing.

Another novel that I loved was Edward Adrift by Craig Lancaster. That is a sequel to 600 Hours of Edward, and while both books would make a terrific gift, one does not have to read 600 Hours first. I reviewed the book a few weeks ago: 
Craig's first book was one of my favorite all time reads, and I was delighted when I finally made time to read the sequel. Edward is a 42-year-old man with Asperger's Syndrome, who is trying his best to find "normal" in a world that does not conform to this way of thinking and operating. If you've ever wondered what goes on in the mind of someone with Aspergers, Edward can clue you in, and as he reminds everyone, "I'm not stupid, I'm just developmentally challenged."
I would be remiss if I didn't mention the books by Slim Randles, who is a frequent guest here. One of my favorites is Home Country which is a collection of his column of the same name. It has wonderful bits of humor and wisdom.

There are so many other books and authors I could recommend, but I don't want to write an epistle here. But you can check out books by Kathryn Craft, Terry Odell, LJ Sellers, Dennis Lehane, D.D. Ayers, John Sandford, Kent Krueger, and you won't be disappointed.


And of course I should mention a couple of my books. If you were to order the paperbacks or hardbacks for a gift, I would be happy to send a signed bookplate to the recipient. The newest book is Doubletake.  Boxes For Beds was released last year, and the two books in my Seasons Mystery Series, Open Season and Stalking Season came out just before that. There is a new version of my YA novel out in paperback from White Bird Publishing, and Friends Forever would be a nice gift for any girl between the ages of 9 and 13.
 "Friends Forever is a wonderful example of how a story can teach lessons, even change lives. The characters speak realistically and the other parts of teenage life that aren't part of the main story are told with accuracy. I was moved to tears several times, feeling the emotions of the characters, knowing how they felt. This is a must-read for every tween and teen. It is my hope that every young person...and us slightly older people too...can learn something from this wonderful real-life tale." One satisfied reader.

Friday, December 12, 2014

Book Launch - Following His Heart by Donna Fasano

Instead of my usual Friday fare on the blog, today I'm pleased once again to help a fellow author celebrate the launch of a new book. I've known Donna Fasano via social media for some time, and read several of her books. She does tell a good story, and here is her latest, which is the first in a new series. Once I am past the hectic pace of December, I will post a review.

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Following His Heart
by Donna Fasano
Series: Ocean City Boardwalk, #1
Genre: Contemporary Romance
Release Date: TODAY!!!

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Sara Carson is a 30-something widow with a busy life. Two fun-loving best friends, a caring mom who needs her, and a thriving sweet shop. What more could a woman want? But when the ancient plumbing in her shop springs a leak and a gorgeous, dark-eyed stranger rushes to her rescue, hilarity unfolds—and Sara quickly sees exactly what she’s been missing.

Something most peculiar draws Landon Richards to Ocean City, Maryland—and to the lovely Sara. This woman touches his heart like no other, and the two of them explore the heady attraction that pulses between them. But haunting dreams have a way of encroaching on reality, and the strange phenomenon that brings these two together will also threaten to tear them apart.

This is the first book in the Ocean City Boardwalk Series, where life for three enterprising women, Sara, Heather, and Cathy, isn't just fun in the sun—love is waiting on those sandy shores!



USA Today Bestselling Author Donna Fasano has written over 30 romance and women's fiction books that have sold 4 million copies worldwide. Her books have won numerous awards and have been published in nearly 2 dozen languages.
 
Add the Book to Your Goodreads Shelf:  

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Wednesday, December 10, 2014

Meet Todd M. Thiede


Please welcome Todd M. Thiede as today's Wednesday's Guest. Todd has written several mystery novels that feature Detective Max Larkin, and they have all been well-received by critics and readers. I'm reading Miss Me? now, and so far it's a good read.I just made some chocolate chip cookies, so grab one to go with your beverage of choice, and enjoy the interview.


Thanks for coming by Todd and answering the questions.

How long have you been writing?
I’ve been writing about four years. Time Killer took me almost three years to finish but Lies to Die For only took about six months. My newest book, Miss Me?, took about six months as well and was my most challenging yet. It took me away from the serial killer's that I had been writing about in my previous  books.
 

What inspires you to write?
I had a few people read my book before publishing and they really liked it. Since Time Killer has been out I have gotten a lot of feedback about how my stories impact people and their lives.  I love to hear that stuff and I truly enjoy writing now.

Describe your writing process. Do you outline, create rough synopses, do you do detailed biographies of the characters before starting to write?
I actually don’t do any of above. I start with the idea for the first chapter only. Once I get that chapter down I just keep going and the stories start to take on a life of their own. I try to put myself into each scene and each character’s body. What they see I see. What they feel I feel. That’s how my stories go from just a small idea into a 200+ page book.
 (That's the way I write, too, although I usually have the ending in mind as well as the opening.)

How did you decide on the cover and did you design it or did you use a professional
designer? 
I designed all my covers. Then once I had the idea down I went to a professional cover designer. With Lies to Die For and Miss Me? I bought the rights to those pictures.  The very first time I saw that picture of the knife dripping blood onto a white rose it screamed at me that it was the perfect cover for the book. The picture I used for Miss Me?, was so unique I wound up rewriting most of the story to connect with that picture.
  
Do you see your book becoming a movie or TV show?
I have been approached by a production company in Hollywood about Time Killer already. It may take some time and some development but I could easily see one or all of them being on the screen (big or small) someday.

 Have you always been fascinated with the strange and macabre or is that just your preferred writing genre?
The first thing that everyone tells me is that I’m sick but they like it. I just have a very vivid imagination and want people to see what it’s like being inside my head. Some people, including my wife, don't want to know what's in my mind sometimes but that's ok too.

What types of books do you read for entertainment?
I don’t have a lot of time to read anymore but the last book set that I read was the Hunger Games trilogy. I liked that a lot. When I did read I had no preference. I read all kinds, but if I have to choose one genre it would be mystery. I just have a mind for it. My wife gets upset with me when we watch shows like CSI because I usually solve the case early.

(I can't help but be critical of shows that don't get things right. Like DNA test results that come back in hours.)

Tell us something about yourself that you haven’t shared with any other interviewer.
The first chapter of Time Killer is actually about a dream I had on my honeymoon nearly 4 years ago. 

(So who, besides me, is going to go buy that book to see what the dream was? LOL)

 What is the creepiest or scariest book that you have read or movie that you have seen? 
Nothing really creeps me out anymore. I love a great horror book or movie but now a days everything is toned down for the general public. I would rather watch or read all the gory details.

 What thrilled you in your books?
The most exciting part for me in my books is how the perpetrator chooses the victims. I want them all tied in together. It may seem random but there's a rhyme and reason, I promise.

 What are you working on now?
I’m working on the first chapter of the next Max Larkin detective book.  This one is tentatively called "REVENGE, is a dish best served, DEAD!"
 
 Will you share with readers your top authors and your top five movies?
Lee Child, James Patterson, J.K Rowling, Suzanne Collins And Stephen King.

Die Hard, The Rock, Halloween (the original), Halloween (the Rob Zombie remake), Fast and Furious.
 
 Describe the scariest place you could find yourself in and how would you attempt to escape?
The scariest place I could think of being is buried alive.  There is only one way out of that and that’s to dig your way out. Kind of like life. Every time you do something wrong the only way to get out of it is to work hard and dig your way out. 
 
Do you have a favorite quote?
 One of my own: "If life isn’t fun you aren’t doing it right.”

Thank you for participating.
I truly appreciate it!
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ABOUT THE AUTHOR
Perhaps you wouldn’t characterize the Finance Manager of your local automobile dealership as an Amazon best-selling author—until you get to know Todd Thiede. He has worked for the past decade at Elmhurst Toyota, but Thiede is in the driver’s seat as the writer of a murder mystery series featuring    Detective, Max Larkin. Time Killer, which Kirkus Reviews deemed “a fast-paced thriller” that will “keep crime and thriller fans wrapped up in its twisting plot, fast pace and memorable detective,” and Lies To Die For (which reached No. 1 on Amazon in the “Murder Mystery and Serial Killer” categories) are available via Amazon Kindle. His newest book Miss Me?,was just released.  Go to www.toddthiede.com for more info on Todd and his books. You can find all his titles on his Amazon Author Page.

Monday, December 08, 2014

Ghosts of Blogs Past

Since it is getting closer and closer to Christmas, and I am busier than a one-armed paper hanger (although I've never understood that old adage) I thought I would take a cue from The Blood Red Pencil blog and share some of my older posts that were most popular. Off and on I have had several regular contributors here. These are writers who used to contribute to the online community magazine where I was the Managing Editor. Tracy Farr was one of those writers, and he gave me permission to share some of his fun here on this blog. 
This piece ran on December 12, 2008
It's more than just a haircut

Our country is going through some dire times. Banks are collapsing, the American auto industry is hitting speed bumps, and people are just not buying executive jets like they used to. So, it is up to us -- you and me -- to get this economy going again, and that's why I did my patriotic duty this weekend and got a haircut.

Tim is my barber. He's been cutting my hair for almost 15 years. He knows exactly how I like it cut without me having to tell him. And if Tim's barbershop goes under, so goes the country.

It's a known fact that my money ($10 plus a dollar tip) helps to keep Tim and many others in business. 
When I pay Tim for my haircut, he spends it on things like rent, shaving cream and magazine subscriptions. His landlord is happy to be able to keep landlording, the shaving cream company is happy to continue delivering Tim's favorite shaving cream, and the magazines are happy because they are assured they can print next month's edition.

Tim takes a portion of that $10 as his salary and spends it at Wal-Mart, thus guaranteeing job security for the Associates. The Associates use their 10 percent discount to buy T-shirts and Jessica Simpson posters, thus guaranteeing that the T-shirt companies and Jessica Simpson stay in business. The T-shirt companies and Jessica Simpson are so happy to be making money that they decide to work together and make a Jessica Simpson T-shirt, which the Wal-Mart Associates buy in bulk and wear on their days off.

Since Jessica reaps the benefits of being worn all over the place, she takes her cut of the profits and produces a Christmas special, thus employing a bunch of Hollywood types who know just how to make a cheesy TV program but wouldn't be caught dead wearing a Jessica Simpson T-shirt. These Hollywood types produce "The Jessica Simpson Wish You Were Here Holiday Christmas Sing-A-Long Special" and make millions on advertising by airing it on prime time TV, thus causing simple folk like you and me to say, “How can they get away with putting this goat poop on television?” at which time we turn off the TV and get down on the floor to play games with our kids.

Because of my little $10 haircut, hundreds of people are employed, millions of dollars exchange hands, thousands of bottles of hand sanitizer are emptied trying to keep all those germs at bay, families all over this great nation are doing something family-ish, and I feel like I've done my part in bringing this country back from the brink of disaster.

So what are you waiting for? Our country needs us! Go get a haircut, and together we shall save the world!
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You can meet Tracy at his website The Farr Place, where you can also find more humor. Be forewarned. He likes to write about goats.