Monday, August 16, 2021

A Link to the List of All of My Books

 I'll try to keep this list updated. For now, I'm leaving it at (or at least near) the top of the blog.  Myrna Mackenzie - print and ebook list

Sunday, August 15, 2021

A Tribute to Online Recipe Websites

Remember when we used to buy cookbooks? Maybe you still do, but I've culled the ones I own and narrowed my collection down to one or two, and now I spend (waste?) a lot of time looking up recipes on the internet. I have a lot of printed out recipes, but the nice thing is that if something doesn't work out that great, I just throw the printout in the recycling bin. If it works, I put a star at the top and put it in my pocket folder of favorites. I especially like the websites that do the math for me when I want to reduce the number of people a recipe feeds (and sure, I could do it myself--and I have/do--buy sometimes I'm just lazy).

Sometimes I just like to look at dessert blogs, because so many of them are downright gorgeous. Here's one I once had a couple of posts about. The author stopped posting a few years ago, but there are still a lot of super pretty dessert recipes there. I'm using this image even though I used it here long ago, because I asked and received permission from the owner of the raspberri cupcakes website (and also because it's just such a beautiful cake). I highly recommend roaming around the website. So many gorgeous desserts!

Another choice if you're looking for pretty desserts to just window shop for or to actually bake is The Cake Blog. Also Liv for Cake, Sally's Baking Addiction or Chelsweets, among others.

And of course there's always YouTube for tons of recipes and cooking videos I could watch all day. Like this one for a microwave brownie.
Or this one with all kinds of intriguing and decorative desserts (not sure all the instructions are there, but it's fun to watch).
Of course, some days (most days) I have to actually get to business and find recipes to cook for dinner, and I often turn to the internet for those recipes, too. I have a folder full of great ones I've found and tested, but that's a story for another day. Enjoy looking at (and making?) desserts!



Friday, August 13, 2021

Notes from a Lazy Baker

I've never been much of a baker. For one thing, it takes time I'd rather devote to other things. Also...I'm just not that good at it. Plus, I definitely have a sweet tooth, so I'm not one of those people who can bake a chocolate cake and then not eat it, so it usually seems best to simply stay away from cake. Even when my children were growing up, I didn't bake all that much, even though I sometimes felt that I should be "that mom," the one who did it all. Instead, we bonded over things other than chocolate cake. (Have I mentioned just how much I love chocolate cake)?

But during the past year and a half (or so), I've had to become the baker. I'm not the only one in the house with a sweet tooth, and I haven't wanted to visit crowded bakeries, so I came up with a simple plan for a lazy baker. Create baked goods that don't take much effort.

Image by congerdesign from Pixabay 

One of my favorite baked items is a pie that even someone who doesn't like making pie crust can manage. Now I could just buy premade pie crusts, but I didn't want to spend the money, so I cheated a bit. I use this super easy, can't fail, you-can-make-it-in-minutes and not even get your hands dirty oil-based pie crust for the bottom. Seriously, only four ingredients, and since it's oil-based, there's no cutting in of butter. You mix it up in a couple of minutes, roll it out between two pieces of waxed paper, peel one off and then, placing the pie pan upside down over the crust, plop it in the pan and then peel the other piece of waxed paper off. Voila! Then I  use a refrigerated store-bought crust for the lattice top (because the oil-based one is too difficult to cut in strips). Toss in a can or two of filling (before the top crust, of course) and in short order, we have pie. Easy as...well, you know, and I get two pies out of one box of refrigerated pie crusts. Here's the link to the pie recipe. Obviously, I halve it for my purposes.


Another favorite easy-to-make is blueberry bread. This recipe comes together quickly. Other than rinsing, drying and flouring (lightly) the blueberries, it's pretty much a "throw everything in a bowl, mix, put in a pan and bake" recipe. (By the way, the images on this page are not of my results. Nor are they from the recipe's page).
Here's the link to the easy blueberry bread recipe (I love the fact that there are so many blueberries in this quick-bread).


When I make brownies, I use a boxed mix and then I substitute melted butter for the oil and milk for the water. It just makes them taste a bit more homemade, but doesn't really add any time or effort to the baking.

And last of all, I have a chocolate cake recipe that I've been making for  years. I'd love to credit the creator, but seriously, I pulled it from a local newspaper clipping over 40 years ago, and I have no idea where it came from. All I know is that it's easy. Just toss a bunch of things together, put it in a pan and then sprinkle nuts, chocolate chips and a little sugar on top. Easy, not overly sweet and it satisfies the chocolate lovers around here. Here's the link (that's actually me. I posted this online on the Chickens in the Road website years ago and then forgot about it. There are other, similar recipes online, but the topping amounts are slightly different, so I'll stick with the old tried and true).

And there you go. I have other recipes, but none as easy as these. When I'm in a rush, these are my go-to sweets. They go great with coffee or tea and a good book.

Now, I'm off to pull an apple pie from the oven. Have a great day!

Happy baking and reading!





Wednesday, July 21, 2021

Feedburner by Email Going Away

 I don't know how many people still receive emails when I post something new, but I've received a notice that in August, that service will be disappearing. Just so you know. My thanks to those of you who have followed this blog in that manner.

Saturday, June 5, 2021

If I Can Grow Dahlias, You Can Grow Dahlias

 I think I've posted before about my brown thumb, probably several times. Despite having parents who lived on farms, I didn't have the talent (or maybe the inclination) for growing things. And though I do manage to grow a few things (shasta daisies, larkspur, lily of the valley and some annual flowers that someone else started), that's because those are pretty much idiot-proof. Mostly, though, I struggle just to keep everything alive. I once managed to kill a snake plant, one of the "unkillables." I've planted marigolds, another easy one, only to wake up and find that something had eaten them to the ground. I struggled (and failed) to get pink cosmos to grow. Rabbits ate my Knockout roses. Deer ate my turtleheads, reputed to be deer resistant. I've lost all of my columbine flowers, and I once had some especially gorgeous hybrids. It's so sad, but they're all gone, victims of garden thieves and my inept gardening.

And yet I've discovered that I can grow dahlias and have done so twice. This thrills me, not just because of my success, but because they're very full, gorgeous and colorful. They're total show-offs in the garden. In short, dahlias look like something that would be difficult to grow but aren't.
I grew them for two years, then decided that I was tired of waiting for them (around here, they don't bloom until mid or late July). So for the next two years, no dahlias. And I missed them. Other flowers were nice, but so tame in comparison. So this year I'm back at it. No flowers yet, of course, but I have a nice batch of plants growing and (hopefully) getting ready to bloom in another month or so.
I won't lie. When you're first starting, dahlias are an investment. They grow from tubers (like weird, oddly-shaped potatoes, with eyes and lots of tubery parts), and they're a bit pricey. I've read, however, that if you don't live in a warmer climate where you can leave them in the ground all year (I don't), you can dig them up, clean them off and overwinter them with a little care. And because they kind of multiply underground, you'll end up with more tubers than when you first began. I'm going to try that this year. There are numerous sets of instructions online. Some people store them in peat moss, vermiculite or sawdust (although I've heard that sawdust isn't best for the tubers). I'm going to go with what seems to be the easiest route for me, the plastic wrap method. We'll see how that works out. Here are two links outlining the method.


And just for good measure, one more link outlining a dry-storage method:

Oddly, my biggest concern isn't whether I can overwinter the tubers. It's that doing so means I might not have room to experiment by buying new varieties and colors. I don't have much room, at least not in the sunnier parts of my yard. With a huge maple tree and the shade cast from my house, my garage and the neighbors' garages, there isn't much sunny space at all. My dahlias all border a strip between the driveway and a hedge of lilac bushes, and they're tall plants that need some room, so we'll see how that works. I'm experimenting this year by planting some shorter dahlias in pots, and they've started well, but it's too soon to tell how that will work. 

Here are some of the ones I've planted this  year and am eagerly awaiting.


If you've had luck overwintering dahlias or have your own favorite flower photos or stories you'd like to share, please chime in below.

Happy reading (and gardening)!










Tuesday, March 2, 2021

Amazon Search Results Tip

I don't know about everyone else, but sometimes when I'm looking for an item (in the example below, an ebook) on Amazon, I'll get 400 pages of results. That's a lot. And if I want to sort those results from say Priced low to high, but concentrate on books priced at 99 cents or $1.99, I don't want to have to keep clicking until I'm past all the free ones. (Note: there's a reason for that. I have a family member who is a voracious reader. I like to give her lots of books, some more expensive ones, but also some less expensive so that I can give her more to read. But you can't gift free books on Amazon. To gift something it has to have a price). 


So...how do you skip to pages farther along in the search without endless clicking? Here's a simple way to do it. First, click to page 2. That brings up the number 2 in the URL.

https://smile.amazon.com/s?k=Contemporary+Romance&i=digital-text&rh=n%3A154606011&s=price-asc-rank&page=2&qid=1614702458&ref=sr_pg_2

If you want to go to page 24, for example, simply change the number 2 to 24 (or whatever page you wish to access quickly). And...voila! You're there.

https://smile.amazon.com/s?k=Contemporary+Romance&i=digital-text&rh=n%3A154606011&s=price-asc-rank&page=24&qid=1614702458&ref=sr_pg_24

Happy Reading!





Friday, February 12, 2021

Animation Times Two

Like so many people, I've always loved Disney's animated movies and I own a number of them (used to own more, but they were all VCR tapes, so--sob--those are gone). 


And before the days of CGI, animation was (of course) time consuming and expensive. Small wonder, I suppose, that Disney sometimes reused/recycled scenes from a movie and used the revamped scene in another movie. Here's one example:

There are others available on YouTube.

Not exactly surprising (and I'm certainly not criticizing). Just interesting.

Have a great day! I hope you're having a lovely and warm day. (It's pretty cold in the Chicago area).

Best Wishes and Happy Reading!






Wednesday, December 9, 2020

It's Present Wrapping Time

This year we're all apart, living in our own little bubbles, but the holidays will arrive whether we're together or not, and many of us will be sending gifts to loved ones who live far away (or even just across town). In some cases, we'll order a gift, it will be delivered by a service and we'll never actually even see what we've sent. But in other cases, we'll wrap presents, box them up and send them on their way. 

Because this year is so stressful, I'm hoping to make that gift wrapping a bit less crazy-making. Many people are short on cash, so spending money on things like wrapping paper is out of the question. Here then are some ideas to make things a bit easier and--in some cases--more economical. Some of these are tried and true things we've all heard of. A few might be new to some of you. At any rate, I've tried to amass a brief collection as a starting place. (For fun, I've added an intriguing gift-wrapping video at the bottom. Even if you're a gift wrapping gold medalist, scroll down. You might enjoy watching it). 

The Wrapping Paper Itself

If you're short on money, are running out of paper and don't want to venture into a crowded store just for paper, or if you're just looking for ways to get out of the wrapping paper rut, here are some suggestions for alternatives.

Road map

Road Maps - Most of us have some. Many may be out of date or not in the best condition or maybe you just don't use paper maps anymore. They make colorful wrapping paper. Tape small construction paper flags to the packages to serve as gift tags.

Fabric Scraps or Scarves - These are often colorful and, even better, reusable.

Newspaper or paper bags - You can dress these up with stamps or stickers, and the white lunch bags make an especially pristine surface for whatever types of decorations you want to apply (sequins, ribbon, marker, crayons, stick-on letters, clip art images you've printed from the internet and so forth).

Large envelopes, especially used ones - decorate them with ribbons, stickers or last year's Christmas cards. If the envelope has been used and has address information on it, place a picture from a magazine, the internet or even an old calendar over the address/postage sections and everyone can feel a bit better about helping to save the planet by reusing something that would have otherwise already ended up in the trash.

Used printer paper, card stock or used pocket folders - double up the sheets to strengthen them and place the unused sides outward, use a hole punch to make holes around three sides, string the sheets together with curly ribbon, yarn or twine, decorate the plain outside (see suggestions above), place a small gift in the sleeve, fold the open side over and tape shut. Again, an aid to the planet as well as a clever Christmas wrapping.

Scraps of Extra Wallpaper - When I was teaching, I used to sometimes use wallpaper remnants as bulletin board backing. It's a bit stiff as a wrapping paper alternative, but still malleable enough to do the job. 

Leftover shelf paper (see wallpaper above)

Reusable Grocery Bags (the kind made of non-woven fabric) - When reusable grocery bags first became a thing, it seemed as if everyone was giving out those non-woven fabric bags. Some of them have either become too worn to hold anything heavy or I just have too many, especially since I've switched to a different type of reusable bag. On the other hand, they make wrapping very easy, since they're soft and usually large enough to hold a decent sized gift. Also, if there's writing on the bag, just cover it up with a picture, a bow or a (very large) gift tag.

Ribbons and Bows

Ribbon


I confess that I don't use much ribbon, but there are lots of choices if you want to go that route but don't want to invest in actual ribbon.

Yarn or twine

Fabric cut in strips - no need to stitch the edges unless you want to. This is a great way to reuse older clothing that is no longer being worn or to use up fabric scraps from other projects.

Draw a ribbon directly on the gift if you're using plain paper

Cut strips of paper from colorful magazines and glue them on

An artificial flower for a bow (if you have any)

A pine cone instead of a bow

Any small toy or figure as a replacement for a bow

Pendant

A bit of old costume jewelry can add a festive touch.

A Christmas ornament can be both a bow and a gift.

Gift Tags

Gift Tags



The sky is the limit here. There are so many ways to approach this. When I run out of store-bought Christmas tags, I tend to just pick up the nearest bit of scratch paper, but there are many routes to take.

A photo of the person the gift is for or a digital printout of a photo

A personal note or a poem

A luggage tag for someone who travels (or even someone who doesn't)

Stick on letters

Punch out paper dots with a hole punch and glue them on the package in the shape of a name.

Cut out paper snowflakes and write directly on them. It's a tag and a bow alternative all in one.

Cut out a shape from a too-small to use bit of wrapping paper and glue it to a bit of white paper or a 3x5 card (my personal favorite since I have a lot of those).

A standard name tag or stick-on file label if you happen to have some of those lying around. You can always dress these up with markers or other add-ons.

Create a fake glue-on or tape-on ribbon out of tape or white paper and write directly on it.

Cut-outs from old Christmas cards (the old stand-by) 

In a pinch, just use white paper. If that's not festive enough, use colored ink and your best handwriting. You can even tape a wrapped peppermint or candy cane to the paper to make it look a bit more seasonal. Or, if you're even remotely artistic, draw a bell or an ornament on the paper. 

And if you're just looking for some clever gift wrapping ideas, this video was fun to watch.  


No matter how you wrap those gifts, enjoy the holiday season! Put on some Christmas music, make a cup of tea (or hot chocolate or coffee), munch on a peppermint and have fun with it.

Best Wishes,



Friday, November 20, 2020

My Continuing Journey into Cutting Back on My Paper Usage

I'm not going to lie here. I've used a lot of paper in my lifetime. I'm a visual/tactile learner, and as an author, that has proven to be a hindrance to saving paper.. Limited to the computer, I can easily miss mistakes, so I need that hard copy to edit from. I finally managed to cut back on the number of drafts I needed to print out (one for my own edits, one for the initial editor's edit that was sent to me and one for the final proof when I had to check for typesetter's errors), but that was still a lot of pages and a lot of paper. These days when I'm reediting/republishing my older books, I limit myself to one printout. And, as noted in prior posts, I try to reuse that paper to make note paper (cut a bunch of sheets in fours and scribble on the back). We have these scruffy little notepads scattered throughout the house.

I read mostly (not all, by any means) ebooks, so that saves a few trees (I hope).

But in the house, I was still using a lot of paper napkins and paper towels. Recently, COVID shortages and my own conscience convinced me that it was time to try to cut back on that kind of usage. I opened up the chest where I keep my tablecloths (not sure why I have so many since I only use them when we have big gatherings) and found a ton of cloth napkins I had accumulated over the years. I probably don't use more than a dozen at a pop and not more than two or three times a year. It seemed foolish to just keep storing them and buying paper napkins. So, I dug them all out and we are now using cloth napkins all the time (except for those days when I'm serving something that is really difficult to wash out of cloth, in which case I  usually peel off a couple of paper towels and use those). We use them more than once. With refolding, one napkin can be used for several meals unless those meals are really messy. I keep a dishpan of soapy water in my laundry tubs and toss the used ones in there until I have enough to combine with some other items to make up a load of laundry.

As for the paper towels, I'm in the process of cutting back on my use of those, too. There's apparently an entire movement I never even noticed (the unpaper towel movement). People make (or buy) cloth wipes that are usually made of flannel or bird's eye cotton and store them in various ways, either rolling them up on a tube or a paper towel holder or folding them and keeping them in a small box or a basket on the counter. I originally thought I would just cut up some old towels, double zigzag the edges, and that would do the trick. I did this, and they turned out all right (easy and I was able to use up some old odd colors of thread I didn't have a use for anymore). They're not even remotely pretty, but they might eventually work. Unfortunately, I didn't zigzag close enough to the edge, so there was a lot of fraying, and after washing, a lot of loose strings. We'll see if that fraying/shedding eventually becomes less prevalent.



If I had more washcloths lying about, I would simply use those, but I don't. I could have bought a yard of flannel and zigzagged the edges (what many people do), but after my towel experiment, I wanted a break from sewing. I did order a few bird's eye cotton unpaper towels (seconds, to save money) from Etsy, and there are a lot of choices on there if one wants to purchase cloth substitutes for paper towels. Here are some examples.




My next step is to find/make a small box to store the paper towel substitutes in (the napkins fit into a kitchen cabinet, but they took up the last of my cabinet/drawer space, so no room for my paper towel substitutes). I'm sure I'll still use paper towels for some things (soaking up extra cooking oil, for example), but I hope to significantly cut back on my use of them. 

Who knows? If I get really inspired, I might start using cloth handkerchiefs again.

We've all (unfortunately) had to make negative changes in our lives because of the virus, but this is perhaps one positive step that this year's quarantine has inspired me to take. I hope I can continue moving in this direction and live a bit more cheaply and a bit more green.

Update: While trying to find more drawer space, I began cleaning out the drawer where I keep my dishcloths/hand towels/pot holder-trivets and discovered that I had half a dozen old, worn and somewhat stained dish cloths I haven't used in forever, so I'm adding them to my stash of unpaper towels.

11/21- My paperless towels arrived. They're so pretty in their wrapping that I almost don't want to mess them up by taking them out and using them. But I will. 

Best wishes on your own positive life changes! Have a wonderful day!








Tuesday, November 17, 2020

Gifting Ebooks and Making It Personal (with a note on ebooks during the time of COVID)

When I was a little girl, too young to even be in school, my mother worked nights, so in the mornings after everyone else had left for school or work, she would let me "read" for a few minutes on the bed while she woke up to the new day. I always had a pile of books available to me. I loved that, so reading quickly became known to me as an important and fun thing to do. Years later as a preteen and teenager, on lazy summer days I borrowed my mother's books and devoured them. 

Years have passed, but my mother and I still share our love of reading and reading (and crossword puzzles) are still hobbies that she loves. So on birthdays and holidays I gift her books, usually ebooks because she can increase the font size (also, if I gift it to her and it turns out to be a book she's already read, she can trade it for a different book or a credit without downloading it, so there's that advantage, as well). Since I can also set these purchases up in advance and schedule the date when Amazon (in my case) sends the emails to her to know that she's been gifted books, I have plenty of time to research, pick and choose.

But gifting an ebook often seems like a bit of a cold enterprise. There's no actual object to unwrap, no ribbons or bows. So, I try to dress things up a bit. I buy (or make) a nice card. Then I set up a separate Word file, copy and paste images of the books along with any info I want to include (titles, authors, descriptions, my own personal notes on each book), write any kind of message I wish to convey, print it out in color and enclose it in the card.

Here's a portion of one of my drafts (not particularly fancy, but it was a starting place. Obviously, it needed fancying up along with more of a personal message and a suitable greeting card to go with it).

Book List

Alternate methods (some may involve mailing a small package):

Version 2: From a simple start like this, you can dress things up a bit. Print out larger versions of the cover (or covers), fold a decorative piece of paper in half, affix the image to the front like a book cover and write a personal message inside. If you have several books you're giving to the same person, enclose all these "books" into a pretty box, add wrapping paper and a bow.

Version 3: Buy a small and simple photo book (I used to get these in the mail as giveaways for charities. They're probably still sold at dollar stores). Print out the images of the book covers, put each one in a separate page of the photo book and wrap it up.

Version 4: Embellish. In addition to your book list (or your pretend books from version 2 or photo books from version 3), add in some of the things the recipient might like to enjoy with the book (tea, coffee, hot chocolate, a nice mug, snacks, mood music as background music for reading, a simple throw for those cold evenings). 

Version 5: (No need to leave your house for this one). Purchase multiple ebooks, schedule them to arrive on consecutive days (kind of a 12 days of Christmas idea) and send an ecard or a an email or text with a photo of the book cover (or simply a pretty holiday image and message) for each day and each book. And if you want to go all out and send out a video with you singing a 12 Days of ebooks song, go for it!

One last note on gifting during the days of COVID: I understand that not everyone feels comfortable receiving physical things during a pandemic. That makes gifting ebooks even more special. If you don't want to send a paper card, there are so many ways to make beautiful images online. I recommend Canva as a free service. It's drag and drop and super easy to use. Create your image, add it to an email or a word file and then send it online, letting your special someone know that you're thinking of them, and books are on the way!

Have fun thinking of other variations on ways to creatively send ebooks during the upcoming holidays!

Best wishes!