The weird, miscellaneous things we talk about at our house! My daughter and I were enjoying a coconut cookie, and I said to her that coconut would have to be in the top 5 items I’d miss if we could only consume food we grew ourselves or could source locally from farmers, no grocery stores. Then I had to ask myself what else would be on that list? Coffee was the first thing that was obvious to me, but was there anything else? So thinking hard, I came up with my top 5 things I wouldn’t want to live without, without it being shipped from some far off place. These are not things I could not survive without, as much as the things which I would miss the most. Minus salt, salt would be a real issue as preserving food would be a problem.

1. Coffee – I LOVE COFFEE!!! Now technically, I can grow coffee in my house during the winter months, and move outside during the summer, but it takes about 5 years for it to produce fruit, and I couldn’t grow enough to have a steady supply. But for those who want to know, I’m trying it anyway!
2. Coconut – I LOVE COCONUT!!!
3. Chocolate – I LOVE CHOCOLATE!!!
4. Cinnamon – I love all fall desserts – no cinnamon, no bueno. I could include nutmeg, cloves and allspice, but I think if I at least had cinnamon, I’d be okay.
5. Salt – While I’m not a heavy salt user, we need salt to survive and face it, salt-less food would be pretty bland. If I lived near an ocean, or in Utah, this wouldn’t be an issue, but there are no salt mines in Wisconsin, to my knowledge. It’s also necessary for preserving food.

Things I considered, but ruled out:

Baking Soda/Baking Powder/Yeast – There are other ways to add leavening to baked goods, such as fermented dairy, or beaten egg whites. For bread, sourdough starter is delicious and easy to make without anything but flour, water, and the yeast that is naturally occurring in the air, so although convenient, they are not strictly necessary.
Seafood – I have caught and eaten many a crayfish from local lakes that taste like a cross between shrimp and lobster.
Citrus – Unlike coffee, not only can we grow dwarf citrus in our homes, but they produce wonderfully. I had a Meyer lemon that would fruit like crazy. Also, there are herbs, such as lemon balm that can be used for lemon flavor.
Vanilla – It’s on the runner up list, because it’s used so much in baking, but I don’t know if it would make or break all baked goods, so I think I’d adjust to no vanilla.
Curry – I love a good curry, and in researching, realized I can grow all the spices that make up curry powder here! Again, indoors for winter, outdoors during the summer! One stipulation, I would already have to have some ginger root, and tumeric root (which would have to be shipped from somewhere else) in order to grow it, or know someone else who is already growing it locally. But once I have it, I’d never have to purchase it again.
Sugar – I already use honey to sweeten most things, and honey is available locally. In fact, I usually purchase 2 gallons of honey per year from a local bee keeper. Maple syrup is also a great sweetener, and maple trees are also readily available in Wisconsin.
Molasses – It turns out you can grow sorghum in Wisconsin to make your own molasses. Who knew??? I haven’t tried this… yet…

Bananas – I do love bananas, but first of all, it is possible to grow a fruiting banana indoors if you have a large enough space, but in the end, as much as I enjoy them, there are other foods I would miss more.

I’m lucky in that I’ve been an avid gardener my entire life. I already grow most of the produce I use, including a host of herbs, garlic, and peppers that I make spice blends, and tea blends with. Meat and dairy are all readily available locally and we have plenty of fresh fish in our many smaller lakes and rivers, not to mention Lake Michigan. We currently purchase our beef, chicken, turkey and pork from a butcher who gets it from local farmers. We raise our own chickens for eggs.

We also have skills. My daughter and I love history and cooking, and have combined the two. We have learned how to mill grain (we only mill our own flour now), roast coffee beans (I do this weekly for the freshest coffee), cook over an open fire, in a fireplace, and on a wood burning stove. Don’t get me wrong, we generally use modern appliances, but the ability to procure or grow everything you need won’t be helpful if you don’t know what to do with it.

We make our own pasta, bake our own bread, grind pork to make sausage, smoke our own meats, brine meats (we just made our own corned beef, none of that red gel stuff), make homemade ice cream, and make our own broth. We dehydrate, ferment, and preserve a host of produce. Right now my pantry is stocked with chicken broth, beef broth, spaghetti sauce, applesauce, apple butter, jams, sauerkraut, salsa, tomatoes, carrots and beans. I have fermented hot pepper sauce, pickles and pickled garlic scapes in my fridge. My freezer is chock full of zucchini, tomatoes, celery, green peppers, red peppers, and pesto, all from my garden. I also have onions, garlic, shallots, squash and potatoes in storage and shelves of dehydrated herbs, tomatoes, peppers, both regular and smoked (my dried smoked ancho chilis make a vastly more flavorful chili than using store bought chili powder), flowers (for tea), mushrooms, celery leaves, apple slices, and sweet potato slices (for dog treats) and home fermented apple cider vinegar. I’m fortunate that I live in a state that has a wide variety of herbs, grains, vegetables, nuts, and fruits that can be grown, so other than strictly tropical items, there isn’t much I can’t get.

And for the record, we all work outside the home and we don’t live on a farm. We live in the downtown area of a suburb of Milwaukee. We do have a very good sized yard, which is why we can have a few hens, and a large garden. Yes, we do use some store bought convenience items. My desire to make my own vs. just buying came about years ago because as soon as we fell in love with some seasoning mix, or product, it would get discontinued. I hated that my favorite recipes weren’t consistent because I could no longer get the same ingredients or products. More recently, I’ve become acutely aware of all the fillers, sugar, and undecipherable ingredients that can be in convenience products. The solution was to take it all the way back to the basics, and cook completely from scratch. The unplanned upside is that it has provided us a base, where the grocery store is only optional, if need be, or if I have an intense craving for coconut cookies!

So what are your top 5 food items you wouldn’t want to live without if you could not procure it locally?

Inserting the Key

It’s been forever. Seems like longer than forever. I often get asked if I’m still writing. My answer is yes, and no. I’m always writing, even if only in my head. I’m not, however, currently working on a book. Not that I don’t have books currently in the works, I have several, but they’ve laid dormant for quite a while. Even this blog is sad. I couldn’t remember my password to get in, and now I’m fumbling with how to format, and add pictures. On top of that, the site I used to use to link pictures to my blog, has long since gone away. I will need to figure out what pictures I used, and learn how to put them back.

I have tons of excuses, but that’s what they are, just excuses. I work long days but, in truth, that didn’t stop me before. I went through a health crisis, which stole my energy, and my ability to recall names, and words. But that was six plus years ago, and although I have some lingering effects, they are nothing that prevents me from writing now. My support, in the past, have been writing groups. I’ve been a part of more than one. My local group meets on Tuesdays which used to be my day off. I now work on Tuesdays, but really, these gals would help me out even if the only way would be by email, so in truth, that excuse isn’t valid either. I’ve got other projects on my plate. That’s not anything different. I am, and always have been, a bit of a busybody. I don’t have a good space where I can concentrate on my writing. Souljourner was written in a combination of a coffee shop, my dining room, and my bedroom, and Christmas Carole was written mostly in a basement rec room. The few times I’ve actually had a private office, I didn’t write books in them. So in truth, I have no real excuse.

Sometimes, when you’ve stopped doing something for long enough, and think about restarting, it feels almost insurmountable. It’s like climbing a really big hill, falling and rolling back down, and trying to climb that hill all over again. I have books that are far enough along, that it will take a fair amount of work to figure out where I was going with them. But can I? Yes, difficult as it may seem. They may take a different tack than I had originally planned, but that doesn’t mean they can’t be finished, and who knows, they may even be better for it.

So after running out of poor excuses, what I need to do, is just do it. I have found in the past, that as soon as I start writing something, anything, it’s like riding a bike, to be totally cliché. My brain just starts to click and words come out. I’ve made a few false starts, but I figure if I just keep trying, eventually the engine will sputter to life.

So here I am, putting the key in the ignition. That’s what this blog post represents. The first words on the page, shared with all of you, in hopes that the words keep coming. I can’t promise the engine will roar to life, but I can hope. And if it doesn’t on this try, I’ll just try again. Sooner or later it will.

Here We Go a Wassailing…

The Monches Artisans Holiday Open House is going great, and I’ve met so many nice people interested in what I have to say about Charles Dickens and in my books!

They are loving the Dickensian treats, so even though I’ve posted some of them before, I thought I’d post the recipes again so they’d be easy to find.



Shrewsbury Cakes

3/4 cup butter, softened
1 1/4 cup sugar
1 egg
1 1/2 tsp. grated orange peel
2 tsp. vanilla
2 1/2 cups sifted all purpose flour
1/2 tsp. salt
extra sugar
Cream butter and sugar together. Add egg, orange peel and vanilla.
Stir in flour and salt to make a stiff dough.
Wrap dough in wax paper. Chill for several hours or overnight.
Roll chilled dough into 1 inch balls. Roll balls in sugar.
Arrange balls 1 1/2 inches apart on ungreased cookie sheet.
Flatten the balls gently with bottom of a small glass.
Bake at 350 degrees for about 8 minutes.
Makes about 3 dozen cookies.

4 oz (1 stick) butter
1 cup sugar
2 eggs
3/4 cup boiling water
3/4 cup molasses
2 1/2 cup flour
2 tsp baking soda
1/2 tsp salt
2 tsp powdered ginger

Preheat oven to 350.
Butter & flour loaf pan or 9″ square baking pan.

Cream butter, add sugar, and beat until light.
Add eggs and beat well.
Add boiling water and molasses and blend.
In a seperate bowl mix flour, baking soda, salt, and ginger.  Add to the first mixture, and combine thoroughly.
Pour into the pan and bake 35-45 min until toothpick comes out clean.
Cool in pan 5-10 min before turning onto a plate.




Mince Pies


Okay, this one was a total cheat on my part. I’d love to try and make my mincemeat by scratch, but haven’t had the chance to try that yet. So instead I used a jar mix. The brand I used was None Such. I used their Brandy and Rum Mincemeat.

So take a mini muffin pan. Use any pie pastry recipe or use those refrigerated roll out pie crusts. Find a smaller circle cookie or biscuit cutter, or you can try a glass that will make circles to fit your mini muffin pan. Grease pans, place a circle of dough in bottom of each cup. Drop in a small spoonful of mincemeat, then cover top with another circle of dough. Here’s the trick. Don’t over fill with the mincemeat! It should look like you don’t really have enough in each cup. The mincemeat will expand when it cooks and it’s super sticky, so if you overfill, they will overflow and all your mince pies will be stuck to the pan when they are done. Also just press the center of the top crust down onto the filling. These are really too small to successfully crimp the edges, although I did give it a bit of try. Cut slits in top crust. Bake at 350 degrees for 20 min. Sprinkle the tops with a little sugar once out. I used baker’s super fine sugar, but you can use regular sugar as well. Let cool for just a bit in pan, remove carefully to cool on rack the rest of the way.




Candied Orange Peel


Take 4 large, thick skinned Navel Oranges. With a knife, score the skin into quarters. Peel the skin quarters from the orange. Place the skins in a pot full of water, and boil for 20 min.

Let cool slightly. While still warm, pull one skin at a time from the pot, and scrape all of the white pith of with a knife or spoon. I found a knife worked better, and you have to do so very carefully or the skins will tear. Cut the cleaned skins into strips.

Put 2 cups of sugar, and 1 cup of water in a pot and heat until sugar is completely dissolved, stirring occasionally. Pour orange strips into pot, and stir until coated. Cover pot and simmer for 45 min.

Once done, take orange strips out of sugar water and spread out on a small grid cooling rack that is set over a cookie sheet to catch the drips. Cool for one hour. then toss strips, a few at a time, in a bowl of additional sugar to coat. Place on wax paper and let sit out overnight to dry.





1 gallon apple cider – I prefer fresh.

4 cups orange juice

1 cup lemon juice

24 whole cloves

8 cinnamon sticks

½ tsp. Ground ginger

½ tsp. Ground nutmeg

Put all ingredients into a large pot, heat up to a boil, then turn down and simmer. The longer it simmers, the better it tastes. You can also leave it in a crock pot overnight. Strain out spices. Can be stored in refrigerator. Serve warm.

Prince Harry and the Royal Jewels

We’ve all heard the news stories this week. Prince Harry, being a young person in Las Vegas, stupidly played a game of strip billiards, and the pictures are out there to prove it. So much for the motto, “What happens in Vegas, stays in Vegas.”  I feel bad for Harry, really I do. I know what everyone is saying: he should know better, he has a public persona to live up to, it was an act of stupidity.

Of course it was stupid, that’s part of life. It’s how young people learn. It’s how we all learn. Face it, from the beginning, we learn, not just from rules, lectures, or even common sense. The lessons we learn the best, are learned the hard way. Every toddler can be told “Don’t touch – hot.” but it doesn’t truly become understood until the first time they experience “hot.”

Obviously we hope that in the process of learning, no one places themselves in harm’s way. There are some very dangerous activities that we can only hope the lessons we try to drive home, prevent. I don’t believe in protecting children from all things scary. It can expose them to things you’d rather they didn’t learn by experimentation. I used to let my kids watch Rescue 911. Was it scary? Could it give them nightmares? Was it sometimes gruesome? Yes, but watching a kid lean back on his chair and fall through a glass patio door, or seeing a kid impaled on the knife he was running with, drove a lesson home, a lesson that I didn’t want them to learn the hard way.

So no, we don’t want our children or anyone to learn some lessons by experience. Ever. But we do have to understand that it is okay for them to learn other lessons the hard way, and the behavior of many young people it just that, a learning experience. Every generation goes through it. I’m pretty sure every parent hopes their children don’t do half the things they did when they were young

Of course, when we were young, the threat of doing something stupid was that whatever we did went on our “permanent record.” Right, and just where were all these “permanent records” kept? I’ve thought about it. What stupid teenage act in my past could be dredged up if all the stars align and this writing thing takes off for me? Is there anything in my youthful past I’d need to worry about? Truth be told, if there is some picture of me out there somewhere, acting stupid at a party, the best it could be is a faded, grainy snapshot from a 110 camera. For today’s youth, unfortunately, the threat is real. With HD video and cameras on every cell phone, and the internet, what you do might just be out there for all to see, forever. Now a days, it really does go on your permanent record.

And if you are a prince, it also becomes an international news story.

A friend of a friend?

You know the saying, a friend of a friend of a friend… Or how about the adage that there is only six degrees of separation?  If you really think about it, it just might be true. I’ve certainly had this phenomenon present itself before. Somehow it’s just a bit exciting to think you know someone, who knows someone, who knows someone famous.

This week I met the sister of a friend. (That would be only one degree of separation. Or would that be two?)  My friend mentioned that her sister came from Maine, Stephen King land as she put it.

“Really?” I replied.  “I’m a huge fan!” Nothing new or earth shattering in that exchange. I followed that up with “Actually he’s influenced my writing quite a bit.”

I’ve been reading Stephen King’s books since my teens. I love the way his stories keep me at the edge of my seat, not knowing what’s going to happen next. His descriptive style pulls me right into his stories.

In addition, although I’ve read several good books on the craft of writing, I count his book “On Writing” as the one that taught me the most. One of the greatest compliments I can get is when someone tells me one of my stories is Stephen Kingish.

So I really did mean it when I told this sister of a friend that Stephen King has influenced me.

Her response was not what I was expecting.  She told me he was one of her neighbors and sometimes saw him out and about.  My response? “Wow, cool.”  For a writer, sometimes words can escape me. (By the way we would be up to TWO degrees of separation, or maybe that’s three, still respectable either way.)

My friend turned to her sister and said, “Dody here is an author also.”

Okay, so we were talking Stephen King.  I don’t think I could ever comprehend the idea of mentioning my name as an author in conjunction with Stephen King. I laughed and pulled out a bookmark that has all the information for Finding Hope, my website and this blog.

My friend told her I was good. I blushed and told her she could check my book out if she wanted. Then, in what had to be a moment of incredible bravery, or insanity, I handed her a second bookmark and said, “Here, if you bump into your buddy Steve, you can tell him to check me out.”

I know, I can hear you laughing. Me too. But you never know. Just maybe this friend’s sister will actually take that bookmark back to Maine with her, and maybe instead of it getting lost in her suitcase or on her counter she’ll actually have it on her, and just maybe she’ll bump into Mr. King himself.

Maybe, just maybe, she’ll remember the bookmark and give it to him.  And if all the stars align and the world stops rotating on it’s axis, he won’t toss it in the nearest trashcan, or crumple it up and stuff it in his pocket to get destroyed in his washing machine.  And just maybe he’ll decide to check me out and not laugh his butt off at this little author actually doing something so bold as handing one of his neighbors my info.

IF, by chance he gets that far, and actually reads my story, and finds that I may have some future in writing, and takes the time to drop me a note and tell me so, It will all be for naught because I’d probably die on the spot!

But you just never know. Maybe that sister of a friend, who lives in the same neighborhood as Stephen King just might change my life. Or maybe I’ll win the lottery.  I’m somehow thinking the lottery is more likely, but a girl can dream can’t she?


As promised here’s the story that was published one year ago. It may have been my first, but I’m hoping and planning on many others.

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There are friends and then there are real friends. The kind of friends you can depend on to be there through all the highs and lows of your life. My husband and I are lucky enough to have friends such as these. To be honest they started out as my husband’s friends first, I was adopted later.
Jim’s been best buddies with John since they were both five years old. As children they shared in all those adventures that young boys have; building forts, walking the train tracks, riding their bikes. As they got older they got their first jobs together, worked on cars together, and got into trouble together. Over the years their friendship had it’s ups and downs. Their high school graduation night ended in fists, but in the end, they always came back to each other. When they got to adulthood they started dating and eventually found their future wives. In some relationships, that may have added a strain to the friendship, but in this case it didn’t. First John married Sue, and later Jim married me. Sue and I have been mistaken as sisters, which says something about how close our husbands are. There must be something special in a friendship that has lasted almost their entire lives. Instead of two best friends and their wives, we quickly became four best friends.
As close as we are, we’re always borrowing something from one another. There never seems to be a time in which one of us doesn’t have something that belongs to the other. If it’s not some borrowed item, it’s borrowed money. We often go out to dinner or shopping together and to make things easier, we trade off who pays for it. One time we will cover the bill, the next time they will. We’ve been doing this so long, we no longer keep track of what we owe each other, we just figure it all evens out in the end. Sometimes we get to the point of getting the check at a restaurant and say, “It’s our turn, we owe you for something.”
None of us will remember what we owe, or even what it was we owe for, just that it’s our turn. Over the years, we took notice of this habit of one always borrowing from the other. We asked ourselves why that was. In the end we decided it was our way of insuring we would get together again.
We’ve been there for each other as we got married, Jim was John’s Best Man, and John was Jim’s. John and Sue moved away for a time, but the long distance phone call was one of the first as each of our children were born. Once back in the same state, we were there to share the trials of moving and house building and the joys of our children growing, graduating, and getting married. We travel together, and jump in to help with any project. We were there to support them through the loss of a parent, grandparent, brother-in-law, and friend. They were there for us through the loss of a parent.
They played a most important role in our lives. They were always there for us when our disabled and medically fragile son was ill. They didn’t think twice about coming to wait with us in the middle of the night as he underwent emergency surgery. They forced us to go out for a bite to eat after we spent days in his hospital room. They kept us sane during the 16 years of medical crises. They were there to give us support in his final days, and helped to plan his memorial service. I can’t imagine a more heartbreaking time in our lives, and they were there for us. I know it was difficult for them. How hard must it be to sit with your friends as they wait for their son to take his last breath? It didn’t matter how hard it was, we weren’t just friends, we were family, we are family. I truly believe there is nothing we wouldn’t do for each other, barring the impossible. At a moment’s notice, we we’ll drop everything for each other. Our families have become each others families.
Recently my husband and I were affected by the poor economy. We were forced to sell our dream home. This house was one that my husband, an architect, designed just for us. We built this house ourselves. We didn’t just watch the contractors work, we put our sweat and backs into it as well. It took a year to build. John and Sue were there every step of the way, painting walls, laying tile, hauling rocks, whatever it took.
The process of selling this house has been an emotional one. The equity in that house was to be our nest egg. We were starting over. It’s hard enough to lose your home, another when that home is also one’s livelihood. It’s my husband’s business to design and build houses, now we would be living in someone else’s. First John and Sue were there as moral support. Then they were there to help us pack and move in a hurry as we scrambled to find a place to live. We even traded vehicles for weeks as theirs had a hitch to pull a trailer. They were with us when we looked at houses, and they gave up their weekends to help us transfer our belongings.
On the last day of moving we returned each others cars. But in typical fashion we found John’s sunglasses on our counter. Sometimes the “borrowing” was unintentional. It didn’t matter, as long as one of us had some belonging to the other.
The next morning my husband woke up to realize we had forgotten some large items that were stored outside our former home. Since we had already given John and Sue their van back, we were forced to call first thing in the morning to ask if they had the time to come back and help move the forgotten items. Sue answered the phone. John was in the garage, he had the tire off of the needed van, and was about to start a brake job on it. She stuck her head out the door and yelled “STOP!” No questions asked, John popped the tire back on and came right over.
When it was done and John was about to leave, he grabbed his sunglasses. As he took them Jim said, “I think we all have everything that belongs to each of us.” John said, “Oh no, does that mean we won’t get together anymore?”
We laughed, albeit a bit nervously. As if it really takes borrowing things from each other to make sure we would see each other again. As much as we have been through, it’s silly to think that it’s a simple borrowed item that keeps us together. Yet why did we feel uncomfortable?
After John left, I suddenly remembered something. I looked at Jim and said, “Don’t worry, we still have that DVD I borrowed from Sue.” With an unfounded sense of relief we knew all is as it should be. Our friendship is guaranteed to live another day.