Wednesday, November 30, 2016

Hard Day, Easy Dinner

You know those days when you get home from everything you had to do and realize it’s five-thirty and you haven’t prepped anything for dinner? I’ve been there. And on those days I have a go-to dish that is probably not the healthiest thing in the world, but it’s fast and easy and my kids eat it every time.

I call it: Improv Pasta.
Picture borrowed from KRAFT

2 frozen chicken breasts (optional, or beef if you prefer)
1 lb (or just one box) uncooked pasta
1 stick (1/4 cup) butter
1 Tbs Italian seasoning
1 bunch broccoli (optional, or some other veggie you like or have laying around)
Parmesan cheese (lots)

  1. Cook the meat! On short notice, I tend to not have anything defrosted so I’ll put the chicken in a pot of water and boil (while I prep everything else and make the kids wash their hands) for 20-30 minutes or until I cut into it and it’s not pink. For beef, I defrost it in the microwave and then fry it up the rest of the way, adding salt/pepper and then draining excess grease. Set your meat aside in the bowl you’re gonna mix everything in.
  2. Using the same pot you cooked the meat in, boil water and then cook the pasta according to directions. 
  3. If you’re adding a veggie, cook it now. I usually do broccoli and steam it in the microwave, but I have a microwave steamer. If you don’t, you can put it in a pan with a small amount of water and cook it on low heat with a lid on for about 5-7 minutes or until it’s tender enough for your tastes. 
  4. Mix the pasta, veggie, and meat, including the butter until the butter is melted. Dump in salt, pepper, Italian seasoning, and parmesan, and mix well. Taste it, and adjust according to your preferences. (I sometimes also throw in a tiny bit of milk at this point just to help the flavors spread a little easier and cool things down so my kids don’t have to blow on it too much.)
It’s become pretty routine in my house, and I’ve learned how to adjust it according to what I’m cooking and what I have available in my fridge/pantry. It’s pretty basic but always tasty. Sometimes if I’m feeling adventurous I’ll throw in some mozzarella or even cheddar cheese just to shake things up. Have fun with it!

Darci Cole writes fantasy novels for YA/MG readers, and is currently seeking representation for her work. She is a Gryffindor, a fangirl of many fandoms, and a wandmaker for Colevanders. She loves Dr Pepper, pepperoni-pineapple pizza, and stars.

Follow her on: Facebook, Twitter, Tumblr, Instagram

Monday, November 28, 2016

Self-Care in Chaos

So psyched to have Darci Cole at the House this week! Get ready to let in the light and make some magic!

Hey there Really Real Housewives! I’m excited to be with you today, and I hope I can provide information and entertainment while also being witty and real. That’s the hope, right?

Let me start by telling you a story. Early on in my marriage, my husband once asked me why I looked so cloudy. I didn’t understand, but he explained that my eyes, the energy around me, just felt less-light than it usually did. It was after a few times of this happening that we started to realize I was dealing with small bouts of depression. Sometimes he can see it coming on before I can, and he’s able to step in and help relieve some of the stress forming in my life.

Here’s the thing: all of us have stuff we love, and we tend—hopefully—to let go of the stuff we don’t love. But sometimes, without us even realizing it, those things we love can start to weigh heavily on our lives. Family, friends, even our favorite hobbies, can hang like a cloud over us, making everything else seem darker that it should.

Lately, I learned a trick that I’d like to share with you. When I’m feeling cloudy in any way—be it afraid, or angry, or depressed—I have a thing I do. This exercise helps me to really feel those fears and emotions, let them run their course, and then let them go.

I keep a little black book in my room. Sort of a journal. It’s not kept in any special place, but it stays around. It has a rope on it that I use to tie it shut. When I’m feeling cloudy—especially when my husband isn’t around to talk to—I take this black book and I start writing in it. I write down every negative or fearful thought I have. I keep writing until I can’t think of any more thoughts, and then I tie that book up as tightly as I can, and I put it away.  (I know some people who do this will tear the pages out and either rip or cut them up or throw them in a fireplace. Just some other options so you can find what works for you.)

It’s a terrifying thing to put those thoughts into words, because I know that if anyone else ever read it they would wonder how I could think those things about myself. I know if I ever found out one of my friends thought these things I would want to hug her and bring her brownies and build her a blanket fort. These are the negative thoughts that no one should ever have to have bouncing through their mind.

But it’s something we all do, isn’t it? We are our harshest critics, especially as wives and mothers. We feel this weird obligation to be perfect even when the people around us are completely understanding of the fact that we’re not. This is just one method I’ve found that works for me, but there are so many ways we can fight the urge to run ourselves ragged. Forcing ourselves to take a break, making a list and focusing on one thing at a time, really cherishing the small moments of peace and love that come to us.

It’s difficult, being a wife and/or mother. Life is crazy and fun and stressful and rarely easy. But the good news is that we’re not alone. So many of us go through this, and we can rely on each other for help. Life is hard, but you can do it, and you’ll be fantastic.

Darci Cole writes fantasy novels for YA/MG readers, and is currently seeking representation for her work. She is a Gryffindor, a fangirl of many fandoms, and a wandmaker for Colevanders. She loves Dr Pepper, pepperoni-pineapple pizza, and stars.

Follow her on: Facebook, Twitter, Tumblr, Instagram

Friday, November 25, 2016

Black Friday

This is the day that American store owners make the biggest chunk of their yearly profits pulling them out of the red and into the black...hence Black Friday.

Best of luck to all you hardy shoppers and stressed out retailers. 
May your deals be many and your pay be over time.

Image result for shopping quotes

Whoever said money can't buy happiness simply didn't know where to shop. 
-Bo Derek
Win or lose, we go shopping after the election. 
-Imelda Marcos

Shopping is cheaper than a psychiatrist. 
- Tammy Faye Bakker

Image result for shopping quotes

We always hold hands. If I let go, she shops. 
- Henry Youngman

I like my money right where I can see it. Hanging in my closet. 
-Carrie Bradshaw

If the show fits, buy it in every color. 

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I shop like a bull. I charge everything. 

Anyone who lives within their means suffers from a lack of imagination.
-Oscar Wilde. 

Wednesday, November 23, 2016

Eclair Express

Jo Wake is one of our resident chefs who joins us on occasion to share her wisdom and wonderful recipes...

Once again thank you to the Really Real Housewives of America for allowing me to burble on their blog.

Chocolate is one of my favourite foods as it is for many people. I have just read a report which says cocoa is not just a hot drink but is good for many things. One thing it is good for is mental sharpness. I drink hot chocolate sometimes at the bowling alley. Obviously I should drink more. Note to self, cut out the wine, add in the chocolate.  I like mine just plain without any milk in it and that could be the best way to drink it for health reasons.

I was thinking about edible flowers the other day. Are you aware that there are quite a lot of them which you can eat? One of my favourites is pansies and I often have them on the balcony so use them to decorate desserts. Violets are another, and I even tried making my own crystalised violets. Semi successful but they did work. Many people grow chives in their gardens, these too have lovely flowers which look great in salads and even taste somewhat of onion.  This website has a list of edible flowers with pictures so that if you are not familiar with them, you can see what they look like. It is always fun to surprise people, many of whom are unaware that you can eat flowers.

Knowing there are some readers of this blog who would prefer a really easy recipe, here is Kraft’s Graham Cracker Chocolate Eclair Cake.  Maybe you could serve it as an extra at Thanksgiving. You certainly have time to make it.

Graham Cracker Eclair "Cake"

1 pkg. (3.4 oz.) JELL-O Vanilla Flavor Instant Pudding
1-1/2 cups cold milk
15 graham crackers, broken crosswise in half (30 squares), divided
1 tub (8 oz.) COOL WHIP Whipped Topping, thawed
1 cup BAKER'S ONE BOWL Chocolate Frosting

1. Beat pudding mix and milk in large bowl with whisk 2 min. Let stand 5 min. Meanwhile, cover bottom of 8-inch square pan with graham squares, overlapping as needed to form even layer.

2. Stir COOL WHIP into pudding; spread half over graham squares in pan. Cover with 10 of the remaining graham squares. Repeat layers of pudding mixture and graham squares.

3. Refrigerate 3 hours. Spread with BAKER'S ONE BOWL Chocolate Frosting.

As an Alternative: Prepare using 1 pkg. (1 oz.) JELL-O Vanilla Flavor Sugar Free Fat Free Instant Pudding, fat-free milk and COOL WHIP LITE Whipped Topping.

BAKER'S ONE BOWL Chocolate Frosting: Melt 1 pkg. (4 oz.) BAKER'S Unsweetened Chocolate; pour into large bowl. Cool 5 min. Add 1 lb. powdered sugar, 1/2 cup softened butter and 2 tsp. vanilla. Gradually beat in 1/3 cup milk with mixer on low speed until blended.

Shortcut: Substitute 1 cup ready-to-spread chocolate frosting for the BAKER'S ONE BOWL Chocolate Frosting

Source: Kraft

Have a great day

Monday, November 21, 2016

Maintain, No Gain Challenge

All right all you really real peeps, it's time to stay just the way you are!

Don't let that holiday spirit equal extra pounds! No one wants to start the new year with a sweatpant wardrobe as your only option.

Not that I have anything against sweatpants, I'm actually wearing a pair as I type this...I'm just saying that as of this moment...I do have other options in my wardrobe. And nooo, I'm not talking about my leggings.

But here's the really real truth, a few extra cookies this holiday season and I'm NOT going to fit into my other pants. Sure, I can up up a size, I know how to shop, but I don't want to.

Now, I could pay big money and join a weight loss club OR I can harass encourage my fellow friends and blog buddies to join me on our Facebook page for the Maintain, No Gain Challenge.

It's NOT a diet. We're turning our Facebook page into a support group that we hope helps us achieve balance--

To indulge without adding more bulge. 

It will be easy- if you're on Facebook. The Really Real Housewives have a public Facebook group, all you have to do is join the group and join in on the fun. We'll start Monday, November 21st- just in time to start the holiday cooking! And we'll be in it together until January 1st.

Friday, November 18, 2016

Crafty Support

I wish I could say I’m a crafty person. I have so much admiration for the bloggers I see creating holiday decorations out of items they purchase at the craft store. In all honesty, I’m more likely to spend the day browsing items on Etsy to buy from some super-talented person. I just don’t have the creative eye for it.

As a child, being “not crafty” is never an option. I remember working with papier-mâché in elementary school and stamping my initials into leather at 4-H camp. I did exactly what the teacher said without ever coming up with creative ways to add to what I was doing.

Then I started middle school home economics class. It was the 80s, so we were still learning how to sew, and I hated every minute of it. I created some horrid 80s-style lavender shorts suit that looked a lot like the dress Jake Ryan’s girlfriend wore to the party in Sixteen Candles. I remember my icky creation every time I see that movie.

Soon after, I made a stuffed animal called Madigan. It was a cuddly dog that I loved. But I only made it through the sewing process because I followed the instructions to the letter. Hugging Madigan always made me feel better, since I didn’t have a real dog to hug.

Once I discovered I could write, I felt as though I’d been set free. I always felt like a creative person, but it didn’t fit with anything else I tried. I couldn’t dance, sing, act, paint, draw, or build things. I could put words on paper, though, and from time to time I even managed to move people with those words.

Would I like to be crafty? Sure. But in an Etsy era, I can just purchase the great crafts everyone else sells and support them. They can keep making their crafts and I can set them out around the house and hand their business cards out when people compliment them.

Stephanie Faris is the Simon & Schuster author of the middle grade books 25 Roses and 30 Days of No Gossip, as well as the Piper Morgan chapter book series. Her freelance work has appeared on, Mental Floss, The Week, and Your Teen magazine.

Wednesday, November 16, 2016

Slow Cooker Roast

I have to admit, my slow cooker gets a very hefty workout. Nothing compares to being able to toss in a bunch of ingredients in the morning and be rewarded with a delicious meal eight hours later. While I love this Salisbury steak recipe, I’m partial to slow cooker recipes that don’t require firing up the stove.

For years, I made roasts in the slow cooker, but they always turned out dry. Then I discovered a recipe that always creates moist roast with minimal effort.

To get started, you’ll just need two cans of condensed cream of mushroom soup, one package of Lipton Onion Soup Mix, and a 5-1/2 pound pot roast (or your favorite roast cut).

Mix the soup and soup mix in a bowl with 1-1/4 cups of water. Put the pot roast in the slow cooker, cover with the mixture, and cook on low for eight to nine hours. The result? Melt in your mouth yumminess!

The best part of all? The mixture makes a meaty gravy that you can pour over your potatoes! The end result:

Stephanie Faris is the Simon & Schuster author of the middle grade books 25 Roses and 30 Days of No Gossip, as well as the Piper Morgan chapter book series. Her freelance work has appeared on, Mental Floss, The Week, and Your Teen magazine.

Monday, November 14, 2016

Make Monday More Fun

We'd are excited to have Stephanie Faris with us at the House today! She's a fabulous friend, mom, and children's author!

Books Make Everything More Fun

I first discovered audiobooks in my 20s. Back then, you had to pay full price for audiobooks on CD or cassette, unless you could find them in the used bookstore. When I realized my local library had them, I was so excited.

I read Stephen King’s The Green Mile while cleaning the house. I read Nicholas Spark’s Message in a Bottle while making food for a New Year’s Eve party. I read countless books during my work commute or while doing mundane duties at work. Now, thanks to apps like Audible, you don’t even have to leave the house to pick up the latest bestseller.

Yes, audiobooks make everything a little easier to bear. Last year when we packed to move to a new house, Harlan Coben books helped take my mind off of the grueling work. That same author got me through deep-cleaning the house so we could sell it. I actually look forward to my three-mile walk at the gym every day because I know I’ll get to enjoy the next chapter in whatever great book I’m reading.

Listening to books isn’t for everyone. I actually found that celebrity biographies and nonfiction books were better if you were doing something that might distract you. The popularity of the Serial podcast a couple of years ago prompted me to figure out how to work the podcast app on my phone. It’s surprisingly easy, by the way. I’m a true crime addict, and there are a billion true crime podcasts out there—all 100 percent free!

If you can’t afford audiobooks or an Audible membership, podcasts aren’t your only free option. Many local libraries now offer digital lending. You can use your library card to reserve audiobooks and load them onto your phone. It isn’t for everyone, but if I have to scrub the toilets or try to match up socks from the laundry, listening to something interesting can make it so much more bearable.

Stephanie Faris is the Simon & Schuster author of the middle grade books 25 Roses and 30 Days of No Gossip, as well as the Piper Morgan chapter book series. Her freelance work has appeared on, Mental Floss, The Week, and Your Teen magazine.

Friday, November 11, 2016

Back That Thing Up!

Yesterday was the start of a big day for me. It was the beginning of a 4-day weekend devoted to nothing but writing. I was going to finish the final edits for my book release, launch my cover reveal, and update my websites and other media with the latest book covers and general awesomeness.

So I jumped out of bed at 5:30 AM and was ready to tackle anything... except the Blue Screen of Death.

I was lucky -  I end up working on two different computers frequently so I do 99% of my work off of Dropbox so I always have the latest version of everything no matter where I am. Before I was a cloud girl, though, I worked out of local copies on my desktop which I'd occasionally think to back up to a thumb drive, or maybe email to myself to "back up." If I was still that version of Ashley - that naive, trusting, and gullible girl - I'd have been screwed today. Here's a small taste of what I could have lost had I not made the move to keep everything in a cloud-based storage folder:

  1. 4 novel WIPs along with all of the brainstorming notes I've taken and research links I've saved.
  2. All of the free stock photos I've slowly stockpiled over the years with my one-a-week accounts. We're talking several gigs worth of great marketing images and videos.
  3. All of my old drafts, saved pearls that I've cut from other books, random ideas, short stories, and poems.
  4. All of the finance spreadsheets and records I've kept for taxes and other financials. 
  5. All of the music I ripped from my old 90s CDs so I could get rid of the physical media finally. I mean really, who wants to still keep those giant CD books anymore?

Since I worked out of Dropbox I was able to run to Best Buy, bet the gaming PC I've been eyeing for a few months anyway, and get right back to work. There are still a few mostly image-related items I had stored locally on the laptop that died this morning, so I'll be working on recovery as I have time over the next few weeks. Otherwise instead of calmly buying a new PC this morning, I'd have been in a mad panic - probably still in my pajamas -  begging the Geek Squad to save my books and all of my memories like a crazy woman.

So have you guessed yet that today's tale has a moral? It totally does. And that moral is: Back That Sh*% Up.

Wednesday, November 9, 2016

Post-Election Recovery Cake

Photo from
Admit it. Yesterday was exhausting. Standing in lines, trying to stay calm and carry on, trying to ignore social media and not let our buttons get pushed so the kiddos didn't accidentally learn some choice new phrases... You know what I'm talking about.

So the way I see it is, since we were such upstanding citizens and role models, we deserve wine. And chocolate. And cake. So why not have them all in one amazeballs package? Shiran over at Pretty Simple Sweet has a great list of simple and delish recipes for busy cooks, but her Red Wine Chocolate Cake is hands down my favorite thing in the world. If you've ever had the blends of red wine and chocolate, you know exactly what I'm talking about.

The best part is - if you have the fixin's for chocolate cake and just happen to have a leftover bottle of wine... well, you've got yourself a piece of heaven just waiting to be thrown together :-)

Check out Shiran's full recipe here and be sure to tell us how yours turned out!

Monday, November 7, 2016

Life Beyond the Glare

My husband and I recently sold our house and moved into an apartment which includes a cable television package with the rent.

This, for me, was a very big deal.

I'm one of the zillions in the world with a very addictive personality when it comes to passive entertainment. So much so that it majorly got in the way of accomplishing my goals. So in spring of 2006, with no small amount of self-righteousness, I cut the cord.

And it was glorious. I left the house. I talked to people again. I made phone calls to family members. I read like crazy, learned to transliterate Cyrillic, and - most importantly - wrote several books. Now that we have cable back after a full decade without, I'm dealing with some pretty mixed feelings. I mean, this isn't Netflix we're talking about. This is real TV.

That blasted TV, that beacon of passive entertainment, was always the siren to my Argo. It didn't matter what was on - if it was a hemorrhoid commercial you'd still find me sitting in front of the flickering glare completely mesmerized for the 15 seconds until something else came on. My hobbies suffered, my social life (such as it was) suffered, and my house cleaning habits were non-existent. Who can think about spring cleaning when "Supernatural" re-runs are on???

So now that we have cable - my old arch-nemesis - again, I've had to learn how to protect myself from accidentally getting caught in a channel-flipping loop so I can live a full life beyond the glare. Especially considering I've got a book due this spring! Here's what I've done so far:

  1. Figure out what shows I'd like to see, and DVR them. 
  2. Only watch them via DVR and ONLY when I'm already caught up for the day.
  3. Never turn on live TV. I did make exceptions for the debates, though a large part of me wishes I hadn't.
  4. Prioritize show-watching by how quickly they're likely to be spoiled by Facebook trolls. By this reasoning, we always watch "Game of Thrones" and "Walking Dead" before getting around to "Big Bang Theory."
  5. No turning on the TV for "background noise" while cleaning. You know what happens if you do that - you'll end up immobile the couch with a rag and polish in your hand watching crime drama re-runs before you know it.
Now I'd like to hear YOUR methods for keeping TV from taking control of your household. What are the boob tube rules at your house?

Friday, November 4, 2016

Bookishly Ever After

Words are like oxygen to me. Too long without them, and I actually get wobbly. So I find ways to work them into every aspect of my life. I sing and tell stories to my children, I fill my house with books, I write and edit and read more hours of the day than I do anything else.

[I’ll pause for a moment while you envy me that luxury. It’s only natural.]

When I see something made out of old books, a thrill zings through me. I have a purse made of a copy of Jane Eyre. I have a copy of Anne of Green Gables a dear friend gave me, the pages artfully folded to spell out the word “Joy.” And, were I as crafty as the people who made the items featured below, there would be no room in my home not adorned with a piece of literature turned to art.

Of course, there are those who think using books as art materials is sacrilege. Others think there’s beauty to be found in the preservation of their fading glory. What do you think?

Kimberly Vanderhorst is a speculative fiction author who cherishes a love for all things strange and beautiful. Claims to fame include running Prism Editing, serving on the committees for the annual LDStorymakers Conference and The Whitney Awards program, and co-hosting the annual Pitch Slam contest. Despite being a city girl with a tendency to cuss too much, Kimberly is married to an LDS minister and lives in rural northern Canada. There, she helps raise her four lovely daughters while pretending not to be afraid of the neighbour’s chickens.

Wednesday, November 2, 2016


Every time I share a recipe, I feel like a fraud. I’m a work-at-home mom who’s never fully caught on to the whole “domestic bliss” thing. Give me a manuscript to edit, and I’m in literary Heaven. Put me in the kitchen, and I start to twitch with anxiety, wondering how I’ll mess things up this time.

Forget to put flour in the cookie dough again?

Accidentally broil things instead of baking them?

Get caught up reading a book instead of stirring a pot of bubbling sauce and have the culinary equivalent of Pompeii destroy my stovetop?

Constant disasters have taught me that cooking simply is the best (and safest) course for people like me. Most of our meals consist of two step recipes like my Pesto Chicken [Step One: Put Pesto on Chicken. Step Two: Bake.] or my Butter Chicken [Step Once: Pour Butter Chicken Sauce on Chicken. Step Two: Bake.] But there’s one multi-ingredient, multi-step dish I can make and make REALLY well (the title gave it away, didn’t it?).

Ingredient quantities vary according to taste, of course (my family loves a nice thick Ricotta layer, for instance, so I use 3 containers). Odds are, if you combine these ingredients, you'll get something edible, and possibly quite tasty!

Sauce Ingredients:

2 22oz cans of Hunts Four Cheese Pasta sauce
1 small jar of sun-dried tomato pesto (if you like chunkier sauce, a jar of bruschetta can be a nice addition too)
1 12oz package of mild Italian sausage

^^^Brown and drain the sausage. Mix it with the sauce and pesto. You can heat this mixture or leave it cold. Heating it makes the lasagna cook a bit faster, and gives the sauce a slightly richer flavour, but if you're in a rush, cold totally works too.

Filling Ingredients:

2-3 14oz container of Ricotta Cheese
1 Egg per container of Ricotta
A few dashes of Salt & Pepper
1-2 heaping tablespoons of Basil Pesto
1-2 handfuls of Shredded Mozzarella (the Kraft Italiano mix is nice)

^^^Combine with fork. Ideally, the mixture should be thick.

Layer in 9x13 pan:


Noodles (I use store-bought lasagna sheets - no pre-cooking required!)
Ricotta mixture
A handful of shredded Mozzarella
A sprinkle or two of Parmesan
A layer of sauce (not too thin or the noodles don't cook well, not too thick or the lasagna gets soupy - have fun figuring THAT puzzle out)

Lather rinse repeat*, etc . . .

Cover with foil. May be kept in refrigerator for a day or so prior to cooking. If cooking from chilled, add extra bake time. If cooking right after making, bake at 350 for 40-45 minutes, remove foil, then cook till cheese melts/edges bubble.

*Do not actually lather and rinse your lasagna. It will taste gross.

Bon appetit!

Kimberly Vanderhorst is a speculative fiction author who cherishes a love for all things strange and beautiful. Claims to fame include running Prism Editing, serving on the committees for the annual LDStorymakers Conference and The Whitney Awards program, and co-hosting the annual Pitch Slam contest. Despite being a city girl with a tendency to cuss too much, Kimberly is married to an LDS minister and lives in rural northern Canada. There, she helps raise her four lovely daughters while pretending not to be afraid of the neighbour’s chickens.
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