Tuesday, October 16, 2018

Book Review: What Alice Forgot



I really loved this book. This was my second time reading it. I could relate to all of the characters, but especially Alice. I think that even if you don't lose your memory, there will still be times in your life where you catch yourself and think--is this really who I've become? Or, how did I get here? Or, I'm sure this isn't the path I meant to take, is it?
This is a book that can be read over and over again. The first time, the ending came as a sort of surprise, but it's still satisfying even when you know the ending from the beginning.

Here's a few of my favorite lines:
Hairstyles were smoother and flatter than in 1998. It made everyone's head seem comically smaller.

They could look at an old photo together and travel back in time to the same place; they could begin a million conversations with "Do you remember when...", and they could hear the first chords of an old song on the radio and exchange glances that said everything without words.


Monday, October 8, 2018

Anyway and Only. Two Important Words

Have you ever said or done something that you thought was an act of kindness and others totally misread your intention? This has happened to me a number of times and usually after a few head-scratching moments, I have to rethink my motivations, consider where the person is coming from, and wonder how, when I thought my motivations were altruistic I could be so misunderstood.

It still hurts when someone is suspicious (and hostile) and assumes my generosity is motivated by some hidden agenda for gain, but then I remember the word ONLY.

In King Benjamin's address in The Book of Mormon, he states, "For when ye are in the service of your fellow man, ye are only in the service of your God." I used to think this scripture meant that when we're serving others we're serving God, because God loves his children and wants us to serve and bless others...right?

But what if they resent, misunderstand, and hate you anyway?

Sister Teresa says, do it anyway. Which is good advice, because, if you consider the word ONLY in the King Benjamin's address, you'll see that we should serve not to necessarily to please others, but to ONLY serve God.

And it hurts if others misjudge us, but--oh well--the service isn't necessarily about them or even about you. It's about trying to be God's hands and fulfilling a need when you see one.

The Bible tells us Jesus "went about doing good." But was everyone happy about it? No. And of course, none of us can be as inspired as the Savior of the World, and of course we'll make mistakes, and sometimes we can be misguided, thoughtless, and bumbling, but as Sister Teresa said, we should only love anyway.

Monday, October 1, 2018

Monday Motivation: Recognizing and Overcoming Discouragement



This is from an address given by Larry R. Lawrence at Brigham Young University. You can read the entire talk here.

The story goes that Satan went into his garage one day and noticed that everything was a complete mess. He couldn’t find what he was looking for because there were so many rusty tools lying around cluttering up the place.
Satan decided on a solution. He would have a garage sale. He cleaned up his old tools and offered them at a discount price for other devils to purchase. Some tools sold right away—for example, the hammer of hatred, the wrench of fear, and the clamp of addiction. They were very popular items.
When he was asked why he was selling off so many of his tools, Satan explained that he had decided to concentrate all of his personal efforts on bringing down those who earnestly try to follow Christ. He preferred to use his favorite tool on them. What do you think it was?
It was the wedge of discouragement. Satan boasted about it, saying, “With this one tool I can inflict major damage on the faithful. Discouragement works wonders every time—even when nothing else will. It can bring misery to the most conscientious souls—those who are striving to keep the commandments.”
Then Satan, using his favorite tool, went about whispering lies. To the humble followers of Christ he said, “You are worthless,” “You never do anything right,” “Give up,” “No one cares about you,” and “You can never change.” Sadly, many good people believed him.
There is a lesson to be learned from this fable. The devil specializes in discouraging the faithful and those who are trying to repent. For that very reason, we must continually lift and encourage each other.
Don’t forget that Satan wants all men to be “in misery, like unto himself” (2 Nephi 9:9). Jesus, on the other hand, wants men and women to “receive a fulness of joy” (D&C 138:17).

Wednesday, September 19, 2018

The Music of You and Me Cover Reveal and First Chapter


Do you love the cover for my upcoming novella? The Music of You and Me will be included in the Authors of Main Street Christmas Box set. I love this story. You may not have noticed this, but not too long ago, I had a paradigm shift with my books (and life.) I decided I wanted to help people. And to do that, I started addressing real-life issues that I saw around me and created characters who have to deal (hopefully in healthy ways) with those issues. Does that mean I'll abandon paranormal elements? No, because I think life can be extremely "magical." Does that mean my books will be heavy rather than light? I hope not. That would be a drag to write let alone read.

But my hope is that more than one reader will relate in a profoundly personal way to a crisis one of my characters is facing...although, the book now brewing in my head involves a billionaire with amnesia. Of course, it's basically wish-fulfillment, but it will be super fun to write. But it will also include ridiculously over-protective brothers. If you have experience with ridiculous brothers, please let me know. I'd love to chat about it.

Here's the first chapter of the Music of You and Me. It will be in the released in the box set in November and I'll publish it in December.

Chapter 1

This is my future. Tara set her suitcase on the porch of her Uncle’s craftsman style home and gazed at the front door. Her feet froze on the bottom step. Her knees locked. She tried to coax herself forward, but remained rooted, frozen in place.
“Darling,” her Uncle Will called from inside the open doorway, “come on in! What’cha waiting for?”
After his urging, Tara planted a smile on her lips, picked up her suitcase, and pushed her way across the porch.
Uncle Will shuffled through the darkened foyer and opened the screen door to welcome her in. Reaching for her bag, he took it from her before giving her a one-armed hug.
Tara pulled away as soon as it was polite to do so. “Where’s Auntie Darrel?” Her nose wrinkled from the cooked cabbage smell coming from the kitchen.
“Still at the dad-burned school. Since they started rehearsals for the fall play, I hardly see hide nor hair of her.” He nodded sagely. “She’ll be right glad to see you.”
“I’m not really sure how much help I can be,” Tara said, apprehension fluttering in her belly at the thought. She had been home-schooled so a private ritzy school like Canterbury Academy both fascinated and terrified her.
Uncle Will squeezed her arm reassuringly. “You’ll be fine. It’s more about herding cats than teaching music.”
Tara nodded and tried to look buoyed up by his words. Uncle Will shared her disorder, so he should understand her concerns, but since he worked the farm for his living, his interaction with the outside world was very limited. Which was just the way he liked it.
And that was the just the way Tara planned on living, too. She followed Uncle Will up the stairs that led to the guest bedroom. He climbed slowly, his breath labored, making her wonder how long he’d be able to dedicate the long hours the farm demanded. Auntie Darrel worked at the school teaching music and acting as the nurse, but Tara didn’t know if that income alone could support her aunt and uncle. She felt a twinge of guilt and promised herself that she wouldn’t contribute to their financial burdens. She prayed that she’d be able to help, rather than hurt. But given her condition, she didn’t know if that was a prayer Heaven could answer. Especially since Heaven had ignored her prior pleas for help.
Uncle Will dropped her bag in the doorway of the guest bedroom and brushed his hands on his overalls. “Take all the time you need to settle in. I better get back to picking the apples. If I don’t, the deer will do it for me.”
“Thanks, Uncle Will, I’ll come and help you.” She looked longingly at the crazy quilt on the bed. “I don’t need to settle in.”
“Nope. I promised your aunt that I would get you behind the piano first thing. I’m under strict instructions that you’re not to be out in the yard…with me. You’re to learn the music pronto.” He turned to leave. “The score is on the dresser,” he said over his shoulder.
Tara picked up the music and flipped through it. Much like her aunt, the songs were predictable and bordered on boring.
Tara lugged her bag to the closet and pushed it inside. Her case wasn’t very big—not because she didn’t plan on staying very long—but because she didn’t own a lot of clothes. It didn’t take her long to hang up her four dresses, stow her three pairs of pants, five tops, and collection of underwear in the dresser. She placed a framed photo of her mom and her Bible on the nightstand. That done, she sat down on the bed, closed her eyes, and tucked her feet beneath her. As much as she wanted to, she didn’t allow herself to lie down. She breathed in through her nose, pushed away homesickness, and reminded herself of her plan.
Earn enough money working at her aunt’s school to buy her own laptop and then start teaching English to foreign students via the internet. She only hoped that the light from the computer wouldn’t trigger episodes.
#
Liam Grant pulled his Ford 150 down his Gram’s bumpy drive. The scent of burning brush that always reminded him of this time of year hung in the air. He parked near the barn, shut off the engine and climbed out. The tinkling from a piano escaped the windows of the neighboring farmhouse. In the distance, a man in overalls pulling a wagon plucked apples from gnarled trees. Liam tried to place the music, it sounded like a familiar tune, but—like the trees—twisted somehow, as if the pianist had chosen a familiar tune and had decided to change it.
He closed the truck’s door and went to find his gram and her cat, Ragamuffin. A once white picket fence surrounded the gray-blue farmhouse and kept the daisies as well as the chickens in the yard. Ragamuffin perched on a branch of a maple tree and stared down her nose at him.
“You look fine to me,” Liam said. “What’s wrong with you now?”
Gram banged through the back door. “Don’t you be fooled by him,” she told Liam. “He might be acting all la-dee-da, but he’s not eating his kibble.”
Since Gram called him at least once a week to come out and check on Ragamuffin’s health, the cat’s lack of appetite didn’t worry Liam. He suspected that the frequent house calls had more to do with his gram’s loneliness than with the cat’s well-being.
A warm cinnamon smell wafted through the open door. Apple pie. If Liam wasn’t careful, Ragamuffin’s lack of appetite would make him fat.
Liam nodded at the neighbor’s house. “Sounds like a musician moved in.”
Gram huffed. “That racket has been going on day and night ever since that scrap of a girl got here.” She held the door open for Liam and he followed his gram through the mudroom to the kitchen. A pie sat on the counter. Steam escaped through the lattice crust. His stomach rumbled just from looking at it.
“Ragamuffin?” he asked in a strangled voice.
“He’ll come in when he’s done with his adventures,” Gram said. “We might as well enjoy ourselves until then.” She slid him a glance. “Do you want ice cream with your pie?”
Did she really need to ask? “Always. But here, let me get it.”
She pushed him aside before selecting a knife and slicing up the pie while Liam went to the freezer and pulled out a container. His shoulders screamed a complaint while he scooped up the ice cream.
Gram must have noticed, because she asked, “What’s wrong?”
“Nothing much,” Liam said after he placed a scoop of ice cream in a bowl. “I helped deliver a colt this afternoon.” He had spent almost an hour with his arm inserted into the back-end of the mare and this hadn’t been pleasant for any of them. He flexed his hand, grateful it still worked.
“Where’s Teague today?” Gram asked as she took a seat in the ladderback kitchen chair and poised her spoon above the pie.
“With his mom.” Liam couldn’t help it, he moaned in pleasure as soon as the pie crossed his lips.
Gram made a noise that was a cross between a grunt and snort. “What about school?”
“He’s having a hard time,” Liam admitted. “Eva wants to send him to a private school, but—”
“And where would that be?” Gram huffed.
“Exactly,” Liam said. “I’m not willing to give up custody just so he can attend—”
The sound of drums interrupted his sentence.
“What in the tarnation?” Gram bounced to her feet and went to the window. She pulled back the lace curtain and stared through the window at the neighboring farmhouse. “I have had just about enough of this!” She rested her ample butt against the kitchen counter and pushed her hand through her gray curls. “All this noise has upset my girls.”
“The chickens,” Liam murmured.
“They’re so distraught, they’re molting! The yard looks like there’s been a pillow fight and the pillows lost.”
“All chickens molt in the fall. Are they still laying?”
“Yes, but…you should see that child. Pale, skinny as a broomstick with a shock of bright red-hair. She looks like a walking cherry tootsie pop!”
Liam continued eating his pie, amused by the thought of a tootsie pop playing the drums.
“Will you go and talk to her? Tell her she has to take it down a knot or two?”
“Why me?” His gram had never been shy.
“You know Darrel hates me.”
“Mrs. Poole hates everyone,” Liam said.
“But she especially hates me, and if I tried to suggest that her niece stop her infernal noise, I just know the woman would be urging the chit to ramp it up.”
“You’re being silly.” Liam licked his spoon, sad that he’d taken the last bite.
“No, I’m not. I need you to go over there and talk to her…the niece, not Darrel.”
Liam set down his spoon. “My visit had nothing to do with Ragamuffin, did it?”
Gram blushed. “Just go over there and speak to the girl. I’m sure she won’t be as difficult as her terrible aunt. Please ask her to close her windows when she practices.”
Liam rolled his eyes, but he didn’t dare say no. His endless supply of baked goods depended on his staying in his gram’s good graces.
An avocado orchard and a couple of split rail fences separated Gram’s property from the neighbor’s. The music stopped before Liam even got halfway through the trees.
He knocked on the door and peered through the window. The piano stood in a shaft of sunlight. He couldn’t see the drums. Maybe they were set up in the barn. Thinking that that was where he put a set of drums, he went in search of them and the girl that may or may not look like a cherry tootsie pop.
“Can I help you?” The man he’d spied earlier in apple trees stopped him and ran his gaze over him.
“I’m Doctor Grant.” Liam extended his hand and the man took it. His hands were calloused and his skin weather-beaten. His thin hair blew about in the breeze. “My grandmother sent me to ask if whoever is playing could turn down the volume, she and her chickens would really appreciate it.”
The man didn’t respond but stared at Liam with cold eyes, one of which wasn’t looking directly at him. “Her chickens?”
“Yes. They don’t like the noise. They’re molting.”
“All chickens molt this time of year.”
“Could I speak to your niece?”
“No.” The man turned on his heel and strode away.
#
Tara trailed after her aunt through the school’s parking lot.
“This is a very prestigious academy,” Aunt Darrel said over her shoulder. “These girls are all from very wealthy families.”
“All of them?” Tara tried to swallow down her fears.
“Well, there are few here on scholarship,” Darrel admitted. “But my point is, our productions are always top-notch!” She sucked in a deep breath. “Or at least, they always were in the past.” She shook her head. “But now, we have a new English teacher.”
“You don’t like her?” Tara asked in a hushed tone.
“She’s just not cut out for the school! I honestly don’t know how she got this job!”
“If you don’t think she’s qualified, then what am I doing here?”
Aunt Darrel swiveled and pointed her finger at Tara’s thin chest. “You’re the finest pianist I know—and that’s saying a lot, because I know a lot of people! You don’t need a Ph.D. to accompany a children’s choir! You need musical talent and you have that in abundance. But—” Aunt Darrel hesitated.
“Yes?”
Aunt Darrel wrinkled her nose. “I heard what you were doing to the songs. I think it’s best to keep them simple, don’t you?”
“It’s Alice in Wonderland. I thought the score could use some…jazzing up?”
Aunt Darrel shook her head. “With these girls, it’s best to keep things uncomplicated.” She dropped her voice to a whisper. “Believe me, they don’t want to think too hard.”
“It doesn’t necessarily need to be harder, just more fun.”
“No.” Aunt Darrel pushed her way through the wide double doors of the building bearing a sign that read Humanities Hall.
Hundreds of lockers lined the walls. Tara peeked in the small windows of the classroom doors at the students sitting at the desks as she trotted after her aunt. Tara had finished high school at sixteen and college, via the internet, at twenty. So, she’d be older than the girls, but she guessed she would be smaller than most of them.
She reminded herself that her brusque aunt would be issuing the orders and keeping the girls inline. If Tara kept her head down, no one need know she was hiding behind the piano.
#
“That went as well as can be expected,” Aunt Darrel said at the end of the day.
Tara, still rooted behind the piano, felt the tension between her shoulders begin to ease as the last of the girls filed from the auditorium. She envied them their giggles and whispers. She’d had a few friends from church, her choir, neighbors—but most had left Simi Valley for college or careers.
Darrel gathered up the sheet music and placed it in a plastic crate on top of the piano. Tara added the score to the collection. She caught the whispers of the owner of the school, a stunning but middle-aged brunette, and the English teacher/play director, a tall, willowy blond coming from the orchestra pit. Darrel had introduced her to them earlier, but Tara had already forgotten their names.
As she followed her aunt down the now deserted hallway, her head swam with the music and the potential for change, even though Darrel had asked her not to modify or embellish it in any way, she couldn’t help herself. If the alterations were subtle, there was a good chance that Darrel wouldn’t even notice.
To get from Humanities Hall to the parking lot, they had to cross the quad. The fading sun hovered on the tops of the distant foothills. The giant oaks cast long shadows across their path. A man stepped out from behind a building. Even though he wore mud-caked jeans, boots, and corduroy jacket, something about him told her he wasn’t a laborer, but because of his casual, and filthy appearance, she also knew he wasn’t a faculty member. He was Cary Grant-handsome and when his brown eyes met her gaze, she flushed.
He smiled as if he knew her.
Tara hurried after her aunt and slipped into the Dodge Stratus. “Who was that man?” Tara whispered as soon as Darrel got into the car. It smelled faintly of over-ripe apples despite the fact that Darrel kept her car spotless and bare.
“What man?”
“That man—” She nodded in his direction, but he had disappeared. “Never mind,” she said out loud with a sigh, reminding herself of her vow.
Aunt Darrel cut her a sideways glance and put the car into gear.
“Auntie, how long after you met Uncle Will did he tell you about his epilepsy?”
Darrel pulled the car out of the school parking lot and headed for the road that led to the tiny town of Oak Hollow. “We grew up together. He didn’t have to tell me. I saw it for myself.”
“And it didn’t frighten you?”
“Of course, it did. It’s a terrifying thing.”
“But you still married him.”
Darrel rolled her eyes. “We’re all packages, girlie. Every one of us comes with good parts and bad. If I wanted the good parts of Will, I had to be okay with the parts that frighten me.”
“And you were okay with not having children?”
“I work with children all day long. It’s enough.”
“You’re special.” Tara knew that most people found her aunt difficult, but Tara’s heart warmed toward her.
“Someday, you’ll find someone special, too,” Darrel predicted.
“No,” Tara said with conviction. “I’m married to my music.” She smiled and echoed her aunt. “It’s enough.”
Darrel pinned Tara with a hard stare. “Now girlie—”
A large brown bear wandered on to the road.
Tara screamed.

Darrel returned her attention to the road and slammed on her brakes. The car skittered to the gravel shoulder and went into a tailspin. The bear yelped as the front bumper connected with him and sent him flying.

#FoodFiction Sugar-free Chocolates From Stealing Mercy

Sugar-free Chocolates

Prep Time 5 minutes
 Cook Time 15 minutes
 Total Time 20 minutes
 Servings 8 servings
 Calories 170 kcal
Ingredients
3/4 cocoa butter
1 cup unsweetened cocoa I used Ghirardelli (start with 1/2 cup and add additional if needed)
1/2 teaspoon stevia concentrated powder
1 teaspoon vanilla extract

Instructions
Melt cocoa butter in a chocolate melter or double boiler.
Stir in cocoa powder and sweetener(s).
Keep on heat until dry ingredients have been fully incorporated.
Remove from heat and stir in vanilla extract.

Pour into chocolate bar molds.


CHAPTER 16

Melt with butter over low heat. Take care, if overheated, chocolate can develop a grainy texture.
From The Recipes of Mercy Faye

A thick, sensuous aroma filled the kitchen. It had a heady odor that Mercy had never before encountered. By mixing cocoa, butter, sugar and cider, she’d created something that had seemed to conjure every stray animal in Seattle. Dogs and cats lined the alley behind the shop. They stood shoulder to shoulder, each jostling for position outside the open the door.
“I’ve never seen anything like it,” Cassie said, wiping her forehead with the end of her apron before returning to the pie crust.
Mercy shook her head at the gathered menagerie. “Do animals like chocolate?”
“They certainly seem to think so,” Hilda said, scooping out a cup of sugar and adding it to the vat of lard.
“I can’t imagine that it’s good for them,” Mercy said, wiping her hands on her skirt before brushing her damp hair off her forehead.
“That doesn’t mean that they don’t like it,” Cassie said considering the animals. “There’s plenty of pleasurable poisons.”
“Like that scoundrel Drake,” Hilda said, as she stirred a long handled wooden spoon through the concoction bubbling in the pot on the stove. An uncomfortable silence filled the room as each of the girls seemed to remember where they’d been and how they’d gotten there.
He was the one thing all the girls had agreed upon. Drake Wallace had been their poison. None of them had seen Rita or recognized a description of Steele, but they’d all been intoxicated by Drake Wallace, the cleft-chinned man whom she’d first met on the ship.
“I wonder if he likes chocolate,” Cassie said, her hands on her hips.
Hilda stopped the flour cup mid-air. “What are you thinking?”
STEALING MERCY IS FREE IN THE KINDLE UNLIMITED PROGRAM

Wednesday, September 12, 2018

#FOODFFICTION Fruit Clafouti and The Castle Blues Quake



Pepper’s parents are chefs and she loves to cook with them. Here’s one of their favorite desserts, a custard-like crustless pie—easy to make and great with summer berries.
Fruit Clafouti

Ingredients:
1 tablespoon unsalted butter
12 ounces fresh fruit, such as cherries, berries, or stone fruit
1 cup whole milk
1/2 cup granulated sugar
3 large eggs
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
1/2 cup all-purpose flour
1 teaspoon lemon zest
1 teaspoon fine salt
Powdered sugar, for serving (optional)
Instructions:
1. Arrange a rack in the middle of the oven and heat to 400°F. Coat a 10-inch cast iron or other oven-proof skillet with the butter and set aside.
2. Remove stems and pits from the fruit. Cherries and all berries can remain whole, except halve strawberries. Thinly slice stone fruit. Set aside.
3. Combine the milk, sugar, eggs, and vanilla in a food processor fitted with the blade attachment and process until the batter is smooth, about 20 seconds.
4. Add the flour, zest, and salt and pulse until just incorporated, 5 to 7 pulses.
5. Pour the batter into the prepared pan. Top evenly with the fruit.
6. Bake until set, puffed, and light golden brown around the edges, about 50 minutes.
7. Place the skillet on a wire rack and let cool for 15 minutes (the clafouti will deflate). Dust with powdered sugar if using, cut into wedges or scoop to serve.
Recipe courtesy of https://www.thekitchn.com/





The Castle Blues Quake

12-year-old Pepper moves from New York City to Santa Cruz, CA into a spooky Victorian house and discovers a boy, Corey, hiding in the backyard shed. Without realizing he’s a ghost, she agrees to help him find his grandfather. Earthquakes, haunted house rides, crystal ball readings, and time travel propel Pepper toward the shocking end of her search as she learns about the give and take, the heartache and joy, of true friendship.

EXCERPT:
A circle of light slid across the wall. I froze, thinking it might be my dad with a flashlight. I dropped the harmonica, ready to hide. Then the light disappeared, and a cry from another harmonica pierced my ears. Coming from the neighbor, I figured. The sound grew louder, higher, and then twisted into a crescendo, into a wail full of such sorrow it pulled at my insides. The music sang about loneliness, about leaving friends behind, about losing those friends forever. The sound rolled back to a soft whine, and then stopped. Wiping tears from my eyes, I turned toward the door. Corey stood there. A net of misty fog covered his black hair.
I swiped my cheeks. “Where were you?”
Corey shrugged. So what else was new. He squatted on the can next to me and peered at my face, into my eyes. “You been crying?”
My nose was stuffy with leftover tears, and I forced myself not to sniffle. “No, I—” And then, maybe because the neighbor’s song had reminded me of how much I missed Chrissie and how much I wanted a friend, I said, “I guess so. I was thinking about my best friend in New York. It’s just, sometimes I wonder if I’ll ever see her again.”
“I know what you mean.”
Of course. His parents and missing grandfather. I felt so stupid. “I’m sorry. You’ve had it a lot worse than I have.”
“If you only knew.” He started to laugh, but it sounded more like a splinter was stuck in his throat.
“You’re right. Geez, what have I got to complain about? I know there’s no way I can really understand what you’ve gone through, what you are going through. But, I promise, I’ll help you the best I can.”
“Thanks.” The corners of his mouth went up, but the smile never made it to his eyes.
I wished I could really make him laugh. Wouldn’t it be cool, I thought, if everything was normal, if Corey didn’t have to hide, if we could go inside and hang out? I’d make some popcorn, and we’d find something to watch on TV…
The popcorn reminded me of the sandwiches. “I have a surprise for you. I brought you something to eat.” I unwrapped the sandwiches. With a flourish, I placed the paper towel on his lap like a waiter in a fancy restaurant, and presented him with his sandwich. “Sir, for your dining pleasure this evening, we have for you Pepper Connelly’s super select primo deluxe sandwich of all sandwiches—ta da—Marshmallow Cream and Bananas enhanced with a delightful layer of peanut butter.”
And this time he did laugh. His face softened around its hard edges, and a light came into his eyes, turning them from hard black ice to warm sweet cocoa. It made me feel so happy—like my insides were floating—to hear him laugh.



Wednesday, September 5, 2018

Trudy’s Tasty Tapioca Pudding and a Serving of Marilyn Monroe! #FOOD FICTION


CHERISHED RECIPES FROM THE KITCHEN OF TRUDY VANDERHOOVEN

At the request of readers, a selection of Midwestern recipes appears in My Friend Marilyn. They were used by Penny Parker’s landlady, Trudy Vanderhooven. While Trudy is a work of fiction, the recipes are time-tested treasures from St. Olaf’s Church Ladies Association’s cookbook.

Trudy’s Tasty Tapioca Pudding
3 cups whole milk
1/3 cup small-pearl tapioca (not instant)
1/2 cup granulated sugar
2 large egg yolks, lightly beaten
1 vanilla bean, split lengthwise, seeds scraped and reserved
1/8 teaspoon fine salt

Place 1 cup of the milk and the tapioca pearls in a medium saucepan and stir to combine. Let the pearls soak uncovered at room temperature for 1 hour. Add the remaining 2 cups of milk, sugar, egg yolks, vanilla seeds and salt. Stir to combine. Place the pan over medium heat and cook. Whisk frequently, until the mixture just comes to a simmer, about 10 minutes (do not let the mixture boil). Reduce the heat to low and cook. Whisk frequently, until the mixture thickens and the tapioca pearls are softened and translucent, about 15 minutes. Serve warm (the pudding will thicken as it cools) or chill in the refrigerator.







What follows is from the recently released historical-fiction novel My Friend Marilyn. After being named Marilyn Monroe's assistant, a big-and-bold dime-store cashier is surrounded by show-biz temptations and hidden dangers during the filming of SOME LIKE IT HOT in 1958 at Hotel del Coronado. Get Your Copy Here!


“Is that your husband?” Marilyn pointed to the sepia-colored photo of a uniformed man above the hearth.
“Yes, that’s my Vernon. I came here from Minnesota to be with him. Left everything. And everyone. And the ice and the moose and the mosquitoes. For him. And I’d do it again. In a heartbeat. Yes, in a heartbeat.”
“Sounds like quite a guy.”
“Yes, he was. You could make a movie about what he went through, and what we shared. He was no saint, though. But he was mine. And living with him—and loving him—taught me something everyone should know and not have to discover the hard way.”
“What’s that?”
“Give me a second to get this straight in my head so it comes out right.” Trudy blinked a few times. “We came to love not by finding the perfect person, but by learning to see an imperfect person, perfectly.”
“That’s so true. I’m going to remember it.” Marilyn continued, “Mind if I use it in the future? You’re so smart!”
“I’m not smart at all. But sometimes I guess I do amaze myself. Then I’ll do something stupid, like putting the laundry in the oven. Nobody’s perfect, that’s what I always say.”
I came down the stairs into the living room. “Didn’t interrupt anything, did I?”
“Not a thing, honey. Feel more like yourself now?”
“Yep, just Penny from the five and dime.” I looked over at my broken shoe. “I even had my fairytale moment. But I’m not sure a broken heel really counts.”
“How about some tapioca? Won’t take but a minute to dish it up?”
“Sounds wonderful.” It did sound wonderful. “I didn’t get a bite of dinner. We ordered, but then my lady parts ordered me to the ladies’ room. And now me—and my parts—are here. Thanks to Marilyn, a real crisis was averted.” I stopped to laugh. “Oh my gosh. You should have seen us. Imagine me. In a bathroom stall. Bleeding. In my dream dress. And Marilyn dressed in that get up helping me deal with it all.”
Marilyn confessed, “I’ve been in some memorable situations. That was one…well, I’ll always remember it.”
“Hard to believe, right? Me and Marilyn having an adventure in the ladies’ room. And now we’re here with you. Say, are there any leftovers from dinner?”
“Sure. Miss Monroe, are you sure you won’t have something to eat?”
I eyed Marilyn and winked that it was okay.
“Sure. I’d love whatever you have. This is Penny’s night. And please call me Marilyn.”
“Come with me then. You don’t mind being in the kitchen, do you?”
“Of course not. I love being in my kitchen, but I’m never home.”
I chimed in, “I hate it when I go in the kitchen looking for food and all I find are ingredients.” I poked at my stiff hairdo with a pencil from on the counter. “That’s why I love living with Trudy. Well, one of the reasons.”
“You two can eat in the dining room.” Trudy’s head was in the refrigerator.
“Nonsense. The kitchen table will be fine.” Marilyn pulled out a chair. Before she sat, she asked, “Is there something I can do to help?”
“Nothing at all,” Trudy replied. “This lady-boss of yours is not what I expected, Penny.”
“No, she’s not. Thank goodness.” I sat on the chair next to Marilyn’s. “Say, how’s about we start with the soup of the day: whiskey with ice croutons?”
Trudy revealed her face from around the refrigerator door. Her eyes were sharply aimed at me.
I grinned in return. “That was meant to be a joke.”
“I’m a Midwestern cook. I know my way around a kitchen. Potatoes. Ketchup. Butter. That’s all I need.” Trudy pulled out a casserole dish. She lifted the tin foil that acted as a lid. “I call this Desperation Hot Dish. Look good?”
“Delicious.” Marilyn’s eyes sparkled.
“Serve it up.” I couldn’t wait. “I’ll even eat it cold.”
“Nonsense.” Trudy turned on the stove and placed the dish on the burner. “Just so you know, there’s macaroni, hamburger, corn, kidney beans and a can of tomato soup in it. All we do back home is stir it up and let it bubble and bake in the oven. Some shredded cheese on top and voila.”
Trudy went back to the refrigerator and pulled out a cut-glass salad bowl. “How about some Ginger Ale Jello Salad to go with your hot dish?”
Marilyn and I smiled at each other.
“Please don’t go to any trouble.”
“No trouble at all, Marilyn. I do this for a living at the dime store. I don’t know if Penny told you I run the lunch counter…for people who appreciate a nice meal and a nice conversation. And for those who gobble and go. Human wood chippers, that’s what they are. Anyway, I make a mean grilled-cheese sandwich.”