Wednesday, September 29, 2010

It's Sew Easy & A Giveaway For You!


Sewing is not "easy" but it isn't difficult either.  If you come to your sewing machine with an open mind and a passion to learn, anything is possible creatively.  From textile art to quilting, fashion design to toys and accessories, this is only the beginning of a creative journey when you first learn to sew.

Many of you out there are self-taught, or you learned from your mother.  That is how I learned how to sew - from my dear mother.  She inspired me and encouraged me as a child and I was always so excited when she would let me choose fabric for a dress and then watch her make it, mistakes and all and seam ripper close by.  She taught me that patience is necessary when you are learning to sew and even as you become an experienced seamster (as she would call it).  "Take your time" my mother would say.  "Enjoy the process."


Those were important words then and they still ring true today.  When I find a book that is full of fun, creative inspiration, and easy to understand, I gravitate to it.  My library is bursting with resources of books and materials for a college!  And, in many ways, these books have been my "college" as they have provided me with the information and guidance I needed to learn on my time and in my home at my machine. 

For my daughters, I have wanted to inspire them the way that my mother inspired me and I am passing the torch you might say.  I love all things creative.  This little book "Sew Easy - The Essential Guide to Getting Started" by Linda Lee is so adorable and resourceful! 

At first glance, it looks like a book, but what it is actually a box.  You open it up and inside you find a dozen cards.  On the front of the card is a picture of the project.  Open it up like a book and you have the instructions and illustrations for making the project.


You'll find cards to make napkins, a journal cover, a little pouch with 3 zipper compartments, an innovative skirt, a handy tote, a stretch-knit summer top, a machine quilted throw, a beautiful scarf, a delightful brooch, a retro pillow, an elegant table topper, and a technique for creating iron-on applique.  Nothing complicated or over-the-top here.  What you do have, though, is a beginning and some easy projects to get started.

This is a can-do book of creative ideas to inspire the beginning seamster.  But that's not all!  Inside you will also find this little desk book filled with essential sewing terms, and information on little things like presser feet to machine stitches to linings to special treatments.


A bit about this book:

Sew Easy: The Essential Guide to getting started
By Linda Lee
Publisher: Sixth & Spring Books
1 Box, 12 Project Cards, 1 book with 48 pages

I think you'll enjoy this little box of goodies and I am offering it to you!  Just answer the question below in the comments -

What do you enjoy most about sewing?

CONGRATULATIONS TO #5 LizM!!  You are the winner of the Sew Easy Giveaway!! 


Liz - email me at to claim your prize!  I'll need your shipping address!!  Thank you for everyone who entered.  I am having more giveaways so keep an eye out!



Wednesday, September 22, 2010

Sew Teen & Fashion DIY and a Giveaway Too!!


Do you have a young daughter?  A teenager who loves fashion and being creative too?  Do I ever have the books for you!  Sew Teen (Make Your Own Cool Clothes) and Fashion DIY (30 Ways to Craft Your Own Style).

Have you been watching the news lately?  Check out this video below.  If you have trouble seeing the video, you can go directly to the movie at:

Sewing Does find a new Life!  Teens are identifying with the show "Project Runway" and they are looking for ways to express their individuality and fashion style by designing their own clothes, making some of their clothes, and adding embellishments to their jeans, skirts, and tops.  These 2 books are a great way to get your daughter's creative energy in a healthy craft.


A bit about Sew Teen - The book opens with a glossary of sewing terms, how to take measurements, and the tools needed to start sewing.


The dresses and patterns are adorable!


A bit about Fashion DIY - From hand embroidery to Applique, Embellishments to add to sweaters.


Want to know how to make a Patina Heirloom Purse, this book will satisfy your need to be creative and dress up your fashions.


I love this project for a Starboard Head Cozy, and you will too! 

Both of these books are going to be in the library of one lucky reader!  Just answer the question below in the comments:

Did you enjoy sewing and making things when you were a teen?

Sew Teen
By Sheila Kent
Publisher: Sixth & Spring Books
160 Pages

Fashion DIY
By Carrie Blaydes and Nicole Smith
Publisher: Sixth & Spring Books
136 Pages

* * * * *

September 24, 2010


Congratulations to #5 - Tracy!  You are the winner of this weeks Giveaway - "Sew Teen & Fashion DIY!"  I hope you will enjoy these books as much as I have.  I think these books are great inspiration for teenagers looking for a career in fashion design who are just learning to sew.  Please email me with your shipping information at 

Thank you to everyone who entered this week's Giveaway.  I will be having Giveaway's each Wednesday for at least several weeks going forward and hope that you will stop by and participate!  Please pass on the good news about the Contests and Giveaways on Raisin Toast!


Wednesday, September 15, 2010

Vogue Sewing and a Giveaway!


I LOVE this book!  It  has everything I need to know for being a fashionista behind the sewing machine.  Vogue patterns can be complicated, but it seems like my favorite patterns are always the Vogue Designer patterns, so what better way to grasp everything you need to know about reading and understanding patterns, making alterations, and taking the right measurements, than Vogue Sewing?


I've been sewing for most of my life - probably about 40 years or more, and I have used my seam ripper like crazy.  That is where patience comes in and understanding that part of learning and creating the perfect garment is knowing that mistakes happen and seam rippers are as necessary in the puzzle of putting together your project as basting, sewing, and pressing.  Just expect that you will need to tear out seams, start over, and do a better job.  Never start a project if you are impatient or stressed - you are bound to mess something up.


I am an avid reader, and I have a library of books - from sewing and quilting reference books, to painting books, to fiction and classic novels.  So, when I come across a real find - something that I know you would enjoy for your own library, I will surely share it with you here.  The good news is that this time I have a Giveaway to one of my readers.


Let me tell you about Vogue Sewing -

This book is a real find.  First of all, it will open your eyes to the Fashion game so that you understand the creative process to creating your wardrobe.  Everything from Harmony, proportion, to balance.  Ladies, we need to know these things.  I, for one, know how easy it is to fall into a fashion rut. 


You will learn about fabrics, fibers, knits, finishes, and there is even a guide to interfacing.  Choosing the right pattern is necessary if you are going to create something that fits "you."  But "fit" is not enough, ladies, you need to understand your body type so that you don't just pick the right "size" but you pick the right "design" for the most flattering fit and style on you.


Vogue Sewing also digs into the details of altering patterns to fit your exact measurements.  Nothing is worse than spending hours making a dress or a pair of pants with beautiful fabric only to discover that it doesn't fit.  Hey - I'm guilty of this myself!  Actually, it was this book that opened my eyes to how to pick the closest size to my own body measurements and how to make alterations directly to the pattern for the perfect fit.  It's not difficult at all, and once you read the section on patterns, you will understand why.

Suffice it to say that this is one book that every seamstress should have in their sewing library.  And now you have that opportunity! 

I am giving away a copy of this book on Friday.  Leave a comment below and answer this question:

What is the one thing that you struggle with when you sew?  Is it reading patterns, putting in sleeves, quilting, cutting accurately?  Whatever it is, tell me about it!

The winner will be picked by and posted here! 


Vogue Sewing
Publisher: Sixth & Spring Books
460 pages

* * * * *

Friday, September 17, 2010


Congratulations to #12 - Deb!  You are the winner of this weeks Giveaway - "Vogue Sewing!"  I hope you will enjoy this book as much as I have.  Of all the books in my sewing library, this is one of the best.  Please email me with your shipping information at 

Thank you to everyone who entered this week's Giveaway.  I will be having Giveaway's each Wednesday for at least several weeks going forward and hope that you will stop by and participate!  Please pass on the good news about the Contests and Giveaways on Raisin Toast!


Tuesday, June 29, 2010

A Certain "Je Ne Sais Quoi" and "Easy As Pi" Giveaway!!


Summer may be here, but I make it a point not to let our children fry their brains with video and computer games day after day.  They need some interesting reading in addition to doing other fun things like playing board games, riding their bikes, playing basketball and swimming, and other outdoor activities. The reading, however, is important to me as a parent.  I not only provide them with novels to read, but I, on occasion, discover wonderful books that provide information as well as entertainment, and today, I want to tell you about 2 such books - A Certain "Je Ne Sais Quoi" (The Origin of Foreign Words Used in English) by Chloe Rhodes, and "Easy As Pi" (The Countless Ways We Use Numbers Every Day) by Jamie Buchan.



A Certain "Je Ne Sais Quoi" begins:

The wonderful thing about words is that once we've learned their meanings, we rarely have to give them a second thought.  Whether we're arguing a point, expressing our passion, or simply ordering a pizza, the words are there; generally we have no need to pause to consider their precise meanings or ponder over their provenance.

However, for all the benefits such fluency brings, it does mean that we're often oblivious to the fascinating origins of the words and phrases we use every day ... The list of words and phrases within [this book] is by no means exhaustive, and it doesn't offer an academic lok at etymology, but it does attempt to tell the stories of some of the thousands of foreign words and phrases that have come to be commonly used in English.



That was all the introduction I needed to want to read this book myself and pass it on to my daughter, Sarah.  Well, not only did she grab up this book and read it, but her French teacher at her high school borrowed it too!  It is a very interesting book and one that I know you, too, will enjoy reading.



Here is the first word in the book:

"A cappella"

In the manner of the chapel or choir
(Italian, from the Latin "a cappella")

This phrase comes to us via the Late Latin "cappa," meaning "cap" or "cloak" -- the chapel that housed the cloak of Saint Martin, kept as a relic, was thus the "capella."  The meaning of the term has now expanded to include any unaccompanied vocal performance, from the doo--wop bands of 1950s America to barbershop quartets to modern TV talent shows.

The neighborhood dogs all howled along when Jeremy began his a cappella serenade

The book continues with the most interesting words, origins, and sentence usage.  You will not tire of this book.  It is a great read and fun too, and, it's your lucky day, because I have one to offer up to one of my readers!!!

* * * * *



"Easy as Pi" also begins with a gripping introduction:

As you read this, the world may still be in the grip of a severe economic crisis.  Chances are you were woken up this morning by an alarm so you could get to work at or before a specific time.  Your cell phone is assigned its own specific number and, like all electronic devices, its functioning is based on manipulating numbers.  The timing and placement of traffic lights on your way to work would have been mathematically designed to maximize efficiency, despite appearances to the contrary.  Every man-made object will have been designed with numbers in mind, and many (including this one) are given unique numeric identifiers.

As Pythagoras once said, "numbers rule the universe." 



If that doesn't catch your attention, I don't know what will.  Well, for me anyway!  I have been, ever since I can remember, a perpetual student.  I love math and reading and language.  I love writing and math and word games too.  Maybe that's why I'm also a member of Mensa (just in case you didn't know).  In this book, the writer takes a look at Numbers in Language:

"Do a Number" -

To seriously damage something or someone.  The origins of this phrase are very murky, but it seems to be derived from the world of boxing, where a fighter might be instructed to "do a number" on his opponent's face; that is, hit it a number of times - hard.

Pretty funny, ay? 



The book also covers topics such as Numbers in Fiction, Numbers in Culture, Numbers in Mythology and Religion, and Numbers in Math and Science.  I love it, and so, I thought Sarah and Matthew, especially, would enjoy this book as well.  I was right.  They love it and Sarah has read it entirely and has found it very helpful and insightful.

The key here is making learning fun, interesting, and exciting so that our children spend their lives learning and wanting to continue to learn and grow.

And the good news is that this book, too, is part of the giveaway!!

So, how about you "do a number" in my comments by telling me the "whole nine yards" of what inspires you to learn.

Comments will be closed on Friday at noon EST. 

The winner will be chosen on Friday afternoon.  Probably about 3pm or thereabouts using

This may not be a contest for a mixer or a camera, but I promise you these books will be a fun and interesting read for you and your family this summer!

* * * * *


We have a WINNER!  CONGRATULATIONS to #6, Deb Davis!  You have won these wonderful books and I hope that you are able to use them in your classroom.

Please send me an email at to claim your prize and please send me your address so that I can send you your books!



Monday, June 28, 2010

The Case of the Disappearing Pop-Tarts


BHPTWe have a dilemma here in our home.  We all love Blueberry Pop-Tarts and we are a family of six.  So naturally, when Pop-Tarts and BlogHer asked me to write a compensated post for Pop-Tarts I jumped at the chance - because having coupons for Pop-Tarts is like knowing that I won't go to bed hungry or want for a good afternoon snack or have a good, quick breakfast at my fingertips - at least for a while anyway!  But multiply that by six and that leaves us with a bit of a dilemma - just how many coupons will satisfy this family of six and for how long?  Well, suffice it to say, the Pop-Tarts are disappearing at a rate faster than you can read this post.



I can't keep their hands away.  "For goodness sakes kids!  Can't I take some pictures without you grabbing at the prop?!!!"  Nope.



So where was I?  Back to our dilemma.  Now I know that other toaster tarts have popped up (no pun intended hee hee) on the market, but I've been eating Kellogg's Blueberry Unfrosted Pop-Tarts for - uh - 30 years or more?  They've been a staple for me for so many years that if they were to stop making them, I think I would have Pop-Tarts withdrawal in a bad way - and so would the other six members of my family.



Well, my son polished off the first of the Pop-Tarts and my daughter ran off with the box.  That leaves this lonely fella.



I just had to have a bite.


Oh, what's another, right?


Dang this is good.  I was hungry too.


Big Bear is working in his office and he yells downstairs "Hamburgers?  Green Beans?  Applesauce?  Sound good for dinner?"  Sarah responds with her mouth full - "Uh, Daaad, I'm Pop-Tarts"  Then we all laughed.



If anyone touches this lonely bite I will cut off their hand.


Unless, of course, it's my own, in which case I think I'll have another.  Now where's that box?  Sarah!!!  Matthew!!!


Oh, there you are. 


They sure smell good right out of the toaster, and we love being able to grab and go too!  My kids are always grabbing a package of Pop-Tarts to take with them on family outings. They are a great snack to have with them when they are visiting friends, or going on picnics or long drives.  Pop-Tarts satisfy their hunger and keep them happy when we're out for long periods of time too.



Hey!!!  Who said you could take that you little stinker!!!

Don't forget to check out the Official Rules

Visit the Official Pop-Tarts Sprinklings Site!

And be sure and check out the reviews from other bloggers for 8 other chances to win!!


Check out the Pop-Tarts Sprinkly Ice Cream Bites Recipe too! 

Have a fun Summer!




Monday, June 21, 2010

Yummy Fruity Pop-Tarts Delight

BHPTThis is a compensated BlogHer review for Pop-Tarts!

 BlogHer is giving away a $100 Visa Gift Card to one lucky winner from the comments on this and one more Pop-Tarts blog post on June 28th!  Be sure and comment below for your chance to win $100 from BlogHer!

I don't know about you, but my family love Pop-Tarts and I was happy when they asked me to try out their new Pop-Tarts® Ice Cream Shoppe(tm) Vanilla Milkshake and put together a recipe using them if I could.  What fun!  When it's hot outside, what do kids want most?  Pop sickles, Ice Cream, Watermelon, Fruit, Water, so, using 2 of these great summer dishes, here is what we put together:


"Yummy Fruity Pop-Tarts Delight" (Serving of 4)   See ** Below



2 packages of Pop-Tarts® Ice Cream Shoppe(tm) Vanilla Milkshake
4 individual round scoops of Breyer's Vanilla Ice Cream
Whipped Cream
Hershey's Chocolate Syrup, and
Hershey's Strawberry Syrup

Crumble up the Pop-Tarts into a separate mixing bowl
Scoop out the ice cream into separate serving bowls
cover the ice cream with the Pop-Tarts® Ice Cream Shoppe(tm) Vanilla Milkshake crumbs
Put whipped cream around the perimeter of the ice cream
Place raspberries and blackberries on top of the whipped cream around the scoop of ice cream covered with Pop-Tarts.

Drizzle Hershey's Chocolate Syrup and Hershey's Strawberry Syrup on the ice cream and voila!  You've got yourself a Yummy Fruity Pop-Tarts Delight.


Now this is one happy little boy!


* * Not recommended for anyone with diabetes - high sugar content.

Don't forget to check out the Official Rules

Visit the Official Pop-Tarts Sprinklings Site!

And be sure and check out the reviews from other bloggers for 8 other chances to win!!


Check out the Pop-Tarts Sprinkly Ice Cream Bites Recipe too! 

Have a fun Summer!


Monday, June 07, 2010

The $100 Question - What One Life Choice You'd Change

100Question  If you could change one thing about the choices you have made in your life, what would that choice be?

How to play: Tell Me your answer in the comments on Blogher by 5 p.m. Wednesday, June 9 to be eligible to win! We'll enter all the comments into a randomizer and choose one lucky commenter to win. Comment as many times as you want. Click here to read the official rules. Good luck!

Want more chances to win?

Please join us tomorrow for Tuesday's question, asked by Dawn from This Woman's Work for another chance to win!  

Thank you Blogher for giving my readers and your readers an opportunity to win $100!

Now scoot on over to Blogher and comment for a chance to win!!!

Note: You can comment here, but the comments that count towards the contest are on Blogher!!


Friday, April 09, 2010

Mothering, Fathering, and Wishing You Had All the Answers


Recently, I was asked to review 2 books - "Pregnant, a Field Guide to Fathering" by Gary Kleiman, and "The Mommy Files - Secrets Every New Mom Should Know" by Jen Klein.  Both books leave you laughing out loud for the honesty and humor that each of these authors have been able to give us through their prose.

I am not a new Mommy, and I am definitely not a new Daddy, however, I've been a new Mommy 5 times in my life, and the last time was kinda flung on me out of nowhere.  But, by the time Glen arrived 10 years ago, I was more than aptly ready for this new adventure, or so I thought.

TheMommyFiles  If you are a new Mommy, I promise you this, "The Mommy Files" will help you find the humor in the sleep deprivation, the double-doody diapers leaking from every leg hole and waistband, and how to change a diaper while holding your baby in mid-air in a truck-stop bathroom. Yep, I've done that too.  It is not fun, but it is possible.

There is some comfort in knowing that "your mother didn't know what she was doing either" and in my case, I was not only way too young to be a new mother when I entered this club, I was way too immature and totally not funny.  Live and learn.  Why can't hindsight be foresight?  

One thing I did not do as a young mother and I wish I had was ask for help.  Jen Klein teaches you with friendly experience how being a Supermom really is about asking for help and not being afraid to admit that you are in over your head.

Personally, when I was a new mother in my late teens and again at 21, I was clueless - totally.  I didn't know who I was but now I was someone's mother.  However, after royally screwing up the parenting experience in my early 20s, I did learn how to be a good Mom. No, scratch that, I learned how to be a great Mom.  When I had Sarah and Matthew at age 34 and 37, I was ready.  I was grounded.  I was more able to read the clues my baby gave me and loved them and cared for them with everything that was in me.  It was a completely different experience being a new Mom the second-time around.  I could probably write a book about that subject myself and maybe I will someday.

Still, Jen Klein has put into words what every new Mom should read - when you can find a few minutes to yourself in the bath (while Daddy watches the baby) or stealing a few moments after the baby has gone to sleep, or while your toddler plays with their friends at the local park.  It is a great book to carry with you and enjoy.

Gary Kleiman sees things from a different perspective.  He has worn many hats in his life - traveler, dancer, cowboy, fine woodworker, and more, but the one that changed him entirely into the man and father he is today as a single-father are his 8 year old son and 12 year old daughter.  They live in Northern California, and together explore this life with enthusiasm and a strong bond - something that every father should share with their child.

Fatheringbook  He writes: "Hearing the words, 'Honey, I'm pregnant,' will change your life more than almost anything you can imagine.  It is the first step of a lifelong journey.  So unfasten your seat belt.  You're going to need some breathing room.  Consider yourself about to experience the equivlent of being ejected out of a very high-flying, supersonically speeding rocket.  Your life, as you in all the comfort you have known, is about to become undone."  Yep - I'd have to say so.

Are you a new Mommy or Daddy?  Do you know someone who is?  

Well, I have a nice surprise for two of my readers - One of you will win the book "The Mommy Files" and the other will win the book "Pregnant: a Field Guide to Fathering."  I just want to spread the love.

Here is what I ask: Please tell your mothering or fathering story in the comments below, and, please tell me which book you prefer: the Mommy Files or the Fathering book.  Then, on Wednesday of next week around noon, I will choose the winners via  

I would like to thank Gary Kleiman for not only providing me with his great book to add to my library, but also for providing me with 2 additional copies, both signed, for my new Mommy daughter and her new Daddy hubby, and for one of my readers - thank you Gary!  

And thank you to FSB Associates for continually sending me great books to share with my readers and giveaway.  I also received a copy for my daughter, Kimberly, and for a reader.  So, Kim - it will be in tomorrow's mail.  

So, tell me your parenting story in the comments below and share with me which book you would prefer.  Then, stop back Wednesday afternoon for the winners!

No more comments after Wednesday, April 14th at 12 noon EST.


CONGRATULATIONS TO Melissa for winning "The Mommy Files" and Kathleen Stephenson for winning the book "Pregnant: a Field Guide to Fathering."


Friday, December 11, 2009

Celebrating the Holidays with KitchenAid


I love red.  My family room is red. My sectional sofa in my family room is red.  My candles in my fireplace are red.  And, I love this red 90th Anniversary KitchenAid Mixer, so much in fact, that I am giving a brand new mixer to one of my readers.

And, because I am the one sponsoring this gift, this will be the last contest on Raisin Toast this year, so don't miss your chance!

Just answer the question below in the comments:

What one gift are you giving that makes you feel all excited inside?


One entry/comment per person.

This contest will end on Tuesday, December 15th at 5pm.  TIME'S UP!  Thank you for entering!

Winner will be chosen on Wednesday with

Note:  I do not know anyone at KitchenAid or Williams & Sonoma.  I just love their KitchenAid Mixer and do most of my cooking and kitchen shopping at W&S.  I knew this mixer would make a great holiday gift and I enjoy passing these great things on to my readers.  So - I sponsored this giveaway (and Santa of course).

That's it! 




We have our KitchenAid Winner! 

Congrats to Brielle #15:

email me at to claim your gift.


What one gift are you giving that makes you feel all excited inside?

Brielle wrote:

"This year I am making gifts for my family. I love to quilt and I am making a special lap quilt for each of my 3 siblings and my mother. For the other members of my family I am having special pictures framed and matted for them to hang in their home. I think that handmade gifts and gifts that have thought and emotion behind them are more special than anything I could buy in a store. I want my family to know that I thought about each of them and what would make them happy with every gift I give."

I hope everyone has a wonderful Holiday.  May the Lord bless everyone abundantly.


Friday, December 04, 2009

My Heart Just Melts


Hannah has that effect on me.  Every time I look at her I just want to eat her up and hug her and squeeze her and kiss her.  She is by far the cutest most adorable, cuddly little puppy I've ever seen.  Even with a bad haircut.  Yes, Hannah had a bit of a disaster this past weekend.  



You see, this time last week, Hannah looked like this.  We told Sarah to groom Hannah.  Her hair was getting long and she needed to get the knots out of her fur.



I mean really now - her hair had gotten so long the poor thing couldn't see unless we tied some hair up in a bow like a punk rocker.  



She was not happy, but she put up with Sarah's bows just the same.



Hannah's fur is so soft that it gets knots very easily.  So last weekend, Sarah gave Hannah a bath and while we weren't looking ...



Sarah did this.  I wanted to cry.  But not before I gave Hannah a big cuddle hug and a knoogy rub on the top of her head - and chewed Sarah out for making Hannah look like she was some homeless dog.



I'm not so sure that Hannah quite understands exactly what happened to her.  But I do know that her potty visits outside are a lot shorter - because she is freezin' her fanny off!



There have been days this week that I have missed this face.



But, no matter how bad the haircut ...



I still think Hannah is the most adorable, cuddly, lickity split I've ever seen.  And in honor of her cuteness, and because today is day 4 of our Christmas season ...



I thought you might like to curl up in your favorite chair with your own little puppy dog, and read - with the World's Most Advanced eBook Reader - the Nook.  It's a really great little device, especially if your eyes aren't as good as they used to be - like mine.



You'll be able to read over a million books, newspapers, and magazines, and download everything wirelessly in a snap.  Better yet, you can take it with you anywhere.  So while you are waiting for your hubby to finish his Christmas shopping while you unwind in Starbucks with your favorite cup of coffee, you can read on your Nook.  Of course, you won't want it to get all scratched up, so ...



I thought you might also like this handy Nook cover by Kate Spade.



And I really like the front cover too.  But, be sure to keep it up off the floor or little paws and jaws from little lickity splits like Hannah might chew on it.

To have an opportunity to put this wonderful gift under your Christmas tree, all you have to do is answer the question below in the comments. The winner for today's prize will be chosen Tomorrow.  One winner per contest will be chosen.

Here are the rules:

One comment per person please.

Comments will be closed Tonight at 10pm EST.

The "1" winner for today's prize will be chosen Tomorrow - Saturday.  Actually, the winner for each giveaway will be chosen the first Saturday following each giveaway.  

There is only one prize per day and one winner per contest.

Answer the following 2 questions in the comments below:

What book have your read that is your favorite of all time?

(Sorry for the late post today, but we were out buying a Christmas tree - a LIVE one!)

Note:  I do not know anyone at Barnes & Noble or Kate Spade.  I just love their Nook and Nook cover and I purchased them thru B&N for you.  They make a great holiday gift and I enjoy passing these great things on to my readers.  So - I sponsored this giveaway (and Santa of course).

That's it! 



Congratulations to Sandra Marley!


There were 22 comments.  Winner is #10: Sandra Marley



Thursday, December 03, 2009

Cold Days - Hot Cocoa - What Could Be Better?


Hot Cocoa is the best, and here in the Vaughn home, it is nearly a daily staple.  Sometimes we have it for breakfast.  Sometimes we have it in the afternoon while we are working.  Sometimes we make a huge batch after dinner and we watch a movie together as a family with a fire in the fireplace and everyone in their jammies with a big mug of hot cocoa.  What could be better?

Well, I'll tell ya - on the 3rd day of Christmas (In our 21 days of Christmas giving here on Raisin Toast), my true love gave to you ...

Bialetti Hot Chocolate Maker just for you?  But wait ... WSGingerbreadMugs
How about 4 Gingerbread mugs to go with that cocoa maker?

I mean, you have to have cocoa mugs for the delicious hot cocoa you're going to be making.

What?  Did you say something was missing?  Huh?  

Well - ex - cuuuusssse Me!  I forgot the cocoa!!!!



Isn't life grand?  I think so too.  Especially since I suffer from a serious addiction problem - Chocolate - in any shape or form.  From donuts to Hershey bars to delicious Hot Cocoa (with whole milk for the real stuff) - it is the little things in life (and chocolate) that make it so grand.

It is all about family traditions too.  Big Bear and I didn't really start to build family traditions together until after we had Sarah.  I think she was about 2 years old when we realized that there were some things that we enjoyed doing together, like fires in the fireplace on cold winter nights, curling up together with hot cocoa and a good movie, family game night so I can lose at Monopoly for the hundredth time.  Whatever it is that you do together, cherish the moments.  They come and go in a flash.  By building family traditions, we give something special to our children - memories - what could be warmer?  

Well, maybe a cup of hot cocoa to go with your next family memory.

All you have to do is answer the question below in the comments.  That's it!  The winner for today's prize will be chosen on Saturday.  One winner per contest will be chosen.

Here are the rules:

One comment per person please.

Comments will be closed Friday 10pm EST.

The "1" winner for today's prize will be chosen on Saturday.  Actually, the winner for each giveaway will be chosen the first Saturday following each contest.  

There is only one prize per day and one winner per contest.

Answer the following 2 questions in the comments below:

What family traditions do you remember from your childhood?

What traditions are you building with your own family?

Note:  I do not know anyone at Bialetti.  I just love their hot chocolate maker and I purchased it at Williams & Sonoma together with the hot cocoa mix and mugs.  They make a great holiday gift and I enjoy passing these great things on to my readers.  So - I sponsored this giveaway (and Santa of course).  

That's it! 



Congratulations to Maureen!


There were 25 comments. Winner is #18: Maureen K.


Wednesday, December 02, 2009

Oh The Joys of Christmas

 Joys of Christmas

I love this time of year for many reasons,but mostly because it reminds me (in the event I have forgotten) that the Lord has blessed our family immensely despite our struggles over the past year.  That our family is together and healthy and we all have a warm bed each night.  That through the difficulties, ours are truly insignificant in the big scheme of things.  And that we can continue to give to others and share our blessings with our friends, our family, and complete strangers.  We can give something as simple as a smile to a stranger if we like and know that it made their day a little brighter.  If only we could all live in peace.  

Memories are the makings of Christmas - and all year through for many of us too!  Happy memories are what remind us of the joys of having family and friends.  Well, I hope that this being the 2nd day of Christmas for our 21 days of Christmas giveaway - that the gift will make your holidays a little brighter.

Oh the joys of Christmas - especially if you have children.  My kids get so excited they can hardly wait for that special day, but to keep themselves busy, they do things like ...


Set up decorations that remind us of why we celebrate Christmas.  And we tell the story to our children every year so that they understand that we are celebrating the birth of Christ.



And set up Villages all around our family room like this one...



And this one.



And this one with that wonderful little boy of mine peeking up to show me how proud he is of his Village creation.  I'm so proud of my boy.  He loves setting up for Christmas.



Of course, their is the token Santa - courtesy of his sister who decided that the soap looked better on her brother's face than in the sink.

* * * * *

Now, what to do with all of these pictures?!!  And believe me when I tell you I've got thousands of pictures. I am a camera toting momma around here.  And, to display my pictures so that they look really nice in our family scrapbook, I use this ...



 Are you a scrapbooker?  Do you know what this is?  It's called a Cricut Create Electric Cutting Machine and it is really neat.



And handy too.



Here is the information for you:

The Cricut Create Electronic Cutting Machine combines the portability of the original Cricut machine with the functionality of the Cricut Expression machine.  This versatile crafting sensation allows you to create die-cuts for classroom decor, scrapbook layouts, signs, banners and much more.  It is an exciting way to cut letters, shapes and phrases in an array of impressive sizes from 1/4" up to 11-1/2" on the 6"L x 12"W cutting mat.

Cricut Create Electronic Cutting Machine Includes:

  • Cricut Create machine - measures approx. 9"L x 17"W x 11-1/2"H 
  • Cutting mat - measures approx. 6"L x 12"W
  • Don Juan cartridge
  • Keypad overlay 
  • Handbook
  • Blade assembly
  • Quick start guide
  • Power adaptor
  • Manual
  • Instructional DVD

Product Features: 

  • 8-way directional blade - blade navigation buttons - allow you to move the cutting blade so you can easily position it exactly where you want to start a cut
  • Paper-saving mode - rearranges amount of selections to take up the least space possible
  • Flip function - easily create a flipped or mirrored image cut of the shape you chose
  • Center point function - cuts your shapes centered on a designated point; use on photographs or patterned paper in the landscape mode
  • Fit-to-page function - Maximizes the size of the character on the page, overriding the size set with the Size Dial
  • Shadow option - creates a proportionately larger shadow image of each shape you select
  • Mix and match - make a variety of creative features within the same cuts; use the entire library of existing Cricut cartridges
  • Variety of sizes - cut in portrait or landscape page layout
  • Easy to use - no computer necessary; 4 languages: English, French, Spanish and German; metric options
  • Auto Fill mode - easily mass produce cuts
  • LCD screen - shows exactly what you're typing for your next cut; easy to view
  • UL listed
  • Comes with a manufacturer's 1-year limited warranty

It's a fancy device, and it makes scrapbooking fun.  Wouldn't you love to have this under your Christmas tree?  Wouldn't you love to be able to create pages that are as creative as the pictures you show off to family and friends?  

Well, here you go ...

All you have to do is answer the question below in the comments.  That's it!  The winner for today's prize will be chosen on Saturday.  One winner per contest will be chosen.

Here are the rules:

One comment per person please.

Comments will be closed Friday 10pm EST.

The "1" winner for today's prize will be chosen on Saturday.  Actually, the winner for each giveaway will be chosen the first Saturday following each contest.  

There is only one prize per day and one winner per contest.

Answer the following question in the comments below:

How do you make memories last after the holidays are over?

Note: I do not know anyone at Cricut.  I just love their scrapbook cutter and I purchased it thru HSN.  I do not know anyone at HSN either.  This makes a great holiday gift for the scrapbooker in your life and I enjoy passing these great things on to my readers.  So - I sponsored this giveaway (and Santa of course)

That's it! 



Congratulations Roxy!


There were 22 Comments. Winner is #18: Roxy

Merry Christmas Everyone!



Tuesday, December 01, 2009

It's The Month For Gift Giving


It is the month for shopping and dropping and crowds and economic upturns, and Raisin Toast wants to contribute to the holiday spirit!  The Christmas season of giving!  The joy of surprises and kisses and hugs! Susie Q here wants to give you an opportunity to win something for yourself or someone special in your life. It is my way of saying "Thank you!" for being a Raisin Toast reader!

Since I am so adorable, I have managed to finagle some very nice gifts from some very nice people for my very nice readers.  These are all gifts that I have myself and love and want to share with you. (Not the ones I've used, but new gifts for you).  You see, last year this time I didn't have to do much finagling.  We still had our retirement. ha ha.  This year, however, the only way I could continue the tradition of gift-giving this Christmas was to ask, politely, with whipped cream and a cherry on top for free stuff - for you.  Not me.  You. 

So, here's what I did.  I made a list.  I checked it twice.  I essentially found out who was naughty and who was nice.  And the nice won out.  The naughty had no time for my finagling.  The nice were very nice and let me finagle all I wanted.  Well - to a limit.  Just put it this way -- Every day this week (Monday - Friday) between now and December 21st, Raisin Toast is going to have a giveaway.  And all you have to do is answer the question in the comments below.  That's all you have to do - to finagle a free gift from me - and my very nice corporate friends.  There will only be "1" winner and "1" gift.  Now if only I could finagle a job for Bob out of one of these friends, we'd be all set.  Oh well, Bob isn't into the business of cookware and scrapbooking supplies, and cameras, and ... you get the picture, right?

Today is the first day of this exciting adventure on Raisin Toast.  I'm going to call it the "21 days of Christmas." 

On the 1st day of Christmas my true love gave to me ....


A Nikon CoolPix L20 Digital Camera with 3.6 optical zoom and a 3 inch LCD screen in Deep Red.  Deep red because it's Christmas and I love Deep red, don't you?

Your gift will include:

♦ 1) Nikon Coolpix L20 Digital Camera
♦ 2) Precision Design 4 NiMH Batteries with Rapid Charger
♦ 3) Transcend 4GB HC SecureDigital Class 6 (SDHC) Card
♦ 4) Precision Design USB 2.0 High Speed SecureDigital (SD/SDHC) Card Reader
♦ 5) Image Recall Digital Image Recovery Software
♦ 6) Nikon Soft Camera Case
♦ 7) Precision Design Memory Card Storage Wallet
♦ 8) Precision Design Flexible Tabletop Mini Tripod
♦ 9) Cameta Microfiber Cleaning Cloth

This incredible Nikon Camera features a 10 megapixel resolution, 3.6x Zoom-Nikkor glass lens, plus several imaging innovations designed to encourage carefree shooting for the otherwise photographically challenged. It incorporates motion detection that automatically controls the shutter speed and ISO settings to compensate for camera shake and subject movement thereby reducing the chances of getting image blur.  I, particularly like this feature because I can't hold a camera steady to save me.

The L20 also incorporates a High ISO of ISO 1600 for capturing images in low-light situations - like when you have your Christmas tree all lit up and all the lights are out and it's dark, but boy does it ever feel like Christmas and you want to capture it on film - or in your camera - or on your computer.  


The Nikon Coolpix L20 also has a bright, high resolution 3.0-inch LCD monitor with an anti-reflective coating, easing the composition of photos, even in direct sunlight. You gotta love the big screen Santa baby.

Here are the rules:

One comment per person please.

Comments will be closed Friday 10pm EST.

The "1" winner for today's prize will be chosen on Saturday.  Actually, the winner for each giveaway will be chosen the first Saturday following each contest.  

There is only one prize per day and one winner per contest.

Answer the following question in the comments below:

What have you done this year for someone else that has made their life better, happier, healthier, brighter?  Tell me about that "one" thing that made you feel good inside ...

It doesn't have to have been anything extravagant.  I just love to hear stories of how good people step up and do for others without being asked - those gifts from the spirit that give us our faith back in humanity.  Big or small, or something as simple as a hug.  It can be something that you have done for another member of your family, or a friend, or a neighbor, or a complete stranger.

Note:  I do not know anyone at Nikon.  I just love their cameras! This makes a great holiday gift for the anyone in your life and I enjoy passing these great things on to my readers.  So - I sponsored this giveaway (and Santa of course).

That's it! 



Congratulations Michael Thoms!


There were 45 Comments. Winner is #23: Michael Thoms

Merry Christmas to all!  


Friday, October 16, 2009

Amazing Grays - Simply Amazing


We Have a Winner! 


Congratulations to Mountain Girl!

You've won a signed copy of "Amazing Grays" by Maggie Crane!
Send me an email with your address and I'll get this great book
out to you right away!  

I'm pretty darn lucky.  I love to read, and I get the most wonderful books as gifts in the mail from authors and publishers who know that I enjoy good books and will happily tell you, my readers and friends, all about it.  Nothing fills me up quite like a good book, a comfy chair, a favorite quilt in my lap, and a crackling fire.  Okay, I'm hoping we get our fireplace checked soon because I'm wantin' that crackling fire in a bad way, and I'm not interested in anymore attempts at burning down the house.  In the meantime, though, I've been reading the best book.  It is called "Amazing Grays - A Woman's Guide to Making the Next 50 the Best 50."  Sounds like my kind of book, if for no other reason than I just turned 50 and I am amazingly gray.  Need I say more?

Beautiful young people
are accidents of nature, but
beautiful old people are works of art
- Eleanor Roosevelt



So, I opened the big, padded envelope I received in the mail and I pulled out not one, but two "Amazing Grays" books by Maggie Crane.  One for me - and one for you.  Yes, you.  You - you there.  Yes - you.  And it's signed by the author, Maggie Crane too.  Are you lucky too, or what!  

Life is not a journey to the grave
with the intention of arriving safely in a pretty
and well preserved body;
but rather, to skid in broadside,
thoroughly used up, totally worn out,
and loudly proclaiming --
WOW! What a Ride!
- Unknown



You really are lucky and I'm about to tell you why.  You see, I immediately sat down and started reading Maggie's book, and I couldn't put it down.  It is a real page turner and worth every minute you invest in her wisdom, her honesty, her humility, her humor, and her advice.  You'll be digging out your yellow marker after page 1 to highlight all the good stuff.  I know I did.  Oh, and don't forget the sticky notes either.  When you're done, your book will look like something Oprah holds in her hands when interviewing authors on her show.  

If it weren't for the fact that the TV set
and the refrigerator are so far apart,
some of us wouldn't get any exercise at all.
- Joey Adams



Maggie starts ... "I am a Boomer, Proud to be part of a movement of amazing women who are redefining what it means to age well ... The dirt really hit the fan when I decided to allow my hair to go silver.  Life without hair dye brought me face to face with many of my fears, anxieties, and limiting beliefs about entering my ... (gulp) senior years."  Ditto, Maggie.  At some point, I believe every woman must face their fears about aging, and either accept who they are - all the gray hair, wrinkles, and body parts heading south that God gave us - or else age begrudgingly.

If death meant just leaving the stage long enough to
change costume and come back as a new character ...
Would you slow down?  Or speed up?
- Chuck Palahniuk



With every chapter in her book, I felt like Maggie was reading my mind, or else opening my mind up to the possibility that my own fears and anxieties about aging are the same as other women my age.  I think we all go through stages as we age, I know I did when I hit 30, then 40, then 50!  Now 30 seems so young and I wish I had appreciated my youth for what it was when it was right in front of me.  

Your outer world is at every moment mirroring
back to you your deepest feelings about yourself.
If you don't like what you see "out there," the
only place you can change it is within you.
- Debbie Ford



Even 40 brings back memories.  I recall thinking that I was 20 just yesterday, that I still felt like a 20 year old woman, (not anymore!) but somehow I just hit 40 like a brick wall.  I remember thinking "I'm not young anymore and yet, I'm not old either.  This is horrible!"  And, yes, it seemed like no sooner did I get comfortable with my 40s then I turned 50 last April, and the cruel cycle of denial and asking myself where my life is going comes crashing in again.

The first step to wisdom is silence;
the second is listening.
- unknown



I need a bulldozer and an extreme home makeover - of the body and mind type.  Maggie took care of the mind, now if only I could find someone like Oprah to give me a body makeover I'd really be set.  Then again, what I really need is motivation to get moving and stop living such a sedentary life day in and day out.  I want to feel that youthful energy and enthusiasm again! 

While reading her book, I have had the distinct pleasure of communicating with Maggie via email.  I feel as though I have found a new friend in this middle age of life, and if her book and her words are any indication, a good friend, indeed, she will be.  When you read her book you'll know why.

I don't know how you feel about old age ...
but in my case I didn't even see it coming.
It hit me from the rear.
- Phyllis Diller



If you ever felt like you were facing the aging process alone, think again.  Whether it be gray hair, menopause, men, children, divorce, or life - you will feel as if Maggie is a friend who just gave you the best advice you could ask for, hit you right between the eyes with comic relief, and did it without skipping a beat.  Throughout her book, she offers up little anecdotes and quotes to stimulate your reflective mind ... like this one:

Memory is like an orgasm.
It's a lot better if you don't have to fake it.
- Seymore Cray

and this one:

Our life is what our thoughts make it.
- Marcus Aurelius

and all the others throughout this post.



I've learned a great deal about myself, aging, being a woman, marriage and men, and discovering what is most important and what is real from having read Maggie's book.  You will too.  To enter the contest for a signed copy of Maggie's wonderful book "Amazing Grays" just answer this question in the comments:

This is your life ... how do you want to live it?

Twenty years from now you will be more
disappointed by the things that you didn't do
than by the ones you did do.
So throw off the bowlines.
Sail away from the safe harbor.
Catch the trade winds in your sails.
Explore.  Dream.  Discover.
- Mark Twain



Contest ends Tuesday, October 20th at 10pm EST.  Winner will be announced here on Wednesday afternoon.  Good Luck!  

If you would like to visit Maggie's website - click HERE.  Be sure and visit her gallery of Silver Sages too!


Note: All of the great contemporary, realist paintings throughout this post are by a favorite realist artist: Christopher Stott

Note again: Maggie Crane sponsored this giveaway.  She sent me her book and after reading it, I had to tell you about it.  She also sent me a signed copy as a giveaway on Raisin Toast.  Thank you Maggie!

Thursday, June 25, 2009

Delicious Lasagna Roll Ups & Emile Henry Ruffled Bakerware


We've got a WINNER!  Look at the bottom of this post for the lucky Reader!

Oh Man does this ever look delicious!  Nothing makes my stomach growl with joy like getting a recipe from Beth in my inbox.  I am definitely in the mood for this tonight for the family dinner.  How about you?  And, to celebrate this wonderful Italian dish, I've got a French surprise for you at the end. 


The Dirty Dozen:

12 uncooked lasagna noodles
1 small jar marinated artichoke hearts, drained. Reserve the liquid
1/2 cup finely chopped onion
3 cloves of garlic, pressed or chopped
1 cup shredded mozzarella, divided
1/2 cup grated Parmesan cheese, divided
1 - 15 oz. container part skim ricotta cheese
8 oz. neufchâtel light cream cheese, softened
1 tsp. dried Italian seasoning
1/4 tsp. red pepper flakes
Black pepper to taste
1/2 tsp. salt or to taste
1/2 pkg. frozen chopped spinach, thawed and squeezed dry (use the rest in an omelet or a quiche the next day)
Your favorite marinara, about 3 or 4 cups. (I like Newman’s Cabernet Marinara)
Fresh chopped parsley or dried if you don’t have fresh


Chop the onion and garlic.


Saute the chopped onion and garlic in the drained liquid from your jar of marinated artichoke hearts.


Bring your water to a boil for the pasta. Give it a good dose of salt to season the noodles.


Cook for about 10 minutes, or al dente.


Shred 8 oz. of mozzarella cheese.


OOPS!!! I forgot the 15 oz Ricotta cheese in the Dirty Dozen Picture! Well, now it's a Baker's Dozen....


Combine half of the mozzarella, half the Parmesan, (in today's case, I used Romano),  all the the thawed and squeezed spinach and all of the coarsely chopped artichokes ...


And add to the 15 oz of Ricotta cheese, the cream cheese, and the seasonings.  Lookin' Good!


Are we having fun yet?  I can't wait for dinnertime.


Preheat your oven to 375 degrees. Spread about a cup of your favorite sauce in the bottom of a 13x 9 pan - or better yet, how about spreading a cup of your favorite sauce in the bottom of a new ... naaah, I'll finish this wonderful recipe first, and then I'll entice you with a contest at the end, deal?


Now you're ready to roll (literally....) 

Do i need a new measuring cup or what???


Spoon 1/3 cup of this mixture down the length of a lasagna noodle.


And start rolling, gently.




You've got it all rolled up.


You can even do it assembly line style!!


Notice the "seam" on the bottom . This is the side you should place down in the bottom of your pan, or your new ...  naah, you can wait till the end, right?


Until you have all twelve of them nestled quite nicely in this 13 x 9 pan, or a new, ruffled ... patience.  It's a virtue.


Ummm, that would be the remaining sauce poured over the top.


Cover tightly with foil, and Buh Bye for 30 minutes.  Hey, that oven of mine is not too shabby, right?


Meanwhile, chop some fresh parsley. Or, if you must, have some dried parsley ready.


And, well... it is Five O'Clock Somewhere...

(Good grief, Beth, where did you get these napkins? hee hee ho ho)


Okay, I will.


Make a salad, any kind of salad. This is some out of focus fresh mozzarella, tomato, basil with EVOO and balsamic vinegar.


And how about a slicing a loaf of nice fresh, whole grain Italian bread?  Then again, you could just take a bite out of the whole loaf, but you might get some strange looks if anyone is in the kitchen.


My trusty Italian seasoning.


Sprinkled into the EVOO for dipping.


After 30 minutes, remove the foil and sprinkle the remaining mozzarella, parmesan, and parsley over the top, and continue baking for another 15 to 25 minutes uncovered.  In other words, pitch the foil baby.


At last. Dinner is served, and if I'm smart, I'm gonna take an additional 4 of these slices and hide them in the back of the fridge for lunch tomorrow, or dinner, or both, and I'll just let my family think I was a pig before they've even had a chance to grab a plate.


Now for the pan ... oops.  Not a pan.  A dish.  Oops, not a dish either.  How would you like to win a double set of 2 ( 1 Large: 2-qt. cap., 14 1/2" x 10" x 2 1/2" high and 1 Small: 1 1/2-qt. cap., 13 1/4" x 9" x 2 1/2" high) of ...


Pick your color baby.  Nothing grabs my attention like bakeware in primary colors.  It's the artist in me I suppose.  Have you ever heard of Emile Henry?  Well, let me tell ya, once you get your hands on one of these stinkers, you won't use anything else. 

Emile Henry created the Auberge line just for me, oh, and you too of course, naming it for the French country inns (auberges) whose antique ceramics inspired its wavy rim and rich colors. (love the colors.  Gotta have colors).  They are ideal for roasting meats and vegetables, baking those delicious Lasagna Rollups, or baking desserts.  The bakeware are made from Burgundian clay, high fired to withstand the extremes of heat and cold. Because the earthenware absorbs and slowly diffuses heat, foods retain more of their moisture. Use it to bake a casserole, freeze it for later, then transfer it directly from freezer to preheated oven before serving. The Céradon glazing process yields a durable surface that resists chipping and won’t scratch. Thanks to its smoothness, the vivid white interior is easy to clean. Microwave, oven, freezer, and dishwasher safe.  It's the best!  Truly.  The very best! 

And to prove it, here's a little video just for you ...

Just answer this question in the comments below: What is your favorite meal for dinner?


We've got ourselves a WINNER!  Woohoo!  Congratulations to Candy!  #31
You have your choice of 2 Emile Henry bakeware dishes.  Contact me at and tell me what color you want for each (they can be 2 different colors if you like) and what 2 sizes you want (and they can be the same or different too). 

CONGRATULATIONS!  I know you will love your new bakeware!  


Note: I do not know anyone at Williams & Sonoma or Emile Henry Bakeware.  I just love the bakeware and wanted to pass on these good things to you.  SusieQ sponsored this contest.

Tuesday, June 23, 2009

Hello, I Must Be Going

I just finished reading the book "Hello, I Must Be Going" by Christie Hodgen, and as much as I enjoyed the book, I found it to be, at times, puzzling.  The young narrator is Frankie Hawthorne, who is growing up in a lower-income family with a younger brother, Teddy who can be difficult at times, a mother, Gerry, who is a waitress at a Friendly's Restaurant and a chain smoker, and a father, Randall, who was a Vietnam Veteran and an amputee, who masks his depression through his comedy.  The book is supposed to be set in the year 1980, but I sense it more to be set in the early 1970s as the family is suffering from a detached appreciation for Vietnam Vets as a result of a very unpopular war. 

HelloIMustBeGoingMedI say "supposed" to be, and this is where I'm puzzled, because the images that I conjure up in my brain while reading Hodgen's story is from the 1960s and early 1970s. The Lawrence Welk show, Dick Van Dyke Show, Jackie Gleason, The Three Stooges, Black & White television.  1960s right?  I mean, I grew up in the 1960s and 70s, I remember what went on, and I found myself checking the inside flap of the book 3 times while I read it just to make sure something wasn't wrong with my eyesight. 

However, with a father that is a Vietnam Veteran and attempting to go back to school to complete his education, I can see how that would be the early 1970s.  Still, there were periods of confusion in the storyline that conjured up images of a different decade than the one I "think" I was supposed to be in.   

Nevertheless, the story was sad, funny, and interesting.  Frankie is struggling throughout the book, because early on, after returning home with her mother and brother from a Christmas outing, she runs into her father's office to get him and discovers he has committed suicide.  This, of course, haunts her throughout the story, but how she deals with it is through silence and detachment. 

Frankie likes to take her situations, and at times, replay them in her mind in the third person, or sketch something silly in her sketchbook (illustrations are throughout the book), or banter back and forth with a school psychologist named Mr. Jolly.  It is all a bit odd and sad.  You get the sense that Frankie really wants to talk about her feelings of loss, but she never gets around to it.

Teddy doesn't have a voice in the book, although I sense he was growing apart from his family more and more as he got older, ultimately resulting in a car crash.  He survives, but you never really know what happens in his life. 

Gerry, the mother, struggles with single-parenthood, her own feelings of loss, and ultimately meets someone who "I think" cares for her and wants to build a home with her.  However, towards the end of the book, Gerry and her daughter, Frankie are putting everything they own in the house on the front lawn and grappling with people over price and condition of furniture and toys.  Apparently, Gerry is certain that her new boyfriend is going to buy all new furniture for the house, but we never really know.  All we know is that they are now living together and the kids aren't too happy about it (they aren't really "kids" anymore by the end of the book, they are late teens I suppose). 

HelloIMustBeGoingMedI enjoyed the book, albeit somewhat depressing, but I don't really know where the author was trying to take me with this story.  There was not a firm conclusion or even a hint, really, of a conclusion that I could grasp.  I know that Frankie ultimately goes to college in New York, but although the author leads us in a direction of apprehension and fear of New York for Frankie, she never validates that fear or writes anything about her experience in college once she gets there. 

As for Teddy.  Beats me.  After the accident, he was injured, but I'm left wondering what ever became of his life.  Also Gerry - what becomes of her life going forward?  And in the beginning there is an uncle Harpo who is their father's brother who pays an unexpected, but very interesting visit and then leaves.  Although he is remembered fondly throughout the book, we are left wondering what the heck happened to him?  Where did he go? 

I enjoyed the story, but I feel like I am left with a lot of unanswered questions.  I tried to contact the author, but could not find any contact information.  So, if she happens to come across this book review, I would love for her to answer some of the hanging questions I have for her story.  I very well could be missing something here, but I have a memory like a steel trap, so I don't think I overlooked anything.  If it was the "unwritten" that I was supposed to grasp, and didn't, then that explains it.

You will enjoy this book.  It is a good summertime read!  If you would like to get a copy, click on any of the book covers you see above for "Hello, I Must Be Going!"


CHRISTIE HODGEN is an Assistant Professor of English at the University of Missouri Kansas City (UMKC).  She was educated at the University of Virginia (B.A.), Indiana University (M.F.A.) and the University of Missouri-Columbia (Ph.D.). Her novel, Hello, I Must Be Going (Norton 2006), was featured in Barnes and Noble’s Discover Great New Writers series. Her collection of short stories, A Jeweler’s Eye for Flaw (University of Massachusetts Press 2003) won the AWP Award for Fiction and was a finalist for the PEN/Hemingway Award. Her fiction has appeared in numerous journals and anthologies, including The Georgia Review, Quarterly West, New Stories from the South, and Scribner’s Best of the Fiction Workshops. Her awards include a Pushcart Prize, a National Endowment for the Arts Literature Fellowship, and the Faulkner Society Medal for the Novella.

I give this book  3.5 stars out of 5.


Tuesday, May 05, 2009

Harry Potter Witches Brew with A Magic Trunk for You


It’s been over 10 years since author JK Rowling first introduced us to the magic of Harry Potter and to a world of wizards, witchcraft, and fantastic creatures. When I purchased the first book 10 years ago "Harry Potter and the Sorcerer's Stone," I couldn't put it down.  It was nothing like anything I had ever read before, and although I am not a big fan of witchcraft and wizardry, I found Harry Potter to be incredibly entertaining and exciting, filling my imagination with vivid imagery.  I was hooked.  Any author that can build a story such as this around one character - Harry Potter - deserves much recognition.


For anyone who has been living in a box for the last decade - Harry Potter is an orphan who studies magic at Hogwarts School of Witchcraft and Wizardry. His parents were attacked by Lord Voldemort in their home when Harry was very young.  Harry was saved by his mother who placed him under an ancient magic that protected him, but she lost her own life in the process.  Harry went to live with his horrible Aunt and Uncle, the Dursleys, and their son Dudley - a big, fat spoiled brat and bully.  When an owl attempts to deliver a mysterious letter to Harry at the Aunt and Uncle's home, they try to hide it.  I still have the image in my brain of how that letter was finally delivered - it was hilarious. 

Fortunately for Harry, who doesn't know he has special powers at the beginning of the story, he gets to leave the terrible home of his Aunt and Uncle and attend the Hogwarts School where he becomes fast friends with Ron Weasley and Hermione Granger, who are there to help him through his trials and tribulations, including those normal awkward moments of growing up wrapped around an exciting adventure of fighting off villains, flying on broomsticks, playing games of chess with scary chess pieces, and lots of magic spells.

What I, as a writer and artist, find so incredible about the impact of this story, is that it all began when a struggling single mother, J.K. Rowling, wrote its beginnings on napkins and scraps of paper in a local cafe, on buses and trains, and anywhere she had an idea for the story.  I have a great deal of admiration for this woman and her ability to create a gripping and entertaining story like Harry Potter. This is a personal success story if I ever heard of one.

The Harry Potter series of books also look at many important topics that pertain to growing up, and my kids have enjoyed reading that Harry Potter faced some of the same uncomfortable feelings and situations that they have experienced growing up. The books include themes like friendship, love, death, prejudice, and courage in a realistic way that kids can learn from. What's neat is that in this fantasy based mystery, the reader learns of the secrets at the same time that Harry Potter gains the information.  Readers, like Harry Potter, are not able to see the thoughts of other characters until they are revealed through the unfolding of the plot to Harry.  Pretty cool, don't you think?

Have you read Harry Potter?  Have your children read Harry Potter?  Well, I have a little contest for my readers, because here in our home, we love the Harry Potter books and we want to share the story with you.  We have all seven books, and believe me when I tell you that they have been passed around and read over and over again. 

My kids enjoy going to the Scholastic site too.  Click HERE to check it out.

HP_BoxSet_1through7 So, in celebration of a decade of wizardly fun, I have magical access to a very exclusive item that any Harry Potter fan, young or old would love. How would you love a chest filled with all 7 books, hardcover, delivered to your door - by an owl of course? 

Just answer this question in the comments:

What do you think it is about the Harry Potter stories that have made them the greatest selling children's books of all time?

Hi!  We have a winner!  Sorry I'm late posting the winner, but we have a DVR and, well, we just started watching American Idol and the song "School's Out" sent me back - way back - to the 70s and my teen years.  Then Paula sang.  WOW GIRL!  I love her music from the 80s and her performance was fantastic!

So here we go ... the winner is ...


So who is 10?  I have no idea.  I have to count the comments just like you do ...

Well, let's see, the winner is...

Gitz!  You are the winner of the Harry Potter Collection!  Woohoo! 

Give me a shout at to claim your prize!

CONGRATULATIONS GITZ!  Enjoy the great read!

Note: Scholastic sponsored this giveaway on Raisin Toast.  Since I and my children are big Harry Potter fans, it was easy for me to agree to this gift for you.  The entire set of HP books.  I thought it was great.  I do not know Harry Potter by the way, or J.K. Rowling (although I wish I did).  Thank you to Scholastic for this great giveaway!

Friday, April 24, 2009

Mollycoddle Me and I'll Mollycoddle You too


We have a winner!  See below.

I am so lucky.  Really, I am.  You see, my birthday falls just after we receive our tax return.  Which means I'm spoiled and I know it.  Although I must admit that I prefer to take my kids out and spoil them rotten with clothes and buy them a few things that they want, I don't mind being mollycoddled myself.  And since this birthday is a biggy, I've decided that I'm going to have a little splurge.


Anything that has to do with photography, web design, fine art, and Macs - camera equipment, software, online training, college courses, hard drives, more hard drives, even bigger hard drives.  What is strange about this scenerio is that I have been asking for one thing for my birthday consistently for the last 4 years and haven't received it yet - and it doesn't cost a thing.  My Big Bear likes to take the easy way out I suppose and that usually means it costs more money. 


You see, I try to persuade him and the kids to do the "free" thing and that would make me as happy as a clam, but then they don't and so they go buy me the next thing on my list and that is usually something very worthwhile - and expensive. All the while I'm hoping I get the free thing.  Really.  I ain't kiddin'.


So, what's the "free" thing that I want every year from my family and never seem to get?  A clean house.  I want a clean house.  From top to bottom and sideways too, I want it clean, polished, organized, and smellin' good.  I want the windows cleaned and the carpets cleaned.  I want the floors polished and the handrails cleaned.  I want the toilets all clean at the same time and the laundry done.  I want candles on my jacuzzi and a plant in the corner of my tub and Calgon.  I want clean sheets on all the beds.  I want my home to look like it's on the market so that "we" can enjoy it.  I've never figured out why our home always looks its absolute best just after we put it on the market and always looks like we live in squalor when it's not.  I want to be able to walk into my art studio, turn on my iPod, and paint - without thinking about the dirty dishes in the kitchen or the laundry or the vacuuming.  I want a stress-free day - even if it is just for one day.  That would bring me more joy than you can imagine. 


But, since my family tend to be on the lazy side when it comes to housework, this is the next thing on my list.  I want a lens for my D300.  A good lens.  You see, my all-the-time lens went "bust" just before Easter and now I have nothing on my camera because I had to send it to Tamron for repair.  But, they're taking good care of me so I'm not complaining.  I have a 28-300 Tamron AF lens and I love it.  It does everything I need all wrapped up into one lens.  I can take macro shots and landscape shots.  I can zoom in and zoom out.  And I get great clear shots every time.  Yep, I love my Tamron lens, and it took great shots even when it was broken (all my Easter pictures).  So, when the focus ring separated from the zoom, I nearly had a heart attack.  But, after calling Tamron's emergency room for heart patients, they did one better for me...


You see, Tamron just came out with a new lens - the AF18-270mm F/3.5-6.3 Di II VC (Vibration Compensation) LD Aspherical (IF) Macro.  Yes, that's a mouthful and I don't even understand all the abbreviations, but hey, I'm interested.  I do know this: I need VC, which is vibration compensation.  Because I vibrate.  I have to take 123 pictures to get 1 that is stable.  Which is why I need hard drives - for storing all of my bad images, and Photoshop for repairing all of my bad images.  So, to reduce the number of poor shots from the get-go my Big Bear spoiled me with a great camera, and that was last year's birthday present - the Nikon D300.  Lordy mercy do I ever love my camera.  It is beyond awesome.  It is ... it is ... better than ... better than ... better than a clean house on my birthday.  Got ya!  You thought I was going to say something else didn't you?  Shame on you!


So, while talking to Tamron on the phone and spilling my woes, they decided to mollycoddle me a bit.  They sent me the AF18-270mm F/3.5-6.3 Di II VC (Vibration Compensation) LD Aspherical (IF) Macro to play with and enjoy while my 28-300 was in for repair.  And, while I'm playing with this new magnificent lens, they offered up one as a giveaway to one of my fabulous readers.  That's right, this new Tamron lens for Digital SLR cameras (Nikon and Canon) is yours, in all its glory.   But first, I want to tell you about it ...


It's big.  If you are not used to big lenses, it can feel a bit clumsy at first.  It is also heavy - heavier than my 28-300 anyway.  The VC makes it a little bit noisy when zooming, and the zoom does feel a bit stiff, but I am guessing that has to do with all the mechanisms in action providing you with a great shot from the start.  I have found that with "other" VC lenses I can get a bit of a delay in the viewfinder just before I take my shot - but not with this Tamron lens.  It is a speedy lens and I like that.


The picture of this Egret was taken by Adam Baron with the 18-270, and here is what he had to say about it: "After having gone through two Nikon 18-200mm VR lenses. (Both died on their own) I decided to try the new Tamron 18-270mm VC. Like the Nikon, it has vibration control, but according to Tamron, it also tracks camera shake diagonally, not just horizontal and vertical movements like the Nikon. I made sure the lens was zoomed out all the way at 270mm when I snapped this, to test out the vibration control and I must say, it did not disappoint. When the focus engages it really has a feeling that your "locked on" and all camera shake disappears. This is cropped, but not sharpened. I'm sure a shot at dusk will be more of a challenge to the lens but so far, so good."  By the way, that box shows a stray feather after the egret was finished preening himself.


Tamron is the pioneer of high power zoom lenses and they now declare to have created the world's largest zoom ratio of 15X. The lens covers an angle of view equivalent to that of a 28mm wideangle to a 419mm ultra telephoto with just one lens, providing the photographer the opportunity to capture magnificent images of landscapes, architecture, close ups, and more without having to change lenses.  However, I don't mind changing lenses and I have discovered that the larger the zoom ratio the greater the distortion and noise in the resulting images. 

I didn't find there to be an image noise problem with this 18-270 lens, however, I did notice a little bit of distortion in the landscape pictures I took the more zoom I used.  Just remember this - the quality of a lens is all in the quality of the glass.  I love Tamron lenses.  Nikkor are great too, but I have found that I get excellent quality images from a long range zoom with Tamron, something that usually results in more noise or distortion with the Nikkor lenses.  It all depends on the range of the lens.  Oh, and I'm picky too.  Very picky.  I see everything.  That must be the artist in me. 


Overall, I love this lens, although I am anxious to get back my 28-300, I have enjoyed using the 18-270.  Of course, I still want a clean house, and maybe the Adobe Creative Suite too.  hint hint - to my Big Bear.  Maybe some replacement oil paints, a few more large canvases, a day at a spa, a massage, a pedicure, a new spring outfit.  Okay, I'm getting carried away here.

But the biggest gift I'm going to give to my readers in celebration of my 50th birthday is this 18-270 Tamron lens.  You need to have a Canon or Nikon DSLR to use this lens, so please only comment if you have a DSLR for this lens.

Just answer this question:

Do you prefer to master your camera for perfect shots or master photoshop to correct them?


By the way, all the photographs throughout this post were taken with the AF18-270mm F/3.5-6.3 Di II VC (Vibration Compensation) LD Aspherical (IF) Macro lens!

My goodness!  I've been out all dang day running all over creation with Big Bear and the kids.  I just got home, so please forgive me for the delay in announcing a winner.  I just went on and noticed that we had 52 comments. 


So, after counting down the comments, I see that the winner is Valerie!  Congratulations Valerie!  You are the winner of the new Tamron 18-270 lens!  Pretty cool, eh?!!  Please email me at to claim your wonderful prize. 

Thank you to everyone who entered this great contest and there will be more in the coming weeks. 

Hope that everyone has a fabulous weekend!

Note: Tamron sponsored this giveaway on Raisin Toast.  Since I love Tamron lenses for my Nikon camera, it was easy for me to agree to this gift for you - and it really is a great lens. Thank you to Tamron for this great giveaway!


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Wednesday, April 08, 2009

The Kindness of Strangers


I recently finished reading a book "The Kindness of Strangers" by Katrina Kittle.  The cover caught my attention initially at Barnes & Noble.  I always judge a book by its cover, don't you?  ha ha.  Anyway, when a book grabs my attention I usually look at the cover first (obviously), then I flip it over to read any reviews or information about the story.  I would have never surmised by the cover or the information on the back that this book was about child sexual abuse.  This book grabbed at my heartstrings and opened my mind to some of the horrors that children may face - even at home. 

It read:

On a quiet street in the suburban Midwest, a popular, seemingly stable family keeps a terrible, dark secret behind closed doors-a secret that will have life-changing consequences for all who know them.

Sarah Laden, a young widow and mother of two, struggles to keep her own family together. After the death of her husband, her high school aged son Nate has developed a rebellious streak, constantly falling in and out of trouble. Her kindhearted younger son Danny, though well-behaved, struggles to pass his remedial classes. All the while, Sarah must make ends meet by running a catering business out of her home. But when a shocking and unbelievable revelation rips apart the family of her closest friend, Sarah finds herself welcoming yet another young boy into her already tumultuous life.

Jordan, a quiet and reclusive elementary school boy and classmate of Danny's, has survived a terrible tragedy, leaving him without a family. When Sarah becomes a foster mother to Jordan, a relationship develops that will force her to question the things of which she thought she was so sure. Yet Sarah is not the only one changed by this young boy. And as the delicate balance that hold her family together begins to crumble, the Ladens will all face truths about themselves and each other-and discover the power to forgive and to heal.

Powerful and poignant, The Kindness of Strangers is a shocking look at how the tragedy of a single family in a small, suburban town can effect so many. Told from varying perspectives, Katrina Kittle, has created a haunting vision of the secret lives of the people we think we know best. With gripping and heartrending storytelling, The Kindness of Strangers shows that even after the most grave injuries, redemption is always possible.



The book took me away (that's a good thing) from the first page I got all caught up in the story; and, by the time I was almost finished, I sat up all night finishing the book.  It was worth it.  A real page turner. 

I'll give you a brief about the story so as not to spoil it for you.  The book has some very interesting characters:

Sarah - A mother of 2 boys, and a widow whose husband, a doctor, passed away from cancer.  She is left raising her 2 boys and supporting her family with a catoring business, creating cakes and exotic dishes to make anyone's mouth water. 

Nate - Sarah's eldest son, a teenager.  He's a bit of a troublemaker at first, but ultimately does a lot of growing up and turns out to be very level headed after all.  I like Nate.  He's a good kid.

Danny - Sarah's youngest son.  He is a pre-teen, maybe 11 or 12.  He stays in the background of the book.  You'll understand what I mean if you read the story.

Jordan - Danny's best friend.  He is also an 11 year old boy.  Jordan is the only son of parents who are well-regarded in the community.  His mother, Courtney, is a doctor.  Sorry Katrina, I can't remember what Mark, Jordan's father does for a living.

Courtney - Jordan's mother, a doctor, and Sarah's best friend.  Courtney used to work with Sarah's husband at the hospital.

Mark - Courtney's husband and Jordan's father.

There are a few other characters in the book, but these are the main characters who are critical to the story.

The first word out of my mouth when I finished the last sentence of the book was "Wow."  It was difficult to read - not from a prose standpoint, but from a subject matter standpoint.  As a mother, I cannot fathom that anyone would ever intentionally hurt their child - any child - like this.  That is all I will say about that.  I want you to read the book.  Still, it left me wondering - what prompted Katrina Kittle to write such a story?  Was it her own personal experience, a story that she created out of the depths of her mind, or inspired by someone that she knew or had met?  I felt as though I had to know and I am glad I asked. 

I contacted Katrina and we began a conversation.  I feel as though I have made a new friend.  She is dynamic and interesting and an extremely talented and gifted writer.  She is the author of 3 books:


Two Truths and a Lie (2001)


Traveling Light (2001), and,


The Kindness of Strangers (2006)


I will be reading the other 2 shortly.  In the meantime, though, I asked Katrina if she would answer a few questions about her book for my readers and she said an enthusiastic "yes."  Here begins our conversation:

Hello Katrina!

How about we have a conversation?

Having just finished reading your book "The Kindness of Strangers" it made me think, sadly, of whether we really know our friends or the people in our lives.  Heck, if you watch enough Oprah you realize that you may not even know the people who are closest to you in your life.

That's why the title works. It wasn't my original title and at first I resisted it, thinking "but they're not strangers." The more I thought about it, though, the more I thought they really WERE strangers. They had no clue of the real truths in each others' lives.

I read on your site that a child you met inspired your story line for this book.  Can you share with me how this child's story affected you, changed you, and prompted you to write this difficult story?

For several years, I free-lanced in many different schools either doing theatre workshops or working as a writer in residence. I was in a school, working with a group of ten- and eleven-year olds doing theatre improv, which is tough for that age. There was a boy who was immediately my favorite, even though you're not supposed to have favorites—he was smart, funny, quick, cute, clever. Because I was only going to be at his school for one week, I gave everyone an index card at the end of our first session and said, "Write down three interesting things you want me to know about you." I could use the cards as a "cheat sheet" if there was an especially shy child; it would give me a topic that might help draw them out. So, lunch time comes and I'm flipping through the set of cards and I can't wait to see what the smart funny boy has written. I get to his card and I'm stunned. He has written as #1: "I have HIV." Now, mind you, this was in 1995. My first novel was about AIDS, I'd worked for an AIDS service organization, and I knew my AIDS facts. In 1995 there was no way that boy I'd just been talking with had been born with HIV. Fortunately, this is no longer true, but at that time, there's no way he would've been the healthy ten-year I was just joking with. Which leaves us with the traditional means of infection...and he's only ten! First, I go to his teacher, hoping hoping hoping this is a mistake—that maybe he doesn't really understand what he's written or he's trying to get attention. But, no, the teacher tells me that it is true. All she tells me is that he'd been sexually abused, that his biological parents were incarcerated, and he was with a foster family. That blew me away! She must've told the foster mom about the index card because at the end of the day, the foster mother sought me out. She was thrilled he'd written that fact on his card--which was something I didn't understand at the time--and thought it was a huge step for him. She volunteered more of his story: both of his biological parents had been doctors, well-respected in their community. No one knew that they had serious cocaine habits. No one knew that they'd accrued huge debt because of their habits. No one knew that for nearly two years, when they couldn't afford to pay their dealer, they allowed their dealer and his friends to "use" their son. They were essentially prostituting their only child for drug money. This story leveled me. I knew right away I would write about this boy, but not in any graphic, exploitative way. The word that kept occurring to me was RESILIENCE. If someone had told me this boy's story BEFORE I visited the school, I would have guessed I could pick that child out--he'd be the shy, withdrawn one who didn't relate to or trust anyone else, right? Wrong! This kid had not just survived, but thrived. He was happy and typical...and THAT'S what I wanted to capture: that triumph, that spirit, that resilience and strength.  It's not a book ABOUT abuse--it's a book about healing (the abuse is over when the book begins).

Obviously, that boy's story is NOT the story of The Kindness of Strangers. That wasn't my story to tell, but he did inspire the story. I'd already written about both AIDS and about addiction, so I left those elements out of this novel. Removing the cloud of HIV from my fictional character's life allowed for a much more hopeful ending.

Does this child know that his story inspired your book?

Unfortunately, this boy passed away before the book was published. He acquired chicken pox at school which is devastating for someone with HIV. He had, though, been adopted by his foster family. I really only knew him for five hours...but he had a profound effect on me.


Did you find it difficult to write about the feelings and actions of the characters you created in your book?

At times the material was very heavy and depressing as you can imagine. When I began the research, I realized I had many, many misconceptions about child sexual abuse. There were several wonderful experts who helped me (all listed in the acknowledgments)--doctors, social workers, police officers, child psychologists, etc. What kept me going was the knowledge that there were these talented, amazing, brave people in the world working on behalf of very real kids every day. I had the luxury of stepping away from the book if things got too dark. But the real heroes don't have that luxury. Their Jordans aren't fictional.

How did you relate your own life's experiences to your characters?

I think writers "use" everything they see and experience. It's nearly impossible not to do that! We are told from the time we're kids in school to "write what you know," so of course I write about things I've experienced or know well. My characters are always fictional creations, but many aspects of them are composites of people I know. Sarah in The Kindness of Strangers, for example, looks like a friend of mine, is the cook I wish I could be, and keeps family rituals that I have heard about from three other different friends' families. The bat incident actually happened to me, although it was not my idea to get rid of the bat the way Sarah does. Our life experiences have a way of worming themselves into our fiction. I guess I would draw the line at using anything deeply personal that would be recognizable as anyone I knew.

I was surprised that you did not give more of a voice to Danny, Jordan's friend, in the book.  Was there a reason for this?

For every book the writer has to make choices. At one time, there were far more voices in the book--Courtney, Detective Kramble, Ali, Danny, (and a five-year-old daughter who got cut out of the story altogether)! I have to laugh at myself--my problem is never writer's block, but usually the opposite. My book's first drafts are WAY too long and need to be cut and cut and cut. Eventually, though, it's crucial to decide "whose story is this, really?" and which voices are all necessary for the reader. Which voices add to the effect you wish the reader to have, which voices take it in an entirely different direction. It's always a struggle to decide how to coral all the ideas and keep some kind of focus. That is why Danny was given those "book ends" to open and close the book. I found his perspective from a distance more interesting than his confusion while he was in the main events.  Nate and Jordan both have knowledge that Sarah doesn't have, for instance, which makes their voices enlightening to the reader. Danny, in the past, didn't have any information that the reader didn't already know (he actually has less than the reader) he was not as interesting a choice as the other two boys. Choices, I tell my own creative writing students: "Who tells the story controls the story."


Also, the way that Jordan wanted to end his own life in the beginning of the book seemed terribly dramatic for a child so young.  What prompted you to write this scene?

That came directly from the research. In a heartbreaking number of cases, the abuse is discovered through a suicide attempt (this was the case for the boy I met who inspired the story as well). Many of the adult survivors I spoke to told of reaching the point where they decided they "couldn't  do it [take the abuse] anymore" and attempted to end their lives.

I'm interested in knowing how you came to name your characters.  They all seems to have Biblical names.

Names take a long, long time and lots of thought. Sometimes the reasons are practical and logistical--not too many that all start with the same letter, or end with the same syllable, or have the same number of syllables. That sounds silly, but it truly effects a reader's enjoyment and ability to keep all the characters straight. But then, there are more thoughtful, symbolic reasons as well. The Biblical Sarah, of course, gains a son late in her life...and this Sarah does as well (even though she already has children). Her biological sons have Old Testament names fitting a good Jewish family. Jordan is the most obvious in the idea of "reaching" or "crossing" Jordan on the way to a better place, or promised land. It's a long struggle to get there, and the character has a long struggle ahead as well, but the name implies that the struggle will be worth it and will lead to redemption and hope.

Why did you create a character, Sarah, that had lost her husband to cancer?

In an early draft, Roy was alive and well. I belong to a very helpful writers' group where we share and give feedback on each others' work. When I read early chapters, they all suspected Roy of something dark because he worked with Courtney. I went back and revised, writing scenes that showed Roy to be a good dad, a trusted husband, yada yada yada only to have my writer friends suspect him even MORE because I was "giving him so much page time--there has to be some pay off." Sigh...  I'm a runner, and I work on scenes while I run. I was jogging along when the thought occurred to me "What if he were just dead?" I remember stopping in my tracks so abruptly a car slowed to see if I was all right! But...the minute the thought hit me, I knew it was right. It was one story to have this happy, whole, intact family reaching out to help someone in dire need. But it was a richer, denser, more interesting story if the family reaching out was broken and grieving in their own ways and they STILL found it in them to help someone worse off than they were. It is in their reaching out that they begin their own healing! So, killing off a character actually strengthened the entire theme of the story.


How did you research for this book, and did you get to know the child who had been victimized - the one who inspired your story?

All of my books center around social issues I care deeply about and I always begin my immersing myself in research. First I do all I can on my own using libraries and the internet, to build a good base of knowledge before I approach the experts. That way, I don't waste their valuable time asking them questions I could easily find out on my own. I contacted a police officer, who let me accompany him on a shift one night and ask him questions when we weren't otherwise occupied. This same police officer put me in touch with a detective, and another officer who gave me a tour of the jail and showed me where a child would meet with an incarcerated parent. I contacted some pediatricians at Children's Medical Center in Dayton, who were incredibly helpful and they put me in touch with the amazing organization CARE House. The social workers at CARE House were invaluable. They allowed me to go through the Stewards of Children training provided by the organization From Darkness To Light.   I encourage anyone interested in protecting children from the scourge of sexual abuse to check out their site--   Their mission is "To diminish the incidence and impact of child sexual abuse, so that more children will grow up healthy and whole." Their website is incredibly helpful and offers a free download of "Seven Steps" to begin.   I worked extensively with a child psychologist who specializes in trauma like Jordan's to get therapy and recovery details right. I even paid for this psychologist to have a session with my fictional character!!!

How did this story, the writing of this story, the research, and the experience change your own life?

I think I've always been drawn to the ways human beings "are broken" by the world but come back stronger, and this was an astonishing case of that. I sincerely believe every one of us has a story, and some of these "darker" stories actually help us and inspire us if we don't turn away. Human beings, and their strength, never cease to amaze me!

Could you tell me a little something about the restaurant that Courtney and Sarah frequent in Ohio?

This restaurant is real and one of my very favorites! It's also mentioned in my first novel, Traveling Light. It's Hispanic, with an ever-changing menu featuring a different Spanish-speaking or Latin American country's cuisine. Fun, fabulous, and the best paella I've ever eaten! It's my very favorite restaurant in Dayton! I often just ask Bill or Mark "what should I have tonight?" and let them decide for me. I have never, ever disliked anything they've set before me. They offer cooking classes and dance classes, too. It's just a wonderful place owned by dedicated, talented people.

I am really looking forward to reading your other 2 books.  When you write, do you find that the story just flows from you at times?  Most of the time?  Not often?

It really varies. Each book has been different, and each stage of each book is even different. It's a tough question to answer! There seems to be no pattern to the "flow" but I believe in being at the desk regardless. I work a set number of hours each day, as if it were any other job, so when the inspiration flows I'm there to catch it, and when it doesn't, I'm there plugging along, keeping in shape, anyway!  But thank you so much--it's music to my ears that you want to read my other titles.


Do you struggle with your story, and if so, how do you put your mind back in the zone necessary to continue writing?

Again, I think the discipline is everything. I no longer have a zone necessary to write, just as I didn't have a zone necessary to teach when I was a full-time teacher. I taught on days I didn't feel much like it...and usually ended up forgetting my initial resistance eventually and really getting into it. I am at the desk at the same and for the same time every day whether I "feel inspired" or not. I'm a firm, firm believer in Natalie Goldberg's "writing practice" from her great book WRITING DOWN THE BONES. She compares it to running. We keep at it to stay in shape. You can't set out to run a 5K if you haven't run for days, right? Same with writing. It takes a daily discipline and practice to build up the stamina.

As an artist, I know the "struggle" I face at times when taking on a portrait because I am trying to capture the true essence of the person I am painting.  Do you ever face that "struggle" as a writer?

Yes. I struggle with getting my "vision" to match what I'm actually creating on the page. The "vision" is always so much better! I just keep in mind that my goal is to "serve the story" and I usually plod forward. I imagine every artist struggles with this. I can make peace with the struggle if I truly believe a book represents the best possible work I was capable of at the time. There's a great Lao Tse Tung quote above my computer: "Do your work, then step back. The only serenity."

Are you a great cook like your character, Sarah?

I'm not nearly as good or trained as Sarah, but I sure do love to do it! I take cooking classes for fun and love nothing more than to make dinners for friends so we can all sit around talking and eating for hours (and so far my friends are all very willing guinea pigs when I'm trying something new). The comfort Sarah finds in chopping and stirring while she mulls over problems in her head is one I share! My friends tease me that when I'm "cooking" figuratively on a book, I'm cooking literally a lot, as well. It's the best way (besides running) to work through problems in scenes or figure out the next step in the plot.

I have to say, Katrina, I was deeply moved by your book.  It was an interesting story and a real page turner.  I found myself absorbed in the story till all hours of the morning, totally messing up my next day, but hey!  That's the jewel of a true author and storyteller is someone who can create the entire situation in the mind of the reader.  You took me there, Katrina.  It was a scary place to go at times, but you took me there.  I will never forget the powerful way you shared this story.  I cannot fathom the devastation that children must experience who are living a life with sexual abuse.  It must be terrifying for them.  I can't imagine that they would ever trust anyone - ever.  It is a sad and tragic reality.  Because of your book, I feel more qualified to discuss sensitive subject matter with my own children now in hopes that maybe, God forbid, if they are ever faced with a difficult or uncomfortable situation, that they know to scream, run away, tell someone that they trust without being embarrassed.  Children are so easily embarrassed.  They are fragile beings.  Hopefully, your book will save at least one child from the horrors of predators - even if that predator is a parent.  I learned something valuable from your story, Katrina.  Thank you for writing this book.  As difficult as the subject was for me to wrap my brain around, I'm glad that you made it a great story from the beginning till the very end.

Thank you, thank you, thank you from the bottom of my heart. As you imagine, this book had a tough time finding a publishing home because of the subject matter. I really believed in it and messages like yours are affirmations that I was right to do so.



Be sure to visit Katrina's website at:!

Sunday, March 29, 2009

Ready, Steady, Spaghetti - Cooking with Kids


Every once in a while I run across something I really like, and if it involves something that I can do with my kids that is fun and educational - well, you can bet I'm going to try to get my hands on it.  Or, in this case - "get my hands in it," and if you would like this great book for yourself, then read on ...

This is one cookbook that, if you have kids, you'll be pulling out often, especially if you like working with them in the kitchen.  Kids love anything creative, and I have found that when I get them involved in the cooking process, they feel accomplished and want to get their hands into all the ingredients.  Now, with a little help from Author Lucy Broadhurst, you will find some new and tasty recipes that are not only fun and easy to make, but healthy too!

There are 6 sections to her cookbook -


Little Food:  This section includes some great recipes like berry couscous, french toast, ham and corn muffins, blueberry pancakes, nachos, and many more.


Dinnertime:  Many of the staples that children like already are in the book - like pizza and spaghetti - with a twist on the recipe to add some character to it.  But, you'll also find some interesting and easy to make recipes too, like fettucine carbonara, pork and chive dumplings, chicken and leek risotto, or a burger with the works.


Eat Your Greens:  This cookbook would not be complete without a section on greens.  Kids are just not eating enough greens.  Maybe, by having some delightful recipes with bright colorful images and easy-to-understand instructions, kids will be more apt to try something new.  I know my kids like "color" and if we add something colorful to their meal, their apt to try it.  Now, if I get them involved in the process of making the meal, they are even more apt to try it, and like it too!


Sticky Treats:  Okay, this has to be my favorite section.  I mean, with recipes like jam upside-down cakes, lemon cheesecakes, fruit jelly, and chocolate-honeycomb mousse - oh golly, comfort food take me away.  Yummmmmy.


Cookies, Cakes, and Sweets:  Then again, maybe this section is my favorite - especially since it has a fabulous recipe for chocolate cake.  I'm sorry, but I need an almost daily fix of chocolate.  I admit, it's a huge weakness of mine. 


And, if you look through Lucy's cookbook, you'll see adorable children smiling ... and I'll bet it had nothing to do with the fact that they were having their picture taken either.  Just take a look at those gingerbread people - if that doesn't make a kid smile, nothing will.  You'll also find some great recipes in this section like anzac cookies and muesli bars, caramel bars and jam thumbprints, or how about rocky road or coconut ice


Let's Party:  Okay, so you're planning a party for your little one and you want to make something special for everyone, or maybe you thought it would be a great idea to invite some of your children's friends over for a cooking session in your kitchen.  Mess aside, you are going to brave the chaos because of all the smiles that will ensue as a result.  Right?  Be prepared, because this will make everybody smile and laugh - how about whipping up milk chocolate banana bites, or frozen fruit kebabs, or maybe you'll want to make some swamp mud or chocolate cherry spiders.  The boys will want to make the pirate face cookies or the martian cookies, While the girls will definitely want to make the fairy wands  and the chocolate truffles.  I don't know about you, but I think I better plan something with my kids because this is just too fun.

Now for the best part - Do ya want the book?  Do ya do ya do ya?  Then answer the following question in the comments for your chance to get your fingers into all the great recipes in "Ready, Steady, Spaghetti" -

Do you have any memories of cooking with your mother (or maybe your father?) or your nanny, or your brother, or your sister - oh heck, when you were a kid, did you cook and make memories with someone special? 

Then tell me in the comments below. 

We Have a Winner!  Our Ready, Steady, Spaghetti lucky reader is ...

Denis!  Congratulations!  Isn't this fun? 


So Denis, You are the lucky winner.  Now all I need you to do is send me an email at to claim your prize, and send me your shipping information too.  By the way, to see who you are I stopped on over to your blog (anyone can click on Denis's name in the comment and go to his blog) and happened across a video of your little girl asking you questions about the birds.  That was too cute.

Okay - I've now watched the video of Denis's little girl telling the knock-knock joke and then asking if Bird's talk at least a dozen times.  I'm hopeless.  I just want to pick her up and hug her and pinch her cheeks.  Denis, if you are reading this, I would love to post that video on my blog.  So I can watch it another dozen times - or whenever I just need to smile.

Thanks to all who entered! 

I love sharing good things with my readers!

Note: I received this cookbook in the mail together with one to giveaway to one of my readers from the publisher.  I loved the book and decided that it was a great gift for you to enjoy with your children.  So, who sponsored this giveaway?  Well, the publisher sent me the free book, but I decided to give it away - so you decide.


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Tuesday, March 24, 2009

Making the Most of Photoshop

Yanik Chauvin Photography

I know that many of my readers have blogs of their own, and many more use Photoshop, whether they have a blog or not.  We all take photographs at some point or another in our life, and Photoshop has been, for me, the bridge between a boring or lousy photograph and one that is simply incredible.  Being the perpetual lifetime student that I am, I have become passionate about photography and learning Photoshop almost as much as Fine Art and painting.  It is the creative process that draws me in (no pun intended - ha ha).


Well, for all you Photoshop creatives out there - Moms taking pictures of your children, Dads taking pictures of your camping trip, and everyone else inbetween - I've discovered the source of video and written tutorials that are easy to understand and remember after you take part in them - Yanik's Photo School.  Yep, he's the best.  When I discovered him about a week ago I was hooked.  I watched video after video after video and amazingly, not only did I easily learn how to do what he was teaching, but I remembered it.  That was the amazing thing about his videos - I remembered them after watching them and could apply what I had learned to my own images.  I'm hooked.  I've got a bad case of Yanik Chauvin Photo School Tutorials.  I love him.  Don't tell Big Bear, okay? 


I am so hooked on these video tutorials in fact, that I have created a page just for Yanik here on Raisin Toast.  I thought, what better place to store all the videos that I have watched and found useful but right here, where my readers can also learn what I have learned and also visit Yanik's site for more useful information. 


Going forward, as I learn new things from Yanik, I will be adding them to his page.  I'm sure that eventually I will have an entire section devoted just to Yanik's tutorials.  At this rate, I can see that happening already.  He is just, well - you know - awesome!  Did I tell you I love Yanik?

Yanik He makes it all look so easy. 

If you go to my Photography section and look in the right sidebar, you will see an image link titled "My Favorite Photoshop Video Tutorials."  That's Yanik.  The best.  The greatest Photoshop teacher of all time.  Oh, and one hell of a professional photographer as well I'll have you know.

And to all my readers out there who took the time to read this post and now know about the most awesome Photoshop teacher of all time, I have a little surprise for you ...


How about Photoshop CS4 for your very own to celebrate this new learning adventure we're on?

Just answer these questions in the comments ...

Do you use Photoshop to improve your images?  If so, what tool do you use the most and why?

WE HAVE A WINNER!  Thank you to all who entered!  I counted all of the qualified comments ... in other words, there were 16, because my "replies" are not counted.  Only the first-level comments are counted.  So, after counting and re-counting - and re-counting, there are 16 first-level qualified comments and the winner of Photoshop CS4 is ...


#14 - and who might that lucky person be?  Well, from what I can see, that lucky winner is ...

Patricia Ann Marks!  CONGRATULATIONS PATRICIA!  You are the proud recipient of the exciting and indispensable Photoshop CS4!  I know you are going to love it.  Good grief, I don't even have CS4 yet.  You'll have to tell me how you like it after you've had a chance to play around with it a bit. 

Patricia wrote the following:


Contact me at to claim your prize, and be sure to provide me with your shipping information.

Thanks everyone! 

Don't forget to check out Yanik's Videos!

Note: SusieQ sponsored this giveaway on Raisin Toast.  Since I love Photoshop and can't live without it, it was easy for me to offer this gift to you - Photoshop is awesome!  


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Wednesday, March 18, 2009

Take Better Pictures Of Your Children with
A Little Help from Connie Groah and Nikon

Photo HH

Welcome Connie Groah to Raisin Toast Photography!  We are excited to learn from your experience as a professional photographer!  Take it away Connie ...

My name is Connie Groah and I am a contemporary child photographer and the owner of Barefoot Photography® ( in Annapolis, Maryland.  I use a mixture of documentary-style photography and relaxed poses to capture my young subjects and specialize in birth through teens.  Susan asked if I would be willing to share some photographing thoughts and tips with her readers from time to time and this is my first share here at Raisin Toast.

There’s more to getting great photos of your kids than the right equipment, a great pose, or simply “saying cheese.”  You don’t need a fancy camera to capture great snaps of your kids - even a simple point-and-shoot will do.  But there are some tips and guidelines you can follow to maximize your chances for getting a shot you will love.

Photo A


When photographing children, it’s easy for them to get lost in the picture.  But there are some simple steps you can take to help keep the focus on the child.   Simple clothing tends to work best toward keeping the attention on the child.  Little Emily may love Minnie Mouse, but some patterns, logos or emblems can tend to compete for attention in a photo.  Often solids are easiest to keep the focus where it belongs- on your child!


One thing that can really get in the way of a great photograph is a distracting background.  You may realize that the tree behind Johnny is a good six feet back, but somehow, after the frame has been snapped, the tree suddenly appears to be sprouting from Johnny’s head!  Likewise, clutter or junk in the background can steal the attention away from an adorable expression, so when you can, remove these obstacles.

Photo close up


You may end up finding yourself down on the floor to do this - that’s OK!  Kids are short or at least I haven’t seen too many 5-foot tall one year olds.  You may have to get down and dirty on their level to really capture them at their best.

Even then, it’s often as important to think about what you want to leave OUT of the frame as what you want to include.   Don’t be afraid to get in close and really focus on your child without all the distractions of their environment.  There’s nothing I love more than a super close up shot of an adorable little face.

Photo D


You know that little square smack dab in the middle of your viewfinder of your camera?  Well, ignore it!  Most people like to line faces up with that little square but dead-centered pictures tend to be much less visually interesting than shots that are composed a bit more creatively.

Photo E 

As Dr. Sheila Cason discussed in her article on composition, the rule of thirds is a composition tool for photographers to line their subjects up along the vertical lines or intersections that are created if you were to visually divide an image into nine equal parts with two equally-spaced horizontal lines and two equally-spaced vertical lines.  For those of us shooting children, this means that as a general rule, we try not to center the eyes in the middle of a picture (think of those elementary yearbook pictures!) but instead try to line up the child’s body with a vertical line and their eyes with a horizontal line.  See the difference?

Photo F 

Along these lines, using negative space can also be quite complimentary when used creatively.  While there are times when filling the whole frame is a great idea, other times you may want to create a sense of space and give your little subject some breathing room.

Photo G


Some of my favorite shots ever were taken in the “golden hour," just before sunset.  The light has a completely different quality to it in the early morning hours or at the end of the day before sunset.  When possible, aim to shoot during these picture-perfect times.  The light is softer and more flattering than during the middle of the day when it is beating down from straight overhead.

If you find yourself shooting mid-day, don’t despair!   There are still ways to soften the light a bit.  Try guiding your little one under the soft shade of a tree or perhaps under a porch overhang. 

Finally, if possible, turn off your flash.  Natural light is always more flattering that the harsh light put off by a flash.

Photo H


Lastly, in my opinion, and most importantly, stop with the cheese already!  I have yet to see a child smile naturally when told to “say cheese."  Yet parents insist on asking their children to do so when taking pictures.  Then they wonder why sweet Alyssa looks like she’s growling with her face contorted into a shape they’ve never seen before.  Saying cheese simply does not elicit natural smiles.

Talk to your child, act silly, sing songs, tell jokes - whatever you need to do to engage them and get their mind off the fact they are being photographed.  Besides, if you can make it fun, there’s a lot better chance your child will be excited to see you coming the next time you pull out your camera!


Connie Connie Groah has quickly become a sought-after children’s photographer in the greater Annapolis area for her unique eye and her ability to preserve little pieces of this precious time as she captures your children exploring their expanding world. The pensive stares, pouts, smiles and giggles are all part of their unique personalities. A child’s innocence, curiosity and natural state of wonder make for perfect opportunities to capture life as art. Connie believes that every stage, every milestone, deserves to be remembered and that you will never regret having too many pictures of your children. They grow up so fast, and the stages they go through pass quickly. The way he sticks his tongue out when he crawls, the way she giggles excitedly with her first steps, his proud smile after he loses that first tooth, her nervous fidgeting before her first prom date… these are the moments that we wish to imprint in our memories.  Connie will document these genuine expressions, moments and little details that may otherwise be forgotten.

Connie Groah is having 35 of her beautiful baby images published in The Big Book of Babies, released in March, 2008. She is an Approved Registered Member of the International Registry of Children’s Photographers (, an exclusive collection of the finest children’s photographers from across the world promoting the highest standards in children’s portrait photography. She is also a member of the Professional Photographers of America, Wedding and Portrait Photographers International, and Professional Photographers of Greater Annapolis. She resides in Annapolis, Maryland with her husband and their two active sons. She is available for commission for portraits as well as commercial work with children in the Annapolis, Baltimore, and Washington DC areas. Inquire about availability for travel.


Now for the kicker - I've got a great surprise for my readers.  How would you like to start taking excellent pictures of your children with a brand new digital camera?  And, how would you like that camera to be a brand new Nikon D80? 

Hmmm.  I thought so.  Are your eyes popping yet?  You are going to love this camera.  Hey, it's a NIkon so you know it's going to provide you with the best pictures ever! 

Just answer the following question in the comments:


What gives you the most frustration about taking digital pictures of your children?

This contest will end at 4pm EST on Thursday, March 19th.  Winner will be announced at about 6pm EST on Thursday evening and chosen by the Sponsor who is providing this wonderful camera to my readers! 

Sorry guys, but family and close friends are not eligible.  I know, life stinks sometimes, but if I want to keep my sponsors I have to be honest - and uh, I'm an honest doobie.

Now, start thinking about that question and leave a comment ...


I know that one reader is going to be one lucky duck enjoying "her" new Nikon D80.

So, you all shared with me what your biggest frustrations are in photographing children.  Fortunately, we have Connie to help us get it right.

And the winner of the new Nikon D80 is ...


Alicia wrote the following:



Thank you to everyone who entered.  I'll have more great contests soon!  

Alicia - contact me at to claim your great prize.

Note: SusieQ sponsored this giveaway on Raisin Toast.  Since I love Nikon cameras, it was easy for me to agree to this gift for you.  If it is Nikon, I know it is great.  I will tell you, though, that I do not know anyone at Nikon, or Wolf Camera, or B&H Photo.  I just hang out at the camera store a lot.

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Tuesday, February 24, 2009

Photoshop and Banner Creation Part 2
(And a Contest for You at the End! Woohoo!)


Have you created some banners in Photoshop yet?  Have you had a bite of that cake?  Talk about needing a chocolate fix - that slice up there will do it for sure. 

Getting back to reality - There is so much you can do to be creative in designing banners or sidebar items for your blog.  Personally, I think creating banners is fun.  All you need is Photoshop - hint hint.  And, now that I know how to rotate those image banners every time the page is refreshed, I want to share the knowledge with you. 


Since I am sharing the Love in this post, I thought I would share a little of Peter Max in the process. 

Yesterday's post taught you how to create a 160x600 banner in Photoshop, but don't feel limited by yesterday's lesson - the information is there for you to create banners of any size to suit your website or blog.  So, let's say you've created several banners of the same size and you want them to rotate on your site when the page is refreshed.  You know that this will keep things interesting and new and will bring energy to your site.  if you're like me, I wasn't going to be happy until I figured out how to do this with my TypePad blog. 

I realize something about myself - that even if I had a Wordpress blog, I guarantee there would be something that I would need to learn to do or I wouldn't be satisfied with it.  So, I'm stickin' with TypePad.  Not only have I been able to create a nice blog for myself, but the knowledge base and customer support have been excellent.


I only recently decided to learn how to use Advanced Templates within TypePad  so that I could customize my blog.   I did not like the way it looked and wanted to add a professional look and feel to it.  I also wanted it to reflect my personality.  The only way I could do this was to learn some web design and understand the fundamentals of CSS and html on my own.  And, if any of you have been here a while, you know why - because we're broke!  Big Bear has been busy looking for a job since his layoff and, well, I don't have thousands of dollars to spend on a blog redesign, so I had to figure it out myself or forget it.  Even that wasn't enough for me, though.  I wanted that stinkin' random image thing in my sidebar.  I'm persistent. 

Well, thanks to that persistence, I learned how to accomplish this within a TypePad blog, and the good news is that you can add this script to your blog too.  If you don't have a TypePad blog, you may have to contact your blog's customer support if you don't know where or how to add the java script to your sidebar, but here, I will explain how to do this within TypePad, and then you can figure out how to use the script within your blog if you use Wordpress or Blogger or some other blog platform.

Let's get started.  Here are some banners that I have created in Photoshop:

TKASTROLL160X600BANNER BigBearBanner160x600 copy

Despite how it looks, each banner is 160x600.  After you have created your banners in Photoshop, you will want to save them to a folder on your computer where you can easily find them.


Now, open up your TypePad account (if you have one) and click on your "Control Panel" tab.  If you use another blog platform, you will need to go to the area of your blog where you can upload images that will be used for placement within your blog.


Once you are in your Control Panel, click on the "Files" tab.  In TypePad, this is where your folders and images are kept that are used within your blog. 


Click on "Browse" to upload your banner images, one at a time, to your File Manager.


Click on the image or images that you uploaded into your File Manager (one at a time) to get their url (web address).  I like to have multiple tabs open in my browser rather than multiple browser windows.  In this case, I opened up each image that I had uploaded into a tab of its own in my browser making it easy to copy the url when I need it to put into the random image generator script.


In another tab, open up your TypePad account and click on "TypeLists."


You will want to "Create a new TypeList"
    1. List Type: Notes
    2. List Name: (Give it a name that will identify what the TypeList is).

When you give your TypeList a name, if you put the following code ( <!--YourTypeListName--> ) before and after the name, it will not be visible on your blog.  In other words, your banner image will show up, but the name of the list itself will not be in text above the banner image on your blog.  Hope that makes sense.  So, if you don't want the name of the TypeList that your image banners are in to show up (and I didn't), then write the List Name like this:


Otherwise, just type in the name of your TypeList and forget the dashes and symbols before and after.  By putting the symbols as you see here (in red) before and after the name you give your TypeList, the name will not show up on the page with your image.  Don't you just love sneaky little tips like this?


Now that you have created a new TypeList "Notes"  List, you want to place the script for the random image generator into the box.  (Note: Leave the box "Label"  blank.

Here is the script that you will put in your TypeList 'Notes' box:

<div align="center">
<SCRIPT LANGUAGE="Javascript"><!--

// ***********************************************
// URL:
// Use the script, just leave this message intact.
// Download your FREE CGI/Perl Scripts today!
// ( )
// Modified for use in CSB and Trellix by Samantha Conway
// MUST change gEMDIR to GEMDIR before using code!!!
// ***********************************************

function image() {

image = new image();
number = 0;

// imageArray
image[number++] = "<img src='' border='0'>"
image[number++] = "<img src='' border='0'>"
image[number++] = "<img src='' border='0'>"
image[number++] = "<img src='' border='0'>"
// keep adding items here...

increment = Math.floor(Math.random() * number);



Everything that you see above in GREEN is part of the script and needs to be in the box.  The only change you will make to this script is the url (web address) of each of your images that you want to rotate.  And, remember, we opened up your images in individual tabs in your browser so that you know the address of each image and can copy and paste it fast and easy.

Put the url for each image (image 1, image 2, image 3, image 4, etc...) into the script.  These are the images that will rotate on your blog.  So, if I put this TypeList in my left (alpha) sidebar, the images, each of which are 160x600 in my case, will rotate every time the page is refreshed.

Now that you've created a TypeList with this script and you've added the url's of the images you want to rotate on your blog to the script ...  Now what?

Click "Save"  then click on the tab that reads "Publish"


As you can see here, all of my Templates in TypePad are Advanced Templates.  It wasn't always like that.  I had the basic templates for a long time and yes, they are a lot easier to use, however, you are limited in the customizations you can make within a basic template.  If you want to really get down to the nitty-gritty of customizing your TypePad blog, you'll want to be in Advanced Templates.  For me, I just had to swallow my insecurities and believe in myself enough that I could learn how to design a blog that was uniquely my own within Advanced Templates.  It was scary at first, but I did it, and I am happy with the way Raisin Toast looks and functions - at least for now. 

When I find new things that I want to add to my site, like wanting my image banners in the sidebar to rotate when the page is refreshed, I have to learn how to do it myself.  And when I learn it - I'm going to share it with you, so you, too, can add some cool features to your blog!


Now, see that Template Tag that the red arrow is pointing to?  Copy that Template Tag.

Open up your blog's template, beginning with the Main Index Template, and place that code exactly where you want your images to show up in your sidebar.  In my case, my images pop up on the Homepage in the left (alpha) sidebar. 

That's it!  It really isn't as difficult as it looks.  You'll get the hang of it. 

However, because I love you all for dropping by and taking the time to visit my little corner of the web, I have a surprise for you just so that you can start creating some really great banners for your site or for advertising, or both! 


How would you like your own copy of Adobe Photoshop CS4?  I thought so.  Just answer this question in the comments:

What drives you to be creative? 

Now, here's the deal, because I am starting this contest at 2am (I had a rough day yesterday - sorry for the late Monday, now Tuesday, post), I am going to end this contest at 12pm (Noon) EST on Wednesday.  This is a sponsored contest and the sponsor has indicated to me that he wants to choose the winner from his basket of tricks which is fine with me.  The winner will be announced on Wednesday evening around 9pm EST. 

So, tell your friends, tell your family, call up your buddies, call up your kids, and tell them to stop on over to Raisin Toast  to learn how to create cool banners for your sidebar and to enter this great contest to win Photoshop CS4! 

One Entry Per Person please.

Contest entries will be closed at 12pm (Noon) EST on Wednesday, February 25th.

Winner will be announced at approximately 9pm EST Wednesday evening.

Good Luck!  Yippee! DeeDooDah 


WE HAVE A WINNER!  My Sponsor handed over the job to me and, so I ran the magic number and the winner is ...

Doesn't that chocolate cake look good?  

Don't you just want a piece?

All right already!


We had 26 readers who commented for a chance to win Photoshop CS4, and I am happy to say that 16 is the Winner!  

So, who is 16?  Well, I counted 12 times to make sure I got it right.  And, the #16 is:

Catherine B.!  


Congratulations Catherine B.!  You've won Photoshop CS4.  

Email me at to claim your prize. Be sure to provide your shipping address!  

Thank you to all who entered.  The odds were pretty good.  Keep tuning in for more great contests!

Note: I don't know anyone at Photoshop or Adobe.  I just love, love, love photoshop and I would be empty without it in my life.  So, I, aka SusieQ, sponsored this giveaway.  

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Saturday, January 31, 2009

Lasagna Anyone? How About 3 Gift Cards Just for You & the Super Bowl Too!


Last night was a special night out with the family and our neighbor Dan, who just got laid off from his job too.  Horrible Corporate politics in play here and unfortunate for him and his family.  So, we invited Dan and his son, Alex (our son, Matthew's best friend) to join us for dinner.  Unfortunately, Jan, Dan's wife and my friend, was not feeling very well and so she stayed home and rested.  But, we made sure to take her a goody box - and it was a goody too.


We heard that there was a new item on the menu - Lasagna, and we wanted to give it a try.  Actually, it isn't on the menu yet, but will be shortly.  (I have a little bluebird that visits me on occasion and tells me these things).  So, we thought that since the weather was nice and we hadn't been to Pizza Hut in a long, long time, we would scurry on down to the one at 2111 Roosevelt Blvd. in Monroe, NC.  We had never been there and had heard that it is one of the nicest Pizza Huts in the area.  I had never seen a PH Italian Bistro before, so being able to fly the coop for an evening out with my family was exciting.  I really need to get out more.


I was pleasantly surprised.  This was a really nice family restaurant.  And clean.  Very clean.  Impressively clean.  If you want to know just how nice this restaurant is to take your family, know that everything including the mall parking lot where this PH is located was empty except for the Pizza Hut parking lot.  There must have been 5 sheriff's car's in the parking lot as well as lots of cars and trucks (we live in the south, folks, there are gonna be trucks).  Fortunately, as we discovered when we went in, the cops were there to eat - and not arresting anyone or beating off the local yocals with a stick.  (That was a relief).

What I found amazing was that this Pizza Hut was 23 years old.  It looked brand new to me!


Hmmm, let's see, what to order.  We were definitely going to try the new Lasagna, but I could tell that Big Bear had his eye on the wings.  Wow, do they have a selection of wings on the menu or what? 

Did I mention this restaurant was very clean?  It is.  Very.  Clean.


We're hungry.  We're happy.  We're hungry.  We're happy.  I need blinders now that Sarah has had her braces removed.  Yep, they came off yesterday, so I guess you could say that this was a celebratory dinner for Sarah's sparkling, straight, white smile.


I need blinders.  Two-and-a-half years and $5000 dollars later, Sarah will be smiling even when she doesn't feel like it.  "Can I stop smiling now Mom?  Take the dang picture already!"  "Okay, but you have to hold that smile the rest of the night."


This is Tiffany.  She wears braces.  She has worked at this Pizza Hut for over 4 years and is working her way through college.  I thought she was cute.  We all did.


We took turns at the salad bar, and I should tell you that it was delicious.  Small, but good.  I am always weary of salad bars, especially since all kinds of nasty things can grow if it is not kept at a certain temperature and kept clean.  Assistant Manager, Kristine Daniels, who has worked at this Pizza Hut for 18 years, assured me that they monitor the temperature several times a day and keep the salad bar fresh and clean.  They're on top of it and it was a good feeling.  Good salad by the way.

I was impressed - especially since they had no idea this camera toting lady and her family were going to be dining there last night. 

By the way, I learned that the manager, Mike LanVardt, has been manager of this Pizza Hut for 21 years.  Does this tell you something about this organization?  When everyone else is losing their job, Pizza Hut is holding onto their employees like glue.  Can I send Big Bear over for a job application? 


Ahhh, dinner.  I was starving.  The new family size Lasagna dinner comes with 5 hot, soft, and tasty breadsticks.  No, this is not a commercial for Pizza Hut. Yes, this was our dinner last night - Out & About town.  And it was definitely worth writing about.  The Lasagna, this new Lasagna, wasn't heavy.  The sauce was sweet and tasty too.


My favorite - Pan Cheese Pizza.  I've had so many pizza's (I think we all have) from Dominos to Mario's, and I still think Pizza Hut makes the best.

So, are you all ready for the Super Bowl this Sunday?  Well, how would you like to have something delicious from Pizza Hut to share with family and friends? 

To celebrate my daughter's beautiful new smile, I am offering not 1, not 2, but 3 $20 e-gift cards to Pizza Hut to 3 lucky readers who answer this question in the comments:

What do you like best about spending time with your family?

And maybe, this Sunday, you can gather with your family and your friends, enjoy the Super Bowl, and share some Lasagna and pizza with a smile and a hug.

Because it took me forever to get this post finished (I was watching a Hallmark Hall of Fame movie with my family and my computer kept locking up on me) - This contest will end at 7pm EST, Saturday evening (January 31st), and I will announce the 3 winners 2 hours later, at 9pm Saturday evening - just in time for you to add some great Lasagna to your Sunday Super Bowl Plans.  Deal? 

Now, tell me all about what you like best about spending time with your family and enjoy the Super Bowl!


CONGRATULATIONS! WE HAVE OUR WINNERS! 3 Lucky Readers will have the opportunity to enjoy some time with family at their local Pizza Hut with three $20 gift cards and some delicious new Lasagna on the menu! 

I asked you all to tell me what you like best about spending time with family and I have thoroughly enjoyed reading your answers.  Hopefully tomorrow (Sunday) you will be able to spend quality time with your family and maybe even some friends cheering for your favorite football team.  It is Super Bowl Sunday after all.  

I printed off the comment list, trimmed it up by the individual comments, and put them in a bowl.  Here are the winning selections:

And the winners are:


Paul wrote:

"I think the best times spent with family members are the ones that are not expected, like Thanksgiving or Christmas, but the ones when they call and tell you they've got the night off from work and can they come over for dinner and to hang out. Then we know for sure that they really want to be there! It's questionable sometimes when they reach a certain age how much they want to be at your house when they could be doing something waaay more important - like hang with their friends... So, those are good moments for me, unforced, relaxed, non-holiday, just wanting to be together."

I really liked your answer, Paul.  I agree with you that the best times with family - just enjoying the everyday moments.  As you say: "unforced, relaxed, non-holiday, just wanting to be together." 

and, the second winner is:


Karen wrote:

"The thing I like best about spending time with my family is that we all get along! Really! :) There are no arguments, and no fights. We laugh a lot, too about anything and everything and we always have inside jokes that last for years and years.

We have a very nice Pizza Hut here in Havre and because there aren't too many restaurants, I'd have to say it's one of my favorites. They have a great lunchtime buffet with salads, pizza and pasta.

Sarah looks beautiful with her nice, straight teeth!

Thanks for the giveaway, Susan!"

Sounds like you and your family all have a fun time together, Karen.  And I completely understand the "inside jokes" remark.  Sometimes I wonder if our friends "get" our wacky sense of humor.  When I and my brothers are together, we tear up the room with comic relief and I often wonder if we're the only ones who get the joke.  That's a laugh in and of itself. 

Oh, and "You're welcome Karen - for the giveaway.  Hee hee.

and, the third winner is:


Marcela wrote:

"I might be colombian but I like my pizza, especially at Pizza Hut, and after reading this blog, I can't wait to visit this neat place with a few of my friends this Super Bowl weekend. Thanks for the info."

Well, Marcela, it looks as though you and your family will have the chance to enjoy some delicious Pizza Hut Lasagna, Pizza, or other favorite from the menu this weekend! 

CONGRATULATIONS!  By the way, I spoke to my sponsor and it looks as though I might be able to have another contest just like this one again soon.  I want my readers to have every opportunity to enjoy these great sponsored prizes.  It sure does make me happy knowing that I have made you happy in some way.

TO OUR WINNERS: Email me at to claim your prize.  All I need is your email address and my sponsor will do the rest. 

Everyone have a great weekend with your family.  Reflect on the simple pleasures, the precious memories, the joy of just being together. Life is fleeting.  Time with family is a gift - the greatest gift of all.  As always, thank you for sharing your stories with me.  It is your stories that bring me the greatest pleasure here on Raisin Toast.  Thank you for being a part of my life and for sharing in my journey. 



Note: I don't know anyone at PIzza Hut.  I just love their pizza.  This contest, however, was sponsored by Pizza Hut - well sorta.  You see, while I was there, I finagled these giftcards for my readers. So, I suppose that I, aka SusieQ, sponsored this giveaway - and Pizza hut too.

Tuesday, January 13, 2009

Fool Me Three Times

If you would like to add more suggestions for living a greener life and what you are doing to help the environment, please share in the comments below! 

Nothing is more frustrating than having to rebuild your life all over again once you get your computer back with a new harddrive.  Such is the case with me today - rebuilding everything from scratch.  All of my programs had to be reinstalled from scratch, then I had to update everything, then I had to make sure that I was able to find the emails with the action downloads that I use in Photoshop (thank God I didn't delete the emails!). Goodness, have I got a sore bottom from sitting all day and working on rebuilding my life.


I don't even want to think about all the documents and pictures I lost, much less all the passwords and license information in my password vault.  And to think that the entire time I had access to iDisk and could have saved myself a lot of grief.  Dang.  I also had an external harddrive to clone my MacBook to, and although I thought I had done this several months ago, when we looked at the drive it was empty.  Figures. 

As a result I have had to rebuild everything - my address book, my iTunes library, my password and license information, my calendar, my sanity.  Trust me when I say this is NOT fun.  If you don't have to go through this, don't.  And I am sure that in a matter of weeks or months I will need something or remember something that was on my old harddrive that crashed and I'll go hide under my covers and cry and beat my head against the wall.


Fool me once, shame on you.

Slowly but surely, my life on my computer is being rebuilt.  BUT this time I'm going to be smart.  You know what they say "Fool me once, shame on me.  Fool me twice, shame on you.  But, fool me three times, and you will reap a reward."  I know - huh?  Put it this way, I didn't back up my computer the first time around when it crashed 5 years ago.  Then I swore I would never let that happen again and I would back up regularly.  Well, that didn't last and then last week "Crash" "Bang!" "Sparks!" "Fire!" Then everything went dark.  Nothin'.  Nada.  Dead as a doornail.  Crap.


Fool me twice, shame on me. 

I scurried my lifeless MacBook to the Genius Bar at the Apple Store and as he put his stethoscope up to the heart of the laptop he announced that it had died.  No recovery.  No jolts to bring it back to life would work.  "Hand it over, lady - and we'll perform heart transplant surgery (oh, I mean harddrive replacement) on your computer."  "Waaaaaaaah!!!!  But ... but ... but.


Fool me three times - 

Answer this question and your comment will be your entry into this great contest.  Only one entry per person please.  Winner will be chosen at 5pm on Thursday. 

Question for you:  What steps are you taking to live a "greener" life this year?

You know, like lightbulbs and recycling.  That kinda thing.

And what can you win?  Something great.  How about a $50.00 gift certificate to the Apple Store ...


And this.  iLife will iWork if iYou backup your iMac iMonthly.  Got it.  Good.  Now do the Green thing and make a difference in our environment ...

This contest is only good for those who have Macs - and sponsored by Mwaaah. 


Note: I do not know anyone at Apple.  I love my MacBook (even when it breaks) and wouldn't go back to PC for anything.  So, if you have a Mac, this is your lucky day.  SusieQ sponsored this giveaway.

Apple Online Store

Thursday, January 01, 2009

10 Great Resolutions & 50 for you ...


So did you have enough time to reflect on those things you want to do in 2009 that will improve the quality of your life?  Did you take the time to maybe read some of the comments and be inspired?  I know I did!  I absolutely love anything - contest or not - that makes me think, reflect, improve.  Mental aerobics is what I call it.

I have thoroughly enjoyed reading your "10 Things" for 2009, and some of you even offered up more.  I didn't even think the goals and resolutions were unreasonable either.  I mean, with each one that I read, I thought that you were reasonable in your expectations for reaching those goals and resolutions successfully.  Now, you better be careful, because this time next year we are going to have to revisit this to see how we all did.  Deal?  Good.


I can't believe the year is over.  Unfortunately, my year is ending on a very sad note.  My  former father-in-law, someone who meant a great deal to me and will forever live in my heart, passed away this past Saturday at the tender age of 77.  The last few years have been extremely difficult for him as he has been suffering from one ailment after another.  I do want to tell you about Walter.  He was a great man and will be dearly missed.  This evening (Tuesday night) my Big Bear and I went to his family gathering at the funeral home and just like in this girl's true fashion - my knees went weak, my lips began to quiver as we stood in line for the greeting by the casket, and I had to excuse myself from the line to go have a good hearty cry.  Thank God for waterproof mascara or I would have been a complete mess. I loved this man and his voice and strength of character resonate with me deeply.

Jeneece, his beautiful wife of 55 years, was stoic and strong, despite the fact that she had a stroke the morning of this past Saturday, the same day that her dear husband passed away.  Jeneece is very much a mother to me.  I love them all dearly. 

I will tell you this story sometime soon.  I have a funeral to go to in the morning and I will post the winner by noon.  This isn't how I, or any of us, hoped to end 2008, but I know that Walter is in an entirely new dimension.  He is at peace now and is no longer suffering.  I know that his spirit was there with his family and friends this evening.  He knows we all loved him and respected him.  He was an honorable man, and a man of great integrity.

Thank you for letting me express this to you.  I hope that you will spend quality time with the loved ones in your life more so in 2009 than at any other time before. Cherish them.  Hug them.   Tell them you love them. 


Thank you to everyone who entered this contest.  I know that it will be $50 well spent on home and family in the coming year.

And now for the drumroll please ...

The winner is ...

Someone who had some great goals and resolutions for the new year. 


CONGRATULATIONS TO ERIKA!!!  You are the winner of the $50 giftcard to Target - infamously known as  Tar-jay in my part of town.

Now, I don't want you other readers to be disappointed.  I hear you out there going "Awwww, Darn!"  No disappointment allowed on Raisin Toast, ya hear?  I love making my readers happy.  I love making new friends.  I love writing.  I love - smiling.  I love making you - yeah, you - think and walk away with something good.

Oh, by the way, these were Erika's resolutions and goals for 2009:

Erika wrote:

my resolutions for 2009

1. Learn to cook healthier food for my family
2. organize my home office
3. walk at least 3 times a week
4. work out at least 3 times a week
5. get more involved in my child's activities
6. read 6 books
7. go camping twice this summer with my husband and son
8. donate to a charity
9. learn to play an instrument
10. call my mother daily

Great resolutions Erika!  Maybe you can find some good camping equipment at Target for that summer camping trip you want to take with your husband and son.  Or maybe you can find some solutions for organizing your home office.  I know you can find some good books at Target - I've found some good one's there myself at great deals too.

I believe you will reach all your resolutions and goals - and I believe that all my readers will as well.  And if you don't, then I'm just going to have to come your way and tickle you to you cry.

Now, if only I can get my butt in gear and start moving and exercising more, so that I can lose that 20+ pounds I promised myself I would lose this year.  I had better do something soon because I am running out of pants, skirts, and underwear that fit anymore.

That said - Happy New Year to all my wonderful readers!  Thank you so much for taking the time out of your busy day to give me a read and to comment too.  Thank you for becoming a very important part of my life journey.

Blessings to you all!  Congratulations again to Erika!

Contact me at to claim your prize!


Note: I do not know anyone at Target.  I just shop there on a regular basis and knew that my readers would enjoy a giftcard to one of my favorite places to shop.  So, this giveaway was sponsored by me - mwaah - SusieQ.

Sunday, December 28, 2008

10 Good Things - and 50 for You


Have you given much thought to this coming year?  Do you have a list of goals that you would like to reach in 2009?  Have you thought much about your 2008 resolutions and goals, and were you able to make them happen? 

Well, I'll tell ya, I'm a bit of a slug myself when it comes to reaching those goals and resolutions, but that only served to make my resolve even stronger because I will be 50 this year and daggone-it I really want to look good and feel good when I turn the big 5-0.  It doesn't seem possible.  I mean, I'm still 25 and I act like I'm 17.  So how is it that I'm almost 50?  The gray hair is a dead giveaway, though, and so is the need for a daily afternoon nap I suppose.


That said, I thought I would list my New Year resolutions and goals here for all the world to see.  Then, this time next year I won't have any good excuses for not reaching them, right?  Well, let's hope I don't have any excuses at all - good or otherwise.  Then, I want you to list your 10 things - goals and resolutions for the coming year, and if you do, you just might win a $50 giftcard to Tar-jay. Sound like a plan? 

So here is my list of 20:

1. Lose 20 lbs. 
2. Keep up with the laundry Scratch that
3. Give every member of my family a smile and a hug - daily.
4. Create at least 12 oil paintings.
5. Enter at least 1 visual arts contest for one new painting.
6. Teach someone to paint.
7. Exercise daily - somehow, someway, no excuses!!!
8. Inspire at least 1 person a week to be positive, learn something new, or find the good in their life and others.
9. Donate to at least 2 charities.
10. Keep my house clean and my beds made. Scratch that
11. Make at least one quilt - finished.
12. Teach my daughter to sew.
13. Help a friend in need.
14. Help a stranger in need.
15. Send at least 2 letters to a soldier in the Middle East.
16. Encourage my children to write a letter and draw a picture for a soldier.
17. Say "Yes" more often.
18. Learn to do something new. (Self improvement is always a good thing)
19. Laugh at something - daily.
20. Keep a daily journal of blessings by my bed and write in it every night.


Every year, I create a list of 20 things that I resolve to do, or goals that I hope to reach, and I put it in a journal I keep by my bed.  I started that journal several years ago and let me tell you - it works.  I am able to cross off 2 from the start, and every year it is always the same two - the impossible I call it.


Number 20 is especially important to me because it forces me to focus on the blessings rather than the hardships.  It is my time to snuggle up under my covers, reflect on the day, put on my glasses, and list at least 7 things every day that I am grateful for, and 7 things that I took notice of during the day that made me smile.  I have discovered that not a day goes by that I am not thankful and feel enormously blessed.  Not only has this been good for my soul, but it has been good for my state-of-mind and health as well.  I feel better and have been sick less in the last several years than at any other time in my life since I started this journal.  If nothing else, I have learned that there is a mind-body connection and we need to feed the mind with healthy thoughts, and exercise our mind with learning as much as we need to feed our bodies with healthy food and exercise our muscles.  You should try it!


So how about it?  Are you thinking about the coming year and what you hope it will mean to you and your family?  If not, and you are still cleaning up after the holidays (me too) that's okay!  Take time to think about it.  But, I want you to promise me you will come back and leave me a comment that reflects your list, and yes, I want it to include - well, how about 10 things?  Sound good?  Great.


So here is your assignment.  And, if you tell me your 10 good things - your resolutions and goals - I have a gift for you. 


How would you like a $50 Giftcard to Target?  Hey!  It's after Christmas and that's when all the deals really start!  I figure you can get more bang for your buck after Christmas when all the retailers are scrambling to deplete their inventory before January 1st.  So how about we help them? 

In other words, how about you think about it, sleep on it if you have to, start a journal, scratch your head, pick your nose, clip your toenails (vacuum them up please), take a shower, brush your teeth, don't forget to floss, kiss your pet, eat an apple - or two, and then comment (that's actually better than "call me" don't you think?) in the morning. Maybe you'll be able to spend less time at the doctor's office this year, too!


Oh, and you have to make hot cocoa sometime this year.  That's a requirement for reading my blog - you've got to make my hot cocoa.  Unless, of course you are lactose intolerant.  Then you're forgiven.

So get on it folks!  Write me your 10 things.  Inspire others with your goals and resolutions.  And you will be in the running for that $50 Target Giftcard courtesy of a sponsor from heaven above.

Winner will be chosen by mwaah (that's me) at 12 noon on Wednesday, December 31st.  What a great way to start the New Year! 


Note: I do not know anyone at Tar-get or Target for that matter.  I just shop there on a regular basis and wanted to pass on a good giftcard to you.  So, this giveaway was sponsored by me - SusieQ - regular Target shopper.

Monday, December 22, 2008

Dancing Queen Winner!

AdobeCS4&Lightroom.jpg by you.

So, you want to go dancin'?  I've often wondered why there are no longer any good places to go dancing.  Especially since I grew up in the 70s and 80s and that is, it seems, all I ever did for fun - dance.  And I was good at it too.  I made the "hustle" look good - let me tell ya - in heels, miniskirts, and all.  But, that was a long time ago.  Now I just hang out in my pajamas with no makeup, slippers, and messy hair.  Such is age I suppose - and motherhood - and cleaning toilets - and picking up after everybody - and doing laundry.  Okay Already!  Let's get to the winner for goodness sakes! 


First, though, I just want to say thank you to my readers for coming back here to Raisin Toast to read my ramblings, look at my amateur photography, and watch my amateur family videos.  I appreciate you all.

Now for the winner, which, by the way, was chosen by my son, Matthew.  He read through all the comments this weekend, and then checked them again for any new comments this morning.  Then he randomly picked the winner after doing my suggestion - which was to print them all off, cut them up, and put them in a box, or a basket, or a hat, or throw them in the air and the one that lands on his head is the winner.  So that is what he did. 

And the winner is ...

Drumroll please ...

Are you biting your nails?  I mean, this is worth almost a thousand bucks worth of software folks!!!!

Do I hear harps? 

"Ol, crap, Susan, get on with it!"

Hey!  Be nice now ...

I'm just messin' with ya ....  Okay!  No more foolin' around, let's get serious ...

AdobeCS4&Lightroom.jpg by you.

CONGRATULATIONS TO MAGGIE!  YOU ARE THE WINNER OF THE AWESOME, THE FANTASTIC, THE UNMATCHABLE ADOBE PHOTOSHOP CS4 AND LIGHTROOM 2!  I hope you are creative and know how to use this stuff.  It only took me 10 years to figure it out.  That's all.  Just 10 years. 

Maggie wrote:

"I think you went to dinner and then dancing."

Well, that was easy. 

Be sure to check out Totally Rad Actions for some incredible Actions to go along with this software.  Doug will take good care of you.  And then, hop over to Pioneer Woman and download her Pioneer Woman Action Set 1 and Action Set 2.  By that time, you will be spending so much time on your computer editing your photographs and creating beautiful graphics, that you will have lost touch with reality. 

I hope you will share with us - someday - all that you have learned to do and created with Photoshop and Lightroom.

Contact me at to claim your fabulous prize!

img256_Zoomin_CloneStamp_Rebuild_Dodge_Blur_Step5-5.jpg by you.

Thank you to everyone who participated in this contest!  Oh, did I hear someone say that they wanted to know what I did after the photoshoot?  Well, I'll tell ya ...

I picked up my little girls from a babysitter, then went home and cooked dinner.  My husband was in Korea at the time.  Fun place.  Actually, I don't think he was having fun, and to tell you the truth, he was not exactly thrilled that I had had my hands on the butt of a male model.  Not that I blame him.  I mean, if the situation were reversed I would be ticked off too.  What can I say except, well, I was a fun young thing and I had no respect for my relationship with him and no clue how to parent two daughters.  I had to get knocked over the head a few times with reality to wise up.  And yes, I wised up.  I grew up.  I am no longer the young, wild, thing I used to be.  And I value my relationships, friendships, family, and life far more than I ever did back then. 

Honestly, there are some things I wish I could take back and do over - like how I parented my two oldest daughters.  They didn't deserve to have a mother who was still sowing her oats and the chaos and immaturity that went along with the ride. 

However, and yes, there is a big however, I learned a great deal from that awful experience I call my 20s, and because of all the mistakes, all the bad decisions, all the crap, all the pain I caused my husband, I am a better person, a far better mother, a more appreciative daughter, a more valuable and caring friend.  And, I'm rather sensible if I may say so myself.  I suppose we all must experience some difficult times and bad decisions to grow.

On that note - I had some laugh-out-loud good times reading your comments.  Thanks to you all!


Note: I don't know anyone at Photoshop or Adobe.  I did not mess with anyone in a Lightroom either.  I did, however, sponsor this giveaway.  Why?  Because I love Photoshop and I love Lightroom and I love Photoshop with Lightroom and I knew you would too.

Friday, December 19, 2008

Dancing Queen & Photoshop - a Marriage Made in Photography Heaven

img256_Original&Final.jpg by you.

Sometimes you gotta do what you gotta do.  And sometimes what you gotta do ain't pretty.   Take this before and after photo for instance.  What was I thinking?  I mean, I had my hand on the tush of a male model and I was listening to my own heartbeat.  You've got to be kidding right?  Nope.  Let me tell you, that when I was in my 20s I was sowing my oats - and lots of 'em. 

img256_Original_Step1.jpg by you.

Take this old photo for instance.  I was - uh - let's see - 23, married, and the mother of 2 daughters, ages 4 and 2.  I had just gotten out of a body cast for spinal surgery and herrington rod instrumentation, that corrected (for the most part) my scoliosis.  I was so happy to be out of that plaster cast you have no idea.  I spent 10 months recovering from that God awful surgery and grew 3 inches in the process (from 5'5" with the scoliosis, to 5'8" in 4 hours during the surgery)  Standing up for the first time was a real jolt.  I thought I was on stilts and was looking at the world from an entirely new perspective.  I was however, wanting to get on with my life, and so, I did some really stupid things.

img256_Original_Step1.jpg by you. 

Like this.  I was putting together a series of pictures for my modeling portfolio, especially now that I was taller and straighter - such perfect posture.  I was acquainted with a professional photographer, Scott Singer, who suggested I dress up like a nurse and he would take some funny pictures of me at Holy Cross Hospital in Ft. Lauderdale, where I had had my surgery.  Oooookee, dokee.  I was game for anything fun - good clean fun is what I call it.

So, he gave me a doctor's jacket - and that was all, and told me to put it on.  It was a mini skirt if I ever wore one, and well, I crossed my legs thank you very much.  I sure was an open-minded little thing - wooooh. 

Anyway, I just pulled this picture out of my box of old (yes, dangit, it's an old picture - so what about it?) and i wanted to fix it up a bit.  So, I scanned it into my trusty MacBook Pro laptop to give it some restoration.  Yep, that's what I need - restoration.  I wish I could Photoshop my face now in real life.  ha ha. ho ho ho.  This picture was too, well, creamy.  Too beige.  Too - uh - discolored and marked up with age - like me!

I decided to fix this picture.  So begins this Photoshop tutorial.

img256_CloneStamp_Crop_Step2.jpg by you.

The first thing I did was use the clone stamp   Clonestamp.jpg by you.  to rid the picture of some scratches and markings that were distracting, then I used the crop tool  Croptool.jpg by you.   to crop unnecessary things out of the image - like the top of the white curtain behind me, for instance. For some reason, the guy's tush was already edited out of this picture.  Too much information I know.

Picture 1.png by you.

The next little trick I did in Photoshop was to use "Auto Color" to correct the image and bring it back to it's natural and original coloration. 

img256_AutoColor_Step3.jpg by you.

Most of the time just clicking on "Auto Color" will correct the image.  Not all the time, but most of the time.  Especially in Photoshop CS3 and above. 

Picture 2.png by you.

The next thing I did was to take a few shortcuts.  I like shortcuts.  Sorry about that, but it makes life via Photoshop a heck of a lot easier.  I used Totally Rad's "Smooth-O-Matic" Action  to rid the picture of some of that 1980s noise, and then PW's Action Set 1"Flatten" to save the image as a jpeg and not a psd (which is a photoshop image with layers)

img256_Smooth-o-matic_Flatten_Step4.jpg by you.

Much better. Softer and smoother and more youthful.  Not like that matters or anything. ha ha. ho ho ho.

img256_Zoomin_CloneStamp_Step5-1.jpg by you.

The next thing I did was to use the Zoom in tool  Zoomtool.jpg by you.  on a number of points in the picture that had issues.  Like my hair.  Where did my hair go?  I think I gave it to 3 little girls and 1 boy and that robbed me of this beautiful chestnut brown hair and all that wonderful body - and I'm not just talking about that 20-something body of hair either.  Getting on subject again - in this picture, as you can see, I have dandruff.  Just kidding.  Actually, what I have are scratches and markings throughout the picture that need to be eliminated. 
So, again, I used the clone stamp  Clonestamp.jpg by you.  to remove the scratches and markings on the picture.

img256_Zoomin_CloneStamp_Step5-2.jpg by you.

Much better.  I just love that clone stamp.  It's like magic!  Great hair, don't you think?

img256_Zoomin_CloneStamp_Step5-3.jpg by you.

Okay, just keeping things really real here - those teeth.  What's the deal with that anyway?  Well, I'll tell ya.  I've worn braces 3 times and a total of 6 years.  When the picture was taken I had had my 2nd set of braces off for about 4 years and as you can see, those laterals are moving out again.  Darn those laterals.  They have a mind of their own.  Of course, I wasn't a very good patient because I stopped wearing my retainer at night and so my teeth moved back to their original crooked state.  Hint to my lovely daughter, Sarah - oh, and to anyone out there who is about to get out of their braces: Wear your retainer or risk having teeth like this.  As good and healthy as they may be, you will regret not wearing your retainer, and then you will have to Photoshop all your pictures to fix your teeth.  Not fun.  Well, it's sorta fun, but still, you get the picture, right?  ha ha. ho ho ho.

So to correct this anomaly, I had to use the clone stamp Clonestamp.jpg by you.  and a creative eye to get it just right, and make sure you adjust the hardness and the size of the round clone stamp to make the adjustments more natural looking.  Then I used the blur tool Blurtool.jpg by you.  to make the corrections look like they were always beautiful teeth.  Yep, they were always beautiful teeth.  I just did things in reverse.  ha ha. ho ho ho.

img256_Zoomin_CloneStamp_Rebuild_Dodge_Step5-4.jpg by you.

Can I take this picture to my dentist?  I mean, if he sees this picture will he know how to create this beautiful set of chompers?  Oh, if I had only worn my retainer, I would never have had to wear braces Again for a third time. Darn. Such self-inflicted, unnecessary pain.  And, I would not have had to go through this humiliating Photoshop tutorial with you.  Such self-inflicted, unnecessary pain, I know.

img256_Zoomin_CloneStamp_Rebuild_Dodge_Blur_Step5-5.jpg by you.

I was such an 80s girl.  Actually I was a 70s girl - a Dancing Queen - 17 -

Friday night and the lights are low
Looking out for the place to go
Where they play the right music, getting in the swing
You come in to look for a king
Anybody could be that guy
Night is young and the music's high
With a bit of rock music, everything is fine
You're in the mood for a dance
And when you get the chance...

You are the dancing queen, young and sweet, only seventeen
Dancing queen, feel the beat from the tambourine
You can dance, you can jive, having the time of your life
See that girl, watch that scene, dig in the dancing queen

You're a teaser, you turn 'em on
Leave them burning and then you're gone
Looking out for another, anyone will do
You're in the mood for a dance
And when you get the chance...

You are the dancing queen, young and sweet, only seventeen
Dancing queen, feel the beat from the tambourine
You can dance, you can jive, having the time of your life
See that girl, watch that scene, dig in the dancing queen

Uh, was Abba following me around or something?  I mean, HEY!  That Was My Life You Guys Are Singin' About There!  What's the Deal!  I want - I want - I want to go dancin' darn it!

Okay, I've made all the necessary adjustments - nips, tucks, dental reconstruction, wrinkle removal, gray hairs gone - and I even told that guy model to cover up his butt, I rolled my eyes, and then I left.

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And I have a beautiful, brand-spankin new Photoshop CS4 and Adobe Photoshop Lightroom 2 to give away to one of my readers so that you, too, can fix your teeth, remove blemishes, and remove beige, orange, and noise from your pictures.  Just answer this question.

What do you think I did after this photo session?

Winners will be announced on Monday before noon.  That gives you a lot more time to let your friends and family know about this great contest! 

Merry Christmas!  SusieQ

Note: I don't know anyone at Photoshop or Adobe.  I did not mess with anyone in a Lightroom either.  I did, however, sponsor this giveaway.  Why?  Because I love Photoshop and I love Lightroom and I love Photoshop with Lightroom and I knew you would too.

Thursday, December 18, 2008

Waltzing the Splendor Winners!

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I am happy to announce the winners of the wonderful Jazz CD by Accomplished Jazz musician and composer, Claire Ritter!  You will enjoy the music for years to come. 

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"What a great story and I am sure you all are proud. For me, Christian Rock is my favorite because (so far) you never hear a nasty lyric and it relaxes me as I worship our #1 fan, God."

And because I love my readers and appreciate you stopping by as often as you do I am giving away another copy of the Waltzing the Splendor CD:


"My favorite music is a light piano jazz. I could just listen to it for hours it's so relaxing and thought provoking."

Well, Karen, then you definitely should enjoy this great collection of jazz pieces by Claire Ritter. 

Winners should contact me at to claim your prize!

Now, you MUST let me know what you think of the music when you receive it and have had a chance to listen to it.  And when you do, leave a comment here.  And, for any other readers who have had the pleasure of listening to the CD "Waltzing the Splendor,"  please leave your comments here. 

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Thanks to all who participated, and thank you to Claire Ritter and Tango for sponsoring this contest!

Merry Christmas everyone!

Love, SusieQ

Note: I don't know how to play the piano anywhere near as jazzy as Claire Ritter.  I do, however, know how to finagle a sponsor now and then for a giveaway, and that is just what I did here.  ha ha.  Thank you to Claire Ritter (and Tango) for sponsoring this giveaway!  I love Claire Ritter and I know you will too.  She sure plays a jazzy piano!

Wednesday, December 17, 2008

Starting the Day Off with Santa ... and a Jazzy Gift for You after the Concert!


Well, sorta.  It was the day that our children, Sarah and Matthew were going to be entertaining the masses (albeit small masses) at Claire Ritter Studios, and we thought it would be a good idea to start their day - and ours - off with a wonderful breakfast.  So, we went to one of our favorite breakfast spots - The Big Dog Cafe, in Waxhaw, NC - and who do you suppose was cooking up the eggs and bacon?  Santa, by golly!  And yes, that is really him.  He works hard doesn't he? And he's jolly too!  And that is also his real beard - and padding.  Yep, Santa whipped us up a super-duper breakfast at the Big Dog Cafe and he even posed so that I could take a picture.  Just in case you didn't believe that Santa really lives in North Carolina and has a real job between Christmas holidays. 


I have such a wonderful family.  They waited patiently for our server while trying to decide on chocolate milk or orange juice.  Glen, however, had his eye on Dad's iPhone and wanted to play one of the 400 games he had downloaded.  Sarah played table piano and Matthew made faces at everyone.  I took pictures - that's my job.  We were all excited about the concert.


Sarah looked so elegant in her dress and high heel shoes.  Such a beautiful young lady she is becoming.  Where did my little girl go?  Now she wears hosiery, heels, and makeup.  Matthew didn't want me to take his picture.  Typical boy.


The children practiced their pieces before the concert and were prepared, but boy were they nervous.  The drive through the country to get to the studio didn't help to calm their nerves either.  Of course, Tango, Claire's precious pooch, greeted us when we arrived, and she helped to calm the children.  I think Tango has us all figured out, though.  She knows we're going to bring her a treat.

Claire Ritter

Claire started the evening concert off with her rendition of John Lennon's "Imagine" in the key of "E."  It was beautiful.  For those of you who are new here, Claire Ritter is a renowned Jazz musician and recording artist.  She is also an outstanding music teacher.  She has a surprise for one of our readers at the end ... so keep reading!


Matthew was one of the first up to the piano and he played beautifully.  He did not, however, pause between his 2 songs so that we could all applaud. He went straight from Prelude right into Brown Bag Boogie without missing a beat.  "Matthew - slow down darlin'!  You need to give us time to applaud silly!"  "Great Job!"


Sarah played Scott Joplin's "Maple Leaf Rag" and then ...


Nocturne as a duet with Claire Ritter on her electric keyboard.  They struggled a bit through this song, but got through it just fine.  Sarah was so upset. Nerves and a duet that you haven't practiced together but once does not make for a flawless piece. We were all really proud of her, though, and honestly, I don't think anyone noticed but Sarah and us, since we had heard her play the song a hundred times flawlessly before the concert.


The joy of the evening was at the end, when Sarah played a piece that she had composed. Earlier in the year, Sarah composed a piece called "Spring Mystique" and you could hear the birds chirping, the rain falling, and the thunderstorms and lightening.  In this composition, "Tales of Autumn" you can envision the leaves falling and the cool breezes blowing.  Fortunately, though, for you, you don't have to settle for these pictures of the concert.  You know why?  Because I have shaky bad video and audio so you can see it and hear it for yourself ...

Recital 2008 from Susan Vaughn on Vimeo.


Of course, this concert would not be complete unless I offered you an opportunity to experience jazz from one of today's finest jazz musicians - Claire Ritter - and her cd "Waltzing the Splendor" by Zoning Recordings.


This is what "Jazz Review" has to say about the music of Claire Ritter and this cd:

CD Title: Waltzing The Splendor

Year: 2007

Record Label: Zoning Recordings

Style: Straight-Ahead / Classic

Musicians: Claire Ritter (piano), Jon Metzger (vibraphone), Jane Hart Brendle (violin), Ashima Scripp (cello), Dave Holland (bass on bonus track 16)


Pianist Claire Ritter has a reputation for creating American jazz, which could be why when you listen to her latest release Waltzing the Splendor, you may find yourself envisioning a ballroom ambience with the music accompanying the vocal stylizing of Bing Crosby as Grace Kelly glides across a low-lit stage.  Though Ritter’s songs are all instrumentals, the lyricism of her piano phrasings along with the whimsical patinas of vibraphonist Jon Metzger, violinist Jane Hart Brendle, cellist Ashima Scripp, and bassist Dave Holland, delivers an album with beautiful elocution liken to Crosby’s singing and Kelly’s dancing.  It will make you wonder what ever happened to the days of ballroom dance that honed the likes of Rosemary Clooney and Bing Crosby.  The turns in the phrases of Ritter’s music have traditional workings with a contemporary torque that gives ballroom jazz a current standing in today’s marketplace.

Maybe it is Ritter’s rendition of the classic tune “Over The Rainbow,” which has been famously sung by Judy Garland in the past that gives Ritter’s music its ballroom dance flavor, but many of her songs leave the listener with an impression of ballroom lifts and low-lit lounge music especially in “Valsa” and “Integrity.”  Ritter composed four tracks for the album that are etudes for the piece Four Jazz Serenades For Georgia O’Keefe, Opus 23.  These tracks range from lightly flowering piano keys and gently swinging motions in the strings for “Orange Red Yellow Gold” to whimsical pirouettes and long strides in “Painter’s Serenade” and slits of cascading piano keys knitted along “Waltzing The Splendor.”  The fluidity of the fly-by piano keys for “Echo Meadow” has optimistic hues, and the doddering keys of “Hot Pepper” produce a catchy trolley rhythm.  The angelic sonorous of the xylophone and piano keys for “Carolina Canto” resonate like a children’s lullaby, while the tenderly strolling keys of “Telepathy” are impressionistic of a leisurely walk through a picturesque vista.


Ritter delves into more abstract jamming sessions and loosely fitted piano keys on “Suppose” and “Funky Feet,” which brings her sojourn into the realm of avant angles and improvised creations, and the wiry bass grooves of “In Between” follows this approach.  Ritter does perform a series of flashy piano jumps for “Punch” and “Hot Pepper,” which gives these tunes a jazzy jingle vamp, but the album is dominant in sprinkling piano keys and lush silhouettes that may remind you of the music of Bing Crosby.  Even though it was not Bing Crosby who inspired Claire Ritter’s 9th studio album Waltzing the Splendor.

Ritter reveals in the liner notes about the making of the album, “After visiting New Mexico and ‘Ghost Ranch’ a few years ago, I became enthralled with Georgia O’Keefe’s independent spirit as an abstract artist.  Of course, all art is connected and the musical ideas started flowing.  I could see and feel the piano and strings in the desert…All I can figure is composer meets painter – let imagination and nature say the rest.”

Waltzing the Splendor is a sonic portrait of America’s natural landscape.  With a catch phrase like “Going Green” stuck in everyone’s thoughts today, Claire Ritter has sonically gone green interpreting the greenery of America’s pastures into music.  If you never thought of America’s natural landscapes as giant ballrooms, Waltzing the Splendor lets you realize it for yourself.

Tracks: Punch; Over the Rainbow; Integrity; Echo Meadow; Valsa; Four Jazz Serenades for Georgia O'Keefe, Opus 23: No. 1 - OrangeRedYellowGold, No. 2 - Painter's Serenade, No. 3 - Strings in the Desert, No. 4 - Waltzing the Splendor; Telepathy, Hot Pepper, Suppose, Funky Feet, Carolina Canto, Punch, In Between, Waltzing the Splendor, Hot Pepper

Record Label Website:

Artist's Website:

Listen or Buy:


But for my readers, Claire and I are giving away a cd to one reader who answers this question:

What style of music do you enjoy the most and why?

Note: I don't know how to play the piano anywhere near as jazzy as Claire Ritter.  I do, however, know how to finagle a sponsor now and then for a giveaway, and that is just what I did here.  ha ha.  Thank you to Claire Ritter (and Tango) for sponsoring this giveaway!  I love Claire Ritter and I know you will too.  She sure plays a jazzy piano!

Monday, December 15, 2008

De-Light-ful Gingerbread with Butterscotch Sauce - and another Contest for YOU!

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Don't you just love the holiday season?  Well, maybe not everybody loves the holiday season, but hopefully I can do something to warm you up - even if it is only in your tummy, and then, maybe Everybody will love the holiday season!  Sound like a plan?  Then plan this for your holiday table...

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Let's start with De-light-ful Gingerbread with Butterscotch Sauce:

During the holidays, you couldn’t ask for a better dessert to serve than this moist, light, and delicious cake. Served with the suggestions below, it will make for a memorable ending to a holiday or cold weather dinner.  So what are you waitin' for!  Get a pencil and some paper and start making your grocery list!  Yummy...

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The Players:

1/2 cup butter
1/2 cup sugar
1 cup molasses
2 eggs
1 cup boiling water
2 1/2 cups flour
2 tsp. baking soda
1/2 tsp. salt
2 tsp. ground ginger
1 tsp. cinnamon
1/2 tsp. ground cloves
1/2 tsp. allspice

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Preheat oven to 350°. Sift together the flour, baking soda, and salt ...

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with the ginger and the cinnamon ...

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And cloves and allspice.

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And when it is all sifted together, it should look as magnificent as this.  Yes, it is magnificent.  Totally. 

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Mix together the stick of butter and the sugar, and pray it doesn't all stick to your butt.

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Then add the molasses and the eggs and beat well.  Now, spray your 13x9 pan with Pam or another cooking spray that you like.

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Next, pour boiling water over the molasses mixture.  No, Beth does not have brown water.  She used the measuring cup that had the molasses in it and that way she uses up the rest of the molasses too.  Pretty smart.  I think so.  Beth - you're so cookin' smart.  That's why I love you. 

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Now add all the dry ingredients to the mixture. 

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Until it is nice and creamy like this.

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Pour it into a prepared 13x9 baking pan and bake at 350° for about 40 minutes, or until a toothpick comes out clean.

Now your whole home smells like delicious gingerbread and your neighbors are knocking down your door.  "Go Away!  Go Away!  This is all for Me!  You can't have any!"

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Oh my goodness, this is so excellent!  Especially with a spoonful of butterscotch ice cream sauce over the top.  And wowza does it taste great with vanilla ice cream too. 

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I think I'll take a bite.

Served warm or cold, and topped with a scoop of vanilla ice cream and a spoonful of butterscotch ice cream sauce is heavenly.  Oh yeah baby.

Now, Run, don't walk, to your nearest grocery and buy these ingredients and bake this up! Those underprivileged who cannot cook or bake (like Susan) will be grateful that you did. "I'm grateful, Beth - very grateful - totally grateful, and yes, I'm headin' to the grocery because this looks oooooh soooo good!"



Ready for another great contest?  I'm chuckling - of course you're ready for another contest!  Everybody loves to wake up to a hot breakfast - something that fills you up and makes you want to go back to bed for a cozy nap.  So, how about a Williams & Sonoma All-Clad 4-Square Waffler? 


Boy do we ever love waffles in this family - a good reason why we don't have many side-view photos - ha ha ho ho ho hee hee.


This is probably one of the nicest wafflers I've ever seen.  We love ours and you'll love this one for sure! 

Don't you just love Williams & Sonoma!!! 

And I'm even throwing this in for good measure ...


Okay, now for the question:

What are you doing to give back this Christmas or Hanukkah? 

Are you cooking a meal for an elderly neighbor? 

Visiting a nursing home and taking the residents some home baked cookies? 

Helping a friend make a move or get settled?

Maybe just taking a platter of Gingerbread cake wrapped in pretty cellophane and a bow to your neighbor or a friend or a member of your family? 

Or, how about this - have you contacted a long lost friend or distant family member and told them that you were thinking of them and wish them well during the holiday? 

I want you to really think about this before you comment, because even if you have been so busy with your own preparations that you have not had the time or energy to really think of someone else in need, that's okay too.  We all get caught up in the hustle and bustle of the holidays. 

And just so you know, every year since Big Bear and I married, we would have a Christmas party and have all the guests bring a gift for a child - unwrapped - with a card attached to the gift with their name, address, and phone, so that the child who received the gift at the Children's Hospital in Washington, DC could contact them with a "thank you" if they or their parents wanted.  You see, we love to go to the Children's Hospital Cancer and Cardiac units and hand out gifts to the children who can't be home for Christmas.  Just to see them smile is worth it all. 

And why do we do this?  Well, I'll tell ya.  28 years ago this April I gave birth to a beautiful baby girl - Kimberly.  She was born with ventricular septal defect (a hole in the heart) and most of her first 3 months of life was spent in the children's cardiac unit at Walter Reed Army Medical Center just staying alive.  Dr. Harold Head was her surgeon and he took very good care of her.  Right before the nurses took her from my loving arms to undergo her first of four open-heart surgeries over 15 years, Dr. Head came into the room and asked me if I had any questions.  I said "No, but I do want to say a prayer and hold your hands."  He said "that would be great."  And so, I took both his hands while Kimberly's daddy held her one last time and I said a prayer "Dear Lord, please protect my baby girl and may your grace work through this doctor's hands so that our daughter can have a full life." 

Well, Kimberly survived that surgery and 3 more over the course of 15 years.  She is healthy and beautiful and happily married now, and creating lasting memories with her own family.  And she is the reason we visit the Children's Hospital with gifts each Christmas.  You see, when she was almost 5 years old and undergoing her 2nd open-heart surgery at Walter Reed Hospital, it was right before Christmas and we had set up a Christmas tree in her hospital room and brought her gifts there too.  In addition to the gifts, though, she received about 50 balloons.  They were beautiful.  Her daddy and I were trying to figure out how to get them all home when our little girl - a very wise 4 year old spoke up.  She said "Mommy, Daddy, can we give all the balloons to the other children on the ward who are going to be here during Christmas?"  We were stunned that our little girl was so thoughtful, so caring, so reflective as to care so much for the other children.  And that is exactly what we did.  The smiles were priceless and we even donated our Christmas tree to the ward for the children and staff to enjoy.  It was the best Christmas ever - the giving made it all the more special.

So that is the purpose of my question, because far too many children, teenagers, and adults are wrapped up in their own wants and their own needs, and they forget about others.  So give back.  Think about it.  Think about who you might like to invite over Christmas morning for some delicious waffles - then take 2 aspirin and call me in the morning.

Ho Ho Ho

And, just in case you forgot the question:

What are you doing to give back this Christmas or Hanukkah? 

The winner will be announced on Tuesday around Noon - Eastern Standard Time! Good Luck and Blessings to you all!

Love, Susan

* * * * * * * * * *



CONGRATULATIONS TO Missy!  She wrote the following about giving:

"Just reading the comments has given me a lot to think about. you have given me a lot to think about and I am going to do something starting tomorrow. thank you to everyone for sharing your stories. For the first time i feel like maybe i can do something that will make a difference to someone."

That's wonderful Missy! I hope that you will start a tradition of giving that will last a lifetime.

Ol, heck, I love you all, so I'm going to give away one more...


Sara wrote the following:

"last year a few friends and i got together and decided to make comfort quilts for the children in our area who were homeless or abused and it has been the best thing we've ever done. it started as a project thru our church and we decided to keep doing it for hte children. we've been fortunate to meet some of the children and see how attached some of them are to their quilts. although we do this throughout the year it is special during the holidays. thank you for letting me share this story with your readers. it means a lot to give back to these children"

Contact me at to claim your prize!

To all my readers who submitted comments about how they give back, I want to thank you, from the bottom of my heart, for sharing your stories of giving with me and with my readers.  You have inspired many, and no doubt put smiles on the faces of those less fortunate.


* * * * * * * * * *

Note: I don't know anyone at Williams & Sonoma, although I probably should considering how much I spend at their store. And, just so you know, I sponsored this giveaway - because I love waffles - and I really love the WS Waffler.  It's the best.

Saturday, December 13, 2008

We've Got Our First Date Winners!

NikonD80wSarah by you.
Are you excited?  Are you biting your nails?  Are you coming back to your computer every 5 minutes to see if I posted the winner yet?  Ahh, come on - you know you are!  There is only one hitch - you can't unwrap it until Christmas - deal?  I know you're wishin' I would just get to the point - right?  The winner?  Who's that?  hee hee.  I love giving you all a hard time.  It makes my day.  Well, I suppose you'll just have to read on to see who it is, but first ...

Sarah is getting ready for her dance tonight, but she is supposedly meeting her friend at the dance.  We'll see how that goes.  You know how boys are.  Although Sarah tells me this boy is nice to her and teases with her all the time.  Boys - and oh, the memories of first dates.  Speaking of first dates, the comments that I got in the First Date post were priceless.  We all, Sarah included, had a great time reading them together last night. 

FirstDate by you.

Sarah's favorite was this one from Iva:

"I remember Ronald (we called him Ronnie), coming up to me and asking me if I wanted to dance (I went solo). When I asked, 'who me?' He said, "no, the wall." (Aren't 6th grade boys wonderful?)

We danced in that awkward, hands on the shoulders (because hips never entered the picture in that day), both with goofy grins on our face.

From that day on, we were really good pals. I enjoyed every second of that one dance. (I later found out that Ronnie made his rounds and danced with all the girls in our class - making him that much more cooler in my book).

*sigh* Innocence. What a wonderful thing."

I, personally, thought they were all great.  So, I want to share a few with you just in case you didn't read them ...

NikonD804 by you.

Laura H. wrote the following:

"Honestly? I've never had a real date. Not one. But I look forward to it when it finally comes... if it comes."

My goodness, Laura, I hope you have a "real" date sometime soon, and when you do, I hope it is gloriously memorable!

Kayla wrote this:

"I was in love with Ty. We'd been teasing a/k/a "flirting" in the hall at school for months. He sorta liked another girl and was thinking about asking her out. My friends and I ganged up on him and listed all the reasons he shouldn't go out with her, but what it really came down to was that I wanted him to go out with me. He finally got the hint and asked me out. He picked me up and we went to see ET. I still can't watch the movie without him crossing my mind. Ah, young love :)"

Kelli wrote about a special memory:

"My first date was with a boy named Sean. I had secretly admired him since we were in the 5th grade. It turned out that if I would have only talked to him, I might have figured out that he liked me back. We didn't quite figure it out until we were in high school! Our first date was to a church function and out to dinner (driven by my dad since neither of us could drive). Needless to say, we only officially "went" together (whatever that means)for a few months after that. I guess some things were meant to be admired from afar :)."

Mary wrote about a special memory, but I think this one is ongoing:

"I think my first date was disguised as a study session with a boy a liked. I only remembering laughing until my fact hurt and couldn't believe one person could be so much fun. We stayed up all night reviewing notes and lessons, and the night ended when I told him I could really use a toothbrush. He grabbed an extra one from the closet and I kept it at his house from then on. (more study "sessions" to follow, I'm sure....)"

Dori made me laugh out loud with this first date memory ...

"I had my first real date when I was 15 at the end of my freshman year of high school with Andy guy I had been best friends with in grammar school. I spent most of the date trying to keep his grubby little paws off of me and felt absolutely nothing when he kissed me. I brushed my teeth three times after I got home and didn't date again until my Junior year."

Leah made me think about how boys are when they are young teenagers - clueless ...

"My first date was awful. I was 15, just entered a new school and was asked to a dance. I had to find my own way there, pay my own way in, wait for him to show up then he only danced one dance with me."

Okay - you guys biting at the bit to find out who the winner is?  Aw, just one more story, okay? ...

Sarah&Hannah by you.

Marilyn, your comment was priceless - and oh so true ...

"First date...awkward...embarrasing...
wonderful. What I wouldn't give to be
a teenager again...Ha, Ha, Ha, just kidding!"

I LOVE IT!  I think whenever I have a contest - which looks like often considering I have some very nice sponsors who throw in a nice gift now and then, that I will just have to get all of you to dig into your closet of memories and share them with me.  I've loved every second of this experience.

Okay, on with it...

ShabbyApple4 by you.ShabbyApple6 by you.ShabbyApple5 by you.

Drum roll please for the winner of the $100 gift certificate to Shabby Apple!  Yummy clothes for gals and girls and accessories too! 

CONGRATULATIONS TO Miss Caron!!  She wrote the following about her first date experience ...

"My first date was in 4th grade with Christopher Grottenthaller. His mom drove us to the movies and then we came back to his house and ate lunch and tossed around the football in the backyard. :-) Can't truly call it a "date" I guess because I was so young but we were definitely smitten with eachother.

My first real date was in 10th grade. Duncan Campbell asked me to homecoming (which was in a month) so we started "dating". He took me to dinner and then the football game that Friday night. It was cute. He was so nervous. He kissed me in the car outside my house after bringing me home from the game. I remember that date especially because my curfew was still 10:00 pm which was completely rediculous for a 16 year old because we had to leave the game early to get me home on time. It was cool because it was my first real date, it was a nice fall evening, and I had my first real kiss. :-)"

CONGRATULATIONS Miss Caron!  You are the winner of the $100 gift certificate from Shabby Apple and the first name pulled from the basket from my little cherub - well, she's not so little anymore, but she is to me - Sarah.  I hope you will enjoy your gift certificate and find something special at Shabby Apple for the holidays! 

Contact me at so that I can give you the certicate code to use at Shabby Apple!

Note: I love Shabby Apple and they sponsored this great $100 gift certificate here on Raisin Toast. I had nothin' to do with it.  They are so nice at Shabby Apple. 

NikonD802 by you.

Aw right guys - drum roll please for the 2nd comment pulled from the basket.  What a doozy.  What's a doozy?  Do you know what a doozy is?  Aw right already!  I get the picture (no pun intended) you want to know who won the Nikon camera right?

Are you sure? 

Maybe not? 


NikonD804 by you.

Merry Christmas! 

Stop biting your nails will ya?

NikonD80wSarah by you.

CONGRATULATIONS TO Linda R.!!!  Oh boy, Linda had an interesting experience on her first date ...

"thinking about my first date gives me a headache. we went to a movie. I was 14 and he was 16 and he kept trying to cop a feel. I spent the entire movie swatting him off of me. I never went out with him again and can't even remember what the movie was about. Now I think about my own little girl, who turns 13 next year and hope that her first date is better than mine was."

Of course if Sarah's date tries to get fresh, she will promptly throw him over her shoulder and flip him to the floor, step on his chest and knee him in the groin.  That's my girl.  Really - that really is what she would do!!! 

Right, Sarah?  That is what you would do, right?



Oh brother. 

CONGRATULATIONS TO Miss Caron AND Linda R. for commenting and for sharing your memories with me - and my girl.  We loved them all.  Be sure to contact me at to claim your prizes!  I just love having contests.  I feel like Santa Mama.  Or is that Santa Baby.  Yeah, baby.

Wishing you the happiest of holiday seasons, and yes, I will be having more contests in the days before Christmas.  So keep coming back and commenting - please?  Pretty please?  Rudolph?


Ho Ho Ho

Note: I do not know anyone at Nikon.  I just happen to love my Nikon with all my heart.  I love it so much, in fact I think I will park it on the pillow next to me in bed tonight.  And I, mwaah, me, SusieQ, sponsored this giveaway for the Nikon camera - because I luv ya, really I do darling.

Thursday, December 11, 2008

First Date Jitters - and a BIG Nikon Surprise at the End For You ...

FirstDate by you.

Can you remember your first date?  Your first kiss?  That first tingle up and down your spine?  Can you recall the feelings of excitement and nerves because you didn't know how to act or what to say without sounding - uh - stupid and childish?  I know I sure can, and last night, my daughter Sarah was standing in the driveway holding her puppy, Hannah, waiting for me to get home from a girl's lunch out with my friend Alison - to share some exciting news with me. 

When we drove in, Sarah was smiling ear-to-ear.  I got out of the car and waved goodbye to Alison.  Sarah ran up to me still smiling. 

"You look happy sweetheart, did you have a good day at school?"  I asked

"Yes, Mom, I had a great day."

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(This is Sarah at age 10 - wasn't that yesterday?)

"So what is making you smile so big?"  I asked

"Well, my friend Lydia might not be able to go to the Winter Formal with me this Saturday."  Sarah said  (Note: Sarah had already purchased her ticket and was going to go with her friend from our neighborhood, Lydia)

"Oooooh, and the reason for you smiling has nothing to do with going alone does it?  Sarah, sweetie, who asked you to the dance?"  I asked, reading her face like a neon sign.

"(name withheld to protect the innocent).  Mom, he asked me to go to the dance."  Sarah replied and then she giggled.


"Oh my, Sweetie, that is great!  I'm so excited for you!,"  and I gave her a big hug and got a lick on the face from Hannah.  "My goodness, my little girl has been asked out on her first date.  Can I cry now?"  I said as I looked at Sarah with tears in my eyes.

FirstDatebyRonBlumbergc1957 by you.
("First Date" by Ron Blumberg, oil on panel, c. 1957)

"Ol, Mom, I'm so happy."  Sarah replied

"Have you told Dad yet?"  I asked

"No, Mom.  I wanted to share it with you first and talk to you about it first."  Aren't daughter's wonderful?  We have a special relationship and I am going to do everything I can to keep it that way.

"Tell me all about it, sweetheart."  I said to Sarah who was still smiling.  And then we walked slowly into the house while she shared with me how (so-n-so) asked her to the dance. 

You see, Sarah and (so-n-so) have been friends since the first week or so of high school.  They have a few classes together and lunch too, and he has been nice to Sarah and teases with her too.  And we all know what that means, right? 

DSC_0025 by you.
(This was last year - when Big Bear had a job and life was good)

So, as we walked into the family room, Christmas music playing and Big Bear and the boys working on putting up the Christmas tree and lights, I called Big Bear aside to tell him it was time to buy that rifle.  (just kidding)

"Oh really now.  Should I go out right now?"  Big Bear responded.

"Well, not so fast.  Our little girl has been asked out on her first date to the Winter Formal."  I said.

"Wow.  And you remember your karate, right?"  Bob said. (Note:  Sarah is a brown belt in karate having taken 7 years in Maryland, and was one belt away from being a black belt when we moved to North Carolina 3 years ago.  Unfortunately, we have not been able to find anyone who teaches Tai jitsu (Ju Jitsu) here,  but hope to get her back in the swing of her martial arts soon.)

Put it this way, Sarah could probably take him out if he got fresh. 

I'm so proud of her.  My little girl is growing up, and now I am thinking about my own first date and smiling ear-to-ear.

So, what is my little girl going to wear to her first formal?  What accessories is she going to wear?  What shoes?!!!  Oh dear, I suppose now she'll start spending hours on end locked in the bathroom experimenting with make-up and hairstyles.


ShabbyApple4 by you.ShabbyApple6 by you.

And because I want to share the joys of the season with you, I am offering a $100 gift certificate from Shabby Apple.

Shabby Apple contacted me and wanted me to share this gift with you.  However, before I offer anything up here on Raisin Toast, I check it out to see if it is the quality I expect for my readers, and I was impressed with their site and sophisticated style.  And, although they do not have a large selection of dresses and accessories, what they do have is kinda cute. 

ShabbyApple5 by you.

They have dresses and accessories for gals and little girls too.  I love the dresses for the little girls especially and I think you will too.  It seems like just yesterday that Sarah was this size and tooling around the house in pretty dresses and bare feet.  What a cutie-pie she was, and now - well - she is growing up so fast and blooming into a beautiful young lady. Can I cry?  Where's the kleenex?!!!  I need tissues!  Waaaaah.

I want to hear from you!  "What do you remember about your first date?" 

And because I love my readers so much, I have another BIG surprise ... 

NikonD802 by you.

How about a Nikon D80 Digital SLR?  You'd like that right?  I thought so.  And since it is the season for giving, I want to give you, my wonderful readers, a gift that will keep on giving - this Nikon D80 camera! 

NikonD80wSarah by you.

I love my Nikon Digital SLR, and I know you will love this one too.  The quality of the pictures is unmistakable.  And you can be sure that I am going to take pictures of my little girl as she prepares for the Winter Formal - and of course, her first date.  And now, you can enjoy creating memories of your family and life experiences, just like I do, with this great Nikon Digital SLR camera!

And, next week, to celebrate the season, I will be giving away the wonderful, the fabulous, the fantastic - Adobe Photoshop CS4!  So, you gotta come back and keep reading all about my crazy life if you want to be rewarded this holiday season! 

And just so you all know that I run a legitimate operation here, my friends, (and you guys know who you are), neighbors, and family, are not eligible for these contests.  That's only fair.  Not that I don't love you bunches, but I'm very strict about these things and it is the right thing to do.  So these contests are just for my readers, anyone I've never met face-to-face, and anyone who just stops by to see what's happenin' around my toaster. 

We will print off all the comments, and my little ones will cut each of them out and fold them in half.   Then my little cherubs will put all the comments in a shoebox and pick the first winner of the Shabby Apple gift certificate and then the next name they pull from the basket will win the Nikon D80 - Saturday before noon!

Good luck to you all and I am looking forward to reading all of your first date stories!


Note: I do not know anyone at Nikon.  I just happen to love my Nikon with all my heart.  I love it so much, in fact I think I will park it on the pillow next to me in bed tonight.  And I, mwaah, me, SusieQ, sponsored this giveaway for the Nikon camera - because I luv ya, really I do darling.

Also ... I love Shabby Apple and they sponsored this great $100 gift certificate here on Raisin Toast. I had nothin' to do with it.  They are just really nice at Shabby Apple. 

Sunday, December 07, 2008

Yummy! Platinum Blondies Holiday Goodness and a Surprise for You at the End!

DSCN2453_2.jpg by you.

Don't they look delicious?!!  I want one.  Now.  How about we bake them first.  And I'll bet if you bake them on Christmas Eve, Santa will love you for it.  By the way, those Tomato & Mozzarella Skewers were such a big hit at Thanksgiving, that we took some more with us to a casual get-together of friends and they were a big hit again.  Thanks Beth!  So let's get to the kitchen and whip up some Platinum Blondies.  How about it? ...

DSCN2415_2.jpg by you.

Our team of players include:

1/2 cup packed brown sugar
1/2 cup butter, softened
1 large egg
2 tsp. vanilla
1 1/4 cups flour
1/2 tsp. baking powder
1/8 tsp. salt
1/2 cup dried cranberries
1/2 cup white chocolate chips

After you get your players together, preheat your oven to 350°.

DSCN2424_2.jpg by you.

Beat the sugar and butter together with a mixer until blended. Add the egg and vanilla.

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Combine the flour, baking powder and salt.  Add the flour mixture to the sugar mixture. Mix until just till blended.

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Stir in the cranberries and chips. The batter will be stiff. You can pat it into your pan by hand or spread it with the back of your mixing spoon.

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Use an 8-inch square glass baking dish coated wth cooking spray. Bake for around 30 minutes or less or until a toothpick comes out clean when inserted into the center. Don’t overbake! Cool in the baking dish on a wire rack.

DSCN2453_2.jpg by you.

When cool, you can dress these blondies up with vanilla frosting, or serve plain, though they are anything but plain! Makes 16 blondies.

And although they are not exactly platinum, you can dress them up with a sprinkling of dried cranberries throughout, these give “brownies” a whole new meaning.

DSCN2460_2.jpg by you.

Beth doesn't know which one is sweeter, her Peggy or her Platinum Blondies.  Hmmm, that's a tough one.

Ready for your Sweetness of a Surprise?  I thought so. 


How about this wonderful Cookie Press from Williams & Sonoma?  I mean, it's the holidays folks!  And we should all pull out the cookie sheets and bake, bake, bake.  What a great way to spend the season with our children?!!

Here is a little bit of information for you about this great gift to you ...


Count on this efficient press when you need to make a lot of attractive cookies in record time. The extra-large barrel holds enough dough for three-dozen large cookies or crackers, so there’s no need to refill it in the middle of a batch. Shaping the dough is as easy as squeezing the ergonomic upright handle. Included are 16 discs, shaped for every season and occasion, along with sweet and savory recipes. The plastic barrel and discs are dishwasher safe. 3" diam., 13 3/4" long. A Williams-Sonoma exclusive.

Sounds great doesn't it?  A 39.95 value and it is Brand Spankin' New on the selection of great products at Williams & Sonoma!

And how can you win this delightful gift for the holidays?  Just answer the following question in the comment section:

What was your favorite Christmas or Hanukkah holiday tradition in the kitchen?  Did you create something special with your parents?  Do you share in the same tradition with your own children? 

I love hearing from my readers, and because I love you all so much, the contest winner will be announced tomorrow morning (in other words, sometime before noon. LOL)

My children will read your comments and put them in a bowl (they love to print them off, cut them apart, and fold them.  It keeps their little hands busy.  And then one will choose the winning entry from the bowl.  Good Luck Everyone!  Happy Holidays!

One entry per person please. 


Congratulations to my "Winner!"

CONGRATULATIONS to Sissy!  She wrote the following:

I love making xmas cookies most of all with my children. Growing up we would make cookies with our mom and invite our friends over and make a party of it. Now that I have my own children, we have at least one special day in the month of december that we invite our children's friends over for a baking day of cookies, holiday music, and memories.


You are the winner of a new Williams & Sonoma Holiday Cookie Cutter!  I hope you will enjoy it for many holidays to come.

Email me at to claim your prize!


Note: I do not know anyone at Williams & Sonoma, although I wish I did because I love their stuff.  I also love their cookie cutter and wanted to share it with you so that you, too, could make wonderful holiday cookies.  And just so you know, I sponsored this giveaway.  Me.  Mwaah.  SusieQ - after a trip to Williams & Sonoma.

Wednesday, November 26, 2008

Roaster Winner - oops, I mean "Winners!"


Congratulations to my "Winner!"  Oh, I mean "Winners!"

CONGRATULATIONS to Judy Lynn!  She wrote the following:

Oh how I love the holiday season and getting together with family and friends. Somehow we always end up with a crowd of about 20 at our thanksgiving table and the football game is up full blast, kids and husbands are playing football in the back yard and everyone is happy to be together. Who could ask for more. Thanksgiving is my favorite holiday and my favorite memories growing up have been during Thanksgiving.

Judy Lynn Oklahoma

You are the winner of a new Williams & Sonoma All Clad Roaster!  I hope you will enjoy it for many holidays to come.

And, because I love to give - I am also giving the gift of a $50.00 gift certificate to Williams & Sonoma to:

Susanne L.!  CONGRATULATIONS!  Susanne wrote:

I love thanksgiving. It is my favorite holiday! I love having my family fly in from around the country and we all get together at my parent's house for a big dinner. It is the one time of the year that we talk about our lives and see each other and it feels like we're kids again. I love thanksgiving and it is a time that I think about the blessings of family. It is almost the most perfect day of the year.

Please email me at to claim your prize!

Thank you to everyone who entered my holiday contest!  I love making you smile and giving back, especially during this difficult economy.  Fortunately, I make enough off of this silly blog to give back to you - my wonderful readers.

I love you all and hope that you have a glorious and blessed holiday with your family and friends.  I will be taking tomorrow and Thursday off from posting to be with my family. 

Stay well and thank you so much for commenting on what Thanksgiving means to you. 

Love, SusieQ

Note: I do not know anyone at Williams & Sonoma.  It is just one of my favorite places to shop for kitchen and cooking goodies and I like to share the love.  SusieQ sponsored this giveaway, right down to the turkey gravy.

Tuesday, November 25, 2008

One-Bite Tomato & Mozzarella Skewers and a Holiday Contest for You!


Not only do I have this wonderful recipe from my dear friend Beth, but I have a super-duper surprise for all my readers at the end of this post.  If you are having guests for the holidays, these skewers are perfect for entertaining and keeping your family and friends happy while watching the football game and waiting for that delicious Thanksgiving meal.  So! - check out this recipe and then tell me something special about your holiday for a chance to win ... uh ... I'll tell ya in a minute.

From: Beth Sollars
Singin' Girl Cooks!

Who doesn’t love the taste of tomato and fresh mozzarella salad?  Well, I’m sure there is someone out there.  But for the rest of the world, here is a simple and impressive way to serve this delicious appetizer at your next gathering.

Mix together your favorite Italian marinade, or try this:

3 Tbs. olive oil
1 Tbs. balsamic vinegar
1/2 tsp. lemon juice
1/8 tsp. crushed red pepper flakes
Salt and pepper to taste
1 smashed clove of garlic

Thread onto a regular toothpick in this order:

1 bite-size piece of fresh “buffalo” mozzarella
1 piece of fresh basil
1 whole pitted black or kalamata olive
1 piece of fresh basil
1 small cherry tomato to cover the point of toothpick


Lay the skewers on a serving platter and distribute the marinade evenly over the top. Cover and refrigerate for a couple of hours before serving. These are excellent, and everyone will think you are so inventive!

Note – you can omit the olive in half of the skewers for those non-olive eaters.

Now for a holiday surprise!


I am giving away a New Williams & Sonoma Roaster! Value $299.95 + tax and shipping.


Isn't it wonderful?!!!


I thought you'd like it.  Looks easy to clean too doesn't it?  I want one!  Naaah.  I already have one, and because I just got mine and love it, love it, love it, I am giving the same gift this holiday season to you. 

All you have to do is tell me what Thanksgiving means to you in your comment.  Then I will use my wonderful children to pick the winner tomorrow evening (Tuesday evening).

Love you all! 

Don't you just love the holiday season?


Note: I do not know anyone at Williams & Sonoma.  It is just one of my favorite places to shop for kitchen and cooking goodies and I like to share the love.  SusieQ sponsored this giveaway, right down to the turkey gravy.

Saturday, November 22, 2008

The Curious Bluebird - and a Contest too!

DSC_2333.jpg by you.

Yes, this little guy is real.  My friend, Beth, is convinced he is a prop.  No, Beth, he really exists.  He really does try to get in my house on a regular basis. 

DSC_2347.jpg by you.

It all started a couple years ago with us hearing him hit the window time after time after time.  The first time I heard this bird hit my window in the family room I thought, "Geez!  I'll bet he's got a serious head injury!"  But then he kept doing it - flying into my window.  It was then that I began to wonder if he was desperate or stupid. 

DSC_2334.jpg by you.

It took a few visits, but he finally figured out how to hit the window without knocking himself out and land safely on a perch outside the windows.  So, that is exactly what he does.

DSC_2335.jpg by you.

Now, when I hear a bird hitting a window - I say "a" window because he attempts this at numerous windows around my house - then I know it is our bluebird. 

DSC_2336.jpg by you.

What's so funny, is that he lets me get right up next to him from the inside and look at him.  He'll look right back at me as if to say "Okay, buster, I dare ya to try to get me."  So we get into a staring match. 

DSC_2355.jpg by you.

As soon as I realize it is our bluebird hitting the window,  I grab my camera and start taking his picture - like I did yesterday when I was in the family room doing all that horrible paperwork.  He started banging on the window in the sunroom which is right off of the family room. 

DSC_0007 by you.

I knew immediately that it had to be our bluebird, so I grabbed my camera.  I got a few good shots of him.  He just looks at me like I'm crazy.  Actually, I'm convinced he is checking out the progress in this house wondering if it is ever going to be finished.  He is probably wondering "When are these people going to get their act together and have this nest cleaned up and organized?" - "Never, Mr. Bluebird.  It's impossible with this bunch."

DSC_2338.jpg by you.

So, there you go.  That's my story and I'm stickin' with it. 

We do, however, have other strange creatures visit from time to time.  How'd you like to to into your bathroom and find this on the toilet seat?

Gecko378.jpg by you.

I kid you not.  This little guy keeps trying to take up residence in our bathroom.

Gecko375.jpg by you.

I'm beginning to feel like Snow White - only this house in the forest has 3 little munchkins, 1 big bear, and 1 Momma bear (that's my mother).  I'm the beautiful princess that all the little creatures come to visit.  And I sing to them.  They just love my operatic voice.


They do, however, like my windows and my toilet seats.


PostScript: Naturalist John Burroughs once said that the Eastern Bluebird is the “bird that carries the sky on its back and the earth on its breast.”

TheAngryBluebird2.jpg by you.

For those of you who would like to know the real story behind "The Mad Bluebird," click HERE.

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I have to say, though, that my bluebird doesn't look "mad."  He just looks "curious."  Anybody out there care to name my curious bluebird?

signedbluebirdpic.jpg by you.

To celebrate this glorious event - I am offering an original signed print of "The Mad Bluebird" to the reader whose name I choose to give my "Curious Bluebird." 


* * * * * * * * * *

CONGRATULATIONS to Kay L. who wrote: "

"How about "Peeper". He or she looks like a Peeper to me."

You are the proud owner of a signed 5x7 photograph of "The Mad Bluebird" signed by the photographer Michael L. Smith!  I hope you will frame him and give him a place in your home that will remind you of your blessings in life.

Email me at: to claim your prize and thank you so much for entering!

After discussing this with my family and going over all the names that my readers suggested, it was a tough decision, but we all agreed that our bluebird definitely looks like a Peeper and should be appropriately named.

Thank you to all my readers for your hilarious comments and bluebird name suggestions.  Peeper will be back again, I am sure, and I will take more pictures when he visits.  Thank you Kay L. for that very appropriate name - Peeper - as that is exactly what he is (when he looks in my window and when he sings as well).

* * * * * * * * * *

Note: I do not know Michael L. Smith, although I do know a Michael W. Smith, but that's an entirely different story that we won't get into here.  As for this contest, I sponsored the whole dang thing and even finagled a signed picture of the mad bluebird from him.  It's an original signed print and I think that is pretty peepers.

Sunday, November 02, 2008

We Have Our (Masquerade Bob) Winners!!!

Quiet Barns by you.

WooHoo!  I love contests!  They're so much fun.  And boy are they going to keep me busy this holiday season too!  Remember that contest I had a few days ago?  I asked my readers to guess what Bob dressed up as for the Masquerade party.  Here were some of your answers:

Mary: "I'd say Bob dressed up as either a farmer, a hatchet man or "the old year"!

Hally: "Did he dress up as himself?"

"I say that Bob dressed up as a Bear...I figure he has to get his nickname from SOMEWHERE!"

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Livvy: "'I'd say Bob dressed as himself"

Sheryl: "
I think, if you and your friend went as yourselves, then he went as himself"

Kay: "
Did he go as a big Teddy Bear? :o)"

Janet in Michigan: "

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Candace: "I would like to think that Bob went as an Avaya exec with a hat made of poo or something."

Momma Kim: "My guess for Bob is that he dressed as a chauffeur, for the two beautiful ladies that he was driving to the masquerade party."

BobonBike by you.

Sara: "I'm going to go out on a limb and say a Harley rider...(I was going to say sailor just for fun, but I think I'll go with Harley...)"

AMom2Many: "I think Bob went, dressed up as BOB. =)"

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Demmom: "
I think he dressed up as a supportive husband who stayed quiet as he listened to you and your friend chat and laugh"

Jennifer: "I'd say he dressed up like a Bear."

bobworkinginrestaurant.jpg by you.

Cindy Lou: "maybe Bob dressed up as a computer geek?"

Jennifer: "
I'd say he dressed up like a Bear."

BobtheBuilder.jpg by you.

Karen: "He dressed as Bob the Builder."

Tammy: "Did he dress as a Big Bear?"

BobonTractor5.jpg by you.

Lynette in Oklahoma: "I think he either dressed up as Bob the Bear or Farmer Bob."

Wright: "
I vote that Bob dressed as himself."

DSC_0057GreetingsfromParadise by you.

Kim: "I'm thinking that since the two of you went as yourselves, so did Bob."

Brandi: "
Since I've read nothing about Bob, this is a total guess: He went as Darth Vader."

Beth: "
LOL!! i don't care what you guys went as, I'm just glad to see they let you out of the home for an evening!!" (You stinker)

BobFixinDinner by you.

Charlie Pratt: "Being new to this wonderful blog, and not knowing Bob that well, I'm gonna say Bob went as giant cheese wheel."

Lori: "I'm new too, but I am guessing Bob dressed as Bob the Big Bear."

DSC_0067 by you.

Ruth: "I have no idea about Bob. But he looks pretty goofy and just to be different, I'll say a clown ^-^."

Erica M.: "
he must have dressed up like your Bear"

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Lisa: "I'm going to guess the costume Big Bear wore was an evil Executive from Avaya! ;)"

I have enjoyed reading all of your comments and conversation more than you know.  Keep 'em comin' because they definitely make my day.


SARA!!!  You guessed absolutely correct.  Bob (My Big Bear) went as a Harley rider with the jeans, boots, black leather jacket, black Harley t-shirt, and doo-rag around his head.  You know what he looked like?  Guess.  A Big Bear Silly! - in a Harley costume.

CONGRATULATIONS SARA!  YOU HAVE WON THIS ONE-OF-A KIND PAINTING and I hope it doesn't end up in a garage sale somewhere.  LOL.  God Forbid! 

Email me at and I'll have it shipped to you pronto.  Hope you enjoy it for years to come.

No, I didn't forget about the other contest!  There were 2 in that Masquerade Post!  And my little goblins pulled a story out of a hat.  You see, I printed off all the comments, then I took a scissors and separated them, then we put them in a hat.  Then my littlest goblin - Glen - pulled a name with a story out of the hat for the commissioned work, and the winner is:


WRIGHT!  Your story was picked from the hat, and so to share it with my readers, here it is:

And my fondest Halloween memory was last year. It was my baby's first Halloween. She went as a flower and my husband and I went as sunshine and rain. We help her to grow!"

Don't you just love that story?!!! 

Wright, send me an email ( with some images that you would like to have painted in oil.  Preferably a landscape, but we just need to look them over and then I'll let you know which one I can get done for you in time for the holidays.  Can't wait to see what you want me to paint for you! 

CONGRATULATIONS WRIGHT!  I hope that whatever I paint for you (11x14 Oil on Canvas) that you will enjoy it for years to come. 

Love ya all!  Susan

Note: I sponsored this giveaway.  Yep.  I did. No one else could have sponsored it.  Ya know why? Because I'm the artist silly!  

Monday, October 27, 2008

A Masquerade Party & Contest (or 2) for You


Last night, Bob and I went out - date night style - to a Masquerade Party hosted by our wonderful, newly elected County Commissioner.  Don't you want to know what I dressed up as?  Don't ya - don't ya, don't ya?  Let me see if you can guess.  I wore blue denim jeans, cowboy boots, and a gray knit turtleneck sweater with little pearl earrings, my watch, and my wedding rings.  I rarely wear my wedding rings (that's so I can flirt with all the guys - JUST KIDDING!) I'm not a big jewelry person, never have been.  As a matter of fact, jewelry makes me itch.  It's like extra baggage on an otherwise comfortable neck, arm, or ear.  I'm a plain Jane kinda gal.  Not big on jewels.  Lucky for my Big Bear.  So that's it.  That's what I wore.  Guess what I was?  Go on, guess. 

Me.  Ha!  Had you fooled.  It was an original costume.  Nobody else dressed as me.  So I was totally original. 

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Oh, and Alison (you know, my Blonde and Blue girlfriend from New Mexico) - she went too.  Can you guess what she dressed up as?  Hey, how'd you guess?  She dressed up as Alison.  Original - black jeans, black and white top, black sweater, blonde hair, nice makeup.  Alison.  Nice costume girlfriend.

DSC_0067 by you.

Bob, my Big Bear.  Yep, he dressed up too.  Can you guess what he dressed up as?  Ol, come on, folks.  You can do better than that.  What-a-ya think he dressed up as?  Well, I'll tell ya - I'm going to have a little contest here.  If you know Bob, or you think you know him a little from this crazy blog and stories I've told about him, then you may know how he dressed last night. 

If you guess how Bob dressed last night - and NO, nobody from last nights party can guess.  Sorry folks, I luv ya, but that's cheatin'.  Then I am going to give away a nice painting of mine to the first person who guesses correctly what Bob dressed up as last night.  The prize is an 8x10 fine oil painting:

Quiet Barns by you.

"Quiet Barns" 8x10 Oil on Canvas, Framed.  Barns sometimes appear to be very quiet sitting in the midst of a pasture or field, waiting for the farmer or the animals to find comfort in them or work to do. This painting was exhibited at galleries in Charlotte, NC.  Retail value: $350.00+. 

VFAHeader.jpg by you.

For all you newbie readers out there, I am an artist in oils.  I have collectors from around the world and I do commissioned work as well as sell my own paintings.  I have a studio and gallery in my home and my Big Bear and I are staking out the area here, in and around Charlotte, NC,  for the perfect place to open a brick-and-mortar gallery - Red Easel Gallery - based on my other website by the same name, and that online gallery includes some of the finest visual artists in the world as members. 

You can read more about me HERE, HERE, and HERE.  I've got information strung all over the place.  If you google my name, you might find me in a few more "HEREs" as well.  I think 3 is enough to bore you to tears, though.  Would you like to see my other paintings?  Then go to Vaughn Fine Art and visit my personal online gallery and portfolio.  I am currently taking a few orders for commissioned work for the holidays.  They make incredibly personal and wonderful holiday gifts.  But first, if you like the painting above, then try to guess what my Big Bear dressed up as last night.

masquerade1.jpg by you.

Now, I have another contest for you guys and gals out there in my friendly cyber space.  If you're here, then this is a friendly space. Promise.  Last night, I offered up a  personal 11x14 fine oil painting (like a commissioned work only better) to the Friends of Weddington who attended the Masquerade Party.  There was a silent auction goin' on.  What fun!  The proceeds from the auction went to the Friends of Weddington organization.  Dang, I sure do have a lot of links in this post.  Have you gotten lost yet?  I sure hope not!  How about checkin' out the links after you have read this post. After is better.

Anyway, as I was saying, I auctioned off an 11x14 oil painting, subject to be the choice of the winner (landscape, seascape, cityscape, portrait, still life) and approved, by lil ol me, at my discretion.  I had to do that or someone may ask me to paint a nakey horse taking a shower and showing it's private parts or something.  People can be weird like that you know, and I don't wanna paint any off-the-wall, strange, gag-me, subject and have to put my signature on the bottom.  Shish, gotta protect the artistic reputation here.


And, as a BIG Thank You for all your votes on the Blogger Choice Awards - and you can still vote if you haven't already - I like votes.  They make me very happy.  I am offering up a FREE - Yep FREE - Say it again - FREE! - 11x14 painting to the reader who, hmmm, let's see, answers the following question in the comment's below -

What was your favorite Halloween memory? 

The winner will be chosen
from a pot of witches brew by my little ghosts and goblins that live here at the stroke of midnight on Halloween night.

Don't forget!  You need to guess what Big Bear's costume was last night also to win the painting "Quiet Barns" above!

Happy Halloween!  Stay Cool!


Note: I sponsored this giveaway.  No one else could have done it.  Ya know why?  Because I'm the artist silly!