Here Comes Vicki Allen – Hang On To Your Hat!


Yes, I know it is a worn out cliché, but folks I swear if you look in the dictionary for Type A Personality, you would find a picture of Vicki Allen. To prove my point, let me list just a few of her titles and activities:
Pharmacist, drug store/restaurant owner, Mardi Gras Mask Maker and Krewe Member, Certified Zumba Instructor, Wife, Mother, Daughter,….. and my personal favorite – Author. Oh yeah, she likes scrapbooking and photography too. I have known for a long time that I would blog about her but our respective schedules are definitely not in sync, (imagine that) so I did the next best thing. I emailed her. The following post is a conglomeration of the answers she gave to my somewhat amateurish questions, and from my own observations from having met this little red-headed powerhouse in person a couple of times. Besides that, we are facebook friends, that being my only claim to her fame. But first, can I say how much she inspired me without even knowing it? It was probably 2002 or 2003. I can’t remember. Maybe it was 2001? Anyway, we were both set up in our booths at the Pecan Festival, she with her books and gift baskets, me with my paintings. I spotted her booth across the way and was drawn to the books. Luckily, I approached the booth at the same time a person I knew did and low and behold, she happened to know Vicki personally. I met her and was totally thrilled. I was talking to a real author! To make a short story simple, I took advantage of the moment and crammed every question I could think of about writing and publishing into my ten minutes of conversation with her. I can’t remember a lot of what we talked about, after all I was star struck, but I do remember one thing. She encouraged me to write. She encouraged me to believe that I could do it.

You know the rest of the story. It took me several years, but I took her advise and I wrote a few books. The first one I lost to cyber-space. That was shortly before I learned what a memory stick is. The second book – well, let’s just say that one never saw the light of a publisher’s day, and for good reason. It took on a life of it’s own and seemed to turn into an exorcism of every bad thing I could think of. Brrrrrr! Glad that one’s gone. The next one, I published. And I am very, very happy about that. By the way, thanks Vicki. Who is to say I could have done it without your encouragement that October day about a hundred years ago?

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Vicki Allen

So humor me a bit, people, the following ‘interview’ is pretty much elementary answer-and-question style without much literary embellishment. But I’m tellin’ you, she’s dynamite, so hang on!

Q: What inspired you to write?
A: Not quite sure how it started. I’ve been writing since around age 7 when I used to ride around the neighborhood on my bicycle building onto the stories that randomly popped into my head. As I got older, I began to jot them down. In fact, I developed the plot for what later became my first book, “For Molly” at age 16.

Q: How many books in print, how many working on now?
A: Currently four books in print: “For Molly,” “The Search for Shannon,” “The Return” and ”Drink One to Me, Christian Bennett” with three more in the works.

Q: How do you write more than one at a time?
A: I’ve learned over the years to write down all ideas, dialogue, descriptive passage, etc., as soon as they come to mind. Some remain vague scenes or random snippets of dialogue, while others develop into full-fledge manuscripts. The more appealing the idea, the more I tend to build on it. “The Return” started from a single paragraph I scribbled down while working on “The Search for Shannon” and grew steadily from there. Once I become engrossed in a storyline, it’s difficult for me to put it aside, even while in the middle of another project so ultimately, I bounce between them as the mood strikes.

Q. How has your family encouraged your work?
A. My entire family has always been incredibly supportive of my work, allowing me time and space to write, reading rough drafts, serving as sounding boards as I toss around ideas, and even accompanying me on book tours—and after four books and three-hundred-plus author events and signings, that says a lot.

Q. Where do you write?
A. I can write just about anywhere, which is why I keep a little notebook in my purse to jot down ideas as soon as they come. I’ve found that nothing is quite as good if I try to remember it later. If my notebook is not handy, any scrap of paper will do. The majority of my books were constructed from handwritten notes, typed pages and rubber-banded stacks of envelopes, scrap paper and Post-It Notes.

Q. Tell me about the hut.
A. The hut is my creative mecca – a freestanding office designed by my husband after he read an article about Oprah Winfrey’s backyard retreat. At the time, our sons were young; our house was loud, constantly filled with rambunctious boys and I was in desperate need of a quiet space to concentrate. To the untrained eye, the hut is sheer chaos—a disorganized cluttered space littered with beads/paint/feathers, photographs and haphazard piles of binder-clipped manuscript pages, but to me, it’s heaven…

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Where all the magic happens

Q. Live in the country?
A. We live on 2 acres backing up to a lake just outside the city limits. Close enough to still be in town, yet secluded enough to feel like we’re on vacation.
hut3

Q. How often do you write?
A. In an ideal world, I would write everyday. In reality, I write constantly in my head, but for the past couple of years, truly have only had pockets of time here and there to put a few passages on paper. Raising three children and owning a business have consumed much of our time, but now that our youngest child has started college, I am hoping to settle back into a daily routine.

Q: Character you love best?
A: Four-Way Tie: Susanna Robicheaux (For Molly), Lois Carson (The Search for Shannon), Doug Fairchild (For Molly), Javier Cabrera (Drink One to Me, Christian Bennett).

Q. Character you identify with?
A: As with most writers, there is a little bit of me in all of my characters. I don’t think one could pour as much heart and soul into creating them and not have at least some aspects of his own personality shine through. I identify most with my strong feminine characters – the take-charge types with vibrant spirits, dry wit and sharp tongues, which comes as a surprise to most of my readers. Where they are convinced they are meeting Ashley, they actually get Susanna. 😀

Q. Include friends as characters, names?
A. In all my books, only four characters are based on real people and only one of those carries the same first name.

Q. How does you separate work life, play life, writing?
A. Unfortunately, as noted above, work is the evil stepchild who presently demands the majority of my attention. When I do write, I prefer to hunker down in the hut at night or on my day off so I can get it all down without interruption. Play life? In short supply—Right now, play life is proportional to the time we can leave the pharmacy and get out of town 😀

Q. Awards?
A. The Search for Shannon was a fiction finalist for the Oklahoma Book Award.

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ADDENDUM TO EATING COLORS


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Ok folks, I am compelled to make a few changes to my last post ‘EATING COLORS’ (https://nantubre.com/2013/09/16/eating-colors/) and trust me, you will benefit from these few changes. Just a tip or two, nothing major, unless you happen to take fermentation seriously. For some, that may not be a problem. For others, it can be quite a problem, especially if the grandkids are over and you are not immune to their antics and hysterical comments that start with ‘she’ and end with ‘farted’, exclamation point. Just a side note completely off the subject; I would have never said that word when I was a child. Mama would have scrubbed the taste buds right off my tongue with a bar of Dove-one-quarter-cleansing-cream soap. But today kids get away with saying anything…I’ll save that for another post.

Back to the salad tips:
1. Might be a good idea to use pint jars instead of quart size. A quart of packed vegetables is alot of vegetables. That’s enough salad for two or three people.
2. Find out if anyone else in your house plans to consume any before you make ten quarts of salad for the week. Otherwise, there may be some waste to deal with.
3. It may not be a good idea to add sunflower or any other seeds to the packed salads until you are ready to eat. They will remain fairly crunchy, but they are real ugly coming from a jar of moist, delicious,fresh packed salad veggies.
4. I’ve decided not to add any kind of dressing to the bottom of the jar before stacking the ingredients in. Or for that matter, anything juicy at all. Repeat after me: FER-MEN-TA-TION. ’nuff said.

I still love the whole idea of making salads for the week. I’m convinced it will help me eat healthier and the convenience speaks for itself. It’s way easier to have something to eat in the fridge instead of waiting until the last minute and then frantically searching for anything to throw down.

You know, it might be a good idea to pack some other food items in jars for a meal in a hurry. Soup? Chili? Gumbo? I wonder… I have to find out if food such as that can be canned and kept on the shelf until required. Meal in a jar, who knows? Have you ever done something like that? If so, please comment on this post and share your knowledge with me and everyone else.

Blessings to you!

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Please pray for peace, people. The whole world needs your prayers. Today I am praying especially for Kenya.

Eating Colors


Some times I surprise myself. If any of you follow facebook, no doubt you have seen a gazillion recipes and tips that will make your life easier. I copy and paste about a billion of the those that make my mouth water. The other day I saw a clip of a man putting together salads for a week’s worth of lunches. He packed glass quart jars with all kinds of amazing stuff and stuck them in the refrigerator. “Easy peezy,” he said. All weekend I thought about jars full of lunch. So last night I did a market run and came home with all that you see in the photo below.

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I don’t work away from home but I love the idea of having a meal premade and ready to consume, preferably in large amounts. I am a foodie only in the sense that I like to eat. I don’t like preparation, I don’t like cooking, and most of all, I don’t like to plan menus. I do love it when someone else does the cooking. I really love it when a meal prepared by someone other than myself is beautifully presented. And don’t forget comfort food. Apparently I must need a lot of comforting because I love comfort food. We live in Louisiana, so comfort food here is anything with rice and gravy, potatoes, fried anything and sweets. I could live (and die) with any kind of deliciously sweet, preferably gooey, delectably chocolate or cinnamon desert. My favorite good group is cookie. Mr. Pete said I have well earned the title of cookie monster. I love them. And because I love deserts and comfort food, I expand, not only my worldly knowledge of good food, but also in girth. Therefore, it is my curse to discipline myself to occasionally diet, as in cut back, eat right, eliminate my favorite food group. It’s hard, but necessary. So when the salad-in-a-jar fellow came along, I thought ‘I can do this. I’ll eat better. Mr. Pete will eat better. It’ll be good.’ I said those things to myself even knowing how badly I hate to fix salads. Putting together several at one time sounded like a great idea which in turn takes the pressure off making sure I eat right. I’ve read that a diet full of fresh, colorful, uncooked fruits and vegetables can ward off inflammation, problem digestion, aid in healing, and make your skin glow. I’m in.

This morning I was determined to make salad-in-a-jar come hell or high water. I gritted my teeth and struggled into preparation mode. I had to clean, chop, and decide what foods would be palatable when paired together. I pulled all my bowls out of the cabinets and began to fill them with chopped veggies and fruits so assembling the salads would be easier than trying to make one at a time. See how my mind works? It ain’t pretty. As I worked, a rhythm began to develop. I don’t know, it was something about rocking the big knife on the cutting board as I chopped the crisp veggies. I’m sure the knife has a name but I don’t know what it is. Anyway, I made friends with it and together we put on quite a show. Food flew. But I got it done and, I must say, with a certain level of satisfaction. Maybe this thing called food prep isn’t so bad after all.

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Next up, assemblage. Salad-in-a-jar guy said to put the ‘wet’ stuff on the bottom of the jar, ie; dressing, tomatoes, etc., then follow with fresh what ever you want, saving the leafy greens for last. He said jam it in there till you can’t get any more in. That sounded easy and guess what? It was. My first combination started with pineapple. I bought a package of individual servings of pineapple chunks packed in 100% juice and used that instead of fresh pineapple because I didn’t want the hassle of … well … you know. It was easier with the pre-packed stuff. And I figured the juice would make a great dressing. On top of that I packed in sliced carrot, cauliflower, and so on until I got the jar about 2/3 full. Then I stuffed greens to the top and screwed the lid on. Keep in mind I am making two identical jars, one for Mr. Pete and one for me. Other combinations included salsa for the dressing, tomatoes, sweet peppers, avacado, broccoli, peaches, and leafy greens. I did not include any cooked meat, boiled eggs or onions in any of the salads like the salad-in-a-jar guy did, nor did I add seasonings other than fresh parsley. I’m kind of funny that way. I prefer to add it just before eating and I keep cooked chopped chicken and beef in the freezer for that purpose. I chose not to cut up the grape tomatoes because they would give off to much juice that way and I wanted to keep the ingredients as dry as I could so the salad would stay fresh longer. And I only used parmasean cheese and sparingly at that.

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I paired pickled beets with red cabbage, celery and carrots. I made a cole slaw dressing and topped it with green cabbage, dried cranberries, raisins, carrots, celery and romaine lettuce. I topped every jar with a tablespoon or two of sunflower seeds. One tip: you can eat the salad straight out of the jar if you use the wide-mouth kind. Just turn the jar over before you open it so that the dressing will coat everything first. Another dressing I used was extra virgin olive oil and red wine vinegar.

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I can’t even tell you some of the combinations of every salad I made, but I can tell you this – they were beautiful. The colors! Looking at the salad jars makes me hungry. It’s like salivating over a box of crayons.

By the time I made up TEN jars of salads, I had used nearly all of the fresh veggies and fruit with the exception of green cabbage, red cabbage, cauliflower, broccoli, radishes, spinach, parsley, and pickled beets. I spent no small amount on all of this food, so I wanted to be sure not to waste even one little piece. I cooked the green cabbage with a little crispy fried bacon and put it in the refrigerator. Tomorrow I will stew a couple of potatoes with some Andouille sausage and bake a cornbread to serve with the cooked cabbage. Although I won’t eat it, my husband will be happy. Then I cooked the spinach and put it in the freezer. The broccoli and cauliflower too. As for the red cabbage, I boiled it in the juice from the pickled beets. Yum. It is going in the refrigerator to use later for garnishing, probably with roasted pork. I chopped up the parsley and am drying it. Mr. Pete likes to cook with parsley so he will be pleased. And the radishes? Well, they are still sitting in the bowl. I don’t know what to do with them. This bunch is particularly sharp and the one I ate gave me heartburn. Dang it, I hate that.

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I used some of the left overs for my lunch today.

So there you are. That took several hours and I am tired now. Despite the fact that today started off a painful one in terms of FMS, I accomplished quite a bit and I’m satisfied. I wish I would have gotten the floors done before I started another tangent, but on the other hand, if I had maybe I wouldn’t have done the salads. Oh well. The great thing is we have a week’s worth of salad lunches all made up and pretty enough to eat. I am sure my body will thank me. I don’t know if this will be a weekly jaunt or not but it was fun today.

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Finally, Ladies and Gentlemen, please please please pray for world peace and for impoverished people everywhere. I know very well that there are tons of people who don’t have the opportunity to eat food as wonderful as that which I have shown in this post. I urge you to pray, and if you can, put some action behind your prayers in any way you can to help others.

God bless you.

NO JUDGMENT HERE


spoiler alert: Got some good preachin’ goin’ on up in here!

Isn’t it odd how we think of ourselves as good people because we are good deed doers and don’t judge others for the mistakes they make, for being down on their luck, or suffering from their weaknesses? How sometimes we go out of our way to help a person because they have a specific need? How we think we are doing the right thing when we give to the salvation army, or buy raffle tickets for a worthy cause, or do volunteer work? It makes us feel good, like we are nice people trying to do the right thing. Like we are people who don’t judge others. See a man on the side of the road picking up cans? Here, you can have this one too. No judgment here. See an obviously homeless person hitching a ride? Jump in, no judgment here. Some painfully poor person panhandles for your loose change? I’ve got plenty, no judgment here. How about this one: a perfect stranger on face book needs someone to listen to her problems? Sure, take my ear. No judgment here.

My question is this: Do we exert ourselves in the same manner for our family, and friends? Are we as kind to them as we are to some strangers down on their luck? Do we give the people we love the most the same amount of respect as we do to people we don’t even know, or perhaps will never even meet?

I’m asking these questions of myself today. A distant memory triggered this onslaught of soul-searching and I realize there are a lot of sins I have not asked God to forgive. I hadn’t asked Him to forgive me for resenting my mom’s efforts to help a child in another country with a monthly donation. It was probably thirty five years ago and I remember my grandmother saying at the time “charity begins at home”. I agreed with her because I thought my mom would have better spent her money on me every month, after all, I was a single mother trying to get by. In all actuality, I was a self-centered knot-head with an it’s-all-about-me attitude. My world had an invisible boundary that hindered my ability to think beyond the ‘dome’. I never stopped to consider that my mom’s contribution might very well have changed the future for one little person, a change that might have an impact on the whole world, all because of that one little gesture, one little contribution. God said He forgives me. I hope my mom does too. If she were still with us, I would ask her from the bottom of my heart to forgive my selfish resentment – and for judging her wrongly.

Mankind is best served by all of the do-gooders out there and for obvious reasons. Jesus said “love one another”. Did you think this post would be about serving others, taking care of the poor or homeless, loving others as we love ourselves? In a way it is, but don’t forget about those already in your life, people. Don’t forget that your family, maybe friends, too, need your kindness. Or understanding. Or forgiveness. Or even to be forgiven. Don’t forget them in all your efforts to serve God’s people. They might be the ones who are down-trodden, disheartened, or misunderstood.

Don’t judge them either.

I used to be the world’s best at judging others. Just ask any of my former co-workers. I was baaad. It’s really hard to think before I judge, but I am practicing.

I’m going to have a go-to-Jesus meeting for a long list of wrongs I’ve done that I brushed aside because I thought ‘doing the right thing’ was enough. And I’m sure you’ve heard (over and over) how if you are in flight and the oxygen mask falls down, put it on yourself first so that you have the strength to help the person with you.

That’s what I’m talking about.

So keep doing good things, people. Don’t stop, increase your efforts. And keep in mind there will be no judgment here.

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And don’t forget ya’ll – pray for world peace. Our entire world needs more prayer.

Ready…or Not: An Author’s Pre-Conference Petition (and Parody)


I love this writer…and her daughter! cute video

Tanara McCauley

In less than a week, I will kiss my husband and kids goodbye, board a plane, hoist my carry-on in the overhead compartment, and fly to Indianapolis for the American Christian Fiction Writers (ACFW) Conference.

I’ve worked on my proposal and one-sheets (all that’s great about your novel on one page), practiced my elevator pitch, become acquainted with other first-timers via a group thread, and have been praying for God’s will, whatever it is, to be done.

I’m ready…almost.

The idea of being among hundreds of other authors–all Christians, all with the goal of using the craft of writing to glorify the Lord and touch lives while doing it–is astounding. And I’m amped to worship with these folks.

I’m praying to walk away with a new writing buddy. Not just a “trade likes on Facebook” type of buddy (though I’ll take those too :-)), but a special sister I can…

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Insanity – Enjoy It!


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I saw this on facebook today and I immediately thought about – me. It is such a funny way for a person to see herself, but for me there can’t be any other way.

I’m crazy and I know it.

I’m crazy and I own it.

But it’s not so bad most of the time. To keep it in the right perspective, I make light of my foibles when I can. Take today for example; I went to see my little princess (although she was crowned Tiny Tee Cotton Festival Queen today) all dressed up in her darling little smocked dress. Afterwards, I ran by Sonic to get my husband something to eat. Unfortunately, I left my wallet at the Queen’s house and had no cash on me. The Sonic people assured me they would hold Mr. Pete’s order while I backtracked for said wallet. So I’m on the road again and well, you know how a person’s mind wanders. I figuratively fell into a deep hole filled with negative thoughts. Dang it. I was so tangled up in the hold they had on me, I passed the Queen’s palace – not once, but twice. Talk about feeling like a damn fool!

Oh, but that’s nothing. You ought to see me when I’m stressed! I don’t do stress, it does me. I’m allergic to stress. I try to avoid it at almost any cost. And I’m the kind of person who doesn’t sleep well thanks to fibromyalgia. Not sleeping = hyper-stress. Therefore, I take sleep medicine. It takes a lot to put me to sleep and trust me, I’ve tried EVERYTHING from holistic natural this-n-that, melatonin, self-hypnosis, no TV/computer at night, making sure I’m absolutely exhausted before bed. When I say everything, I mean everything. So I depend on meds. Or rather I am dependent on meds. But sometimes they don’t work, and when they don’t, I tend to do crazy things. Like get up in the middle of the night and cut my hair. Waking up the next morning after that was a real joy (sarcasm intended). I laid there for a minute before deciding to get up and face the music. Hair was all over the bathroom and apparently I even changed my hairy pajamas before going back to bed. The real surprise was that my hair looked awesome. Even Mr. Pete noticed. He said “Your hair is beautiful today. Did you get it colored?” Nope, I told him, I had a crazy night and cut it. He understood and was ever so calm when he told me my inner-beautician did a good job. I love that man. I enjoyed the moment of insanity and wish they all turned out as well. They don’t. Lucky for me, I am able to laugh at myself. A person like me has to from time to time just to keep her head above water. If I didn’t see the funny side I don’t know what I would do.

I’m willing to bet you feel the same way too. Life is weird that way. Individually we often think that what we do, the way we do it, and our faux pas are exclusively ours. They are not. I’m going to tell you something that you may not believe. Every one of us is the same. You may not get up in the middle of the night and cut your hair, but I bet you’ve thought of yourself as crazy at one time or another. Now, am I right or am I right? Of course I am. And the reason I know this is because I listen to people. It is amazing what you hear when your ears are open. Your heart also has to be open when you listen to people because what your heart hears is all that matters. This week I heard a lot. I heard the tears of a friend with stage 4 cancer. I heard the joy of my granddaughter’s excitement for her birthday, I heard a heart breaking over loneliness, and I heard the silence of a son who needs time away. This morning I heard church bells and God calling. This afternoon, my mood shifted to the I-must-be-crazy mode with my foray into absentmindedly driving around trying to get lunch taken care of for Mr. Pete, and I heard my own exasperation. We can make ourselves feel like we are crazy by being too busy, having a lot on our minds, or maybe even reacting to a full moon. Trauma of any sort will set you up for craziness. Don’t forget hormones, that certainly can do it. Even eating the wrong things can throw a person off balance until the world no longer makes sense. We feel crazy when we have random thoughts like I’m unattractive, I’ll never succeed, I’m not worthy, I can’t….fill in the blank. It’s all relative.

Whew. Take a deep breath.

Up and down and down and up. We all go through it. It’s normal. I know something else you might not know. There is hope even when we are crazy. You see, this kind of thinking is not from God and He says this about that:

Resist him (the enemy) standing firm in the faith, because you know that your brothers throughout the world are undergoing the same kind of sufferings.
1 Peter 5:9

Endure hardship as discipline: God is treating you as sons. For what son is not disciplined by his father? Hebrews 12:7

I’m not saying that God sends us hardships. I would never say that because I don’t believe it. What I do believe is that He sends us what we need to get through the hardships (read craziness). He sends us grace, healing, peace. He sends the Holy Spirit to comfort us. He loves us.

Who shall separate us from the love of Christ? Shall trouble or hardship or persecution or famine or nakedness or danger or sword? No in all these things we are more than conquerors through Him who loved us. Romans 8:35, 37

Let me say this; Even when I have my crazy insane moments, I know He is there for me. I know He will get me through it. I know my life is in His hands. He doesn’t control me (crazy little thing called self-will) but He does hold me. And for that I praise Him.

If you have read my book Secrets of the Old Ladies’ Club, I hope you got the message that those old broads feel the same way. Even ol’ Stella says “It doesn’t hurt to be a little immature (substitute crazy) now and then!”

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Please don’t forget to pray for peace ya’ll. Now more than ever the whole world needs your prayers.