Posted in Family life, Food, holiday

Thanksgiving Tips and Why I don’t make Gravy.

For some people, 2020 will be the first time they have prepared a Thanksgiving dinner rather than bringing a dish to share. It can’t be any worse than my first time making a turkey.

The hubs and I had been married a little over a year and had moved into our third residence. We had new jobs, little money, and no vacation time so traveling 10 hours to visit the “close” parents was not an option. My mom felt bad enough that she flew from Chicago to Newark, NJ to help us out. For three people, we had a 15 pound bird.

Helpful hint #1 – Unless you are feeding 5 or more, get a turkey breast or a 7-8 lb bird.

Naturally, the hubs and I had to recreate ALL the dishes both sides of our family made so we could both have the taste of home. This meant two types of mashed potatoes, two types of cranberries, and two types of stuffing. This also meant we ran out of cookware and places to set prepared food in our tiny kitchen.

Helpful hint #2 – For a small group, streamline the menu. Pick your favorite 5 or 6. In our household of 4, we have turkey, cranberry relish and each person picks one other dish. You can always make a different side dish for the inevitable left overs.

My mom alternated between shaking her head at the hubs and my folly and giving us helpful instruction gleaned. She gave me the task of making gravy from the pan drippings while she coached the hubs through some other task. Her instructions to me went something like “heat in the pan, add cornstarch, whisk until smooth and thickened.”

So I whisked, and I whisked, and I whisked. I got the gravy smooth but there was a problem. “Mom? It’s not thickening!”

“Add some more cornstarch.”

So I grabbed the box and poured in some more. I whisked, got the gravy smooth, but it still didn’t thicken. Mom and I repeated our dialogue to the same effect. I made four additions.

When she finished her project, she came over to check my work. She picked up the yellow box I’d been using. She put her hand on my exhausted whisking arm.

“Honey, no matter how much powdered sugar you add, that gravy isn’t going to thicken.”

Helpful hint #3 – Cornstarch and powdered sugar are not interchangeable.

It’s been over 20 years, but I am still not allowed to make gravy.

If you have a helpful hint for preparing a small scale Thanksgiving dinner, please feel free to share in the comments. It’s a strange year for many of us, but we can all learn something new and we can all use a good laugh.

Posted in Books, Christmas, Sidetracked

Press Release: Sidetracked: A Small Town Contemporary Rom-Com

MINNESOTA AUTHOR PUBLISHES SIDETRACKED: A SMALL TOWN CONTEMPORARY ROM-COM

October 13, 2020

Lola Karns is pleased to announced her latest Christmas romance. Sidetracked will release on October 13, 2020 and will be available at major ebook retailers including Amazon, Barnes & Noble, iBooks, and others. A print version is anticipated shortly. Her previous Christmas romance, Winter Fairy, was a best seller and featured in USA Today.

Lola’s penchant for making things up began in childhood. As she went through school a number of teachers encouraged her to pursue writing. Although many of her jobs involved writing everything from marketing copy, encyclopedia entries, and technical manuals, she didn’t pursue fiction until after her children were born. Many of her stories feature children or adults acting like mischievous children.

A lifelong interest in miniatures and model train displays informed Sidetracked. Because Lola never could reassemble her doll house properly after a move, the idea of relocating an elaborate train display fueled a series of “what if” and “why” questions in her mind. Through the years, she hid in the crowd shouting lot of questions at the engineers and stewards of models both across the country. They gave facts and she made up the rest.

Sidetracked retails for 3.99 and will be available first in ebook with print to follow. For more about Sidetracked follow this link. Ready to get Sidetracked?

Available for ebook pre-order at selection locations. Wide release on October 13, 2020.

Posted in Books, Christmas, Sidetracked, Writing

Ready to get Sidetracked?

Big-city businessman James Fordham has a giant problem – small town artist Claire Evans and her tiny trains.

The rumors are true – I have a new holiday themed rom-com book coming this October.  This story makes me smile and I hope it will bring a dose of joy to you as well.

When out of town corporate raider, James Fordham, cancels an Ohio energy company’s holiday train display as a way to cut expenses and turn a profit, he has fire Claire Evans, whose kisses are the best entertainment he’s found.

Claire Evans, miniaturist artist wants nothing more than to protect her grandfather’s legacy – the annual small scale train display. To save their trains and the town, Claire and her fellow citizens must prove to James the real value of the miniature trains has little to do with the bottom line and everything to do with heart.

Inspired by screwball comedies, Sidetracked readers should expect a little sizzle, poor decisions, mischief, a few train puns, and a whole lot of heart. To get release day info, follow me at Bookbub or sign up for my newsletter.

Posted in Uncategorized

Where was I?

I went to update my newsletter signup form on this site and discovered I’ve been missing for months. I wish I had a good excuse, but really, I don’t.

Like many of you, I’ve stayed home this summer. The summer trip to national parks and visit colleges in the Pacific Northwest didn’t happen. The hubs and I will celebrate our 25th anniversary with a meal at home with the kids because we won’t risk anyone’s health by having a grandparent or child cross state lines. A Target run is about as exotic as it gets this summer. But these are minor inconveniences.

So I didn’t blog this summer. But I did read, write, and edit. I’m finalizing a Christmas themed romance that will come out in the fall. Newsletter subscribers will get a special cover preview and access to early-bird pricing. This upcoming book was my escape this summer and I hope it will be yours.

Wishing you and your loved ones good health and peace.

Posted in COVID-19, Environment, ethics, Food

Earth Day 2020: The Covid-19 edition

Reusable shopping bags are now biohazards. Plant based cleaners don’t necessarily kill viruses. Recycling has stopped in some communities. I’ve had to quickly unlearn habits that took years to master.

It would be so easy to use Covid-19 as an excuse to give myself a pass on taking steps toward sustainability, and to do nothing to recognize the 50th anniversary of Earth Day. And yet the steps I’m taking to protect myself, my family, and my community have brought food and my personal food waste into much sharper focus. That wrinkled red pepper that I once would have composted because no-one would eat it is a precious building block of a stir-fry. That soft apple gets cooked into a quick applesauce. The strawberries my kids thought were over-ripe were perfect for strawberry-lemon cupcakes. The fresh spinach that accidentally froze was fine in soup.

I don’t know about anyone else, but I’ve been thinking a lot about how to keep food fresher longer. I used to buy asparagus to use within 48 hours. But that is too many trips to the grocery store. I kept two pounds fresh for a week by storing the stems in water and ice.

The silicone Stasher bag that the kids no longer use for lunch have proven themselves handy. They are the best way I have found to keep an avocado fresh. When the kids start school again, they won’t get their Stasher bags back. Plus they are dishwasher safe.

I’m not sure who to credit for the tip of storing lemons in the fridge in a sealed plastic bag, but it’s worked like a charm. My sister sent me a box of lemons five weeks ago. The one we used last night was as fresh and juicy as the one we used the day they arrived.

Covid-19 and the accompanying stay at home orders and devastating loss of lives and livelihoods is overwhelming. Someone in my local paper mocked those of us who had to give up our reusable bags as “proof” that those bags were foolish “feel good environmentalism.” Personally, I need those “feel good” moments more than ever during this Covid-19 crisis.

With so much feeling out of my control, trying to reduce my food waste and limiting trips to the grocery ARE actions I can take and, yup, feel good about.

What are your favorite ways to keep food fresher longer and to reduce food waste?

P.S. – Wash your hands.

P.P.S. – I dislike the block editor – Getting pics to line up right takes WAY too long. My newsletter is more aesthetically pleasing. Sign up here.

Posted in COVID-19, Family life, work from home

When two or more work from home

Sphynx cat on a computer
Not all Work From Home co-workers have fur!

With the spread of COVID-19, and social distancing efforts, a lot more people are working from home – including students. Freelancers are full of great tips for working from home, but I haven’t seen a lot of advice for dealing with multiple people working from home. My husband and I have both worked from the same home for over 5 years. During that time, we’ve also had kiddos with virtual school days. Here’s a few tips I have.

  1. Identify what each person needs to do their job (which includes schoolwork). Do you need access to an electrical outlet? Wi-fi? A ringing phone? Silence? Background noise? A distraction free background for virtual meetings?

    When I’m doing creative writing, I need quiet. My husband works HR for a Fortune 500 company and spends about 70% of his workday on the phone. Our needs are in conflict. Once we identified this as a problem, we were able to solve it.

  2. Define workspaces for each person.
    When we bought our house, we anticipated having one office that doubled as a guest room. Oops. Rather than moving, we reconfigured spaces. My office (and guest room) is upstairs. When my husband worked on the main floor, his phone calls were a problem in one room, but not the other. But the second spot he tried was near the kitchen and he’d have to quiet the kids when they came home. We carved out a space for him in the basement with a closed door. He can be loud and the rest of us can be loud or quiet depending on the moment.

    On virtual days, my daughter works at the dining room table and my son works at either the kitchen table or in the basement. If the kids can see each other, they distract each other. We move the tables a few inches to keep the sightlines clear, but blanket forts are also effective.

  3. Define “don’t bother me” signals.
    I close my office door, but that doesn’t mean much to my son, so if he’s home as well, I put on headband with pink flamingos. My husband also closes his door, but it has a glass window. If we knock on the door, he either waves us in or puts up a hand as a stop sign. My kids both put on headphones, even if they aren’t listening to anything. If they are in their work spot with the headphones on, they are working. If an adult makes eye contact, they will take off the headphones and we can give them the five minute warning for dinner. Even young kids can learn to understand these signals, even if they don’t always respect them.

  4. Establish a schedule.
    Remember that noise problem? My husband is not permitted to make or take phone calls on the first or second floor between 9am and 10am because it’s too disruptive during my peak creativity time. Likewise, I don’t go near his office between 8am and 11am because that is when he’s most likely to be on conference calls. When the kids are on virtual days, they are expected to adhere to the same schedule. They also are expected to follow their school schedule until their work is finished. Be sure to schedule lunch and above all schedule an END to your workday.

  5. Create transitions.
    I didn’t appreciate the value of a commute until I didn’t have one. In addition to the “don’t bother me” symbols that tell others you are working, you also need to give yourself transitions that it is time to work and time to not work. Tell yourself (and anyone else in earshot) “I am going to work” and stride toward your workspace with intent, even if it is only two steps.

  6. Get sunlight.
    Seriously. If you can position yourself near a window, do so, and remember to look out every now and then. If you normally walk the kids to school or the bus (or if they do so on their own), go outside during that time and take a brief stroll. Bonus – you have perpetuated a transition. Designate that time you would have spent on your commute to go outside. If it’s warm enough where you are, sit outside for part of the workday.

For most people, having everyone work from home will a brief interlude. There will inevitably be challenges, but by setting expectations and respecting the needs of others, you will make it work.

Flamingo headband
“Leave me alone, I’m working”

Posted in Uncategorized

Invisible Stagnation

You may have noticed I haven’t been blogging much lately, but probably not. I’ve wanted to keep this blog an upbeat sort of space and in terms of writing news, I haven’t had a whole lot to share. The same goes for social media, which I’ve been on less and less lately. And when I do post or share, the algorithms work against infrequent posts.

I’m becoming invisible. There is a risk of stagnation – of not doing more because it’s not like anyone cares but me. Except I don’t think that’s the case. I have to consider what is the best use of my time.

I have read a lot of books on marketing, plotting, character development, the writing process, and algorithms. Reading and posting on social media won’t get the book written, revised, and ready for publication. I may be a faint shimmer by the time I reemerge, but I’m going to fight disappearing altogether.

And in case I haven’t said it enough lately, I appreciate you. You are wonderful.

Posted in ethics, organization

Don’t open the invoice email

Dear readers,

I’ve been hacked. Someone got hold of my Mailchimp newsletter mailing list and sent out a whole bunch of invoices in my name. I am livid and I bet you are too.

PLEASE Delete the emails and above all do not download any files.

The hackers have broken my promise to you the reader to protect your information and use it only for my quarterly newsletter. They have destroyed my integrity with some of you and made me lose some of you.

I apologize from the bottom of my heart. I sincerely regret any inconvenience this has caused you.

Image of one of the hacked emails
DO NOT CLICK ON ANY LINKS IN THIS EMAIL
Posted in Environment

Earth Day 2019

If you’ve seen my previous Earth Day/ environmental posts, you might remember my commitment to small steps every year that are beneficial for the Earth. If I can figure out the new blog format, I’ll share links here otherwise, search for EARTH DAY in my search bar.

Change 1: Bees Wrap

As much as I love baking bread, I’m uncomfortable with all the recipes that say “cover with plastic wrap and let rise.” My grandma used a damp cotton towel and if the bowl is big enough, that works pretty well, but if the dough gets into the towel, it’s a mess. I got Bees Wrap at Christmas and WOW! Bees Wrap is perfect for covering bowls. I also use it to keep the bread fresh on the counter. It washes up easily with cold water, and dough doesn’t stick! We still keep plastic wrap in the house but we’ve cut our household use of plastic wrap in half, thanks to Bees Wrap. They have an Earth Day special, which is a great excuse to check out Bees Wrap for yourself.

Change 2: Reusable Straws.

My kids are hooked on straws and they love sea turtles. After learning about the sea turtle found with a straw in its nose, they wanted to make a change. I bought stainless steel collapsible straws with fancy silicone covers so a) you could identify your straw and b) you could protect your lips from overly cold or hot drink temps. Frankly, this change has been a bust. We haven’t used straws at home for years and for the reusable straws to work away from home, you have to take the straws with you. We have remembered to carry them exactly twice. We’re not big straw people, so for us, it’s easier to decline straws at restaurants and other venues rather than carrying our stainless steel ones. If you are a straw fan and want to make the change to reusable straws, there are plenty of choices in various widths and most are dishwasher safe. For my family “refuse” turned out to be a more sustainable choice than “reuse.”

Change 3: Less Liquid Soap

I’m not going to lie, I love my health and beauty liquid soaps. Shared bar soap creeps me out. I picture little germs dancing on the bar and I hate picking up a slimy bar. It’s a tactile thing for me. Yet somehow, we’re making progress. Instead of traditional hand soap, we make our own foamy soap using liquid dish detergent. I found a pump at TJ MaXX that has lines for the right dish soap to water ratio. I cannot imagine giving up my favorite Redkin shampoo, but I am using less because I wash my hair once a week.

The biggest switch for me has been using bar soap in the shower. My household has to be careful with naturally made soaps because my daughter is allergic to peanuts and tree nuts. Almond extract may sound wonderful to you, but it could trigger an allergic event in my house. If we can’t find an ingredient list, we won’t get it. My local grocery (Fresh Thyme) carries a fantastic line of bulk bar soap that is free of nut oils. My favorite has crushed up mint leaves for an exfoliation bonus, but other family members prefer different scents.

This Earth Day, I hope you commit to making a small change to help the earth. We are the stewards of this hunk of the solar system. Few of us are saintly enough to live a zero-waste lifestyle, but all of us can make more earth friendly choices some of the time. I grew up with the mantra “Reduce, Reuse, Recycle,” but in the wake of straw and bag bans, I’ve learned of a new version “Reduce, Reuse, Recycle, Refuse.”

Posted in ethics, For Writers, plagarism, Writing

Plagiarism vs. Romance

If you’re on Twitter, you may have noticed #CopyPasteCris trending and wondered (as I did) what the heck is going on. In a word, PLAGARISM. I’m livid as an author and as a reader, for reasons I’ll explain below.

First an overview (as I understand the issue). Best selling “author” Cristiane Serruya got busted for stitching together books that contained large swaths of words originally written by Courtney Milan, Tessa Dare, and Bella Andre, among others. It gets worse. She blamed the ghost-writer she found on fiverr for the “error.” Romance Writers of America and a slew of lawyers are on the case. You can go to twitter and read through the thread to see both how blatant the rip offs were and how fierce romance writers are.

Author me is pissed that this person made the best seller list by buying up other people’s words and then somehow further gaming the system to get on list. Someone who would misrepresent their work in such an egregious way would likely have no ethical problem paying a bot-farm or some such other nonsense to download enough books to get on a trending list and get enough attention that unwitting readers buy the book in good faith. Author me knows how hard it is to get a book noticed. I cracked the Amazon top 250 ebooks list once, in a bundle with six other books. Author me also knows how often I’m solicited with offers to “guarantee” me a “bestseller” for $XXX dollars. I don’t click. I have ethics. So do most working authors.

Author me is also irritated by voices in publishing shouting that you can’t make money unless you publish a book a month or better yet two. I can understand putting out 3 books in 3 months if it is a trilogy with a long lead time coming up to it, but very few authors (if any) can put out a quality, full length book in a month. Readers buy these books on the “can’t miss” pre-order sale, but I have to wonder how many sit unread on the e-reader or how many are abandoned due to quality issues.

As a reader, I’m angry about this plagiarism, too. I didn’t buy any of Cris Serruya’s books, but if I had, I’d demand my money back. I don’t typically return books because I appreciate the amount of work that went into a book, even if I don’t like it. Cris Serruya stole money from both readers and my fellow authors. I’m angry that someone got paid for a cut and paste job and that the “author” with her name on the cover didn’t care enough about “her work” to look at it, because it was all in the name of the increasingly meaningless “bestseller” tag.

If I spend my money on a book (which I often do), I want the money to go to the people who pulled it all together, the writer, the cover designer, the editor. I want a clean product, where the character names don’t change half way through and the story is coherent. As a reader, I’ve fallen for authors that start off with a strong series (I read a lot of cozy mysteries), and then they get another idea, and another idea, and soon they have three series each kicking out a book a month and there is no quality control and the writing differs so much from series to series that you have to assume they are ghost-written or maybe—in light of recent incidents—copy-pasted for speed. I have a growing list of authors I will not read because they have poisoned their brand in pursuit of speed and fame. As a reader, I’ve become jaded and less willing to take a chance on an unfamiliar author, especially one self-pubbed.

That last point hurts. If you want to know why I have not had a new release in the last two years it is because as a reader and a writer, I want to put out a quality product. I have completed manuscripts making the rounds with publishers and agents. I may self-publish the one that has had full manuscript interest from multiple parties but no room in anyone’s publishing calendar. But there’s one problem. I don’t earn enough from my books full of my blood and tears and ethics because plagiarized crap and unprofessional “writers” are stealing money from all of us.

Thanks for reading my rant. These words are free to read, unprofessionally edited, and from the same source as all my other words—my heart, my head, and my fingertips.