cooking

Cookie “Dough” Balls and How I Made Them

Have you ever eaten cookie dough? I used to, even though I wasn’t supposed to. Luckily, I never got sick.

But there is a way to make cookie “dough”. And no, I don’t mean the mysterious stuff ice cream parlors use. I mean crushed cookies and cream cheese. That’s right.

You can use store-bought cookies. Or you can bake your own. I’d recommend the latter more. Why? Because homemade is always better, of course.

You could bake the cookies longer than instructed, although they may burn a bit. Or bake them soft and let them harden, which I wouldn’t suggest unless you don’t like soft cookies. There are people who prefer crunchier cookies. You might be one of them.

What I do is bake them soft. If I find them just okay or get tired of them after a while, they end up hardening. So instead of tossing them, I crush them, mix them with cream cheese, and roll them into little balls. Then I refrigerate them. Sometimes, I dip them in chocolate or colored sugars. And guess what? They taste delicious. They taste like cookie dough, except that they’re not raw.

So if you want to make your own cookie “dough” without getting sick or trying to find the strange ingredients ice cream shops use, just crush your hard cookies and mix in cream cheese. You can use a blender. In fact, that’s probably better because it expedite the process.

Your cream cheese and crushed crumbs should measure about the same volume. After you mix the two, roll them into balls, like the size of a gumball. Then refrigerate them for about a half hour or so. Then take them out and enjoy, or dip them in chocolate, sugars, sprinkles, nuts, or anything you’d like. Believe me, you’ll feel like you’re eating cookie dough.

travel

A Place to Stay on a Trip – Should I Book or Should I Pass?

Image from Pixabay

Ah… decisions, decisions. Different factors play into your choice of where to stay on a trip. It could be your taste, others’ recommendations, intention or your trip, or budget.

If you are a student, for example, and your goal is to travel around a city, but you’re on a tight budget, you might choose a hostel. If you’re on a higher budget and your goal is to have fun on an island as well as relax, you might choose a hotel or even a resort.

When I was younger, my family usually stayed in nice hotels. However, when I traveled to London with Girl Scouts, we stayed in a hostel. And I was so bummed and let down by it. It was below my standards at the time, especially because I used to more luxurious places to stay.

Now my family hardly ever stays at fancy hotels or resorts. We usually do suites, cheap hotels, or motels. One time, I stayed in an Airbnb. It’s where you rent part of someone’s house or apartment, kind of like a mini home. They’re a lot cheaper than hotels, plus you might get some more control over your meals (like having a small cooking space and kitchenette). You also don’t have to get out for housekeeping. However, Airbnb isn’t available everywhere.

If you have little kids, this might be a difficult decision. There are some resorts that have children’s activities and are located in child-friendly areas. European touring might be tough for this age group as they are often uncomfortable standing in lines or not getting to run around.

Enough said about that, though. Remember, where you stay should make you satisfied, regardless of how long you will be there.

Writing

The Dialogue… It’s so Incredibly Difficult!

Image from Pixabay

Why is it so hard? Because it needs to be relevant to the storyline, not offensive, and sound natural to the person speaking it, taking their age, time, where they live, and other demographics in mind. You need to listen to how people speak.

Yet, many people, especially those the ages of middle grade characters, have said little to nothing in my presence. Yup—people watching is tougher than you think, excluding the risk of those folks thinking that you’re stalking them. You could watch movies too, but that doesn’t really help, either. Another option is to read books and see how other authors write their characters’ dialogue.

But the hardest challenge with dialogue, overall, is having characters react believably to extreme situations, especially in fantasy. I write fantasy and I cannot stress enough how difficult it is to make characters react naturally to high levels of danger. No matter how hard I try, readers have said that the characters’ reactions were muted, unnatural, and too accepting. It’s so frustrating!

However, I found a solution, besides receiving help from editors. I print out the story and read the dialogue out loud. I was surprised to discover how unnatural some lines were—just by reading them out loud. So I changed the words.

Observing others is fine up to a certain extent. Also, a lot of people are quiet in public. Many even put on faces in public and might behave differently in their homes. Reading other books could work, as well. But I find reading the dialogue out loud helps the most.

Writing

On Writing my Third “Magical Missions” Novel

This process has been SUPER difficult for me. I meant that. For two years, I couldn’t finish a single darn draft. Then, last year, I discovered that I needed to start shorter and sloppier. I realized that my progress differed from other writers. I needed to simplify things drastically. While others write 100,000 words and have to cut, I will have to write 10,000 words and then expand. But that’s another post.

Anyway, the first installment “The Frights of Fiji” is available on Amazon here. The second installment, “The Uncontrollable Curse” can be pre-ordered right here. The third novel is currently titled “Enchanted for Eternity” (which might change) and still has a ways to go. I am writing a synopsis for the current draft. I’m hoping that plot can work for the final draft. Really—I just want this project to be done. About 3.25 years of this WIP have passed and I cannot tell you how many times I wanted to quit.

Yeah—finding an exciting plot was sooo hard. Even recently, long after I completed a full first draft from January to February last year (2018), I have gotten bored with some of my plots. However, the one I’m working on actually sounds pretty exciting, even though I’m not done with the synopsis.

But the idea has stayed the same. My main character, Alyssa, is cursed with magic that she needs to learn to control and keep permanently. I’ll release more information once the story’s pretty much done and nearing publication, which might be early fall, as of now.

movie

The Journey Continues… Check out this Review of “The Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug” (2013)

Warning: Contains Spoilers***

I was never really a Lord of the Rings fan. I never read the books nor saw the movies before this one. However, I did do a little research on it after, despite finding this film just okay.

Basically, a bunch of men are continuing their journey from the previous movie, which I didn’t see. Never reading the book, I discovered that many female characters, such as Tariel the elf, and Bard’s daughters, were not in the novel. The film crew added them.

One thing I found surprising was that Bard had kids that were suddenly shown at the end. And they were older—old enough to look after themselves without a nanny. I’d came up with private nickname for Bard, “Guy who looks like he had kids at 17.” Then, after doing research, I discovered that Bard was supposed to be in his 40s. The actor, Luke Evans, was in his early 30s when the movie was shot—I think.

Another interesting aspect was that the elves were not short, like they traditionally are portrayed in other fantasies, excluding Christmas ones (except in “The Santa Claus” movies, where the elves looked like human children—but that’s another topic). They were even fierce.

Because I was never into the LOTR franchise that much nor was I very familiar with it, I was a little lost in the story, which is why I didn’t narrate it. It was also a little intense for me. Therefore, I would rate this film 3 out of 5 stars. It just didn’t hold my attention as much as “Harry Potter” or “Narnia”.

fiction

Excerpt: The Frights of Fiji (Alyssa McCarthy’s Magical Missions Book 1)

The raindrops darkened into black, looking as if ink fell from the sky. Alyssa leaned closer to them. She squinted to determine the shapes they formed on the kitchen window… letters.

            No! That couldn’t happen. Yet, a message spelled out as more pigments plopped onto the glass. Alyssa gasped at what it said.

            Your life will never be the same again, Alyssa McCarthy, as magic will interfere.

            What? Magic didn’t exist—at least that’d been what others had told her when she was little. No one on Orion Street could possess enchanted abilities.

            Alyssa had lived here since she’d lost her parents in that car crash five years ago. She’d only been seven then. How would she tell her uncle, Bruce, about this? He’d consider her crazy. He’d already toughened up his attitude and rules. So he might consider it an excuse to escape this house.

            Although Alyssa’s parents had designated her godfather as the first priority guardian, Uncle Bruce forbade her to try and contact him. He’d hidden the phone number and other information about him.

            Since Alyssa’s aunt, Laura, had died three years ago, Uncle Bruce had required fun to be earned. And that took more effort than Alyssa could often accomplish.

            Turning around, she spotted her babysitter, Mrs. Hutchinson, examining the kitchen floor. Alyssa’s eleven-year-old cousin, Hailey, watched the progress. Hailey had mopped the floor. Would she earn a break now? Ever since her uncle, Bruce, had hired Mrs. Hutchinson, Mrs. Hutchinson had admired the way Hailey had done her chores more than Alyssa.

            “Hailey, you can take a break until your next chore,” said Mrs. Hutchinson. “Alyssa, get back to work. You’ve been staring at the rain for too long.”

            “Okay.” Alyssa turned back—only to see the message gone and the rain back to its normal transparency.

            “What did I say?” asked Mrs. Hutchinson.

            Alyssa sighed. “Fine, I’ll finish washing the dishes.”

She scrubbed her dish and glass with soap under warm running water. Her eyes focused on just those. No way would she want Mrs. Hutchinson to catch her looking out the window again. Mrs. Hutchinson was only in her sixties, but she’d sometimes seem to forget that was 2010 and not 1960 with her guidelines. Yet, it had taken Alyssa a while to realize that she wouldn’t even tolerate the mildest kind of nonsense, such as getting distracted by a windowpane when having to perform chores.

            Now that she finished washing her dishes, Alyssa put them to the side and grabbed some paper towels to dry them.

            “What do you think you’re doing?” Mrs. Hutchinson asked.

Alyssa stopped. “I’m just—”

            “The last few times I was here, you left little bits of food on your dishes.”

            “But they were stuck.”

            “Let me inspect them. Also, if something is rubbery, you have to wash it again.”

            “Why?”

            “Because clean dishes aren’t supposed to be rubbery. And boy, did you do such a sloppy job. Look at that stain on your sweater.”

            Alyssa looked down.

            “That looks like chocolate.”

            Alyssa blushed and arched her eyebrows.  “Hey—it’s just water.” She covered the stain at the bottom of her sweater’s V-neck.

            But Mrs. Hutchinson waved her index finger. “Don’t you ‘hey’ me, Alyssa. That’s rude. In my days, kids respected their elders. We never would dare talk to them that way unless we didn’t mind them smacking our bottoms.”

            “Things change.”

            “Not when I’m here, they don’t. Now let me do my inspection.”

            Great—an inspection! How long would Mrs. Hutchinson take? She might spend a couple minutes or maybe twenty. Alyssa crossed her arms and tapped her foot. She wanted her break now. She wished to read, rest, do a small craft, like lanyards—anything but wait for Mrs. Hutchinson to finish her task.

            “Mrs. Hutchinson?” Alyssa asked.

            “Whatever you need to say, wait till I’m done,” she said.

            Alyssa sighed. She continued to watch Mrs. Hutchinson run her finger down the middle of the front of the dish. She then rubbed it back and forth. When she put it down and nodded, Alyssa figured out that the dish had nothing on it.

            Mrs. Hutchinson spent a few minutes of running her finger down the glass. She put it down and turned to Alyssa. “You’re good. Now what did you want to tell me?”

            “Um . . . if I tell you, can you not give me a hard time?”

            “Okay.”

            “There was writing on the window.”

            Mrs. Hutchinson pursed her lips and tilted her head. “Really?”

            “Yeah.”

            “Nonsense.”

            “No, really, it was there.”

            “There was nothing there when I came, and there’s nothing there right now. So don’t tell me stories.”

            “But it’s not a story.”

            “I don’t want to hear any more. Now it’s time for your next chore.”

            “Aw, but I wanted my break.”

            “Too bad. You have to go vacuum the living room.”

            Alyssa dragged her feet toward the living room and took the vacuum from the corner. She cleaned and thought about that writing as well as how Mrs. Hutchinson wouldn’t believe her. Would a nicer babysitter have believed her? Mrs. Hutchinson had watched her and Hailey for three years, and not once had she smiled or assisted with anything.

            After vacuuming the carpet for about five minutes, Alyssa decided that she had tidied the floor enough. So she stopped and put the vacuum away.

            “Hailey, you and Alyssa need to go get the mail now!” Mrs. Hutchinson called, facing the staircase.            

“Coming!” cried Hailey.

Another rule Uncle Bruce had placed on Alyssa and Hailey was they could only go outside together. He worried about people taking them or something, even though Alyssa would turn thirteen next month. But that rule had been placed because a few months ago, Uncle Bruce had heard about a seventeen-year-old boy who had been shot while skateboarding in his neighborhood. Violence could even happen here in Bursnell, New Jersey.

            Hailey and Alyssa headed to the closet and put their raincoats on until Mrs. Hutchinson said, “It stopped raining outside.”

            “Already?” asked Alyssa.

            “Yes.” Mrs. Hutchinson went to the bathroom.

            The girls walked outside toward the mailbox. Alyssa pulled the mail and headed back toward the door. But mud bubbled from the ground near the house. It piled up, looking like horse manure, and grew as more soil emerged. Alyssa dropped her jaw and stared at it.

            “Alyssa, what’s going on?” Hailey asked.

            “No idea,” said Alyssa.

            The dirt stopped piling up, but it continued to bubble, and the effects spread throughout the whole pile. The bubbles stopped popping up and down. Alyssa and Hailey gasped as they expanded. They kept their mouths open as the bubbles merged together, each one attached to another, forming a single bigger shape. Alyssa and Hailey stepped back as the now giant bubble swelled. And it . . . popped! Particles of exploding mud landed on the girls. They shrieked.

The front door opened to reveal a glowering Mrs. Hutchinson. “What the heck have you two been doing?”

            “T-the mud . . . it e-exploded,” said Hailey.

            “Nonsense!” growled Mrs. Hutchinson. “Get inside!”

            The girls returned inside, pulling and wiping the mud out of their hair. Alyssa could spot the mud in her straight pale-blonde tresses, unlike Hailey, who likely needed more patience to search for globs in her elbow-length red locks. But Alyssa’s hair fell a few inches past her hips, so cleaning out the mud would take longer, even with the shorter layers in the front.

            “How could dirt explode?” Mrs. Hutchinson stomped.

            “I-I think it was magic!” exclaimed Alyssa.

            “There’s no such thing as magic!” screamed Mrs. Hutchinson. “Alyssa, you’re twelve years old. You’re too old to say things like that!”

            “But nothing else can make mud explode!” Alyssa said.

            “Mrs. Hutchinson, we swear it did!” whined Hailey.

            “Enough!” snapped Mrs. Hutchinson. “You and Hailey—go upstairs and take showers!”

            Alyssa followed Hailey up the stairs and heaved a sigh. How else would the mud have splattered all over them? Mrs. Hutchinson couldn’t have thought they’d play in the mud like small children.

            “Alyssa, can I shower first?” asked Hailey.

            “Sure,” said Alyssa.

            As Hailey strode into the bathroom, Alyssa walked into her room. She scratched more mud off her skinny jeans (the only jeans she’d worn ever since they’d come into style) and the back of her hand. She stood by her bed since she wanted to keep it clean.

She considered the writing on the window and the exploding mud. Someone wanted magic to interfere with her life, but who, and how come?

            Also, why hadn’t she ever seen wizardry before? Why would her parents and others tell her that it hadn’t existed? Did sorcery just start on earth? Had it hidden somewhere? There had to be some reason why no one had ever believed in it.

Enjoyed the excerpt? Click here to purchase the book.

travel

Wondering About a Winter Resort

Image from Pixabay

I don’t know why, but for some reason, I have been gaining interest in a winter resort. The ideal one for me would include snowtubing, shopping, and indoor activities like a game room.

Why not skiing, you might ask? I’m not really passionate about it. I did it a little bit when I was younger at ski resorts. But I wasn’t that good at it. Also, I didn’t like having to start out without poles. Nor did I like that most of the beginners were toddlers, and I was 10.

Snowtubing is different. You sit in a round tube and get pushed down a hill. No experience is needed. You probably just have to be a certain height, weight, and in good health condition.

Who doesn’t love villages with different shops as well as food stops and even activities? I’ve been to many. And I loved pretty much all of them.

When it’s cold out, it’s good to chill inside with some tea, coffee, or hot chocolate by the fireplace. It’s also nice to occupy yourself with games, like ping pong, pool, or arcade games. Some resorts have arcades. I also enjoy fitness rooms and used to enjoy swimming pools and waterparks. I still admire the idea of waterparks and going swimming, however, my skin has been super-itchy lately. So unless that stops, I am going to refrain from anything with chlorine.

I’ve been doing a ton of research. Sadly, I have not found one that appealed to me. Even if they had most of the things I’d like to do, they still didn’t draw my attention. But I won’t give up hope… or doing more research. Hey—maybe there’s something in the west.

While I usually don’t favor winter and snow (especially when I have to drive in it), I still have an interest in going to a resort with winter activities.

fiction

The Uncontrollable Curse (Alyssa McCarthy’s Magical Missions Book 2): Presenting… an Excerpt

Alyssa inhaled a lavender scent that tickled her nose. She opened her eyes to see lilac-colored vapor enveloping her face. Gasping, she hopped off her bed. But the mist followed her and covered her body.

            It touched her straight, pale-blonde hair and formed droplets that dripped off the strands that fell to the middle of her butt. The mist also sank into her skin through her muted purple T-shirt and leggings. Grunting, Alyssa squeezed her aching, narrow shoulders. The vapor drifted away through the closed window, without staining anything.

            Where did this come from? Alyssa thought.

            Normal mist would have marked a closed window, so the vapor had to have come from… wizardry. Alyssa’s breathing grew faster. Six months had passed since magic had left her life. It was October! Magic should have stayed out, leaving Alyssa to live sorcery-free.

            On April eighteenth, the day after Alyssa’s thirteenth birthday, her wizard mentor, Mathias, had provided two enchanted objects meant to protect her from magical peril. She’d brought them with her to Illinois after her godfather and legal guardian Alex had lost his job in Ohio and had been offered a new one in Cook County, minutes away from their home here in Will County. And yet, somehow, somebody had found a way around the artifacts’ protections today.

            That did it! Alyssa’s eyes drifted to her closet. The door was cracked open. Duct tape hung from a shoebox. Alyssa covered her mouth. Somebody must’ve broken in and opened the door while she had gone to Chicago today. The city was about an hour away from here, Will County, and Alyssa had taken a nap after returning here in the afternoon. Something should’ve woken her up earlier.

            Alyssa crept over, breathing faster. Her hands sweated and trembled as she opened the door. She jumped back. The objects were missing from that shoebox.

            Why hadn’t the magic light stick steered the thief away, especially if he or she were magical? It must have been a sorcerer. Otherwise, the window would’ve broken or Alyssa would’ve noticed other clues. And shouldn’t the warning dome have glowed orange at some point today, even if the criminal had taken hours to prepare to steal it and the stick? They couldn’t have been disabled. There had to be a way to get them back.

            Earlier today, in the morning, Alyssa had left to go shopping with Alex. Perhaps Alex needed to install an alarm system. Couldn’t he have hired someone to set it up and have it ready by now, at around six PM?

Alyssa searched the closet, but she saw no signs of her objects. She groaned.

            Whoever had started that mist either must have taken her objects or had sent somebody to do so. She looked around her room.

            The walls remained their mauve color. The furniture stayed where it had always been. Her poster of celebrity, Sapphire Silver Button, hung next to her bed. An airbrushed picture of her name hung across her closet. Everything on her desk and dresser stayed still. But no clues suggested any sign of somebody else here.

            A swish sounded, suggesting a wizard had appeared here. But he or she made no sounds.

            Alyssa picked up her Android phone and contacted her previous mentors – from when a magician named Master Beau had kidnapped her and taken her to Fiji in late March, so that she could’ve helped him rule France.

            First, she searched for Mathias’s in her email. No results came up. The same thing occurred with her other helper, Isabelle. That left Simon, the English marble figure, the third mentor. Nothing.

            Alyssa exhaled. Simon should know better. If he hadn’t warned Alyssa about Master Beau or had asked Isabelle and Mathias to guide her in Fiji, would she have made it today? Because he knew a lot about different subjects, especially technology, Simon should’ve emailed her. As a marble figure, even if he resembled a mini angel, he could gather information from people’s minds and signal people, as well as animals, as quickly as the speed of sound. Even when he’d frozen in Fiji, he hadn’t lost that skill.

            Even if Simon had too much to do now, he would have found Alyssa another mentor. Alyssa sighed and put her phone down.

                Something tickled her palms. She gasped and swung them back. White light glowed from within her hands. Her jaw dropped, and the rays shot out and landed on the floor by the door. The beams vanished, revealing bouncing tiles.

            Alyssa’s chest constricted and her skin tightened. She gaped at the leaping pieces, her mouth still open. Shallow breaths came out of her mouth. This had to be a dream. She couldn’t have performed magic. Ordinary people without sorcery in their blood couldn’t do that.

            Alyssa kept her eyes open and focused her attention on the tiles. Her heartbeat sped up. Without any magic in her blood, she could never become a sorceress. Everyone who’d ever been related to her had zero supernatural powers. She would’ve found out by the age of nine, when wizard children learned to control their sorcery, that she was an enchantress. But—magic did advance like technology over time and gained new possibilities.

If you enjoyed this excerpt, please be sure to check out the book here. Thanks!

art

Colored Pencils Plus Photoshop Smudging Equals a Beautiful Image

I am not kidding or exaggerating one bit. I tried this technique and discovered how it would’ve resulted. And guess what? It succeeded.

I didn’t even realize that mixing different colors of the colored pencils would add more dimension and tones to my image below. The most amateurish part is the marks.

This is the photo I took with my phone. Now see the Photo-shopped image below.

Look at the difference. It’s as if a professional illustrated this.

You can see the different colors of the hair, skin, and shirt. Why did I choose blue for the background, you may ask? I felt it would contrast more and would represent positivity and happiness.

Smudging in Photoshop does wonders. I probably will keep up with coloring in colored pencils and smudging the hues in Photoshop.

It’s not that I will give up coloring digitally or painting traditionally. This will just be an additional technique.

You color with different colors in the same hue. You remain mindful of tints and tones based on where the area of light and shadows are. Then you take a picture and upload it digitally. Or you can scan it. Whatever works for you. Then you open it in Photoshop, click the smudge tool, and smudge away. That’s how you get dimension and not just flat colors.

You can make any subject you’d like. You could even do abstract drawings. Anything will work as long as you have fun.

fiction

The Deal: A Flash Fiction Piece

I had received a D on my science test. My teacher, Mrs. Wellington, had given me extra help prior. But for some reason, biology ended up a weakness of mine.

            I considered it strange since I had enjoyed studying animals growing up. I would read about them, talk about them, and beg my parents to take me to zoos and aquariums.

            I entered my house. My mom got off the phone.

            “Jade, we need to have a talk.”

            I sat with my mom.

            “You promised me straight A’s for all of ninth grade.”

            “I’m sorry,” I said.

            “I think I’m going to have to make you miss your class trip to Ocean Life Park.”

            “No!”

            “You want to have fun, you need to maintain good grades.”

            I covered my head.

            “All right, if you really want to go, here’s the deal. You get A’s in all your classes for a week. Plus, you do every chore exactly as I ask. No mistakes. If you do everything right, I will let you go on that trip. If not, you are going to miss the trip.”

            I gazed at my mom. “Deal.”

            “Good. Now can you wash the dishes, please?”

            “Yes.” I stood up and rinsed each one. My shirt got soaked along with my hair. Nevertheless, I continued.

            After drying the dishes, I went to my room and did my homework. My mom knocked on the door.

            “Yes?”

            She opened it. “Jade, you forgot a knife in the sink.”

            I gasped. “No, I… I couldn’t have.”

            “Come see for yourself.”

            Gulping, I followed my mom downstairs. We entered the kitchen and approached the sink. Yup—one butter knife remained.

            “I guess you’re going to kiss that trip goodbye.”

            “Mom, I’m sorry. I-I didn’t see it.”

            “We made a deal. We’re not going to break it.”

            The phone rang. My mom answered it. I stared and breathed. It couldn’t be my dad on the other line.

            “The trip is cancelled?” my mother asked.

            “No,” I said.

            My mother remained on the line.

            “Oh, okay.” She hung up. “Jade, your school trip to that ocean place has been canceled.”

“I knew it.”

“The deal is broken.”

“I sighed.”

“But we can consider going there as a family… for dad’s birthday.”

I grinned.