Christmas meaning? Wait for it…

 

IMGP2605by Cari Schaeffer

It’s That Time of Year again. Christmas preceded by Thanksgiving. I like that particular order – speaking for myself, spending a day focused on giving thanks is the perfect way to enter into the days leading up to Christmas. As a Christian, I am eternally grateful for Christmas (which leads up to Easter…but that’s another season and another post) because it’s the day of the year that we celebrate the birth of Our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ.

The meaning of Christmas has changed for me over the years depending on my season of life. When I was a child, it was magical and I looked forward to it very much. I didn’t come from a family of tremendous financial means and so it was never a lavish affair. We didn’t have a formal dining room with fine china brought out just for the occasion, a roaring fire in the fireplace, a twenty-foot tree in the great room with shiny presents spilling out from under its branches, and parties every weekend. The homes I grew up in were composed more of single-wide trailers or apartments. What I did have was a mother and stepfather who loved me, a sister, and close family around for most Christmases. Some Christmases were sparse at best while others made my eyes as large as saucers because I got the brand new bike or EasyBake oven I so desperately wished for. My childhood Christmases were about presents, the smell of pine, twinkly lights, and really good food.

As a young adult, Christmas was often disappointing to me. I thought it was never quite good enough compared to The Ideal presented in every commercial, television program, and greeting card. Intellectually, I knew they were just sets and not real, but I still felt like I could never quite measure up to what it was supposed to be like. I was sure everyone else did it better than I. Then one Christmas I was sitting on the sofa and glancing around at our little duplex in base housing. My husband was at work (of course) and I had just put our three-year-old daughter to bed. It was just me and the cat. My eyes spanned the family pictures on the wall which led directly to the Christmas tree that still twinkled like I remembered from childhood. The smell of pine was missing because we had chosen a reusable faux tree. It was cheaper. Under it were enough presents to fill the gap. My gaze continued on and landed on my book bag resting against the wall by our front door. You see, I was enrolled full time at a local private university that cost more per year in tuition than my husband made as a member of the military. But it was paid for because I earned my GI Bill. I was very close to graduation. Our house was clean, warm, safe, and filled with everything I could possibly want or need – a husband who loved me, a healthy child, food in the fridge, and the promise of a very bright future. At that moment, the disappointment I felt every year for not having The Ideal Christmas disappeared in the light of truth. That feeling of inadequacy has never surfaced again. Christmas is not a competition. It’s a celebration.

Now, my children are teenagers with that little three-year-old girl turning twenty-three soon. We have intentionally never focused Christmas on “things”, but rather on what Christmas really means to us – love, family, and relationships. For God so loved the world that He gave His only Son to die for our sins, we are adopted into the family of God when we accept the sacrifice of His Son, and God restores us into right relationship with Him through the death and resurrection of Jesus. That’s what Christmas means to me.

We do buy gifts for each other but never go into debt for it. Christmas comes at the same time every year. So in our earlier years when money was tight, we saved a little every month during the year in order to pay cash for the presents. We have no financial hangovers come January. We also remind our children that the gifts we give them represent the ultimate Gift of Jesus Himself.

This is controversial for some, but in our family, we have never done the whole Santa thing. We are Christians and there are enough things in our society to detract from the name of Jesus that we don’t feel it’s appropriate to distract even further by supplanting what CHRISTmas is all about.

I hope that you have a very Merry Christmas and a Happy New Year. Keep it simple or lavish, but whatever you do I hope you remember the Reason for the Season.

This entry is my final adieu in this blog. It’s been fun sharing bits of myself with all of you. I have enjoyed my time here and found the Crew to be a great team full of grace and knowledge. God bless you all on your writing journey.

20140428_144615Farewell and God’s Blessings on You,

Cari

www.carischaeffer.com

 

 

Coffee or Tea? Yes, please!

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by Cari Schaeffer

I like both coffee and tea, actually. I lean more toward coffee than tea, but both have a place in my heart and on my tongue.

More than half of U.S. adults drink coffee every day — are you one of them? I am! I drink two cups every morning and sometimes one in the afternoon. I have not, however, jumped on the “pod” wagon. I prefer to brew my coffee the old-fashioned way because I like to mix and match the coffee I drink. For a pot of coffee – not just for me, mind you! – I will place two heaping tablespoons of the fully leaded stuff with four heaping tablespoons of decaf. I cannot drink regular coffee. If I do, I will end up cleaning my baseboards (and your baseboards) with a toothbrush after power-washing my house! I also like my coffee strong and full of flavor. That’s why I mound my tablespoons.

Here are some interesting little factoids about coffee:

  • Coffee beans contain antioxidants called quinines, which become more potent after the beans are roasted.
  • Magnesium is naturally found in coffee.
  • Drinking four cups of coffee a day is linked with a lower risk of melanoma, a deadly form of skin cancer.
  • Coffee could help prevent dental caries because it contains an antibacterial compound called trigonelline. You still have to brush your teeth, however.

20151001_123616I am also strange (in many ways, but let us stay focused here) because I rarely buy a cup of coffee. I like to make my own at home and drink it in my favorite coffee cup. Note the caption on it – it’s one of my favorite Bible verses and an awesome way to start my day. Personally, I drink and eat nothing out of Styrofoam. It releases chemicals into whatever hot liquid you’re drinking and they are harmful. Plus paper/cardboard cups alter the taste of coffee and my taste buds don’t appreciate that.

As far as tea goes, I like it hot or iced. Although my family roots are in the South, I prefer my tea unsweetened. Whoa – did you feel a shift in the Force when I said that? I think I did… My Southern family won’t be happy with my sacrilege against sweet tea, but I have to be true to myself.

Be sure the next time you drink a cup of tea that it is actually tea if you want to get the health benefits. Real tea is derived from the Camellia sinensis plant and includes only four varieties: green, black, white, and oolong. Anything else, such as herbal tea, is an infusion of a different type of plant and therefore isn’t technically a tea at all. But if you enjoy it, do the technicalities really matter?

There are some wonderful health benefits to drinking tea. Tea contains polyphenols – a type of antioxidant – and phytochemicals. Most studies have focused on the more prevalent and well-known green and black teas, but white and oolong have health benefits, as well.

Here are some great benefits to be found in tea:

  • Drinking tea could help reduce the risk of heart attack and help protect against cardiovascular and degenerative diseases.
  • The antioxidants in tea might help protect against a variety of cancers including breast, colon, colorectal, skin, lung, esophagus, stomach, small intestine, pancreas, liver, ovarian, prostate and oral cancers. This must be balanced with the fact that tea is NOT a miracle cure (notice I said “might help protect against”, not “treat”), but simply a component of a healthy, well-balanced diet and lifestyle.
  • Tea has significantly less caffeine than coffee and can therefore provide greater hydration properties.
  • Tea could be beneficial to people with Type 2 diabetes. Studies suggest that compounds in green tea may help diabetics better process the sugar they consume.
  • Green tea has been found to improve bone mineral density and strength.

20151001_124657Aside from the health benefits that keep pouring forth regarding coffee or tea, I strongly believe there is a health benefit to be had from sharing a hot cup of coffee or tea with a friend or group of friends. The great thing about a hot beverage is that it cannot be gulped. Therefore the experience can’t be hurried. It is meant to be sipped, savored, and enjoyed. Just like my friendships. The time I spend with friends is meant to be savored, enjoyed, and long. It’s fun to schedule a proper English tea complete with home-made scones, delicate sandwiches, and bite-sized sweets. I have done it several times and enjoy it immensely.

When a friend is going through a rough time or has some exciting news, they will inevitably say, “Let’s get a cup of coffee and I’ll tell you all about it.” There have been some amazing conversations that have swirled in the steam above a cup of coffee or tea. If only my cups could talk, oh the things they would say…

3D-EBook Hello and Goodbye small3D-EBook-FaithHopeLoveandChocolate smallCari Schaeffer can be found at www.carischaeffer.com  She has two novels currently available – Faith, Hope, Love, and Chocolate and Hello and Goodbye: Volume One: The Yellow Ribbon Chronicles. Both are available as e-books and paperbacks.

 

 

It’s All About Control, Freaks

20140428_144615by Cari Schaeffer

I find it necessary to briefly tell you a little about myself. I am a US Air Force veteran, have my Bachelor’s of Science degree in Nursing and worked as a Critical Care RN for almost a decade, became a Chef and owned my own Personal Chef and Catering Company for six years, and am now an Indie author. In the midst of all that, I have been married for twenty-five years and have three beautiful children and two Chihuahua guard dogs – Stanley McBarker and Snoopy. With that in mind, read on…

Control of My Worlds   It is my belief that a number of writers have control freak tendencies. I am one of those. Fortunately at this point, I have come to realize the only real control I have in life is self-control. I cannot control the people in my life or the events that transpire. I can only control my reactions to them. Sure, the choices I make can influence some events in my life, but even that isn’t guaranteed. Often, making the right choice brings pain, sorrow, and challenges into our lives. It is still the right choice, however.

Fiction writing is different. When we write, we control everything that goes on in the world we create. Every single person exists because we created them. They say or don’t say whatever we want them to, do everything we make them do, and go through everything we put them through. If you write fantasy or anything “out of the ordinary”, you have even more control – if you don’t want gravity to exist, POOF it’s gone! It’s a perfect outlet for anyone with control issues.

As an Indie Author, I write when I want, what I want, how I want, and for as long as I want. The flip side and challenge is that this path requires a good measure of self-discipline. If you’ve chosen the path of being a traditionally published author, you have externally-imposed deadlines to meet. Either that’s liberating for you because you operate best with a “boss”, or it chafes you because you don’t.

I have no externally-imposed rules related to genre. My first novel is Inspirational Fiction, but it doesn’t follow some of the rules imposed by the traditional gatekeepers of that genre. There is no foul language or explicit material, but the characters of my book experience a wide variety of emotions that sometimes spill over. The married main characters of my book have sex, too. Nothing is overt, just implied. The reviews I’ve received for that novel are all positive. My readers are my gatekeepers. I am not limited to a single genre, either. My most recent novel is clean fiction without an overt Christian message. I have several more novels in a queue, waiting for their turn. One of them is a YA fantasy. I read one novel in the last year by a traditionally published author who broke one of the rules that every other book I have ever read (regardless of publishing method) follows. She didn’t use one single set of quotation marks around any of the dialogue in her book. I found it very distracting and hard to follow. I have no idea why she made that choice, or why her publisher allowed it, but there it is.

Control of My Career  I have complete career control. For better or for worse, that’s the truth of it. Indies decide what book formats to publish – e-book exclusively, paperback exclusively (rare), or a combination of both, which channels to publish through, and how much to charge for the books.

It also means I have to market all by myself, too. Although for traditionally published authors, they are typically on their own, too. The Big Six publishers (Hachette Book Group, HarperCollins, Macmillan Publishers, Penguin Random House, and Simon and Schuster) aren’t spending a lot of money to market their authors. Unless you’re a publicly recognized name, they just don’t have the money for it. Smaller publishers don’t have the money, either. One requirement for an author to be considered by either a publisher (most of which accept only agent submitted manuscripts) or a literary agency is to have an already existing, robust marketing plan and social media platform.

Speaking for my own Indie Author journey, I have had hits and misses. Along the way, I have had so many other Indie and Hybrid authors come alongside me, mentor me, and show me the ropes and the way. Not everything I have been told has panned out or proven true (for me), but I count everything as a lesson learned and therefore inherently valuable. I find this group of people to be very peer-like in attitude and more than willing to share knowledge without boundaries.

The beauty of my Indie journey has been the ability to instantly tweak anything and everything, often with just a few key strokes. Remember, I have control freak tendencies, so this works for me! If something isn’t working in my marketing deck of cards, I shuffle it and put something else out there after researching and discussing it with other authors.

I am currently learning about new marketing techniques and tools. One successful tool I want to share with you is that of growing your email list. The example I will use is Facebook. It is fabulous for relating to people all over the globe, but you don’t have control over who sees your posts and who doesn’t. Facebook controls that. When you collect email addresses, you are the one in the driver’s seat. You control the flow of information and interaction. I want to stress that the collection of these email addresses works best for those who have intentionally and voluntarily signed up to receive updates from you via your website.

When I owned my business, I never had a single business card printed with my email address on it. Why? Because at networking events, the attendees walk around collecting large stacks of business cards from each other. When the attendees collect that stack of business cards, they go home, sit in front of their computer and enter email addresses from said business cards or other materials to receive newsletters, etc. from them before throwing them away. It is still a common business practice. Personally, I find that to be unethical. I certainly never appreciate it when someone adds my email address to their newsletter without my explicit permission. It does not increase the likelihood that I’ll frequent that business, service, or product. In fact, it has the opposite effect. I treat my readers the way I would like to be treated – with respect. I don’t write newsletters and don’t plan to. As an author, I am not entirely sure what the purpose of a newsletter would be.

My email subscribers only hear from me when I have something to share. It is not tied to an externally-imposed schedule (sort of like me…) such as weekly, bi-monthly, monthly, etc. There are plenty who would disagree with me, I’m sure. That’s all right. We all find what works for us individually. The promise I make to my subscribers is that I will not fill up their in-box just because the calendar says it’s time to send something. Instead, I let them know about book signings, new releases, and anything else that pertains to the reason they signed up in the first place – to read my books because they like them. That’s all.

Cari Schaeffer can be found at www.carischaeffer.com  She has two novels currently available – Faith, Hope, Love, and Chocolate and Hello and Goodbye: Volume One: The Yellow Ribbon Chronicles. Both are available as e-books and paperbacks at most on-line retailers.

3D-EBook-FaithHopeLoveandChocolate small3D-EBook Hello and Goodbye small

Writer’s Prompt: You are walking along a gravel path, alone and lost in thought. Suddenly, you come upon this structure. Why is it there? What stories does it have to tell?

Pergola

Contentment, Family, Friends, Food – THAT’S How I Say Comfort!

20140428_144615by Cari Schaeffer

When I think of comfort foods, I can’t do it without thinking of being content with my family and friends. I think it’s no coincidence that the word “comfort” precedes “food.” The two go hand in hand.

Growing up in the Southwest amid the thriving Mexican culture has influenced me my entire life. My mother married my Hispanic stepfather when I was eight years old. He was an incredible cook and came by that talent from his mother. Naturally, I grew up eating a lot of those foods. I remember beans, rice, posole, sopapillas, menudo, tacos, etc. The list is endless and delicious.

Those memories always bring a smile to my face – even though I wasn’t blood-related to that family, I was never considered anything else. They welcomed me and my sister to the fold as though we were born there. My stepfather’s parents, Grandma Becky and Grandpa Tony, were two very loving individuals whose table was never too full to pull up one more chair. I miss them terribly.

My Grandma Becky would whip out at least eight dozen tortillas every single day in her garage. She had a stove set up in there just for that purpose. There was a large table set up next to the stove with a huge bowl on it where she and my aunties (whichever ones happened to be there at the time – there were plenty to choose from) would get in the dough up to their elbows and pinch, pat, and place the tortillas on the large black cast iron disc to cook just a few minutes on each side. To be perfectly honest, they slapped those tortillas around pretty good. Whenever I would wander out there while they were working, I always knew I would be rewarded with a fresh hot tortilla. It came with a soothing word and a pat on my head to send me on my way. I found a reason to wander out there rather frequently. The conversation was always in Spanish, which I didn’t understand, but it didn’t matter.

Why did she make eight dozen every day, you may ask? Well, there were no utensils – she kept the tortillas wrapped and ready to go in the center of the table for meals. In our defense, it was a large family…but we still ate a lot of tortillas. When it was time to eat, you grabbed a tortilla, tore off a chunk, and dipped it into the food to eat it. The tortilla was your utensil.

Home made tortillasEvery time I make tortillas now, I bite into the soft, hot dough and smile because the memories of that garage and the love always come back. To this day, I cannot tolerate store bought tortillas. Grandma Becky spoiled that for me and I am glad she did. Once you’ve had homemade and know how easy it is to do, why would you bother with anything else?

I had to try to measure the ingredients when I prepared for this post because I don’t really need to for myself – I just do it. But in order to give you a recipe, I needed (somewhat) accurate measurements. All right, I’ve talked enough. On to the recipe:

2 cups all purpose flour

1 tsp salt (you can adjust this to your tastes, but never discard it all together)

1 tsp baking powder

½ stick butter (please, please don’t use margarine. Grandma Becky used lard)

¾ cup warm water (give or take according to how humid it is)

Mix the flour, salt, and baking powder until blended. Cut the butter into chunks and work it into the dough with your hands – pinch it around and break it up until it’s well blended. Add the warm water and mix it with your hands to form a dough. Knead it until it’s smooth and elastic. It shouldn’t stick to the bowl any longer, but it shouldn’t crumble, either. Adjust as necessary – if it sticks to your hands too much, add a little bit of flour. If it’s crumbly and won’t make a dough ball, add a little water.

Pinch the dough into smaller balls, about the size of a large golf ball. Once you’ve got a bowl full of golf balls, cover it with a towel and let it rest while you heat up your pan. Traditionally, cast iron is used. I have a cast iron tortilla pan, pictured here. If you don’t have one, use any cast iron skillet or non-stick skillet. Heat it over medium heat. DO NOT ADD OIL. Tortillas are cooked on a dry surface.

Home made Tortillas 2To roll out the tortillas (I never got the slapping thing down), flour your surface and pat the ball into a disc in your hands. Place it on the floured surface and roll it out with a rolling pin until it’s the thickness and size you want. It does not have to be perfect. In fact, mine usually aren’t and that’s all right. They taste fine!

Before you put the tortilla into your hot pan, pat or brush off any excess flour. Let the tortilla cook for about 2 minutes per side. You can use your fingers to flip it over; you don’t need a spatula. Once it’s browned on both sides, place it on a plate and cover with the same towel you used to cover the dough before. Enjoy! This recipe should make about ten tortillas or so, depending on the size.

Writer’s Prompt: You sit down to a table and are given your favorite food. What is it and why is it your favorite?

Cari Schaeffer’s debut fiction novel Faith, Hope, Love, and Chocolate has recipes in it (no shock there) and is available through most on-line retailers in print and electronic format. Her second novel will be released this summer. Hello and Goodbye: Volume One in The Yellow Ribbon Chronicles allows readers to live the life of a military spouse from the inside out.

She can also be found at http://www.carischaeffer.com .

Big Dreams, Big Life

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by Cari Schaeffer

What do you want to be when you grow up? We were all asked this question as children. Some typical answers from five to ten year olds are: astronaut, ballerina, princess, and brain surgeon.

Those are pretty big dreams from such little people.

Our dreams become smaller as we get bigger. Adults narrow their dreams to more “realistic” options. By the time a person reaches the age of twenty, they have either been told, or come to realize themselves, that they cannot become an astronaut, a ballerina, a princess, or a brain surgeon. Those dreams are reserved for a very select few to achieve.

Are they? I wonder…

I still have big dreams in life. I have been told many times by many people that I am overly ambitious. I can live with that. In fact, I can LIVE with that. When anyone tells me I can’t do something, it stirs a deep desire within to prove them wrong.

Here’s what I have done, so far… I have been happily married for twenty five years (and counting) and am raising three children – one of which has already flown the coop and launched her life. In the midst of this, I have (proudly) worn the uniform of the United States Air Force, graduated from a university with honors to work as a Critical Care Registered Nurse, became a chef and owned my own Personal Chef and Catering company, and now I write novels.

Is this all I will do with my life? Um…NO. My bucket list is long and loud. What’s on yours?

Don’t let the grand dreams of your childhood shrink and shrivel with each passing year. I encourage you to throw off any doubts, fears, and “I can’ts” in your life and go after your dreams! You’ve been blessed with this one, glorious life so you can LIVE it.

You never know – I may still become a ballerina some day. Those pink tutus could really do something for me. I could even become a brain surgeon one day. Who is to say I can’t go to medical school in my fifties? Or even in my sixties? In fact, one physician I had the honor to work with in my time as a Registered Nurse went to medical school in her fifties. She was an amazing doctor – what an inspiration!

Tell me I can’t. Go on, try it. In the mean time, dream some really big dreams for yourself and make them happen.

Writing Prompt: Share some of your dreams with us. The grander the better!