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Soul of the Desert

Quotes from the Ranch

On my last trip home, I made note of a few things you probably won’t hear anywhere else.

During a ride up to the ranch as we bounced over the one-lane dirt road:

Dad: “Is that cow shit or horse shit there on the road? I don’t think the owner has cows in here.”

Me: “Uhm.” I was unprepared. I had not reviewed various droppings and though we were driving extremely slowly, I was unable to make the identification.

Dad: “Oh, I see more here. Yup, it’s cows. The new owner must be running at least one or two here.”

Well good. I’d hate for that mystery to remain unsolved.

Later on our own property:

Dad: “This isn’t a road, but I drive here anyway.”

Oh really? Well, it is true that the “road” has rabbit tracks and this rocky incline has none. Yes, I can, indeed, see the difference.

Dad is 78. We spent the morning tossing hay bales and feed bins to the cows, followed by cutting down a 7 or 8 foot deadwood tree. Dad did all the sawing on the tree, except for the part where we hooked it to the truck and dragged it further out so he could cut it into firewood. He split some of the bigger trunk pieces. I helped throw the wood on the truck and was waaay ready to go home long before one. The drive out is at least an hour and sometimes longer depending on whether we have to stop to check cows or do other chores.

Next morning, Dad accidentally slept in until quarter after 4. When I went to get my hot cocoa at 7, he was napping a bit on his chair. We chatted and I asked if he really got up later than usual or if it was my imagination.

“Yes,” he mourned. “I’m losing my ambition. I just don’t have it anymore.”

While he was certain that the extra fifteen minutes was a sure sign of decline, I bolstered his flagging spirits and told him one slow day was okay.

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Posted: February 6, 2016
Filed in New Mexico, Walks in Life

Chocolate Buttermilk Cake

Cake image

First published here on the blog in 2006, this is the cake I’m making today. It is very rich and buttery, a true chocolate lover’s chocolate. Splurge and buy a high-end cocoa for this recipe–I like Scharffen Berger Natural Unsweetened Cocoa Powder Bulk, 4.4-Pound, but there are many good ones out there. (I buy the bulk but here’s a smaller size: Scharffen Berger Natural Unsweetened Cocoa Powder Canister, 6-Ounce (Pack of 2)

In bowl sift:

2 cups flour (I use King Arthur Unbleached White Whole Wheat Flour, but most people use all-purpose, regular flour!)
2 cups sugar
1 tsp baking soda

Over low heat, stir until butter is melted:

1 cup water
4 tablespoons cocoa
2 sticks butter (1 cup)

Stir into the flour mixture until smooth.


2 beaten eggs
½ cup buttermilk
2 tsp vanilla

Beat with rotary beaters or mix until well-blended.

Bake at 350 for 25 to 30 minutes in 9 by 13 inch baking pan.

Chocolate Icing

I have cut this recipe in half from the original because when making a “sheet” cake, I didn’t need anywhere near the amount of icing that the original ingredients produced.

Melt in pan until smooth:

1/4 cup butter
3 tablespoons buttermilk
2 tablespoons cocoa

Remove from heat and mix in powdered sugar to desired consistency. (About 8 ounces or so.)

You can icing the cake while hot, although I usually wait until it has cooled. Icing it while hot creates a top “gooey” layer. When icing after it is cooled, the cake is more like a regular cake. Either way, it is delicious and decadent!

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Posted: February 3, 2016
Filed in Desserts

Hanging Curtains

I have no problem tackling projects like hanging curtains. I mean, it’s just a couple of screws in the wall. Husband tends to dislike anything that involves me, power tools and holes in the wall. What’s up with that? Beats me. Besides, he wasn’t in NM with me so he couldn’t supervise (supervise = take over). When I told Dad I was hanging curtains, he kind of gave me the same look that Husband gives me, only he tilts his head.

I measured everything and Mom and I purchased the curtains. When we got back, I asked Dad for the stud finder. Those things never work. Who designed them anyway? I even tried a magnet on a string, but between that and two stud finders, it appeared there was nothing but studs in the wall. Well, there’s a lot of framing around windows, so I’d probably hit wood if I stayed near the window. Right???

I kind of eyeballed the first side, getting it as close to the window as possible. Forgot the drill when I went to get the stud finders. Had to stop and go down the hill to the shop. Dad had company down there so I chatted a bit and I had to set down the drill and bits to shake hands and all that stuff. When I got back up to the house, I realized I had forgotten to pick up drill bits when I set everything down. GRUMBLE. Back down to the shop, where I had to chat some more, and then I came back with the bits.

Drilled a tiny hole. Put the curtain rod holder on and got the screw in okay. When I went to the other side to put the rod holder on, I realized that some people might use a level to make sure the rod was straight. I figured I’d just eyeball it. Levels are for sissies or those who remember to grab one when they are down the hill at the shop the first, second or third times.

I drilled the second hole after eyeballing where it should go and put the screw in. I put the rod in. The one side was lower than the other so I shifted the first one up a bit (there is about 1/4 inch or maybe a little more where you can move the rod holder in the hole). Eyeballed it. Good enough.

Done! Hung the curtains. I declared it a great success! A few hours later, mom asked me what the third curtain holder, the one that should have gone in the middle, was for…

No wonder there were so many extra screws! :) Middle rod holders are for sissies!

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Posted: February 1, 2016

Is It Friday Yet?


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Posted: January 29, 2016

Trends in Writing

As y’all know, I do editing on the side now and then. Well, lately, editing is more my full-time job and writing is on the side. One of the trends I’ve noticed is that serials and shorter books are becoming more common. Serials, in case you wondered, are partial books, sort of like mini-series on TV or soap operas. You buy episodes rather than a book. Eventually the book ends and the author will usually publish it as one whole “bundle.” I don’t buy serials because I like reading a whole book. The big publishers tend to publish serials in two parts and market them to die-hard fans–“Buy the first half now! Read it early! Get the second half in six months and when it’s bundled, we’ll send you the whole ebook!” I don’t know how well this is working for them because I’d think you’d have to have some pretty enthusiastic fans to buy half a book.

That said, there are a lot of indie authors who are writing serials. Some report great success so long as they can put out the parts on a regular basis and fast enough to keep fans happy. Others don’t see sales until they bundle the serials into one finished product and sell it that way.

Overall, when I started writing, lo, these many, many years ago, the standard novel was about 75,000 words in the mystery genre. Romances tended shorter, especially the Harlequin lines, running from about 60k to 70k. I’d guess that about 15 years ago, romances started become series much like mysteries and fantasies have been for a while. (Series: complete novels, but using the same setting or characters in each subsequent book). Series with romances still aren’t as popular as they are with mystery and fantasy fans. Fantasies and science fiction also tended to be longer than mysteries–85,000 words and up to about 120,000. Where do these numbers come from? The publishers put these numbers out as requirements for writers submitting. They still have word count requirements. Magazines still have word count requirements even if they are only released as ebooks. I sometimes get asked why Executive Gardening is so short–I wrote it for a blog. The word requirement was: No longer than 850 words. Some of my other short stories were originally published in magazines–that means I catered to the requirements. All traditionally published writers are writing to specifications set by the publishers. Indies have more room to play with length and even the way a novel is bundled and sold.

The new trend with novels, including mysteries, seems to be about 60,000 words to 75,000. Fantasies have come down too–the range is now 75k on up to the 120k and there are some dabbling in the 65k range. I don’t generally take on editing at the 120k word level. There are a lot of reasons for this, but the main reason is that 90 percent of 120k word novels need cutting. Lots and lots of cutting or they need to be broken into two novels, but the author didn’t create or find a great spot to break it into two because she wasn’t thinking about that while writing. I don’t like taking on that kind of work because new authors are quite adverse to cutting. Cutting and streamlining are an author’s best friend. But it takes time to learn how to write tight and how to recognize infodumps and the like. When an author is at 120k, they usually need to cut down to at LEAST 95k. But you can’t tell them that because they instantly die of a heart attack on the spot and there goes your income. :)

I think the trend towards shorter mysteries and shorter fantasies will continue. There will always be a market for the longer ones, but authors are writing them less and less often. Why? Editing is charged by the length. That means writing a longer work costs more. Printing it still costs more and sometimes it can cost a lot more. The more often an author puts a book out, the more often we stay in sales rankings–in other words, you sell more if you put out more books. This means the most successful authors are the ones who are able to complete two or more books a year. Readers tend to forget about authors after a month or two so it’s important to get product to market to stay relevant. All of us have a certain writing pace and it’s fairly difficult to change that. It takes great discipline to sit down and write a book for 6 months or one year or two years–for no pay. No guarantee of payment. Then you send it off to editors and beta readers and they want CHANGES. This means more disciplined hours. Now you’ve PAID for editors so you really want the book out so that you can make back that money. You have to start working on a cover too–or pay for one. But you don’t want to spend too much because what if it doesn’t sell? Then, you have to start all over and hope for better luck with the next one…

There’s downward pressure on book prices all the time, although this past year, I’ve noticed books are more expensive and pushing upwards. The big guys are charging more and putting books on sale a lot less. Indies have to sell the first in a series for free or 99 cents…that means they have to charge more for subsequent books to pay for editors/covers/food or just write a short first novel, sell it cheap and hope it’s good enough to convince people to buy the next one. Notice that sentence: Or write a short first one…there’s incentive to write shorter books: Get it out fast, find out if it’s grabbing readers and then continue the series.

The trad publishers are in the same boat. Many imprints no longer do a print version UNLESS the ebook sells well (Carina Press is one. Avon also has a line that is ebook only.) Some of these publishers have a shorter word count for all the reasons listed above.

Anyone else notice trends? Or if you’re a writer, do you find yourself creating trends?

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Posted: January 24, 2016

Leo Helps with Sales

IMG_1827 That’s what he CLAIMED to be doing. I was readying a post for Craigslist for a few household items. Leo decided to “help” with the task. In case you are wondering, it is very difficult to hang a hammock when your cat is helping.

I am currently attempting to get the camera case strap back from the kitty. He is sitting on it and refuses to give it up!

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Posted: January 20, 2016


I was chatting with Margaret Lake (the author) yesterday and naturally food worked its way into the conversation. I recently bought a set of stainless steel bowls for the kitchen and got rid of my plastic ones. Plastic just doesn’t hold up and you can’t put it on the toaster oven (or in the regular oven for that matter). Margaret found this great deal on not only the bowls, but a set of stainless measuring cups AND spoons. I could have used the measuring cups. I have a partial stainless steel set, but it’s missing one. I have two other sets, but they are plastic–see above where plastic just doesn’t hold up. And it’s impossible to have too many measuring spoons, especially when you make your own lotions and shampoos!

That got me started thinking about my favorite tools. I found this mixing spoon that ALMOST matches my favorite cherry-wood spoon. I’ve had my cherry spoon for almost 20 years. LOVE that spoon. At least I now know I can get a replacement in olive wood if I need to. Isn’t it gorgeous? I’m thinking about adding an olive wood spatula to my kitchen.

I do a lot of cooking and baking. There are a lot of other tools in my kitchen that are important (Crock pot, beaters) but I think the spoon is probably the prettiest!!!

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Posted: January 19, 2016

Some Sales and Deals

savingI happen to love latex pillows (and latex pillowtops for that matter). I noticed that Amazon happens to have one on sale right now. I ordered one of those and also one of the shredded latex ones from ebay where I still have a gift card balance. I haven’t tried a shredded one before. The regular ones last me about 10 years, but they also often cost closer to 40 dollars than 20.

savingI know a lot of you like to read books set in Europe and I came across this one on sale for $1.99 — looks like it could be a good read. The Sisters of Versailles

This weekend only if you are NOT an Amazon Prime member and wish to become one, you can get the membership for 73, instead of 99.

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Posted: January 15, 2016

Nicer Weather

Gave the new watering can a spin around the garden today. Okay, there’s not much of a garden and in fact, it’s a couple of pots full of lettuce and some cilantro. I did plant a patch of snow and snap peas. The snow peas came up, but the snaps did not. It’s January. I’ll take what I can get! I bought this watering can in a cheerful, closeout yellow a month ago when there was nothing to water. I like it because it’s two gallons and hopefully will last longer than the plastic one I tried last year. Spring is just around the corner, right???

During Christmas this year, I also discovered wooden brushes at Sprouts (Grocery store). Even the bristles are made from bamboo–like this one. What is so great about it? It doesn’t have those knobs on the end that make it impossible to remove hair after it gets trapped in the brush! I also really like the way it works on my long hair. Apparently I’m a fan of wooden bristles.

I kind of wanted one made out of sandalwood, but twenty plus dollars seems like a lot to spend on a brush. I do love the smell of sandalwood, though. Maybe they’ll make a cheaper comb out of sandalwood. Sandalwood oil is used in the perfume industry (it is highly sought after to the point that it’s getting very difficult to obtain). It’s also used to create a cancer medication/cream. Like a lot of natural products/wood, there is a shortage of both the wood and the oil.

What great Christmas gifts did you get (or get for yourself) this year?

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Posted: January 12, 2016

Sedona Audio Shorts and More

Exec_affairs_audiocover Click here for the page to download or listen to the audio files! There’s a poll at the end or if you want to opine, come back to this post and leave a comment to start a discussion. (Pages where I have the audio do not allow comments).

Have as much fun as possible.

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Posted: January 7, 2016
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