Wednesday, September 26, 2012

A Reader's Dream - 24 Hour Read-A-Thon

As many of you know, I am a voracious reader. I can remember learning to read in my Montessori school back in Texas when I was 4 years old in pre-kinder. My teacher was Delfina and she was great woman. I loved the method they used to teach us to read and it obviously worked.

When I hear about children and adults who cannot read for any reason, be it lack of education, Dyslexia that was never discovered or even being told they didn't need to learn because they are dumb or too handicapped to need to know how to read, hurts me to my core. In the United States today, if anything should be a fundamental right, it should be the ability to read so anyone can stay as informed as possible without having to rely on others to hopefully inform your correctly.

 The Greater Pittsburgh Literacy Council offers wonderful services for those in need from Basic Skills (reading, writing and math) to GED Prep to ESL (English as a Second Language) and others. As you have seen in the news the state of the education system is on the decline and there are so many schools that no longer have libraries. People need help.

A few weeks ago, I registered to read in Eljay's Used Books 24 Hour Read-A-Thon to raise money for the Greater Pittsburgh Literacy Council.

So here I am hoping and praying that YOU will be an awesome person and help me raise money for them.

Like most marathon events, I would love it if you could pledge a certain amount of money for every hour I read. I am shooting for all 24 hours, but the event organizers say it has only been done by around 6 people in the few years it has been done. It doesn't have to be much, even .50 cents an hour would add up to $6.00 if I make it to the full 24 hour mark.

Or if you would like to donate just a straight amount that is great too!!

 There are the guidelines listed for us readers:
"Readers can start getting pledges as soon as they have turned in their registration packet. Pledges can be given in a per-hour format (Bob might offer you $5 for as many hours as you can read) or in a flat rate (Bob might offer you $35 for reading in the event) form. Pledge money must be turned in to Eljay’s books by October 31st.  Pledge money can be collected in cash (preferred) or in a check made out to Eljay’s Books with the words GPLC Read-A-Thon Donation on the check memo line."

I know this seems a little old school, but it's a small event in its infancy. More sophisticated methods of donation take time. If you wish to contact Eljay's Used Books about a different payment method, their phone number is 412-344-7444. 

I will be accepting pledges from now thru Friday, October 12th. If you wish to pledge, feel free to leave a message in the comments section with your Pledge Per Hour amount and I will start a separate post recognizing the awesomeness of your pledges and donations. If you wish to donate or wish to keep your pledge anonymous, you can EMAIL ME your Pledge Per Hour amount or donation amount and information at brooksiefan44 at gmail dot com

From October 15 - October 27, I will be be collecting your donations so I can turn them in by October 31st. 

As I collect, I will keep everyone updated on my collection total. 

I really hope you will find it in your hearts to help me make this 24 Read-A-Thon a success for this great organization and get people reading and living a great life.

Friday, September 21, 2012

Sugar Cookies

Over the years I have been making the same sugar cookies. Everyone asks me why their cookies never come out the same.

It's possible the recipe is different as I am sure there are about a zillion variations of sugar cookie recipe out there.

I got mine from my mother and this morning I asked her I could share it since, to me, it's her recipe. Turns out she found it years ago in her search for a good recipe. She thinks it may have been a Wilton recipe, but she really isn't sure anymore.

So I shall share it with everyone here. But before I do, a few tips to get the BEST cookies out of this recipe.


- Use a high quality sugar like Domino (my fave white sugar for baking). The grain is much smaller and dissolves away much better so your cookies will be less grainy.

- Use the freshest flour you have. If you can't remember when you used it last, much less bought it, throw it out, it may have bugs. EEK!

- Always use fresh eggs. And the size in the recipe does matter. Always follow what the recipe says.

- If you have imitation Vanilla extract, throw it away and invest (and it is a good investment) in Real Vanilla Extract. Should be at least 30% alcohol. You will be dazzled in the difference. Use it in everything from cookies, cake batter, French toast, pancakes. Even kneed it into store bought cookie dough and add to box cake mix for homemade taste.

- Baking Powder DOES lose its abilities after a while, so use the flour rule for baking powder and baking soda.

- When rolling out any kind of dough for using cookie cutters, best practice is to roll out initial dough, cut cookies and set scrap dough aside until you're done cutting through it all. Then kneed all scraps back together and re-roll. This will keep the addition of more flour to the dough to a minimum and prevent it from becoming dry too quickly. If the cookies are for gifts and you don't want layers to bubble, only re-mix and re-roll twice. Or do what I do, keep all the bubble cookies for myself.

- And finally, use parchment paper on your cookie sheets, it will keep the cookies evenly browned and really saves on cleaning at the end. It is wonder paper!

Finally!!!! The recipe!

No-Chill Sugar Cookies

1 cup (2 sticks) unsalted butter, room temp and really soft
1 cup sugar
1 large egg, room temp and slightly beaten just before use
1 tsp. real vanilla extract
2 tsp. baking powder
Pinch of Salt

Preheat oven 400 degrees F.

In a large bowl, cream butter and sugar. Add beaten egg and vanilla until completely incorporated.

In separate bowl combine flour, baking powder and salt.

Add flour mixture to the butter mixture one cup at a time until incorporated. Dough should be soft and should not stick to the bowl or your hands. If it does, add more flour a little at a time.

Since this a no chill dough, roll dough out onto a lightly floured surface to desired thickness. I find something near 1/4 inch is a nice thickness for a not too crisp cookie.

Cut out cookies with desired cookie cutter and place them on your ungreased cookie sheets. Remember, parchment paper keeps cleaning to a minimum.

Bake 6 to 10 minutes depending on thickness and overall size of the cookie. You're looking for a pale cookies with a browned bottom.

When done baking, cool on sheet for a few minutes to make sure they set, then remove to a cooling rack to cool completely before icing.

These are completed and baked cookies I made a few weeks ago for my husband's work.

These are the same cookies after I have iced them as daisies.

I used Martha Stewart's Royal Icing recipe. It makes a lot of icing. If you plan on completely covering the cookies make it all. If only for line work like my daisies, I recommend cutting it in half. Don't add all the powdered sugar at once, do it slowly until you get the desired thickness of icing for the decorating work you want to do.

I hope you make these cookies, that the come out great and that you enjoy them above all else!

Thursday, September 13, 2012

Chuck Wendig: Flash Fiction Challenge

The three subjects I had for this challenge were Dystopian, Surgery and Divorce.

Short stories are not my forte, so this was an interesting exercise.


"So are you going to have it done?" It was a question Rodfree had been asked so many times in the last two intervals, he felt like he was beginning to develop a complex. It really wasn't that bad was it? He turned to stare at his reflection in the polished steel on the machine at his station.

It wasn't that he was afraid of having surgery. He'd had so many in his life, he knew the ins and outs of them. It was who would have to perform it.

"ECH3579 resume your designated task immediately." The female voice on the other end of the intercom called out.

Sighing in frustration, Rodfree took a sheet of alumantium and placed it in the press and started the complicated process of flipping switches and pushing levers that would result in the production of the standard cup all the people of Glorfina drank from. From his first diem on the job he thought the process of making cups seemed entirely too complicated. It was a simple molded piece of alumantium, not something complex like a clock or the machine that made the damned thing.

Of course it was questions and thoughts like those that got him in his current situation. No sooner had he finished with the same cup did the voice come over the intercom again.

"ECH3579 report to supervisor's room three zero zero zero immediately."

Slouching in fear, Rodfree removed the newly created cup and added it to the completed stacks and locked his machine. As he walked down the long assembly room floor, he noticed everyone glance at him as he passed. Some shook their heads, others gave a reluctant smile.

Up the stairs he climbed to the Supervisory Hall. It was solid white from floor to walls to ceiling. For some reason, it unnerved him. He knew exactly which room was 3000. He had been to it enough times in the six presects he had been an ECH. Six presects since his divorce. He shuddered at the thought.

When he reached the door, it slid open before he could even knock.

"Enter ECH3579."

Taking a deep breath, Rodfree stepped into the room to find his supervisor, Idrina, seated at her pristine desk. The room matched the hall with the same solid white. Even her uniform was a blinding white.

Taking the customary submissive position to a superior, he dropped to his knees with his chin to his chest and hands clasped behind his back. "You beckoned me Mistress Idrina." It still galled him to be in such a position.

During his ten spans of marriage to Mistress Mitra Dall, he had been on the other side of the fence when it came to the caste system of Glorfina. He had been bred, raised and enhanced to serve his Mistress. But now, he was just another ECH, like rest of the men on the assembly room floor.

Rising from her chair, Idrina rounded the desk to stand before him. "You seem to have developed an inability to perform the task designated for you. Why is that ECH3579?" Her voice was smooth as silk and hard as steel at the same time.

Keeping his voice low, like a proper ECH, Rodfree answered her. "My apologies Mistress. My current deformity has kept me preoccupied. I promise it won't happen again."

Idrina curled her lip in disgust. It galled her to look at him, to even have him in her section, let alone her office. "Yes, your deformity has become quite the distraction for the other ECHs in this section. To prevent further disruptions, I am sending you for corrective surgery immediately."

Rodfree's head popped up against his better judgement. "Mistress?"

A vicious slap sailed across his face."Don't you dare think to look up at me again."

Quickly dropping his head back to his chest as his eyes watered and his cheek burned from the slap, he mumbled an apology. "My humblest apologies Mistress Idrina."

Rounding her desk, Idrina tapped the intercom to connect to the Infirmary. "Notify Dr. Dall ECH3579 will be reporting for reconstructive surgery immediately. He will be arriving shortly."

"Right away Mistress Idrina." The male voice on the other end answered.

So this is it, Rodfree thought. Time to see her again. "I'll take my leave now, Mistress."

"Do so and do not delay in reporting to the Infirmary." Tapping another button, the door opened as Rodfree rose to leave.

Afraid of angering Mistress Idrina any further, Rodfree ran from the Supervisory Hall and arrived in record time. He approached the main desk and signed in.

"ECH3579 report to pre-op room 554." The nurse said as she entered him into the computer.

Walking down the hall the nurse had pointed to, he found the room and Dr. Dall waiting for him.

Without looking up, she pointed to the gurney. "ECH please lay down on the bed."

As he laid down, Rodfree suddenly felt very nervous. All his previous surgeries had never started like this. "Dr. Dall, may I ask a question?"

Mitra looked up from the chart in her hand to look into her ex-husband's eyes. She could hardly believe the differences in his appearance, especially the deformity she was now going to repair. "Go ahead ECH."

It was a little stab in his heart to hear her call him ECH as if she didn't recognize him. "Will there be other staff assisting in the procedure?"

"No, it will not be necessary. This will be a quick procedure." Slipping on a pair of gloves, she took a syringe from a prepares tray and prepared it. "Lay back and close your eyes. As I give you the injection, start to count backwards from twenty."

Rodfree did what he was told and waited for the needle prick. A cold swab in the crook of his arm prepared him. The quick sting of the needle started his countdown. "Twenty, nineteen, eighteen..." By fifteen, his words began to slur, by eight a whisper. At three, he was gone.

Mitra sighed as she threw the syringe into the needle receptacle. Touching the intercom keypad, she dialed Idrina's office.

"This is Mistress Idrina."

"I'm afraid the procedure was too difficult for your ECH to survive. He is gone. I'm afraid this is all too common an occurrence with deformities such as his. Once the structures of the nose have been broken, it is very difficult to repair them to their original state." Mitra pushed another series of buttons on the wall above the gurney.

"Thank you for the update Dr. Dall."

"No problem. I will notify supply that you require. New ECH to perform 3579's tasks."

"Thank you again."

Mitra signed off as she watched the gurney and Rodfree's body descend into the floor leading to the male waste receptacle. "Such a shame, that deformity. You could have been a good husband if someone had prevented it."

Thursday, September 6, 2012

MS and Kids Cancer Suck!

I hope that got your attention!

An awesome Pittsburgh gal named Kat has a bug up her butt. And that bug is the need to kick childhood cancer's and MS's ass!

But she needs your help!

During the month of October, any donation YOU make to St. Jude's Children's Research Hospital or the Western PA MS Society and take a screen shot and Tweet it to her (@burghbelle on Twitter), you will be entered for what she has described as a SCARY AWESOME PRIZE!!!!

Check out her blog Vintage Saturday for more information!

So help Kat kick Cancer and MS's ass this October!

Plus you should just follow her on Twitter cause she is crazy fun!