EAT=LOVE=TUESDAY Annette Mardis’s Slow Cooker Pizza Rice

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Food=love in my books. Today’s recipe belongs to my friend Annette Mardis. Since my wrist is still in a cast, I’ll let her tell you all about her delightful new book and super easy recipe.

photoThank you so much, Debra, for hosting me on your blog. Liquid Silver Books just released my contemporary romance novel The Shore Thing. It’s the first book in a series set in the fictional west-central Florida beach town of Gulf Shore, where you’ll feel sugary white sand between your toes, the warm sun on your shoulders, and a sea breeze ruffling your hair.
       You’ll meet swoon-worthy alpha males who aren’t embarrassed to cuddle a rescued baby dolphin in their muscular arms, and accomplished women looking for an equal partner who thinks that smart is sexy. 
      You’ll get up close and personal with sea life, join the “snipe and gripe” club for girls’ nights out, and fall in love with a talking parrot who acts like a little boy in a bird suit.
      You’ll go behind-the-scenes at the local aquarium and out to the beach to rescue marine animals in distress. And once you visit Gulf Shore, you just may find yourself wishing you could stay.

Like many of us, Danielle “Dani” Davidson, the leading lady of The Shore Thing, is tired at the end of her workday at Gulf Shore Aquarium. An education specialist, Dani is on her feet all day, giving tours, interacting with guests and in general teaching people about marine life. The last thing she wants to do when she gets home is cook a big meal. So she relies a lot on her trusty slow-cooker.

One of her favorite sources of easy dinner ideas is the Fix-It and Forget-It Cookbook: Feasting with Your Slow Cooker by Dawn J. Ranck and Phyllis Pellman Good. Dani particularly is partial to this pizza rice recipe contributed by Sue Hamilton of Minooka, IL. 

Slow Cooker Pizza Rice
Recipe Type: side dish
Cuisine: Universal
Author: Annette Mardis
Prep time:
Cook time:
Total time:
Serves: 4-6
Dani likes her pizza rice with extra tomato flavor, so she adds a 14.5-ounce can or two of crushed or diced tomatoes. And for a little more oomph, she often supplements the recipe with black or green olives. Pizza rice can be a tasty side dish or a main course. And it’s a great contribution to a potluck meal or a party.
Ingredients
  • Makes six servings
  • 2 cups rice, uncooked
  • 3 cups chunky pizza (or pasta) sauce
  • 2 ½ cups water
  • 7-oz. can mushrooms, undrained
  • 4 oz. pepperoni, sliced
  • 1 cup grated cheese
Instructions
  1. Combine rice, sauce, water, mushrooms, and pepperoni. Stir.
  2. Cover. Cook on low ten hours or on high six hours. Sprinkle with cheese before serving.

HRtheshorethingsmall

Excerpt from THE SHORE THING

by Annette Mardis

 

Evan Sanders felt his swim fins touch bottom as he settled into position with his camera pointed at the two ten-foot nurse sharks circling above him. It was feeding time, and Fred and Barney were restless and hungry. Evan watched as black drum, striped mullet, mangrove snapper, and other smaller fish scurried out of the predators’ way.

He was in full scuba gear and had only his camera for protection, but he wasn’t worried. He’d shot still photos and video in Gulf Shore Aquarium’s Florida Fishes tank many times, and the nurse sharks hadn’t shown the slightest interest in him.

Still, the usually sluggish bottom-dwellers did have thousands of tiny, serrated teeth capable of crushing shellfish and delivering a nasty bite to errant hands or feet, so Evan couldn’t afford to be careless.

Leaning against the clear face of the tank for support, he noticed an attractive young woman watching him. She had her long chestnut hair pulled back in a neat ponytail and wore khaki slacks and the aquarium’s standard-issue teal polo shirt with the GSA logo. A small crowd gathered around her, and Evan knew she was regaling them with facts about how nurse sharks in the wild use vacuum-like suction to snatch fish, mollusks, and crustaceans from their hiding places, sometimes even yanking a sea snail right out of its shell.

He wished he had time to take a closer look at her because he liked what he could see. But duty called.

Evan zoomed in and fired off frame after frame as Fred sucked a freshly thawed herring from the stainless steel grilling tongs a trainer held just beneath the water’s surface. He tracked Fred with his camera as the shark circled around for another handout.

Suddenly, Evan’s peripheral vision picked up a hulking shape closing in fast on his right. He pivoted to find Barney’s snout within inches of the camera lens.

Pulse pounding, Evan barely had time to react. He bumped the shark’s nose just hard enough to discourage him from coming closer. The lumbering fish veered away at the last second and swam up to a second trainer, who enticed him with a hunk of squid.

On the dry side of the Plexiglas, the young woman stared wide-eyed. Evan gave an exaggerated shudder and patted his chest over his heart. She laughed, and he grinned around his regulator mouthpiece and wiggled his fingers. She waved back.

As Evan held her gaze for a moment longer, the young woman blushed.

* * * *

Fifteen minutes earlier, Danielle “Dani” Davidson had returned from an early dinner break to see the diver standing on the concrete deck of the tank, looking like he belonged on the cover of Hot Hunks Monthly. He checked his air tank and hoses, spit in his mask to keep it from fogging, and collected his camera gear. He’d zipped up his wet suit only as far as his flat waist, and it was only natural for Dani to pause and admire the wide set of his shoulders and the muscles rippling over his tanned arms and chest.

Just then, he raised his head as if he felt her gaze roaming his body and, face reddening, she hurried toward the stairs. She stopped on the top step, hidden by a sign identifying the animals in the tank, and watched as he worked his arms down the sleeves of his wet suit and then zipped it closed.

The show over, she headed down to the underwater viewing area to narrate the nurse shark feeding.

Now, as Dani’s heartbeat returned to normal, the guests gave her an expectant look, obviously waiting to hear what she had to say about the diver’s close call.

“Barney was just making sure our photographer got a nice close-up of his handsome face,” she ad-libbed, adding a reassuring smile for good measure.

“You wouldn’t catch me in the water with those monsters,” one woman proclaimed.

“Sharks are awesome!” the boy with her enthused. “During Shark Week on TV, they showed a great white leaping out of the water with a seal in its jaws, and the seal was all bloody and flopping around and stuff, and its guts were hanging out, too. It was so cool!”

“Eeeewww,” a girl behind him squealed. “That’s totally disgusting.”

“Well—” Dani began, but was interrupted by the man beside her.

“So, would that shark have bitten that diver just now?” he asked.

“Nurse sharks usually aren’t aggressive and are tolerant of people,” she told him. “Unless, of course, someone is careless enough to step on the shark or foolish enough to pull its tail. Our diver is anything but an inattentive imbecile.”

Several people laughed.

“Then why did that shark charge him?” the man pressed.

“‘Charge’ is an overstatement. Sharks are attracted by bright and shiny objects, like a camera flash.”

“Won’t they eat those other fish in there?” someone else asked, setting off a flurry of questions from the group.

“Not as long as we keep Fred and Barney well-fed,” Dani said. “Nurse sharks are lazy hunters who forage at night when their prey is resting.”

“How often do you feed them?”

“Four times a week.”

“Why don’t you just throw the food in there instead of using tongs?”

“The trainers need to keep track of how much fish and squid each shark eats,” she explained. “And they also get vitamin supplements in their food.”

“How big do nurse sharks get?”

“They average seven to nine feet, but it’s possible they can reach fourteen feet.”

“How long do they live?”

“About twenty-five years in human care.”

“Human care? Let’s call it what it is—captivity.”

“Well—”

“Are these, like, the only sharks you have? Because they’re, like, totally lame,” said a bored-looking teenage girl.

“We have a lot of other species at Shark Pier, which is near the back of the property,” Dani answered.

“So, um, why are these here, then?”

“Fred and Barney came to us before we built Shark Pier. A local man had them at his home and gave them to us after they outgrew every tank he bought. They’ve settled in here, so why move them again? Think of them as the aquarium’s greeters, like the ones at Walmart, but with much sharper teeth.”

Dani smiled, but the teenager stayed stone-faced.

“What’s the most bloodthirsty shark in this part of Florida?” asked a man wearing a floppy fishing hat and a sticky layer of coconut-scented suntan lotion.

“We prefer not to use words like bloodthirsty and vicious. Yes, they’re top predators, but sharks don’t hunt humans. Of the more than three hundred and fifty species, fewer than ten are considered dangerous to people.”

“You didn’t answer my question,” the man accused, his hands folded across his chest. Then he spoke with a deliberate pause between each word, as if she had rocks for brains. “Which sharks should we be most afraid of when we’re in local waters?”

“Bull sharks. They’re aggressive and unpredictable.” Dani’s smile wavered, but she kept it pasted on her face.

“Anybody been attacked?”

“Off Gulf Shore? No. None reported, anyway. South of here, in the Tampa Bay area? Yes, but not many. You don’t have to worry. I swim in the Gulf all the time.”

“Hey, it only takes one bite! What happened with those attacks? This is stuff we have a right to know!”

“Yes, sir, absolutely,” she agreed. “Nobody’s trying to keep secrets. In 2000, a nine-foot bull shark feeding on mullet killed a retiree who jumped off his dock near St. Pete Beach and Gulfport.”

Several guests gasped, and someone muttered, “Good Lord!”

“That happened in Boca Ciega Bay, where nine years later a teenage girl was swimming—”

“Wait a minute. Boca Ciega Bay? Oh! My! God! We’re staying right near there!” shrieked an older woman who looked like she’d just come off the beach and now regretted sticking even a toe in the surf.

“Did that girl get eaten?” the young Shark Week fan asked before Dani could say anything else.

“No, she was bitten just below the knee. It was serious but not life-threatening.”

“We need to stay someplace else if there are killer sharks in that bay,” the woman insisted, on the verge of a full-blown frenzy.

“Ma’am, sharks are found in every major body of saltwater in the world,” Dani said.

“Is that supposed to make me feel better, young lady?”

Dani’s shirt was sticky with sweat. “Your chances of being attacked are about one in eleven million,” she assured the woman. That didn’t seem to satisfy her, so Dani launched into tips for lessening that already minuscule risk.

“Don’t swim alone, at twilight, after dark, or if you’re bleeding. Don’t wear shiny jewelry. Be extra cautious in murky water. Don’t splash a lot or let pets in the water with you. Avoid going in the water where people are fishing.”

The woman’s face looked like she’d just sucked on a lemon, and the man who’d raised the specter of shark attack gave an impatient huff.

Geez, what’s with these people? Dani thought, sneaking another look at the diver with the camera. I’d be safer in there with him, not to mention with Barney and Fred.

NOW AVAILABLE AT THESE VENUES:

LSBooks

BN

AMAZON

KOBO

AllRomance

 

Happy reading!

DEB

Deb’s summer fun: contest, music & cover REVEAL!

Summer has arrived!

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Let there be BOOKS, MUSIC and FUN!

BREAKING Book NEWS: Cowgirl, Come Home” (my first new, full-length romance from Tule Press) will be released on July 18. Here’s a sneak peek at my cover.

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I am sooo excited. My editor loved this story! I can’t wait for you all-my loyal readers and friends–to read it.

And I have more exciting news. There will be three spin-offs from this book. My “Big Sky Mavericks” trilogy is tentatively set to release in August, October and December.

Color me giddy!

BREAKING Contest NEWS: my June “Sounds of Summer” contest prize is a Bem (pronounced Beam) Music Cube.  

71XoVMf9clL._SL1500_-1(Bem wireless bluetooth speakers for your MP3 player, iPad, phone, etc. — a $100 value!)

I bought this little guy and loved it so much, I decided to offer one as a prize on my website contest. Click HERE to sign up.

~~~

So…what are you doing for FUN this summer?

* Traveling? (I’ll be at RWA in San Antonio in July 22-26.)

* Reading? Check out these great pool-side reads from Tule’s new Holiday imprint, which is launching on  Tuesday, June 17, with a party on Facebook. There will be great prizes to win, and you can hang out with some of the Tule authors. I’ll be there at 7:30 p.m. Pacific.

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* Shopping? It’s never too early to be thinking about Christmas, right? To get you in the mood, here’s a great Christmas bundle currently on sale (99¢ thru 6/8):

“The Cowboys of Copper Mountain”

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This 4-book bundle is filled with extras, including GREAT recipes and my sweet short story, A Hundred Years or More. I’m so proud! If you hurry, you can register to win one of these excellent prize packages, including a $50 gift card at Amazon.

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* Listening to music? Maybe if you win the Bem, you’ll download some of the tunes from my “Cowgirl, Come Home” playlist. I hope to post this on my website in the very near future.

What are you listening to? I’d love to know. Maybe it’s something my next hero, Austen Zabrinski, will be playing on his iPod.

Deb

EAT=LOVE=VALENTINE’S DAY Deb Salonen’s Warm Chocolate Pudding + A GIFT!

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Food=love in my books.

To celebrate your upcoming Valentine’s Day, what better than warm chocolate? Dark, rich, delicious…and did I mention warm?

This recipe comes via my Wine, Women and Words Book Club. Several of the founding members are celebrating our 10th year together. We’ve lost a few dear friends and gained several more. We’ve read and discussed nearly a 100 books.

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When we meet next week, we’ll be discussing THE LAST RUNAWAY by Tracy Chevalier. I enjoyed this book a great deal. It made me want to stop writing and learn how to quilt. (Not going to happen.) It also made me want to hop on a soapbox and tell people to treat each other fairly and equally, with kindness and love. (That might happen. You’ve been warned.)

Alas, The Last Runaway is not mine to give away, so I’m including my favorite short story, 100 Years or More, as a little Valentine’s Gift for you. First, your recipe…

Warm Chocolate Puddings
Recipe Type: dessert
Cuisine: American
Author: Martha Stewart (www.marthastewart.com)
Prep time:
Cook time:
Total time:
Serves: 4
Get the prep work done ahead of time then pop the tray into the oven shorty before you’re ready for the grand finale. Guaranteed to impress.
Ingredients
  • Ingredients
  • 4 oz semisweet or bittersweet chocolate, chopped
  • 4 Tbsp unsalted butter (1/2 stick)
  • 4 Tbsp sugar
  • 2 Large eggs, yolks and whites separated
  • 1/2 tsp pure vanilla extract
  • 1/4 tsp salt
  • Ice cream for each serving (optional) (any flavor) or whipped cream!
Instructions
  1. Preheat oven to 375 degrees. Place four 6- to 8-ounce ovenproof bowls on a baking sheet. Set aside.
  2. Place chocolate and butter in a medium heatproof bowl set over (not in) a saucepan of gently simmering water. Stir occasionally just until melted, 4 to 5 minutes. Remove from heat; mix in 2 tablespoons sugar, then egg yolks and vanilla. Set aside.
  3. In a medium bowl, with an electric mixer, beat egg whites and salt until soft peaks form. Still beating, gradually add remaining 2 tablespoons sugar; beat until mixture is stiff and glossy.
  4. Using a rubber spatula, mix about 1/3 egg-white mixture into chocolate mixture; gently fold in remaining egg-white mixture just until combined. Divide among bowls. (Puddings can be prepared in advance up to this point; cover with plastic wrap, and refrigerate up to 1 day.)
  5. Bake until tops are puffed and cracked but insides are still quite soft (a toothpick inserted in center will come out gooey), 20 to 25 minutes, or 25 to 30 minutes if puddings were previously refrigerated. Serve, warm or at room temperature (puddings may sink as they cool), topped with ice cream, if desired.

Now, here’s a Valentine from me to you. It’s a love story, not a romance. If you enjoy it and want to add it to your Kindle or gift to others, I’d be so grateful if you’d buy it at Amazon for just 99¢.

DEB COVER-1

The funeral is finally over.  Four days, start to finish. A chaotic time with scores of adults in and out. Men in uniforms. Women in black dresses with somber demeanors. Such a fuss, but nothing compared to the party that just concluded. Drinkers. Talkers. People who couldn’t stop pushing food into their mouths to speak even a few words of kindness for the dearly departed. And, not surprisingly, a few too many children for my taste.

There was mention of the reading of the will. The disposition of the deceased’s possessions. That would include me, I suspect.

I should have gone first. It would have simplified things. Being the one left behind isn’t easy, but I didn’t have a choice in the matter, of course. Parrots can live a hundred years or more. I know this because I’ve heard her children and grandchildren repeat this dire prediction every time they pass by my cage. They shake their heads sadly and speculate out loud, as if I’m dumb as well as mostly mute.

“What will become of Jack?” one will ask.

“I don’t know,” another will answer. “Such a shame. He’s always been a one-person bird.”

“How old is he?”

“No one knows for sure…”

They wouldn’t know. How could they? Even I don’t know the year I was born because such things aren’t measured the way humans attempt to partition and document each and every second of each and every day. In the rainforest where I started my life, all living things understood that there were seasons. I knew without being told the time would come for each young bird to mate and begin a new phase of life. That never happened for me. I was captured before my season of juvenile freedom and foolishness was over.

 I like to think that was one reason why I was so angry when I first came to this new world that would become my life.  I’d lost everything familiar to me–my family, my group, the tastes, smells, colors, and sounds of the only life I’d ever known and was thrust into a metal cage by brutal hands.

Touch. To go your whole life knowing only the touch of the wind and rain upon your feathers, then suddenly feel a clamp of leather-gloved fingers, musty burlap and wire boundaries curtailing one’s freedom can not be expressed by words in any language.

Those early years in captivity remain in my memory as a white background blurred from time to time by scars of red. Blood – drawn anytime some foolish human came close enough for my razor sharp beak to leave a mark.

The sound of the human voice was a grating, industrial noise that roared in my ears like an engine that never turned off. Music, they say, soothes the savage breast. Not mine. Not at that time. The pet store, that eventually bought me from the merchant who bought me from the trapper, piped in music around the clock. I later learned that the radio belonged to the owner who was slightly deaf. He honestly didn’t realize the radio was still playing when he closed for the night.

I have no way of knowing how long I lived in this prison of harsh light and constant noise. I never slept. I rarely ate. I wanted to go home, and if that wasn’t possible, then I wanted to die.

Neither happened. Instead, I was sold to an unsuspecting family with two young children: Todd, a serious ten-year old with thick glasses, and Delia, who was eight.

The only good part about this move for me was it meant a bigger cage. The children’s father considered himself a bird man. He’d raised pigeons as a boy on a farm in some country I’d never heard of. An exotic parrot seemed the likely next step in bird ownership, naturally. “The pet store guy told me parrots can live a hundred years or more.”

We were a poor mix, to say the least. But the noise level improved. The house was silent at night, for the most part, and best of all, the mother insisted that my cage be covered. Since she couldn’t trust her irresponsible husband or her very young children to do this chore, she would take care of this herself, gingerly, every night. “Sleep well, poor thing,” she’d say.

Poor thing. Since very few human words made sense to me then, I began to think that was my name. Poor thing. The father made sporadic attempts to teach me words. Yes, even the very lame “Polly wannacracker?” I did my best not to encourage him. He eventually gave up – on me, on his family, on his life, in general. He died after a short illness that was only spoken about in whispers. “Polio.” A very bad thing, I came to learn. I wondered if I’d be next. But no, the little girl was its victim.

Delia left us for what seemed like a very long time. Her mother still covered my cage at night, but I was no longer, “Poor thing.” I was a habit. One she probably resented, but she seemed too weary to even muster the energy it took to be resentful.

The silence around me grew as the family’s possessions thinned out, one by one. I was certain I’d be next to go, but then the unexpected happened. The little girl came home. She couldn’t walk at first, so they converted “my” room–the parlor–on the first floor of the house into a place for her to stay. The sofa disappeared, traded, I assumed, for a skinny bed made of metal.

I had a roommate.

Delia was the one who officially named me. Prior to this, I’d been simply “the bird.” But Delia told her mother the second morning she was home, “He looks like a Jack to me. We’ll call him Captain Jack.” I liked the name, but nobody bothered with the title.

From that night on, when she closed her eyes, instead of falling straight to sleep, she’d tell me a story about how Captain Jack, a brave and virtuous pirate–virtuous? I wondered the same thing, but since she didn’t understand my squawks at that time, I wasn’t able to ask. Anyway, in various renditions of the same basic theme, the esteemed captain happened across a mean and bothersome witch who turned him into a bright green parrot with red markings and coal black eyes. All because he refused to tell her he loved her. “He couldn’t lie,” Delia stated with such gravity it seemed the inescapable truth.

Each night, she would add another chapter to Captain Jack’s adventurous life. As her strength returned, she’d talk about other things, too. Her fear that her mother would have to go to work. Mothers didn’t do that, but they were terribly poor now that her father had died. And there were hospital bills. So many.

Until that time, I’d acquired words that humans made a pointed effort to teach me. I gave into their coaching partly for the treats they proffered, and in part because I was bored. Did these rote “Hello,” “Hi, Jack” or “Pretty bird” make sense to me? No. Of course, not. But, listening to Delia was different. For one thing, her delivery was slow, slightly breathless and very deliberate. And she spoke to me as though I were capable of understanding everything she said. That’s how I came to learn that each of the harsh, guttural sounds that had been around me all those years were actually words, with meaning. That revelation changed everything. As odd as it sounds, this was the moment I ceased to be a bird–not physically, of course, but in my mind that last remaining connection to the distant, shadowy memories imprinted on my DNA slipped away. I remained a bird, but I became–then and forever–Delia’s bird. She was my family, her flock would be my flock. I could never return to my old world, so, instead, I would go forward. With her.

Delia. She was so many things to so many people: daughter, sister, friend, woman, warrior, wife, mother, grandmother, great-grandmother. Transitory labels, at best. The one that never changed was: Jack’s owner.

Her life probably wasn’t all that special or unique. I’ve been privy to many such stories over the years–first, when school chums came to spend the night with the young girl who had recovered from her illness and its lingering effect with such resolute determination and good cheer that people never saw the crutches, the cane, the limp. I was happy to witness each stage of recovery. But each new triumph took her further from the sick room–my parlor.

As if sensing the impact this physical separation would have on me, Delia arranged for surrogates. First, a dog. An old dog because the thought was an old dog wouldn’t try to eat me. He didn’t. But he wasn’t much company, either. All he did was sleep. And eat. I don’t know what they fed him, but he had terrible gas.

Later, she procured a television, which Delia mistakenly thought I might enjoy. To my surprise, I did become rather attached to the folly played out daily on General Hospital, but I’d rather not talk about it. Those old friends left me, too, you know.

One thing I’ve come to understand about the human species is its capacity for selective blindness. For years, Delia chose to pretend her mother was a strong woman. But Mama was not. She married the first man who asked her. Todd, who was two years Delia’s senior, tried his best to disappear any time the new father came into the room. Delia played the role of peacemaker–except where I was concerned. The new father called me dirty, disease-infested, a waste of birdseed. Delia turned into a warrior, as inflexible as the bars of my cage–which had turned into a refuge whenever Delia wasn’t around.

Lucky for all of us, the second father dropped dead one afternoon while pushing the lawn mower in the back yard. I won’t say how long Delia’s mother stood at the window and stared outside without moving or calling for help, but I can say she waited long enough. His money was a kindness the man himself was incapable of giving. It kept the roof over our heads and paid for both Delia and Todd to go to college.

College was a bleak time for me–and the mother. “You miss her, too. Don’t you, poor thing?” Yes. Yes, I did, and I molted to prove it.

But college took less time than usual because Delia fell in love. And married impulsively. A man I truly loathed. The words I longed to be able to say stuck in my craw, bitter tasting and caustic. “Why, Delia? Why him? He doesn’t respect you. He thinks you’re handicapped. He acts like he did you a favor, when, in fact, he doesn’t deserve your sweetness, your grace.”

The divorce was almost as swift as the wedding, but Delia’s grief lingered. So many nights she’d sit beside my cage and tell me how devastated she felt, how stupid, how distrustful of her ability to read people. Always, I paced my perch, angry and frustrated because I couldn’t make her see how wonderful she was. How unique and gifted. I have the vocabulary but I lack the ability to have the words make sense. My curse, I’ve come to understand, is to observe without comment.

But that doesn’t mean I’m mute. Oh, no. Once Delia began dating again, I did my best to influence her choices. We called it the Squawk Rating System. A frenzied ruckus meant jerk alert. Giving the new contender the silent treatment meant: “Why bother?” But a feathers-forward, head tilted to the right “Hello there, big boy” was a clear sign that this one had potential. That’s how we met Andrew.

Wisely, he courted us both. He brought her candy. He brought me sunflower seeds. Unsalted, of course. No bloody fingers for Andrew.

Their marriage wasn’t perfect, but it was worth fighting for. Three summers later on a bright, fragrant morning in May Delia gave birth to a baby girl. A tiny thing with wisdom in her eyes. But the toll on Delia’s body had been extreme. There would be no more children, she told me, tears streaming down her pale cheeks.

But the sadness passed quickly because Andrew’s job kept the family on the move. North, south, east and west. Places Delia would point out to me on a map, but I never bothered to learn their names. What did it matter when my world remained essentially the same? The one place that truly sticks out above the rest was the beach house. For two months every summer, no matter where we were living in the country, Delia would move us all, lock, stock and animals, to the airy white cabin on Michigan’s northern shore. Poor Andrew missed out on so much, but when he was present, the family seemed whole, exhilarated and truly happy.

Andrew was a good man, if somewhat simple. Smart in terms of his work–some sort of engineering, Delia claimed, but he never looked too deeply beyond the obvious. For example, one day he decided I should have a companion. A bird friend. Delia vetoed the idea–one more animal in the growing menagerie meant one more animal for her to feed and clean up after. But Andrew was determined, so one day he brought us Chloe–my potential mate.

Unfortunately, she was actually a male. A young male. Procured as a hatchling, which made him fairly docile. But he was easily upset and he expressed his frustration by plucking out all his pretty feathers. No one has ever said a bald parrot is an attractive parrot. Baby Girl wouldn’t even look at him. If she did, she’d break into tears. One morning, without any warning, “Chloe” toppled off the center bar in our cage and fell to the bottom screen, dead as the drowned flies floating in our water container. For a while I thought the whole transgender humiliation killed him, but it turned out he’d been exposed to a highly contagious avian virus.

It nearly got me, too, but Delia nursed me through – an eye dropper at a time.

The busy school years seemed to fly by as we watched our little girl flourish and grow to adulthood.

These times were punctuated by losses, of course. The old mother went first, poor thing. Followed much too quickly by Todd, Delia’s brother. I wish I could say he forgave me for nipping his finger when he was little, but I don’t think he did.  His death hit Delia hard. In part because she’d just lost her mother, in part because he was so young. Delia told me he died from a disease they called Gay. Humans don’t make sense. You come to understand that after awhile. And they don’t age well, either.

As I approached middle age in bird years, my humans were slipping into their twilight. After Andrew retired, he and Delia were as happy as I’d ever seen them. They did everything together. They threw themselves–and a great deal of money–into giving Baby Girl the most dazzling wedding possible. Since they’d traveled so much in their working years, neither seemed inclined to go anywhere–except to the beach house. Summers were filled with grandchildren, now. Baby Girl was a much healthier version of her mother. She popped out three little angels before anyone could get over marveling at the last. The girls loved their Nana and Papa, and, to my surprise, they held me in awe. I never once had to bite any of them. I can’t say the same for their friends.

Gradually, small health concerns became major health woes. There were operations, pacemakers, pill boxes on every table. I’d watch them nap, occasionally dozing off mid-sentence. Their little arguments usually wound up making them laugh – at each other and themselves. Always, there was love and forgiveness, hands holding hands as they made their way up the stairs to bed. Slowly. Very slowly.

I knew Andrew was gone before she even awoke that morning. His spirit left in a loud whoosh, down the stairs and out the door – in a hurry to move on. I knew I would miss him, but not nearly as much as she would. If not for the grandchildren–and me–I don’t think Delia would have found the will to stick around. For months, she sat on the pretty padded chair a few feet from my perch and looked out the window, never speaking. I began to think I’d never hear her voice again. So, despite my physical limitations, I started telling her a story about a brave and valiant pirate girl who was taken hostage by an evil witch. What I couldn’t convey in words, I tried to make up for with affection. I only left her shoulder when she held out her arm to create a bridge straight into my cage each night.

Did my words pull her back from that murky shore where her mate now resided? I doubt it. Quite frankly, I think she decided she couldn’t trust anyone else to take care of me. Baby Girl was a busy professional with three teenage daughters. Their comings and goings were enough to make anyone dizzy. Oh, they might have remembered to feed me, but could they be counted on to talk to me? Cover me up from the draft at night? Challenge my vocabulary?

Obviously, Delia didn’t believe so. She kept breathing. Long enough to become a great-grandmother, to witness two more beautiful, elaborate weddings, to welcome a new, young family into her home. Just temporarily, her youngest granddaughter told everyone. “Just until Nana doesn’t need me anymore.”

We all knew what that meant–even though she didn’t mean it that way. That girl reminds me a great deal of her grandfather.

My beautiful Delia did her best not to die, but age wears on the body–and hers was fragile from the polio. The granddaughter bought her a splendid wheelchair. They put a bed in the front parlor–my room, just as her mother once did for her. She was my companion again, day and night, only much of the time, her spirit wandered. She would remember the early days, but not the recent. She’d forget the face of her beloved granddaughter. The poor girl would leave in tears.

But she never forgot Jack.

“Captain, I really think it’s time for me to go, don’t you?” she asked. Four days ago.

What could I say?

“Good-bye, me pretty,” I said, with my best pirate accent. I’d seen my share of movies over the years.

She closed her eyes and her breathing stopped, but her spirit didn’t leave right away. It danced about the room, touching mementos, smiling at a photo or two, then the shimmering light that humans don’t seem capable of seeing stopped at my cage. For a moment, I thought she was going to open the door of my cage. Freedom. But no. Instead, she smiled and kissed my beak. “Journey on without me, dear friend. But I’ll be waiting for you.”

Parrots live a hundred years or more, Delia’s father had claimed.

“In the wild,” someone at the wake had stressed. “Their lifespan is considerably shorter in captivity. This one probably won’t last long, now.”

Jack wished his beloved had known that. Perhaps she had. If he closed his eyes and looked hard enough, he could almost see her–watching from the deck of a pirate ship poised to take them off on their next great adventure.

© Copyright 2011 Debra Salonen

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 Have a most happy, love-filled and delicious Valentine’s Day, my friends!

Deb

A Merry Little Something Extra!

I hope this holiday season is filling your life with wonderful surprises!

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I decided to play Santa myself–no secret. Here’s your chance to pick up a FREE book.

I added A Hundred Years or More  my sweet love story (One reader told me she reads it every few months…”Just because I like a good cry.”)– to my 5-star holiday romance: My Christmas Angel. 

(Check out my new cover from the amazing Rogenna Brewer.)

DEB_Angel_w-100_72dpi(1600x2560)AMAZON  BN  Smashwords 

Here’s a snippet from My Christmas Angel:

…Lunch with Dickie? It sounded like a title to another book. Mystery? Fantasy? Romance? She was both tempted and terrified. So many of her dreams had turned out far different from what she’d imagined. Her marriage, for one. “I’ve thought about you often over the years, Dickie. I have so many questions. Is your mother still alive? What do you do for a living? Are you married? Do you have kids? Where did–“

He interrupted her with a good-natured, “Whoa. I tried speed dating once and even it was slower than this. Are you sure you’re an editor and not a police interrogator?”

He knew what she did for a living.

As did anyone who read her published bio.

“I’d planned to cover all this at lunch tomorrow. Would you settle for a condensed synopsis tonight?”

A little editor humor. Clever and smart. She’d always been a sucker for quick-witted men. “Yes.”

“Okay. First, my mother died of breast cancer when I was fourteen. We might have had her longer if she’d had health insurance, but the working poor usually don’t. Her death sealed my fate, in a way.”

Abby didn’t know what that meant, but she mumbled, “I’m so sorry.”

“Me, too. I loved her very much. Luckily, Latisha and her husband took me in. He’s a successful plastic surgeon…retired, now. They lived in White Plains at the time, and both their children attended a private school. Latisha enrolled me, too. I call this my second life-changing gift. I studied hard, earned some scholarships and wound up at Harvard.”

“Wow,” she exclaimed. “Good for you, Dickie—I mean, Richard.”

“Dickie,” he repeated, his tone wistful. “No one has called me that for a long time. What about you, Abigail? What little I know is from your online bio and the paragraph in the back of your book. Congratulations, by the way. I’m honored to know a real live author.”

“A one-book-wonder kind of author,” she corrected. “I’m an editor by trade and inclination. My Christmas Angel was a fluke. A memory that stayed in my head until I finally put it on paper and set it free.” Embarrassment heated her cheeks. “I was at the right place at the right time. I take it you’ve read the book?”

“Yes. Last month at Thanksgiving. My niece bought a copy for her daughter and couldn’t help noticing some similarities to the story I tell of my most memorable Christmas.” He laughed. “Actually, her exact words were, ‘Uncle Richard, some lady stole your story. You should sue her.'”

The thought had crossed Abby’s mind, too, but her publisher had assured her nobody could copyright an idea. “You remembered that night? Enough to tell people about it?”

“Yes, although my version is a little different. My hardworking mom couldn’t afford to pass up the tips at the local diner on Christmas Eve, so, even though it was my sixth birthday, she sent me off with a Good Samaritan white social worker to celebrate with strangers at a strange house.”

“Oh, my,” Abby said. “I never thought how scared you must have been.”

“I wasn’t scared. Not after I met you.”

“Me?”

“You. A little girl with long braids and a big heart who gave me a gift that changed my life.”

She swallowed hard. “I hate to break this to you, Dickie, but I didn’t give you that bear. My mother did.”

“I know, Abigail. I wasn’t stupid, just poor. And I could see how much you wanted it, which, not surprisingly, made it all the more special. As I tell my grandnieces and nephews, that bear was the first gift I ever received from someone outside my immediate family. It became my most treasured possession. I slept with it every night until I went to college. It went with me, then, too, but never left my drawer.”

“Wise choice.”

“I thought so.”

There was a slight pause. She sensed he was choosing his words with care. “I still have him, of course. On a shelf in my office. He’s a little worse for wear, but obviously well-loved and when I look at him I’m reminded of your true gift.”

Abby couldn’t find the breath to ask.

“That night, you saw me, Abigail. Not some poor little black kid your father tolerated and your mother felt an obligation to feed. For the first time in my life, I felt special. Unique. In your eyes, I was a Christmas angel. If you and God believed that, then anything in the world was possible. Can you imagine what a gift unfettered hope could be for a child from the projects?”

Her throat was tight with unshed tears. “No,” she whispered, intending to set the record straight. How could he possibly attribute his grace and goodness to her when he’d shared those gifts with her–not the other way around?

Merry, merry, my dear ones!

Deb

Debra Salonen…publisher

Yes, folks, it’s official. I have gone to the dark side. I’m now a publisher. My very first original eBook–a short story titled “A Hundred Years or More” is for sale at the Kindle store. http://www.amazon.com/dp/B004XNOV6O And let me tell you being a publisher is no picnic. You have to deal with crazy authors…like me.

Here’s my e-pub saga:

Thank heavens for friends! My pal and Novelist, Inc. roomie, Laurin Wittig, gave me a step-by-step cheat sheet on How-To-Self-Pub.

First step: get a cover.

So, I contacted my Superromance writing buddy, Kim Van Meter. Kim is fast and fabulous. I sent her my short story (it’s only 11 pages) and she sent me two awesome choices. I picked the one you see above. Isn’t it amazing? Captures the wistful, looking-out-the-window-at-life quality I didn’t even know I wanted for the cover. Yeah, Kim!!!

Then, came the tricky part: uploading my text.

Amazon/Kindle is very user-friendly, but like Smashwords (a step I’m still working on, Laurin), it works BEST with MS-Word. Unfortunately, I don’t have Word on my Mac. I can save a text file as a Word document, but I can’t edit as a Word document. Kim helped, bless her heart, but I missed a key step in the process (review!!!) and my first publishing effort was not a pretty sight. (This is where working with neurotic authors comes into play.)

The author (me) cheerfully, optimistically opens her Kindle app, types in the title of the story: “A Hundred Years or More,” pays the 99-cents, waits while it loads, then FREAKS OUT! The publisher (me) uploaded the wrong cover (the prototype, not the beautiful finished product) AND the text appeared without paragraphs. No paragraphs! The formatting was wrong. The publisher screwed up. The author was irate. The author’s husband laughed. It was not a good morning.

Thankfully, both mistakes were easily fixed once Kindle finished the uploading process and let me back into the program to make the changes. Finally–48 hrs from start to finish–my short story and cover were up.

I haven’t been on the Kindle boards, yet, but word is spreading and I’ve started getting some lovely reviews. My favorite is from a high school classmate of mine who actually bought his son a parrot and lived through some of the same experiences.

And, there’s a cool feature that both writers and publishers like about Kindle: you can check your sales daily…maybe hourly (I’m afraid to go there) and Kindle posts your ranking against other books in your category. (I think they have ranking for everything.) Currently, my book is number 3 on one of their lists. If you want to see how esoteric the category you’re just going to have to check it out yourself. I’m #3. That’s good enough for me. LOL.

So, what does this publishing business mean in terms of Deb Salonen books and writing? Well, I’ve hired a new web-mistress to help me re-vamp my current website. My first goal is to create a page devoted to my new e-pub projects. I plan to post all the great comments many of you–my first beta-readers–gave me after pre-viewing this story, along with photos of pet parrots, if anybody would like to contribute.

Here’s a great shot–not Captain Jack, but gorgeous none-the-less–from my pal Jackie Maxwell. www.jaximages.com

And, I’m currently putting the finishing touches on another short story. It’s title is: Gator. What’s with me and animal themes, right? LOL. Actually, I call this one: “A short story about love…or something like it.”  Poor Kim’s going to have her work cut out for her to come up with a great cover for this quirky little story, which actually took “First Place” in a short story contest many moons ago.

I know a lot of people aren’t thrilled about the whole e-book revolution, but for authors the medium provides a wonderful opportunity to find a home for those odd, little pieces that demand to be written but don’t fit with the average publishing houses. (Remember Saturday Evening Post and McCall’s? I used to love reading their short stories.)

I loved writing “A Hundred Years or More.” It came to me as one of the pure, sit-and-write pieces that only required transcribing. At first, I thought it might be the synopsis of a bigger story–and maybe, someday, it might–but for now, Captain Jack’s story was the perfect vehicle to explore my options and give publishing a try. And, frankly, if you can handle the crazy author-types, publishing’s not a bad gig.

Deb