Super Bowl Appetizers: Easy Sausage Balls & Guacamole


1  16 oz. package of bulk sausage.    ( I used Bob Evans regular)

2 C  shredded cheddar cheese

2 C Bisquick  or other biscuit baking mix.  (don’t use regular flour)

Waxed paper

 1. Place all the ingredients in a large bowl.

2.      Mix on medium speed with a mixer or until well blended if mixing by hand.  The mixture will be wet, but not sticky to the touch.   sausage balls 1

3.      Break off half-dollar sized pieces and roll I the palm of your hand until it forms a small ball about 1 inch in diameter.  Set out on waxed paper.  Repeat for the remaining dough.  Depending on how big you make the balls, you will get 40- 54.  sausage balls 2

4.      Freeze in zipper bags until ready to bake.

5.      Preheat oven to 375.  Bake on a cookie sheet for 15 minutes, turning over half way through.

These savory bites are guaranteed to be a hit as a quick and easy appetizer or for breakfast with pancakes or waffles.  You can enjoy them as is, or try them the way my niece eats them, dipped in maple syrup.


With another Super Bowl weekend on its way, instead of loading up on greasy wings and fried everything, try a delicious alternative: SUPER BOWL GUACAMOLE.  This recipe is an easy one for the kids to make, and even picky eaters should like its mild taste. The following recipe ingredients are for ONE ripe avocado, which will serve two people. Double, triple or quadruple the amounts based on how many people will be sharing.

Peel one ripe avocado and remove the pit. Mash the avocado in a medium sized bowl until chunky.  Mince 1T of onion (or sprinkle onion powder if you don’t like raw onions), and 2T of chopped fresh tomato.  I used cherry tomatoes in the photo. Squeeze a dash of fresh lemon and just a light sprinkle of salt. Mix together.   (See photo)   guacamole recipe

Serve it with corn chips, tortilla chips or like brushetta…with toasted slices of french bread brushed with garlic. This is sooo good, you can even use it as a spread for a turkey sandwich or wrap.

It’s filling, nutritious, and tasty.  Be sure to have some extra avocados on hand.  Ever time I make this, people ask for seconds.  Feel free to experiment with adding a splash of hot sauce or diced pepper if you like to kick things up a bit.  What makes this recipe so good, is that you can add lots of things to the avocado without ruining the flavor.  Taste as you go so you don’t over do it.

Happy Super Bowl eating.


NJSCBWI Conference Date – Book Award Winners

Writing and Illustrating

njscbwilogocroppedMany have been emailing to ask if I knew the date for the NJ SCBWI 2014 Summer Conference. You may have received an email from Leeza Hernandez the other day, but just in case you didn’t see it the date is Saturday, June 28 & Sunday, June 29.

Registration will open on March 22nd. It will be held at the same Conference Center we’ve used for the last three years.


Most of you already know that the American Library Association met this week and announced the 2014 youth media award winners.

A list of all the 2014 award winners follows:

midwinter260** John Newbery Medal for the most outstanding contribution to children’s literature: “Flora & Ulysses: The Illuminated Adventures,” written by Kate DiCamillo, is the 2014 Newbery Medal winner. The book is published by Candlewick Press.

Four Newbery Honor Books also were named:

1. “Doll Bones,” written by Holly…

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Interview With YA Authors Natalie Zaman and Charlotte Bennardo

I met Natalie Zaman and Charlotte Bennardo (Nat and Char) at the NJSCBWI Conference in June 2011.  Their first YA SIRENZ debuted with Flux Books.  Since then, they’ve collaborated on a sequel SIRENZ BACK IN FASHION and on a new story  BLONDE OPS due out May 6, 2014 from Thomas Dunne/St. Martins.

In addition to co-authoring these entertaining and popular novels, each writes stories and novels independently.  They also conduct wonderful workshops on SWAG and how to market your books, and writing.

Char lives with her family, two cats, and a crazy squirrel in New Jersey. She writes MG, YA and NA novels, and is represented by Natalie Lakosil of the Bradford Literary Agency. She’d love to hear from readers, writers, and fans.    (Photo right)     char

Natalie writes and works her magic from central New Jersey where she lives with her family and several fine looking chickens.

Nat purple 011114

I am so excited to be interviewing both of you. My first “writing team”.  How did your collaboration come about?

We became friends when Nat joined Char’s critique group. Getting together often with mutual friends who are also NJSCBWI members, we’d talk about our projects, what was being published, what was popular—which at the time, was Twilight. One afternoon while sitting by Char’s pool, the topic of Twilight came up and we were like, “we can do that!” And we started batting ideas around.

How long have you worked together?  The first draft of Sirenz was complete in 2008, so we’re going on 6 years!

SIRENZ and SIRENZ BACK IN FASHION are a modern day retelling of the characters from Mythology.  How did you come up with this idea?

During our brainstorming session on that fateful day by the pool we lamented about how many vampire books were already out there—and then somehow Xena Warrior Princess came up—we loved how the characters, especially the gods and goddesses were all gorgeous and the story-lines so fun and campy. Hades automatically presented himself as our bad-boy. Someone needed to be beholden to him—or as it worked out, someone(S)—we also knew that there would be two main characters.

Sirenz final                                    Sirenz Back in Fashion FINAL

You have a new book coming out. BLONDE OPS. This is a break from the SIRENZ series. What’s it about?

Blonde Ops was pitched as “The Devil Wears Prada” meets “James Bond” for teens. Bec is a 16-year-old hacker girl, thrown out of private school (again), gets sent to mom’s friend in Rome to finish academic year. Working as an intern on a fashion magazine, she explores the ancient city on the back of model-worthy Dante’s Vespa, and uses her hacking skills to find out more about the mysterious blogger Taj so she can stop whoever’s making a threat against the visiting First Lady.

Where did the idea for this originate?  Will it be a series as well?

This project is a work for hire—our editors gave us the premise (essentially our answer to the last question), and we developed the characters, storyline, setting and everything else. Fingers crossed, Bec will have more adventures!

Tell us about your process.  Are you physically together when you write?  Who does what?

In Sirenz and Sirenz Back In Fashion, the first person point of view switches from Meg (Nat’s character) to Shar (Char’s character). We outlined the action and consequences so the plot would flow and be cohesive. Once the basic outline was finished, we’d take turns writing chapters, back and forth, back and forth until we had five completed. Then we’d sit down and smooth over the ‘chunk.’

For BLONDE OPS, we had to change our strategy because there’s only one main character, one point of view. First we outlined the book according to what our editors wanted (we have two editors for this project!). Once we started writing, we worked in chunks again. Char would rough draft chapters up to an agreed point and send them to Nat who would revise and add. Then we would both re-read and smooth out the text, then move onto the next chunk until it was finished. Once the book was complete we had several rounds of revisions with the editors before it was finalized.

Nat: Finish this sentence: The best thing about writing with Char is that it has, and continues to build my skills and my confidence as a writer. Before we wrote Sirenz, I didn’t think I’d be able to write a full length novel, but working with Char changed all that. The experience keeps bringing wonderful things my way (and I hope it’s mutual!)!

Char: If it weren’t for Nat I would have missed the fun and thrill of seeing SIRENZ published, and experiencing BEA, trips to NYC, laughing over the humor in the SIRENZ books. It was a wonderful experience.

You’re both working on solo projects.  Tell us about them.

Char: I’m working on several manuscripts. A ghost story and a medical paranormal is with my agent (needing work), and my current editing project is a sci fi which was last year’s NaNoWriMo project. I did NaNo this year, but that manuscript will be at least two years in editing.

Nat: I have a bunch of projects large and small that I’m working on: Non-fiction articles and a book proposal, and two historical science fiction/fantasy YA projects that are in different stages of revision. And then there are ideas that are in the queue. It’s good to always have something to work on.

If you could meet a character from Greek Mythology, who would it be and why?   Who would be your crush?

Char: It depends if it’s traditional Greek Mythology, or ours, because we put a little spin on the characters. Our Hades is suave, but slick, a bad boy with a vulnerability. He has all the most interesting people from history in his realm so I’d love to visit and look around. If it’s the traditional pantheon, then I’d say Poseidon—I think he’d be the least dangerous to a poor fragile mortal like me. And my crush- Hercules or Perseus because being half human, we’d have more in common (and they could fill me in on the gossip circulating on Olympus!)

Nat: I’m on a bit of a monster-kick at the moment. I think it would be cool to hang out with a Cyclops, or maybe the Kraken, or Medusa (I bet she’s misunderstood. And I like snakes). Crush? How about a centaur? It’d be a good match—I’m a Sagittarius!

What might readers be surprised to know about you?

Char: I can be reckless. I cross busy NYC streets against the light (I run fast!), I love roller coasters, skiing, want to skydive, and would love the chance to go into outer space.

Nat: All that purple? It’s really grey. Seriously.

What’s your best advice for those who are thinking of collaborating on a project?

Char: Know that it’s not for everyone. If you find it hard to compromise on an idea, hate other people editing your work, and can’t adapt to how your partner works, it’s a failed project. Agree to disagree. Promise that if an editor or agent or your crit group says to lose something, you’ll do it and not grudgingly. Know when to take a breather.

Nat: Communicate communicate communicate—this means talking and listening. Each of you will bring your unique strengths to a project, but there can be no superlatives in a successful partnership. There is no I in team ♥

What’s the most surprising thing that’s happened since you brought the SIRENZ into the world?

Char: When I was signing books at PAYA (Pennsylvania Loves YA) in 2012, a young man started reading his mother’s copy, and before he left, told me “I love this book!” My first male fan!

Nat: That my mom (she’s 86, bless her) actually read Sirenz and Sirenz Back In Fashion.

Any last comments/thoughts?

Char: Read anything and everything! Try a new genre, a new author, give the less well-known authors a chance, you may discover a new favorite.

Nat: Never never never never never never quit. Sometimes you’re gonna want to, and it’s understandable—when you put your art out there, you’re putting your soul out there. As thick as my skin is, I’m still vulnerable when it comes to rejection. Give yourself a day to mourn—and then get right back out there.

Great words for all of us struggling writers to hear.  Thanks so much for joining me.  You ladies really are Sirenz…in the best possible way!

Blonde OpsIf you’d like to learn more about Nat and Char’s writing, their books or how to contact them:  




Twitter  @charbennardo        FB: Charlotte Bennardo

Blog: Author on the Loose (

Charlotte Bennardo on Instagram          And info on


Buy Links:    ISBN: 9781250030399 (HC)         ISBN: 9781466849884 (ebook)


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EBOOKS:    Kindle

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Top 10 Things Picture Books Taught Me by Beth Shaum

Love this post and the books reviewed in it!

Nerdy Book Club

What “counts” as reading? Well it turns out that lots of people have an opinion on that question, or more accurately, what doesn’t count as reading. Here’s what I’ve been told doesn’t count as reading, either explicitly or implicitly:

  • Picture books
  • Audiobooks
  • Graphic novels
  • YA lit
  • Choice reading in class
  • Anything other than the canon of old, dead white guys
  • Anything a kid might actually enjoy

As recently as just a couple weeks ago, I was celebrating the number of books I’d read in 2013 and someone told me that picture books don’t “count” as books. I probably shouldn’t have been so indignant about such a statement since only a few years ago, I felt the same way. But thanks to this wonderful community of readers known as Nerdy Book Club, I have since seen the light.

So often picture books are looked upon as a lesser form of reading…

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Children’s Literature – In 10 Objects…

Sommer Reading


It’s a snow day! School is cancelled, and I’m having a cozy day catching up on my reading – magazine articles from my “to read” stack, e-mails, and even a real book. My husband is reading a book called The First World War in 100 Objects. And we were just talking about how many of these “history through objects” books there are: The Beatles in 100 Objects, A History of the World in 100 Objects, The Smithsonian’s History of America in 101 Objects, and lots of others for the list-oriented reader.

Naturally, I began thinking about important objects in children’s books. I don’t have time to list 100, but if I was limited to 10 significant and influential items in children’s books, I would choose:

Max’s Wolf Suit (Where the Wild Things Are by Maurice Sendak)

Max’s suit is his bridge between Home and the Wild Things. If…

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Today’s post is from guest blogger Cindy Williams Schrauben on a new way to approach writing reports or essays for school projects.  Here’s Cindy:


by Cindy Williams Schrauben

So, you have to write a report, huh? What do you think of when you hear that word… report? Do you start to sweat? Does your brain go into panic mode, sending flashing lights from your eyes and steam out of your ears?

The idea of writing an essay, composition, story, report, whatever you want to call it, doesn’t have to make you crazy. If you learn the process, you might actually enjoy it. Or at least not hate it so much.

How ?  By learning to take it one step at a time. Instead of thinking, “I have to get this three page paper done today,”  think, “I need to complete step #1 in the next hour: get some ideas down on paper. Period.”

I know, everyone tells you that you must have a goal. And that’s true, BUT, those goals can be broken into smaller goals to make them less overwhelming. When you concentrate on the end goal alone, you don’t enjoy the process, which leads to an unbelievably rotten experience and usually a pretty boring story.

I know what you’re thinking… “I just want to get this story done and turn it in. I’m not doing this for fun.”  So, I’m going to give you a few suggestions on how to make writing easier and more enjoyable.

 I call the technique Polymorphic Brainstorming – haha, just kidding. All it means is that your ideas are coming from many places and take many forms. Let’s call it Brainblasting. This process works really well for creative stories, but will help with anything you write. It definitely won’t work if you start at nine o’clock the night before the paper is due, though. Hint: start early!

 We’ll begin with brainstorming. If you are ready for this stage, you already know your topic, the form your writing will take, and your audience. Now, for the fun part.

Let’s pretend your topic is about animals that live in the jungle.

What’s the first thing you do to start gathering ideas? You go directly to the web or library and look for facts, am I right? STOP! Step out of that box, first, and try this, instead.

Step #1 – Jot down what you already know. And what you want to know.

Step #2 – Experience the jungle and the animals that live there: Okay, you probably can’t take a visit to the jungle, so give these a try instead: videos, photos, music, fun books. Jot down anything that comes to mind as you do. I love to look at YouTube videos or Google images to help me get rolling. To really get into the jungle, you could even study the best story tellers out there and watch Disney’s Tarzan movie (fun homework, huh?). Watch, carefully, and ask yourself some questions:

What do I see?  What would it sound or smell like to be there? How do the animals move? What colors do I see? How does the music make me feel?

Use as many senses as possible. Movies and picture books often magnify important information. As readers we are told to visualize a story while we read; the setting, characters, etc. As a writer you should help the reader with details and language that will help them “see, feel, hear, smell or even taste” the story.

Remember, at this point, you just need ideas, impressions, and observations, they don’t need to be organized or developed. You might not use all of your ideas, in fact, you probably won’t, but they will help put your mind in the right place.

Step #3 – Now, look for facts in the normal places – they’re important too, of course.

Step #4 – Stop and do something physical to get your juices flowing and let your ideas soak in before you start to write. Shoot some hoops, take a run, whatever. Sometimes taking a step back from your writing is the best thing you can do.

Have you ever been interrupted in the middle of a video game? You were frustrated, right? Sometimes, when you go back, though, you see something – a solution or a move – that was there all the time, but you were too engrossed in the game to see it. The same thing is true of writing – you can’t “see” what you need to write next because your brain is bogged down in the details. Step back, take a break and come back with fresh eyes.

The most important thing to remember, before you go any further, is this: don’t try to write, revise, and edit your paper in one sitting.  I know that’s what you want to do. I was just like you once. And I hated to write. Now? I can’t go a day without writing. I learned to take it one step at a time and challenge myself. If you go at it with different eyes, you just might surprise yourself and enjoy it, at least a little!                cindy photo

As a former educator, magazine editor/writer, Cindy is consumed by a life-long passion for the written word. Following her belief that books can guide and nurture a child for the rest of his or her life, she is now embarking on a journey to write for children.  It is her desire to facilitate a love for books in her readers. Her projects range from picture books to young adult novels as well as adult non-fiction. Writing for children also provides her with another excuse to spend time in the children’s section of the bookstore.

            Cindy is a member of SCBWI and will be attending its Annual Winter Conference in New York City in February. She participates in many online writing communities including 12×12 Gold, PiBoIdMo, WOW Non-fiction, and WriteOnCon, taking advantage of the wealth of knowledge and expertise that her fellow authors have to offer.

            You can find Cindy on twitter @CindySchrauben and at her blog The Journey of Writing for Kids at

A Winter Dream Tree Grows in Jersey

I love this idea of a Dream Tree!

Nerdy Chicks Rule

threetrees_blogOur living room Christmas decorations seemed extra twinkly this year with three trees. When I put them away, I missed the sparkle of little lights and the cheeriness of ornaments. The dark spot left by the put-away Christmas trees reminded me that last winter felt especially gloomy, both meteorlogically and emotionally. Normally, the inside warmth of my home during winter feels cozy and creative. But not last year, for some reason. So this year, to fend off any doldrums, I put up a Winter Dream Tree.

Inspired by artist Barbara Johansen Newman’s yearly holiday tree and artist Polly Law’s vision tree, I cut branches from a dead Japanese Andromeda shrub (I had mourned the loss of its life, so I was thrilled to find it a new life) and arranged them in a pitcher of stones.

At first I intended the tree to be a Vision Tree. How many of…

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Super Simple Squash Soup

One proven way to get your children to eat more veggies is to have them grow, shop for and help prepare vegetables for meals.  This easy recipe will give them a chance to try some squash in a delicious and easy to eat way: soup.  This recipe calls for one 3lb butternut squash to be peeled, seeded and cut into chunks.  A visit to most grocery stores will eliminate this step. Cubed squash is available in the produce section ready to use.

Use either leeks or an onion that you dice.  Soften the onion in a pot with a T of olive oil.  Add the prepared squash, 3 C milk, 3 C water, and salt and pepper to taste. 

squash soup 2Bring to a boil and let simmer for 25-30 minutes, or until the squash is soft enough to mash with a fork.

Using a blender or food processor, puree the soup in batches until it is smooth.  It may be thick.  You can thin it with milk or water to your liking.  Add salt and pepper if needed and sprinkle with nutmeg.  To serve, ladle into bowls and garnish with diced apple and a few chopped walnuts if desired.  It is also fine just the way it is.  This soup tastes best hot and can be stored in the fridge for a few days.  It also freezes well.  Make a big batch and save some for another day.                                                                        squash soup 1

David and Goliath?

Here’s a great post on how to support indie bookstores.

Writing and Illustrating

lena shiffman

I thought this snowy January Night illustration sent in by Lena Shiffman was a good fit with this post. Put on those boots and take your bag and buy a book at an indiebound bookstore. Lena was featured on Illustrator Saturday on January 22, 2011.

Leslie Zampetti who has been a guest blogger on Writing and Illustrating wrote me last week and asked if I would reblog her post on Rear in Gear ( She said, “I’m really on board with supporting indie bookstores, and I don’t think people are aware of how much they can do – even over the web.” I think we all are sad when an independent book store has to close it’s doors, so I am reblogging her post to give us all food for thought.

I buy tons of books for my Kindle, because it is fast, cheap, and convenient. If I am…

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I Have a Dream…of Service to Others.

To celebrate and honor the memory of Reverend Dr. Martin Luther King, take a day sometime next week and be of service to someone.  You don’t have to spend money, just your time.  What you give will pale in comparison to what you and your children will receive.  Here are a weeks worth of suggestions for how to serve.

1. Read stories to children at local hospitals. You can also play simple games with them.

2. Help a senior learn the computer.  Or help her do chores around the house.

3. Gather up your old toys and donate them to a local shelter, preschool or after school program.

4. Clean up your favorite park by bagging up trash and recyclables for proper disposal.

5. Visit your local animal shelter and adopt an animal for the day (or longer…sometimes they’re so hard to resist).

6. Sing songs, play instruments or perform simple skits at a local senior housing facility.  Many seniors are lonely and really enjoy having young people around.  You could also play cards or board games with them.

7. Make cookies and give them away to someone who might be in need of company.  Bring along some hot chocolate and have an impromptu party.

Children learn to be gracious and of service when we practice generosity. No money required.  Give your time to others…the gift that keeps on giving.