Thank you, 2 more recipes from Hycymum, and free magnets

Free downloads last weekend went great! Thank you for spreading the word. I’ve heard from a lot of new readers, and that’s always exciting.

Hycymum’s also been busy with me in the kitchen, and we’ve figured out Banana Bread (gluten free, dairy free, and fat free), and Chocolate Chip Cookies (gluten free, egg free, dairy free). Click on the recipes to go to the site.

banana bread sliced chocolate chip cookie

Why did I not know before that you can replace eggs with good old cornstarch and water?! I feel like the world has been keeping this a secret from me, but now I need to bake everything one more time with cornstarch/water and see how it goes. So far the cookies were a huge and happy surprise!

033Remember, if you want the magnets, I need you to PLEASE send me your address. I won’t use your address for anything else but the magnets, I promise. I’ve had a few requests but I don’t know where to send them.

In the form below, tell me you WANT MAGNETS and GIVE ME YOUR ADDRESS in the “comment” box. Thank you!

Free Downloads! All four books!

This will probably be the very last free download I’ll host. After this I’ll be publishing in other venues, and Amazon’s policy is one of exclusivity in order to offer free downloads. I feel like I’ve gotten as much as I can out of this, but I wanted to offer the books for free one last time before moving on.
So enjoy!
My last free downloads garnered more than 15,000 downloads, and I’d love to top that!

Click on the books in the column (scroll down a few inches) to go directly to Amazon for your free downloads. =====>

Remember, you can download to your computer, phone, and tablet. Not just for Kindles anymore!

free download ad

I still have a couple sets of magnets left, too, so let me know if you want some for FREE!


Supporting Religious Freedom, everywhere

(I recently updated my About page to reflect what’s below, but I feel so strongly about this that I wanted to share it here as well.)

Astronomers estimate there are 160 billion (yes, with a “b”) alien planets in the universe.

I assert that God created all of them, the entire universe, and that we’re not the only ones floating around in this massive existence knowing about our Creator. (See Hebrews 11:3 or Moses 1:33)

So what might life be like on just one of those 160 billion worlds? What might God’s Plan of Salvation look like on another planet?

universe picture

(In the summer I look up into the night sky, slightly northeast from my position, and I’ve pinpointed a star which I think may be Edge’s sun. But please don’t ask me to map it.)

That idea is what drove me to write the “Forest at the Edge” series, to explore how God’s gospel might be manifested in another part of the universe.

So far I haven’t found any genre of literature which tackles this point of view, so I’ve struggled finding the correct niche for my books.

The books are “fantasy,” but there’s no magic or mythical creatures;
The books are “Christian,” but Christ isn’t overtly mentioned because He didn’t live on their planet;
The books are not, however, “sci-fi” because there’s no speculative science in them, although exploring life on another world seems to fit the bill.

See my problem?

I’ve always been intrigued by the notion of different cultures and different worlds. My kids will tell you I’m a Trekkie at heart. (Some years ago I made all of them matching Star Trek uniforms for Halloween.) But I’ve always been a bit disappointed that no sci-fi/fantasy world I’ve encountered ever has God. Yes, they have “god(s)” created by their culture, but I have to find a sci-fi/fantasy series or show which dares to touch the real God with a 10-foot-planet. (C. S. Lewis’s The Chronicles of Narnia is the only one I know of that comes close.)

So I’m out here writing about a Christian society which originates, lives, and dies on a planet somewhere else than earth. And oh, is it fun!

What would a God-directed creation look like on another planet? How would He populate another world? What kinds of limits, terrain, people would be there? What would their belief systems look like?

I think they’d look a lot like ours.

I wholly trust that there is life on other planets, but aliens aren’t creepy blobs or elongated masses with telepathy, or even possessing Spock-like ears. “Aliens” look just like us: human beings made in the image of our shared Father in Heaven. (Animals, however, may likely be very different than our earth’s, but I’m not creative enough to come up with those so I stole earth’s animals for my series).

I think our spiritual siblings on other worlds experience trials and tests, frustrations and fears, happiness and holiness quite the same as us. That’s because God’s plan of salvation is the same everywhere in the universe, because He is the same everywhere. As philosopher Pierre Teilhard de Chardin has famously said,

“We are not human beings having a spiritual experience. We are spiritual beings having a human experience.” (I would add, either on this world or one of millions others.)

At the heart of that human experience is the test of our wills. What do we want more: to follow God and His will for us, or to follow after our own impulses? And at the root of that is our ability to choose what we worship, how we live, and what we pursue.

But as I’ve been writing this series, something fascinating has happened: each year those choices become more restricted by those who would control us.

When I started drafting this series back in 2010 I couldn’t have comprehended how much American society would change in the following five years. Future books seven and eight describe a world which frankly terrifies me, and it seems we’re running headlong to that end in our world. (I’m not pretending to be a prophet; I’ve merely read the book of Revelation a dozen times for ideas. That John the Beloved really knows what he’s talking about.)

As a result, much of the “Forest at the Edge” series pivots upon this declaration:

“Make your decisions as to what to embrace, but let me embrace my belief.” ~Perrin Shin, The Forest at the Edge of the World, Book 1

In 1836 a prophetic man wrote the following words: “We claim the privilege of worshiping Almighty God according to the dictates of our own conscience, and allow all men the same privilege: let them worship how, where, or what they may.” (emphasis added)

Suddenly I realize that what I’m writing is about supporting religious freedom. Today, in 2015, I declare that our freedom to “worship how, where, or what [we] may” will soon be under hot and direct fire. Denying people their ability to worship is the first step to imposing a tyranny. Tyrants, being merely well-funded bullies, are stealing away our ability to control our lives one little liberty at a time.


I don’t like bullies. I had my share of them in gradeschool. Sometimes it’d be nice to retreat to the very edge of the world and hide from them. But now’s not the time to run away. Now’s the time to take a stand. I only wished I were as brave as Mahrree who declares without reservation:

“I will defend the right for any one to question any thing. Each person has the right to find her own answers and believe as she wishes!”
~Mahrree Shin, Falcon in the Barn, Book 4

I’m warning you right now, the world truly is out to get you.

Excuse me, but your ignorance is showing

Recently a mother of an autistic son in the Salt Lake Valley found the following stickers on her car around her Autistic Child sign:

autism stickers car

Love the random capitalization on the stickers. Hey, let’s make this letter big, just for fun!

What caught my eye, however, was this sticker. Exactly what’s this supposed to mean?


Uhh . . . what?

It means that the perpetrator is embarrassingly ignorant, on many levels.
Ignorant of autism.
Ignorant of appropriate behavior. (Stickering someone’s car? Really? That may be considered vandalism unless it’s a wedding.)
Ignorant of the English language.

There are marvelous and cringe-worthy examples of ignorance everywhere. A few samples I gleaned from the Internet:


I guess “euthanasia” was too hard to spell?

Image result for bad protest signs

What we call “irony.”

Image result for bad protest signs

So they’re hoping for many years of the same thing?

Image result for bad protest signs

Strange, I haven’t seen “half-breed muslin” at my fabric store. (And does it look like that “d” was an afterthought?)

I’m trying to decide what causes such public ignorance. Does passion for the movement cause one to forget how to punctuate, or even spell?

Or does one protest because they are ignorant?

Of course, ignorance isn’t confined merely to those who protest, nor are all protestors ignorant. Some actually know what they’re talking about.


Ok, maybe not.

But some people, it seems, never know what they’re talking about. Back in the 1980s we were newlyweds, and my husband whisked me back to “the east.” I was worried, because I had this ignorant notion that all east coast people were sophisticated, smart, and sharp. I, however, was just a little doofus from the west. How would I ever communicate?

Then I met a young man who asked what my maiden name was. When I told him Strebel, and that my parents were immigrants from Germany after WWII, he developed this odd smirk and said, “So your family were Nazis?”

I was shocked.
Worse than that, I was livid! The Nazis had ruined my families’ lives. My ancestors fought the Nazis!

I started explain that, but the young man just waved me off and said, “Yeah, you’re all Nazis.”

My new husband pulled me away, knowing there was no reasoning with ignorance.

Image result for bad protest signs

Look at her face. This is not a happy woman. Probably because she’s outraged that she doesn’t know what “you’re” means.

I’ve thought frequently about that incident over the years, and subsequent others. Back in the 1980s when I was working at a trendy clothing shop on the “sophisticated” east coast, one of my coworkers, upon learning I was LDS (a Mormon), said, “Oh, my dad said your husband can have all the wives he wants, that you belong to a cult, and that you drive horses. How come they let you out to work here?”

Oh, where to start! After an hour’s discussion trying to dispell all of that, she still regarded me suspiciously. She knew the truth, or at least liked her ignorance more than she liked my explanations.

Sounds like hell will be pretty full. I know Mormons like me are doomed, but sports nuts are damnable? I was ignorant of that.

Finding the truth was harder 25+ years ago. We didn’t have the Internet. We had to make some effort to visit libraries, read newspapers, or watch the TV news or a documentary. (Really, I’m not trying to sound sarcastic here.)

But today there’s no excuse for ignorance. We have so many resources about anything and everything, and all for free.

And maybe that’s the problem: for every drop of credible information out there, you can find a flood of rumor and nonsense. There are no fact finders on meme generators, our society’s new bumper stickers of truth. Anyone can create anything, and those who “think” they know won’t bother to research the truth.

Actually, these pyramids were built by paid workers, and by farmers and villagers who volunteered during the off season believing that their labor would help ensure their own afterlife. No slaves were harmed in the building of these pyramids.

I’ve discovered something about the ignorant: they’re afraid.
Afraid they may be wrong.
Afraid they won’t recognize the truth when they see it.
Afraid to change their attitudes.
Afraid to be humble.

Back to my “You’re all Nazis” man. The more I learned about him, the more I realized he was truly ignorant.

He didn’t read, which is the hallmark of ignorance. Not the news, not books, not anything more than bumper stickers, which constituted the bulk of his education.

His little smirk was his signal of fear. I’ve seen this odd trait in many scared people. Either they’re lashing out in a full, terrifying rage, or they’re trying to pretend they’re more confident than they are, hence the smirk. Watch for that, the next time you’re confronted with someone who’s particularly unpleasant. You’ll see their terror cowering behind the smirk. 


Oh, they’re protesting the CHURH. Whew. For a minute there, I thought they were protesting my church.

I feel badly for these people, I really do. There’s no need to be fearful, there’s no reason to remain in ignorance. There’s such a wealth of information in the world, and many good, kind people who would be willing to share what they know with you. 

But that takes humility: recognizing that we don’t know everything, and that we still have much to learn.

Unfortunately, ignorance is exceptionally prideful.

I may be a “mavrik” if I knew what it was. Perhaps you could also explain what a “socialest” is?

New website, free downloads, and still a couple of freebie magnets

3 Really Awesome Things! (Aka, RATs. Oh, wait . . . that’s not looking as appealing as I initially thought. Well, here it is anyway.)

1–She‘s been begging, so I’ve broken down and made Hycymum her own website. She’s been helping me with my gluten-free baking, so I had to oblige her! Click below for her first recipe, and more will be on the way.

NEW header HycymumFLATTENED

2–FREE DOWNLOADS ARE COMING AGAIN! All four books, for five days beginning next week. 

3–I still have a couple sets of magnets to give away. Fill out the form below and I’ll keep sending them out till they’re gone. Tell me “I want magnets!” 


(And yes, I’m happily tapping away and editing Book 5.)

The South Deserves Better than the Confederate Flag

I understand that, not being a native southerner, my opinion about the Confederate flag likely isn’t worth a slice of pecan pie. I was told by the Wal-Mart greeter, when I first moved to rural Virginia, that I was a “Yankee.” There was a slight sneer in her accent when she didn’t hear any drawling from me, and I naively replied, “But I’m from Utah,” a state which wasn’t even officially in existence during the Civil War.

But, as I learned during my six years in the south, “Yankee is Yankee”, so you can discount my opinion, but here’s how one “outsider” sees the Rebel flag.

I don’t understand what it means.
Really, I don’t. My dear husband, who lived in the south for some time, tried to explain that it represented “southern pride” and “states’ rights.” But I grew up where Confederate flags were seen mostly in history books, with the caption “Symbol of the losers of the Civil War,” so I don’t understand the purpose of holding on to it. After I moved, a native Virginian told me, “Southerners, at least once a day, still lament that they lost the War.”

So I asked several of them, “Do you really still resent losing the war? Isn’t it good that the slaves were freed?” I always got a response like this:
“You see, it’s not really about slavery, but . . .” And that’s when all the responses went predictably vague.
“Because the north was forcing things on us, and we didn’t like that,” or, “Because the south has its own kind of pride.”
So then I’d ask, “Why do you still embrace the Confederate flag?”
“Because it represents all we Southerners hold dear.”

When I push for more specific answers—what exactly does it represent, what do southerns hold dear—I was told something like this:
“Pride. It’s a southern thing. You Yanks just don’t understand.”

No matter how many times I explained I was from Utah, and therefore not a “Yank,” I still never got anything more.

And I think I know why: most people don’t ask themselves those hard questions. The flag has just always been there, a tradition. To question a tradition is like questioning if your Grammy really loved you. You don’t do that.

I understand wanting to be proud of one’s heritage, but can’t that be done through any other symbols rather than the Rebel flag? I think Southerners can do much better. In fact, I think they deserve better than that old symbol of a bygone era.

I lived for six years in Virginia and South Carolina, and I met many marvelous people of different faiths, backgrounds, and races. I grew to understand and be grateful for the meaning of “Southern Hospitality,” and I even learned to decipher some of the deeper accents. (Although our excellent hillbilly mechanic was forever unintelligible to me, nor could he understand us. Fortunately he had excellent handwriting.) I made lasting friendships and realized why so many people love the south.

But I never could understand why such good, kind, generous people wanted to be associated with a flag that, for me and likely many others, represented slavery.

Symbols are tricky, tricky things. No one can control how another views a symbol, nor what it may mean to them. I’ll be the first to acknowledge that we frequently misinterpret symbols, and often we become offended when no offense is meant.

But the Rebel Flag is just as its name implies: a symbol of rebellion. Why is rebellion something to celebrate?

Up until my thirties the only exposure I had to the Confederate Flag was in history books and the occasional stickers on trucks out here in the west. The drivers of those vehicles were always . . . shall we say, “unsavory” at best. Usually the trucks were jacked up, rusted out, and filled with what I would describe as angry rednecks wearing baseball hats which look like they were rescued from the dump. These weren’t happy people. They scowled. Always. Or leered, and then they showed a considerable lack of dental hygiene. I’m not trying to fall into a stereotype, but I never saw someone driving such a vehicle and with such a symbol who struck me as having passed the 7th grade.

And so my association of the Confederate flag was always with men who I tried to get away from as quickly as possible in case they asked me a complicated math problem, such as how much change they should give me back at the gas station.

While this is clearly a very narrow evaluation, I also learned to distrust the Confederate flag and what it may represent from my parents.

I’ve mentioned before in this blog that they grew up in Nazi Germany as children, and even in their later years they literally shrank back in fear whenever they saw a swastika or a Nazi flag. Once when I was about twelve we pulled up to a store, and next to us pulled in a couple of bikers with miniature Nazi flags waving from their back seats.

My parents froze.
My mom, suffering at times from PTSD, whispered frantically, “What do they want?”
I was used to my mom escalating quickly to panic, but I was surprised at my dad’s reaction. He, too, refused to leave the car. “I don’t know,” and his voice was shaky as he stared at the flags.
“You don’t think they know we’re German, do you?” my mom asked.
“Nah, of course not.” But still my dad locked the doors at the motorcycle gang guys went into the store.
“But what do they mean by the flags?” my mom worried. “What do they mean?”

Needless to say we didn’t go into that store that day.

Years later I realized that these bikers likely meant nothing more than, “Oh, hey. Here’s a pretty flag that scares people and maybe makes us look tougher. Let’s use it!” without realizing the vast history behind the flag, nor the horrors that the symbol represented.

Interestingly, the swastika is a very old symbol, appearing in for thousands of years in architecture. It’s of sacred importance in Hinduism, Buddhism, and Jainism, almost like a lucky charm.

Until the Third Reich appropriated it in 1920.
Now, for the past 95 years the swastika been the symbol of tyranny and death. My parents regarded it as a symbol of those who tried to control them.

It was my parents who taught me to be equally wary of anyone who embraced the Confederate flag, which they thought was a similar symbol. They had never been to the south, never even met any black people as far as I know, but to them, the Confederate flag was just as tyrannical as the Nazi flag. Out of respect for those who had suffered under slavery, my parents shunned it. They were stunned that many Americans openly displayed the flag.

When my parents came to visit us in Virginia, they were alarmed at the number of rebel flags they saw. “Are you safe here?” they asked repeatedly. I assured them we were, but didn’t tell them that their latest grandson was born in Stonewall Jackson Hospital, where the Confederate Flag was well represented.

On another visit we took them to Charleston, SC for a trip, and my dad wrote in his journal that we toured “the quarters where the slaves were being held before they were sold . . . and it made a deep impression on us. Today these five buildings are occupied by souvenir shops, and people meander through these old structures without giving much thought of their historic significance. We personally felt it would have been better to tear them down!”

You can imagine just how worried they were when we moved to South Carolina for a few months, where once again a child was born in a hospital where that flag flew. Quite honestly, I never felt comfortable in South Carolina. I never could wrap my head around that flag flying proudly, because I was never sure what it really meant. After several years in the south, it still struck me as incongruous compared to the people I knew.

I still remember the very first parade we attended shortly after moving to Virginia. Cadets from nearby Virginia Military Institute presented the colors at the beginning of it, but were soon followed by an entry which shocked our kids.

Confederate and Civil War re-enactors, proudly waving a large Rebel flag.

Immediately my gaze fell upon a black family directly across the street, and I wondered how they felt about what was paraded in front of them.
What did it mean to them? What did it really mean? What did that flag mean to those waving it?
Part of me wanted to run across the road and shield that family’s view, because I thought of the quiet alarm my parents always experienced every time they saw a swastika.

My ten-year-old said, “Dad, why do they have that flag? Don’t they know they lost the war? Slavery was bad.”
My husband once again tried valiantly to explain, “Well, they see it as a symbol of southern pride—”
“Well, pride’s bad, too!” our nine-year-old son said.
My husband gave up trying to explain.

I watched the family across the street deliberately focus elsewhere. Later I realized that they were the only black family there, and while the town had a few minorities, I never saw any of them participating or attending those parades. I didn’t blame them. We quit going after a while, too.

Now that flag is coming down in South Carolina, I breathe a sigh of relief for many who I suspect wondered exactly what it really meant as well.

Southerners deserve to be represented by something better, something that reflects the kindness, generosity, and spirit that all races there exhibit. Therefore, I propose to replace the Rebel flag with something as sweet and rich and good as the south.
I propose . . . the pecan pie flag!

New Southern Flag

I threw this together in five minutes. Surely someone with some skills could come up with an even grander version. And if you think that’s an odd statement for a flag, check out some of the phrases on state flags. This is much, much better.

Here’s something everyone in the south can rally around. But you don’t have to listen to me. I’m only a Utah Yankee.

I worry that America is dying

This is my father’s coffin, July 2, 2015. These are the soldiers folding the flag that covered him.050

And while I watched the ceremony yesterday, I was struck that not only had my father died, but my country is dying, too.

I worry deeply about America. I agree with so many others who have written more eloquently, and angrily, that America is no longer the greatest country in the world.

And that would have broken my father’s heart. It’s odd to put it this way, but I’m grateful that Alzheimer’s took away his mind these past few years so that he couldn’t understand what was happening to the country he proudly became a citizen of 60 years ago. He loved America, but he wouldn’t recognize it today, and I worry about what it will be like in another 60, or even 6, years.

I worry because we are not united.
I’m not naïve; I doubt that this country has ever truly been “united,” aside from a couple of occasions. Once would have been during WWII when outside enemies provided us something to fight against instead of each other.
The second would have been a brief second honeymoon after 9/11 when we realized that our land was under no special protection, that we could be attacked like any old place, and that scared us.
But only for a time.

I worry because we all want to be victims.  
The notion of “freedom” has expanded and contracted in bizarre ways, granting to one segment of society the ability to act and demand anything they wish, while another segment is berated and demonized for nearly anything they express.
The fascinating thing is that every segment of society will claim to have been the one persecuted against. We scramble to cry foul and demand vindication and, hopefully, a huge payoff from a lawsuit.
No one wants to be independent anymore.

I worry because we want revenge.
In the past, in any quest for rights, the group feeling oppression marched and protested and demanded equality. And when they achieved it, they rejoiced.
But not anymore.
Many now want to punish those who they believed oppressed them (whether real or imagined), and drag up old wounds to make new ones. We don’t seem to believe in cooperation, or friendship, or forgiveness, or anything else we should have picked up from Sesame Street (I hesitate to say “church” because that may be deemed “offensive”.) We want to hurt those we believe have–or may in the future–hurt us.
None of us seem to want to break the vengeance cycle that could truly unite and free us.

I worry because we really aren’t free anymore.
Not free in choice of health care, school lunch, minimum wage, or even soda consumption.
Some of us aren’t free to choose to do a job, or to reject that job.
Some of us aren’t allowed to speak our conscience without being labeled or libeled. Many of us worry that our liberties will soon be our liabilities, especially if we express what we believe concerning God and His laws.
Soon what passes as “free speech” may be so tightly constrained that there will be nothing free in any speech anywhere.

I worry because we have become a country of selfish children.
Read stories of our ancestors during the Great Depression, or either of the World Wars. They sacrificed for their families and their neighbors. They knew true poverty. Millions of families–not just a few thousand, but literally millions–sent off husbands and sons to WWII, and over a million were wounded or killed. Food was rationed, as was clothing and shoes and gasoline, and Americans labored willingly to help their country succeed.
Today “sacrifice” is an ugly word, and we whine if we lose wi-fi. Even those who the government has deemed impoverished live with luxuries our grandparents didn’t dare dream of. We insist on being indulged, and “I’m entitled” is the phrase that pays. We’ve become soft and wimpy, and I think our ancestors would be ashamed.

050 cropped

Are we becoming only a reflection of what we used to be?

As I watched the flag suspended over my father’s coffin, the silhouette of it reflecting on the stainless steel (my mother chose their coffins; she loved the glint of silver), I felt that shiver of worry that not only had my father passed from this world, but so also had much of this country which he had loved.

He had emigrated from Germany at the end of WWII. He knew an oppressive society where the leadership demanded complete obedience, where freedoms were restricted, where children were forced into a near worship of the government, and where anyone who spoke against it was carted away to a “work camp” never to be heard from again.

I worry that as the so-called Greatest Generation passes away, so too will our memory of what they endured in totalitarian regimes, and why they fought so hard against them.

And mostly I worry that we’re running headlong into repeating the history we no longer remember.