Jennifer’s Garden Spring Rolls Review

We visit Dollar Tree at least once a month. I rarely look in the refrigerated/freezer case, but a few trips back I did and found Jennifer’s Garden Spring Rolls. We tried one package and then went back and purchased five more. It appears to be a regularly stocked item, so you’re in luck if you get addicted to these.

It’s difficult to beat the price. You get ten small spring rolls for one dollar. Yep, one freaking dollar. Every so often we make a variety of frozen vegetarian snacks for dinner (spring rolls, samosas, cheese sticks, pot stickers, etc.). These spring rolls fit right in with this combo. We usually make half the package, so you kind of get two meals for fifty cents.

I suggest you cook them much longer than the instructions call for (12-15 minutes at 400) because you want the crust to be a deep golden. I have not pan-fried or microwaved them (have my doubts about microwaving).

They have an addictive junk food vibe. You will want the outer crust to be crunchy because, frankly, there’s not much to the interior. And what there is is mushy. The vegetables are more like a paste than whole pieces. I prefer eating the rolls without any sauce, but my wife uses a variety of dipping sauces.

I like them a lot. They’re rich, crunchy, and street-foodish, but only 55 calories. The ingredients are simple: cabbage, carrots, mushrooms, green beans, vermicelli, salt, spice, vegetable oil (palm, peanut, sesame, soy), potato starch, wheat flour, water. The product is manufactured in China and distributed by Food Team International in East Brunswick, New Jersey.

Four out of five stars.

I cannot find a website for the manufacturer. I find that a bit concerning, but I did find a page from the package designer:

While I commend the designer, the package, alas, looks nothing like the actual product.

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There’s a new review of Killing Rosa on Amazon.

“These characters are enticing, just enticing. I want to know what they’re going to do next because frankly, I’ve got no idea! [T]his mystery is complex!

Ms. Kear’s writing is quite simply: clean and well done. It is obvious that her words are well-chosen and highly edited–she has taken the time to make her stories meet the standards of discerning readers (I think I’m one of those!).

I love the character, Larry. He’s larger than life and a fundamental kind of guy who makes things happen.

The mystery winds and weaves and leaves you thinking: huh, I didn’t see that coming!”

Read the entire review here:

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Coursera Update

There’s no way not to sound pompous. I’ve signed up for Write Like Mozart: An Introduction to Classical Music Composition. Considering I barely survived Fundamentals Of Music Theory, this ought to be interesting. I’ve also registered for Songwriting which will start in February. My two most recent Coursera classes, Developing Your Musicianship and Introduction to Guitar, have ended, and I am eager to tackle more classes.

If you have any interest in music, I encourage you to take Developing Your Musicianship with George W. Russell, Jr. He was an absolute delight, and if you’ve never had a teacher you liked, try this guy. The musicianship class helped me understand the music theory course so much better, I wonder if it shouldn’t be a prerequisite. I finally understand intervals and can even play a pretty good chord progression on the keyboard.

I got a lot out of the guitar course, though the instructor’s style (Thaddeus Hogarth) was different from Mr. Russell’s. He had a more laid back personality which I liked, but some students, believe it or not, trashed him on the forums because he didn’t answer every stupid question they asked. Seriously. It’s a freaking free class, folks. Get a grip.

One of the best things about these classes is that I can take them without worrying about my GPA or embarrassing myself. It is so freeing to study a topic that is difficult and maybe even beyond me. I want to learn new things, and with online colleges like Coursera, I can explore classes I’m interested in without being hindered by my incessant fear of failure.

By the way, I’m also thinking about building my own PC in 2015 (does this mean yet another tab on my website?). For years, I’ve been intimidated, but after working on my four-year-old i7 PC this last month or so, I’m thinking that if I read up on it, I might be able to pull it off. I can save money, get the PC I want, and learn something new. Any suggestions are welcome.

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Rainbow Award Winners Announced

Congratulations to Robin Sommers whose book Season of the Wolf was the winning book in the 2014 Rainbow Awards Lesbian Mystery/Thriller category. My book, Killing Rosa, was runner up, along with Rapture, Sins of the Sinners (Fran Heckrotte & A.C. Henley), Tumbledown (Cari Hunter), and Girls Don’t Hit (Geonn Cannon).

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Killing Rosa Is Named Finalist

Killing Rosa, my newest crime fiction novel, was named a finalist in the 2014 Rainbow Awards. The dark, funny novel, a sequel to Black-Hearted Bitch, features complicated hitman Kell Digby in a fast-paced noir.


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Fundamentals of Music Theory

A few days ago I received a Statement of Accomplishment from Coursera for successfully completing the University of Edinburgh’s online offering of the Fundamentals of Music Theory class. Don’t get too excited. While it was a demanding course, my completion was based on getting perfect scores on the five quizzes I took after viewing videos, studying supplemental information, etc.

Again, settle down. The quizzes were multiple choice (mostly), and I was allowed to take each quiz up to five times. I have a Ph.D. and taught college for many years, so, believe me, I know how to take tests.

I had the option of skipping the final exam, and I did. No matter how badly I bombed, my total score was high enough to get me the coveted certificate. Still, I decided, after looking at the final, it was beyond my limited understanding of music theory. In addition, I would have been required to grade three of my fellow classmates’ finals, and I did not want to inflict my “grading” on anyone.

Yes, the final was ridiculous, but I had a blast taking the course and heartily recommend it (or any other Coursera class) to everyone. And I’m not saying this so you too can experience the mental anguish and lost days.

How did I end up taking the class? Some time ago, I hurt my left wrist while repeatedly trying to keep four fingers on four consecutive frets. My stubby, little fingers will never be able to do this, but I stubbornly and stupidly insisted until I developed De Quervain’s tendinosis. It’s a common malady for guitarists and, and oddly enough, middle-aged women. It caused significant pain and made guitar-playing particularly painful, especially when playing power chords.

I used ice, ibuprofen, and a Mueller wrist brace and even stopped playing guitar for about a month, hoping the injury would heal. During the time I put away the guitar, I played around with an old Casio keyboard, and then my friend Drue mentioned an online course she was taking. Intrigued, I scanned the courses and signed up for Fundamentals Of Music Theory.

If you are not familiar with Coursera, it’s a wonderful organization that offers free college-level online courses from many colleges and universities. My Music Theory instructors were professors who taught at the University of Edinburgh in Scotland. The main instructor was Zack Moir, and he was excellent. Everything you’d want in a teacher.

Some of my classmates (more than 80,000 students signed up for the course) whined and complained (no different from any regular college class) about the difficulty of the course and the instructors. I took many classes as a student and had good and bad teachers. It’s part of the educational experience, and I’ve learned something from everyone who’s taught me. Some more than others, but I’m grateful to everyone who tried.

The course was one of the most challenging courses I’ve ever taken. I would put it up there with a graduate level statistics course I took at Georgia State University in the 1980s. I have been wanting to go outside my comfort zone, and this course was that. Unlike many courses I’ve taken, I had to work very hard in the class.

But I’m thrilled I took it and have signed up for two classes that will start in October: Introduction to Guitar and Developing Your Musicianship.

I’m excited. I think my wrist has healed enough to get real deep into guitar again.

Posted in Middle Aged Women Decides to Learn to Play the Guitar | 2 Comments

Lynn Kear Has Done It Again

Here’s a new Amazon review for Killing Rosa.

“Lynn Kear has done it again!

Killing Rosa is the 2nd book in the Kell Digby Crime series, and this offering takes us deeper into the underground noir world of the femme fatale. I love a great crime drama, especially when the words and dialogue sizzle from the page, an adult adventure through and through.

Kell is a fascinating and sexual personality, and her journey is as much about self discovery as it is about her exploits and tumultuous career path.

If you enjoy candid realistic language, trysts and affairs, and a rollicking good story, I would recommend this book from Lynn Kear and the first in this series, Black Hearted Bitch.”

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Why Haven’t I Read This Writer Before?

There’s a new review for Black-Hearted Bitch by Rose M. Griffith:

“Hard boiled” truly kept going through my mind as I read this much weaving and face-paced action mystery. I am a huge Raymond Chandler fan and make my way through his books every couple of years.

…I loved this book. I hated the heroine, Kell, and I loved her. That’s always a good sign for me of a character worth reading about. I liked that the book is segmented in an absolutely purposeful way with three distinct stories and tie nicely in with each other. It’s the first in the series and I kept thinking why haven’t I read this writer before? That’s the time I backtrack and see what else she’s published so I can dive in.”

Read more here:

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Gardein Sizzling Szechuan Beefless Strips Review

Wow. This is freaking excellent! One of the best meals we’ve had in a long time.

Publix recently had a BOGO on Gardein products. There was only one package of Sizzling Szechuan Beefless Strips left–and I can see why.

Make sure you follow the cooking instructions because this will be key to get the ideal texture. We went with the toaster oven instructions and used a little extra browning time (broiler setting) at the end. The result was crunchy, tasty beef strips that were outstanding.

We steamed basmati rice and threw the strips over the rice. The package says it has three servings, but it’s two generous servings.

I wish there was more sauce, so I could soak the basmati rice in it. As it was, the sauce packet was intense and flavorful.

This tastes like a menu item from a great vegetarian restaurant. Next time we’ll throw in broccoli and cauliflower in the steamer with the rice.

Five out of five stars.

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Spotlight On Amy Dawson Robertson

Amy Dawson Robertson is a friend and an excellent writer. She graciously agreed to be interviewed for my Spotlight series.

Cape May Photo

Let’s say you’re hosting a viewing party at your home. What music is playing when your guests arrive? What food and beverages will you provide for your guests and which TV shows, movies, excerpts, etc. would you show?

Hi Lynn — thanks so much for having me! What a great opening question. Let’s see, music-wise I usually have jazz on. I like stuff that has a very chill feel to it and I am drawn to the West Coast or Cool jazz period. So that would be early Miles Davis, Gerry Mulligan, Paul Desmond, Stan Getz, Modern Jazz Quartet (love that vibraphone!). As to food and libation, I would likely do the standard fruit and cheese selection. A good cheddar, a Stilton and something soft and decadent. I’d have a selection of crackers including my favorite whole grain cracker by 34 Degrees. Fruitwise, I would probably try to do whatever was fresh and in season. For drinks, I’d have red and white wine and a craft beer, mostly likely an IPA since that’s what I’ve been into lately. As for content, I think I would stick to TV since we are in such rich period for good TV. Some recent favorites are Breaking Bad, Mad Men, 30 Rock and Community. I’m always trying to get people to watch Breaking Bad so I have someone to talk it over with.

What’s the last great book you’ve read? What is one of your favorite passages from it?

I’ve read two books this year that I really enjoyed. The first is The Goldfinch by Donna Tartt. She wrote one of my favorite books of all time, The Secret History. I didn’t relish The Goldfinch in quite the same way but it was equally unputdownable. And there were definitely memorable passages that I wish I had marked — she is amazing with language, ideas, character. And masterful at plot. The other book I’ve just read that I thoroughly enjoyed is Dave Egger’s, The Circle. I guess you could say it is dystopian fiction, which I have a weakness for. It is also quite funny. His use of language isn’t particularly interesting so I wouldn’t have any passages to pull out but I would recommend it all the same. Some friends and I torture ourselves with a classics book group. At the last meeting we discussed Medea and Electra. There was a passage from Electra, a way of describing empathy, that really sticks with me:

“And poor laboring Orestes, my brother in law in name–

I suffer his grief, I think his thoughts…”

Name three of your favorite writers. Write a one word description for each.

Henry James — thorough

Emile Zola — devastating

Ruth Rendell — delectable

Name some popular writers who you don’t get.

I’ve tried but failed to get into Zadie Smith. She seems wicked smart and very interesting but so far she hasn’t grabbed me.

I don’t get Suzanne Collins. I found The Hunger Games to be very thin in every way.

What are some pet peeves you have as a reader?

I dislike it when you can feel the unintentional presence of the author. I guess this never really happens in great books but it isn’t uncommon in average ones. I’m thinking specifically of descriptive passages, usual of places, that you just know the writer has witnessed first hand and has lost sight of how much detail to provide. For the same reason, I think it is an extraordinary talent to write a decent memoir — know just what to leave in or out.

Do you have any pet peeves about your own writing that you catch when you’re editing?

See above.

Also, using the same words or phrasing repeatedly. Returning again and again to similar images and metaphors.

If you could live in any book, which one would it be?

I’m not sure why but I am finding it impossible to answer this question. Probably because so many of my favorites books might not be fun to be in.

Do you play any musical instruments? Which musicians do you listen to?

I played the violin for many years growing up and would like to have time for it now. I listen to a lot of pop — I’ve always liked dance music so this is a great time in pop for me. If music is on in the house, it is jazz. I also like stuff like LCD Soundsystem and RJD2. I will give just about anything a try but singer-songwriters and folk are hard from me to wrap my head around.

Do you have pets? Where are they when you’re writing?

Though they aren’t mine I do have two dogs in my life (Hi Hannah! Hi Russell!) — a golden retriever and a border terrier. While I love them, dogs and people are nothing but a distraction.

You’ve published thrillers (Miles to Go, Scapegoat) and romances (Midnight in Orlando and Midnight on a Mountaintop). Does your writing approach differ depending on the genre? Provide short excerpts that you’re proud of.

It differs very much. I get much deeper into character in my thrillers. I think the writing is at a different level too. The romances are in first person POV and, I guess, are just sort of breezy. And I try to keep things light in the romances.

It’s good of you to ask for passages that I liked how they turned out.

I always liked this bit from Scapegoat, a description of how Rennie feels after the events of Miles To Go:

“Her guilt felt like an entity that had taken up residence in her body. An unexcisable and malevolent twin. She shook her head, wishing she could just stop thinking. She drained her beer and went into the studio to sleep.”

This is from Scapegoat too. I love doing multiple points of view like this. Getting into the heads of minor characters might be my favorite thing:

“Massoud Akbari sat on the balcony of his tiny garden apartment smoking and drinking weak tea. He had nothing to do. Once well-off, he now had a bank account into which a thousand dollars was deposited each month. His other bills, his rent, his utilities, his car were paid for by the American government. The thousand dollars was his to do as he pleased. Each month he converted it into cash and spent only a fraction of it on food and necessities, stowing the rest in a large zippered leather wallet. His only joy in life was to convert the smaller bills into larger ones as time passed, watching the money accumulate and hoping for what he didn’t know.”

What are you working on?

I am trying to work out the plot for book one in a new series. It’s going to be a PI crime thriller. It is based in DC and the main characters will be a female ex cop from a small Virginia town and a man whose background I’m not ready to discuss. I hope to be able to explore current issues that I find interesting.

Thanks, Amy.

You can find out more about Amy through Facebook and on her website.

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