New Release!

Braelynn’s Birthright–Book 1: Wendigo

I am proud to have published Braelynn’s Birthright–Book 1: Wendigo. This is the first in what I hope will be a series of books featuring the same set of characters. Book1: Wendigo is a young adult supernatural/horror urban fantasy novel.

Book 2: Fallen Angel is near completion. This book is a new adult novel, taking place a few years after Book 1. It also unites characters from a number of my books including Phase Shift, The Revenant, and Revamped. Look for the release of Book 2: Fallen Angel in November of this year.

If you’re a fan of Supernatural, Nancy Drew (current TV series), or Legacies (Vampire Diaries spin-off) you will love the Braelynn’s Birthright series, as well as the other books mentioned here.

Here is a closer look at what Braelynn’s Birthright–Book 1: Wendigo is about:

Imagine a world where the creatures of nightmare are real. This becomes fifteen-year-old Braelynn Hanlon’s world once she inherits her birthright in the form of her grandmother’s ring and is tricked into putting it on. You see, the women in her family have been cursed, doomed to defend humanity from things that go bump in the night. On the upside, the ring comes with super-healing powers, but it also makes her a magnet for all things supernatural. Her mother has had years to come to terms with her fate, but Braelynn’s about to get a crash course on how to be a hunter of all things paranormal.

Her boyfriend, Seth, turns out to be a vampire. When Braelynn vanquishes him, the leader of Seth’s gang sends a bugbear to seek revenge. If that’s not bad enough, her best friend, Shannon, is a werewolf, and Shannon’s girl crush is enchanted. To make matters worse, the school’s activist, Winona, is an Ojibwe shaman in training, hot on the trail of a wendigo disguised as a local businessman who is threatening to destroy the local watershed. Braelynn and her friends agree to help Winona vanquish the wendigo, but will her ring and her new-found powers be enough to keep her safe?

Braelynn’s Birthright–Book 1: Wendigo is available at Amazon (paperback and eBook), B & NApple Books, and Rakuten Kobo.

Keto Berry Cheesecake Waffles

I went shopping this week and picked up the most gorgeous berries I’ve ever seen. The blueberries were at least a centimetre in diameter and the blackberries were at least two centimetres long. Not only did they look phenominal, but they tasted better than any berries I’d had in a long time. I knew I had to do something special with them.

That “something special” was berry cheesecake waffles. This recipe combines my standard pancake and waffle recipe with a slightly sweet cheesecake topping that makes this an over-the-top yet keto-friendly meal. My mouth watered so strongly while photographing it, I almost couldn’t wait. And the flavours and texture did not dissapoint.

Without further ado, here is my berry cheesecake waffle recipe along with approximate carb counts.

The Recipe

For the waffles:

2 large eggs (1 net carb)

2 tablespoons almond flour (1 net carb)

0.5 teaspoons coconut flour (<1 net carb)

0.5 teaspoons psyllium husk fibre (<1 net carb)

0.5 teaspoon baking powder

0.5 teaspoons vanilla extract

pinch of salt

For the topping:

2 tablespoons cream cheese at room temperature (2 net carbs)

1 tablespoon butter at room temperature (0 net carbs)

1 tablespoon Swerve confectioner’s sugar (0 net carbs)

0.5 teaspoons vanilla extract

1 teaspoon Tutti graham style crumbs (~1 net carb?

6 blackberries (1 net carb)

8 blueberries (1 net carb)

Instructions:

Mix waffle ingredients well and allow to sit a few minutes while waffle maker heats up. Pour batter into waffle maker and wait until preferred doneness.

While cooking, use a whisk to beat topping ingredients minus the graham style crumbs and berries. The consistency should resemble melted marshmallows when ready.

When waffle is done, top with berries. Drizzle cream cheese topping over berries and waffle. Sprinkle graham style crumbs over top.

Enjoy!

It’s Finally Here!

As an English teacher, my favourite course to teach was Writer’s Craft, as it gave me the opportunity to inspire and coach young writers along their writing journeys. It was always my goal to publish my lessons and/or create a series of online courses, and that day has finally come.

Announcing: THE SHAPE OF STORIES: A COMPREHENSIVE GUIDE FOR FICTION WRITERS.

Designed with new and aspiring authors in mind, this book is suitable for use as an independent, self-taught course or as a textbook in a course. This book is chock full of writing tips and tools, prompts, exercises, and mentor texts to use as examples on your quest to unleash the writer inside you.

From the back cover blurb:

In the magnum opus of her teaching career, seasoned English teachers , author, editor, and publisher Elise Abram curates a collection of lesson plans and techniques related to the craft of writing.

Abram’s method uses mentor texts to demonstrate elements of the art of storytelling, including crafting believable characters, gripping plots, and finding your author’s voice. Each lesson includes a number of writing exercises, exemplars, and self-assessment checklists to help you assess your progress as you complete the assigned tasks, building upon previous lessons as you hone your writing chaps. 

  • Use mentor texts to read like a writer
  • Practice showing and not telling
  • Construct believable characters
  • Pen plots that keep the reader turning pages
  • Experiment with different points of view
  • Blog and journal about your experience
  • Self-edit your work

Learn about the elements of storytelling from past and present masters of fiction as you study their techniques and apply what you learn to your own writing. Discover your writing style as you complete the activities in this course as you learn how to shape stories worthy of publication.

THE SHAPE OF WRITING: A COMPREHENSIVE GUIDE FOR FICTION WRITERS is available on Amazon.

Keto Kitchen – Cheese Danishes

My obsession with cheese danishes began a few months ago when my daughter tried out a cheese bun recipe that turned out amazing. The buns looked so light and fluffy, and the cheese filling and sweet crumble on top made my mouth water. Trouble is, I don’t eat flour or sugar so I couldn’t even take a single bite. I wanted something similar that was keto-friendly so I took to the Internet.

I found a delicious recipe for keto bagels on Gnom-gnom, so I first tried the bagel dough recipe with a cream cheese topping, and they were good, but I kept searching. Then I found the ultimate keto cheese danish recipe on the Keto Diet website.

Fathead doughs (made mostly from mozzarella cheese and cream cheese with a bit of almond flour and a few other ingredients) tend not to sit well with me. Bagels, breads, and pizza crusts made with fathead dough is too heavy and a little oily for my liking, but that isn’t the case with these low-carb cheese danishes. The crust is light and flaky-adjacent, and the cream cheese centre has just the right amount of sweetness. The cream cheese drizzle on top doesn’t hurt, either.

Instead of rolling out and cutting my dough this time, I divided it into 8 equal portions and used a tortilla press to flatten them, which was seriously quicker and easier than using a rolling pin. My cheese filling was a little runny this time (this was probably my third time making them) but that might have been because I put a bit too much vanilla in. I added an extra 1/4 cup of cream cheese which helped, but not a lot. The recipe says to bake at 425 for 12-15 minutes. I started with 12, and they came out a little overdone, but that didn’t seem to affect the flavour at all.

This recipe yields eight danishes, but they freeze well. I like to take one out to defrost overnight or zap for 15 seconds in the microwave if you can’t wait.

I totally recommend Keto Diet’s low-carb cheese danish. This recipe works well and tastes anything but low-carb.

Keto Test Kitchen

Today’s test recipe is Keto Banana Muffins, posted on The Big Man’s World website.by Arman Liew. I have tried several recipes from this site with good results, so when I was searching for a banana bread recipe, this was the obvious choice.

I LOVE banana bread, especially with chocolate chips and pecans, but bananas are a no-no on keto. According to the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA), one medium banana has 27 grams of carbs. Most banana bread recipes call for two or three bananas, meaning that the average loaf can have anywhere from about 54 to 81 grams of carbs. If you assume 12 slices per loaf, you are looking at a minimum of 4.5 to 7 carbs per slice. And that doesn’t take into account the carbs in the flour and sugar in the recipe.

An unripe banana has only about 12 grams of carbs (adding only 1 gram of carb per slice), but it lacks the sweetness and flavour of a ripe banana, which is why most banana bread recipes call for ripe or over-ripe fruit.

This Keto banana muffin recipe relies on banana extract for the flavour, eliminating the danger of overloading on carbs. I first got the idea to bake banana muffins after purchasing a keto caramel banana loaf mix from Farm Girl. Though delicious, the mixes are expensive, and I wanted to see if I could find a similar recipe online.

I made these Keto Banana Muffins exactly to recipe specifications with the following modifications:

  • My milk of choice was sugar-free vanilla oat milk.
  • 1 cup of chocolate chips seemed like a lot so I only put in 2/3 cup.
  • I used 1/3 cup of semi-sweet chocolate chips and 1/3 Krisda semi-sweet chocolatey chips.
  • I substituted pecans for walnuts.

The results were amazing. The muffins were super-moist and really chocolatey. The pecans provided just the right amount of crunch. Though the recipe calls for one whole tablespoon of banana extract, the banana goodness was lost at times, given the other bold flavours, particularly that of the chocolate.

I would absolutely recommend this recipe, and I plan to make them again. I might increment the banana extract by 1/2 tablespoon to see what it does to the recipe next time, but overall, this recipe passes the test kitchen with flying colours.

Note that this is an unsolicited review and I have not received any reimbursements from any of the products, services or websites mentioned in this blog post, nor do I have any affiliations with them.

Happy National Indigenous Peoples Day!

Honouring the First Nations on Canada's National Indigenous Peoples Day.
Image from https://pixabay.com/photos/feathers-pow-wow-feather-5939777/

In Canada, June is Indigenous Peoples History Month, and today is National Indigenous Peoples Day. The day to celebrate Indigenous peoples was instituted in 2017, but this is the first time in my recollection that I’ve heard it publicized (like so many other things Indigenous, this seems to have been swept under the rug for so long).

According to Trudeau, “No relationship is more important to Canada than the relationship with Indigenous Peoples. Our Government is working together with Indigenous Peoples to build a nation-to-nation, Inuit-Crown, government-to-government relationship – one based on respect, partnership, and recognition of rights.

“We are determined to make a real difference in the lives of Indigenous Peoples – by closing socio-economic gaps, supporting greater self-determination, and establishing opportunities to work together on shared priorities. We are also reviewing all federal laws and policies that concern Indigenous Peoples and making progress on the Calls to Action outlined in the Final Report of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission.”

On this day, we honour and celebrate Indigenous people with a number of ceremonies and events taking place across the country. Don’t get me wrong: this is a positive thing as a day of remembrance, but for the other 364 days (or at least the other 11 months of the year), many of us will return to shaking our heads in disbelief as the government appoints more (white) people to oversee things such as “ensur[ing] the proper treatment and protection of residential school grave sites,” even as they pledge to continue to search for more school burials.

Rather than set aside a single day (or month) to bring Indigenous peoples to the fore, the government should be setting aside time to do more and be better where the First Nations are concerned. Though I realize that we can’t turn back the clock and what’s done cannot be undone, it seems to me that some real action could be taken to offset all of the lip service we hear in the media. Case in point: when I was doing research to write this post, most of the websites that turned up in my Google search were composed of Government of Canada propaganda sites, extolling the initiatives in store to make truth and reconciliation a reality and very little with respect to what still needs to be done or actual things that have been done.

I will celebrate National Indigenous Peoples day this year with a wish and a prayer that on this day next year I can mark some serious, meaningful strides that actually make a difference when it comes to treating First Nations people as the full-blown, original Canadians they are instead of as second-class citizens.

One more way to teach context in literature

When performing a close read, it is difficult to get students to read between the lines to go beyond plot and character recap to do some real analysis. This represents a huge paradigm shift for grades nine and ten students who are used to doing book reports, summarizing what they read and what they think about it. A contextual analysis of a piece of literature forces students to engage critical thinking skills, formulate and answer critical inquiry questions, and make in-depth connections to which they may not be used.

What is context in literature?

Context refers to any external factors that have influenced authors as they write, focusing on the questions “Are events or places from the [author’s] life reflected in the [text]? Are people or relationships from the [author’s] life reflected in the [text]? Are the [author’s] ideas or beliefs reflected in the [text]?

Context has become a huge teaching point in my practice, simply because, to me, it seems like such a simple context, but the students struggle. Every semester I teach or review context as a concept, I change my approach, and every semester it is met with varying success. This prompted me to embark on a critical inquiry quest of my own, to discover a way to teach context that is student-centred, inquiry-based, and engaging. The results of my quest are codified in 15 Practical Ideas for Teaching Context in Literature, available on Amazon. Using one of the ideas in that collection, I taught a successful and engaging lesson on context, that was probably the best one of my career!

 If you’re in a pinch…

Some of the activities in my book can be time-consuming, taking up three or more days of class, and while getting the concept across is well worth the time, you might find that  you don’t have the time to give over to some of these activities, particularly toward the end of the semester. Fear not. Here is a way you can do it in one or two periods.

The lesson plan I am sharing with you here is for teaching context in Macbeth in grade ten. It is focused more on connections with the play rather than Shakespeare himself, as it is assumed that students would have already had an introduction to Shakespeare in grade nine.  To be sure students are following along with the lesson, I create a note-taking template for students to complete during the presentation with the caveat that the slide deck will not be shared at a later date, removing the excuse that they do not have to pay attention because they can make the notes later. I had great success with this method in my grade nine class and hope it will work as well with my grade tens.

The lesson begins with a series of videos and slides with which students are prompted to make notes and includes a critical inquiry activity in which students compare five different portrayals of the witches to discuss their effectiveness. We watch the Patrick Stewart version of the play, and the unit culminates with students creating a portfolio of five writing activities selected from a choice board—a combination of fiction and non-fiction pieces—from which they choose three to polish and submit for evaluation. All of the context was selected with this in mind so that once they begin the portfolio, most of the concepts covered should have already been introduced.

Materials needed for the lesson in context are:

Why I’ve Retired my Best-selling Book

“Throwaway Child” Cover

Today, I retired my best-selling book, a novella entitled Throwaway Child, and here’s why.

I wrote Throwaway Child in 2012 as an attempt to bring awareness of the Canadian Native residential “schools” to the fore. At the time, I was still reeling from the fact that this travesty was left out of most history courses. I had not learned of this dark chapter in Canadian history until I took a course on Native education in university in the late 80s, and I was shocked, to say the least.

If you have not read it, Throwaway Child follows the case of a child’s skeleton found in the basement of a building that was once used as a Native residential “school.” It follows forensic anthropologist Palmer Richardson, archaeologist Molly McBride, and police detective Michael Crestwood (also featured in The Mummy Wore Combat Boots and Phase Shift) as they investigate what led to the child’s death and burial. It has been in publication for nearly ten years and has sold the most copies out of any of my other books, but given the fact that the murderer proves to be another Indigenous child at the school, and in light of recent events, I have decided to retire the story.

You see, the children interred at the residential schools were the victims of such abuse that to make the murderer (accidental though it may be) Indigenous and a child no longer seems fitting. This is particularly true in the wake of the discovery of so many unmarked graves of Indigenous children who lost their lives while inmates at these “schools.” I cannot justify turning an innocent victim of systemic genocide, cultural or otherwise, into the perpetrator of the very crime being visited on so many others like her. I also cannot help but wonder if the story wouldn’t have been more satisfying if I’d put Palmer in charge of excavating one of the mass grave sites to determine the abuse that had been visited on the untold numbers of children who never left the “schools.” Imagine how much more satisfying the story would have been had it climaxed in handcuffing an administration-level official who had either participated in the travesty or turned a blind eye to the abuse.

It is for these reasons that I have decided to unpublish Throwaway Child with my apologies for falling short of accomplishing the very goal I set out to meet with it’s publication.

Call for Canada Day as a national day of mourning

Yesterday marked the third mass, unmarked grave found in association with Native residential “schools.”

For the uneducated, Native residential “schools” were a ploy by Canada’s early government to facilitate the “civilization” and Europeanization of Canada’s Native population. In existence in Canada from about 1880 through 1996 (yes! 1996!), these so-called schools were nothing short of concentration camps into which all Native children were shunted as a matter of law. This was a joint endeavour between “Christian churches and the Canadian government as an attempt to both educate and convert Indigenous youth and to assimilate them into Canadian society.” The net result of this horrific practice was the cultural genocide of generations of Native people, and as recently discovered, the actual genocide of (among others) innocent Native children.

I hesitate to call these places schools. School is supposed to be a place of learning and enlightenment where people leave better off than when they arrived. I doubt there are many (if any) Indigenous people who would claim this describes their experience there. Those of us who knew of the existence of these institutions have long suspected there were many children who entered their doors never to exit. That statement is mind-boggling enough, but now that the sheer number that is the body count shaping Canada’s shame is coming to light, we, as Canadians, should be shocked, sickened, and mortified.

In the last month alone, the remains of 215 individuals in Kamloops, 751 in Saskachewan, and 182 in Cranbook, B.C. There were 130 of these places in operation in Canada over the approximately 100 years of their existence. Do the math: if we take an average of the three known mass graves thus far uncovered, we are looking at approximately 50,000 children slaughtered and buried in unmarked, mass graves. Disposed of in the same way as trash before organized garbage collection. This is not okay (to say the least).

Today is Canada Day, a celebration of Canada’s confederation on this day in 1867. Residential “schools” came into existence barely 10 years after that. Lighting fireworks at bar-b-ques in celebration of Canada as a country has been the way we’ve always celebrated, but not this year. Anyone lighting fireworks and cooking meat over an open flame in honour of Canada’s confederation this year should be ashamed. I will be marking this dark day in history by lighting a memorial candle in memory of all those who perished at the hands of our government. We should never forget the human toll paid so Canada could be established as a country. Do not celebrate the bloodshed and bodies felled; mourn them instead. Mark the existence of Canada Day, not with celebration but with sorrow, honouring those whose way of life and actual lives were unceremoniously taken so that we might live here.

A Day in the Life

This is the first in a series of poems (and possibly rants) I plan to write about teaching during the COVID-19 pandemic.

Accessible doors locked so I have to use my hands—

Once, twice, three times, four—

on the same handles used by several hundred students

and several dozen teachers.

“Attention Staff: Please sign the log sheet located on the filing cabinet upon entering the room.”

I must sign into the “private” office I share with up to eight colleagues

“Maximum number of occupants: 5”

but only five of us can access our possessions at any given time.

“High Touch Surface: Remember to disinfect after every use.”

“High Touch Surface: Remember to disinfect after every use.”

“High Touch Surface: Remember to disinfect after every use.”

Fridge…microwave…printer.

“Maintain physical distance”

In a room where students sit no more than four feet apart

“Face mask required for entry”

with ill-fitting masks.

The students arrive all too soon,

forgetting that I have asked them to remain in their seats

and get my attention

before asking a question.

The double the normal length lesson begins.

Some students are with me while

others catch up on sleep,

and I am envious.