{Follow Your Dreams Friday} Megan Whitmer, Author of Between

This is one of my very favorite posts from the HerKentucky archives, as it's an awesome story of a dream come true. Early last year, HerKentucky writer Megan Whitmer learned that her novel Between was being published! I thought we'd revisit the post because Between is now available for pre-order on Amazon.com! Have a great weekend, and remember to follow your dreams! -- HCW

As many of you know from my very first post here on HerKentucky, I've been working on a young adult novel, BETWEEN, for about two years. I wrote it, then re-wrote it, re-wrote it, and re-wrote it again. I'm talking major, beginning-to-end rewrites, not including all the minor revisions I made on those drafts along the way.

Many times, usually about halfway through a rewrite when I realized I had written myself into a corner and couldn't find a way to make my plot work, I thought about giving up on it.

I'm glad I didn't.

I decided pretty early in life that I was going to write books. I gave up on that dream several times as I got older. Writing was always something I enjoyed, but I quit looking at it as something I would seriously pursue. I didn't even really understand how a person got a book published, and when I started looking into it, the whole process seemed so big and terrifying that it just felt too far out of reach for a girl from a tiny town in Kentucky with no publishing connections and no idea of where to start.

One day, I'm going to sit down with my daughters and tell them that. I'm going to explain how I almost let my silly fear of the unknown keep me from doing the one thing I'd known I wanted to do since I was old enough to make up stories. Some dreams might actually be a bit out of reach. (For instance, my goal of marrying Prince Harry is probably not going to happen and might even be slightly creepy at this point. And also I married a pretty stellar fella already.) But other dreams only seem out of reach because you're told that they're impractical, or that they're the kinds of dreams only certain people get to have.

I'm so thankful that I have the kind of family who never said, "This is ridiculous. Grow up."

This morning, I gave my six-year-old a really long, thought-out speech about how I had wanted to be an author ever since I was a little girl and it's important to never give up on what you want in life. She looked at me very seriously and said, "Mommy, my dream is to make toys and houses for all my Little Pet Shop animals."

I nodded, hugged her, and told her to go after it.

Connecting with my Grandmother through Two Beautiful Cookbooks

A few weeks ago, I drove to Nashville to attend the Southern Festival of Books. (If you've never been, you should definitely check it out. It's so close and such a great trip. There are all kinds of booksellers there, as well as panels of authors and other literary groups to get involved in. You don't need to be a writer to enjoy it!)

Typically, when I have the opportunity to buy books, I immediately go to the Young Adult section. But  fall always makes me miss my grandmother. As the temperature drops and the leaves start to turn, she never fails to enter my mind (as evidenced by this post I wrote around this time last year).

There are a million things that make me think of herthe scent of Estée Lauder's Beautiful, any well-dressed elderly woman with coordinating purse and shoes, prayer, loud talkers, mashed potatoes, decorating for the holidays, babies, hearing a great laugh, brightly-painted fingernailsthe list goes on and on.

So on this day, I headed for another thing that always makes me feel close to her: the cookbooks. And right there, on the very top of one of the stacks, sat At My Grandmother's Table by Faye Porter.

My favorite kind of cookbook is the kind with stories intertwined throughout beautifully-photographed food and well-written recipes. A quick flip through the pages of this book, and I knew it was a must-buy.

I have this highly technical formula I use when I'm deciding if I want to buy a cookbook. I open it to a random page, and if the recipe on the page is something I would actually cook, I buy it.

In this book, that recipe was Sweet Potato Biscuits on page 53. The photo on the opposite page looked so good it'd make a tomcat spit in a bulldog's eye. (Learned that saying from my Papaw. You're welcome, dear readers.)

Usually, one cookbook would be enough, but then I happened to spot one with a cover so cute I had to pick it up: Y'all Come Over by Patsy Caldwell and Amy Lyles Wilson.

Basically any cookbook that has "Y'all" in the title is probably one I need in my kitchen. And it's ANOTHER one with stories and traditions scattered throughout the recipes.

I did my really complicated random page test and landed on page 55's Puffed Up and Proud French Toast.


(A second random page had a recipe for Blackberry Wine Cake, which reminds me- have you tried Acres of Land's Blackberry Wine? I've never liked sweet wine but this one is incredibly tasty.)

My granny would've loved these cookbooks, even though she'd never have needed them. The woman simply worked magic in the kitchen. Her toast even tasted better than anyone else's. (You think I'm exaggerating here, but I'm not. Somehow she managed to completely drench it in butter but it still stayed crunchy. Magic, I tell you.)

And now, since I can't share these with her, I'm going to give one away to a lucky HerKentucky reader! Fill out the rafflecopter below, and if your name is drawn, you'll pick which cookbook you'd like to have and I'll send it to you! (You can't choose wrong. They're both so perfectly southern and beautiful.)

Do you have a favorite cookbook? I'd love to hear about it! Leave the title in the comments!

  a Rafflecopter giveaway

A Day at Devine's Corn Maze and Pumpkin Patch

Taking my girls to the area apple orchards and pumpkin patches is one of my most favorite fall activities. I love spending the day outside, and the girls love the farms and the playgrounds. Every year, we make the rounds through Boyds Orchards, Evans Orchard and Cider Mill, and Bi-Water Farm.

This year, we discovered a new one: Devine's Corn Maze and Pumpkin Patch. Devine's is located in Harrodsburg, Kentucky--about a 40 minute, beautiful drive from Lexington through the Bluegrass Parkway.

My daughter and I went to Devine's on a class field trip. I'm used to extremely crowded farms this time of year, packed with kids from all over central Kentucky on their own field trips. There are generally rows and rows of school buses in the parking lot. At Devine's, there was one other bus there besides ours. It wasn't crowded at all.

Like most of the area farms, Devine's offers tractor rides, pumpkin picking, a petting zoo, a playground, and concessions. And then, there's the corn maze.

The Corn Maze has three levels: the kiddie level, the first-timer/4-H level, and the featured FFA level. Since I was with Lauren's class, we went through the kiddie level. I'd love to go back and explore the FFA level. It seems like such a classic, fun fall activity that I've never gotten to do before. The corn stalks are much taller than me, and I'm absolutely, 100% positive I would get lost in the middle of them, but even that sounds fun. (Also, they turn the corn maze into a Field of Horror on Halloween weekend and the next weekend--I'd love to check that out sometime.)

The kids' favorite part, of course, was the play area. They had several of the attractions I've seen on playgrounds at other farms--large slides, human hamster wheels, tire mountains, tricycle paths--but the absolute best part was another Devine's exclusive: the bouncing pillow.

Just so you know, dear readers, I did a highly scientific study of the bouncing pillow just so I would be able to adequately describe it for you here. It went like this:

Me: Are adults allowed to jump on that too?
Staff: Sure.
Me: Like, right now? With the kids on there?
Staff: Yep.

It was basically the most fun I've had in weeks. If you go, you have to jump on it. It's a must. Adults can jump REALLY HIGH, you guys.

I'm thrilled that Lauren's school discovered this place. We'll definitely be adding it to our yearly tour of area farms. What are some of your favorite local fall activities?

Homemade Birthday Cakes (It's easier than you think!)

I'm pretty into birthdays. I start thinking of themes and decorations sort of ridiculously far in advance, and create a new Pinterest board every time I get an idea for a possibly party theme.

And usually, the idea starts with the cake. It's the centerpiece. I always have to decide on the cake first, and then everything else falls into place.

I admit, I make a big deal of the cake. It's what I spend the most time on, and it generally takes some overnight prep plus some time the following morning on the day of the party to finish. In case any of you have thought about doing your own homemade cakes but have no idea where to start, or think it's entirely too difficult, I thought I'd throw out a few tips I've learned along the way.

1. I use Cake Central and Pinterest to get ideas for cakes. Quick searches on either of these sites will turn up hundreds of different cake ideas.

2. Never use store-bought frosting to decorate cakes. It's not stiff enough and it won't hold its shape. I use Wilton's buttercream icing recipe, and add whatever coloring I want.

3. You will ALWAYS need more icing than you think. It takes me at least two batches to cover a cake. (Thank goodness the recipe is super easy to throw together.)

4. Invest in Viva paper towels. When you're finished frosting your cake, lay the paper towel over the icing and rub your hands over it. I never cover a cake in fondant--I think you have to be very talented to pull that off. This Viva method will give the icing a smooth, polished look without the fondant. (Other brands of paper towels WON'T work. They'll just stick to the icing. Don't bother trying. I made the mistake so you won't have to.)

5. I DO use fondant a lot to add little accents. I always use the store-bought kind. It tastes awful, but I just warn everyone not to eat it. I use a roller to flatten the fondant out (thin enough so it will harden quickly) then cut out whatever shapes I want. I usually do this the night before so the next day they will be hard enough to stick to the cake.

6. Be creative. When you see a cake you want to try to copy, you don't necessarily have to use all the same products and ingredients a professional would use. (I'll show you some substitutions I've made in the pictures below!)

The cakes are definitely time-consuming, but they're not difficult. If you like this sort of thing, it can be fun to find a cake you like and figure out an easy way to make it yourself. Below are some cakes I've made over the years, and quick explanations of how I put them together! Good luck! Feel free to leave questions in the comments!

You Are My Sunshine
Three 9-in round cakes make the bottom layer and two six-in round cakes for the middle layer. The sun was made using one of those "ball" cake pans you can find at Michaels.

Those sunbeams? The original called for triangles made from royal icing. I tried and failed. I cut a tortilla into triangles and baked them, then covered them with sugar and store-bought gel icing.
Candy Shop
The cake itself is the same as the sun, with two 6-in and two 9-in cakes making up the layers.

Flatten the fondant and cut it into strips, then roll them between your fingers to create long rounded pieces. Shape those into spirals for the lollipops, then stick lollipop sticks in them.

*The lollipops were REALLY heavy. To make them stay upright, I cut straws in half and slid them down into the cake, then slid the lollipops in the straws.
I found the fairy figurines a Disney fairy cake kit on Amazon. See the cake in the advertisement? I decided to recreate it.

Stack two 9x13 cakes for the bottom layer. Cut another 9x13 cake in half and stack the halves for the middle layer. The top layer is a triangle cut from another 9x13 cake. (I MAY have eaten the rest of that cake while I iced this one. Maybe. Probably.)

The rest of the decorations are made from buttercream icing using a cake decorating tube set (similar to this).
This cake was super simple, because it's just the same basic cake as the Sunshine and Lollipop cakes. I made the snowflakes out of white chocolate. Melt the chocolate and pipe it onto wax paper in whatever shape you want, then let it dry. Stick it to the cake using icing as glue!
Superhero Party
Aside from my usual fondant accents, I branched out with this one and made star lollipops using a candy mold I found at Hobby Lobby. I'd always avoided candy molds because it just sounded like too much to get into, but this was ridiculously easy.

Melt the candy pieces (they sell them right next to the molds). Pour the melted candy into the mold. Add the lollipop sticks. Go eat spoonfuls of buttercream icing and marvel at your own brilliance while you wait for them to harden. (This would've been SO MUCH EASIER for that lollipop cake than the super heavy fondant.)
Finding Nemo
This was the easiest cake I've made yet. Stack two 9x13 cakes on top of each other, then cut off the corners to create an oval shape.

I bent craft sticks until they broke to give the jagged edges of the sign, and glued all that together. The "sand" around the bottom is brown sugar. All the decorations are made from fondant, aside from the figurines, which I found on Amazon.

Weddings with a Southern Touch

As a girl who counts the South as one of her great loves, I've always adored little southern touches in weddings. If you're looking for ideas for your wedding or know someone who is, here are few gorgeous ideas to inspire you!

photo credit: Landon Jacob, via iloveswmag.com
photo credit: Tonya Joy
photo credit: Robert Wojtowicz
Photo credit: Krissy Allori Photography, Courtney Jade Photography,
via stylemepretty.com
by Fusion Photography, via kyweddingblog.com
Cute Favor Idea from marthastewartweddings.com

via weddingchicks.com
by FiveDotDesign.com, via weddingrowkentucky.com
photo credit: Vesic Photography, via iloveswmag.com
photo credit: Josh Elliott, via greenweddingshoes.com

My Favorite Wedding Story

Wedding season is in full swing, and I want to share my favorite wedding story with all of you. I tell this story to every single bride-to-be I come into contact with as a reminder that even if your wedding day isn't perfect, that doesn't mean your marriage can't be.
July 10, 2004 was a beautiful day. Aside from the sweltering heat, the weather was gorgeous. My friends Crystal and Clay were getting married that day. It was the wedding Crystal had dreamed of--an outdoor wedding on Clay's family farm in Lawrenceburg, perfect for the country girl at heart. The wedding guests would sit on hay bales, there would be daisies everywhere, and the men would wear cowboy hats. It would be the gorgeous.
There was a bit of a mishap in the afternoon when the fellas were having their pictures taken. Clay laid his cowboy hat down and a wasp got inside of it. When he put the hat back on, the wasp stung him. Since Clay is allergic to wasps, his head swelled to the point that his hat wouldn't fit right and just sort of sat on top of his head.
One tiny problem. Nothing major. The beautiful wedding Crystal had planned for months was still on track. 
As the day wore on, a storm rolled in. Like any bride with an outdoor wedding, Crystal had a backup plan--a large barn nearby. The mothers argued with Crystal about moving the ceremony inside. They insisted that the ceremony would be fine outside, until the lightning started. When the rain hit, it hit hard. 
What followed was a series of unfortunate events that would've had most brides curled up in a corner somewhere, rocking and pulling their hair out.
The bride and bridesmaids ran from the house where we'd gotten ready to the limo that would drive us to the barn. Inside, we did a quick champagne toast...which I proceeded to spill all over myself and a fellow bridesmaid, Kristin. We ran back into the house to use a blowdryer to dry the spill from our dresses. Luckily, the material was shiny and a bit metallic, so it wasn't noticeable at all.
We exited the limo beneath an array of umbrellas. The dogs had been put in a cage in the barn so they wouldn't run loose during the wedding, and because of the storm they were absolutely losing their minds, barking like crazy. 
There wasn't enough seating for guests. The hay bales they were supposed to sit on were drenched with rain.
As Crystal's father walked her down the aisle, her nephew ran across the aisle behind her, stepping on her cathedral-length train and pulling it off of her dress.
Her train. Fell off. Her dress.
Once she was up the aisle, the wedding went pretty smoothly. When it was over, the bride and groom hopped into a limo and left--just to have a few minutes alone before returning for pictures and the reception.
They were gone for over an hour. No one knew where they were. We finished all the photographs we could take without the bride and groom. Finally, a very loud flatbed Dodge truck made it way up the gravel drive to the barn, and Clay and Crystal hopped out of the passenger side. We stared, completely confused. They'd left in a limo. They returned in a truck driven by some guy we'd never seen. Crystal quickly explained--
The limo had broken down.
They'd hitchhiked back to the wedding.
They'd hitchhiked. Back. To the wedding.
At this point, all the bridesmaids were starting to wonder what Crystal's breaking point would be. We gathered, we talked, we strategized. We were not going to let our friend fall apart. I heard someone gasp and I raised my head from the circle to glance back at Crystal. She was standing with Clay near the front of the barn, smiling and posing for pictures. 
There was a dog standing right next to her with his leg hiked up.
The dog. Peed. On her dress.
After that, Crystal decided to change into the white sundress she'd purchased for the reception. We all ran back to the house to help her, and as she slipped it on, one of the straps broke. Because, of course.
Through it all, Crystal never lost her composure. She was so happy, and took every single thing in stride. When I made my toast, I told her that if the two of them could survive that wedding, they could survive anything.
Almost ten years and two beautiful children later, they're still going strong. 
Remember, as much planning as you put into your wedding and as perfect as you want it to be--something will go wrong. (Or, in Crystal's case, a whole lot of somethings.) Don't let yourself get so caught up in the details that you forget the end result--you're marrying the person you love. Whether the weather doesn't cooperate or the music is wrong or a dog pees on you, at the end of the day you will be married. Don't let anything ruin that.

Inspiration in Silence and Space

Sometimes, when I'm feeling completely drained and uninspired, I have to get away from everything.

When I moved to Lexington (pop: over 300,000) from Lancaster (pop: under 4,000), I was enamored with Lexington's abundance. Whatever Lancaster had, Lexington had more. People. Cars. Buildings. Schools. Libraries. Stores. Cars. Farms. Parks. Gyms. Restaurants. Cars.

It took about two years for that to get really, really old. I still enjoy the things Lexington has to offer, but every now and then, I need to escape it. I have to find a way to get out, even if it's just for a day. I crave silence and space, and a reminder that life really is fairly simple. 

I love road trips for this very reason. I get to be alone in my car with my thoughts and my music, and it gives me time to recharge. I found a song several years ago that so perfectly describes the feeling I get when I finally have some alone time, and I'm sharing it with you here now. 

All At Sea by Jamie Cullum (excerpt)
I'm all at sea where no one can bother me.
I sleep by myself. I drink on my own.
I don't speak to nobody; I gave away my phone...

Like a warm drink that seeps into my soul, 
Please just leave me right here on my own.
Later on you could spend some time with me,
If you want to, 
All at sea.

You guys. Giving away my phone and going back to a time when I could actually disappear from everything for a while is kind of my dream. 

Sometimes I get so caught up in life--the day-to-day routine of things where I go to bed at night and can't remember a single thing I did that day--that I sort of lose myself. Writing is one way I keep in touch with who I am, but sometimes I'm so lost I can't even put words together.

One of my favorite road trips is the short one to my childhood home. The hundred-year-old farmhouse and five acres of land I grew up on is only about forty miles from where I live now. Everyone who knows me is well aware of my love affair with my parents' home. It's the most beautiful, peaceful place I've ever known. 

The constant activity of my days can make time pass entirely too quickly. As I get closer and closer to home, everything slows down--the minutes stretch on forever and the houses move farther and farther apart. 

That front porch is the only place I can be completely alone without shutting any doors. I do my best thinking there. The solitude gives me a chance to remember who I am and what's important to me. I can't sit on that porch with that view and not take a moment to appreciate everything I have. It's so easy to get lost in the minute details of life, the things that won't make a difference a month or year from now, and I find myself just trying to make it from one day to the next. The peace and quiet found on my parents' porch inspires me to be the kind of person who doesn't get so caught up in looking forward that I forget to stop and truly enjoy the present.