Tater Tot Casserole

This has long been a favorite dish of many people, including both my husband and me, and I make it a few times a year as a treat. Some ingredients are staple, and some change, such as vegetables. One thing that almost never goes in ours is meat–it’s usually hefty enough without it. I, particularly, like it very creamy.

However, last night we had some ham steak, so I added it, probably the only meat I’d be happy with in this dish. And yuuumm, was it good. The lunch portion leftovers disappeared in about 5 minutes, as well. Sorry, no picture (we were too busy devouring). Recipe, however, is below.

Leave notes in the comments as to how you like yours :).


Tater Tot Casserole with Ham

  • 1 bag frozen tater tots
  • 1/2 bag frozen peas
  • 1 large can cream of mushroom soup
  • 2 cups sour cream
  • 1 ham steak, 1/4 inch thick, diced
  • 2 cups shredded cheddar cheese, with 1/3 of it reserved
  • pepper to taste


Assemble ingredients except reserved cheese in a large bowl and mix. Half everything and do it twice if you don’t have a large enough bowl for easy mixing. Pour into 9 x 13 pan and bake in oven for 30 minutes at about 400F. Sprinkle reserved cheese on top and bake 15 more minutes. Let sit until cool enough to eat.


Worldbuilding, Part 5: Shelter

This is the final world building section on necessities: Shelter. Where your characters live and the upkeep they expect are important and tone-setting background information for readers.



While many things about a society’s homes and buildings have to do with protection, materials, and environment, this is also a category where you’ll find yourself making arbitrary decisions about things like building shapes and sometimes materials. However, here I’ll be giving some guideline for thought and issues involved with buildings. There are many Lupa examples, as I can explain why they do particular things.


What kind of structures do they use for shelter?

home -outside-2

If you have already done your seasons, weather, and environment, getting started with shelter should not be difficult–they will inform your basics. Choose appropriate shelter for deserts, high mountains, or lush valleys. If caves are readily available, perhaps they live there. Do not choose types of structures that do not make sense for the world or environment.

A modern Western style house will not work on an electricity-free planet unless you come up with substitutes for modern plumbing, lighting, and appliances. Lupa, for instance, can build Western style, houses, but pair it with wooden piping, candles, and an open fire cooking area. Cabins are more common in wooded areas; desert people may live in tents or caves. Some live in the ground like Hobbits.

Do some people in your world live in castles? Space stations or ships? Do they prefer certain types of land? If you’re dealing with different worlds or planets, where and how people live is a good way to make differences. Make sure to do some research, especially if you’re getting into castle or enclosed space vessels of any sort: these are very large and complicated communities and may not function the way you think.


How do they build, and who does it?


Some cultures live entirely in tents or outside in rougher huts or lean-tos. Other have a guild of stone masons or wood workers. Do communities come together to help as the Amish do? What are their methods for building?

Lupa, for instance, have building teams that travel in their sector once or twice a year to make major repairs, additions, and new buildings. Most teams specialize in the types of shelters used in their area, such as wood in the woodlands or stone in cave settings. They rely more on people, strength, and ingenuity to fell trees and transport materials when needed rather than machines, and aren’t afraid to ask residents to help.

When building a residence, they will plan out the plumbing so that the least amount of piping is necessary; the same sets of pipes will deliver water to both the bathroom and kitchen. The same set of pipes will take all waste out to compost. The fire pit will be carefully situated in the kitchen end of the store room to keep air from affecting the fire. The other significant feature in Lupa residences is that any structure higher than one level will have a half-way roof, allowing residents to exit and enter their private rooms directly.

With anything very important to your people, consider how it will be incorporated into their homes. Household gods need somewhere to be honored; people who work in the land need somewhere to clean off so as not to track dirt and grime into the home.


How much shelter do they need? Does it vary throughout the year?


Some elements of residential structures will be determined by the types of shelter needed. People who don’t necessarily use much shelter may only build extremely strong emergency structures. In the Dragonriders of Pern books, the Pernese build primarily out of stone to prevent a substance which can get through other materials from reaching them. While metal also stops it, their low technology level doesn’t lend itself to using metal in that fashion, thus the reliance on stone. The dragons and their riders live in extinct volcanoes in caverns hollowed out of rock, quite a unique setting

Most of the Xcheamo year it temperate, so Lupa spend a great deal of time outside and don’t need much protection from the elements. Winter and summer, however, require a great deal of protection. Windows and doorways generally don’t have any pane at all, just an open space. They use these to get in and out easily, and for the most part use cloth hangings over doorways.

However, they make use of heavy-duty wood “fillers,” significantly secured, during both of the extreme seasons, as well as extreme bad weather. They are designed to be jammed in place when needed. Different hangings are also used in winter and summer, to let in less heat or cold. Wood panels may also be used to stop incursions of insects or animals into the home.


How do they decorate? How much customization is there?


The final element in homes is, of course, decoration. If you’re working with a people group, determine how people with their inclinations may decorate. If it’s particular characters, take clues from all that you know about them. If they love a particular color, it will be reflected in their home. If your native tribe finds great expression in intricate geometrical patterns, it may show up in rugs or pottery. When creating a species, you’ll get into some territory of really trying to “listen” to what they like to surround themselves with in some cases, such as any favored patterns or ideas repeated in their architecture or decor. You may go back and change things as you get deeper into it. This is okay.

Remember that some decor requires meticulous work if there isn’t electricity or a machine to make it. Also remember that there is great difference even among the same people. Melinda may love anything with flowers on it, while Vera will only decorate in solid colors. Practical people will have more simple homes and furnishings than those who have a great love of aesthetics, art, or fashion.

The common threads in determining decoration come from environment and general attitudes. Lupa are nature people, and while they may decorate in all kinds of colors or patterns, they love nature and being surrounded by it. Their products will be made from natural sources. Metal is not so common in their culture, and so you won’t find much metal in their decor or furniture. They feel very at home around nature paintings, wood pieces, real fur blankets, and wide open windows. You’ll never find a lumpy pillow, mattress, or couch in a Lupa home, as they highly value comfort.

Customization may depend very much on the availability of homes, and how many residences are built to order. Historical structures may not be allowed to be changed, as in Philadelphia. Societies with free or easily attainable builders may often make additions or modifications. Many societies will have much more customization in their furniture and decor than their structures.


Worldbuilding, Part 4: Clothing

This post will deal with the second necessity, clothing. Both cultural and character clothing are addressed here, and hopefully will be a good guide for anyone trying to build both.





Every culture has some kind of common cloth used in their clothing, such as cotton, linen, or perhaps microfiber. Choose the base material use for most things, and then extrapolate the most common grades of cloth, from high to low. Cotton can be used in very course or fine fabrics. Do higher classes of society wear different kinds of material, such as silk? What about velvet? If you’re in sci-fi territory, you can use all kinds of constructed or synthetic fabrics. Invent a plant if you have to, but make sure you’re able to talk about clothing, including fabrics.

The Lupa make all of their cloth from the same plant, wissa, which can made into very course fabric for bags or tarps, thick sheets for towels or curtains, and two or three fine versions for clothing. The finest clothes will also have other plant-based substances which help make the threads very fine. They don’t use any other main source material for fabric, but have learned to manipulate wissa to make many types of cloth from it.




Construction is probably one of the most important elements of clothing for your world–yes, even more than fashion. How we construct our clothes determines fashion and the look of a culture. Japanese clothing is distinctive in the use of robes and tie-and-belt closures rather than buttons or snaps. Elizabethan silhouettes are known for the doublet, panniers, and wigs, while many Native Americans preferred simpler attire adorned with bone, beads, or feathers.

Again, do some research if you have to, and get a sense of your culture’s clothing basics. Lupa often shift between forms, so one of their primary clothing choices is a shift-like garment, with two wide shoulder straps and a long body and can be seen here. They also have basic pants, which are a bit more like capris with a draw string waist, and both t-shirts and tank tops. Most clothing is designed for comfort and ease of movement, and usually anything fitted comes in a wrap style to accommodate body types and sizes. They like practical and multi-functional clothing, as well. Formal dresses are always wrap style. Lupa are people whose clothing is almost always in line with their attitudes.



Fashion is where class distinctions can be made and where characters make their mark with clothing. You can determine who people are, where they come from, how they like their clothes to function, and what’s important to them.

While Lupa don’t have classes, the immortals tend to receive gifts, which sometimes include beautiful fabrics or clothing. Babies are usually kept naked or in shifts due to their extremely active lives. Someone who likes clothing will have many more tailored pieces compared to general use pieces.

Lord of the Rings is a prime example of how clothing can set characters: the difference between Elves, Men, Dwarves, and Hobbits can be easily seen in their attire. Star Trek also uses various costuming to show different cultures and species. Klingons wear a lot of armor on a daily basis, while natives of Risa, a temperate pleasure planet, are usually found in summery, beach-like clothing.

If your setting does has very established classes, you’ll want to look at how fashion becomes more refined as you go up the social ladder. You don’t need to literally have sackcloth or cloth of gold, but whatever your people have should reflect those class statuses. Generally, simple course clothing goes to the bottom, while fine fabrics with impractical styles are at the top. If you’re writing historical fiction, research what was worn at the time carefully, as well.

As for individual characters, yes there are something that are required–archers must have bows and arrows, but also arm guards. A knight will never wears his sword on the right (one mounts a horse from the left), but his sword may show their flair or simple elegance. But try not to stray over into cliche too much unless your character is that emo kid wearing all black and skulls–these kinds of characters specifically want to project certain images. I always recommend building wardrobes (the internet is great for catalogues and dress-up dolls).

Character Examples:3 very different women, and 1 man


Zaira almost never wears skirts, but grew up traveling on Earth, so there is a lot more Western culture Earth clothing in her wardrobe than most Lupa. She tends toward very simple clothing, solid colors, and dark green. Hoodies help her hide, and she also likes a warm wrap sweater, especially later in life. She prefers silver jewelry, specially if there are stars or moons on it, but usually doesn’t wear such decorations. Part of her becoming a different, happier person included a wardrobe expansion in to clothing that is part of a more settled, open life, such as some skirts or patterns, lighter colors, and less hoodies. She learned to use clothes to hide or blend in.

Eiry is a high-end florist with many business contacts and much of her out-of-the-house wardrobe is suitable for business–casual for working in the flowershop, or an elegant skirt suit in cream with matching heels for business functions. She also has some upscale, pretty dresses to wear to events where the florist is needed on site. Almost all of this clothing is in very light colors or patterns with flowers. At home, however, she tends to wear extremely casual clothes, many of which are shapeless: oversize T-shirts, baggy maxi-dresses, and yoga or lounge pants. Some of these are leftover clothing from a dead friend. She uses clothes to appear appropriately in various settings when out, and at home really doesn’t care.

Miara, on the other hand, loves clothes and having a million things to wear. She has both Lupa and Terran clothes from her many travels, and has many Lupa tailored pieces. Her color choices include everything except solid black or white; it sometimes looks like a rainbow exploded in her room. Some of her favorite Terran styles include off-shoulder tops layered with tank tops, corsets, and fun skirts, while she feels quite elegant in a Lupa-style wrap dress. She also wears a lot of shifts for working out. Whatever she wears, she does with confidence and commitment. She treats clothing as an extension of personality and dresses according to how she feels.

Jax has never lived on Earth, and he has a very xcheamo mode of dress, which is mostly just pants in various colors, with very few patterns, if any. If necessary he’ll also put on a very basic shirt. If he has to wear shoes he’ll go with a boot. He’s rather a minimalist, most of the time.

What do you discern from these characters based on their wardrobes? Hopefully some of their personality and character. Do let me know in the comments :).

Writing exersize: Sky

On their way back from seeing the probe that had crashed, Miara’s mind raced with the possibilities it promised. Was it remnants from an old space-faring civilization, or perhaps very far away? What if there was no outside response? Her hopes would be crushed–at least for the time being. Oh, how she wanted to meet new people, to go new places. Please, let there be a ship up there, she thought hard, peering up into the night sky for any new lights. If there was an answer, it would be in the sky, and she hoped to find it–as soon as possible!




Note: A small, personal glimpse of a pivotal moment in Lupa history.

Worldbuilding, Part 3: Food

Unfortunately, this isn’t the topic I’d planned as part 3, but I’ve been having a lot of trouble with the people entry, so that one will be posted later. In this and the next to world building posts, we’ll discuss life necessities: food and eating, clothing, and shelter. Food is particularly easy for me, as I enjoy cooking and baking and most things food.

SPOILER ALERT: One of the main reveals from Cloud Atlas is included in the “Food Across Cultures” section.



The Primary Diet


When considering what your people eat, consider first the environment their food comes from, and also their attitude toward nature. People who live on marshes won’t be growing much of their food, but may eat a lot of fish and fowl. Those in the dessert may end up with many insects in their diet, as well as cactus. Island nations like Japan and the UK eat a lot of seafood. People who value all life most highly may be vegetarian. People who commune with plant spirits may eat the fruits of such plants but not the plants themselves, such as lettuces or teas.

The primary diet of your group or species will determine where their nutrients come from, and may later inform what types of things make them healthy. Lupa, for instance, do not grow grains or keep livestock for dairy, and these can be very hard for them to digest. Most of their nutrients come from fresh meat and produce. Their source of calcium comes from unique plant materials rather than dairy. Medieval people, for instance, often thought that produce was unhealthy and ate a lot of meat, and thus had the accompanying health concerns.

Choose which grains, produce, or meats are most represented in the culture or land you’re writing about. For instance, some Native Americans ate maize rather than wheat; chicken was a prized meat in Roman culture; lemons and olives greatly impact Mediterranean cuisine. Medieval people often thought that produce was unhealthy and ate a lot of meat, resulting in accompanying health concerns.



pot over the fire_preview

The next step is determining how various people or groups cook their food. Some cultures cook everything, and some may not cook at all. Again, this may come from both environment and attitudes. People who emphasize natural things may do less cooking, or a very different type of cooking. Do they primarily want to cover flavors or bring them out? Does the environment make natural eating unsafe?

Groups with little patience for complicated processes won’t have many people willing to tackle highly complicated cooking often. Species who are all about detail and exquisite-looking plates might engage in a lot of knife work. If you don’t know much about cooking or food preparation, it is beneficial to do some research.

In example, the Lupa are a very natural species, and tend not to cook much of their food. However, they will prepare salads, make fruit juice, cultivate honey, and make dried foods. Most Lupa only actually know how to cook stews for winter or roast something over a fire. Another species I’ve worked on, the Ethgra, have traditionally been at odds with their environment, and cook nearly all their food for long periods of time, and especially like boiled or sauteed greens.


How do they eat?


The next step is determining the style in which people eat. This can be especially good for character, as how someone eats often gives us clues on their character. A fastidious, detail oriented person may eat calmly and neatly with small bites and elegant use of any utensils. More passionate people make sounds when they eat. Those for whom stopping to eat is an inconvenience may pay hardly any attention to their food or how it tastes.

It can also give us clues about species or culture. Asian cultures developed chopsticks which emphasizes the development of skills. Western culture developed from the knife to add spoons, and finally forks. Other cultures eat entirely with their hands, often with the help of a flatbread for scooping other foods. How to the chefs of the culture approach plating? Do they prefer individual plates or large platters? Why? These are important elements for readers in setting tone and group character, especially between different groups of people.

Remember, there will always be different levels of cooking and those who prepare it. Even in Star Trek, some people rely on the replicator, while other replicate ingredients so they can cook themselves.


Food Across Cultures


A particularly interesting Klingon dish is gagh, which is a dish of serpent worms, usually eaten alive. While even many Klingons don’t like the taste, it is a delicacy primarily eaten for the sensation. What does this say about them as a species? About their culture? Remember that ideas can sometimes be more powerful than need or sense. Some cultures have ideas about food that you or I might find distasteful. Don’t hesitate to choose things that you personally would never eat, or consider disgusting if they are commonly found in the environment. Even on Earth, people survive on what is at hand. Sometimes those things later develop into higher methods of dining.

Lupa hunt their meat in fur form, and eat it that way, as well. As they will often tell Humans, “it’s natural for us to eat like this, just as it may be natural for you to be repulsed by it.” Don’t be put off about what others will think unusual or weird. If your people do something like this, go with it. No apologies. Even if some of your groups are staunch cannibals. We’re writing stories, not fact, and the world is full of strange things. If your story needs cannibals, it needs them.

Observing various groups and cultures eat can be quite enlightening, and if your world is large enough you’ll want to have some different styles for various groups. Some groups will have tiers of food consumption and quality, while others may go much further into manipulation of molecules (Star Trek’s replicator literally turns waste into food at the molecular level) or transformation of unlikely food sources (in Cloud Atlas, Replicants are turned into food for other Replicants. Replicants are grown humans, and considered subhuman. They do not know where their food comes from.).

Those in the scifi field have the most options, but fantasy writers also have a good amount to play with. Even on Earth, there are so many styles of food and eating that one can’t really complain about what’s available.




Writing exercise: Abandoned

It was the middle of the night; no one was around. The perfect time to sneak a peek at things. Sitting on the floor, she work her way back to the beginning. Most people didn’t even know she could read at five. Maybe not all the big words, but enough to understand. The others she could look up.

Making sure the hall was still undisturbed, she slid open the drawer marked M–S. Flashlight in her mouth to hold the light steady, she flipped back to S, knowing with a name line hers she’d be first. Her file was getting thick with all the reasons no one wanted her.

Flipping through the pages to the latest note first, about the Kings, who had returned her after only 2 weeks. She’d had a nightmare, and it was always scary waking up to a storm she couldn’t control. “Unmanageable,” “impossible to connect to,” “uncontrollable temper.” “Steals and breaks things.” No one ever told the real reason.

And then she got to the beginning, her data profile and the report from when she’d been put into the system. She’d always told she’d been given up, but further questions were never answered.What weren’t they telling her? The medical report and data she skipped, and went down to the intake.

“Discovered by bar worker at 3:14 AM. Called 911, police dispatched and delivered to child services.” Addresses and details of personnel were listed, but none of that mattered. She came from no where. Some woman had literally thrown her away. In a dumpster. Abandoned.