Monday, January 31, 2011

The Art of War...

I'm reading a great little book called The Art of War for Writers: Fiction Writing Strategies, Tactics, and Exercises by James Scott Bell. It's just a little writing book that I picked up at Barns and Noble a couple weeks ago (along with several other books on book-writing... I felt ridiculous at the checkout... like I was buying feminine hygiene products or a really big tube of zit cream... especially when the checkout lady said "Ahh, I'm sensing a theme here" as she eyed my purchase...)

Anyways, there are some great little quotes in this book. No matter what your goal is, they are applicable little tidbits of wisdom. Here are some of my favorites so far:
  • "Know the difference between a hero and a fool... A hero knows it takes hard work and a long time to get published; a fool thinks it should happen immediately, because he thinks he's a hero already... A hero keeps growing all his writing life; a fool thinks he's fully grown already... A hero fights to make his writing worthy, even when no one's noticing; a fool demands to be noticed all the time, even if his writing stinks... a hero gets knocked down and quietly regroups to write again; a fool gets knocked down and whines about it ever after" (16-17).
  • "It's not the will to win that counts, but the will to prepare to win" (18).
  • "Set your goals on a weekly basis" (19).
  • "... [novelist Anthony Trollop said ] 'Nothing, surely, is so potent as a law that may not be disobeyed. It has the force of the water drop that hollows the stone. A small daily task, if it be really daily, will beat the labors of a spasmodic Hercules'" (19-20).
  • "Every moment spent whining about your writing career is a moment of creative energy lost" (27).
  • "Do the thing you fear, and the death of fear is certain" (28).

I didn't work on my story all weekend. It's silly, but I feel afraid to face it again. What if I reread what I worked on last week and realize it's all rubbish? What if I can't get past the imperfections and I can't pound out my weekly word count?

Trying to do what I fear is tough.

On a positive note, I know what I'm making for dinner tomorrow night (I want it to be dinner time tomorrow already! Oh my goodness...)

Sun Tzu is pretty ferocious looking...

Sunday, January 30, 2011

Oh Good Stories, How I Love Thee

I asked my husband "What should I blog about?" You see, I haven't blogged in two days. And I wasn't about to let a third day pass without writing my humble thoughts out (I love writing... when I was invented I was made with the "loves to write feature").

My husband said, "Write about Gilmore Girls and how we are having a GG marathon today to finish the final season (have I mentioned how much I love having a husband who watches 'girly' TV shows with me?). He said, "Write about why you like it... why it's a good show... the characters, and plot... Write about why it's a good story."

He's good at giving me inspiration, that one. he's pretty swoon-worthy. Ladies, hold out for the best. It's worth the wait!

Why I Love Gilmore Girls:
  • It's a classic fairy-tale story wearing modern clothes. A princess (New England rich kid) runs away from her royal kingdom (overbearing, socialite parents) when she finds she is with child. She finds room at an inn and works as a maid. By the time her little girl is grown the princess is running her own picturesque retreat (her own small town inn). But will she ever find her Prince Charming (i.e. - realize she was meant to be with the diner guy all along), even though she has willingly forsaken the life of riches? And will her beautiful and brainy daughter, who has returned to the royal kingdom (gone to an Ivy League school) ever be able to re-establish her royal identity without totally giving up her adventure-seeking roots?
  • There are brilliantly flawed characters, both three dimensional and two dimensional. None are perfect and all are believable. I groan whenever a main character makes a mistake. And laugh whenever the town fool's quirks overtake a scene.
  • The show's creator, Amy Sherman-Palladino, wrote with the end in mind. She knew what the last scene of the the entire show would be, seasons before it aired. She, and the team of witty writers who crafted the show, created a plotline that was going somewhere.
Gilmore Girls was lucky enough to have writers and producers who made it a good story. I do not have my own personal team of authors, moving my mouth to form witty comebacks and motivating my actions to create Emmy-worthy scenes. But my life is a story. My plot depends on what I make of my every day circumstances.

Where is my fairy-tale going? What am I going to do with my flaws? Will I let them stand in my way? Am I living my life with the end in mind?

Life is so short. Make your story a good one. 

If you never take a leap of faith, you'll never truly soar.

Thursday, January 27, 2011

Lentil Stew (and couscous too!)

My lovely sister came over tonight. For us, Thursdays are comfy, comfort-food sister-date nights. Since I had been eating a little less than healthfully throughout the day I wanted to make something that was both good for the soul and good for the body. So, we prepared the following concoction (adapted from Market Vegetarian by Ross Dobson):

Napolitana Lentil Stew
1/2 cup green or brown lentils
3 Tbsp olive oil
1 onion chopped,
2 garlic cloves, chopped
1 Tbsp oregano
1 tsp dried hot pepper flakes
2 ripe tomatoes, roughly chopped
1 cup passata or tomato puree (I used 1 cup canned tomato sauce)

  • Place lentils in large saucepa, cover with cold water, and set over high heat. Bring to boil, reduce heat, and let simmer for 20 minutes. Drain and set aside.
  • Put oil in saucepan and set over high heat. Add onion, garlic, oregano, and pepper flakes and sautee for 5 minutes, stirring often. 
  • Add tomatoes, passata, lentils, and 1 cup water. Bring to boil, reduce heat, and let simmer gently for 10 minutes, stirring occasionally.
Sister... Stirring the stew!

Serve with crusty warm bread (or, as we did, with couscous!)

So. Delicious.

If the idea of lentils offends, then consider...
  • lentils are full of protein, fiber and iron and are virtually fat-free
  • they are SUPER easy to prepare
  • they cost next to nothing
  • lentils lower cholesterol and help manage blood sugar levels
  • they are delicious served cold or hot
I love using lentils in stews (this one is also great because tomatoes have lycopene (an anti-aging antioxidant). I also love having them cold on top of salads.

A challenge to my readers: If you haven't already, add lentils to your diet! They are superfoods!

Not the most glamorous shot... But it's a Thursday night... and that means chillin' and watching Hulu shows.

Wednesday, January 26, 2011

My New Early Morning Writing Ritual

Okay, I'll be the first to admit that this new ritual of mine works precisely because I am a morning person. It's in my blood. I can't help it. My husband, on the other hand, is the complete opposite.

If this is me in the morning...

...then this is my husband...

And then we're pretty much reversed when it's after 7pm in the evening and I become the groggy one and he becomes the crazy awake one.

Anyway, I digress.

My new morning routine:

I wake up at 5:45. I get up, throw on some work-out clothes and sit at my office desk. I plug in headphones to my laptop and play ambient music from Pandora. Then, for one hour, I write.

The time flies by... I've done this for three days in a row and it's been fantastic. Though writing more consistently keeps me awake to the painful reality that I have so much more writing to do, it is unbelievably good for me. I am making progress. Bit by bit I am chipping away at my goal. And that feels reallyreally good.

I have reworked the opening to my story and I like the new beginning. I need to continue to hash out some strong specifics in terms of overall plot. And I need to nail down EXACTLY how the book series is going to end. I've always been a fan of authors who so clearly and diligently wrote with the end in mine. That's what made me fall in love with Charles Dickens. He was a master at planting plot points and details in the beginning of a story (and at first glance they seem inconsequential). Then, at the end of the book, it becomes clear how all those little details and plot points were leading up to a triumphant and expertly crafted finish.

After I write for an hour I record how many words I wrote and my length of time. I bought one of those gigantic desk calendars and I write down my word count and time spent writing each day. It's a big glaring reminder for me to stay on track. I also use the desk calendar to record the miles that I run each day. Speaking of which, after my hour of writing I drag my husband out of bed, grab breakfast, and we hit the gym. So far, so good! I'm averaging 1.5-2 miles a day!

Once I get the beginning of my story really nailed down I'll post it for everyone's perusal. Eek! Hold me to it. I need to stay on track. Plus, I'll definitely be needing some honest feedback! Stay tuned!

Tuesday, January 25, 2011

Cheap Chic! - Photo Frames

I'm so excited to share this idea with you all! Basically, I don't have money to splurge on decorating so I'm constantly trying to come up with creative (and inexpensive) ways of making my house look homey. A recent dilemma that I had was this: I had some fabulous photos (taken by the fabulous JS Foto) that I wanted to display in my house. And I had no frames to put them in.

First... I discovered that picture frames are expensive!

Then... I had a brainwave. Here we go folks...

  1. Head to your nearest Salvation Army or Goodwill.
  2. Raid the frame section. Look for SHAPES that you like. All different sizes. Don't worry if the frames are OBNOXIOUS colors and look really dated. The frames I bought were super cheap. We're talking a couple bucks cheap.
  3. Buy black spray paint or a little can of black paint.
  4. Paint the frames.
  5. Develop your favorite photos. I grouped like colors together (sepias and b&w). Check out Picnik if you need some easy (and free) photo-tweaking software.
  6. Put the photos in the frames and cluster them together (this is a look that places like Pottery Barn and Crate and Barrel often do). My favorite way of displaying frames is to NOT hang them (that's been done). Instead, I group them together on shelves, bookshelves, wherever! It looks pretty cool to lean different sizes on a shelf and have some of them overlap. Plus, the frames all match and the black looks super chic and classy!


(The big frame on the far left was the most UGLY turquoise color when I bought it. Usually I like turquoise... But it was not pretty!)

This could also be done with white or ivory paint if you want another option for a super classy look. And if you've got kids you could choose a bright accent color (hot pink, yellow, green, orange) and put frames in their room! Plus, you could frame some of their "artwork" to personalize the room even more. The options are endless!

Monday, January 24, 2011

Good Food, Good Goals, Good Day.

I am sitting at my desk in my office, wearing leggings and a sweatshirt and my hair is thrown up. I am feeling supremely happy. Nothing special, it's just been a good 24 hours and I've been taking care of my "big rocks" and that has given me lots of joy!

Last night my hubs and I got creative with cooking. We were gonna go to Trader Joe's yesterday afternoon, but we got lazy. So, we were stuck with two containers of mushrooms and a frozen bag of green beans. I cooked up the mushrooms using two recipes and they both were to die for.

Recipe A)

  • Pour 2-3 tablespoons of extra virgin olive oil in large pan. Add washed and sliced mushrooms (about 12 oz) and 2-3 cloves of garlic crushed.
  • Sauté until the juices come out of the 'shrooms.
  • Once the most of the juices have evaporated add a splash of lemon juice and 2 tablespoons parsley. Sauté for another couple minutes
  • Add salt and pepper to taste.
Recipe B)
  • Pour 2-3 tablespoons of extra virgin olive oil in large pan. Add washed and sliced mushrooms (about 12 oz) and 2-3 cloves of garlic crushed.
  • Sauté until the juices come out of the 'shrooms.
  • Add 1/4 cup balsamic vinegar. Sauté until most of the liquid has evaporated.
  • Add salt and pepper to taste.

... pictures don't do them justice! These mushrooms were AMAZING!!! Both recipes melt in your mouth like butter! :)

After dinner I was craving something sweet (and we were out of dates - my go-to 'healthy' dessert). So, I decided to make up some smoothies. Usually for breakfast I make 'healthier' smoothies (Something akin to Angela Liddon's Green Monsters). But this time I was going for straight up dessert taste. So, I pureed almond milk, a bunch of frozen blueberries, 1 banana, a couple strawberries, 1 small pear, and 3 tablespoons unsweetened cocoa powder. The cocoa powder made it incredible and the super sweet fruits that I used gave just enough sugar. It was like some sort of dark chocolate fruity bliss.

Smoothies, plus a couple Gilmore Girls episodes and I fell into a sweet slumber!

This morning continued my streak of happiness. I got up this morning and worked for an hour on my story. I plugged in headphones and played ambient music (I need to play music whenever I write... It keeps me focused!) and I did lots of organizing and research for my story. I definitely made progress, even if I didn't exactly fulfill a designated word count for the day. It feels so good to work on my goals.

After a morning breakfast of a pear and English Breakfast tea we decided to hit up Trader Joe's. Let me tell you, leisurely grocery shopping is amazing. And dangerous. Especially when you're coming off of a dairy-free, bread/pasta/grains-free, meat-free cleanse. We spent a lot more than usual and loaded up on lots of good food. We kept it healthy though! I definitely want to keep my cheese and carb intake in check from now on. I've lost 5 lbs and the husband has lost 10. This eating more fruits and vegetables thing is awesome!

So we got home with the loot and I proceeded to clean out and organize my fridge.
(Looks happy, doesn't it?)

I told my husband that I never want to scrimp on healthy food. I'll gladly wear Wal Mart apparel and drive a decrepit old car. Eating healthful and delicious food brings such well-being to my body and soul. And I love sharing edible goodness with others!

After lunch (Dal Makhani and Garlic Naan from TJ's - I love Indian cuisine), we hit up the gym. I ran 2.5 miles and languished in the steam room (I LOVE STEAM ROOMS!). Now we are home cleaning. And it's snowy outside. Yes, I hate the slush and I get tired of the cold. But I love pretty snow. :)

Friday, January 21, 2011

Creamy Potato Soup!

Last night I was trying to decide what to make for dinner and I suddenly got in the mood for something warm. Something creamy.

Comfort food.

And I had a sudden brainwave. POTATO SOUP!! I hadn't had it in ages and I had 4 lbs of yellow potatoes waiting to be used. And I was determined to make it without milk since that would be cheating on my cleanse and I wanted to see if I COULD make a soup that was both creamy and dairy-free.

So I looked in my Vegan with a Vengance cookbook and found... Creamy Potato Asparagus Soup! And I just so happened to have asparagus in the freezer! I tweaked the recipe just a tad and this is what I came up with:

  1. Wash 4 lbs of potatoes and cut into 1-2 inch chunks (I like to leave the skins on). Put into a large pot and cover with cold water. Bring to boil and boil for 15 minutes (or until soft), covered with pot lid.
  2. Add 1 lb of asparagus (stems cut into 1 inch pieces and tips cut into 2 inch pieces). Continue boiling for 3 minutes and then remove and drain water. Set aside in large mixing bowl and wash out the pot.
  3. Add 2 tablespoons of olive oil to the pot. Dice 1 large onion and add to the olive oil. Saute for 5 minutes. 
  4. Add 5 garlic cloves (chopped fine or pressed through a garlic press), 1 teaspoon salt and 1 teaspoon pepper. Saute for 1 minute.
  5. Add 6 cups of vegetable broth and 2 bay leaves. Boil for 10 minutes, uncovered.
  6. Remove bay leaves and add potatoes and asparagus. Heat until mixture is warm.
  7. Remove half of the mixture and puree in blender (I did this bit by bit so as to not overwhelm my blender and then poured the pureed mixture into the mixing bowl that had held my potatoes and asparagus. You can puree the whole mixture if you want totally creamy soup. I just did half so that it was creamy AND chunky!).
  8. Add pureed mixture back to the pot and stir. Add dill, chives, and rosemary (about 1/2 teaspoon - 1 teaspoon... depending on how much you like those herbs!)
  9. Heat mixture on low.
  10. Serve!!!
It was super yummy.

The picture doesn't do it justice. As my sister said "It looks disgusting, but it tastes divine." Yeah. You puree potatoes and asparagus and try making it look good! :)

Thursday, January 20, 2011

Freedom Quotes

Sometimes I get into a rut and sometimes I just feel stuck! Ever feel that way? For me, words can be huge motivators and at different points in my life I've come across just the right words that have picked me up and carried me forward. Here are some of my favorite motivational, freedom-inducing quotes:

  • "The second bite will taste the same as the first."When it comes to that ice-cream or cheese or potato chip or whatever... I have to remind myself that the satisfaction I felt with the first bite will FEEL THE SAME with every bite thereafter... So I don't really need to have 15 more bites. They'll all taste the same anyways.
  • "Do the next right thing." Sometimes life presents overwhelming difficulties and confusing situations. Where should I go to school? What career path should I pursue? Should I date this person? How do I fix my finances? Whenever something difficult comes up and I know that my personal action is needed, I try to focus on just the NEXT thing that needs to be done. Not the whole big picture. All I have to do is figure out the next right thing.
  • "Nothing tastes as good as skinny feels."Okay, this one needs explaining! Hah! I am NOT an advocate of unhealthy weight loss or extreme dieting. However, I have experienced personal battles with feeding my body the wrong stuff and then feeling miserable afterwards. No binge or lazy pleasure is worth it. The best joy comes from feeding your body what it deserves, working out, and watching the excess baggage melt away! This mindset can be applied to other life goals as well. Any temporary pleasure you are getting from procrastinating on your goal won't be truly satisfying!
  • "In order to succeed you must be willing to fail."This applies to anything. Life is one big risk and if we want something we've got to put ourselves out there. I've always been slightly jealous of my sister's fearlessness. She'll cut her own hair, cut up bed sheets and make a dress, and throw stuff in a pan and call it "pie". (And let me tell you, there have been some weird haircuts, outfits, and concoctions...) But she is fearless. And sometimes that leads her to genius discoveries. Me - I've always been obsessed with following directions exactly so that my creations turn out picture-perfect. But that has held me back and I know I've got to be willing to fail if I want to achieve my dreams.
What are your go-to freedom quotes? Comment and share 'em! :)

Me and my fearless sis :)

Wednesday, January 19, 2011

First Things First

Remember that time-management illustration about putting the biggest rocks in the jar first? You know, if you fill a jar with gravel and then try to put big rocks in it's not all gonna fit. On the other hand, if you put the big rocks in the jar first and then pour in the gravel it will all fit.

I'm trying to take care of my big rocks first and then let all the little daily gravels come second.

Big Rocks =

  • Working out every day
  • Eating right (and keeping the right foods on hand)
  • Writing my book
  • Writing my blogs (for those of you that don't know, my day job involves blogging and getting paid for it. Woohoo!)
  • Cleaning my house
  • Getting enough personal time
  • Getting enough family time
Gravel =
  • Checking Facebook
  • Reorganizing my basement
  • Web-surfing / window-shopping for night-stands
  • Clipping coupons
  • Going through thousands of wedding photos
  • Filling picture frames in my house
  • Hanging out with friends
Big rocks and gravel are both important. But it's the big rocks that are non-negotiable.

So far, today has been pretty good. My plan is to get up early each day (5:30am was the goal, today was more like 6:00am) and spend an hour or so writing. I did only 20 minutes today, but hey! Progress! The hubs and I had a leisurely breakfast (pears, raw nuts, and English Breakfast tea + Gilmore Girls: "Lorelai's First Cotillion") and then hit up the gym. I got 3 work blogs done and I'm working on the 4th.

Come on motivation. Stay with me. Big rocks. Big rocks!

Monday, January 17, 2011

Day 13...

... of my semi-raw; mostly-vegan diet.

So my husband and I are on this cleanse thing. The goal is to jump-start our health for 2011 and get our bodies back in gear after holiday feasting.

And boy, let me tell you. I'm loving it.

Here's what we're doing... We eliminated all meat, all dairy, all grains, and all added sugars. That pretty much leaves us with fruit, vegetables, and nuts. Now when I say "semi-raw", that means we TRY to eat mostly raw fruits and vegetables as opposed to cooking them (raw produce has more healthy enzymes and nutrients than cooked produce). And when I say "mostly-vegan" I mean that I must confess that I had a dozen eggs left over that I didn't feel like wasting and we've had hard-boiled eggs a couple times (btw, best recipe for boiled eggs... although I only let them sit for 11 minutes as opposed to 15 and I eat them right after running cold water over them). We also had two exceptions over the past week and a half - a couple homemade carrot cupcakes (given to me... I felt compelled to partake) and soft tacos at the in-laws house (again... compulsion....)

Otherwise we've been faithful to our cleanse diet. A typical day's meal involves:

  • Breakfast: fresh or frozen fruit smoothie OR a couple clementines and a handful of almonds OR a hard-boiled egg and an apple.
  • Lunch: Huge spinach salad with lentils, cucumber, carrots, broccoli, pea pods, and to-die-for homemade balsamic vinaigrette dressing OR leftover stew OR veggies and nuts dipped in hummus.
  • Dinner: vegetarian chili (canned or homemade) with extra black beans and kidney beans added OR lentil stew OR another huge salad.
  • Snacks: apples, clementines, avocado (with olive oil and cayenne pepper on top!)
  • Desserts: I could pretty much ruin the whole point of this diet with figs and dates. These dried fruits are DIVINE! (and for some reason I always think of that quote from Aladdin - "Sugared dates! Sugared dates and figs! Sugared dates and pistachios!")
So far I've lost about 5 lbs and my husband has lost about 4. He has told me that he'd like to pretty much keep up this diet one we are done and just have special exceptions. I agree with him. I feel great physically. Plus, I feel good knowing that I'm putting good stuff in my body. I can eat whenever I feel hungry and eat until I feel full. No counting calories.

No matter where you are in your life-walk or what your goals are take some time to care for yourself physically. It doesn't have to be an extreme cleanse. Maybe it's just giving up soda or eliminating added sugar. Try making one positive change for your health. I promise you won't be sorry!!

Sunday, January 16, 2011


I'm sitting in Starbucks with my sis. Drink of choice: Soy London Fog (Earl Grey Tea Latte).

I read some great stuff at Check out A Mindset Shift That Can Get You Published if you are in any way working towards a creative goal. The importance of organization BEFORE creation is so essential. Yes, for some of us it's torture. Others of us (myself included) realized that this was the key to successful college term papers.

And so I came to the realization that I have a lot more organizing to do before diving headfirst into writing. I'm on my way and I'm on the right path. But I've got to get a SOLID grasp on the big picture before I try to create the details.

My sister commented today on how organized my house is and said "Remember when your room never used to be clean?"

I think she was referring to when I was in high school and my room looked something like this:

Well, now my house is ridiculously organized. I said to my sister "I think organization breeds organization... Nothing was really organized when I was in high school... Now things look out of whack if they aren't organized..."

Okay, I'm off to organize my story.  Time to get this ball rolling! :)

Saturday, January 15, 2011

"What Must I Do?"

...That's what Frodo said when presented with the knowledge that the ring of ultimate power had to be destroyed (yes, we had a LOTR marathon over Christmas). What a simple question... What a difficult task...

Every year since I was little I have religiously created New Year's Resolution lists. This year, for the first time, I really began to think about HOW I was going to accomplish my goals, rather than just WHAT goals I wanted to reach. So many years I focused just on what I wanted and gave little thought to how in the world I was going to get there. And all along I should have just asked myself "What must I do?"

So this year I'm focusing on the "hows" as well as the "whats". Here's what I want to accomplish this year:

(Book Stuff)

  • Finish writing my first young adult novel (by writing 6,000 words a week for 6 months).
  • Begin marketing my novel (connect with libraries, schools, and everyone I know; network online)
  • Find an agent for my novel (polish my pitch, research agents, networknetworknetwork)
(Personal Stuff)
  • Lose those last 15 lbs (run 300 miles in 2011, hit the gym 4 days a week, adopt a more vegan diet)
  • Quit complaining (count my blessings every time I feel like grumbling)
  • Get out of debt (budget budget budget)
  • Encourage others more (write encouraging notes and actually mail them)

I'm going with the notion that it's never too late or too ridiculous to fight for what I want. If you've got goals then you've gotta fight for them! Map out a game-plan. Get an accountability partner. What if we all embraced self-discipline enough to make dreams come true?! If Frodo can do it, so can I.