Tuesday, October 22, 2013

routines and a fall playlist

Hello, hello.

After a chaotic start to October, I've settled into a good writing routine. It's lasted two days so far. Ha! But I'm counting that. The key for me is to put my blinders on and get my writing done first thing after the kids have left for school. Sometimes* I even have to leave the house or I'll start another load of laundry, make the bed, check emails, put away clothes and before you know it, I have an organized house but no writing done. And we can't have that, can we?

What about you? Do you have any wisdom you can share for sticking with a routine?

Here's a link to my FALL 2013 Spotify playlist I've been listening to. To cheer me up, to set a mood for writing a difficult scene, and everything in between. As usual, some new, some old. The last song is the soundtrack for the goat video I posted on Instagram. Email me if you don't do Spotify and I'll hook you up.

FALL 2013

1. Blurry-eyed Worries :: BRONZE RADIO RETURN
2. Analog or Digital :: WILDLIFE CONTROL
3. Knock Knock :: BAND OF HORSES
4. How Come You Don't Want Me :: TEGAN AND SARA
5. Blue Ice :: SHOUT OUT LOUDS
6. 1999 :: SHOUT OUT LOUDS
7. Junk of the Heart (Happy) :: THE KOOKS
8. The Way You Are :: 46BLISS
9. All My Life :: DJ HARRY
10. Lost and Found :: ADRIENNE PIERCE
11. Farther Along :: JOSH GARRELS
12. The Giving Tree :: THE AUTUMN FILM
13. Look At What the Light Did Now :: LITTLE WINGS
14. Death of an Interior Decorator :: DEATH CAB FOR CUTIE
15. A Lack of Color :: DEATH CAB FOR CUTIE
16. Yeah Yeah Yeah :: THE SOUNDS
17. WIsh You Were Hear :: THE SOUNDS
18. Bloom :: THE VEILS
19. Drive Darling :: BOY
20. Little Numbers :: BOY

*No, not sometimes. ALWAYS.

Friday, September 27, 2013

on living my "one wild and precious life”

The Summer Day
by Mary Oliver

Who made the world?
Who made the swan, and the black bear?
Who made the grasshopper?
This grasshopper, I mean-
the one who has flung herself out of the grass,
the one who is eating sugar out of my hand,
who is moving her jaws back and forth instead of up and down-
who is gazing around with her enormous and complicated eyes.
Now she lifts her pale forearms and thoroughly washes her face.
Now she snaps her wings open, and floats away.
I don't know exactly what a prayer is.
I do know how to pay attention, how to fall down
into the grass, how to kneel down in the grass,
how to be idle and blessed, how to stroll through the fields,
which is what I have been doing all day.
Tell me, what else should I have done?
Doesn't everything die at last, and too soon?
Tell me, what is it you plan to do with your one wild and precious life?

You've probably heard that I've been mysteriously ill since February, a condition I will heretofore refer to only as the Plague. No one seems to be able to figure out what's causing my symptoms or how to treat them. Basically, I feel like I have the flu most of the time. Weak. Dizzy. Nauseated. Sometimes I pass out when I stand up. Sometimes that happens at church, as I'm trying to stealthily sneak out of Gospel Doctrine to have a coughing fit in peace.

Since February, I've lost a lot of weight. As great as that sounds, I've also lost a lot of hair. Flat warts have spread all over my face. My cognitive ability has been effected as well. Which means I've had a bad case of ADD, burning dinners, forgetting children, and creating chaos. Not to mention the writer's block. It's been a horrible nine months.

And yet.

The best months of my life, too. The Plague, along with a bony bum, brittle hair and warty face, has brought me a decadent array of the richest blessings. More than I can understand or comprehend. More time for listening and being still. More time for reasoning together. More time for reading (and discovering the poet Mary Oliver, another blessing). More time pondering mortality and the purpose of my precious life. More time to hear the wind blow low and whisper through the pines and to watch dark clouds roll over  mountain peaks and more time to sit in the glow of a rainbow sherbet sunset.

More bowing and knee bending.

Tell me, what else should I have done?
Doesn't everything die at last, and too soon?
Tell me, what is it you plan to do with your one wild and precious life?

I don't know if I'll fully recover physically. But inside, I am brand new. For now, when I wake up, I look out my window and like Mary Oliver, I say: good morning, good morning, good morning. I'm going to put my lips to the world and live my life.

Mornings at Blackwater
by Mary Oliver

For years, every morning, I drank
from Blackwater Pond.
It was flavored with oak leaves and also, no doubt,
the feet of ducks.

And always it assuaged me
from the dry bowl of the very far past.

What I want to say is
that the past is the past,
and the present is what your life is,
and you are capable
of choosing what that will be,
darling citizen.

So come to the pond,
or the river of your imagination,
or the harbor of your longing,

and put your lips to the world.
And live
your life.

Monday, September 9, 2013

white bean hummus

why white beans and not garbanzo beans? because garbanzo beans have a sort of gross flavor that no one ever wants to talk about. but here is a mild, delicious, clean-tasting hummus that even picky eaters will happily dive into.

(2 things about cooking beans: 1. feel free to cook your beans however you're used to—in the slow cooker or regular stove pot. i use my pressure cooker because it's 2 1/2 hours faster than the next fastest method. this is a recipe for white bean hummus, though. not an instructional on how to use a pressure cooker. if you don't have one or don't know how to use one, just cook your beans in a way you're comfortable with. 2. there is a long-standing old wive's tale that says you can't cook beans with salt or they'll be tough. NOT TRUE! i cook beans at least twice a week and always add salt. it does increase the cooking time, so plan on that, but this is an important cooking tip to remember, especially if you're cooking beans for chili or something like that. it's lovely to have a bean that's salted all the way through and not just the skin.)

white bean hummus
makes 6 cups

1 pound dry white beans (such as great northern beans), soaked in bowl over night
2 tablespoons sea salt
2 tablespoons olive oil

Drain beans. Place ingredients in pressure cooker, cover with fresh water and pressure cook for 3 minutes. Let pressure drop of its own accord.

Drain beans again and set aside. In a food processor, chop:

2 cloves garlic

Then add:

2 tablespoons tahini (i leave this out all the time. my kids prefer it without, so if you can't find it, or are new to tahini, you can omit it too.)
juice of 2 lemons (or about 1/2 cup fresh lemon juice)
1/2 cup olive oil
1/2 cup water
1 1/2 teaspoons sea salt

Process until smooth. Divide into containers and freeze any portions you won't use right away. Lasts about 5 days in the refrigerator. I always double this recipe and blend it in the food processor in two batches. Less work, more food!

My favorite snack is just the right size to sneak into my No Food Allowed library for a writing day.

Friday, September 6, 2013

let's talk about lunch, baby. let's talk about you and me.

owl moon bento. i entered this lunch into a contest to win a new stainless steel planetbox lunch box yesterday. sadly, i didn't win, but i did have quite a few people on the 100 DAYS OF REAL FOOD blog and facebook page ask lots of questions about this lunch, so i thought i'd answer them all in one place.

1. how do you get everything to stay in place?
easy! i just fold a cloth napkin right over the top of the owl sandwich press the lid on. my daughter rides her bike to school (a little over 2 miles with her lunch bouncing around in her backpack and turned sideways) and then her lunch gets thrown in a giant bin with all her classmates. after quite a bit of jostling and shaking, she reported back to me that it looked exactly the same when she opened it up on the lunch table. good to know! another trick i sometimes pull out of my lunch-making hat is to use cream cheese or peanut butter as glue. 

2. the feathers? are those almonds? how do they stay in place? what about nut allergies!?
yes. i used sliced almonds. it took about 33 seconds to place them all on the bread. about one second per almond slice. whew! if you have a nut-free school, i think it'd be cute to use some fruit leather cut in the shape of wings. at our school, there is a table in the lunchroom designated as the nut-free zone.

3. how much time did this take?
less than 3 minutes. it took about the same amount of time it would have if i was making most of the other lunches in the contest and here's why: packing the lunches is one of the jobs i give my kids. (i have four minions to do my bidding). 

how i did it:
1. placed leftover kale salad and blueberries into the lunch boxes
2. sliced the radishes.
3. assembled the sandwich, using leftover herbed turkey from the night before and cut it with a round cookie cutter (cutting the sandwich takes less than 5 seconds and i save the bread scraps to make croutons for chef salad, which i burned tonight and then threw in the garbage).
4. MEANWHILE (and here's the secret to my success) my daughter cut the radishes into stars and used different sizes of round cookie cutters to make the moon and eyes.
5. i was going to use sliced olives for the pupils but realized we were out so i cut a sheet of nori seaweed with scissors.
6. i didn't want to do the almond feathers, but she really wanted to, so i let her lay them onto the sandwich while i filled up 4 water bottles.

honestly it took about 10 times MORE time to shoot the picture, upload it, edit it and post it to the contest than it did to make the lunch.

4. wow. you must have a lot of fancy gadgets to put this lunch together.
they are fancy! and you can be fancy too! i got the lunch box at target. it's ziploc brand, called the divided rectangle, and it's sold in pairs for about $3. the cheese was cut using a set of circle cutters i bought on amazon. and the stars were cut with a play-do cutter that came in a set i got about 9 years ago when my oldest daughter still played with play-do. 


and that wraps up our FAQ on the owl moon bento. but you know me. there's a few more things we should discuss. but i'll kindly pepper the rest of my post with pictures of past lunches, in the hopes that it will inspire you and distract you from the ranty tone of the rest of this post.

i occasionally post pictures on facebook and instagram of the lunches i make. and i haven't ever said anything, but i get REALLY BOTHERED by some of the comments.

this lunch looks great, but what does it look like by lunch time?
so glad you asked. i'll answer that by asking a question: you know i'm making these lunches to be eaten, right? ALL THE LUNCHES ARE DESTROYED BY THE TIME LUNCH IS OVER ANYWAY. regardless, i am pretty good at packing things tightly so that they are still presentable at lunch time any way.

but this brings up a second issue. i'd make lunches like these anyway even if they were destroyed by lunch time, because for me, i find joy in the process of creation. packing lunches used to be something i hated like i hate laundry and scrubbing toilets. now it's one of my favorite parts of the day. and it's even better because i get to share that time with my kids and they're part of the process as well.

which brings me to my third issue with this comment. i don't think the value of any type of art diminishes based on the permanence of the artwork. in other words, it's the process of creation that gives art value, not how long the art lasts. i have a favorite quote by picasso: "art washes from the soul the dust of every day life." for me, i find an incredible amount of joy working with my kids in the morning and making something beautiful and healthy. i'm nourishing bodies and souls.

i don't have time to do decorative/elaborate lunches like that.
oh really? last time i checked, we all lived on the same planet, which means we all have 24 hours in a day. what i hear when someone makes a comment like that is really: "you should have better/more important things to do with your time like i do." what we do with our time is a CHOICE. we're not victims, locked into a set schedule everyday. and i like to remember that saying "yes" to one thing means saying "no" to something else. maybe i get up earlier than you. maybe i watch less tv than you. maybe my house is messier than yours. maybe my clothes are more wrinkled than yours because i let them sit in the dryer for 5 days. maybe i'm smellier because i skipped showering to have time to make these lunches. i am busy all day long just like most of you. i have four busy kids. i write novels. i design. i make 3 meals a day for 6 people. i volunteer at my church. i wash about 17 loads of laundry a week. i make my own bread and yogurt. i coach my son's soccer team. i take meals to my friends when they're sick. we all have to prioritize based on what we think is most important. for me, creating is important so i prioritize it. even if i'm doing it with school lunches. and i think it's fine if that's not one of your things, too. i'm sure you're saying yes to something really valuable when you say no to spending time making a lunch like mine.

you're so lucky that your kids aren't picky
i don't think i'm lucky so much as persistent and vigilant. i'm the parent. i'm the lioness at the gate. i buy the food in the house. if the kids haven't finished something in their lunch, they eat it for a snack when they get home. hungry kids just might surprise you with what they'll eat. 

be happy. a good note to end on.

Friday, March 29, 2013

the plague of 2013, or why i just spent $60.00 for a 16 oz. bottle of the most disgusting thing i've ever tasted

oh hai. that's me in the photo above. gazing longingly at the trail i used to run. back when i could, you know, run and not be weary. take note of my scapula/bird wings beneath my highly attractive green jacket.

i'm sick. was sick. for a few weeks in january, after which i enjoyed a brief week of supreme health, then a dive into the health pits of despair. hereafter to be known as the plague of 2013.

by the numbers [since i'm remembering fondly the past years in which i was preparing 800 tax returns right about now and i miss working with numbers all day every day. <--- a lie]:

1, 2, 3, 4 and FIVE: number of different types of antibiotics i have consumed.

4: number of night terrors about murder caused by the meds. [why do i always dream that my loved ones are murderers?! why?]

2: number of CT scans I had performed.

7: number of feet tall the giant radiologist named leroy who did my CT scans was.

3: number of blood tests ran.

134: amount i weighed in january.

116: amount i weigh today.

121: amount i weighed when i got married.

116: amount i weighed when my nickname was skeletor and a frenemy spread a rumor at school that i was anorexic.

1: number of times my pants FELL OFF whilst i was errand running. my skinny jeans are baggy. MY SKINNY JEANS ARE BAGGY.

3: number of minutes i can stand without feeling like my muscles are going to collapse.

1: number of days i have left to take antibiotics #4 and #5.

>2,000: number of dollars i have spent in doctor's offices, hospitals, massage therapists, and pharmacists.

and guess what? still not feeling great. at all. which is why i bought this today:

didn't blink an eye at the $60.00 price tag. i bought the biggest bottle they had. chugged the suggested dosage of one tablesoon. and then i blinked an eye. or maybe it was more of a fluttering twitch of several rapid blinks because i can tell you for certain. MOST GROSS THING I'VE EVER TASTED OR WILL EVER TASTE. more gross than that weird black indian candy my friend brought back from audi arabia in 7th grade. (that was the second most gross). more gross than castor oil.

guys, it's so gross. of course it's gross. what can you expect with the 3 main ingredients being raw garlic, raw honey, and raw apple cider vinegar? and i'm supposed to chug a tablespoon an hour. how, i don't know, but i'm going to do it if it kills me. unless the plague kills me first.

if i die, i would like to leave my book collection to brook. and i would like my unfinished novels to be completed by my sister angela and her husband and published posthumously. please try not to make them too funny or people will know it wasn't really me writing them. i would like my organs donated. and i would like my sister anna to come clean my desk and basement and throw away my free write journals before anyone else goes through my things.

goodbye for now, cruel world.

Monday, March 11, 2013

but i thought you finished your book.

when i finished the first draft of my second novel, i joyfully told EVERYONE I KNEW. the same way you'd tell everyone if you'd completed a marathon. or graduated from college. or, you know, BIRTHED A CHILD.

it was a great accomplishment and a triumphant moment. but then something kept happening. people started asking me the same question. it started about a week after i'd finished the first draft. in passing conversation, i happened to mention that i was spending about 6 hours a day writing. and this dear person, who probably loves me more than anyone else in the world, asked me:

but i thought you'd finished your book?

then same thing happened again with someone else. and then again. and it hit me: there MIGHT be a couple of things that the normal person doesn't understand about writing, or writers, or maybe just about me. and of course it falls on my shoulders to correct this injustice.

and so. two things. first: writing is rewriting. i've never heard of any published novelist who wrote a perfect first draft and never changed a thing. many writers i know spend AT LEAST as much time revising as they do first-drafting. i'm no different. it took me about nine months to write the first draft, but that was writing about 1 hr a day. and i suspect it'll take me about that many hours to rewrite and revise until i feel like it's ready for the publishing world.

and here's the other thing. even when i am done with this second novel, even when it feels complete and like it's as good as i can make it on my own, even if it gets published, EVEN IF IT NEVER GETS PUBLISHED, even then i'll still be writing. because it turns out i love it, and it makes me feel alive and energized and there are so many stories i have to tell.

and i have a sneaking suspicion that even after i die, i'll still be making up stories. i'm just not sure the publishing process will be the same in heaven.

follow my pinterest board here to see the image sources from above and to see what's inspiring my next story.

Wednesday, September 19, 2012

from whence writing ideas come

where do you get your ideas?

i'm not certain, but i believe that most published authors get asked this a lot more than any other question. [this assumption, of course, is based on what i've heard and read as i've relentlessly stalked the lives of my favorite authors, both online and in person.]

well, it's your lucky day because i'm here to tell you where we get our ideas and where you can get them too! they come from a section in target, near the seasonal items, always on the bottom shelf, in boxes labeled "really awesome story ideas".

not amused, huh? okay, seriously, i've heard authors answer this in a lot of ways.

some try to be funny, i think it was steven king who joked with fans that he gets his ideas at walmart. THAT IS JUST ONE MORE REASON NOT TO SHOP THERE, PEEPS.

i've heard authors answer arrogantly: i make them up, duh. my ideas come from my brain. which is totally not helpful.

but those authors are kind of also, annoyingly, right. you need to create ideas. but there's a process i learned to follow for getting those ideas, and it worked really well for the novel i'm working on right now and it starts with making a list.

raise your hand if you like making lists as much as i do. okay, now go grab a notebook or open up a new word doc and start making a list.

think about people who are interesting to you. not people you want to be like, or admire, but people that are in situations or do things that make you think big thoughts. when i did this, i listed people like: homeless bums. (why are they homeless? do they like it? are they ashamed?) people who live double lives (i love the idea of keeping a secret. are they doing it to protect someone? to avoid getting caught?) addicts (the idea of someone who feels so intensely that they must buffer the sensations of the world is so interesting to me).

now make a list of the last ten people who did something to hurt you. go ahead. savor those resentments. ha! no really, don't dwell on past wrongs, but just remember those people. thinking about people who hurt you opens up your heart to pain, but it also opens it up to ideas, i think. when i did this, i could only think of five people who have ever hurt me in my entire life. i don't know what this means. but moving on...

make a list of places that you consider spiritual homes. places you feel the most serene, the most calm, the most in tune with the universe. THERE'S A REASON BOTH MY BOOKS HAVE REFERENCES TO CITRUS GROVES.

now make a list of places that scare you. tall cliffs? dark forests? suffocating small towns? see how this works?

now make a list of themes or concepts that engage your mind. your list could be single words or paragraphs or more. one word or idea may spark more. make yourself continue listing for at least 15 minutes. i especially love the story and themes of THE PRODIGAL SON. on my list i have things like: self loathing, redemption, jealousy, betrayal, secrecy, revenge, vindication. these are the things juicy stories are made of.


if you're like me, or have the heart of a potential writer inside you, by this point characters or places or ideas have coalesced or combined or generated in your own mind the seed of a story idea.

once i have the seed of an idea, i move on to brainstorming, which sparks a future blog post idea. for another day, peeps, another day.

at least that's how it worked for me. i'd love to hear where your ideas come from.