Monday, July 30, 2012

A Special Gift Is Kindness

click image for a downloadable pdf
We create our own happiness. I know this because I'm a recovering pessimist who is a learning, practicing, living example. Practice totally works! Changing negative thought patterns into positive ones has brought me greater joy and deeper satisfaction in my relationships than I could ever imagine. Even when things aren't perfect.

Especially when thing aren't perfect.

I feel like my life is in transition at the moment. I'm moving out of survival/tread water mode and moving towards the living/breathing/thriving mode. I'm ready to push myself a little bit farther. To see how miraculous and beautiful I can make this life. To start, I'm having a reboot week, starting today. I'm eating only raw foods. I'm spending daily time journaling and reading sacred words and pondering and praying.

And I'm giving up my phone. For one week. [screams] No really. [screams loudly] You can always email me or call me on my home phone. It will be okay. [breathes deeply]

Inspired by advice from Mara from A Blog About Love—who teaches that even in difficult situations, if we focus on attaining a virtue, like forgiveness or courage, we can be resilient and even triumphant during trials—I decided to focus for a few months (or years, or lifetime—however long it takes) on acquiring the virtue of kindness. 

And no sooner had I been thinking this, than information on the subject started flying my way. The Law of Attraction is funny (or awesome, depending on how you look at it) that way.

Noah Webster describes kindness this way:

1. Good will; benevolence; that temper or disposition which delights in contributing to the happiness of others, which is exercised cheerfully in gratifying their wishes, supplying their wants or alleviating their distresses; benignity of nature. Kindness ever accompanies love. 

2. Act of good will; beneficence; any act of benevolence which promotes the happiness or welfare of others. Charity, hospitality, attentions to the wants of others, &c., are deemed acts of kindness, or kindnesses.

Isn't that beautiful?

And while I was pondering upon the virtue of kindness, the words of a hymn began to circle around in my head, and then ever so slowly, sink into my heart with a new, deeper meaning than I had been ready to understand before.

Savior, may I learn to love thee,
Walk the path that thou hast shown,
Pause to help and lift another,
Finding strength beyond my own.
Savior, may I learn to love thee-
Lord, I would follow thee.

Kindness requires strength beyond my own ability, and I have help as I seek to acquire that virtue. Heaven's help.

Who am I to judge another
When I walk imperfectly?
In the quiet heart is hidden
Sorrow that the eye can't see.
Who am I to judge another?
Lord, I would follow thee.

Kindness is showing compassion instead of resentment when people don't treat us the way we hoped. Kindness is recognizing that happy, emotionally healthy people don't lash out at others. Kindness knows that people who are unkind are suffering in their own way.

Kindness is refraining from judging, criticizing, or gossiping about others. Kindness sees the best in everyone.

I would be my brother's keeper;
I would learn the healer's art.
To the wounded and the weary
I would show a gentle heart.
I would be my brother's keeper-
Lord, I would follow thee.

Kindness can be learned! This is the best news for someone like me whose gut instinct is to react to the world with "tough love" and an attitude that people should help themselves and a belief that people only get what they deserve. Kindness instead is teaching in a gentle way, not accepting the victim mentality, but lifting and offering to help when we can.

Savior, may I love my brother
As I know thou lovest me,
Find in thee my strength, my beacon,
For thy servant I would be.
Savior, may I love my brother-
Lord, I would follow thee.

How much does the Lord love us? So much so, that as he was dying on the cross, he offered this prayer to his Father on behalf of those who were crucifying him: "Father forgive them, for they know not what they do." That is the type of love and kindness we can show to those around us.

How do you practice kindness? I DON'T REALLY KNOW. But I'm trying. I'm studying and pondering and saying to myself "I am kind. I am tenderhearted." and putting reminders everywhere. And the best part? Kindness changes the giver as much as the receiver.

Any thoughts you'd like to share or things you've learned while practicing kindness?

Friday, July 27, 2012

How to make the best pie in the world

A good pie starts with the perfect crust. I always use Martha's recipe, which will make enough for two pie shells. Some tips:

-Use cold butter.
-Use kosher or sea salt.
-Put ice in your water.
-Remember, your main two goals with making a pie dough are to keep the dough as cold as possible and to add only enough water to get the dough to stick together, no more.

-Don't add flour to roll out your crust. Instead, roll it between pieces of plastic wrap. I recommend the Kirkland brand. This makes transfering it to your pie dish a cinch.

-When baking your pie crust, use pinto beans to weight down the parchment paper. I've been using the same beans for more than five years.

And now, my two favorite pie recipes.

Coconut Cream Pie

1 disk of Pie Dough
3/4 cups unsweetened coconut flakes
1/4 cup plus 1 tablespoon cornstarch
1/2 cup sugar
1/4 teaspoon salt
2 cups milk
2/3 cup cream of coconut
1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
1 tablespoon butter
3/4 cup heavy cream
2 tablespoons powdered sugar
1 teaspoon coconut extract


1. Preheat oven to 375 degrees with rack positioned in the lower third. Roll out pie dough to a 1/8-inch thickness between sheets of plastic wrap. Transfer the crust to a 9-inch-round pie dish and shape how you want it. I love the imperfection of a homemade crust. Dip your fingers in a bowl of water if you need to smooth the dough a bit. Lightly prick the bottom of the dough with a fork. Line with parchment paper, gently pressing the parchment into the edges of the crust; weigh down parchment with dried beans. Bake until the edges of the pastry begin to turn golden, about 15 minutes. Carefully remove the pie weights and the parchment paper. Continue to bake until crust is golden brown in color, 15 to 20 minutes more. Transfer the crust to a wire rack to cool completely.

2. Place 1/4 cup of the unsweetened coconut flakes on a parchment-lined baking sheet. Bake until light golden, about 5 minutes. Set aside.

3. To prepare the filling: Combine cornstarch, 1/2 cup sugar, and salt in a medium saucepan. Whisk in milk and cream of coconut. Set over medium heat, and cook, stirring constantly, until bubbling and thick, about 5 minutes. In a medium bowl, whisk 4 egg yolks. Slowly whisk hot milk mixture into egg yolks. Return mixture to saucepan, and continue cooking over medium heat, stirring constantly, until mixture returns to a boil, about 1 minute more. Remove from heat. Stir in vanilla and butter. Fold in remaining 1/2 cup unsweetened coconut flakes. Chill in the fridge.

4. In a bowl, beat together cream, powdered sugar, and coconut extract with an electric mixer at high speed until stiff peaks form.

5. Transfer the custard to the cooled crust. Pile on the whipped cream. Sprinkle with reserved 1/4 cup toasted coconut. Slice, and serve. Refrigerate any leftover pie.

Fresh Peach Pie


1 disk of Pie Dough
5-6 large peaches
2 tablespoons lemon juice
1/3 cup sugar
3/4 tablespoons cornstarch

4 oz. cream cheese, softened
1/2 cup powdered sugar
1/2 teaspoon vanilla
1/2 cup heavy cream

1. Preheat oven to 375 degrees with rack positioned in the lower third. Roll out pie dough to a 1/8-inch thickness between sheets of plastic wrap. Transfer the crust to a 9-inch-round pie dish and shape how you want it. I love the imperfection of a homemade crust. Dip your fingers in a bowl of water if you need to smooth the dough a bit. Lightly prick the bottom of the dough with a fork. Line with parchment paper, gently pressing the parchment into the edges of the crust; weigh down parchment with dried beans. Bake until the edges of the pastry begin to turn golden, about 15 minutes. Carefully remove the pie weights and the parchment paper. Continue to bake until crust is golden brown in color, 15 to 20 minutes more. Transfer the crust to a wire rack to cool completely.

2. In blender, blend together 1 peeled peach, lemon juice, sugar and cornstarch. Transfer to sauce pan and heat until boiling. Boil 1 minute. Slice remaining peaches and mix with sauce. Refrigerate until chilled.

3. Cream together remaining ingredients. Spread into the bottom of the cooled pie crust. I end up using about 2/3 of this. Save the rest for fruit dip or something. Add the peaches on top, being careful to drain off some of the juicy liquid or your pie will be too sloppy. Arrange the peaches in any pattern that pleases you. Slice, and serve. Refrigerate any leftover pie.

Wednesday, July 25, 2012

When Someone You Know Is Writing a Novel

Chances are, you may know someone who has mentioned in passing that they are writing a book. Chances are high, if you're reading this blog, that that person is me.

Since I started writing in 2007, I've learned a lot about the way the publishing industry works, a lot about how other authors work, and a lot about what those things mean to my own writer soul.

I've also learned that sometimes other people don't really know a lot about the process. Or maybe you're just curious.

Well. Lucky for you, I'm here to let you in on a few things. Perhaps a better title for this post would have been What Not To Say When Someone You Know Is Writing A Novel. Here are a few things that people have actually said to me when the subject of writing comes up.

"So, you're writing about vampires?"
Uh, no. Often, when someone first learns I'm writing, they will want to know if I'm either writing the next Twilight, or the next Harry Potter. I'm actually writing about a recovering heroin addict who's chosen as his town's annual sacrifice when he returns after a two-year absence, but thanks for asking.

"So, you're going to make us all rich!"
Again, no. The average amount a first-time author makes on their first novel is between $6,000 to $10,000. Shannon Hale, a favorite author of mine, posted more about it here. I actually have a higher chance of becoming a millionaire by winning the lottery than I do through publishing my novel. And you know you're really a writer when this fact doesn't stop you from writing your story anyway. Even if I knew I'd never make a cent, I'd still be writing what I am. It's the joy in creation, the feeling that I am the only person in the world who could tell the story I'm writing that finds me in my chair at the keyboard every day.

"Your life revolves around books."
I know, isn't it great? (That was my response to the first person who said that to me. I've since formulated a better answer, since people keep saying this to me in a concerned way, with the same tone of voice you'd use when holding an intervention for a drug-using loved one.) Do you say to your tax accountant friend "Your life revolves around taxes and numbers?" Or to the grocery store clerk "Your life revolves around produce?" No. It's their work, it's what they do. Writing is the same. For me, it's a part-time job, but many authors write full time, 8 hours a day.

"Your life revolves around your friends."
I know, I have the best friends! Writing can be a lonely pursuit, and sometimes you need others to keep you on course, or to talk out a plot knot, or critique your horrible first draft, or to provide therapy when the rest of life is hard to deal with. I have a writing group that meets once a week. We don't sit and write when we meet, we can do that all by ourselves! We do all those other things, and for me, it is absolutely vital to my writing. While my life outside of writing is very full, and I disagree with the fact that my life revolves around my friends, I will say that my WRITING revolves around my friends, who happen to be co-workers, so to speak. SO many of you read early drafts of my first novel and gave me valuable feedback. And the girls in my critique group have saved my life a time or two. I would not be without the help of Meagan or Olivia. Period.

"Are you finished with your book yet?" or "I thought you finished that."
Remember how I said, a few paragraphs earlier that I am a part-time writer? And even famous authors who write full time and don't have kids or a volunteer job with their church, or a garden, or cook all their meals from scratch, or eighteen loads of laundry to do can't write a book faster than about a year. So if it takes me three years to write my first one, and a year and a half to write the second one then I am doing just fine. Also, and I'm confident this is true for most authors, each book will go through many, many revisions and drafts before it feels finished. Neither of my books feel like they're at that point yet.

"So, you're going to send your book to Rand McNally to be published?"
Um, you know Rand McNally publishes ATLASES, right? This is how the publishing industry really works, in general. Step 1: write your book. Revise, repeat until it's the best you can do. Step 2: submit query letter to agents until one agrees to represent you. Step 3: work with your agent to revise your novel until it's the best it can be. Step 4: your agent submits your novel to editors at publishing houses. Step 5: your novel is accepted at a publisher and will be an actual book in about 18 months.

"I can't wait to read your book!"
Actually, you probably should. My current novel is not going to be a book for everyone. I think a large number of my acquaintances will find it offensive. And that is okay with me. What I'm trying to write is emotional truth, and sometimes that means writing ugly things. Hopefully, if I can do it right, including the bitter will make the ending—the long-awaited redemption—that much more sweet. For there must needs be an opposition in all things.

Any other writing related questions? I'd be happy to answer them in the comments.

Monday, July 2, 2012

New York

Aw. Happy sigh. New York was an incredible experience and I've felt overwhelmed every time I attempted to collect my thoughts on it. I did so much, saw so much, tasted so much, SMELT so much. I loved, LOVED that place. I mentioned on Instagram that I felt like I had found my people there. Someone asked what I meant by that. I one-finger-typed a response, but I'm not sure I truly captured exactly all I thought and felt by that comment. I'm going to try to do that here, interspersed with pictures from my trip.

New Yorkers are fast. I loved the speed with which they walked, transacted, entered and exited. It filled my impatient heart with a great big love for people who matched the pace at which I barrel through life.

New Yorkers are stylish and well-dressed. I don't think fat or frumpy people live in Manhattan. Or maybe they do but they weren't the same places I was. Either way, it was fun to watch all the people walking by and try to guess by their attire whether they were locals or tourists.

New Yorkers utilize public transportion. One day, Danylle and I rode the subway from Manhattan to Coney Island to Queens and back. Not on purpose, but only for TWO DOLLARS. We walked almost everywhere. Or took a shuttle, a taxi, or even a pedicab. (I don't recommend the latter. I felt so guilty the whole time our skinny little bike peddler sweated his way up the street). Did you know that Penn Station is like the airport of trains? Well it is. For $12 you can go to Boston from Manhattan, which we almost did, but changed our minds at the last second. But you could.

New Yorkers eat well. Did you know when I eat preservatives, I get a little sick for a few days? (Like, need to stay near a toilet sick. Ahem.) I loved not having to worry about that, because everywhere we ate the food was fresh and made from scratch. Not only that, but within walking distance there was ANY ethnicity of food we could ever imagine. And at the food carts I could get falafel or a fresh fruit smoothie or a spinach apple ginger fresh juice. In New York, I could eat ANYTHING I WANTED, WHENEVER I WANTED IT. And I didn't have to drive or cook or clean up after myself to get it.

New Yorkers appreciate art. I think I could have used a full week to explore the Met. The MOMA was incredible, even if I did feel a little traumatized by some of the exhibits. Some works of art must be seen in real life to fully appreciate them, and New York is a great place to do that.

New Yorkers value architecture. We saw an old prison converted into a library. A Dunkin' Donuts in a building that rivals anything in downtown Salt Lake. The Brooklyn Bridge. Grand Central Station. And my favorite, the New York City library.

And can I just give Central Park its own paragraph? I sat on a park bench there, the day after arriving, and just cried. Because it was so quiet and hushed compared to the bustle of the city. Because I was with two friends who were the perfect travel mates. Because the little yellow ice cream cart beside me was playing Band of Horses and they had hand painted drawings of herbs on the side of the cart and WHERE ELSE IN THE WORLD WOULD THEY HAVE SOMETHING LIKE THAT?

Nowhere else. There’s nothing like it.

Sunday, July 1, 2012

Flatbread With Spreads or What To Bring To A Summer Cocktail Party

One of my favorite memories of New York was eating tapas at the tiny little restaurant we chanced upon. Luckily, our table neighbor recommended them and they were delicious!

I thought it would be fun to recreate the spreads we had, and take them to Olivia's 30th birthday party.

I think I came pretty close. Some of the recipes I found online (links below) and some I created on my own. I started the flatbread first and while the dough was rising, mixed up the spreads in my food processor.

These came together really easily and I think they'd also be great for sandwich wraps. The only change I made was to place them directly into a folded towel after cooking to ensure they'd be extra soft.

Beet Dip or Mama Dallou’ah
This recipe makes a lot of beautiful, brightly colored dip, lucky for you! A few recipe notes: my beets were giant so I had to roast them about 1 1/2 hours, not the 45 minutes it calls for in the recipe. I also halved the amount of tahini. And if you've made my recipe for muhamara, now you have something else to use your pomegranate molasses with. This is my personal favorite of the 3 spreads.

Olive Tempanade
I couldn't find a recipe online that I thought would work, so I combined a few and came up with this. You could use any combination of olives—kalamata, black, or green.

1 cloves garlic, peeled
1 cup pitted kalamata olives
1 6-ounce can black olives, drained
2 tablespoons capers
3 tablespoons chopped fresh parsley
2 tablespoons lemon juice
1/4 cup olive oil

Place the garlic clove into a blender or food processor; pulse to mince. Add the olives, capers, parsley, lemon juice, and olive oil. Blend until everything is finely chopped.

Roasted Red Pepper Hummus
This is another one I had to alter. It turned out just how I wanted it, with a little more tangy bite than any of the recipes I found online. This one was Younger Son's favorite.

1 clove garlic
1 15-ounce can garbanzo beans, drained
1/2 cup julienned sun-dried tomatoes in oil
2 tablespoons tahini
1/3 cup lemon juice
1 jar roasted red peppers, drained
2 tablespoons fresh basil, chopped

Place the garlic clove into a blender or food processor; pulse to mince. Add remaining ingredients and blend until finely chopped.

That's it! Yum.

As I type, I am downloading the 400+ pictures I took in New York and mulling over my experiences there. Blog posts to follow.