March 3, 2015

Spotted: Writer Essentials

I love notebooks! I mean, I really, really love them. I can't help but buy a stylish, new notebook any time I come across one. So when I was poking around the internet, I found this company, Appointed, and I was hooked. The design looks beautifulstylish, yet refined....elegant, yet simple. They're launching their project through Kickstarter today, and I encourage you to check out their video. This American-made product, by graphic designer Suann Song, is one I'm looking forward to working with. After all, who wouldn't want "beautiful tools to inspire beautiful work".

Suspended in Air (1000 Words)

The act of writing continues to confuse and amaze me. Just as I was getting out of my own way, I hit a big roadblock. Not writer's block, mind you, but a dilemma that had my fingers suspended in air, unclear of what key I needed to hit next. Sometimes when you work on a project, the project leads you to places you never dreamed of visiting, and other times you end up leading the project in a direction you didn't intend.

When Kate was home a few weekends ago, I talked with her at great length about my books and ideas. At first, she was accommodating and polite, but then she got excited. Which got me excited. I started writing a book back in 2009(!) that I've had sitting in my desk and on my computer just waiting for me to hit the delete button. Since starting my 1000 Words project, I've kept up with my end of the bargain, to a point. I collected all of my written essays and made notes of new essays for project #2 (non-fiction), filed them away and felt pretty good about my progress. Then I came back to project #1 (fiction) and it felt very....forced.

I decided I needed a little perspective, which is where Kate came in. I started to explain the new book to her and then she asked about the one I had started years ago. I told her I had abandoned that idea. She didn't say much at first, but then she asked me why. After explaining the situation, she convinced me that my original book had to be written.

I am now switching it up and returning to the book I started so long ago and tabling my new one. She made me see that the story needed to be told and that the reason I wasn't making any real progress on the new one was because my heart just wasn't in it. She further made me understand that I wouldn't have to throw it all out and start over. My beginning is now going to end up somewhere in the middle. That revelation was so freeing.

It amazed me how quickly talking through the project made me see things in a new way. I was able understand why I stuffed this story in a drawer to begin with and why now was the time to dust it off and continue to move forward.

A writer is faced with a lot of self-doubt. And although writing is essentially a one-person act, the process must be shared. It doesn't matter if you talk about writing in general, about a specific project, or share pages of your story or article, you must put it out there and let it be judged.

I encourage all writers to find a support system that works for you, whether you join a writers' group in person or online, or trust in your peoplethe ones who understand you and what you're trying to achieve.

"Don't write your book in seclusion--get a community to support you--a writing buddy, an online class, workshop, or a coach can keep you accountable, confident and supportive." - Lisa Tener

This is why I started this series to begin withto hold myself accountable to someone other than myself. Those 1000 words are a goal, not a barrier, and they're not there to make me feel less competent, lazy, or like a failure. They're simply a measuring stick; an imaginary boss looming over my shoulder to make sure I'm doing my work.

If you're having trouble with your writing, read Lisa's article to be inspired.

Photo credit: My office/den where I do most of my writing and a favorite spot to read taken by Katie Merritt

March 2, 2015

10 Things to do in March

It may be snowing outside my window right now, but spring is on its way! March is a tricky month, especially here in New England, but if I can brave another week of cold, snowy weather, we all can. Cooper and Dante enjoyed a nice swim at the park last spring. Here's hoping the snow melts away before the end of April! And here are some ideas to help you get a jumpstart on spring.

1. Get outside! I know it sounds easy, but with all of the snow and cold we've had this winter, it's easier to cuddle up indoors to stay warm. However, your house has been shut away and it's important (especially before allergy season!) to breathe in fresh, clean air. That said, open up the windows as soon as you can. Even on a warm 40+ degree winter day, it's good to air out the house. It also helps to dry things out while you're cleaning up. (See #2.)

2. Clean up. If you got a jump on your spring cleaning last month, now is the time to actually clean rather that purge and organize. I just cleaned out my fridge from top to bottom, wiped down the tops of upper cabinets, and now I'm getting ready to tackle dust from all of those hidden places. Our furniture has been locked down too, so it's a good idea to clean upholstery and carpeting. One thing I will note, if you have allergies, specifically mold or dust allergies, take caution. Wear a mask when dusting and opt for dry clean methods instead of wet where more mold and dust can grow. (Check out this ultimate spring cleaning guide.)

3. Rearrange the furniture. You don't have to spend money to redecorate your home, all you need is a little time and muscle. Move the sofa to take in a view, or spread out your seating arrangement or create a new one. Remove heavy drapes, blankets, and miscellaneous clutter. Consider redecorating your mantel or sideboard with fresh colors and materials. Start small and then dream and plan for future updates. Be inspired by these two posts: One-Day Makeover and Makeover Now and Later.

4. Indulge in a fresh bouquet of flowers. An $8 bunch of tulips will lighten your mood and infuse a little color into your home. Have you seen the $10 bouquets they offer at Whole Foods? I absolutely love them. You can tuck them just about anywhere and they last at least a week if not longer. You can see one of them on Kate's bedside table in this post.

5. Celebrate the little things. March is a very looong month. We just found out that Amanda's school is taking away a 4-day weekend (March is the only month without a scheduled day off) because of snow days, which means she has 7 long weeks to wait before her next break. So it's really important that I/we try and make the best of it by celebrating melting snow (fingers crossed), picking up her fitted prom dress, and St. Patrick's Day. Even if you're not Irish, it's okay to celebrate any way you'd like. Go all out and put together a themed dinner party, make a pot of Irish Beef Stew, or dress in your favorite shade of green.

6. Get moving. I'll be the first to admit that I have gotten way off track when it comes to exercising. And although I tend to slow down during the winter months, I don't usually take extended breaks or stop entirely. I want to be able to get on my bike as soon as the removal of snow and ice will widen the roads, so it's back to basics for me. Amanda has graciously lent me her stationary bike and it's been kicking my butt. I'm starting out slowly so I don't injure myself. (I'm still nursing a sore hip and now a rotator cuff issue from shoveling heavy snow!). It doesn't matter where you arebeginner or expert, or how far we've comewe all have to go back to the basics from time and time and never give up.

7. Extend your wardrobe. It's okay to go for a layered look as the seasons change, in fact, it's the best way to stretch your wardrobe without having to buy anything new. Jeans can be worn all year long and so can blouses. Just pair them with a cardigan or vest, layer blouses over a T, or add a warm scarf to see you through. You can wear lighter weight sweaters all year long and pare shorts with tights if that's the look you're going for. Warm up this winter to spring look with stockings (or leather boots) and a pretty scarf and/or light jacket and you'll get by just fine once the mercury has risen above freezing.

8. Start gardening. The earth certainly isn't ready for planting just yet, but that doesn't mean you can't start seedlings indoors. If you're not much of a gardener, I highly recommend planting herbs. Take it from someone who has killed more plants than I care to admit, herbs are (almost) bullet proof. And you can keep them indoors all year round if you prefer.

9. Plan your summer or vacation reading list now. I know some of you have already taken a holiday to a warm climate by this time, but for those of you who still plan to get away once the weather cooperates, it's time to shop. The girls and I have decided to theme our reading this summer. That's the plan right now, but I'm sure we'll throw in a few surprises. Check out Good Reads, the New York Times best sellers list, or check out these Pinterest boards to inspire you.

10. Go fly a kite. I'm back to 'get outside'! Kite flying has never been one of my favorite things to do, but I wouldn't mind watching someone else fly one as I was walking or biking on by. I think of them as little beacons of hope....yes, spring is here. Spring is here!

Thank you for reading this series, 10 Things to do in... . In case you missed any, here they are.

April
May
June
July
August
September
October
November
December
January
February

February 27, 2015

Have a Wonderful Weekend

Are you tired of seeing pictures of snow? Yeah, me too. If you can believe it, I took this picture over a week ago and we have since received a foot and a half more. Add to that -24 degree wind chills and that about sums up our winter. But...we did have a bit of melting for the first time in over a month, so I'm thinking positive. Unfortunately, roofs all over New England are starting to sag, collapse, and leak. I came home last week after class to find that my kitchen ceiling has a few new decorationsbrown stains in an assortment of shapes. There was only one other winter where we've had roof damage, this is the second. C'est la vie.

Amanda has been on her winter break this past week. We went prom dress shopping and she picked out a beautiful plum ball gown. Be sure to look for those pictures in May. As for this weekend... I think we're just planning on taking it as it comes. I hope you have an enjoyable weekend and here are some links you might find interesting.

Think I'm kidding about the cold and snow... well, the ocean is starting to freeze.

Downton Abbey meets Harry Potter.

Great quotes about writing and little free libraries everywhere. Oh, and advice about writing from Stephen King.

Are you ready for a new haircut?

Gorgeous log cabin makeover.

Take a breather and check out this place where you can work, relax, or meet. Use code JRTFQX for a free hour.

Try this 4 ingredient chicken marinade. Yum!

xo

Photo taken from my kitchen window.

February 26, 2015

Small Space Decorating: The Kitchen

With two children currently living in apartments, I know a little bit about making the most of small spaces. Kate's kitchen barely allows two people to occupy the room at the same time just like this one. So what do you do in tight spaces? Think up. And take advantage of wall space. Here are a few tips...
  • Use baskets and shelving above cabinets and the refrigerator. Three wine holders are used to support a painted board for instant and inspired storage. Keep a step stool close by to retrieve things on a daily basis.
  • Install wire baskets underneath cabinets to keep counter clutter to a minimum.
  • Hang cutting boards, a collage of dishes, additional baskets, or a few colorful colanders on the wall for easy access and to add dimension and style to your walls.
  • Art can be propped against a backsplash instead of on the walls to add character to your space.
  • Keep the colors to a minimum. Shades of white, gray, and black work well here. My daughter's kitchen is mostly red and brown, but still works.
  • Double duty. Use pitchers to hold utensils like wooden spoons (I use a marble wine cooler). Unexpected touches add personality.
  • Get creative with storage. Instead of taking up drawer space, house trash bags underneath the sink. You can even hang plastic baskets to hold sponges and brushes. Use larger bins for tinfoil and plastic wrap.
  • Use organizers inside cabinets to maximize space. Wire shelving will help separate dishes from mixing bowls and baking goods from spices.
  • Take advantage of cabinets doors. Create your own message center with cork tiles or chalk paint or simply use the inside of the door to hang smaller items. Add hooks to hang rubber gloves and dish towels.
  • Take advantage of small spaces. You need just inches between cabinets and windows to create glass ledges.

February 25, 2015

Roast Beef

It occurred to me the other day that I hadn't cooked a roast beef dinner since we started eating organic. I don't buy beef very often to begin with and all they ever have in the meat case is pot roast....and I'm not a fan of pot roast. So I asked the butcher if they had any roast beef, which was a silly question, really, and of course they did. Which cut would I like? Well... as crazy as this may sound, I used to just purchase the roast at the grocery storeby shape. I had no idea what cut I was buying. My butcher took pity on me and started to edify me on all things beef. I left with a 4lb. top round roast, all tied up like a package. And on Sunday, we had an old-fashioned Sunday dinner at 2:00 in the afternoon.

Roast Beef

3-4lb. top round roast, tied
1 bulb of garlic
2 1 quart containers of beef broth (I use Pacific brand organic)
salt and freshly ground pepper (optional) to taste

Pre-heat your oven to 375 degrees while you prepare the beef. (I use the roast setting on my convection oven.)

Peel an entire bulb of garlic and set aside. Cut deep slits into the roast and insert a piece of garlic into each slit. I use the whole bulb, you may choose to use less.

Place the roast in the roasting pan and pour 1-2 cups of beef broth over and around the beef. Sprinkle the beef liberally with salt. You may also decide to add a bit of freshly ground pepper, but I use just salt.

Roast for approximately 60 minutes (20 minutes per pound).

*Make sure you peek in on your roast and add more beef broth if necessary as this becomes part of your stock for the gravy.

When done, loosely wrap beef in aluminum foil and let rest for 15-20 minutes. When ready, remove beef from foil and slice into pieces. You can choose to keep the garlic in the roast or remove entirely.
Once the beef is sliced, place it on a platter, add the garlic as a garnish, and pour any juices from the foil over the beef to keep moist.

Note: I have used ready minced garlic (with juice) spread on top of beef as well as herbs, like thyme and rosemary. You can certainly do this instead. Choose fresh herbs if possible and sprinkle liberally all over.

Beef Gravy

1 quart beef broth (see above)
1 teaspoon garlic powder
1 1/2 teaspoons onion salt
1/4 cup all-purpose flour
2 tablespoons olive oil or butter (optional)

Heat 1 quart of beef broth in a sauce pan. Bring to a slight boil and reduce heat by half. Add seasonings and taste. I like my gravy on the salty side so you may wish to add a bit more or a bit less.

To thicken the gravy, you can either add a roux (flour and oil or butter) or mix flour and water together and combine with the broth. The idea is NOT to create any lumps. Try option 1 or 2 below.

1.  Heat the oil or butter in a pan and whisk in flour until smooth. Because you're working with a lean piece of meat and you're not working with the stock (which would contain fat and the need to use either oil or butter), it's a good idea to add fat. Slowly pour the seasoned broth over the roux and whisk constantly until smooth.

2.  Combine flour with enough warm water to create a paste. Make sure there are no lumps. Reduce seasoned broth to a simmer and slowly add flour mixture a little at a time into the pan whisking constantly until smooth.

Add any dripping from the pan into the gravy and stir.

Serve with mashed potatoes, green beans, roasted asparagus, or steamed broccoli. Serves 4-6 people.

Enjoy!

February 24, 2015

Book Lovers Night Out

A Couple of weeks ago, Amanda and I went to hear Jodi Picoult talk about her books and writing at The Palace Theatre in Manchester. Ms. Picoult happens to be Amanda's favorite author and one of mine as well. Her books were the first adult fiction books I shared with Amanda, and now she can't get enough. We're looking forward to her next event already!

When Kate learned we were going to hear her talk, she said she would be hesitant to listen to her favorite writer actually speak, and I understood completely; the experience might take away a bit of the magic. However, I'm happy to say that Amanda and I were not disappointed. We expected her to be well-spoken and engaging, but we were pleasantly surprised at how funny she was. She is a born storytelleron the page and in person.

The room was filled with womenmothers and daughters, friends, and we suspect lots of book club groups, but there were a few men in the audience as well. In fact, she says her male and female readers are almost equal. She spoke about her favorite books—Second Glance and Nineteen Minutes, and her current book, Leaving Time—and the stories behind those stories.

We learned a great deal about her writing process as well. She takes 9 months to write a book. She and her husband refer to them as babies and he gives her either a blue or pink balloon once it's finished. She's often writing more than one book at a time (researching another while editing the one she's currently writing), usually knows the ending before she begins, and she always starts with the question, "what if?". That's how she comes up with her ideas. Sounds simple, right? Well, if you've read any of her books, you know that they're filled with details. That "what if" question leads to lots of research, which she does first and before writing a word. She calls it finding the fact behind the fiction.

She explained how she researches a particular subject and talked openly about some of the people who have helped her with that research, including a certain New England paranormal team you may be familiar with, lots of law enforcement, and a host of specialists. She's spent time in jail and on movie sets, observed open heart surgery, traveled across many continents, and has seen the world in ways I can't even imagine. I'm sure there were many would-be writers mentally tossing out their manuscripts that night.

After the Q&A session, I asked Amanda what she would have asked given the chance. She replied, "If you could live the life of any character you have written, who would it be and why?" Excellent question, and one I would love to hear the answer to. So once we were in line to have our books signed, I told her she should ask it then. As we approached the table, Amanda froze. I cleared my throat and started to talk about the book she was signing for me. I wanted to draw out the conversation so Amanda would start to feel at ease and ask her question. She never did. Nor did she ever tell her that the book she was signing for her she had read six times and it was her favorite (Vanishing Acts). She was starting to make me nervous. It was all I could do to get her to pose for this picture. She was completely star-struck.

Her next book is the sequel to the YA novel, Between the Lines, she wrote with her daughter. If Amanda was willing to read adult fiction, it was time I returned the favor in kind. We've all talked about theming our summer reading this yearKate is thinking of Jane Austen, Amanda is undecided at the moment, and I'm thinking I'll read all young adult novels. The sequel to Between the Lines is coming out in May so it'll be perfect.

What's next? Well, having just returned from Botswana, she was inspired and is currently writing about race relations in America.

Leave it to Jodi Picoult. I expect the book will be both informative and entertaining, as usual.
 

February 23, 2015

NYFW: Ralph Lauren

New York Fashion Week has concluded and what a week it was. I was almost more intrigued by what the onlookers were wearing to the shows than the shows themselves. (You must follow the New York Times Instagram page for a re-cap. They also have pictures up from last night's Oscars, too.) The overall trend report: colors were soft, there was plenty of texture, and lots of fur and fringe to be had. I sensed a 70s/80s vibe going on that instantly made me take a second look at one of my all-time favorite designers, Ralph Lauren.
 
His style, in my view, will always be timeless, but this upcoming season's collection made me smile. The fabrics he used we just incredible. (I adore the wool and cashmere ivory lace gown you see above.) “The idea was how to make texture — sweaters, shearling — luxurious,” he was quoted by Women's Wear Daily. He kept to a narrow palette, multiple shades of ivories and browns, allowing no color distraction as the textures intensified. From lace to fur, suede to wool, and sumptuous embellishments. His look was long and languid and utterly chic.
 
Here's a look of some of my favorites.

 
Photos: WWD, fashionbyn.com, and Lee Oliveira

February 20, 2015

Have a Happy Weekend

Did you know today is Love Your Pet Day? Well, these guys are sure to get extra love and attention this weekend. I've been teaching all week and the girls finally had a full week of school. However, David did sneak home a couple of times to check on them. AND, Kate is home this weekend so they'll be surrounded by even more love.

Poor Cooper has an ear infection so extra cuddling is necessary. Dante, on the other hand, has made friends with an elephant. He now drags this poor thing through the snow piles and into the house.

I hope you have a great weekend. We'll be dealing with damage control on our roof. Lots of snow and ice has turned into wet ceilings! However, we still might take in a movie or just watch the snow fall.....again. In the meantime, here are some links you may enjoy.

Are you a dog lover, too. Here are some Instagram accounts you may want to follow: Dogs of Instagram, Puppies for All, Nikita the Husky, Happee BettyDon't Know Bo, 614 Husky Squad, All Things Husky, US Dog Lovers, Border Collies of Instagramm. (I know the list is a bit biased.)

Check out this family room makeover. It's filled with lots of color and texture. (This one might have too much color!)

17 quotes that will make you appreciate simple country pleasures.

New York Fashion Week through the eyes of the New York Times.

Are you watching the Oscars this weekend or hosting an Oscar party? Here are some menu ideas to inspire you.

Room arrangements explained. I totally agree.

And for all the cat lovers out there.

xo