07/09/14 Life , Uncategorized

Building a Reservoir of Calm Through Meditation

I am quite often asked about my meditation practice. I tell myself it’s because I talk about it a lot (and Share stuff about meditation quite frequently), but it might also be because all the people who knew me Before Meditation wonder what happened to the high-strung, neurotic, moody, bag of stress that used to be me.

I’m not super proud when I look back on the way I used to be and the way I used to handle things. The combination of Type-A personality and mild Bi-Polar Disorder certainly didn’t do me any favors, but neither did I have any real coping mechanism for dealing with runaway feelings, stress, anxiety, or anything other than the smooth sailing that is only about 1% of real life. Anything out of the norm hit me like a wave, either in a set that seemed never-ending, or one at a time, out of the blue, a giant wall of rogue emotion. I was knocked down, “spin-cycled”, as we used to say in Southern California where I grew up. It could take me days, weeks, months, to touch solid ground again, and I’d be left flailing in the water, panicking and gasping for breath, expecting to drown at any minute.

I can’t even remember how I became interested in meditation. It might have been through a friend (a practicing Buddhist) who had a lovely, calm demeanor and a meditation corner in her home, but the turning point, the point at which it became more than just an abstract idea, was the summer I decided to take advantage of the free “Open Sit” at a local Buddhist center on Thursday nights. Every Thursday at 7pm I’d take the kids to the center where we would sit for a half an hour (they gave us a brief introduction to meditation, sitting postures, etc. prior to our first time), do calming exercises similar to Tai Chi (or take a silent walk through the grounds), and then listen to a “Dharma Talk”, a half hour presentation on some tenet of Buddhism. At the end, we’d sit for another ten minutes. I left feeling refreshed, calm, cleansed.

At first, I wanted to climb out of my own skin. I didn’t LIKE sitting alone with myself. It was scary and dark, and sometimes I’d even feel the clutch of panic. But little by little, I began to relish those silent moments with myself. Sometimes, I would even end my session feeling like it wasn’t enough, like I needed more time. At one of our earliest sessions, one of the other participants, a mother from New Jersey who drove up every Thursday for the Open Sit, said to me, “It’s wonderful that you’re here. You’ll be surprised how much will change in your family because of this one thing you are doing.” She was so, so right. By the end of the summer, I was hooked, and even my kids seemed to mellow.

I can’t really explain why meditation makes such a difference. One metaphor I like is that water must be still to have clarity. Throw in a rock, and all you see are ripples. Let it settle, and you can finally see what’s really there. With the mind, we can’t really think clearly or see things as they are when life conspires to make ripples 24/7. Meditation is a way to calm the waters so we can see and think clearly. The really amazing thing is how this sense of calm seeped into my life even when I wasn’t meditating. Now I understand that we all have this reservoir inside us that we draw upon in times of stress or worry or fear or hurt. When the reservoir is dry, we’re just clawing at the dirt, looking for something that isn’t there to get us through. Meditation fills the reservoir, so that even when I’m not meditating, my reactions to everything are calmer. I’m drawing from the reservoir of stillness that builds up through meditating, and it makes all the difference.

Since I get so many emails asking how to meditate, I wanted to share some basic guidelines for those of you who are curious, because meditation is sometimes seen as a mystery, and often those who are curious are embarrassed to ask what seems like a very basic question; how do I DO it? The truth is, the mechanics are easy! It’s something anyone can do anywhere. It requires no special equipment (although a good cushion is helpful), is completely free of charge, and requires no special knowledge (though you may find yourself seeking out knowledge as meditation becomes a bigger part of your life).

The first thing you need is a place to sit. Any quiet place will do, although it is helpful to have a wall to face, especially in the beginning. It may feel strange at first to face a wall, but it begins to feel a bit symbolic, a way to turn your back on worldly cares while you allow yourself some silent space in your own mind. You’ll get used to it! And you can can always make exceptions to sit outside, in a group of people, etc. It doesn’t have to be fancy. This is where I sit;


I use the towel under one of my knees for comfort, but some forms of meditation recommend draping it over one’s lap. This is nice to do in the winter if it’s chilly (optimal temperature for meditating is 60-62 degrees, so some meditation centers keep their rooms cool — you can bring a shall or blanket if you like!).





Next, you need something to sit on. I use a zafu, which is a standard meditation cushion and platform combo that looks like this;







Basically, you sit on the round part and fold your legs, resting your knees on the platform like so;









Alternatively, some people find this position more comfortable;


It doesn’t really matter. You can sit any way that you feel comfortable, as long as your spine is straight (critical to good breathing). If you have bad knees or a bad back, you can even sit upright in a chair. Whatever works! If you find that you aren’t comfortable, FIND ANOTHER CUSHION OR ANOTHER PLACE TO SIT. Nothing will make you avoid meditation like being physically uncomfortable. I love my zafu because the round cushion is filled with buckwheat that can be altered (by removing some of it) according to preference. I like mine very full. I have bad knees, and the firm zafu helps keep me up off the platform high enough that my knees don’t bother me. You can also stack more than one cushion if that’s what you need to sit comfortably.

Once you’re sitting, you can place your hands in any number of positions. A common hand position is with the backs of the hand resting on the knees, palms turned upright, thumb and index finger touching, like this;







Chan meditation advocates this hand position;


You can also simply rest your palms facedown, so they are kind of “cupping” your knees. Again, what matters is that you are comfortable.

Once you are seated comfortably, you want to set some kind of timer. Anything will do, but I use an app called Insight Timer on my phone. It allows me to customize the settings, and even allows me to split up my sit into sections (in case you want to take a break partway through or change your meditation from, say, a mindfulness meditation to a compassion meditation). I have mine set to ring three gentle bells at the beginning of my sit and three gentle bells at the end.

I started with five minutes, expanded to eight, then ten, then fifteen, etc. Five minutes isn’t long, but even that much was a challenge in the beginning. We’re not accustomed to silence, and we’re REALLY not accustomed to being alone in our own minds. Your mind may rebel. Beginning slowly will allow you to build up to more time. You can sit once a day or three times a day. It’s totally up to you, but I found attaching my meditation time to a daily event helped me make it a habit, so I meditate every morning before I shower, and I build that time into my “getting ready time”. Sometimes I add a session or two during the day or before bed if I feel that I need or want it. Leaving my cushion out and ready at all times makes it easy to sit spontaneously.

A few basic tips; 1) breathe in and out only through your nose, and 2) don’t worry about “emptying” your mind. This last one is virtually impossible, and it will only frustrate you if you try. I’m going to give you a couple backs techniques to get started.

The most common meditation technique, and the cornerstone to any meditation practice (and to LIFE), is MINDFULNESS MEDITATION. Mindfulness refers to being completely present in the current moment, and this is often achieved in meditation by focusing on one’s breath. A good way to begin is to be conscious of the feel of your breath entering and leaving your nose, the cool air under your nostrils when you inhale, the warm air when you exhale. Eventually you may be able to enter a state of mindfulness, of being full present in your physical body, without focusing on breath, but that’s a good place to start. Your mind will probably wander. That’s okay. Acknowledge your thoughts and let them go. This is sometimes facilitated by a conscious “letting go thought” such as, “I am thinking about work. I am letting go.” I use the very simple, gentle phrase, “Bring it back” when my mind wanders. It’s a cue to myself to bring my attention back to my breath (or my compassion meditation or whatever else I’m doing that day). Whatever happens, don’t punish yourself or force anything. Just sit, gently bringing your focus back to your breathing when it wanders (it will).

One thing I’ve used in MINDFULNESS MEDITATION is to imagine I’m a tree on the bank of a large river. I can feel the wind in my branches and see things drifting by in the water (sometimes these things take on the form of my troubles), but I am calm and unmoving as they pass me by. Another technique is to imagine your chest as a hollow stalk of bamboo. When you breathe, the air moves unencumbered from your nose to your stomach and back out again. In, out. Choose a technique that works for you and feel free to mix it up. It might take a little trial and error to find the things you like best, and that’s okay.

GUIDED MEDITATION is a good way to get started if you aren’t comfortable sitting in absolute silence. In GUIDED MEDITATION, you listen as someone guides you through healing or positive or reflective thoughts, often by using nature scenes as a visual. You can find GUIDED MEDITATIONS for everything (healing, calm, creativity, etc.) on iTunes and pretty much everywhere else. I think guided meditations are a good place to begin meditating, but I encourage you not to rely on them too long. Mindfulness is the goal.

FOCUSED MEDITATION refers to an infinite number of methods which focus your attention on a certain thing. COMPASSION MEDITATION is a form of meditation in which you breathe in through the nose (some practitioners actually tell you to visualize breathing with your heart when doing COMPASSION MEDITATION), and exhale compassionate thoughts. Your compassion might be directed at an individual or individuals, or it might be directed toward animals or the world at large. Studies have proven that there are tangible health benefits for people who practice COMPASSION MEDITATION for fifteen minutes a day. I think it’s lovely that sending good thoughts out into the universe can actually make YOU healthier, don’t you?

FOCUSED MEDITATION can take on almost any form. Sometimes if I’m feeling blocked creatively, I’ll inhale all the creative, positive energy of the universe and imagine exhaling all the doubt and fear that make writing hard. If I’m worried about something like money or my kids, I’ll inhale peace and calm and exhale my worry. If I’m feeling ill, I’ll inhale health and healing and exhale whatever is making me sick. Sometimes visualizing helps, and I’ll imagine all the good things as a gold light and all the things I’m trying to get rid of as icky gray smoke. If you’re not in the mood to do MINDFULNESS MEDITATION (or if your mind is particularly jumpy due to a specific problem), just inhale what you need (the Universe has it in abundance) and exhale what is harming you or holding you back.

When your time is up, take a few minutes to breathe and bring yourself back to the real world. At our meditation center they say, “First move mind, then move body.” You can rub you neck or rotate your body to loosen up before finishing if you want. Then bring your hands together like you’re praying and give a little bow. This is a kind of “thank you” or “Namaste” to the Universe.

That’s really all there is to it. I wish I’d found it sooner. I think back to all the hours of my life I spent worried or stressed or anxious and all the times I reacted in a negative or defensive way to someone, and I wish I could have a Do Over. But regret is a wasted emotion, so I focus instead on being grateful that I found it when I did, and that I’ve been able to introduce my kids (and others) to it in a way that may save them some suffering. Now when a waves comes along, threatening to bowl me over, I know the secret to getting through it is as simple as letting go and floating on the surface. It may carry me a few feet left or right, but when it passes, I’m still there. And the shore is always in site.

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06/19/14 Life # , , , , , , ,

Vegetarian Curried Potatoes with Green Beans and Chickpeas

Curried_PotatoesTweaked this recipe from from Vegetarian Times to make my own Curried Potatoes with Green Beans and Chickpeas, and it was AH-mazing! It was also cheap, fast, and easy, and can easily be adjusted for the vegetables you have on hand.

Here’s the original recipe and the changes I made;

Curried Potatoes with Cauliflower and Peas

Serves 6

30 minutes or fewer

To make a vegan version of this vegetable curry, substitute vegetable oil for the ghee. Serve with rice and Cucumber Raita.
  • 2 tsp. ghee or melted butter
  • 1 10-oz. pkg. diced onions, or 1 large onion, chopped (2 cups)
  • 4 cloves garlic, minced (4 tsp.)
  • 2 tsp. minced fresh ginger
  • 1 ½ tsp. curry powder
  • 1 tsp. ground cumin
  • 1 tsp. brown mustard seeds
  • ½ tsp. ground turmeric
  • 6 Yukon gold potatoes, cut into ½-inch pieces (1½ lb.)
  • 1 head cauliflower, cored and cut into 1-inch pieces (1½ lb.)
  • 1 tsp. sugar
  • 1 cup frozen peas, thawed

1. Heat ghee in pressure cooker over medium heat. Add onions, and cook 2 to 3 minutes, or until softened. Stir in garlic, ginger, curry powder, cumin, mustard seeds, and turmeric, and sauté 2 minutes. Add potatoes, cauliflower, sugar, and ½ cup water.

2. Close pressure cooker, and bring up to high pressure. Cook 5 minutes.

3. Release pressure with quick-release button, or transfer pressure cooker to sink, and run cool water over rim to release pressure.

4. Stir peas into cauliflower mixture, and season with salt and pepper, if desired. Serve hot or at room temperature.

Changes as follows;

I don’t have a pressure cooker, so I cooked everything in a big skillet, including the potatoes. They took a little longer than five minutes to cook through, but it was fine.

I doubled the amount of curry powder (I like a strong curry flavor) and water (to account for the cooking of the potatoes).

I used green peans in place of the peas (didn’t have any!) and cauliflower (which doesn’t have a lot of nutritional value) and added chickpeas at the end for added protein. I also used Russet potatoes since that’s what I had on hand.

I salted liberally at the end, adding a little at a time until it tasted right.

Other than these changes, the dish was wonderful. I agree that it would be good served cold, too, as a kind of Curried Potato Salad, and I also think the spice mixture would be good as a sauté for vegetables to serve over rice or quinoa.

A winner! Teenagers loved it, too.

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06/17/14 Life , Uncategorized , Writing # , , , ,

Write Like a Motherfucker

Those of you who follow me on Facebook and Twitter probably know that I’ve been reading Tiny Beautiful Things, a collection of letters and advice from the Dear Sugar column on I came to hear about the book after reading WILD by Cheryl Strayed. It was one of my very favorite books in 2012, and when I went hunting for more of Cheryl’s work, I came across this little gem. Apparently, Cheryl was the anonymous advisor called Dear Sugar, and her heartfelt, shockingly honest and authentic responses to letters about everything from love to infidelity to cross-dressing to forgiveness have struck a chord with readers everywhere.

I didn’t buy the book until recently. I just didn’t really see myself as the advice-column-reading type, and especially not in book form, where I feared all the advice would blur together as a homogenous, trite instruction manual for life that would only work for people who were secretly robots without real feelings.

But the buzz continued to grow around the book (and a Kickstarter campaign to create an animated short), and I finally gave in and bought it. And you know what? Everyone is right. It’s lovely and beautiful and raw and real and frightening in its honesty.

One of my favorite letters came from a writer who couldn’t write. The person in question was so hung up on the writer she wanted to be — a writer who spoke to the deeply personal issues of women — that she wasn’t writing. Like, at all. And Sugar’s advice was pretty simple;

“So write, Elissa Bassist. Not like a girl. Not like a boy. Write like a motherfucker.”

Unbeknownst to me (am I the only one who still writes “unbeknownst”?), the “Write like a motherfucker” refrain is a bit of a rallying cry for ink slingers everywhere (I have no idea if it originated here or somewhere else — perhaps a reader can enlighten me). There’s even a coffee mug (which I intend to purchase for myself asap).


write_like_a_mofo_mugAnyway, It struck a chord, but at first, I wasn’t sure why. And it got me thinking; what does it mean to write like a motherfucker?

The phrase conjured something vicseral in me. A feeling that nothing but the words mattered. That you put your head down and you don’t think too much about it and you don’t talk too much about it either. You just write. You get the words down and then you just keep going.

Why does this seem like an epiphany? Isn’t that what we writers do? The answer (at least for me, it seems) is a lot less clear.

I used to write like a motherfucker. I didn’t have an agent or an editor. My then-husband wouldn’t even read my stuff. I wrote from 9pm to 3am every night and then got up at 6am to get my kids to school. I thought about my book in the shower, when I was trying to sleep, when I was driving. I didn’t know anything about genre, about trend, about brand. I needed an escape. Writing was my heroin. I shot up every chance I got and fell into my chair in front of the computer in a glassy-eyed stupor with nothing but tea, coffee and Dove dark chocolate to sustain me. And I didn’t care. I was happy. Because I was writing like a motherfucker.

Things have been different since I sold the Prophecy of the Sisters trilogy in 2007. Not only for me, but for the industry as a whole. Once seen as a fringe element to the children’s section, YA has come into its own as a publishing juggernaut, capable of selling millions of books and raking in hundreds of millions of dollars at the box office on film adaptations. Adult writers are proudly trying their hand at YA, and everyone from your grandmother to your co-workers are reading it.

But frankly, that all makes to harder to write like a motherfucker.

Advice abounds; write the book you want to read (great, except that doesn’t mean it will sell), don’t write to the market (great, except if editors really aren’t looking at fantasy, they really aren’t looking at fantasy, and while you may be the one in a million who gets through, it’s a gamble), don’t worry about genre (great, except every writer I know has a book that didn’t sell, not because the book wasn’t good, but because publishers didn’t know how to market it). It all sounds good. Hell, it all is good. But if you’re like me and you’re earning your living writing, if you’re like me and you are a single mother and the sole breadwinner for your family, you don’t have the luxury to take all of that advice. Sometimes you just have to SELL A BOOK. That’s the reality in an industry that still clings to its roots as a gentleman’s business, where only the wealthy or happily destitute could afford to write as a vocation. No one wants to say it, but for many of us, it’s a cold, hard fact that our choices about what to write next are informed by the fact that we need to sell another book, and not every book will sell, even after you’ve been published (unless you’re Stephen King or JK Rowling or Neil Gaiman or James Patterson).

All of which is hard to reconcile with the inspiring advice to write like a motherfucker. Even while I was trying to figure out what, precisely, the phrase means, I was energized.

“Write like a motherfucker?”

“Yes! That sounds awesome! I want to write like a motherfucker! Writing like a motherfucker is what’s been missing in my life!”

I can almost hear the Rocky theme playing in the background now. Or maybe Lose Yourself by Eminem.

But how to blend the practical parts of writing as a profession, as a long term career, with the single-minded focus necessary to write like a motherfucker? Is it possible to do both? To make choices based on your short- and long-term career goals and still write with the kind of passion and immersion and dedication and discipline that is writing like a motherfucker?

Yes. After a lot of thought, that’s my conclusion. Yes, yes, a thousand times yes.

To me, writing like a motherfucker means to be wholly focused and determined to write. Not just to write RIGHT NOW, but to keep writing. To write a hundred books, poems, essays, articles. Whatever it takes. To keep the act of writing and thinking about writing and loving writing and being determined TO WRITE as a focus, above fear and self-doubt and all of the other voices in our heads that keep us from writing like a motherfucker. Those voices don’t serve us in our quest. They only limit us, paralyze us.

Of course, decisions have to be made. Priorities have to be set. But most of the writers I know aren’t short on ideas — just the time to execute them, and sometimes, the knowledge that it’s the RIGHT idea at the right time. There will be front end brain work. This is when you aren’t writing like a motherfucker. You’re thinking like a human being, weighing your options, deciding whether to write the book of your heart NOW (you almost always should, if you’re lucky enough to have one at the moment) or put it off in favor of something your agent tells you had a better chance of selling. And for the record, a great agent is almost always right about these things (mine has been anyway).

But once you’ve let the wheels turn, once the dust has settled and you’ve decided, “THIS is what I’m going to write next!”, THEN it’s time to write like a motherfucker. Then there is no room for second guessing. No room for comparing your WIP to another book you love and/or hope to emulate. No room to agonize over every word, every comma.

Then it’s time to WRITE. Get the words down without censoring yourself. Trust yourself enough to believe that the words that flow from the truest part of yourself will resonate with readers. That they come from a place of such honesty and such authenticity that THEY ARE THE WORDS THAT ARE MEANT TO TAKE UP PRECIOUS SPACE ON THE PAPER. Stop thinking so hard about it. You can do that in revisions. Instead, let the story manifest without thought to the future, to who will be reading it, to whether your grandmother will be offended that you used “fuck” twenty-four times or your teenagers will be embarrassed that you wrote a smoking’ sex scene.

THAT is writing like a motherfucker. I need to do it more often. How about you? Continue reading

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01/02/14 Life # , , , ,

Why Texting Blows

textingI admit it; I hate texting. Sure, sometimes it’s a necessary evil. Like when my kid’s bus is late coming home from a track meet. Or my daughter can’t remember if she’s supposed to keep the wood stove burning while I’m out. Or when my other daughter is in another country.

But most of the time, it’s just a pain in the ass. I hate trying to have long, meaningful conversations on my phone. Maybe it’s my sausage fingers, but I find it incredibly annoying to type out long messages on my little keyboard.

Even worse, I have to pause whatever I’m doing IRL so I can go back and forth with someone about something that would be much easier to discuss via email or on the phone.

Okay, I never have time to talk on the phone, either.

But still. I’m trying to live more in the moment, and that’s hard to do when I have to keep looking at my phone. Can we impose some kind of limit on texting conversations? Say, nothing that requires more than a two-line response? Nothing that we wouldn’t have time to stop and discuss in the middle of making dinner? Nothing we can’t talk about while grocery shopping?

Really this is just a roundabout way to apologize to all the people I owe text messages. I’m sorry. I want to reply in a meaningful way. I want to exchange thoughts and ideas. All of which means I keep putting off my reply, waiting for a time when I can sit down with my itty-bitty keyboard and poke away at the touch keys with my big sausage fingers in an attempt to give your text message a thoughtful reply.

I’ll try to respond soon. In the meantime, don’t be surprised if you get a one-sentence response.

Better yet, try sending me an email.


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01/01/14 Life # , , , , , , ,

Throwing Stones

mountain streamReading this short article on Time Ideas got me thinking. Rather than focusing on New Year’s resolutions, the article features five simple things we should all do in 2014. They were all good, but it was #3 that really got my attention;

Radically forgive even cruel people.

As part if my journey to grow personally and spiritually over the past couple of years, I’ve made a point not to hold onto anger. This is aided largely by my realization that it’s expectation that causes anger. We expect things (sometimes without realizing it) of people, they don’t meet our expectations, we feel hurt. Hurt = Anger.

So I made a pact with myself that I would try not to expect things of people. Doing so is like expecting someone to honor the terms of a contract they’ve never seen. Some things have been easy to let go (expecting someone to reciprocate when I do something nice for them, expecting a thank you card, etc.). Others have been hard; expecting loyalty, honesty, respect. Because isn’t everyone entitled to these things?

The answer, of course, is yes. But wanting them and feeling entitled to them is different from EXPECTING them. I deserve to be treated with a certain level of respect — and I want that for my children, too. But I’ve figured out that I can insist on those things for myself without expecting them. It might sound contradictory, but it’s actually pretty simple; If I don’t like the way someone treats me, I can choose to let them go. Not out of anger. Not to teach them a lesson. I can simply choose NOT to nourish their place in my life because I don’t feel good when I’m around them. And I deserve to feel good. Which is still so different from expecting certain things from them. This is way of accepting the reality of a person without judgement or resentment, and then making choices (i.e. whether I want said person to be part of my life) that honor the life I know I deserve.

Anyway, when I searched my heart for lingering anger, petty hurt, long-standing resentment, I was happily surprised to find very little. I felt… LIGHT. It made me feel that all this work I’ve been doing really has made a difference. I’ve come to see anger and resentment and old pain as a handful of rocks. We reach down, picking them up and stuffing them in our pockets along the way, the weight of them growing heavier so gradually we don’t even notice as we add each one. Until one day we are so heavy, so burdened, that we have to sit by the road just to catch our breath.

In contrast, all the positive things in life — light and love and joy — are like a pocketful of feathers. Soft and light. A reminder of all that is beautiful. A gift beyond the things themselves because they not only enable us to move forward weightlessly, but they help to carry us, too, as if we can actually perch on them as they float through the air. And there is always enough to go around, because who wants to keep a beautiful feather stuffed in the recesses of their pockets? Better to let it loose, allow it to drift to someone else who may need it, too.

Today, before my first meditation of the new year, I turned my pockets inside out, looking for any remaining rocks. I found a couple — tiny pebbles worn smooth by my hand. Once I set about it, they were surprisingly easy to vanquish. But instead of throwing them blindly into the water, I took a moment to look at them, to face their weight. I was surprised by how innocuous they were. I think now of all the time I spent ignoring them, letting them rattle around, weighing me down just enough to keep me from feeling free.

Today I threw them out across the water. I’m going to try not to pick up any more this year, but I think I’ll take a look on the first day of each new year anyway, just to be sure.

Dear reader, that is my wish for you in 2014; That you may have empty pockets, a light heart, and plenty of feathers to go around.



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11/14/13 Life # , , , , , , ,

Against All Reason

Some of you have been following my posts about the recent lawsuit brought against my town, Pine Bush, NY. The suit alleges rampant discrimination and bullying unchecked by an administration who refused to help. The incidents date back to 2008 (and in fact the area has a history of discrimination that dates back much further), and while the lawsuit was filed last year, the online firestorm began as a result of a New York Times article about the issue.

My post outlining our experiences with Anti-Semitism in Pine Bush and my horror at the way many of my fellow townspeople have handled these allegations can be found here. I won’t repeat it, but I do want to update everyone who is following the issue.

As of now both the Governor’s office and the US Attorney’s office have launched civil rights investigations into the claims. At issue in the lawsuit isn’t just whether the kids were bullied, but whether teachers and administrators in the district looked the other way when the complaints were brought to them. While I don’t have access to the 3,500 pages of sworn testimony to this effect, I have had experiences with administrators in the district, almost all of whom always made it clear they weren’t interested in feedback from parents on anything. The one time my daughter witnessed an Anti-Semitic incident perpetrated by a TEACHER, the middle school principal simply told her he would “take care of it” and the teacher remained in class.

I’ve learned a lot of interesting things about the district through all of this, chief of which is the fact that the district didn’t even mention bullying in its Code of Conduct until 2012. In addition, the penalties for smoking and leaving campus (suspension) were more severe than those for bullying (verbal conference) and there was no necessary distinction for bullying related to racism of religion. In fact, should a child be counseled about discriminatory bullying, it was not even necessary to note in the report that the bullying had been of a discriminatory nature.

A couple of nights ago my children and I attended a Board of Education meeting in which the Code of Conduct was being amended, and now a New York senator is making a motion to create uniform disciplinary action for bullying incidents in schools throughout the state. So for all of you claiming lawsuits don’t solve anything; sometimes they force people to take action where there wasn’t any before.

Sadly I wasn’t surprised by the overall tone of the Board meeting, which seemed to focus on residents patting the Board on the back and telling them to “stay strong” and on railing against the New York Times, both for “making the town look bad” and for the supposed “suspicious timing” as it relates to a proposed Hasidic development one town over. Of course, other than the alleged “suspicious timing”, there is no evidence and no rational explanation for how these two events are connected, but that doesn’t stop residents from making it the focal point of their conversation.

Several people spoke to this effect during the meeting, all to thunderous applause. But when an elderly gentleman spoke eloquently about hate symbols, the harm they do to children and communities, and the need to have them immediately removed (one of the allegations in the lawsuit is that swastikas and KKK symbols were allowed to remain on school property for months, sometimes years), the only people applauding were my little family and two or three others (there were approximately 200 attendees). The silence was positively deafening.

When I spoke about the fact that the continued denial in the community will not help heal it, that by denying this kind of discrimination exists despite 3,500 pages of testimony we are also calling these children and their families liars, that whether we want to admit it or not, there are FAMILIES WHO FEEL UNWELCOME HERE BECAUSE OF THEIR RACE AND/OR RELIGION, I received the same response.

When two speakers spoke about corruption on the school board (as it relates to the Hasidic housing development which may impact taxes here), they, too, received little response.

And I have to admit to being confused.

What are we NOT applauding? The removal of swastikas? Compassion for bullied children in the district? Consequences for corruption on the school board?

The town has been vocal about its disappointment that “they are making us look bad.” Who is this mythical “they?”

Well, I have bad news for you, Pine Bush; it’s YOU. You who deny this has happened. You who don’t hold accountable the people entrusted with the safety of our children who have NOT kept them safe. You who turn a blind eye to evidence in favor of denial. You who chose to hold a “Unity Rally” to support “the town” instead of putting your arms around the children and families who have been victimized here. You who tweet and FB post, putting your ignorance on display, as with the tweet featured in the Village Voice article in which an area teen tweeted; “Ask that reporter chick if she honestly ever drew a swastika in her life. Everyone’s done it. Kids make mistakes. This isn’t a hate crime.”

Really? Everyone’s done it? Um, no. I’ve never drawn a swastika in my life, neither have my children. All through my school years, I never heard a Jewish slur at school, never saw a swastika on any building or school property, and this was in California (and when I lived in Utah) in the 1980s when we were supposedly less enlightened.

One of the saddest moments I’ve had in all of this was talking to one of the children who has been the subject of this discrimination and bullying. She was recounting how an adult told her, “This is horrendous. I’ve lived in the city my whole life and never, ever experienced a single discriminatory incident because I am Jewish.”

And the child, incredulous, said, “This has never happened to you?”

Like so many people in Pine Bush would have you believe, she assumed this happened everywhere, that if you are Jewish, you must resign yourself to being bullied and harassed.

This argument is just another way for residents to dodge responsibility. This DOES NOT happen everywhere. And while it may still happen somewhere, so does genocide. So do suicide bombings. So does sex trafficking. Do we want that stuff here? Would we stand idly by and let those things happen with fighting back? Get real.

Lastly, I’m saddened by the local paper’s (Times Herald Record) account of the meeting of the Board of Ed. After everything I saw there, the headline we got was, “Pine Bush denies Anti-Semitic Claims.”

No, we don’t. Not all of us anyway. And seriously? No mention of the corruption charges lobbed at board members? No mention of the people who stood up to admit that discrimination and bullying HAS happened here and that we need to put the focus on healing the community and showing compassion for the victims instead of worrying about “the town”? And certainly no mention of the lukewarm response to those messages in the face of thunderous applause for anyone stroking the boards ego and helping them “lick their wounds” (overheard being said by a member of the “Concerned Citizens of Pine Bush”).

In response. I’ve written the following letter to the Times Herald Record;

Your coverage of the Pine Bush School Board meeting held on November 12th seems to be missing something. While a majority of the attendees continued to deny anti-Semitism exists in the community, others (including myself) admitted to seeing it. I brought up a specific incident in which my middle school age child, engaged in a debate with her class about the relevance of Jewish holidays to the district, was told “Stupid Jews” by the teacher. She brought the complaint to the principal, who said he would take care of it, only to find the same teacher manning the Study Hall desk the next day. None of this was mentioned in your article.

Others at the meeting leveled corruption complaints against the school board, but that didn’t make it into your article either. Instead we got the headline “Pine Bush Rejects Anti-Semitic Claims.” Which is precisely the problem. Until the district opens its eyes to the very obvious discrimination that exists here, nothing will change and Pine Bush will only continue looking like what it is; a town in deep, deep denial. By giving credence to that claim, you have done no service to our town.

Like the Jewish families who allege a conspiracy of silence in the district, those of us who stand with them against discrimination of any kind are speaking out. And as with those families, the problem is the same. No one’s listening.

I honestly don’t know what else to say. It feels like my kids and I are rowing a boat upstream, and I’m unspeakably disappointed that the district and its teachers, parents, and students chose not to embrace the victims of these horrific actions, but to defend a district and its policies when it is becoming more and more obvious that they need to answer for what has happened here.

To those of you who insist on connecting the Hasidic development in Bloominburg to the discrimination lawsuit in Pine Bush; Just stop. Without evidence, you look both crazy and ignorant. Furthermore, by using this incident to draw attention to YOUR problem, you take it away from the victims who have been harassed and bullied FOR YEARS and deserve some kind of accountability. By stating this is all some kind of conspiracy (without proof, but who needs proof in the face of wild allegations!), you do a disservice to both causes.

To the teenagers I know and love in Pine Bush; You’re better than this. Please stay focused on those among you who feel unwelcome. Show some compassion for their suffering. Your energy is better spent solving this problem than denying it exists.

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11/10/13 Life # , , , , , ,

Anti-Semitism is Alive and Well in My Town


Recently the New York Times posted this article about an anti-semitism lawsuit in my town.

I moved to Small Town America from California twelve years ago. I wanted my children to be surrounded by nature, to feel the embrace of a small town, to grow up a little slower. Pine Bush, New York seemed the perfect spot. Idyllic and peaceful, the town was dotted with old farmhouses and barns, had one stop light (we have two now), and a volunteer fire department.

I was shocked when, on the way to a district PTA meeting, the elementary school principal informed me that Pine Bush had once been a hot spot for the KKK. Looking around at all the natural beauty, it was hard to believe, though I’m not sure why since one clearly has nothing to do with the other.

My first personal brush with racism came at a Little League game. I was talking to one of the mothers and she made reference to the fact that her son was teased, “You know, because of his last name.” When it became clear that I had no idea what she was talking about she repeated the name and lowered her voice, “Because it’s Hispanic.” I couldn’t have been more shocked. Coming from Southern California, where most classrooms are filled with equal parts Caucasian, African-American, Indian, Asian and Hispanic students, I just didn’t get it.

It wasn’t until my kids got older that I started hearing rumbles of anti-semitism. My children had friends who had coins thrown at them, were peppered with racial slurs, even beaten. One day in middle school, my daughter was sitting in study hall when the subject of an upcoming Jewish holiday came up. One of the kids complained, wondering why the district gave them a day off for a JEWISH holiday. My daughter spoke up, trying to explain that in the same way some holidays are important family times for us, Rosh Hashanna and Yom Kippur are important to Jewish families. And while my daughter wasn’t surprised when the child in question didn’t get it, she was surprised to hear the teacher mutter, “Stupid Jews.”

My daughter is a girl who, as the youngest of four children with two older brothers, HATES to cry. If she fell down as a child and really hurt herself, she’d stand up, brush herself off with tears in her eyes, and say, “I’m okay, I’m okay.”

But she cried when she told me about the incident with her teacher. I don’t think she could understand how a grown-up, a TEACHER, could be so full of hate. So we talked about it and I offered to go to the principal but also suggested it might make her feel good to do it herself. I gave her the choice and she decided to speak to the principal herself. She was told he would “take care of it”, but the next day when she walked into class, the same teacher was manning the study hall desk. Uncomfortable with the situation, my daughter moved to the back of the room only to hear the teacher say, snidely and loud enough for everyone to hear, “I guess I’ve made X uncomfortable now.”

Just last week my son stood by while a student went on a hate-filled rant about how much he “hates Jews” — in full view and earshot of a teacher who said and did nothing.

So you see why I was unsurprised to hear that a lawsuit had been filed on behalf of multiple Jewish families in Pine Bush and even less surprised to hear the claims of innocence on the part of the district and its administrators. There is a culture of silence and solidarity in small towns, even when it is undeserved.

I like to think I’ve raised my children to be champions of right, whatever that may be in any given situation. I like to think I’ve taught them not to follow my ideals and opinions but to form ideals and opinions of their own. They have spoken up when the situation called for it, they’ve intervened in bullying when they’ve been witness to it, engaged in heated classroom debates where they were, quite literally, the only one speaking for the side of equality, fairness and acceptance.

But it can feel like an uphill battle, even for me. I can only imagine how difficult it is to be them, and I CAN’T imagine how difficult it must be for those who are made targets every day because of their race or religion.

What makes me the saddest in this whole situation is the number of people in Pine Bush denouncing the allegations as lies, calling the lawsuit a “money grab” (this one was used by the Superintendent of Schools). There are 3,500 pages of deposition supporting these claims, and yet very few in our community are even asking questions, even waiting to hear the evidence. Instead the same people who have suffered for years are suffering again. Like me, many of them believed that people just didn’t KNOW. Once everyone finds out, they’ll feel bad about it, right? They’ll want it to change.

Turns out the answer, largely, is no.

People want things to stay the same. The don’t want to challenge their view of the world — and they sure as hell don’t want their kids challenging it. So instead of asking questions, instead of using this as a teaching moment for our children, instead of saying, “I know how much you love this town and the people in it, so do I, but don’t you think we should wait and see the evidence before we take a side? Don’t you think a more measured response than blind denial would be to admit that anything is possible? And that if this has been happening, it’s horrible and wrong and needs to be addressed? Don’t you think the town we love will be BETTER if we find out the truth and address any problems that might exist?” Instead of saying all of that, many parents are saying, “All lies! This is a great town! Discrimination happens everywhere! African americans are discriminated in the district, too! It’s all about money!”

The arguments are illogical at best. All lies? How do you know? Were you there during every incident cited in the 3,500 pages of sworn testimony? This is a great town! Why yes. Yes, it is. But like all great things, there is always room for improvement. Discrimination happens everywhere? Irrelevant to the issue at hand. You’ve never seen it? Again irrelevant and also illogical. I’m assuming you don’t see most of the things that occur in the world, since it’s a very big place. That doesn’t mean they’re not happening out of your line of sight. African americans are discriminated against in the district, too? They definitely are. Let’s talk about that, too. It’s all about money? False. These allegations were brought to the district countless times and nothing was done to address them. In one email, the Superintendent told a parent that trying to change the prejudice of the community “might be a bit unrealistic.” Nothing was done. The parents had to do something to protect their children.

NOW things are getting done.

Do I think it’s some big conspiracy against jewish people in Pine Bush? I don’t. I think people get complacent and lazy in their jobs. I think it is difficult to call parents on the carpet for the behavior of their children when you volunteer side by side in the local fire department with said parents, when you cookout with them on weekends, when you are friends. I think it’s sometimes easier to look the other way, to pretend something isn’t a big deal when it is, in fact, a very big deal. To hope it will go away, solve itself. I think hearing the complaints of parents day in and day out gets old. I think after awhile, it ALL seems like no big deal.

But that’s no excuse. While we might not be able to change the prejudice taught at home, we CAN hold students to a certain standard of conduct at school. I think the answer is quite simple, and had it been instituted from the beginning, I don’t think we’d be here now;

So let’s institute a Zero Tolerance policy against hate speech and acts of hate on school grounds and buses. Even the law recognizes the difference between hate crimes and other crimes. We have Zero Tolerance policies for weapons and drug possession (students aren’t even allowed to carry aspirin without a note from their doctor). This is just as important. Consequences should be clearly laid out and consistently adhered to. I would go so far as to say this includes use of the word “nigger” (spoken by both African American student and white students, sometimes in jest) and bitch (spoken both in jest and as a derogatory term). True, the first month you’ll have a shit-ton of kids in detention and ISS. But you know what? They will learn, and YOU WILL BE DOING THEM A FAVOR. Because in the real world, you just can’t say anything you want without repercussions. There are consequences to both your actions and your speech. Might as well learn that now. We will all be better for it, and I for one would enjoy visiting the school more if I didn’t hear “nigger” and “bitch” being shouted throughout the hallways. In addition, any acts of physical bullying should be treated and punished as such, also with a Zero Tolerance policy.

To my fellow parents in Pine Bush, please take a step back and think about what your words and actions are teaching your children at this critical moment. If you are blindly defending the district and the people involved, you are missing out on an important opportunity to teach your children to empathize with others and to THINK. To question the things that are told to them by others. TO FORM THEIR OWN OPINIONS (even if it means they differ from yours). If the immorality of denouncing a victim isn’t enough to sway you, DO IT FOR YOUR CHILDREN. They will not be productive members of today’s very fast moving, global and increasingly enlightened society if they don’t have the ability to think for themselves and form opinions and if they don’t have the ability to express those opinions in respectful, non-inflammatory ways. Take a look at the things your kids are posting on Facebook and Twitter. Listen to what they are saying to their friends. Can you imagine your children engaging in this kind of reactionary, knee-jerk, and completely-not-based-on-fact debate in a place of business? In politics? In a place of higher learning with peers who have done their homework?

Neither can I.

If we handle this right, our town will be better for these changes. Nothing can survive and flourish if it doesn’t evolve. Plants, animals, people, and yes, even small towns. To survive, we must be willing to change. To change, we must be willing to admit that we can do better.

I hope this will bring about some kind of sea change. Because the thing is; I get it. I understand that these kids are being raised with their parent’s values and that their parent’s were raised with THEIR parent’s values. I understand that there is only so much a teacher or administrator can do.

But at the very least, we CAN hold ALL students to a certain code of conduct on schools and buses. We CAN model good behavior by denouncing ANY act of prejudice or discrimination, even when it comes from those we know and care about in our community. We CAN have a measured response such as, “I don’t know if these allegations are true, but if they are, they need to be addressed, don’t you think?” We CAN let our children think for themselves by asking what they think and encouraging them to look at every possibility and every point of view.

Because there are worse things than admitting we have a problem — and knowing we have a problem but choosing to look the other way is at the top of the list.

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10/30/13 Life , Recipe of the Week , Recipes , Uncategorized # , , , , , ,

Recipe of the Week – Vegan Sandwich Spreads

After a year-and-a-half as a vegetarian, I’ve mostly figured out how to substitute so we can enjoy derivatives of the things we loved as meat eaters. One of our staples, especially in the summer, is a giant veggie sandwich, usually with avocado, tomato, onion, olives, peppers or pickles, shredded lettuce, olive oil, red wine vinegar, and thick kosher salt and pepper. So much cleaner and more flavorful than a sandwich with mayo!

I first came across this spread in its lemon/Greek variation in a Martha Stewart recipe for Greek Sandwiches. It was so good that I immediately started concocting different ways to use it and mix it up. The result is the original (true to form, my version is a lot more half-assed in terms of measurements) plus a delicious cranberry walnut curry spread that’s AH-mazing with sliced apples, lettuce, and a drizzle of olive oil and balsamic vinegar. Both of these are super easy to make, loaded with good quality protein, and perfect as a spread on sandwiches or wraps (my daughter is the envy of her lunch table). You can also use them as a dip for crackers, pita chips, etc. They take all of five minutes to make. For real! Next I’m going to experiment with black or pinto beans with cilantro and mexican spices for a Southwestern flavored spread. measurements)

Vegan Greek Sandwich Spread

I large can of chickpeas (I think they’re 28 ounces?), drained and rinsed

About a cup of rinsed flat leaf parsley

Juice of one lemon

Drizzle of olive oil

Kosher salt and pepper to taste

This one’s easy! Drain and rinse the chickpeas and throw them into a food processer with everything else. Puree until almost smooth, adding additional olive oil if it seems to thick. And voila! This is enough to make sandwiched or wraps for a whole week for our household of five people.

Vegan Curried Cranberry Walnut Spread

1 large can chickpeas, drained and rinsed

About a half cup of walnuts

About a half cup of dried cranberries

About two tablespoons of curry powder (the sweet kind, not the hot kind)

Drizzle of grapeseed oil (you can use olive oil, too)

Salt to taste

In this version I put the dried cranberries and walnuts into the food processor first, blending until everything is chopped into small-ish chunks. Then add the chickpeas, a little olive oil, and the curry powder. Blend until mostly smooth, adding more oil if necessary to get a spreadable consistency. Add kosher salt and additional curry powder to taste and voila! You’re done.

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10/10/13 Life , Uncategorized , Writing # , , , , ,

What Worked This Time

What Worked This Time

Last week I finished my thirteenth complete novel. The breakdown — for anyone who’s wondering — is five published books (counting THIS WICKED GAME which comes out next month), two complete under-contract books (one will come out in 2014 and one in 2015) and six unpublished books. Four of the unpublished ones were written before I sold Prophecy of the Sisters and two of them were written since then.

Yes, it is still possible for published writers to NOT sell a project. It was a rude awakening.

Anyway, I had to take a minute to pat myself on the back. I’m not good at celebrating my accomplishments. I guess you could say I’m a nose-to-the-grindstone kind of girl. No time for champagne, I have another book to write. But I have begun to recognize the fallacy in that way of thinking. Publishing a book is a book deal. So is writing one. And we aren’t guaranteed an endless number of either.

So I’ve made a promise to celebrate more, and to give myself a little credit. But that’s another blog post.



Anyway, I sold this particular book on proposal in July (detailed synopsis and about sixty-five pages). The deadline for the first draft was October 1st, but because I was in the middle of another project, I didn’t actually start working on it again until August 15th. I spent about two weeks planning and re-reading and then started writing again in earnest September 1st. I realized when I was done that I’d written 50,000 words in a month (my sample was about 25,000 words, bringing the total word count of the book near 75,000 words).

And really, that’s no big deal for me. But what IS a big deal is that it felt… leisurely. I enjoyed it. I didn’t feel stressed out or worried about the deadline. I didn’t have to pull any all-nighters. I still had time for Friday night movies on the sofa with the kids and Saturdays spent with my daughter who attends college a half hour away.

More importantly, I am PROUD of those words. I think this draft is the strongest I’ve ever written, and while some of the credit must go to my new editor, whose notes on my sample pages informed the rest of the book in every good way, I realized I’d done a few things differently this time.

Those of you who have been following me for a long time know that I’m big on finding things that work, on being diligent about a writing schedule and actively managing my time. All things that have been vital to being prolific while single-mothering four children and bearing every cent of the financial responsibility for doing so.

But I’m also learning that those rules are fluid. What works at one point in my life might not work at another. Sometimes it’s good to take a step back and ask if there might be a better way. In this case, there was. And since I know writers are always looking for tips, I thought I’d share what worked for me this time.

1. Schedule is still king.

I’ve always had a writing schedule. Before I sold Prophecy I wrote every night from 11pm to 3am because it was the only time the house was quiet and my children (young at the time) didn’t need me. I still had to get up at 6am to get them to school, but I learned to go back to bed and sleep because I wrote best in those late night hours. Some of those days are a blur now, but it worked at the time.

After I sold Prophecy, I became a word count dictator. I forced myself to write a certain number of words in scheduled segments of time (usually 9am to 11am, 3pm to 5pm, and 7pm to 9pm six days a week).

But that system had begun to wear on me. I was paying more attention to the counter at the bottom of the page than to the quality of my writing. I was more prolific than ever, but I wasn’t enjoying it like I used to and I couldn’t help wondering if the words I was writing were good ones.

This time, I tried something different. I stuck to my scheduled writing blocks by forcing myself up to my office and — this is important — activating Freedom (a program that locks you out of the internet for set periods of time) on my computer. But other than the fact that I had to be in my office with Freedom on (because otherwise I’d be social networking and online shopping), there were no rules. Strangely enough, I still managed to write an average of 2,000 words a day. And they were GOOD words. Sometimes I’d lay in my bed (my bedroom is adjacent to my office and both rooms are cut off from the rest of the house) and rest my eyes. Sometimes I’d actually nap. Sometimes I’d clean my bathroom. But I was trapped in my office with no internet for four to six hours a day with my book open on my computer. I’m a writer. Inevitably, I would write.

2. I took time to think.

I know. This seems like a no brainer. But usually, I’d be in such a hurry to get the words down that I’d push myself through even the scenes I wasn’t sure about. Sometimes I’d think, “I can fix it later.” But I’m not sure I always did fix them later. By the time I finished a book, everything seemed to fit the way it was, and it was a lot harder to go back and pull it apart without the help of my editor.

With this book I spent a lot of time staring out the window, eating Newman’s Own Sour Cherry licorice and pondering the next scene, looking at my white board of notes while everything stewed in my brain. And it’s funny, because a lot of the time I’d be staring out the window or laying in my bed in the dark, the last scene I’d written rolling around my head like a handful of pebbles, and something would come to me. Something I hadn’t thought about before. Something small and nuanced that contributed to plot or character development or added another layer of complexity to the story.

3. A sequence of events is helpful

I’ve never been a big outline person. I like to give a story some breathing room to see where it goes, and because of my personality, if I have an outline, I write to it. Usually I start a book with a synopsis and then just feel my way through the rest. I was on a panel once with author Libba Bray in which we discussed our writing processes, and we both agreed that it was kind of like planning a road trip knowing only the beginning, ending, and a few major stops for gas in the middle.

I still didn’t want to outline, but this time, I felt like I needed a little bit… more. The book I was writing had a lot of complexity. A lot of psychology and also a lot of tiny plot elements that would come into play later in the book and in the sequel. So I wrote a quick and dirty list of events; big things that needed to happen for all the plot points and character development to play out. And it helped a lot, so much so that I’m already creating one for my next book. Sometimes I would have to come up with three or four chapters in between big events, but having the sequence in front of me helped me ask the question, “How would this story naturally unfold to get me from point A to point B? How about from point S to point T?” It also helped me avoid unnecessary detail, because the goal became to get from one big event to the next as cleanly and quickly as possible, since those events were what drove the plot forward.

4. Using my white board

Most of the time, my white board is used to remind myself of character traits and physical characteristics in my main characters and as a repository for funny notes from Caroline, my fourteen-year-old. But I really used it this time, writing down notes from my editor, reminders about the tone and feel and atmosphere I was working toward, minor plot elements I was afraid I might drop and themes I wanted to explore. In the past, I’d done that kind of thing on my computer, but it was such a pain to flip back and forth from my draft to the “inspirational” documents that I wouldn’t always do it. A lot of the time, I’d just forget they were there.

Some of you use Scrivener, and maybe it’s kind of the same thing, but seeing everything up close and personal on the white board really kept me on track. Whenever I got stuck, I’d lean back in my chair and look at that board, and it would pull me back to my original vision for the project.

5. What we do isn’t like what other people do.

This is a transformative admission for me. I’ve already told you I’m a nose-to-the-grindstone kind of person. My former boss called me a “driver”, someone who drove growth and change through constant effort and vision. I always thought that was a compliment, and while it might have been in the world of technology consulting, it has not always been an asset in the creative field of writing.

I mean, work ethic… I’ve got that nailed. I am never in any danger of being lazy. I think it was Phillip Pullman who was quoted as saying (I’m paraphrasing) that plumbers don’t get to skip work when they’re not “feeling it” and writers shouldn’t, either. That belief has seen me through my career as a writer. It allowed me to write five books in two-and-a-half years before I was published. It’s allowed me to sell eight books in the last five years. It’s allowed me to write an average of three full novels a year.

But it has also done me a disservice. Because I will work and work and work long past the point when I desperately need a break. I will not allow myself excuses or sick days. And as I’ve said in the past, I feel so damn lucky every day to do something I love for a living that I feel OBLIGATED to work my hardest.

But we are not plumbers. We are not accountants. What we do is different. It requires different processes and allowances to be done well. It requires time and mental space and energy that isn’t always required of people in other occupations. It’s been difficult for me to accept that sometimes I need to take a walk. Sometimes I need to take a nap. Sometimes I need a day (or a few days) away from the story. I have always told myself that other people work eight hours a day, and I have pushed myself to do the same.

But I think I’m finally ready to let myself off the hook. With this last book (I’ll be able to tell you the title as soon as the announcement it made), I probably wrote an average of three hours a day. I sometimes spent additional time blogging or social networking or answering work-related emails, but I probably only wrote about three hours a day. It felt positively luxurious. And sometimes it left me positively guilt ridden. Why should I be so lucky to work at something I love passionately, something I can’t live without, and to only do it for three hours a day when other people are getting up at five am, commuting many miles, sitting at cubicles for eight hours in jobs they despise?

But the truth is, I wrote better. I was happier and more relaxed. I finished the project ahead of deadline and am prouder of this draft than any I’ve ever completed.

And so maybe it’s true; what we do is a mysterious kind of alchemy. A strange mixture of discipline and freedom. Of process and flexibility. It isn’t a mathematical formula, a set of boxes to be checked off at the end of each day, a timecard to punch.

It feels a little embarrassing to admit it, but the proof is in the pudding as they say. And I’m pretty happy with this batch.


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09/10/13 Life , Recipe of the Week # , , , , , ,

Recipe of the Week – Smokehouse Veggie Burger

Recipe of the Week – Smokehouse Veggie Burger

Okay, so it’s not exactly a recipe. But Concoction of the Week just doesn’t have the same ring to it.



One of the things I’ve learned to do since we became vegetarian is to replicate our favorite meat-based recipes in ways that are healthy and that honor our vegetarian lifestyle. It’s a fun challenge, and so far, there’s not much I haven’t been able to manage (pulled “pork” is next, which I plan to try with soy curls).

It’s been a recent revelation that you can do a lot with a veggie burger. You can make them the old fashioned way with tomato, lettuce and pickle. You can make a Mexican burger with jalapenos and spicy cheese. You can top them with sauteed mushrooms. You can serve them on rye bread with grilled onions, turning it into a patty melt.

One of my old restaurant favorites is what is commonly called a Smokehouse Burger. It typically comes with loads of barbeque sauce, onions rings (on top of the burger), and all the usual fixings. I’m not going to bother with a “recipe’, per se, because it’s pretty self explanatory. Basically, take your veggie burger of choice, put it on a great wheat bun, top it with loads of barbeque sauce, pickles and a few onion rings (I keep a bag in my freezer now and throw them into the frying pan after the veggie burger is done – takes five minutes!), and voila! You can add jalapenos, tomato, cheese (soy or milk-based) and anything else that strikes your fancy.

Side note; the right veggie burger makes a big difference. Back when we had only tried Boca brand, I wasn’t a fan. The Boca burgers are just too mushy for me (probably owing to a greater concentration of soy to grain). Now we use Amy’s Quarter Pound burgers and they are AH-mazing! They have more grain and less soy, which gives them a substantial consistency, along with a slightly smokey flavor. I’ve tried the other Amy’s veggie burgers, too, and I think they’re all head and shoulders above Boca (although the kids tell me the Boca Chick’n patties are very good). Enjoy!

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09/04/13 Life , Writing # , , , , ,

History of an Email

History of an Email

Like most people, I get a lot of emails every day.

Like… a lot, a lot.

Some of them are spam and some of them are sale notifications and some of them are requests for interviews and advice. Some of them are from my agent or editors.

And the truth is, I’m not as good about answering them as I used to be. When I first sold the Prophecy of the Sisters trilogy in 2007, I had a big gap between projects. Prophecy (book one) had some revisions, but the second book in the trilogy wasn’t due for a whole year, and I was prohibited from selling another YA project for the duration of my contract with Little Brown, which meant until 2011. I was still a single parent. Still busy. But I wasn’t up against multiple deadlines, lined up like planes on a tarmac, gunning for their turn.

Times have changed. I’ve worked on seven contracted projects in the past year alone (not all of which have been announced) plus juggled multiple editing projects for my freelance editing business while running a household with four kids alone. It’s required an almost-militant devotion to schedule. And since I do receive emails from many of you — some of which take me a very, very long time to answer — I wanted to explain.

First thing every morning (I get up at 6am on school days) I open up my computer and stare forlornly at my Inbox. I start by deleting obvious Spam, sales I can’t afford to shop, and other miscellany that just isn’t important to me at the moment. Then I look at what’s left. If there are quick and easy questions to answer, I tackle them right away just to feel like I’m making some prgress.

But then I’m left with the other stuff. Offers to attend conferences (which require me to look at a calendar and plot out the next 6-12 months in my head), requests for interviews, favors from writerly friends (most of which require more emails sent to editors or agent, or at the very least, lengthy replies on my part), questions from my editors, updates from my agent.

To be honest, I just can’t get to them all. And I know what you’re probably thinking; it only takes a minute to send an email. I know you’re probably thinking it because that’s what I used to think when someone took a long time to get back to me. But here’s the thing, my writing schedule — the only thing holding my life together right now — is non-negotiable. It has to be. So when I go up to my office promptly at 9am, 3:30pm, or 7pm (the start of my usual writing blocks), I know that I have a finite time to work, usually an hour or two. And if I open one email, the temptation is to keep clearing my Inbox. I’ve already eaten into my writing time anyway, right? Or maybe the reply is more lengthy than I anticipated, and all of a sudden, my one hour writing block is down to half an hour. I’ve lost between 500-1,000 words in that half hour. It might not seem like a lot, but if I lose 1,000 words every day for a month, I lose 30,000 words, which tacks an additional 2-4 weeks onto any project.

And that’s just something I can’t afford at this point in time. Especially when none of this accounts for the “soft” tasks of writing — website upkeep, research, reading, etc.

So I’ve developed a hard and fast rule; I do what I can while I’m having my morning tea. But when it’s time to write, it’s time to write. Not tweet. Not post on Facebook. Not even answer emails. It’s hard. It’s meant forgoing the level of social networking that was once routine. It’s meant blogging less. It’s meant an Inbox that constantly hovers around 30 emails (when I’m as on top of it as I can be). It’s sometimes even meant losing touch with people I care about for longer periods than I would like. It is tempting to “take five” minutes and clear my Inbox a bit. But I’ve learned the hard way that it adds up. Which is why I activate Freedom right when I get to my office and get down to business.

All of which makes this one long-ass apology. If I owe you an email, I’m sorry. It’s not that I don’t care or that I’m ignoring you. I’m doing my best.

And writing always has to come first.


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08/17/13 Life , Uncategorized # , , , , , , ,

A Tech Free Oasis? Yes, please.

A Tech Free Oasis? Yes, please.

Those of you who follow me regularly know that I have a love/hate relationship with technology. As a writer, I love my laptop and couldn’t work efficiently without it. As the single mother of four kids ages 14 – 21, I literally feel panicky at the idea of not having my cell phone. Two of my kids are in college, and our cell phones are often the only way we can stay in touch (in case you’re wondering, there are no longer pay phones in college dorms).

But it’s often too much for me. The lines between work and home are already blurry for me. I write in my office, often at odd hours, but I also “sneak” time in between to use social networking, blog, research new ideas and stay connected to friends and readers.

Last winter, I experimented with giving myself Sundays completely off. This might not sound ground-breaking — most people DO have at least one day a week off — but for someone who was writing seven days a week (2-3 books a year), it represented a radical shift in thinking. I was finally ready to admit that I NEEDED that time to reboot, not only to feel better and be happier, but because time away from writing and writing-related work actually made me a better writer.

So for a few months, Sunday was a no writing, no social networking zone. I set an Away message on my email every Saturday night and forced myself not to open my computer — not even to online shop or stay in touch with friends. I spent Sundays reading, talking walks, and watching afternoon movies with the kids. And I have to say; it made a difference. I felt more focused and centered. During the week when I was stretched too thin, the idea of my Sunday was like an oasis. I haven’t kept up with it over the summer because (thankfully) I’ve had a bit more time off and have made a point to spend time with Rebekah, who is home from college. We’ve had plenty of tech-free time, most recently by taking regular hikes at a nearby nature preserve (the photo above is from our most recent girl’s hike). Still, as soon as the kids are back in school and I’m on my regular writing schedule again, I plan to deploy my Tech-Free Sundays again.

Today I read an article in the Huffington Post about a Tech Free park in San Francisco. It looks lovely and fun and whimsical, and it made me wonder if we shouldn’t ALL have a tech-free zone. Maybe it’s a place in the house where we absolutely don’t use technology (like the bedroom). Maybe it’s a figurative “zone”, like my Sundays. But I do think we need it. I don’t think human beings are wired for the constant connectivity we experience now. And even though we might not realize it, to be mentally and spiritually healthy, we require the kind of quiet space in our minds that allows for stillness, peace, and random thought.

Think of it as required daydreaming for grown-ups.



What do you think? Is it time we all take a step back and reconnect to our low-tech roots? Is it something you’d consider doing on a regular basis?

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08/14/13 Life , Recipe of the Week , Uncategorized # , , , ,

Recipe of the Week – Vegetarian Curry

Recipe of the Week – Vegetarian Curry

I tried to post this yesterday and WordPress decided to mess with me by deleting it. Let’s try it again!

When we first decided to move from my hometown in California to our current small rural town in the Hudson River Valley (NY), we got all kinds of funny reactions from our California friends. I heard things like, “Doesn’t it SNOW there?” and “You’ll be back in five years” and “You’re going to hate the winters.” But we’ve been here twelve years now and I can’t imagine calling anyplace else home. I hope to travel widely once the kids are gone, but this will always be home base.

And surprisingly, everyone was wrong; I don’t mind the winters. In fact, I love them as much as I love all the seasons. Seasons are good for a change junkie like me. Just when I’m bored with one set of clothes, one type of food, it’s time to switch gears, and I always look forward to the switch from light summer fare to hearty soups and stews.

But there is one thing I really had trouble with when we moved here; lack of diversity, in people, schools of thought, and yes, food. After living in a place where we could get any kind of food at any time of the day or night, I now live in a town with a diner, three pizzerias, a McDonalds, and (thankfully) one vegetarian restaurant (which serves only asian dishes like lo mein and stir-fried setan). A craving for anything more exotic sends us to New Paltz, a neighboring hippie town a half hour away with tons of amazing little ethnic restaurants.

My favorite is Lemongrass, a Thai place with the BEST pad thai and red curry. I’ve tried lots of curry recipes over the years, but they were either too complicated or they fell short of the flavor mark. This one is different. Fast and easy, it’s a healthy vegan meal packed with nutrition and fiber. It is a little spicy, but if you’re not into spicy all you have to do is decrease the amount of curry paste. We serve it over brown rice. I love it so much, I want to make a batch every week.

Hope you guys enjoy it, too!

Vegetable Red Curry

3 tbsp olive or grapeseed oil

About four cups of assorted chopped vegetables (I used 1 cup green beans, one each red and green pepper, and two carrots, but you can use whatever you have/like). Don’t chop everything too small or it will get soggy!

One medium onion, halved and sliced (rings cut in half)

One small can bamboo shoots (optional)

1 large can chickpeas, drained

1/3 cup red curry paste (found in the asian section of most grocery stores)

1 can coconut milk

3/4 cup water

1/2 cup packed cilantro

Heat oil over medium high heat. Add vegetables and onion. Saute until softened but not browning.

Add bamboo shoots and chickpeas. Saute for two more minutes.

Add curry paste and stir to combine. Heat for another minute or so.

Add coconut milk and water. Stir and let simmer about fifteen minutes until flavors combine and vegetables are desired consistency (I like ours a little firm).

Turn off heat. Add cilantro and combine.

Serve over rice and voila! Bon Apetite!

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08/07/13 Life , Writing # , , , , , , , , , , ,

Zen and the Art of Book Marketing

Zen and the Art of Book Marketing

I’ve been thinking a lot lately about the first couple of years after I sold Prophecy of the Sisters (in 2007). I had an old blog on blogger, and excited about my news, I was fairly good about posting regularly, something that’s always made easier when the good publishing news is plentiful, as many of you know.

Then came Facebook and Twitter and Tumblr and Pinterest and Google Plus. For awhile, I was all up in your internet. I was was on Twitter throughout every day. Ditto Facebook. And while it took me awhile to get on Pinterest and I was never super great at marketing my books there (I was too busy with recipes and fashion and quotes), it was part of my social networking repertoire. I’ve so far resisted Tumblr, though I wonder on an almost daily basis how long it will be before I succumb to the temptation of MORE FOLLOWERS! NEW READERS! UNTAPPED MARKET! I did epic giveaways, attended online chats, retweeted everyone else’s stuff, and basically just did all I could to be visible at all times. I answered EVERY single tweet directed my way, every email. I doled out writing advice to anyone who wanted it and blurbed books as often as possible, trying to pay forward my good fortune.

Because it wasn’t all about selling books. I just felt so LUCKY, so damn fortunate to be writing for a living, so GRATEFUL for the faith placed in me by my publisher. I wanted to do my part. At the very beginning of the self-promotional blitz that is now par for the course, I didn’t want to sit back and count on the publisher do the marketing work.

In 2009, shortly after Prophecy of the Sisters came out, my editor said (about my marketing pace), “You will not be able to keep this up forever.” And I said, “I know, but I’ll keep doing it as along as I can, or at least until Prophecy has a solid readership and I can take a step back.”

But then something terrible happened. Prophecy never quite gained the footing everyone expected. Despite critical acclaim, multiple starred reviews, sales in over thirty foreign countries, it fell short of the extremely high expectations my publisher had for it. Whether marketing choices, three cover changes, and/or lack of promised rebranding on said covers had anything to do with the numbers is something we’ll never know. Because the truth is, the stuff of big hits is still something of a mysterious alchemy. Some books just don’t hit the way we expect them to. And while Prophecy sold extremely well for any book in the marketplace at that time, the fact that it didn’t meet the enormously high expectations set for it is still a smudge on my publishing record.

And it left me feeling so disheartened. I had truly done EVERYTHING I could. Beyond writing the best books I could (the Prophecy trilogy really is the story of my heart, at least thus far), I marketed like a madwoman, gave all kinds of shit away, tweeted my heart out, connected with anyone and everyone on as personal a level as possible. I signed stock all over the country, was away from my children for two tours covering twenty cities. All while being a single mother to four teenagers. But it didn’t matter. None of it seemed to matter.

I started to wonder if all the naysayers were right. All the people who said whatever we did as authors to supplement the publisher’s marketing efforts would never be enough to effect a measurable difference in sales. Talking to some of my fellow writers at a conference, a couple of them said they’d done the figurative math and determined that we could maybe sell another hundred books through an active social networking presence. It was a quandary that left us all feeling a little bit helpless.

So I withdrew. I rarely tweeted and only posted on Facebook because it had begun to feel more personal (my kids and family and friends are there). Last year, I gradually stopped doing giveaways, and this year, my blogging has been hit and miss at best. More than just doubt about how much of a difference it all made, I was busy. Busy trying to keep my writing career afloat, trying to work my way into other areas like TV and film, trying my hand at digital publishing with a small press, strategizing about possible next directions. Because one way or another, I was (and am) going to write for a living. On top of that, I made personal choices that led me away from being online all the time, practicing Buddhism (and with it mindfulness), meditating, doing yoga daily, and generally trying to keep it simple, because I noticed that was when I was happiest. Marketing just kind of fell by the wayside.

But all my hard work and focus this past two years is starting to feel like it might pay off. I have several interesting projects in the works and a couple of already-contracted ones (that I can’t talk about yet). They are all leading me in a slightly different direction than the road I’ve traveled in publishing so far. And I’m really excited about that.

So here I am six years after selling Prophecy, trying to figure out how much I want to do online. How much I can enjoy (because I do enjoy some of it and I love connecting with readers) and how much of it will make any kind of difference in the financial success of my work. I still don’t have it figured out, but I do know I need a little of both. A little solitude and a little connectivity. A little silence and a little collective noise. A little c’est la vie, a little help from outside and a whole lot of Zen. How that mix will shake up in the end remains to be seen.

But the short answer (too late for that! ha!) is that I’m back. For now, I’ll continue to blog when I have a great vegetarian/vegan recipe, when I have something to say that maybe a thousand other people haven’t already said, and yes, when I have news to share or need your help spreading the the word (And I will when THIS WICKED GAME comes out later this year!). And I WILL be doing giveaways again, because that is something I’ve always enjoyed. I’ll still be on Facebook (my online “home”) and will be ramping up my Twitter a bit, though I will never be as active there as I once was, because the truth is; I can’t take the mental noise.

And here’s the thing; I’m a writer, not a blogger or marketer. I am still being paid to write books (thank you, Universe). So that must be my primary objective. And I think I’ve finally learned that for me to write great books I need a few things. Mental silence. Time to ruminate. Walks in nature. Time to read great books. I will have to learn to put those things above everything else, because it’s the only way I can honor the faith my readers have in me and the burden I place on myself to do the very best work I can.

I hope you’ll be patient with me when I disappear to work. Comment here when the spirit moves you. Let me know what you’d like to see. Because I don’t have all the answers. As with great stories, some of the time I have to sit back and let everything take on a life of it’s own. That’s where all the magic is anyway.

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06/06/13 Life , Little Things # , , , , , , , ,

Little Things – Time

Little Things – Time

Okay, this isn’t EXACTLY what I look like when I have free time.





More like this;


Still, time is the biggest little thing in the world. I haven’t had much of it the past few months. Really, the past couple of years. I’ve been working non-stop, running from one project to another, editing in between, and generally just trying to stay on top of it all. Unfortunately, blogging is one of the first things to go when things get crazy, which is why I’ve been MIA.

But there is good news! Some of it I can’t tell you just yet, but I have lots of stuff in the works, some official and some not-yet-official, that you’ll be hearing about soon. In the meantime, I finally have a little time. Not run-through-a-field-of-wildflowers time, but time to take a breath and figure out what to write next. Time to plan a marketing strategy for THIS WICKED GAME, which comes out in November. Time to do some soul searching about which direction I want to take my career. Maybe even time to bake some cookies.

And there’s nothing like NOT having time to do those things to make you appreciate the very big, little thing that is time. So today, I’m grateful for having a breather. For every nap, every moment talking to my girls on the couch, every morning enjoying the sun on the patio.

I hope you enjoy it, too. Whether it’s five minutes, five hours, or five days. Make the most of every moment.


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04/01/13 Life , The Sunday Experiment # ,

The Sunday Experiment – Extended Cut

Whew! It’s been awhile! I haven’t done an official Sunday Experiment the past two weeks, mostly because Rebekah was home from college for Spring Break, and I ended up taking a FEW days off over the past ten days. So really, I guess I did a Sunday Experiment — just on Friday, Saturday, Sunday, Monday, and Tuesday.



Even though it’s put me behind a bit, I’m learning to embrace opportunities to take time off. I really do feel energized after stepping away from work — and technology — which makes it easier to view it as a necessity rather than a luxury. After some time off, even if it’s only a Sunday, I just work better and more efficiently.

As part of my mission to be more mindful, I’m slowly learning not to think about work when I’m not doing it. There are some exceptions; during transitional periods, i.e. driving home last night after dropping Rebekah off at school, I might choose to use that time to ease mentally back into work, pondering a plot point on which I’m stuck or a problem I need to solve in my current WIP. But it’s okay, because I’m CHOOSING to use that time rather than feeling like a slave to my unruly mind.

Most of the time, though, I just accept the times I can’t work. In the past, I would obsess about that time I was losing, the work I NEEDED to do. But being mindful is training me to live in the moment. As a result, I enjoy my time off more and come back from it ready to work.

Now we have about seven weeks until Rebekah is home for the summer. I plan to bust it during that time, finishing my current WIP as well as two big edits. Hopefully by then I’ll be ready to handle the challenge of balancing work with the slower, more relaxed pace of summer and the temptation to spend every second with Rebekah while she’s home.

How are you guys doing? Anyone else still with me in taking regular time off and away from technology?


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03/18/13 Life , The Sunday Experiment # ,

The Sunday Experiment – Going with the Flow

Sorry for the radio silence last week, you guys. I spent all week working around my house, doing much needed maintenance and repair. I’m rarely in the mood to deal with that kind of stuff, so I figure I should take advantage of it!

This week’s Sunday Experiment was a little different as I had several of Rebekah’s college friends home for the weekend. I knew in advance that I wouldn’t get any writing done, so I decided it was a good opportunity to practice being mindful and just enjoy the deviation from our usual routine. With that in mind, I happily cleaned, cooked, and generally tried to be hospitable without giving too much thought to the work I could be doing. And while it wasn’t textbook time off, it was lovely to be around other people, visit with a friend who came by to chat Saturday night, drink wine, and make good food.

I didn’t text at all because Rebekah was home, I didn’t write, and I didn’t answer emails or check Facebook more than a couple of times. Sometimes rest doesn’t mean sleep, but time away from the obligations that make us feel stressed or pressured. This past weekend was good practice for the next two weekends, which coincide with Spring Break. I know I’ll want to spend some time with Rebekah while she’s home, so I’ll have to find a way to make that my time off.

And speaking of being mindful, I know I said I was going to focus on something new each month to bring my life back into balance, but the truth is, mindfulness just hasn’t become enough of a habit for me to move on from it yet. My goal is to get to a place where it’s the exception for me not to be mindful. Right now, it’s still the rule, so I’ve continued to work on it this month and will do so in April, too, if I still don’t have a handle on it.

Someone asked me on Facebook if focusing on certain components of balance had the opposite effect of my goal in taking time off. That is, instead of being able to relax and just BE, if having something to focus on — like mindfulness — became just another obligation. The answer (for me, at least), is no.

A year ago, I made it a goal to do yoga nearly every day. I made it part of my daily routine, right up there with taking a shower and brushing my teeth in the morning. In the beginning, it was a hassle. But after awhile, it became so much of a habit that now I don’t even think about it. I know I don’t need thirty minutes to get ready even though that’s how long it takes me to shower and get dressed. I need an hour so I can do yoga before showering. And making yoga part of my daily life has made a HUGE difference in how I feel.

I guess that’s my goal with mindfulness, too. So while right now, I still have to remind myself to be in the moment, to look around, to really listen to the people taking to me, I’m hoping that it eventually becomes a habit like yoga.

How about you? Anybody else still with me on the Sunday Experiment? If so, how is it going?

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03/09/13 Life #

River Walk

River Walk

Today I took advantage of the 50 degree weather by taking a walk with my son to our favorite river.

It was awesome. I don’t think I need to say more.



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03/06/13 Life , Recipe of the Week , Recipes # , ,

Recipe of the Week – Quick Vegetarian Meals

Recipe of the Week – Quick Vegetarian Meals

Last week I gave you guys a list of pantry staples for vegetarians. Of course, after I posted it I thought of a million little things that I like to have in the pantry, but I forced myself not to edit the post because the idea of a “staple” is that it’s something you really must have, not an “extra.”

In that blog post, I promised you a list of quick, easy meals you can make with said staples, as well as the recipe for my own quick vegetable soup. But after writing down some of my favorite throw-together meals, I decided to hold off on the soup recipe. I’ll give it to you next week instead because there’s already a lot to work with here.

Here I go! Vegetarian meals you can make with pantry staples;

Saute veggies with olive oil and garlic, toss with pasta, and throw in some Parmesan (or not)

Toss pasta with canned or fresh tomatoes, garlic and basil

Think outside the traditionally-Italian pasta dish by mixing up the ingredients and spices, i.e. toss penne with corn, black beans and tomatoes and toss with olive oil, chili powder, and cumin for a Mexican-based dish. Toss linguini with peanut butter and a little chili oil or red pepper flakes for an Asian or Thai flavor (you can also use a little sesame or peanut oil).

Brown rice is overlooked as a base for meals, but it can be used much the same as pasta. In the colder months, you can saute it in olive oil or butter and then add stuff to it in the water for a kind of homemade Rice-a-Roni/healthier risotto. This works great with a little vegetable based Better Than Bouillon added to the water and some spices (use something that works with your ingredients, as with the pasta above) or even something like coconut milk, which will give it a more exotic flavor (I toss rice or quinoa cooked with coconut milk with pineapple and cilantro and it’s amazing).

In the hot summer months, cold rice can be tossed with virtually anything. Add flavor with rice vinegars, fruit-based vinegars, flavored olive oils, and spices or fresh herbs. In vegetarian cooking, especially, herbs and spices are king. A rice-based dish with curry powder will taste completely different than one with oregano or one with chili powder. Vary other ingredients accordingly.

Quinoa is a miracle ingredient for vegetarians. Packed with fiber and high in protein, you can use it almost interchangeably with rice. Use the above ideas with quinoa to mix up the texture and vitamin/mineral content of your meals or just to boost your intake of protein.

Eggs are another overlooked ingredient. You can make a quick easy frittata with the vegetables you have in your refrigerator. Just saute them a bit and pour beaten egg over the mixture in the pan. Use a rubber spatula to separate the egg from the edge of the pan every couple of minutes until the eggs mixture is almost set in the center. Sprinkle with cheese (any kind will do, goat cheese is a favorite in our house) and put under the broiler for a few minutes and voila! Perfect with a salad and it takes about 20 minutes to make. You can also add chunks of wheat bread to the veggie saute to boost the fiber content (this is a good way to use up the ends of a loaf of bread). As with the other dishes, vary ingredients and herbs and spices to mix up the flavor. A Mexican-based frittata is great with some warmed tortillas and a nice salad. Frittatas are a great way to use up odds and ends at the end of the week (or beginning of a new one). Almost anything works!

And speaking of tortillas, they come in handy! You can use the big ones as wrap holders by spreading them with hummus and layering anything and everything inside. Use goat cheese or feta with lettuce, olives, tomato, and pepperoncini for a Greek vibe. Mozzarella, basil, and roasted red peppers drizzled with a little olive oil are great if you want an Italian sandwich fix. And of course, they can still be used for burritos and tacos. I love the burritos from Chipotle Grill, but making them at home is so quick and easy, especially with leftover brown rice and canned black beans (I saute mine with minced onions). Slice up some avocado and/or make guacamole, add salsa, and you’re good to go. Small tortillas can be used for vegetarian tacos. It’s a little known secret that virtually anything seasoned with chili powder and cumin and placed in a taco shell will send “taco” messages to the brain. For example, a mixture of sauteed chopped zucchini, corn, and black beans with said seasonings are DELICIOUS as a taco. Even my teens don’t miss the meat AT ALL.

And as with frittatas, wraps are a good way to use leftovers. One night’s leftover rice dish can seem entirely different wrapped in a tortilla with hummus, salad dressing, salsa, etc.

Bread can be used to make panini or cold sandwiches. I make a great vegan sub with avocado, shredded lettuce, red onion, tomato, olives, pepperoncini, oil and vinegar and salt and pepper. We started out making them with cheese to replace meat, but honestly, I don’t miss the cheese with the avocado in there. Think outside the box with grilled sandwiches. Grilled cheese can be modified to include any kind of cheese and fruit like pears and apples, etc. Use mozzarella and layer with roasted red pepper and basil for an Italian panini or spread sun-dried tomato paste (not in staples but readily available) on bread and layer with thinly sliced veggies for a cold sandwich.

Soups are my go-to meal in the winter. I make at least one giant pot of soup every week and sometimes two or three. It makes for a comforting snack and is a cheap, nutritious between-meal boost for my busy, active teenagers. And you can make anything with vegetable based Better Than Bouillon. Saute veggies for vegetable soup. Throw in some leftover rice, corn, black beans, and tomatoes with chili peppers (or Rotel) and add some lime, chili powder, and cumin for a Mexican soup. Saute potatoes with leek and puree with beans to make my famous Potato Leek soup. Add elbow macaroni, two kinds of bean, canned tomatoes, and chopped fresh parsley for a vegetarian pasta fagioli.Serve with bread and/or a salad for a meal and store the rest in the refrigerator for snacks.

In the summer, salads take over for soup. We throw everything in them and vary the kind of vinegar for different flavors.You can make salads without lettuce, using rice or quinoa ad/or canned beans as the basis for a hot-weather salad that’s super nutritious AND tasty. No need to be fancy! Just throw in some other ingredients and toss with olive oil and/or flavored or rice vinegar.

There are tons of ways to mix up basic vegetarian staples for easy meals. Most of the meals above can be made in thirty minute or less. The soups, which take more like 45 minutes, allow for some simmer time, so you can do other things while its cooking. And one of the unexpected bonuses of vegetarian meals is that I don’t feel like I have to make side dishes. In the past, I’d have to add a grain and vegetable to meat to feel like my family was getting a well-rounded meal. But with vegetarian dishes, the meal itself is generally packed with nutrition, rendering side dishes almost obsolete. Nutrition-packed vegetarian dishes are also surprisingly filling. Because your body is getting what it needs in terms of vitamins and minerals – and because vegetarian meals are often packed with fiber – everyone needs a lot less food to feel satisfied. It’s an amazing phenomena!

The biggest thing it to have staples in your pantry and get cooking. It’s not hard once you’ve logged some time in the kitchen. Make it a goal to make one or two new recipes a week (Pinterest and Epicurious are my favorite sources for new recipes), and before you know it, you’ll find that being in the kitchen is second-nature. Then you’ll begin to get your own ideas, i.e. “You know what would probably be good? THIS with THAT!” Enlist the help of your spouse and kids, too. It is good for kids to learn to prepare healthful meals fro themselves, and time spent in the kitchen totally counts as quality time. At a loss for what to make at the last minute? Ask THEM to look in the pantry and refrigerator and see what they can come up with.

You might be surprised – in a GOOD way.

Plus, you can use the money save not eating out to do something fun!



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02/26/13 Life , Recipe of the Week , Recipes # , ,

The Vegetarian Pantry

The Vegetarian Pantry

I’ve been getting a ton of traffic on my vegetarian recipe posts, which makes me think there are a lot of people out there trying to cut back on meat (or cut it out entirely).

So in lieu of a recipe this week, I thought I’d give you some vegetarian pantry staples. Odds are, if you have most of these things in your pantry or refrigerator, you can make something healthy and vegetarian with a moment’s notice.

Bonus; it’s MUCH cheaper to eat vegetarian, even allowing for organic produce and other more expensive type items, which you don’t HAVE to buy.

This may seem like a lot, but once you’re stocked, you just have to replace an item here and there as you use it. Every week I might have to replace 3 to 5 non-perishables (tamari, vinegar, olive oil, etc.). Most of our grocery cart is fruit, veggies, and the rare dairy product or almond milk. Our family of five (Rebekah is away at college but I still supplement her dorm food a bit) spends $150-$200/week on groceries, and that includes paper products and almost entirely organic produce (and even organic rice, canned tomatoes, etc.). If you’d like to start making changes but want to avoid a big, giant stock up, just add a couple of these items to your regular list each week.

Here’s what I recommend;

Olive oil

Vinegars (I keep balsamic, red wine, apple cider, white wine, and raspberry)

Brown rice


Canned chickpeas (I also keep black beans, pintos, kidneys, and white beans as well as dried beans, although they take longer to cook)

Peanut butter and/or tahini

Jarred tomato sauce

Canned diced or whole tomatoes

Better Than Bouillon vegetable broth paste (in soup/broth section of store or natural foods section for organic)


Pasta and/or rice noodles

Greek yogurt

Goat cheese and/or feta cheese


Nuts and/or seeds (the ones we use most are sunflower and pumpkin seeds, walnuts, and peanuts)


Tamari (natural soy sauce – don’t buy so called soy sauce. It’s just corn syrup) and Sriracha sauce

Wheat bread

Tortillas (corn or flour)

Herbs and spices (my go-tos are cayenne, red pepper flakes, paprika, oregano, basil, tarragon, thyme, chili powder, and cumin)

Staple fruits and veggies (ours are apples, bananas, oranges, tomatoes, mixed greens, avocado, eggplant, zucchini, carrots, celery, leeks, onion, garlic)

With these things you can make multiple (and amazing!) vegetarian soups, pastas, rice and quinoa-based dishes, wraps/burritos/tacos, main course salads, etc. Next week I’ll post some of my favorite quick vegetarian dinners, including a recipe for my much-loved, super fast and easy vegetable soup.

Happy cooking!



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Michelle Zink is the award-winning author of over seven novels. She lives in New York with too many teenagers and too many cats.
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