Life

02/25/13 Life , The Sunday Experiment # ,

The Sunday Experiment – Uphill Battle

The Sunday Experiment – Uphill Battle

You guys… I’m clinging to my Sunday Experiment by a thread.

After working so hard last week (SO HARD) to meet a deadline, I told myself I’d take the whole weekend off. Problem was, I was running on 2 hours sleep from Thursday night and it totally jacked me up. I was in this weird manic, exhausted state where the words of the project I’d finished kept roiling around my head, even when I tried to sleep.

And it lasted all. weekend. long.

Then on Sunday I had another project I had to finish, plus I had to go to town to run an errand (something I normally would have done in advance to protect my Sunday off, but didn’t get to do because of the deadline).

So basically, I had this weird, exhausted, frustrating, sort-of day off that I didn’t fully enjoy.

Part of the problem, I think, is that I was struggling with mindfulness (my focus for February). I couldn’t seem to compartmentalize the things I’d finished and the things I needed to do from the time I needed to relax.

The other part is that I abandoned a lot of the things I’d been prioritizing to take care of myself. I should know by now that the 30 minutes I gain is totally offset by the diminished productivity I feel when I’m not taking care of me.

But I’m NOT giving up. I still have a lot of balls in the air, but I’m really going to work on getting back on track this week, starting with taking care of myself with yoga and meditation, both of which went out the window during last week’s crunch.

And I WILL get my Sunday off this weekend!

How are you guys doing? Is anyone still with me in trying to take one full day a week away from work and social media?

<3

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02/20/13 Life , Recipe of the Week , Uncategorized # ,

Recipe of the Week – Vegetarian Stroganoff

Recipe of the Week – Vegetarian Stroganoff

Before we became vegetarian, Beef Stroganoff was one of my very favorite dishes. Sure, I knew it was loaded with fat and calories, but there was just something about it’s creamy goodness… every now and then, it was worth the splurge.

 

For a long time, I didn’t even think about trying to recreate it, probably because anything that leads with the word “beef” can seem like a no-brainer for vegetarians.But I have to say, I really regret not trying to modify this sooner. It’s AH-Mazing!

 

And super easy!

 

Okay, still not great in terms of fat (although I’m going to try subbing Greek yogurt for the sour cream next time), but no meat and so delicious, none of us missed the beef. I made it for the kids for Valentine’s Day last week, served it with green beans sauteed in butter, garlic, and lemon, and topped it all off with my famous No Red Velvet Cake.

Best. Valentine’s. Dinner. Ever.

After mentioning it on Facebook, a bunch of you clamored for the recipe, so here tis! Hope you enjoy it as much as we did.

Vegetarian Stroganoff

I’d say this serves 6-8 people. All measurement accomodate a standard size bag of egg noddles (12 oz).

4 tbsp. butter

1 medium-large onion, chopped

2 cloves garlic, minced

32 oz. mushrooms (I used Baby Bella but you can use whatever you want), quartered (halved if they’re small)

16 oz, sour cream

4 tbsp flour

2 cups water

4 tsp. Better Than Bouillon Vegetable Paste

12 oz cooked egg noodles

1/4 cup chopped parsley

Saute onion, mushrooms, and garlic until onion is translucent.

In the meantime, combine sour cream, flour, water, and vegetable paste in a medium bowl.

Once onions are translucent and mushrooms are cooked but still firm, add flour mixture to pan. Stir until combined.

Let simmer until sauce begins thickens.

Stir in parsley and season with salt and pepper to taste.

Serve over egg noodles and bon appetit!

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02/18/13 Life , The Sunday Experiment # ,

The Sunday Experiment – Sidetracked

Welp, this week’s Sunday Experiment was, if not a failure, an experiment in compromise.

After doing the math on a project due this week and realizing there was no way I could finish it if I didn’t work on Sunday, I had to accept the fact that there was no way I was going to get my day off.

I thought about taking it anyway and just dealing with the consequences, but since said consequences might be a project well past its due date, my conscience wouldn’t let me go that route.

At the same time, I didn’t want to blow it off completely. Since taking one day off a week, I can feel myself getting edgy and stressed as I approach the six day mark. I NEED that time, not only to recharge but also to work my best the rest of the week.

So I decided to compromise. I set my normal Sunday Experiment Away Message on email and didn’t check it (except for one email I owed someone) or Facebook/Twitter all day. Then I tried to focus on February’s goal of mindfulness/compartmentalization by really enjoying my morning coffee and the work breaks I took to have lunch with Rebekah, run to the store, and watch a movie with ice cream later that night. In between, I really focused on work.

And while I missed the total break (and I can already tell I’m going to feel it later in the week), I got some work done and the respite from email and social networking was nice. It also reminded me how much more efficiently I work without the distraction of the internet.

Hello, Mac Freedom!

I guess there are times in life when you really CAN’T take the break you need. But working it in most of the time IS a buffer against those times you can’t, and it’s still possible to compromise – even if it’s with yourself. I’m hoping to finish this project by Thursday and may just reward myself by taking a long weekend (gasp!) before starting my next big one.

What about you? Anybody still doing the Sunday Experiment with me? How’s it going?

<3

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02/14/13 Life , Little Things , Uncategorized # ,

Little Things – Homemade Treats

Little Things – Homemade Treats

Those of you who follow me online have probably figured out that I love to cook. What you probably don’t know is that this was not a forgone conclusion. My mom was a single mother and often worked two jobs to support me. She didn’t have the time or the inclination to cook regularly, so it wasn’t something I learned at her knee.

My grandmother, however, loved to bake. Famous for her boysenberry pie, homemade candy (divinity to die for!), and endless jars of jam, it seemed she was always cooking up something.

When I first got my own place I called her all the time for cooking and baking tips and advice. She spent hours with me on the phone talking me through things and even sent me her recipes, copied in her own hand. Now that she has passed on I treasure them even more.

Maybe it was the feeling of comfort and home and security I felt while in my grandmother’s house — smelling pie crust browning, sugar dissolving on the stove, fruit turning into jam — that turned me into someone who loves to cook. Maybe it’s in the genes (Rebekah loves it, too). Whatever the reason, I love cooking great meals for people I love.

But as much as I enjoy cooking an awesome meal, there’s something singularly soothing about baking. I don’t know if it’s the warmth of the kitchen as the oven heats up or the smell of all that sugary goodness or the almost subconscious concentration required to measure and spoon, but baking is like therapy for me.

In our house, we make everything from scratch. This way I know what’s going into the finished product and we can spend time together while we bake. And let’s be honest, homemade just tastes BETTER. The best part is, anyone can do it anytime. As long as you have pantry staples (mine are flour, sugar, cocoa, chocolate chips, vegetable oil, butter, eggs, and vanilla), you can make almost anything. Craving ooey-gooey brownies? Warm-from-the-oven cookies? A gorgeous, old-fashioned layer cake?

You can probably make them right now!

All reasons why homemade treats are this week’s Little Thing. Like this AH-mazing Red Velvet Cake (minus the red, since we don’t do dye) with cream cheese frosting and toasted walnuts that I made today for my four favorite Valentines. I whipped it up in no time flat while drinking coffee and catching up on email this morning.

Hope you have a week full of wonderful Little Things! And feel free to share your favorites here or on Twitter using #littlethings.
<3

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02/12/13 Life , Recipe of the Week # ,

Recipe of the Week – Potato Leek & White Bean Soup

Recipe of the Week – Potato Leek & White Bean Soup

 

This week’s vegetarian recipe is my very own. I had another Potato Leek Soup recipe that I used before we stopped eating meat, and while that one didn’t have meat, it did have a lot of cream and butter and absolutely no high-quality protein.

 

This one has very little animal product (only a little Greek yogurt, which you cam omit to make the recipe vegan) and the addition of white beans gives it some much needed protein and fiber. Because everything is blended together, you won’t even know the beans are there (and trust me, neither will your kids – mine didn’t until I told them) and they add nice flavor while also thickening the soup.

 

I make a giant pot of homemade soup every Monday in the winter and we munch on it all week. This is a staple. Cheap, easy, and nutritious, it’s a great way to add a little warmth to a winter night. I serve it with an apple salad – my kids favorite – and we’re good to go.

This recipe make a ginormous pot of soup. I’d say it probably serves 10-12. You can halve it if you’re not hardcore like us and you just can’t handle all that soup.

 

😉

 

You will need;

2 tablespoons olive or grape seed oil (or you can use canola)

3-4 leeks, sliced

2-4 garlic cloves (depending on how much you like garlic), minced

2-3 good size potatoes (white, russet, eastern – doesn’t matter!), chopped

10 cups of water

8 teaspoons of veggie broth paste (you can substitute 10 cups of ready-made vegetable broth if you want, but the pa

ste is amazing and much cheaper in the long run, plus there’s less waste/packaging)

2 small or one large can white beans (any kind is fine, although I usually use Great Northern)

1 cup Greek yogurt (omit to make vegan)

2 tablespoons tarragon, salt & pepper to taste

Halve and slice white and light green part of leeks. Saute with olive oil and a couple tablespoons of water until leeks are translucent.

Add garlic and cook for one more minute. Then add potatoes.

Cook for a couple of minutes and then add all the water and the broth paste. Bring to a boil and simmer until potatoes are soft (this shouldn’t take more than10-15 minutes since the potatoes are cut somewhat small).

Add beans and yogurt (if using).

Remove from heat.

Using an immersion blender or food processor, blend until mostly smooth. You can also use a potato masher and do it by hand, although the soup won’t be as smooth (it’ll still taste good, though!).

Turn heat on simmer and add tarragon and salt and pepper to taste.

I serve with a simple apple salad – greens with chopped apples and walnuts, dressed with equal parts olive oil and raspberry vinegar, a sprinkle of salt, and little ground pepper.

Enjoy!

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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02/07/13 Life , Little Things # ,

Little Things – Stella Perfume

Little Things – Stella Perfume

Anyone who knows me knows that I am not a girly-girl. I vaguely remember a time when I wore dresses and skirts, but it was so long ago it feels like I’m remembering another person. Now my style is more Katherine Hepburn than Grace Kelly, although I am willing to give Sophia Loren or Diane Lane a whirl.

😉

 

But one thing I ADORE is this perfume. I found it by chance when I received a sample from Sephora and was so hooked I immediately splurged on a full size bottle. Sephora describes it as, “A fragrance based on the contrast between the freshness and softness of the rose, and the dark sensuality of amber, Stella is a sophisticated scent focused on an intense sense of femininity.”

I like it because it has a classic rose note that is reminiscent of old-school perfume while being fresh and modern. Also, the scent lingers in a nice, subtle way and is just a little bit sultry. I use it literally every day, even if I’m spending the day alone and working in my pajamas. It’s a little thing that just makes me happy (and it makes my room smell nice, too). And while it’s not super cheap, a bottle lasts me about a year and is well worth the price.

Plus, the bottle is gorgeous.

What about you? What’s your favorite scent or perfume? Why do you like it? Share here or on Twitter with #littlethings!

<3

<3

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02/06/13 Life , The Sunday Experiment # ,

February Focus – Mindfulness

February Focus – Mindfulness

Those of you following the Sunday Experiment know that I’ve been working at finding more balance in my life. After wading my way through two years of near-constant work, it was past time.

Even though I’m only a month into what’s morphed from a simple New Year’s resolution into a year-long project, I can already see that this experiment will probably save my sanity. The scariest thing of all has been realizing how quickly everything can become out of control — and how easy it is to tell ourselves the crazy, hectic lives we lead are NORMAL.

But it doesn’t have to be, and I’m determined to take back my life. In January, I concentrated on taking one day a week off. And when I say off, I mean OFF. No work, no email (not even to peek at my Inbox!), no Facebook, no Twitter, no computer. It sounded like a reasonable goal, but if you’ve been following my Sunday Experiment posts, you know it’s been surprisingly difficult to really take a break. Not because of outside forces, but because I have forgotten how to relax.

I am my own worst enemy. Even as I’ve given myself permission to take one day off a week, my brain will not SHUT UP. It is next to impossible to flip through a magazine, read a book, or watch a movie without a constant stream of thought in my head. And I realized that when this little voice is playing, it’s usually not even to expand on what I’m doing at any given moment. It’s to think about things that happened yesterday (or last month), to contemplate what I’ll do the next day when I go back to work, to strategize mentally about my career, sometimes projecting myself a year or more into the future.

I started thinking about it and realized this is a problem of mindfulness. Not surprisingly, mindfulness is a core tent of Buddhism, a philosophy that rings more and more true for me every day. In Buddhism we’re instructed to set aside thoughts of yesterday and worries of tomorrow to be fully present in the moment.

What IS surprising is that this idea mimics another, more businesslike concept; compartmentalization. When I worked in an office, one of my bosses once commented how good I was at compartmentalizing. I had four kids at home (all of them under the age of eight). I worked through an entire pregnancy in a male-dominated field and didn’t tell anyone until I was four months along, even though I suffered from crippling morning sickness and had to drive with my boss to innumerable client meetings pretending to be fine. It didn’t matter if I’d had a fight with my then-husband or if I’d been up late with a sick baby, every morning I got up, went to the gym, and showed up to work with a smile.

And my boss was right; compartmentalization was key. When I was at work, I couldn’t afford to think about what was happening at home, if I was missing something, if the kids were okay. My time at home was precious, making it easier to set aside problems of work for the few hours a day I actually got to enjoy my family.

I like to think that mindfulness is a kinder, gentler form of compartmentalization. It’s something we should learn in the spirit of being more fully present in every moment rather than something we do to “deal with” the extraordinary demands of life gone crazy.

And it’s surprisingly hard.

Even though I’ve actively practiced mindfulness in the past, it is HARD to be in the moment. The mind is unruly child. It wants to watch TV, eat junk, and stay up late when what it really needs is silence, healthy food, and a solid eight hours of sleep.

But this month, I’m really working on it. Because a day off – or a month or a year – isn’t going to do me any good if I can’t turn off the noise and really be in a given moment. So in February, my goal is to be PRESENT. It’s to really feel the steering wheel under my hands when I drive, really notice the beauty of the snow-covered fields around me. It’s to LISTEN to my children when they talk to me instead of thinking about what I have to do when they’re done. It’s to enjoy the feel of the wooden spoon in my hand when I’m stirring this week’s batch of homemade soup, to smell the rosemary and sage, to really take in the feeling of comfort it all brings.

Sounds easy, right? I’m betting it won’t be at first, but like everything with the Sunday Experiment, I think it will pay off in spades.

What about you? Do you find it’s difficult to really be in the moment in this crazy world? Is it something you notice? Ir is it just a way of life at this point?

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02/05/13 Life , Recipe of the Week # ,

Recipe of the Week – Chili Enchiladas

Recipe of the Week – Chili Enchiladas

I found this recipe from Eating Well via Pinterest a few months ago and it quickly became a favorite in our house.

First let me say this; we LOVE Mexican food. One of the hardest things about moving from California to our small New York town is the lack of good Mexican restaurants. I quickly learned to cook anything and everything we missed from California.

Turning vegetarian was another challenge, because anyone who loves classic Mexican food knows that if you’re not using meat, you’re using cheese.

Sometimes A LOT of it.

And the kids and I agreed when we became vegetarians that we would be HEALTHY vegetarians, replacing meat with legumes, tempeh, and grains like quinoa – NOT cheese.

This recipe is the perfect solution. I was skeptical at first (mashed beans and Greek yogurt? veggie broth enchilada sauce?), but I’m telling you; it’s AH-mazing. Plus, it’s super quick and easy. I make a few changes to the original recipe as follows;

Use Ancho chili powder in place of New Mexican Chili Powder and halve the amount called for in the recipe (it was way too spicy for the younger kids as is). The Ancho chili has a really nice, smoky flavor.

Add a bit more Greek yogurt – about half a cup – to make the beans creamy.

Add a little water to the bean/yogurt mixture for easy spreading.

Otherwise, this recipe is perfect as is! Make it vegetarian by using veggie broth and vegan by omitting the cheese or replacing it with soy cheese (I’ve made a cheese-free version for someone with dairy allergies and got rave reviews).

Also, the shredded iceberg in the photo is essential! It add some nice crunch and also offsets the heat of the chili powder. It’s one of our favorite Friday night dinners.

Hope you enjoy it!

<3

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02/04/13 Life , The Sunday Experiment , Uncategorized # ,

The Sunday Experiment – Balance

The Sunday Experiment – Balance

A month into the Sunday Experiment and I realize how truly fucked up my head is.

It is HARD for my brain to take a break from writing, thinking about writing, worrying about writing, etc. for even one day. Even without checking email (which I didn’t do for the second Sunday in a row), Facebook, and Twitter, I caught myself obsessing over writing-related things several times throughout the day. I had to forcibly move my mind away from it, which tells you how how of control – and out of balance – my life has become.

Basically, this frog is better at relaxing than I am.

I was halfway through my yoga routine – something I usually LOVE – when I realized that I just wasn’t feeling it. I was trying to hurry and get into the shower so I could have lunch with the kids and watch The French Connection (something Kenneth and I had planned to do). So why was I forcing myself to do yoga ON MY DAY OFF?

I had to consciously give myself permission to skip it, because while I usually see it as a critical part of my everyday routine, taking one day a week off IS OKAY. Right?!

Which is why the Sunday Experiment has made it clear that time off is only a small part of the problem. The real problem is one of balance.

In short; I’m out of whack. And I haven’t even realized it, because somewhere along the line, out of whack became normal. So I’ve decided to turn the Sunday Experiment into a year-long quest for balance, focusing on one component every month. January was about giving myself one day a week completely away from work and technology and the demands thereof.

In February, I’ll focus on Mindfulness, because I’ve realized what a huge problem it is for my noisy mind. I’ll post more about that later this week. In the meantime, I’d love to hear about the things that make balance difficult for you to obtain. Is it juggling work with family? Over-scheduled kids? Getting enough sleep? Eating right when you’re busy?

Share your challenges in the Comments section and I’ll choose ten issues that speak to me, too – one for each month March through December.

We’re going to make balance our bitch. In a Zen sort of way, of course.

<3

 

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01/31/13 Life , The Little Things , Things I Love # , ,

The Little Things – An Amazing Cup

It sounds crazy, but one of the things I love most about having coffee in a good hotel is the cups. They tend to be big, complete with a saucer and weighty feel that makes you feel like your breakfasting (I feel very British typing that and I don’t know why) at the Four Seasons even if you’re really at the Hilton.

Not that there’s anything wrong with the Hilton.

Anyway, I bought a set of these cups and saucers at a local auction a few years ago. They’re Hungarian porcelain, and I think I paid something like $10 for ten of them. Back then, I was selling antiques to make a living while I wrote Prophecy of the Sisters, and I spent many hours sitting at local auctions, bidding on things I loved and thought I could sell.

Problem is, when you buy things you love, you usually don’t want to sell them. Case in point; these cups. They sat in my “to be sold” pile for months before migrating to my cupboard, used only on special occasions.

But I’m not really a believer in “saving” things for a special occasion. Every day is – or should be – a special occasion, and like so many things I “meant” to sell, these cups became part of my daily repertoire. Now I use them for my morning coffee every day, and you know what? They make every morning a little special, even if I’m on the sofa instead of at the Four Seasons.

The best part about this “little thing” is that it’s a cheap way to give yourself a little luxury every morning of the week. And you don’t have to buy one from a store. Take your time and search yard sales, auctions, and flea markets for the perfect cup, one that makes you feel special every time you use it. It can be a dainty cup and saucer, a heavy hand-thrown mug, or old hotel porcelain (I suspect this is what my Hungarian cups are). Whatever speaks to you, the search is part of the fun!

What about you? What’s a “little thing” that makes your mornings nicer? Post in comments or tweet with #thelittlethings.

<3

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01/29/13 Life , Recipe of the Week , Recipes # ,

Recipe of the Week – Apple Pancakes with Greek Yogurt

This is an easy one! I had two granny smith apples in the fruit drawer that needed to be used and I was looking for a special breakfast to have on Sunday. I whipped these up in no time. The Greek yogurt added just the right zing to the counter the sweetness of the pancakes, and the added protein is a bonus, especially for vegetarians.

Here’s what I did (and forgive my sometimes loose measurements – it’s how I do in the kitchen!);

1 regular pancake recipe (whatever you normally use, be it from a mix, from scratch, etc.)

1-2 apples (I used two, but I also triple batch my pancakes because I have a 16- and twenty-year-old guy in the house)

1 cup applesauce (ditto above, adjust for the amount of pancakes you’re making and/or the level of apple flavor you want)

Cinnamon (as much or as little as you like)

Chopped walnuts (optional)

Greek yogurt (optional)

Real maple syrup (PLEASE don’t use “pancake syrup”. It’s not maple syrup. It’s maple-flavored corn syrup and is SO BAD for you. Plus, there’s nothing like real maple syrup, even if it is more expensive.)

Get all your ingredients ready. This is important because the pancakes start to cook fast, and you won’t have time to cut the apple in-between.

Make your regular pancake batter according the instructions. Add applesauce and cinnamon and combine (don’t overmix or your pancakes will be flat). You can choose to add the walnuts to the mix or you can wait and put them out as a topping.

Ladle mixture onto griddle or into hot pan, sprinkling some of the diced apple on top of each pancake (I pressed them into the batter a little bit). Flip and complete as usual.

Top each pancake with a dollop of yogurt and sprinkle walnuts on top (if you choose to use them and didn’t put them in the batter). Pour warm maple syrup over the yogurt and pancake.

All three of the kids who are home LOVED these. Kenneth kept saying, “I can’t believe how good those apple pancakes were.” The biggest testament? It’s the first time I’ve EVER eaten leftover pancakes as a snack.

Enjoy!

<3

 

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01/28/13 Life , The Sunday Experiment , Uncategorized , Writing # ,

The Sunday Experiment – Week Two

The Sunday Experiment – Week Two

This week’s Sunday Experiment was… interesting. I was expecting a day reveling in my free time, enjoying every last second cut off from email, social networking and writing.

And I DID have a lovely day. I even took pictures to prove it!

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

But there was a side effect. I sometimes felt edgy, nervous and distracted by my inability to check email. I don’t think I noticed it as much last week, because I was busy a good part of the day helping Rebekah move back into her dorm (and I hadn’t initiated the email embargo). This week, I’d arranged to be home, and there were definitely times when I was jonesing to check email, Facebook, or to write.

A hazard of loving what you do!

Still, I forced myself to stay off my computer (didn’t open it once!), taking the fact that it was difficult for me to do so as proof that I really NEED to learn to do it.

I feel that way in meditation a lot, too, especially when I go to meditation practice and we have longer, 20-30 minute sits. It’s like I’m trying to claw my way out of my own mind. At times like that, I tell myself, “You can’t run from yourself,” and force myself to be still. It’s not always easy – or to be honest, even pleasant – but I think we SHOULD be able to be still in our own minds. The fact that it is difficult makes me realize how desperately I need to cultivate that ability, because if we can’t retreat into our own minds now and then, how screwed are we?

And just taking this one day a week has made me realize how terribly out of balance I’ve been. That has to change if I want to be healthy in mind, body, and spirit – and I DO.

This week’s lessons learned;

1) Not logging into email helped a lot, even though there were times I was dying to check it. I set an away message late Sunday night letting people know I’d get back to them Monday, and that prevented me from worrying that everyone would think I was a flake for not replying right away. Also, because a lot of people knew I was doing the Sunday Experiment, I was pleasantly surprised by how many people went out of their way to honor it, telling me in advance that they would send me interview questions on Monday (thank you, Nazarea!) and that they would talk to me about specific things then. So I think telling people Sunday is your “day off” helps them recognize the boundary, too.

2) I’ve been working a lot – but not working smart because I’ve been more burned out than I realized. After last week’s Sunday off, I felt really ready to tackle that week’s tasks, and I hit the ground running on Monday. Knowing I had a day off coming, I planned to tackle certain things during the week so I’d be somewhat clear on Sunday (because let’s face it, we’re never *really* in the clear). One of the things I did to work smarter was to start using Freedom again when I wrote during the week. And let me tell you, I am always SHOCKED by what a difference it makes. My head just feels clearer, my mind more focused knowing I can’t log into the internet. I ended up getting way more done last week than usual. That made me feel proud and relieved and more like I DESERVED a day off.

3) Even fun things can be not fun when you have too much on your plate. If you remember, last week, I vowed to plan a couple of nice things for myself to do on Sunday. I ended up with the following list; have a leisurely morning, watch The New World with the kids while we ate lunch, make homemade pizza, take a couch nap, and play Scrabble with Caroline. I managed to do it all — and I enjoyed it! — but there were times when I felt rushed to cram it all in. When Caroline asked if we could make Scrabble a Sunday tradition, I forced myself to tell her we would have to see. Scary how easy it is to slip into overscheduling even a day off! Next week, I’ll think of one or two things I want to do and play the rest by ear.

But it was SO NICE to have all that time away from writing and from the computer, even if I sometimes did feel like an addict looking for a fix. I spent the morning drinking coffee and reading magazines, made homemade apple pancakes with Greek yogurt (will post the recipe for you guys this week), did yoga, watched The New World in the middle of the afternoon (an afternoon movie felt like the epitome of luxury), took a nap, made pizza, watched a documentary with the kids, and played Scrabble with Caroline. Then I meditated and read before bed.

One upside to jonesing for work is that I woke up today READY to get shit done. I’ve already knocked a bunch of stuff off my to-do list. That forced down time made me appreciate the time I have to work.

Plus, I want to get as much done as possible before next week’s Sunday Experiment.

What about you? Did you take the day off? If so, what how did you spend your day? if not, what are the challenges facing you in finding downtime?

<3

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

0 likes 5 responses
01/22/13 Life #

The Sunday Experiment

Many of you know from my New Year’s Resolution post (or from Facebook) that one of my goals in 2013 is to take Sunday’s off. Like, completely off. No emails, no social networking, no editing, no writing.

Basically, nothing work related.

I’ve been surprised by the comments and emails I’ve gotten on the subject. Ranging from, “I need to do this!” to “How will you live without the internet for a whole day?!” it seems everybody is curious about this experiment. Which is telling in and of itself. When did we get to a place where having ONE day off a week is an anomaly? When did we become so OVER-connected that it’s strange to take a day for family, reading, watching movies, taking walks, and napping?

And I’m not judging! Because I’m just as guilty as anyone else. In fact, one of the reasons I decided to take Sundays off is because I literally could not remember the last day I hadn’t worked in some capacity. If I wasn’t writing, I was answering emails. If I wasn’t answering emails, I was posting on Facebook and/or Twitter, and not always because I wanted to. A lot of the time, it was this feeling that I would lose marketing ground, that people would forget about me and my work, that in the fast paced, all-information-all-the-time world we live in, I would fade into the woodwork without constant reminder of my presence. My work and my career were a constant itch at the back of my mind, an ever-present voice in my head.

And that is no way to live. It kept me from being in the moment, from fully enjoying time with my family. Ironically, it reminded me a lot of the life I left behind in California. The one where I couldn’t even go out to lunch with one of my kids without a running diatribe that went something like this; “I have exactly twenty minutes before I have to pick up so and so. Then, if I hurry, I can get to such and such’s appointment and still get home in time to start dinner at six. If we’re done by seven, I can get two loads of laundry in before bed. Oh! And I have to meet Vicki at six tomorrow morning instead of seven. I should write that down. And also, I should prepare for that meeting with XYZ company. I can do that before bed.”

Doesn’t it stress you out just reading it?! It stresses me out all over again. One of the weirdest things about leaving that life behind was the idea that I had TIME. I would be sitting with the kids or taking a walk or playing a game with them, and I would start to feel anxious and rushed, even though I had nowhere to go and nothing pressing to do for the first time in years. I had to teach myself to be in the moment.

I’ve let myself get there again. And while I actually enjoy my work now, it’s still unhealthy to live with that voice all the time. It’s still unhealthy not to have real downtime. I don’t think we’re built for this constant connectedness. The human soul needs time to center itself now and again.

This last Sunday was my first day “off” this year. It was a little different than I’d planned, mostly because Rebekah was moving back into her dorm after the holiday and I spent the day helping her get settled. Even so, there were a few lessons that I’ll carry forward to next Sunday and beyond;

1. Even checking my email took me out of the “day off” mentality. I didn’t answer them, but as soon as I saw them sitting there in my Inbox, I’d feel myself tense up and the voice would be back, planning how I’d respond on Monday. Next week, I’m going to try not even opening my email. I’ll set an away message so people know I won’t respond until Monday. Hopefully, that will remove some of my anxiety that people will think I’m a slacker for not responding right away.

2. This was somewhat true for Facebook as well. I logged in a couple of times from my phone while I was waiting for Rebekah to put everything away, and even that little thing made a difference. All of a sudden, I had everyone’s “noise” in my head and I was back in it.

3. Being mindful made a difference. I didn’t fully appreciate my time when I was just moving from one activity to another. I enjoyed it more when I paused to really think about what I was doing, to really acknowledge to myself that this was precious time doing something I loved (like going to lunch with Rebekah after we’d unpacked her room). With this in mind, I’m going to plan a couple of things to do next Sunday. Instead of taking the fun out of it, it will give me something to look forward to during the craziness of the week and I think I’ll appreciate it more when it comes, even if it’s just a plan to take myself out for a cappuccino and read or to sit on the couch with a cup of tea and a chocolate croissant. Who knows? This may backfire, making me feel TOO planned. But I’m going to give it a try!

And I’m going to continue this experiment throughout the year. If you’re feeling stressed out or too busy, if the voice in your head had become ever-present, if the noise of the world has become your own, maybe you’d like to join me?

<3

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01/13/13 Life #

Better Late Than Never

You guys! HAPPY NEW YEAR!

Okay, so I’m a little late. I was busy blowing horns and wearing party hats. And then I was busy with the flu, which wasn’t nearly as much fun.

I always give some thought to resolutions as I close out one year and begin another. And while I understand people who don’t bother with them (the argument usually being that if you want to change, you should do it then and there, not wait for a new year), I’ve made a lot of positive changes through resolutions in the past. Among them; becoming vegetarian, starting a garden, composting, quitting soda, quitting TV, making yoga a part of my daily life, and going to meditation practice at my local Buddhist center.

All of those are things I did as a result of resolutions. Even more amazing, they are things I’ve stuck with. So I thought I’d share a few of mine for 2013.

Long yoga at least three days a week – Making yoga a part of my daily life was a big deal, but I’m finally at the point where it is a habit. It is fairly rare for me not to do at least a basic flow. The problem is, I rely on my tried and true sequence of poses a little too much. Now that I’ve made it part of my routine, I’d like to expand my flow from an average of 20 minutes to about 40.

Meditate at least once every day for any length of time – As with yoga, just making meditation a part of my life has been a huge accomplishment. I now have a meditation cushion in my office, and that is a good reminder to meditate. Unfortunately, I still tend to forgo meditation when I’m very busy or tired, probably the very times I need it most. So this year, I’m aiming for daily meditation, even if that sitting period is only five minutes. I’m banking on the fact that forming the habit is the most important part, not the length of the sit.

No animal products Monday through Thursday – Shortly after becoming vegetarian, we all realized how much better we felt on the days when we didn’t eat any animal products at all. For awhile, I was able to be vegan Monday through Thursday, but then I got lazy. I’m aiming to go back to that schedule in 2013 because I just FEEL better.

Take one full day off a week – I realized while having the flu that I can’t remember the last time I had a real day off. And by that I mean no Facebook, no Twitter, no answering emails, no writing, no editing (for myself or my freelance clients), no revising. That has to change because I am FRIED. So I am aiming for one full day off a week this year, a day in which I don’t have to do anything at all.

Take one weekend off a month – Okay, this is crazy talk! But I’m going to try.

Finish two projects – I have two projects that are at the 35,000 word mark. This year, I will finish them bot in addition to the other projects I have under contract.

What about you guys? What’s on tap for you in 2013? Do tell!

<3

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12/10/12 Life #

A Little Goes a Long Way

… toward yourself and others. It’s rough out there.

<3

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12/08/12 Life #

An Unexpected Gift

A friend once told me that it’s not wise to ask things of the universe for oneself without balancing it by sending those same things to others.

At the time, it sounded a little hokey, but since this is a friend I trust with these things, I promptly started balancing the mantras I said for myself with ones said for others. Sometimes my good energy is directed at someone specific, but most of the time, I just send it out there for anyone who might need it.

This is surprisingly easy to do when things are rough and I find myself leaning more on meditation and mantras, as one is likely to do when things are rough (I imagine this is like praying for some people – lol!).

What’s also surprising is how easy it is to fall away from these habits when things are GOOD. That’s something I’ve been working on – meditating regularly and using mantras even when things are going well rather than saying, “Thanks for the good shit, Universe! Later!”

After long dry spell in which I’ve worked my ass of with seemingly no progress, let’s just say this was a very good week.

A very, very good week.

I like to think it’s a mix of hard work, good fortune, and who knows? Maybe the result of someone else sending their good energy to me.

So this weekend, I’m going to make time for the cushion. And I’ll be sending all my good energy out to the universe and hoping it finds those of you who need it most.

<3

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12/05/12 Life , Writing # ,

The Art of Mixing it up

Since announcing the release of my new adult novella series, I’ve gotten a ton of email. Questions range from why I decided to branch out from YA to why I chose a small e-press to whether or not I’m worried the diversification will hurt my brand.

All good questions.

And while there are lot of answers I could give, they all boil down the same thing; I’m a writer. Not a writer of YA novels or a writer of short stories or a writer of adult novels.

A writer.

But somewhere along the way, the art of creativity had gotten lost in the business of publishing. Most of the writers I know are artists. And like all artists, they long to stretch their creative ability, to try new things, to see if they CAN. It’s the reason we see Brad Pitt in The Tree of Life and Burn after reading. The reason fine artists doodle. The reason Neil Gaiman writes a book like Coraline along with one like American Gods along with an episode of Doctor Who.

The problem is, until very recently, that kind of creative exploration was reserved for people who had the artistic clout to pull it off (see above), people who could afford not to care what it did to their “real” career, or people who explored their various talents in secret, either under pseudonyms or in the privacy of their home offices.

When I thought about trying something new, it wasn’t fear of not being able to do it that stopped me. It was worries about my brand, what my publisher would think, whether my agent would be supportive, whether advocates of traditional publishing would despise me for what they might see as a betrayal.

And those are just not the things that inspire creative growth.

But times are changing. And while there is much debate over the demise of traditional publishing and the merit (or lack thereof) of e-publishing, we’ll save that discussion for another time.

The fact is, there are more opportunities than ever to explore and stretch our creativity as writers, as artists. And while there are still those who want us to believe that doing so will “dilute our brand”, the truth is, all evidence is to the contrary. There is a long list of authors who are writing across genres, and unlike in the past, they aren’t all mega-bestsellers.

I’ve been wanting to try my hand at the adult market for awhile. I love writing for young people, and the YA genre will always have a special place in my heart. But I’ve written twelve YA novels (including the ones that haven’t been published or have yet to be published), and I have been itching to try something different. To challenge myself to something completely foreign and terrifying and exhilarating.

Last year, I started two adult novels. I still hope to have them published traditionally (I think they’re a better fit for that kind of distribution), but in the meantime, another opportunity reared its head when I mentioned my idea for an adult novella series to Georgia McBride of Swoon Romance (an imprint of Month Nine Books). Georgia encouraged me to give them a try and then offered to publish them under the Swoon Imprint.

I was hesitant to mention it to my agent. There has been so much animosity between traditional publishing and e-publishing that I half-expected to be considered a traitor just for saying it out loud. But after some discussion, I was pleasantly surprised to receive his blessing. And you know what?

It’s been FUN. Foreign and terrifying and exhilarating. But FUN.

I have no idea how it will impact my YA brand, if at all. It shouldn’t. I write for young people. Now I write for adults, too. Every now and then, I even write a letter or a note excusing my child from school or an email. They all come in handy from time to time, although I imagine if I sent one of my adult novellas into school in place of a note excusing my child, the teacher would be, er, surprised.

But each of those things have a place. I’m choosing to believe my professional writing is the same, and I hope my YA readers will continue to enjoy my YA novels (I have more coming!), my adult readers will look forward to the next installment in the Shadowguard series, and maybe, just maybe, some of you will enjoy the other surprises I’m hiding up my sleeve. Because the more I try, the more I stretch, the more I feel myself getting BETTER. Like all of this writing across genres is only serving to make me a better writer in EVERY genre.

Don’t I owe that to myself? To ALL of my readers?

I’m not gonna lie; I’m a little bit scared, but mostly I’m just grateful that in this day and I age, I have the opportunity to be true to myself and my idea of who I am as a writer.

Because when you get right down to it, that’s the only part that matters.

And don’t forget; you can enter to win free books and a $50 or $25 gift card just for helping me celebrate! Also, please note my lovely new ADULT BOOKS tab at the top of this website. There you will find covers and summaries of the first two Shadowguard novellas.

0 likes 6 responses
09/13/12 Life , Thursday Night Write #

Holding the Door

Ever since last week’s Democratic National Convention, I’ve had a piece of Michelle Obama’s speech stuck in my head.

And no. This post isn’t about politics.

Michelle said (I’m paraphrasing) that when we are given the privilege of walking through the door of opportunity, we are obligated not to slam it shut once we’re over the threshold, but to hold it open for those behind us. She was, of course, referring to her belief (and the belief of Barack Obama and many in the Democratic party) that when one uses the infrastructure that is in place in our country to attain success, we must then insure that others have the same opportunity.

And it got me thinking.

I promised myself two things when I sold the Prophecy of the Sisters Trilogy in 2007.

1) I would speak at school and libraries for free whenever possible to encourage young people to stay true to themselves and to reach for their dreams. And,

2) I would help other aspiring-to-publication writers whenever possible.

I like to think I’ve met these goals. And while it’s gotten harder to help all the people I would like to help (requests for blurbs, reading for friends, and other types of assistance have to be balanced against my need to market and promote my own work, not to mention the requirements of singe motherhood), I still try very hard to do whatever I can to help other writers. It can mean offering up swag for a giveaway on their blog, attending an event on my dime, reading and offering critique, giving a blurb, picking up the phone to give advice or feedback. My assistance isn’t dependent on friendship. It isn’t dependent on whether or not I think a book will be “big” enough to give me some promotional value. In fact, I’m probably more likely to help books that may be under-served or under-promoted, those hidden, under-the-radar gems that are like happening upon a wonderful, surprise discovery.

I like to think I’m paying it forward for the people who have reached out to me along the way, like Ellen Hopkins and Tamora Pearce, two writers who embody that generosity of spirit. Both reach out regularly to newcomers, demonstrating every day what it means to hold the door open behind them.

I’ve heard some writers express the belief that since they had to go through so much difficulty in their publication journey, it’s only fair that everyone else should trudge the same path. I guess I can understand that argument, even if I don’t agree with it. For me, it’s like saying if you’re great-grandfather had to trudge uphill to school with no shoes in the snow, you should have to do the same, because it’s not fair for you to benefit from thing he didn’t have.

But I like to think that holding the door open advances the publishing climate, even if just a little. I like to think that we can be allies instead of competitors, that we can grow through collective wisdom, that we can forgive mistakes made in an increasingly volatile, uncertain and very public industry.

I myself have made a few. I even asked a couple well-known writers to which I was NOT acquainted for a blurb before Prophecy of the Sisters came out. Yes, I realize now that it was a faux pas. But at the time, it made perfect sense to my marketing brain. In business (which is my background), it’s expected that you will network wherever possible, that you request help and introductions and offer to do so in return. It isn’t always necessary to be well acquainted with your ally in the business world. It took me awhile to realize how very different publishing is.

How very PERSONAL.

And I like that it is. I like that we get to know one another on tour and at events. That we can commiserate over drinks about circumstances that are truly unique to this industry. I like that there are places online where we can go to safely vent to one another.

But there is a fine line between personal and exclusionary, and those words by Michelle Obama resonated with me, a reminder to hold the door open. To smile as people step through and wish them safe and happy passage.

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09/05/12 Life , Reading # ,

Travel by Book

A couple of years ago I started a tradition of reading travel books over the summer. It arose out of an inherent love of travel and my inability to take a real vacation that year. Sometimes, it’s just too expensive to travel with kids, but the magic of books is that you can go anywhere and “see” anything with the flip of a page.

I love all kinds of books, but the nature of my work means that I’m almost always reading YA or adult fiction as research, for blurb, to help a friend, as part of my freelance editing work, etc. Having a finite time period to binge on travel books is something I really look forward to every year.

This summer I read three amazing ones. I highly recommend them all!

The first book I read was WILD, by Cheryl Strayed. A profoundly moving account of a young women who hikes the Pacific Crest Trail alone, it inspired and touched me. One of the things I loved most about the book was its intensely personal voice. Totally untrained and spiraling into serious self-destructive behavior following the death of her mother, Cheryl wasn’t a typical candidate for a hike of this magnitude. But you know what? She did it. And she was transformed. I was completely addicted to this book and highly recommend it to anyone – but particularly women – at a crossroads.

Tales of a Female Nomad by Rita Golden Gelman was next. I was so riveted to this book that for two solid weeks I actually wanted to give up my writing time for reading (*gasp*). I think this book spoke so loudly to me because Rita didn’t start traveling until she was in her 40s and because she did it entirely alone and with no real experience.

Another thing I loved about Rita’s account is that she ended up living full time, essentially, as a nomad on very little money. The thing that she valued most about travel was the opportunity to meet and learn about people and their cultures up close and personal, so she spent most of her time in hostels, backpacker hotels, and living with friends she made in other countries along the way. It was a glimpse into the kind of life I’ve dreamed about post-kids, and I’m inspired by the fact that Rita is still living abroad today (in Turkey, as of now). If you’re looking for proof that there IS another way to live, this is your book. Rita is now a big proponent of a gap year for American students (I say “American” because many other countries already advocate gap years). After reading this book, I’m in total agreement.

My final book of the summer was The Good Girl’s Guide to Getting Lost by Rachel Friedman. While geared to a younger crowd (Rachel was in college when she begins traveling), I got so much out of this book. Mostly, it just added to the increasingly-large amount of anecdotal evidence that it IS possible for women to travel safely alone. This was a book I wish I’d had when I was seventeen. It might have changed the course of my life (not that I want that NOW). Rachel spends a lot of the book trying to reconcile the very American push for her to get a college degree and a “good” job with the glimpses of another kind of life she gets from young Europeans she meets traveling abroad – young people for whom travel is an integral part of their life education, not the mark of a loser who isn’t in school. I recommend this for any young person, but especially those not sure what they want to do and not sure the traditional path of college is for them, at least not right out of high school. I gifted it to Rebekah before she left for college because I thought it would inspire her in this newly independent phase of her life.

It was a bit sad to reach the end of my summer travel reading! I still had books I wanted to read and places I wanted to (virtually) visit.

But don’t worry. They’re on the list for next year,

😉

0 likes no responses
08/29/12 Life , Uncategorized #

Goodbyes and Get-On-With-Its

Last week marked a momentous occasion for the Zink household; I sent my beloved girl, Rebekah (pictured here at graduation with her best friend), off to college.

The date, of course, had been looming for a long, long time, ever since she was accepted in the Spring and we started receiving information about move-in. But somehow, it still came as a shock to actually drive away without her.

As many of you know, she and I are extraordinarily close. As she’s grown, she’s become more than a daughter. She’s become a friend and my nearly constant companion. Which is only part of the reason I know this will be good for her.

She’s only going to school about a half hour away. In fact, she could easily have commuted (and many of the local kids here do commute to this university). But I really felt that it was time for her to get out in the world, to see some of it through the lens of her own eyes, to develop memories and experiences apart from those we’ve shared.

All of which is a reminder how very much our children teach us. Because I’ll be honest – it was tempting. Aside from the obvious incentive of keeping her home, there were very real financial incentives for commuting, too (room and board makes up more than half the tuition).

But, as my children have taught me, love isn’t selfish. As much as I want to keep them close, I also want them to see and experience everything the world has to offer. And they just can’t do that from home.

My mantra to them lately has been, “Adventure is out there!!! Not in here… Out THERE!”

And it is. Not just for them, but for me, too. For years, I’ve been daydreaming about the places I want to see and the things I want to do when the kids are all grown up. Soon, I’ll get my chance. So it’s time to put my money where my mouth is and start dreaming, not just for my children, but for me, too. Time to stop mourning the loss of one thing and celebrate the start of something new. In short, time to get on with it.

So this is me. Getting on with it.

<3

 

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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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