In Process

Shrunken manuscript

Hello folks. I didn’t mean to stay away so long. There hasn’t been a lot to blog about lately. I’m still working hard on my writing but don’t have anything new to report.

The picture above is of a shrunken version of my novel manuscript. You can read more about this editing technique, created by Darcy Pattison, here.

In my free time, I’ve been doing a lot of gardening, but again, there’s not much to show but some nice-looking beds of dirt which will hopefully sprout some lovely things soon.

I’ve also been painting and making a dog costume for the church play. I’ll post some pics when it’s done.

Finally reading Wild by Cheryl Strayed, the memoir about her trek on the Pacific Crest Trail. I’m always wary of things with a lot of hype, but I have to say, I’m really enjoying it.

What about you? Read, watched, or listened to anything great lately? Hope to be back here again soon with more to share.

Flourless Oatmeal and Dried Cherry Bars

Gluten Free Oatmeal Bar

So these came from Budget Bytes. They are the “Apricot-Walnut Bars,” but I used pecans and dried cherries since that was what I had on hand. They’re super easy, there’s very little added sugar, and I was able to use gluten-free oats—-triple win! My seven-year-old (who has gluten troubles) loves them, which is no small compliment. Recipe here.

You use mashed banana for sweetness and stick-together-ness, which means the bars taste a little like banana bread–yum! We eat them for snacks and sometimes for breakfast.

American friends, how was Thanksgiving? We enjoyed time with extended family down at the beach. Beforehand, the hubs and I got to spend a few days in Mexico (thanks, mom and dad for kid-watching!). The trip was great, but we got stuck an extra day, which was not the most fun. Fortunately we had lots of folks covering for us back home with the kiddos—-I’m eternally grateful.

Christmas is now descending upon me, and I feel only half-ready and half-remembering what it was I meant to do to prepare. I’m going to try to post some round-ups of favorite gifts to give. recipes, and simple crafts, so stay tuned. As usual, I’m spending most of my kids-in-school time working on my novel. Is it getting anywhere? I sincerely hope so!

For more posts on cooking and eating, click here.

Charting Works in Progress

Chart

I’ve been busy making revisions to my works in progress (nonfiction middle grade and  YA novel). There are lots of ways to use spreadsheets to “see the forest for the trees” when you’re writing, and good thing, because I’m often getting lost in the trees. Or the weeds, maybe.

I used the chart above to help me look at the timeline as it relates to theme in my nonfiction manuscript. (Yes, the picture is blurry on purpose. Call me crazy, but I’m not comfortable sharing THAT much info on a work-in-progress)

Related: a couple of weeks ago I went to a fantastic plotting workshop by Rebecca Petruck. She shared another charting method that I found very helpful. If you ever have the chance to take a workshop from Rebecca, jump at it. More info here about Rebecca and her approach.

Darcy Pattison also has some great ideas on how to use spreadsheets to chart your fiction.

What about you, writers? Do you use spreadsheets to analyze your work, and if so, how?

Currently reading: Michelle Icard‘s Middle School Makeover. No, I don’t have a middle-schooler yet, but I will soon. I am loving Icard’s sensible, practical approach and especially all the science about the adolescent brain.

What about you? Reading anything good?

 

 

What’s On the Nightstand: Fall 2014 Edition

Recent Reads: Books

What have you been reading? I’ve always got several books going at once, and let’s be honest, they don’t stay on the nightstand, so every night I’m frantically looking for the three I want at the moment.

First up, we have The Lonely Polygamist by Brady Udall. I haven’t gotten very far yet, but so far, it’s very funny, and I’m impressed by the intricate world Udall has created and all the many characters and their complexity.

Next, Plot and Structure by James Scott Bell. I can’t remember if this was a random book I picked out or if it was recommended by a friend, but it’s a goodie I turn to again and again. It has some excellent writing exercises, which I need, because lately I’m feeling a bit depleted creatively.

On to Budget Bytes by Beth Moncel, which you may remember me mentioning before. It’s a good, solid, weeknight cookbook with lots of fresh ideas. Simple but never boring. Currently loving the chipotle black beans, which are quick enough to make myself for lunch. The author also has an excellent blog.

Next: Can’t We Talk About Something More Pleasant? which I borrowed from my friend Susan.

This may be my favorite book of the year. By Roz Chast, of New Yorker cartoon fame, it’s the story of the slow descent of her elderly parents. It’s told in handwritten journal-like entries plus cartoons, drawings, and photographs. The story is laugh-out-loud hysterical (yes, I know, sounds strange, but it works) but also sad, poignant, and above all, deeply human. It makes me want to write a cartoon journal book. Think I may have to read it again.

photo 3-001

Under that, The How Can It Be Gluten-Free Cookbook from America’s Test Kitchen. I’m just getting into this book, but I really like the way it’s set up and the extensive research that goes into each recipe. The folks behind it test everything to death and make sure it works.

GF cookbook-001

It includes a DIY gluten-free flour mix (my other go-to GF cookbook does this as well). The hubs made me a gorgeous and delicious apple pie using said flour mix and cookbook. See?

Gluten-Free Apple Pie

Next: Unconventional and Unexpected: American Quilts Below the Radar 1950-2000 by Roderick Kiracofe

This book kept popping up on quilting and crafting blogs, and I just had to have it (thanks, mom and dad!). It is so completely gorgeous I can’t even tell you. The collection features my favorite kinds of quilts—-improvised, imperfect, and made with the materials at hand.

book

Unconventional3-001

Unconventional4-001

And finally, we have Williams-Sonoma’s Cooking Together. Sometimes kids’ cookbooks seem to be more about making cute things out of candy and junk food than about real food. This one has a really nice range of recipes and lovely photographs to help kids envision what they might like to cook. My kids like to sit and plan—-but, confession, we haven’t actually made anything out of the book yet. I’m expecting good things, though, because our other Williams-Sonoma books are solid.

Btw, for kids interested in cooking, Chop Chop is another excellent resource for kid-friendly yet healthy, not-intimidating recipes.

Also, just finished Gone,Girl——totally worth a read if you haven’t yet. Can’t waaaaait to see the movie!

Super Quick Italian Bean Salad

Italian Bean Salad

This is my weeknightified version of a Foster’s Market recipe. It’s super simple and really hits the spot when I want a tasty deli-style salad with next to no work. You could dress it up as much as you like with fresh veggie add-ins. The original recipe is lovely, though not super fast (you cook the beans yourself and make their delicious dressing from scratch, among other things). Again, this is more a list of ideas than a real recipe, but it’s not hard to eye the proportions.

Ingredients:

Rinsed and drained canned white beans (I like navy beans)

Italian dressing—-I like the Penzey’s mix

Capers

Sundried tomatoes

Chopped fresh parsley

Mix beans with enough dressing to coat and enough capers and tomatoes to give it a little color. Let marinate a few hours if you have time. Add parsley. Enjoy!

Got some more feedback on my nonfiction manuscript this week. Things are finally moving forward. So excited.

And in other news this week, I’ve been talking to 4th and 5th graders about writing an early reader (i.e. Slowpoke). Fun times! Love getting their questions.

For more food-related posts, click here. Have a great rest of your week.

 

Supper Smorgasbord

Muffin Tin Smorgasbord

I got this idea from the Instagram feed of Meg of Elsie Marley (one of my blog faves).  I’ve done it twice now, each time it’s been a big hit with the kids. It’s just a way of dressing up a simple meal made out of odds and ends. I realize it’s not a true smorgasbord, but that’s what we call it.

Full disclosure: I served GF boxed mac and cheese as a side with this supper. It’s all my kids would eat if I let them, but I serve it very rarely. I’m trying to establish mac and cheese as “just a side dish that we eat on a very occasional basis.” Good luck to me, eh?

My cooking mojo has been kind of depleted lately, maybe because I’m sick of soup season but it’s been too cold and wet for grilling and salads. That and the fact that my little one grumbles about complex flavors (curries, etc.) and I haven’t felt like fighting that battle in the last few weeks.

My writing mojo has been a bit down as well though I’m still plugging away. This week I’ve been making spreadsheets of my works-in-progress to chart how certain elements are working out. It’s a way of seeing the forest rather than the trees, which were all I was seeing.

For the novel I’ve made a column for each chapter, and for the nonfiction piece I’ve made a timeline-spreadsheet. Soooo revealing on both counts, though I have to admit sometimes it feels like it’s not “real” writing and like I should be doing that instead. Still, I think it’s essential to take a step back now and then so you can see what needs adjusting.

What about you? Discovered any good recipes lately? Read anything good lately?

I can’t wait to see Wes Anderson’s new flick, The Grand Budapest Hotel. Currently reading One Summer by Bill Bryson (about the summer of 1927) and on deck: Kids These Days by Drew Perry and Little Failure by Gary Shteyngart.

For more food posts, click here. For more on books, here, and for writing stuff, here.

What’s On the Nightstand: Summer Edition

Stack of Books

What have you been reading lately? I’ve stocked up for the summer and am making my way through these.

First up is David Sedaris’s Let’s Explore Diabetes with Owls. Purchased through Park Road Books at his reading in Charlotte. As usual, so funny! I especially liked the chapter about language learning—-awesome bits about German.

The Expats is pretty pulpy, but intriguing. I’m reading it right now. A former CIA operative, now an expat housewife (whose husband doesn’t know the truth about her career) is unraveling a mystery in Luxembourg. The spy stuff is mixed with domestic/ marriage stuff, which is an interesting combo. This one was recommended by Sally Brewster at Park Road Books.

Inside Out and Back Again is a recent Newbery winner, about a young girl in the 1970s who flees war-town Vietnam and ends up in Alabama. Sadly, I only got a little ways into it before I had to return it to the library because someone had it on hold. Rats! I’ll have to try again. It’s very lyrical, written in poems. (P, if you’re reading, I picked this up because of you).

Next up is Where’d You Go, Bernadette? which is probably my favorite read in the last six months. My daughter asked me please to not read it while driving (no, I don’t really do that, but she thought I might). Laugh-out-loud funny, razor sharp, and so smart. The reclusive genius (former) architect Bernadette has gone missing, and her teenage daughter is determined to find her by gathering all the clues she can. It takes place in Seattle, which Bernadette hates with a hysterically fiery passion. (Sorry, Seattle, I’ve always imagined you to be really cool). Two weekends ago I drove my road trip friends crazy because I would NOT. SHUT. UP. about Bernadette. I’m going all fangirl on the author, Maria Semple. Must read her other title.

And lastly, I’ve got A Tale for the Time Being by Ruth Ozeki. This one, along with Bernadette, was also recommended by Sally Brewster of Park Road Books (and I purchased them there). I haven’t started it yet, but Sally said it was beautiful, a book to savor, and also about someone who’s moved to a new place (Japan) and is struggling to adjust.

And that seems to be the theme here: fish-out-of-water stories. In fact the novel I’m working on is also a fish-out-of-water story. It’s a theme on the brain this year, my first one back in the U.S. after two and a half years in Germany. Sometimes I’m still just flipping around, missing my water, wondering how to breathe this air.

What about you? What are you reading this summer? Your kids? I’d love some family audiobook recommendations.