Monday, December 19, 2011
Below is a clip from my favorite holiday special of all time: A Charlie Brown Christmas. It combines all my favorite things: the true meaning of Christmas, Snoopy, that great piano music, and the world's best Christmas tree. Enjoy, and as I take off next week from blogging, I hope that you and yours have a magical, wonderful, delightful Christmas. Now... See you next year!!
Tuesday, December 13, 2011
Working part time in a jewelry store, I have the opportunity to meet a lot of people. I love jewelry, and often enjoy getting people to try on pieces they may normally turn away from. This week, I was showing a couple in their mid-sixties some gorgeous pieces of chocolate diamonds, and the woman fluttered her hands nervously when I pulled out a ring.
“Oh, no, my hands are so ugly. I can’t wear rings.”
I was taken aback. She really meant it, as if her hands were somehow hideous monsters instead of the capable appendages they were. And honestly, this wasn't the first time I had heard this complaint from women of a certain age. I understand that we all have something about ourselves that we hate, and those things can often be magnified as we age, but I just couldn’t accept that kind of reaction.
I looked her right in the eye and said, “Your hands are beautiful. They are beautiful for all the things they make possible for you, for all that you have done with them, and all that you will do with them.”
She smiled and nodded, and they went on with their day, but it really got me thinking. How often do we get caught up in the vanity of things and forget to give thanks for the blessing those things truly are to us?
Shortly after I quit my job in 2009, something inside me went haywire. The technical term of the diagnosis was chronic autoimmune idiopathic urticaria… otherwise known as hives. I had them for days, then weeks, and later months. Huge portions of my skin would be covered in them, leaving me miserably itchy and horribly uncomfortable. Even worse, they were horrendous looking, like I’d been stung by hundreds of bees, and it left me very self conscious to go into public. What if they thought it was contagious? What if they judged me, or thought I had leprosy or something?
I went to doctor after doctor, underwent a battery of test, and was poked, prodded, and questioned within an inch of my life, all to have them say: We don’t know what’s causing it. We don’t know how long it will last (maybe forever). We don’t know how to stop it. I was prescribed pills and foul-smelling creams, assigned literature to read and diaries to keep. At one point I looked in the mirror and asked myself, is this going to be the rest of my life?
I went on the offensive, cutting possible allergens from my diet (gluten, dairy, and eggs – all at once), ditching all beauty and laundry products containing any sort of chemical, and carefully documenting daily life to try to uncover possible triggers. I lathered on the disgusting prescription cream when things got bad, and drove my poor hubby to the other side of the house from the chemically smell.
And none of it helped. Over and over and over again, the hives would erupt, leaving me in despair. And then one day, I decided to look at things differently. Why was I having hives? Though I couldn’t be sure of what I was reacting to, I did now the body chemistry behind it. Sparing you lots of technical jargon, the answer was my body was actually trying to help me by releasing histamines to protect me—unfortunately the response had gone haywire, and was seriously out of whack.
So, after nearly six months of misery, I decided to change my approach. My skin was upset, my body out of kilter, and I needed to calm it. Instead of despising my own body, as I had begun to do, I need to be thankful for it. I needed to focus on the good, be understanding of the bad, and be confident of my body’s ability to figure things out.
I ditched the nasty creams, and instead turned to olive oil. Soothing, all natural, and used for millennia to better skin, each morning I would gently rub it on the hives, taking the time to say out loud why I was thankful for my skin. The reasons were many. Absolutely everything we do through life is made possible by the miracle of our skin. The most obvious is that we are able to live because of our skin – without it we could not survive. But there was so much more than that. We are able to experience so many things; to feel a loved one’s touch, to relish the warmth of the sun, to feel the softest breeze. We can move, and dance, and run thanks to it. It was beautiful for all the ways it allowed me to experience and thrive in this world, and I was so thankful for it, regardless of its flaws.
In the weeks to come, that time each morning became an unusual mix of meditation and prayer. I actually made peace with my skin and the troubles I was having, and my anxiety and self-consciousness diminished. And do you know what? Within weeks my hives went away for good.
So, why have I told you all of this? It is because I learned something through the experience, and I try to live by that lesson now. That lesson is to be thankful for what we have, even when it is causing us problems or pain. I learned to consider the big picture, and to look past the imperfections that may be on the surface. Now I look at the ugly scar on my back and realize it is infinitely more beautiful than skin cancer. I am thankful for my big ole feet because I must surely have better balance than those with small feet. And I hope that as I age, I’ll feel blessed for the smiles that gave me crows feet and for the age spots that resulted from so many wonderful times in the sun.
So for all you out there who may look at a small part of yourself and be unhappy, take a moment to rejoice in the good. I think you may just be better for it!
So, do you have something about yourself that you hate or are embarrassed about? Tell me something good about that one thing! And if it’s your neck or your hands, I highly suggest buying some gorgeous piece of jewelry to make you feel better about them ;)
As a side note, one of the doctors later called to see how I was doing, and was surprised and thrilled to hear of my freedom from the hives. I thought she might think I was crazy when I told her what I had been doing, but she was very receptive, telling me she was a strong believer in the mind/body connection when it came to healing. Who would have thought!
Tuesday, December 6, 2011
Last night, after a week of staring at our sadly naked Christmas tree, Kirk and I finally dragged out the boxes of ornaments stashed in the attic and got to work. After a short scuffle over Christmas decorating music (Tran Siberian Orchestra, Kirk? Really?), we opened the boxes and got to work.
For me, decorating the tree has always been something of a walk down memory lane. As each ornament comes out, I’m reminded of Christmases past, like when fourth-grade me labored over the fabric patchwork ornament, or when we celebrated our first Christmas as a married couple with the adorable bride and groom ornament my mom gave us. I smile at the Snoopy bulb marked with the year of my birth, and the Precious Moments one from my middle school years.
I love the tiny little Snoopy vignettes that can fit in a tablespoon, and the classic car one my parents gave Kirk one year, and the little wood second-grade me stamped with glue and sprinkled with green glitter.
As always, we loaded up the tree with tiny multi-color lights as well as a strand of chunky bulbs—just like the trees of my childhood. I’ll never have one of those elegant, white-light strewn trees with matching bulbs and perfect symmetry. No, for me it’s all about evoking the fun and playfulness of the many Christmases of my past. I think I’ll always cherish those wonky handmade ornaments and dingy, aged plastic figurines that get tucked away oh-so carefully each year.
As we were finishing up last night, I looked to Kirk and said, “You know, I don’t even know why or when the tradition of dragging a tree in our homes at Christmas started. What does it have to do with anything?”
He merely shrugged. “Haven’t a clue”
I started to head to the trusty iPad and Google the answer, but for some reason, thought better of it. You know what? It doesn’t matter to me how the tradition came to be, or what their thinking behind it was. I only know that for me it is a perfect time capsule, a way to remember all the wonderful memories of the Christmases I have shared with my loved ones. It’s about making new memories, of sharing true quality time with my hubby, and having at least one tradition that will always be in my household.
Do you put a tree up each year? Do you have the handmade ones, the store bought kind, or a mixture? Wouldn't you agree that the classic White Christmas and Let It Snow are SO much better for decorating than Trans Siberian Orchestra?? ;)
I have the perfect recipe for you today - the same one I used decades ago to make ornaments for my Nana and Papa as Christmas gifts :) It's the perfect way to make something memorable for you to look back on for years to come. Enjoy!
Homemade Dough Ornaments:
- 2 cups flour
- 1/2 cup salt
- 3/4 cup water
Preheat oven to 300 degrees. Combine ingredients and kneed for about 10 minutes. Roll out to desired thickness (about 1/4 inch) on floured surface. Using cookie cutters, cut out shapes, then punch a hole for hanging. Bake for 30 minutes, and cook completely on a rack.
Decorate using acrylic paint, glitter, etc. Allow to try completely. Spray with clear polyurethane on both sides to preserve. Hang from tree with string or ribbon.
Tuesday, November 29, 2011
Today is a simple blog. A blog of thanks.
First of all, I’m thankful for today, which is the one year anniversary of the first day of the rest of my life. Two simple yet life altering things occurred on this day last year. One, I finally mailed my Golden Heart entry, cutting it so close that I had to overnight it. Two, I received a short, inauspicious email on one of my Yahoo loops about a little contest that would occur the next day called Deidre Knight’s “She’s Just That Into You” Speed Dating contest. I was exhausted from the marathon of putting together the GH entry, but I thought, what the heck—I’ll give it a shot. Man, am I glad I did!
You all know of the amazing, dream-like year this has been for me. I’m constantly thankful for the amazing support each and every one of you has shown. I have no idea how I came to be so lucky to have you all in my life, but I’m so happy that you are :)
I’m thankful for my little house, and my three pups, my tall, dark, and handsome hubby and our Thanksgiving dinner for two.
I’m thankful for Alton Brown and his ridiculously awesome recipe for the world’s best turkey. There is nothing like bringing that iconic, perfectly browned bird to the table and watching it disappear before my eyes.
I’m thankful for traditions, for gigantic balloons, for overzealous flag girls and smartly outfitted marching bands. I’m thankful for the dog show that I would never want to watch on any other day, but somehow has me riveted on Thanksgiving. Oh, and I’m thankful for the movie “Best in Show” which makes me snicker while watching the dog show.
I’m thankful for generous offers from neighbors, for delicious desserts, for the joyful screams of sugared-up kids . . . and the blissful silence of our own home.
I’m thankful for cyber-shopping and free shipping, ‘cause there ain’t no way I’m losing precious sleep to stand in line at o’dark thirty for a cheap tv or one of three Xboxes. Jus’ sayin :)
I’m thankful for fresh-cut Christmas trees, and good ol’ boy farmers with long grey beards, overalls, and a ready laugh.
I’m thankful for gaudy, multi-colored lights covering the yard in house in the most National Lampoons Christmas Vacation-esque way. It’s so much more fun to be colorful than tasteful ;)
Last but not least, I’m thankful that this week, I learned I am not the only one who screams like a girl when a radioactive spider pops up out of nowhere. Not naming any names, but his name rhymes with lurk and is regularly preceded by ‘Captain’ thanks to a certain Starship Enterprise commander in the 60’s.
Tell me the one thing you are most thankful for this holiday season! What traditions are you looking forward to this Christmas? And have you ever heard your husband scream like a pre-teen at a Justin Bieber concert?
Today’s recipe is one that I originally got from my mother-in-law, and have used at every pot-luck and Thanksgiving day feast since. It is simple, utterly delicious, and wonderfully easy.
Homemade Cream Corn
½ block of cream cheese, softened (4 oz.)
2 Tbsp butter, softened
2 Tbsp water
2 tsp sugar
1 bag frozen corn
Combine in crockpot or in a medium saucepan on the stove over medium low heat. Stir occasionally until well-heated through. Enjoy the deliciousness and numerous accolades :)
Tuesday, November 22, 2011
Click Here for my post at Lady Scribes
Happy Thanksgiving, everyone! I don't know about you, but I have A LOT to be thankful for this year!!
Thursday, November 17, 2011
Isn't it beautiful? Isn't it glorious? I hope someday to meet the incredible artist and lovely design team who put it together so I may give them a big, fat, inappropriately long hug :-) Now I can hardly wait to have the cover added to Amazon, where the book is already available for pre-sale (click here). I'll keep you posted!
Now - somehow I must now figure out how to get my head out of the clouds and actually get to work! Happy day all :-)
Tuesday, November 15, 2011
If you have heard the rumors (or even if you have not), I am here to confirm them: Yes, I, Erin Knightley, met, spoke with, hugged, and took a picture with the one, the only Mr. Colin Firth on Wednesday last. And yes, I am still swooning at having actually touched Mr. Darcy.
I also must, regrettably, confirm another unexpected truth of myself. Though I am a writer by trade, trained in the art of the manipulation of language into the most pleasing arrangement possible, there were only two words I was able to spit out when faced with communicating with the Oscar-winning, British accent speaking, taller-than-expected actor. Despite the clever and perfectly droll little bits of conversation I had dreamed up on the way there with just such a fortuitous meeting in mind, I took one look at the handsome, long-admired figure advancing upon me and my brain cells promptly abandoned me, fainting like preteens at a Justin Bieber concert and leaving me with this blathering bit of nonsense:
“Er, uh, you’re… you’re wonderful!”
*palm to forehead* Really? Really? A good half million words under my belt as a writer and that’s what I say in that crucial moment? Was this what Ralphie had felt like in A Christmas Story, plotting and planning for weeks what he would say to Santa (Official Red Ryder Carbine-Action Two-Hundred-Shot Range Model Air Rifle!), only to choke the moment he was face to face with the fat man himself, nodding dumbly at the prospect of a nice football?
But alas, it’s not quite the same. Ralphie, after all, seized the moment to stop his descent on the red slide of death, claw his way back up, and spout off the exact thing he had wanted to say in the first place, albeit with a somewhat maniacal gleam in his eyes. Now, this tactic may have earned him a boot to the forehead, but at least he had taken the opportunity.
Alas, my moment was over almost as soon as it had started. Colin was humble, and gracious, and very patient with us dumbstruck fans, but the man had a job to do, and he was quickly whisked away back to the set, ready to resume filming. So here I am, a speechless writer so lost for words, she couldn’t even convey to her romance idol exactly how much he meant to her and the romance world at large.
Well, guess what. I may not have clawed my way up the red slide of dumbstruck silence at the time, but what is a blog if not a forum to write out all the things I want to say? So here it is. Carpe Diem, no matter how late:
Dear Mr. Firth,
I think every woman can remember the moment that she witnessed what love must truly look like, what it must truly even feel like. There are movies aplenty where love is presented in all of it’s passionate and over-the-top glory, but we, the critical viewer, knows that this is merely the kind of obvious and too-quickly-resolved romance that is manufactured to evoke a smile or perhaps a few tears. But then, there are those precious few that seem to get it all right. They invites their rapt viewers to watch, to dream, to envy, to imagine what it must feel like to not just observe, but to actually be that heroine, gazing into the eyes of her very own hero.
You, Mr. Firth, have evoked these feelings from the audience for not just one or two movies, but through many. You are the leading man in no less than three of my favorite movies, Love Actually, Bridget Jones’s Diary, and of course, the incomparable Pride and Prejudice. The last is truly a masterpiece, so beloved that even fifteen years later, it is every bit as powerful and compelling as the day it first came out.
The words were the author’s, but the delivery was all yours. Your glaze slid through Elizabeth Bennet right to our own hearts. We weren’t just watching a movie, we were experiencing it. Your effortless portrayal of one of the greatest heroes of all time moved us, drawing us in to this timeless story, making our hearts pound and our breath catch. You mastered the complexities of Mr. Darcy’s character, conveying his love and inner struggle with little more than a searing look or a pregnant pause. You made him human, approachable, real to the extent that we could imagine Mr. Darcy’s intense gaze settling upon us, loving us, wanting us with a reserved passion that supersedes all else.
For those of us who have known the joy of true love, your performance reminded us of that feeling when the world slips away, and it is just you and your beloved. It made us turn to our loved one with refreshed joy, remembering those days of butterflies tickling our stomachs at the mere sound of his voice. For those who have never known love, watching your portrayal of Mr. Darcy could, for some small moment in time, fill that place for them, showing them the depths of the heart and all the goodness that could come from it.
I must clarify that it is you the actor, not the just character that you play. It is the softness of voice, the certain indefinable quietness that makes one wonder if shyness lurks beneath that handsome, movie-star façade. It’s a vulnerability that, no matter how brazen the character, somehow still simmers in the background and manages to tug at the heart strings. It’s that certain approachability, that talent of drawing us in and making us believe.
Some people may look at the gathering of women waiting around for an autograph or a photo with their favorite actor to be silly or even a bit pathetic. But I see woman who have known joy from the work you have done. The flushed cheeks and shining eyes—not to mention tied tongues—reflect the sigh of bliss they have all experienced at some point thanks to a smile, a character, a perfectly delivered speech or even a single fathomless look.
Is there any better measure of success for an actor? To know that what you do matters because someone is better off because of it?
Thank you for your working to bring our favorite characters to life in such a way that we cannot help but love them. Be it Mr. Darcy, Mr. Mark Darcy, or even Jamie Bennett or King George IV, you make us truly care about their struggles, and therefore rejoice in their triumphs. Your portrayals inspire those of us who peddle in creativity, making us strive even more to create that perfect hero in all his perfectly flawed and inherently human glory.
And that, in my eyes, makes you a hero in your own right
Tuesday, November 8, 2011
It was a dark and stormy night. Okay, so not so much stormy as mildly cloudy, but still. It was late, and I still had much work to do. Hubby and the pups were making too much racket for my creative side to be happy with, so I banished them to the top floor of the house while I retreated to the basement.
The air was cool, but the space blessedly quiet. Finally I was able to get into the groove of writing, and before too long I was deep in the story, my surroundings falling away as I immersed myself in Regency England. I was typing happily away when a sudden scratching sound brought me screeching back to the present.
Scratchy scratchy scratchy…
There it was again! I froze, my heart beating in my ears as I evaluated the situation. I knew Kirk and the dogs were still upstairs—the sound of the basement door opening is unmistakable, so I knew they couldn't have sneaked downstairs.
Scratchy scratchy scratchy…
Oh God, there was something down there with me. Right. Behind. Me. I swallowed, my whole body rigidly tense. It was going to be a mouse. I just knew it. I was going to turn around and a freaking little mouse was going to dart away, escaping into some unseen crevasse and leaving me unable to sleep for days.
Scratchy scratchy scratchy…
There was nothing for it; I had to turn around. Without a doubt something was there walking behind me, and be it mouse, rat, or something even more sinister, I had to know what it was. Taking a bracing breath, I slowly, carefully swiveled in my chair, spinning until I could see the ground directly behind me and then…
OH MY GOD!!! OMGOMGOMGOMGOMG!! It wasn’t a mouse or even a rat, it was a SPIDER GINORMOUS ENOUGH FOR ME TO HEAR HIM WALKING BEHIND ME!!
In utter horror, I flailed around looking for something on my desk substantial enough to smite him from the face of the earth. Generally I prefer the live and let live philosophy, but once you are big enough to wear tap shoes and pound out some Fred Astaire moves, I’m sorry but you gotta die. Immediately.
Unfortunately, I wasn’t wearing any shoes and all I really had on my desk were loose papers. I found a pack of index cards, but I couldn’t risk him bench-pressing them off and coming after me.
Meanwhile, I’m screaming at the top of my lungs, for once in my life perfectly okay with sounding like a six year old girl. I can hear the dogs scrambling down the stairs and pacing back and forth in front of the basement door, but damn if they hadn’t opposable thumbs to open the door and come rescue me. Kirk, however, with is wonderfully dextrous hands and multitude of weapons to choose from upstairs (butcher knife, anyone), is nowhere to be found. He would later claim that he couldn’t hear me, but I firmly believe that he heard the I’m-about-to-be-eaten-by-Aragog scream and decided to sit that one out.
The spider started to move at this point, looking like nothing so much as Thing from the Addam’s family, only slightly more hairy and WAY more creepy. At last my hands find something much more substantial on my desk—my go-to research book, What Jane Austen Ate and Charles Dickens Knew. Its shiny, unblemished cover glinted in the light, and I paused in indecision.
And then he moved again. Towards me.
And I threw the book at him.
So therein ends the tale of the tap-dancing spider and his death by Charles Dickens. I’m beginning to think living out in the sticks isn’t all it’s cracked up to be. Overdramatic snakes? Check. Radioactive spiders? Check. Please next time can it simply be an ax murderer or a boogy man – in other words, something less horrifying?
What is your most heebie-jeebie inducing critter story? And really, have you ever in your life heard of a spider so big you could hear him walking behind you?? *shivers*
For today’s recipe, I thought I’d find a recipe both yummy and tasteless under the circumstances. How do you think I did? ;)
And because I thought a tribute was in order...
Tuesday, November 1, 2011
Nine years ago, when Kirk and I first moved to Raleigh and we were still poor, starry-eyed newlyweds, we stumbled upon a little-known spot on the city’s reservoir where we could truly get away from it all. We didn’t have a boat, or even know anyone else who did at that point, and this perfect little place could not have been a better find for us.
There wasn’t a beach or a parking lot or anything remotely organized there, just a dead-end street with a long, snaking trail leading through the woods and popping out on the main lake some half-mile later. Another trail wound around the peninsula, giving us the option of hiking for miles if we wanted.
Our first fur baby was still little more than a puppy, an exuberant one-year-old who had never seen such a glorious expanse of woods, nor experienced the soaring freedom of leash-less living. She bounded through the forest, crashing through underbrush and leaping over logs. Many a squirrel was treed by our lightning-fast Sadie, each holding her attention for a frustrated minute or two until she relented and sprinted off to the next great thing.
As Kirk and I hiked the well-laid trails, Sadie explored the wildness extending beyond the beaten path, crisscrossing in front of us just enough for us to know she was still close by. Occasionally we would linger on the shore, soaking in the sun and listening to the quiet lap of water caressing the rocky beach. It was here that our little rock-hound discovered her obsession, watching us with laser-like focus until we threw the next rock for her, and then the next.
Soon, we added Maggie to our little clan, and the trips to the trail doubled in fun. Black lab Maggie could hardly believe her eyes when the trail opened up to the expanse of shoreline, and she happily frolicked and played like the pup she was. On the way back to the car, she and Sadie would dash in and out of the woods, somehow perfectly capturing the look of carefree joy, tongues hanging from their mouths as the wind ruffled their fur.
And then we finally bought our first boat, and the trips to the trail became less frequent. Instead of hikes to the shore, we could finally have our fun on the water, wakeboarding, swimming, and surfing until our hearts were content. The girls remained behind those days, their faces watching forlornly as we pulled from the driveway without them.
About five and a half years ago, we found our current home, and they once again knew the joy of frolicking out doors. Unfortunately, we still lived in a neighborhood, so they had to keep their wandering down to a half acre or so. Though they ran freely though the back yard, they never quite recaptured the same verve for life they had discovered in the woods. Every fall, Kirk and I would think of the old trail, of that special place where freedom lived. With the lake behind us, it just didn’t make sense to pack up our now three-strong pack of pups and drive the near hour to the reservoir.
But something occurred to me this past Sunday morning. The drive was never going to get any less. Either we made the priority to go or we didn’t; we couldn’t just keep saying, ‘but it’s so far.’
So, we pulled out the old towels, packed up water bottles and leashes, piled our three eager and slobbering dogs in the car and headed for our place. It had been so long, even the roads themselves had changed, and we had to google the new route as we drove. Fifty minutes, a few quick stops, and a whole lot of dog breath later, we were there. Despite the changes going on only a mile away, the dead end street was still the same—exactly as it had been half a decade earlier.
The air was crisp and cool, the delectable smell of autumn heavy in the air. Sadie and Maggie cried with impatience as we untangled their leads and prepared for the hike. As always, we hiked the first quarter mile with them on their leashes. They strained and pulled, their noses lifted to the air and their bodies quivering with energy. Little Darcy had never been here, but she sensed her sisters’ excitement and shook with the thrill of it all.
When we found the right spot, we made them sit, poised to unclip their tethers and set them free. In that moment, I eyed Maggie’s graying muzzle and Sadie’s clouded eyes. Our girls were getting old, and seeing them in the place of their youth suddenly drove home the truth of it. We’d let way too much time march by, depriving them of this special place with a thousand little excuses.
It had been years since Sadie had let loose and really ran, would she still have it in her? Maggie played in short bursts with Darcy in the backyard, but what about a two hour romp through the woods? Would she be able to keep up?
The world seemed quiet in that moment, as they all sat and waited. At last the scrape of metal on metal met my ears as Kirk unclipped their leashes…and then they were off.
Like the puppies they had once been, they streaked through the underbrush, soaring over the land so fast I marveled that their paws even touched the ground. As Kirk and I smiled and began our hike along the old familiar path, we listened to the rustling of foliage and the pounding of feet as they whisked by, zig-zagging back and forth just as they did so many years ago.
When the light began to wane and the crispness in the air turned to nippiness, we at last made our way back to the car, not even needing to clip the leashes to their collars. They were spent like a trio of 5 year old kids after a particularly spectacular Christmas—happy, exhausted, content to be by our sides. As we packed them up and started out on the long track home, I watched the trailhead diminish in the sideview mirror, growing more and more distant as Kirk drove onward toward home. I felt somehow . . . grateful. Grateful to have rediscovered this place, grateful to have given my pups a day of pure joy, grateful to have reawakened the memories of how things used to be.
Sometimes the greatest joys in life are the simplest ones, are they not? A quiet wood, a long empty trail, and the company of those we love is all it takes to make a perfect day become a perfect memory—one I hope we will repeat with much more frequency from now on :)
Is there a place you love to go, that reminds you of who you were and where you’ve been? Do you make time to visit, or has it been a while since you’ve been back?
In honor of our trail adventure this weekend, I thought I would do a Trail Mix inspired muffin. The original recipe is here.
Happy Trails Muffins
2 and 1/4 cups all purpose flour
1 cup granola
¾ cup packed brown sugar
2 tsp baking powder
½ tsp salt
1 cup milk
1 tbsp sour cream
1/4 cup oil
1/2 cup unsweetened applesauce
1 tsp vanilla extract
1/3 cup mini chocolate chips
1/2 cup chopped dry roasted peanuts, lightly salted
1/2 cup raisons
1/2 cup dried cherries / cranberries/ blueberries/ or apricots
Pre-heat oven to 375
In a large bowl, combine flour, granola, cereal, brown sugar, baking powder, and salt. In a separate bowl, beat eggs, milk, sour cream, oil, apple sauce, and vanilla. Stir into dry ingredients until moistened (don’t overmix). Fold in remaining ingredients.
Fill paper-lined muffin tins 3/4 full. Bake for 15-18 minutes, or until toothpick comes out clean.
Tuesday, October 25, 2011
Tuesday, October 18, 2011
Sometimes the greatest things happen when we let go of our crutches and face challenges head-on. Oddly, I am put to mind of the experiences I had when I was nineteen, when I went to Russia for the summer to work on an international scientific drilling project near Lake Baikal. We—the two other students who worked in the paleoclimatology lab and me—arrived in Moscow a bit timid and a whole lot of excited. We were to have a two day layover before our flight to Irkutsk, and we intended to make the most of the time, seeing all the sights with the help of our guide Sasha.
Russian Erin - or Erina as I was called :)
On the morning of the first day, Sasha collected us bright and early from the dank and wholly unluxurious youth hostile we had all slept rather poorly in our first night. We had been shocked when the sun didn’t set until near midnight, and then reappeared a little after four in the morning, complete with loud, obnoxious birds heralding the start of the day. Despite our exhaustion (and the mystery-meat breakfast we consumed), our enthusiasm for the day was palpable, and we followed behind Sasha like three adoring puppies.
On a speedwalk tour that would have done Richard Simmons proud, Sasha showed us one thing after the other, zooming past historic buildings, enormous statues, and lovely greenways. For each sight he had a bit of description, some small piece of history or note on the architecture. He even gave us a speed tour of the art museum, squeezed in between grabbing blinis and glimpsing a street bazaar.
As the afternoon progressed, Sasha decided we should see how the metro system worked. With we three bedraggled Americans trailing behind, he ducked into the nearest stations and showed us how to buy the tokens. Popping a few into the slot, he motioned for us to go through the one-way turnstyle. We did as we were told, obediently pushing through single-file. Once we were all on the other side, we turned back to wait for him to follow.
Instead, he held up a hand and saluted us. “Okay, have fun. I’ll see you tomorrow afternoon.” And then he left.
Just like that.
The second we realized he wasn’t kidding, we tried to find a way to follow, but the exit was on the other side of the terminal, and Sasha had already vanished into the crowd. We looked to each other with widened eyes, identical looks of panic within their depths.
We were alone.
In a foreign city.
With no grasp of the language. Or money system. Or even the laws.
And no contact information for anyone in the whole country. Make that continent.
We had two choices. We could find the exit, hail a cab, and point to the map that had the youth hostel circled on it. We could hole up in our rooms, bemoan the fact we had been abandoned, and forget about the truly important sights we had not yet seen: The Kremlin, Red Square, and Arbot Street.
Or we could strike out on our own. We could pull out the map, try to make sense of the foreign words and pictures, and find our own way. Or… possibly get so lost we ended up with our passport pictures plastered on the side of kefir cartons everywhere.
After a quick powwow, an agreement was reached: It was time for adventure. I pulled out the city map I had tucked into my bag earlier, and we poured over the rainbow of tiny lines delineating the metro system. Before long, we started making sense of the map, matching the queer words and symbols with the ones on the signs in the metro. Once we decided on a plan—two transfers to reach the station nearest the Kremin—we stepped onto the escalator and descended down, down, down into the impossibly deep depths of the metro system. When at last we reached the platform, we could hardly believe the scene before us.
Like an impossibly gorgeous set piece from one of those sweeping old Hollywood movies, the station platform stretched before us in all its gilded glory. Exquisite chandeliers hung elegantly from the high, arching ceilings, their glittering light filling the open space like a ballroom hung with countless blazing candles. Marble gleamed beneath our feet, climbing the walls and paving the ceiling in an opulence unlike anything I had ever seen.
It was surreal, as if we had stepped into a fairytale, lacking only in elaborate costumes to bring the masquerade to life. Instead, ordinary people in t-shirts and business suits flowed past us like water parting around a time-worn boulder in a swiftly moving river. It was oddly hushed, as if they too understood the need for reverence in this unreal place.
We made our way to the train, which was filled to brimming with busy Russians. The smell of undeodorized bodies in the close space was incongruous with regal platform outside the windows. I had never been on a subway train in my life, and here I was on one in the very bowels of Russia, surrounded by people who smelled, looked, sounded, and acted differently than anything I had ever known. I had never felt farther from home in my entire life, from anything at all familiar. When at last the doors opened, we bustled out and headed for the signs pointing us to the next line. We took yet another escalator even deeper into the earth, if that was even possible, then traversed a long tunnel toward the platform.
Again, no one around us spoke, and we silently trekked over the tiled floor, exchanging glances at the strangeness of the place. In the distance, the soft, smooth sounds of a lone flute broke the silence, calling us forward like a siren’s song. The notes were dark and low, purer than any I had ever heard. As we drew closer, the haunting tune grew louder, each poignant note clear and melodic, caressing us like dark velvet on a winter’s night.
It was beautiful, and hypnotic, and I could no more ignore the desire to fill the purple-lined flute case with the flash of silver rubles than I could deny myself the need to breath. He earned his money that day. Thirteen years later, I can still remember that moment as clearly as if it had been yesterday.
The other two platforms were every bit as beautiful as the first, though the styles were different. In one, huge painting drew the eye, framed by intricate stone carvings. The lighting was different here, with large fixtures dotting the ceiling. The other had walls done entirely in mosaics, breathtaking in the grandness both of scale and design. When at last we rode the seemingly unending escalator back to the surface, it was jarring to return to the noise and pace of the city above.
One of the less ornate platforms :)
We spent the day exploring the Kremlin, glimpsing Lennon’s tomb, and marching through the Red Square. We marveled at the brightly colored, iconic roof of the cathedral and pictured the imposing armies that had once filled the huge space. Next we found our way to Arbot street, and were relieve to discover many of the vendor’s spoke English. We haggled for the first time in our lives, buying silly trinkets and priceless baubles alike.
By the end of the day, we confidently strode back through the waiting turnstyles of the subway, willingly plunging into the earth once more. When we finally arrived back to the hostel, it was with a sense of accomplishment. When abandoned by our guide, we had boldly moved forward to explore our surroundings. Because of it, we experienced things we never would have had we stayed by his side, or retreated to the hostel. We had found beauty and wonder in this foreign place, intimidated no more by the strange symbols making up their words. We had laughed, we had seen, we had made memories for a lifetime.
So, what has me thinking on this experience from so long ago? I’ve decided that, for a little while at least, I need to let go of my crutch and move forward. I’m referring to the internet—and the hours and hours that can be wasted each and every day as I interact with friends and writers on the Yahoo loops, Twitter, and Facebook. I always want to be up to date, to know what’s going on in the industry. I spend so much time exploring what others are saying, I’m starting to loose my own need to create. So, I’ve decided that for the next six weeks, I’m going to turn off my wifi for a minimum of 8 hours a day, and go about the business of exploring my imagination. Who knows what sort of beauty lurks there if I never completely unplug and allow myself to find out? My ultimate goal is to finish the revisions for Book 2 a full two months ahead of schedule.
No dogs, no email pings, no tweets or news updates. No sneaking a peak at celebrity gossip or getting sidetracked by funny pictures or facebook statuses. No obsessing about when genre is selling better and why. Just me, my story, and endless possibilities. Wish me luck! (And yes, I will still be blogging as usual)
Click Here for some gorgeous pictures of the Moscow Metro :)
In honor of my recently unearthed memories of Russia, I found a wonderful recipe for blinis—otherwise known as Russian Pancakes. Much like crepes, they can be filled with anything from sweet (berries, chocolate, honey) to savory (ground meat, sautéed vegetables, cheeses). I had a lot of fun making them – and I hope you will too!Click Here for the allrecipe.com recipe :) I’d make it my own except…I don’t want to! They are perfect as presented. My only tip is to use lemon juice for the citric acid. For my experimental blinis, I had a berry and whipped cream version for a post lunch dessert, and a ground turkey with spicy tomato sauce for dinner. Both were equally fabulous, if I do say so myself :)
Tuesday, October 11, 2011
In this day of technology and endless social media, it seems like we are constantly connected to our friends. Between texting, tweeting, facebooking, e-mailing, and calls, rarely an hour goes by that something hasn’t buzzed, dinged, chirped, or vibrated, letting us know such vital details as what our friends had for lunch, what made them laugh, or what evoked a frowny-face emoticon. And yet, in the midst of all this connectivity, there seems to be a bit of a disconnect.
It was this weekend that I rediscovered that elusive thing that seems to been disappearing in our modern lives. The joy of the common get-together.
After weeks of anticipation and planning, five of my critique partners converged on my house for a weekend writer’s retreat. Interestingly enough, though we had been friends and crit partners for a year and a half, I had never even met two of them. In both cases, we hesitantly eyed each other, mentally matching the tiny profile pictures to the stranger before us. And in both cases, we were grinning and hugging within seconds—reunited despite the fact we had never met.
We arrived at my house close to dinner time, and as I flitted about my fantastically renovated kitchen (I swear I shall never take it for granted!), I couldn’t help but smile with joy at the lively conversation and frequent giggles emanating from the girls as they chatted on the couch. There was a vibrancy to the place unlike anything we could feel online, an energy that built as the evening progressed.
By late evening, we had relocated to the screened-in back porch, and the sound of laughter echoing up and down the lake masked even the most robust crickets and toads that normally serenade the night. We talked about any and every thing, frequently busting out in laughter until we were gasping for air. When the clock chimed midnight, we were all holding our aching sides but showing no signs of slowing down.
We talked about happy things, sad things, absurd things, and things that made us go hmm. We pondered the industry, life, love, and the future, while reminiscing about the past and how much we had grown as writers since finding each other. It was two in the morning before we finally headed to bed.
The next morning, we swore to one another that work would be done, and we buckled down to try to help each other tackle whatever was forefront on our minds. One by one we went through the group, listening, suggesting, plot hashing, and problem solving.
By the end of our retreat, I think it is safe to say that each and every one of us felt invigorated, our sense of excitement and optimism renewed. The well of our creativity had been filled to overflowing, and we were all eager to get back to our respective projects and apply all the wonderful ideas and suggestions that had been bandied about.
I’m so grateful for all of the technology that allows us to stay in touch with people no matter how far across the globe they live. Whether half an hour away, half a continent away, or literally half the world away, they are only as distant as a few strokes of the keyboard. But nothing, absolutely nothing compares to the beauty of visiting in person. To see the myriad of expressions flit across their faces, to hear their mirth or sympathy, to feel a conspiratorial hand on your shoulder, or to offer a full on bear hug. These are the things that enrich our relationships in a way no bit of technology ever could.
Be it a conference, a retreat, or just a lunch between friends, I just want to say thank goodness for the original social media: the incomparable, irreplaceable, unduplicatable art of the simple get-together.
Do you have friends online that you would love to meet in person? Do you feel reinvigorated when you attend conferences, or visit family and friends after a long absence?
And for the perfect make-ahead lunch for a group, try my favorite go-to recipe: Zesty Chicken Pasta Salad.
- 1 pound boneless, skinless chicken
- 1 packet McCormick’s Zesty Herb season/marinade packet
-mix packet with 1/3 cup water, 3 Tbsp Olive Oil, 3 Tbsp vinegar
- 1 pound penne pasta
- 2 peppers (red and/or yellow) cut into small pieces and coated with olive oil
- 1/2 cup sundried tomatoes, cut into small pieces
- 1 cup grape tomatos
- small bottle ranch dressing
Mix up the marinade, then divide in half. Set one half aside, and use the other half to marinate the chicken in a ziplock bag with for about 15 minutes. Grill chicken (discard bag and used marinade). Either grill or sautee the peppers until lightly roasted. When chicken is done, let rest for five minutes then shred using two forks.
Cook the penne until al dente. Combine all ingredients in a large Tupperware container, and add ranch to desired taste (I usually add about a half a cup.). Pour the reserved marinade in, cover with lid and shake vigorously. Enjoy either warm or refrigerated :)
Thursday, October 6, 2011
I don’t know who the genius was who first said “It ain’t over til it’s over,” but I got to hand it to him—I think he may have been on to something.
I’m sure you’ll remember my end-of-season gardening wrap-up a few months ago. It was ugly. Really ugly. And the worst of it was, I had tried so hard. Nobody wanted to grow veggies as badly as I did. For two years now (remember this?), I slaved over gardening, building the perfect raised bed, buying the best, most expensive organic soil, tending to my budding plants religiously. I was careful not to over water, careful not to underwater, diligent about weeding, mulching, and fertilizing. I talked to the plants, for heaven’s sake.
And for all my tender loving care, for all my dedication, I got . . . nothing. Zip. Zero, Bupkis. (Now doesn’t that word look funny written out!). Any way you look at it, Mother Nature had given me the shaft. Why, I can’t begin to imagine. All I wanted was a few tomatoes, maybe an herb or two. Was that too much to ask?
Apparently it was.
In udder disgust, I threw up my hands and threw in the towel. That was it. Screw organic farming. Next year, I was going to buy the chemicallyist chemicals Miracle Gro could conjure and I was going to lay it on so thick the freaking dirt would glow in the dark. For now, however, my pathetic excuse for a garden could suck it.
Turning my back on my spindly, fruitless tomato plants, I put it out of sight and out of mind.
Well. Yesterday, I decided the weather was just too gorgeous to be cooped up inside, and took the dogs outside to play. Despite my best efforts, black lab Maggie managed to evade my watchful eye for the three seconds required to romp into the lake, splashing in like a hundred pound duck on a botched landing. Knowing she had won this round, I gave up trying to corral the dogs on the upper tier of our yard and tromped down to the dock for the first time in at least a week—probably closer to two.
And that’s when something odd caught my. Red. Bright, tiny pinpoints of red, peppering a plant in my peripheral vision. I froze. Could it be? Could it really truly be . . . there was only one way to find out. Taking a breath, I turned and looked, and instantly gasped in amazement. My grape tomato plant was positively exploding with fruit!
Pulling my shirt tails up in an impromptu sling, I dashed to my planters and began plucking my bounty. There must have been dozens of them! For every one I plopped in my shirt, I tossed one in the lake since it had over-ripened. And it wasn’t just my grape tomato plant; one, single, brave young tomato clung to my Better Bush plant, offering itself up like pretty little Christmas gift.
I laughed, and danced, and popped the luscious red fruit in my mouth. Success!! In the most primitive way I know, I had done something. Erin plant food. Food grow. Erin eat.
Haha! The circle of life, played out right before my eyes in my own backyard. The moral of the story? Never give up! Never surrender! Success may be just around the corner, so don’t give up yet because baby, it ain’t over till it’s over!
So take heart, my dear Cake Readers. If you are working toward something that you really want: publication, a job, a family, anything—have faith! You never know when the fruits of your labor may come to pass, and all the work will have been worth it :)
Tuesday, October 4, 2011
See you Thursday!