Trader Joe's Soup Hacks

 
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Fall is early here and winter is creeping up right behind it. Mount Rainier is forecasted to get snow next week! This month was once the nicest in the Pacific Northwest. We would enjoy outdoor concerts and movies, and you could sit through the homecoming game without a jacket. But this year, concerts and football games are being cancelled left and right due to torrential downpours and lightening storms. I give in. It’s time for soup.

For no real reason other than ease, I have “Soupapalooza” at my house every winter. Ten to twelve days straight of soup. My kids moan every time I announce the soup festival has commenced. But I love making soup—many of the fresh ingredients are common between them so shopping is easy and affordable. It makes that giant bag of peppers at Costco finally make sense. But if I am honest, the real reason I make soup is because I like the challenge of walking through Trader Joe’s and asking myself, “can I make soup with this?”

Here are my two favorite Trader Joe’s soup hacks to “welcome” winter. They each take 20-30 minutes including prep.

 
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Chimichurri Seafood Soup

Serves 4

1 bag of frozen Trader Joe’s Chimichurri rice
1/2 bag Trader Joe’s frozen Argentinian shrimp, cut in half
1/2 bag Trader Joe’s frozen scallops, cut in half
1-1/2 box of chicken or vegetable broth
1/2 bottle or can of clam juice (not available at Trader Joe’s sadly)
Veggies as desired (the rice has peas and red peppers in it. I usually add more fresh peppers and frozen peas or zucchini)
Olive oil

In a pot, saute the vegetables until soft. Add the shrimp and scallops—cook just one minute. Add 1 box of broth and clam juice. When it simmers, add the rice and cook for 10 minutes. Halfway through, add more broth to achieve desired thickness.Do not overcook, the rice gets soggy. Serve immediately.



 
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Sausage Lentil Soup

Serves 4

1 box Trader Joe’s cooked fresh lentils (in produce section)
1 container Trader Joe’s fresh bruschetta mix (refrigerated by the hummus, salsa, etc)
1/2 container of Trader Joe’s mire poix (diced celery, onion, carrot)
1-1/2 box of chicken broth
4 links of sausage. I use ground spicy Italian or pre-cooked garlic herb.
1 tsp thyme or 1/2 tsp sage*

In a pot, saute the mire poix until onions are translucent. If using ground sausage, add and cook through. Otherwise, cut your sausage links into half or quarter slices. Add the herb, sausage, bruschetta mix, and 1 box of broth. Be sure to check the oil level of the bruschetta mix, it varies greatly. If it is oily, skim or spoon some of the oil off before adding it. Rinse the lentils in a strainer to separate them. Add to the soup and cook 10-15 minutes. Halfway through, add more broth to achieve desired thickness.

*About herbs: If I use a very flavorful sausage, such as spicy Italian, I leave out the herbs. If I want a soup with deep, warm, savory notes, I use sage. If I want slightly brighter flavors I use thyme.

Bon Apetit!

Melissa

Foxy

 
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The cars were honking behind me for at least half a mile down Wilshire Boulevard. It was a typical sunny Los Angeles day and the top was down on the car, making the incessant wailing of the horns even louder than normal. I gripped the steering wheel tighter, steadied my nerve, and refused to speed up. It wasn’t my car, after all. Barbara asked me to run down to the nursery to buy some plants to put around the pool of her new home in Santa Monica. “Something with color,” she said. I picked out some bougevvilla in shades of fuchsia. It matched the lipstick she wore everyday since I started working for her two years ago. A car pulled up to my right and shadowed me long enough to draw my attention. The man in the driver’s seat pointed to my backseat. He didn’t need to. I could see the problem in the reflective windows of Jerry’s Deli behind him. The six bougevvilla had unwrapped themselves from the four-foot poles posted firmly in their pots and the vines were trailing behind me like a wedding veil…until I slammed on the brakes and they all came flying back at me.

While I had great fun writing Another You, the story I want/have to get out is still in me. It is about a woman I worked for during college. Barbara Fox. She was writing a memoir and needed someone to type and edit the legal-sized yellow pad pages she scribbled out every day. Each time I sat down at her tiny Macintosh, she bared pieces of her soul. We’d talk about it afterwards and she’d spend a great deal of time asking about me. At the time, I figured it was tit for tat—I knew her secrets, why shouldn’t she know mine? A friendship developed, she stopped writing, and instead we set out on adventures three times a week: meeting the Dali Lama’s healer, art therapy, strolls down the boardwalk in Venice in her wheelchair, skinny dipping, trying to crash a party at Johnny Carson’s house, flirting with Patrick Dempsey at a restaurant in Malibu (that was all her, and she did it so well).

I didn’t know it at the time, but she did—she didn’t have much time left. Her sister called me the morning she passed from her 20+ year battle with cancer. She was at home in her bedroom overlooking the pool filled with fuchsia bougevvilla petals. Turns out, bougevvilla is the worst plant to put around a pool; its incredibly messy and nearly impossible to keep tidy. But Barbara said it made her feel like she was floating in a bed of roses. Probably to spare my feelings. And it did mean her “gardener” had to come over more often…but that is another story for another time.

She left the book she was working on to me. I tried to finish it a few times, but I didn’t have her memories, I only had mine. As I got older and reflected on all the things she gave me, a story that I could finish emerged — a woman at the end of her life and one at the start of hers and what they brought to each other. I call it Foxy, because she was foxy in every way. This one will take a while. It deserves great care—like those friendships we stumble into and don’t realize until years later they changed your life.

-Melissa

PS - I wrote about her in my last blog, Create Recklessly. Do you have a Barbara? Tell me about her/him!

Watching the Sun Spin on Lummi Island

 
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For the past two years, my husband has gifted me a trip to Lummi Island’s Willows Inn, a stunning restaurant and inn where Chef Blaine Wetzel, a James Beard Best Chef, creates one of the most innovative tasting menus in the country. I can tell you the exact flavors of every course—they are seared in my mind and leave me searching for flavors I know I won’t find until my next trip there.

Many of his recipes are featured in his cookbook Sea and Smoke. Admittedly, the ingredients are simple, but the preparation is overwhelming. The toasted Kale with black truffles is pure perfection. But my favorite dish is the “tostada”—crispy mustard greens with an herb pesto sauce create a base for layers upon layers of fresh herbs and flowers. It is a piece of art—a palette for the palate (Below: top right).

On this trip, we had the pleasure of bringing my daughter along. And while she had no desire to sit through a 5 hour dinner, she joined us on the patio for a hibiscus lemonade before heading back to the room to enjoy pizza and episodes of Glee. For a moment, I feared the pizza would go up in flames as we crossed the property line, but alas, the farm-to-table gods looked the other way. Maybe it was because it was from another Lummi Island gem , The Beach Store Cafe. Come to think of it, it was probably a farm-to-table pizza. I’m only half-joking.

As we watched the sunset, it occurred to me that one of the plot twists in my book occurs very near to this magical place. There is a spot in the Puget Sound where the sun sets over the Pacific Ocean and appears to spin between two land masses. Our meal and setting was a fitting celebration for a goal reached— finishing my first book (finishing is subjective, I am constantly editing).

When dinner was done, we had a drink with a charming young lady who travelled to Seattle for a job interview. I was impressed she made the two hour trek up to the island before flying out the next day. We spent a good hour chatting, fascinated with her tales of solo trips to India, Ecuador, Tasmania, and more. We had breakfast with her the next day and exchanged numbers before we left. Today I woke to a text from her —she got the job! Congratulations, Sarah. We look forward to showing you around our beautiful city.

The food at Willows Inn was just as fantastic as it was last time, but this time it had a course of new friendship. That makes it a five star meal, in my book.

-Melissa

PS-Thanks to my hubby Chris for the gorgeous photos!







It Started With a Sheep

 
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Kendra and I have been back from New York for a few weeks and are thankful for a successful trip in terms of our work, meeting friends, and exploring the city. We write completely different genres for different audiences, but our goals are the same. So while we walk different paths, we can look over and wave at each other now and again. This has been an eight year journey for me and it started with my husband’s writing prompts.

After struggling to create new projects for one of my jewelry-making books, I needed a break from working with my hands and switched to working with my mind. I asked my husband for three writing prompts and this was his reply: Scotland, evil scientist, and sheep.

Presenting Another You, a young adult romantic suspense with a speculative twist…

Emily is a test tube baby of a single, helicopter-mom physician. She feels “bought and paid for” versus the product of love and longs to break free from her carefully crafted existence. When she falls for Mitch, an enigmatic physicist who knows first-hand the sacrifice of living someone else’s life, Emily discovers what it means to have family. But when Mitch’s beloved brother dies, Mitch is called away to take his brother’s place at a secretive lab run by their uncle.

Emily struggles to understand the growing connections between her mother, the lab, her paternity, and Mitch’s family and best friend. Every minute moves him closer to matching the fate of his brother. Determined not to lose him, Emily joins Mitch’s fight to finish the work he was born to complete and finds them racing against time to uncover the secret that will set them, and the world, free.

I wrote the first draft in a year and it topped 110,000 words (a normal YA novel is closer to 75,000). It was quite possibly the worst thing ever written on the planet. And I knew it. I was beyond a pantster, I was a no-pantster—pale naked words spilled from me. They needed sun; they needed exercise. I tucked it away in the shredder and went back to work in the studio .

As my kids got older, I found it difficult to find the dedicated time I needed in my studio. Perhaps writing would provide me a portable creative outlet? Indeed it did. I can take my computer anywhere…in the car as I wait in the school pickup line (if you haven’t read Where Did You Go Bernadette, please do and you’ll know why school pickup lines make me chuckle), in the dentist office, waiting for music lessons, lacrosse practice, fifty performances of A Christmas Carol…you get the picture. And now draft 5…no 6…fine…draft 10 is ready to go.

I originally wanted to write a Dan Brown-esque thriller, my favorite genre. But as the story unfolded it became something else and I found my voice. And while there are no sheep, there is a charismatic goat named Hank!

-Melissa

Fresh is for Everyone

 
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I had a friend tell me that I don’t ramble, I connect. This blog post is a prime example. It’ll feel like rambling because I’m making the connections as I write, versus letting my thoughts incubate for a while. So hang in there, I have a point…we’ll figure out what that is together! I want to get my thoughts out while they’re FRESH.

My sister-in-law recently opened a remarkable bakery called The Blissful Whisk in Liberty Lake, WA. She didn’t anticipate the education part of selling preservative-free, FRESH, organic fare. Some customers expected their treats to last over a week—like packaged grocery store goods. In most cases, once she explains they are preservative-free, people get it. But in a few cases, people still insist it’s wrong. Why?

My neighbor, a retired business owner, volunteered at a local women’s shelter and created classes to teach making soups from fresh produce. Through thoughtful use and preparation, she could make soups for a fraction of the cost of canned equivalents or using frozen ingredient. But FRESH produce was deemed too expensive for these women, so there was resistance. Why?

I frequent farm-to-table restaurants. I look for them in any city I visit. I often shop at Whole Foods or our local co-op. I want fresh—fresh tastes better, fresh is healthier, good chefs demand fresh. I’ll pay a premium for FRESH. Why?

That brings me to this final question regarding the mystique surrounding FRESH food. Am I part of the problem?

FRESH has become a marketing gimmick. A term indicating better, healthier, etc. Whenever we attach a signifier of quality to something (organic, premium, professional, advanced, imported, local, select, hand-picked, all natural) the price goes up. That list of signifiers now includes a word as basic as FRESH. At the stores I frequent, I’m not paying for a tomato, I am paying for a fresh tomato. Or even better— a local, organic, heirloom, fresh tomato (ka-ching!).Obviously, I know this and make my fair share of eye rolls at the things I buy. But I didn’t think about the larger implications until my five hour drive home from Spokane last night.

If we demand FRESH as a basic requirement for all food, would the way our food is grown, processed, delivered, etc. be different? If fresh ceased to be its own brand would it become normal again for everything to be preservative-free, fresh, and organic? How much does the fresh brand add to the price of food versus the actual extra costs associated with being FRESH? Would supply and demand balance out and make fresh food affordable? Would we find ways to meet the volume of our fresh food needs? FRESH is for everyone, how do we make that happen?

I don’t know the answers, but I see hope. A shout out to people like my sister-in-law, to the local farmers who brave the heat at their farmer’s market stands each week (the real farmers, not the rep from the large distributor that shows up at my local market with imported produce). To the chefs who were farm-to-table before it was a category on OpenTable. Chefs like Jerry Traunfeld (Poppy will be missed, we were lucky you called Seattle your home-happy retirement). Those people don’t make fresh food because it’s trendy. They don’t add a fresh surcharge to their prices. They make FRESH food because it’s right.

 Okay, and because it tastes good…seriously, you have to try my sister-in-law’s scones…

FRESH from my brain to yours,

Melissa

On Learning: You Had Me at Will Smith

 
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Over the years, I have become keenly aware of how I learn. I don’t learn best in a classroom or watching videos, or even through books (ironic considering I wrote three how-to books for the craft industry). One-on-one mentoring has always been my most effective learning method. As I strive to improve my writing, I’m always seeking out one-on-one opportunities. It’s not easy, and I believe it’s as much luck as it is planning.

I watched an interview with Michael Hague and Will Smith on storytelling. Rarely will I sit through a thirty minute video, but what can I say, I love the talented Will Smith and the joy his smile brings to any screen. Michael is a consultant that takes good novels and Hollywood scripts and makes them great. I noticed he was teaching in Portland (a two hour drive away), so I signed up for his Six Stage Plot Structure class. Similar plot structures centered around three acts are common in storytelling (this one for novelists by Emma Johnson on Writersedit.com is my favorite). But what made Michael’s structure different was his precise placement of turning points.

Class ended, and it turns out, Michael needed a ride. So we chatted in the car and he made one suggestion that made everything click. He had me go home and watch my favorite movies, write down what happens and when, and compare it against the plot structure. Then, ask myself…why do I love this movie?

So I did it. I watched my two favorite movies—The Accountant and The Martian. And you know what…OMG he was right, down to the minute. Every turning point happened exactly where he said they should. The turning points kept the stories moving, it forced the characters to be developed properly from the start to get there, and it built a foundation that set great pacing.

Now when I finish a draft, I keep track of my turning points in Michael’s structure. If they do not fall in the right place (or don’t exist at all), I know I have some work to do. I go back and rebuild the story step by step. It was hard to do the first time, but it’s part of the process now. Giving him a ride was well worth it, even if I did miscalculate my electric car’s charge. I had to go to the local mall and watch Spiderman while my car charged enough to make the two hour drive home. It was a small price to pay. And Spiderman stuck to the structure too!

-Melissa

Check here for another one of my favorite writing resources - a word occurrence macro.

A Treehouse in the Vineyard

 
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What might be the worst accommodations for someone scared of heights? A treehouse…a very large Swiss-Family-Robinson-esque treehouse. But how could we resist? The Cabanes de la Romaniingue is an amazing vineyard-rimmed property just under an hour from the walled city of St. Emilion in the Bordeaux region of France. This property has five treehouses, a wagon caravan, and three bubble houses. The tree was a fifteen minute walk from the central lodging area meaning we had complete privacy. We could play music, sing, play games by the light of a lantern, even watch a Harry Potter movie on our tablet without disturbing anyone.

 
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We brought cheese, salami, fruit, and bread and had a picnic dinner in our nest and watched the sunset while sipping on our favorite wine find (2010 Chateau de Pressac red blend). In the morning, a basket of goodies was hooked to a pulley and we hauled it up, enjoying breakfast in our jammies before heading out. The composting sawdust toilet was nowhere near as creepy as we thought it would be. The rustling of animals in the middle of the night below us were…but that was part of the adventure.

I can’t say that my knees ever stopped wobbling. So I just put them up and enjoyed the ride.

 
 




On Editing: Skip the Capers

 
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Writing is like a good bagel—layers of silky cream cheese, salmon (sometimes it’s fishy, sometimes it’s smokey, other times it’s buttery smooth), and add a little onion for spice. But skip the capers. I hate capers and if they are listed on the menu, there is no hope of avoiding them. Even when I order my bagel without capers, they always show up—those creepy, grey-green, mushy, salty, pea-like pods litter my plate every single time.

Words like “just” and “that” and “had” are my writing capers. They are always there, but I don’t want them nor need them. I had no idea how many times I used them until I found myself editing them out over and over again. How many times do I use “just” in this manuscript? I consulted the find function in Microsoft Word and found 507 instances of “just” in my original 100,000 word disaster. No exaggeration. I worried, what word is lurking in my manuscript that isn’t on my radar? There has to be a way to write a macro to count the use of every single word, right?

Well, there is! Allen Wyatt over at Word Tips has it all figured out. I copied and pasted his macro into my document, ran the report, and BAM! Over 250 pages of words showed up, ranging in counts from 1,469 (“her”) to 1 (“peaceful”). This has turned out to be my favorite editing hack. I run the macro occasionally and see what floats to the top. Hmmm, I use “door” over 200 times? That’s a lot of people opening doors, closing doors, walking through doors…surely I can describe what they are doing better than that. I enter “door” into the find function and review and edit each instance of its use.

To take it a step further, I copy and paste the word list into excel so the word and its count end up in two columns. Then, I sort the words alphabetically and look for variations of words and combine their counts mentally—words like walk, walked, walking. I search and edit and suddenly people are doing something more meaningful that just walking.

My ability to show versus tell has improved after using the word occurrence macro and it’s now my first-line of defense when editing. I will defeat the capers!

-Melissa

Nothing a Macaron Can't Fix

 
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I am scared of heights—my knees get wobbly, I feel light-headed, and I start to sway like I am listening to a James Taylor album after a really good glass of wine. It started when I was on the diving team in high school. I kicked out of a back one-and-a-half head first into the diving board and that was that. I couldn’t bring myself to climb anything again.

My fear of heights has often frustrated me. For example, on our trip to France, my husband and kids went to the very tippy top of the Eiffel Tower. I stayed on the lower platform below, holed up on a bench away from the edge with a box of macarons as my consolation prize. Sitting next to me was a man, around my age, in a knee brace waving to his family as they waited in line to go to the top. It was too hard for him to stand and he chose to rest.

My husband says I have a strange ability to draw out the life story of complete strangers…especially on airplanes, in Home Depot, and apparently on the Eiffel Tower. We talked about the sheep and goat farm he and his family owned two hours from Paris. He described the farms surrounding him, and his brother’s fields a few miles down the road, about how he wanted to grow a particular type of tomato. He shared how he hoped his kids would stay in the country and not be lured to the city like so many of his friends’ kids. Here, in the hustle bustle of the Eiffel Tower I was having a delightful conversation about farming, something I knew nothing about…but we had everything in common. It brought me back down to earth, my fear of heights waned, and we were just two people sharing macarons at the top of the world.

-Melissa

I Gotta Guy For That

 
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We recently remodeled our home and every time we wanted to do something wacky, our phenomenal contractor would say “I gotta guy for that.”

I’ve been working on my pitch in preparation for the writing conference I am attending this week. I’ll be honest, part of that was sitting in my new bathtub with a cup of coffee perusing Michael Hauge’s Selling Your Story in 60 Seconds (more on him later) and using the voice memo app on my phone to record draft pitches. When I climbed out of the tub and dried off, I replayed the pitches and gleaned lines from each of them, crafting a refined sixty second pitch and one sentence log line. Now, I just needed feedback to fine tune it. But from whom?

Turns out, “I gotta guy for that.” (sorry ladies, no offense).

My neighbor does developmental editing and voice acting. My friend, the mother of one of my son’s dear school friends, is a speech and drama professional. My nieces, well, they are actual young adults (although closer to the New Adult category now). When I had medical and other science questions, I asked my husband. Physics and astronomy questions? I called my buddy who works at JPL NASA. Questions about how to describe something on a boat? Text my long-time buddy. What to name a goat? My friend is obsessed with goat yoga (true story). Book or movie? My screenplay buddy chimed in with his view. What to expect at this conference? Call Kendra of course. I’ve been surrounded by experts and they have been part of my process all along, so why stop now?

I sent my recorded pitch to my neighbor who, in five minutes, called with incredibly insightful advice. I redrafted the pitch and had a picnic breakfast with my friend who gave me great tips on getting through it with no “ums.” And, I sent my manuscript off to one of my nieces for some additional critique.

Our paid experts—the developmental editors, teachers, and coaches we hire—are invaluable, but the experts we have around us are priceless…don’t forget them. I have a feeling, they want to help you as much as you want their help. Invite them on your journey.

Thanks for your help!

-Melissa

Potentially Worthless Nonsense

 
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Who doesn’t follow a blog to read something like THAT, right? LOL

I’ve been writing some serious and more detailed posts in the last two weeks, and I feel like it’s time to lighten up. Take a load off. Be frivolous, fun, and engage in some falderal. You know falderal, right?

According to Merriam-Webster:

falderal - noun ˈfäl-də-ˌräl  \ Hogwash, claptrap, drivel, malarkey, frill, gimcrackery, nonsense

Now if you know me well, you’ll definitely understand that I would write about gimcrackery simply to be able to use the word. It’s true. Why not? When was the last time you said “That’s just too much gimcrackery for me”? In my lifetime, I have never said that, and now I’m sorry I haven’t. I’ll find uses for it in the future, no doubt. <big smile>

English is rife with words that mean nonsense, and falderal is just one of the many. Though not the most common of alternative words for nonsense, it's been around since 1820 and is still heard today. I don’t know where, but apparently… somewhere! A LOT.

If you’re wondering where this might lead, it all fits in with the Interesting-Inspiring-Informative-Quirky part of our blog. Granted, mostly quirky, but you’re going to learn some things, too. Guarantee it, so read on!

Did you know there is a National Trivia Day? It’s January 4, so we missed the celebration for this year and we’re a bit ahead for 2020, but how did we not know this? How fantastic to celebrate a day filled with those quirky details that you think you don’t need so you don’t pay attention to them. But then, there you are in the throngs of game night somewhere not wanting to look anti-social or behind the trends... so you spew forth some of these little-known treasures of wisdom because you found that National Trivia Day can be informative. It’s to the delight of your teammates, and without a doubt, people in the room will be in awe. I am not certain the type of awe you may experience, and you may not be invited back to game night again! But for those brief moments, I am certain you will have everyone’s wide-eyed attention. They may even be speechless. <wink> 

So here we go. A bit of trivia and falderal right here, right now.*

  • While many believe Hydrox cookies are a knock-off of an Oreo, Hydrox came first in 1908.

  • FORTY is the only number whose letters are in alphabetical order.

  • When asked if Abraham Lincoln had any hobbies, Mary Todd Lincoln said, “Cats.”

  • The sum of all the numbers on a roulette wheel is 666.

  • William Faulkner once refused a dinner invitation to the Kennedy White House. “Why that’s a hundred miles away,” he said. “That’s a long way to go just to eat.”

  • Alaska is the only state that can be typed on one row of keys. Interesting, isn’t it?

  • That thing we use to dot a lowercase “i” or “j” is called a tittle.

  • Fredric Baur invented the Pringles can, and when he passed away in 2008, his ashes were buried in one.

  • The string on boxes of animal crackers was originally placed there so the containers could be hung on a Christmas tree. 

  • When the mummy of Ramses II was sent to France in the mid-70s, it was issued a passport. Ramses’ occupation was listed as “King; deceased.”

The next time you find yourself at game night, or under a shade tree seriously contemplating the meaning of life, how proud you’ll be to recall the completely nonsensical information I’ve provided. You’ll thank me for being so inspiring, and you’ll be able to say Blame it on Kendra because she’s right… every now and again, we all need mindless, zany, slightly tilted people to set us straight with a bit of falderal from Mary Todd Lincoln to Pringles. Life is otherwise just way too serious on its own.  

Gimcrackery and trivia forever!

-Kendra

*special thanks to family, friends, Mental Floss and other online resources

Gumption

 
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Today’s post is a shout out to my OCYD buddies! Thank you for the kind emails, comments, and texts this week. I truly appreciate your support. Feeling safe to bare my soul with all of you steels my perseverance.

In response to one of your texts, I wrote “I just received my first query rejection!” You were so sweet, told me you were sorry, and offered to take me for coffee—love you for that. There is no way you could know the explanation point meant excitement not disappointment. Trust me, I’ll let you know when I’m truly discouraged (and expect to be so at some point). In the meantime, let’s have fun together watching the process - this is where my curiosity becomes insatiable!

Securing an agent and finding a publisher for a fiction novel will likely be one of the hardest things I have done professionally. I expect dozens and dozens, likely well over a hundred, rejections before I even find an agent. Sometimes I’ll get rejected because they don’t like the story or my writing style, but most of the time, it will simply be that I do not fit within the portfolio they manage. My work may be too similar to another author they represent, they may not be well connected with the type of publisher my book needs, or they simply have too many authors on their rolls as it is.

Over the last eight years I wrote, then stopped to take the classes and read the books. Then I wrote some more. I hired an editor, did the rewrites, did the edits, and did more rewrites and edits. I researched and charted agents and edited draft after draft of pitches. And for the last year, I’ve treated writing like a job with set hours (my husband and anyone else who has walked into my messy house can attest to this). But I still have so much more to learn.

While I am confident, I am not over confident. I may get rejected one hundred times—what will I do then? I will simply finish and start querying one of the other two books I am working on and start again.

I think what I've got is something slightly resembling gumption.

This is my favorite quote from one of my favorite contemporary movies, The Holiday. It’s easy to mistake gumption as delusions of grandeur, overconfidence, or arrogance. But if you do (and trust me I have), it’ll stop you in your tracks every time. I don’t want to be that girl, right? I want to be Irene Dunn (see the movie, you’ll get it). So, I’m going to stare gumption straight in the eyes and see it for what it is.

Cheers to REJECTION #1:

“While your project sounds interesting, I don’t think it is right for my list at this time. I appreciate your querying us and wish you good luck in finding the right agent who can successfully champion your work.”

Off to send more queries in search of my champion!

-Melissa

Hands

 
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“Often the hands will solve a mystery that the intellect has struggled with in vain.” -Carl Jung

We live in a unique time. History will no doubt judge the positive and negative of our actions as human beings, but when I feel myself becoming too philosophical about present day situations, I seek out the creative side.

Of course, I also seek out Barry White music. Don’t judge! A good dance through the house to “Can’t Get Enough of Your Love, Babe” or “You’re the First, the Last, My Everything” will cure anything that frustrates me. But my ‘relationship’ with Barry also speaks to the creativity beyond his voice. He was a songwriter, composer, musician - it started with his hands.   

You know the creative side though, right? Those individuals who simply, with their hands, represent the innocence and purity of creating what we, the admirers, respect as a process that has evolved over time. The winemaker, painter, composer, woodworker, quilter, chef, photographer, musician, glass artist, jewelry maker, writer… the list of those that exist in this creative realm is endless.

The hands really are everything. They help bring a story to life, capture a moment in time, and evoke the spirit of a creative process. Hands perform mundane tasks like tying shoes or screwing in a light bulb. They complete gestures, and they speak through our writing. As we age, our hands begin to tell the story of our life’s work, and like our work, they change over the course of time. Creators truly leave a piece of themselves in everything they do, a genuine reflection of individuality. Their work is without question sacred, and because of their hands, we have the great fortune to carry the expressive story of what lies behind their work with us in many ways, always.

Is there a photograph that hits you with overwhelming emotion? Maybe it’s a sculpture that takes you to another reality. What painting takes your breath away? What song touches your soul? Perhaps it’s a work on film. What incredible and truly unforgettable meal have you enjoyed? No matter the medium, hands are always involved.  

I have been fortunate to work in many creative and innovative communities; with chefs, winemakers, entertainers, glass artists, jewelry designers, musicians, writers, and more. Really, who can resist any of these incredibly talented spirits? The opportunity to ‘work’ each day in an environment that showcases their amazing artistry has, for many years, astounded me. While I too create, my hands spend a great deal of time simply applauding each of them. So, thanks to my work, I have an eclectic group of people in my life. Great news for me, we also share a passion for interesting and notable food and wine and an appreciation for the hands that create them.   

 
Photo Courtesy of The Whale Wins Restaurant

Photo Courtesy of The Whale Wins Restaurant

 

When we travel together, one of the first things we do is study a location, seeking details about chefs, restaurants, and what makes a city ‘tick.’ The exploration is wonderfully fun, and the reward is thoroughly enjoying ourselves once we get there. Food for us is a thing; it’s a bit spiritual, and it’s like a magnet that draws people and great conversation to the table.

Once seated, we eat with our hands. Yes, we do use utensils most of the time *wink*, but you get my point. One of my long-time favorite restaurants in Seattle, The Whale Wins is simply, hands down, an outstanding experience. It never falls from my Top 5 list in a city where we are blessed with one incredible food choice after another! Chef Renee Erickson is well known for creating an impressive group of unique and innovative concepts.

Photo Courtesy of Ste. Michelle Wine Estates

Photo Courtesy of Ste. Michelle Wine Estates

Many years ago, I fell in love with glass. I was working with Ste. Michelle Wine Estates and during that time, they began producing several collections of their Artist Series wine. Artists and winemakers have drawn inspiration from one another for centuries, both of course working with their hands. The first of the series was with Dale Chihuly, and the winery also began collecting pieces of the artists’ work to exhibit at their amazing Chateau in Woodinville, Washington. Working with the team at Chihuly, I had an incredible opportunity to learn more about glass, its history, and the medium as a whole. I was mesmerized and hooked. Yet another creative process that involved hands.   

 
Photo Courtesy of David Orr and the Artist, Heather Trimlett

Photo Courtesy of David Orr and the Artist, Heather Trimlett

 

When I expanded my involvement with glass, it also led me to an exceptional group of talented people who create and design jewelry in multiple media. Jewelry is for wearing, it unites with the human body, not only in its creation from the innovative mind to finished handcrafted work, but in its ultimate purpose. Heather Trimlett is an artist I have known for many years, and I am very fortunate to also call her my friend. She is a highly respected teacher and flameworking master. Her hands are everything to her work. Heather pushes the envelope in shape and form. Her pieces are vibrant in their color, and they foster an engagement between the wearer and maker. It’s like a dance from artistry to personal adornment.

So in the end, Blame it on Them - the creators. Those that bring every wow, oooh, ahhh, yum, and dance from our souls to life! Blame it on our need to see beauty in all things that convey wonder, delight our imagination, and satisfy our needs, curiosities, and appetites. That myriad of interests that brings us joy, feeds our passion, and sets our heart on fire. It all started with the hands… and perhaps, just a bit of Barry White music in the background.

I hope you’ve enjoyed reading what my hands did today.   

 -Kendra

She Sells Sea Shells by the Sea Shore

 
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A few years ago we did a “mining” road trip through Idaho, Wyoming, and Montana and collected star garnets, opals, quartz, 50 million-year-old fish fossils, and sapphires. It was one of our favorite vacations and got us hooked on collecting. When I read about the “Jurassic Coast” on the southern coast of Great Britain near Lyme Regis, I knew we had to do anything to get there while visiting London. And anything we did…

We woke at 4am to take a taxi to Heathrow, rented a car, and my husband drove for the first time on the left hand side of the road…on tiny village streets…did I say tiny?! It was a three hour trek to Brandon Lennon, our guide who lead us along the cold, misty shore for four hours. He taught us how to sift, dig and chip our way to beautiful ammonite fossils, most of them impregnated with pyrite so they appeared bronze. Even more endearing than Brandon’s love of watching his guests squeal every time they find one of these ancient wonders, is his love of Mary Anning.

“The person whom I admire is Mary Anning, the famous fossil hunter from Lyme Regis. Mary Anning (1799 - 1847) was one of the greatest British fossil collectors who have ever lived. She was born in very humble circumstances in Lyme Regis, Dorset, and lived there all her life. At the age of only twelve she found the first recorded Ichthyosaur at Lyme Regis, and in later years found the first near complete Plesiosaur and first British specimen of a flying reptile, Dimorphodon. Mary was a witness to the birth of the science of Paleontology and, although she had virtually no schooling, she read all the scientific papers of the day and created perfect drawings of many of her finds.In some ways Mary Anning was responsible for educating the best brains of the country at that time. read more

We started the morning at her grave, which was adorned with fossils and sea shells and he told us the nursery rhyme “she sells sea shells by the sea shore” was about her. He asked us to imagine what it would be like to live in her time, to accumulate so much knowledge and watch the men around her take credit. After that, I didn’t care if we found any fossils…both my son and daughter learned more in that moment than any other point that summer—perseverance, respect, empathy. It was a bonus that we found a trove of ammonites. While I blame Mary Anning for discovering the wonders of the Jurassic Coast, I blame Brandon for making sure it remans her Jurassic Coast in the hearts and minds of paleontology enthusiasts.

-Melissa

PS - I heard a movie about her life is being filmed now…starring Kate Winslet…one of my favorites!

The Happy Place

 
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Photo Courtesy of Angie Ramey - Albuquerque, New Mexico

See that chair? Four years ago a dear friend placed it right on that spot, just for me. Angie Ramey set the scene for this splendid picture with the idea that my ‘happy place’ while in Albuquerque, New Mexico might just be right there. Facebook reminded me of this amazing adventure together this morning, one definitely worth sharing.  

I have this picture in miniature; Angie laughingly thought I might refer to it whenever a bit of relaxation was needed. If she only knew how often I look at it and remember. All the feels, the smells, the we are living our best life moments of beauty come rushing back.    

We were in Albuquerque for the annual International Society of Glass Beadmakers conference, and while sitting in that chair until forever passed was more than inviting, we had a lot of work to do for the upcoming event. You know those brief moments when the idea, the euphoria, that ahhhh sensation you get when you can actually feel your shoulders drop, your heart rate slow, and your posture return to a more upright position? Sensational! A few hours in this respite flew by quickly, but like most great adventures, the remembrances don’t fade.   

Los Poblanos is an organic farm in the Rio Grande River Valley. In 1932, it was designed by a regional architect, John Gaw Meem. He was known to be the “Father of Santa Fe Style.” It’s set on 25 acres with lush fields of lavender, formal gardens, huge cottonwood trees, and is a spectacular southwest historic property.     

This little piece of paradise is located about 10 minutes from where our event was being held. While I haven’t seen the new hotel adjacent to our conference at the Hotel Albuquerque, I have friends who have stayed at the Hotel Chaco and loved it as well.  

Aside from the truly relaxing environment, Los Poblanos has a lot to offer. There’s the Farm Shop where you’ll find artisan lavender products and it is a must visit. Once you’re surrounded by the fragrant growth of beautiful lavender fields, you really do want to capture it and take it home with you. Los Poblanos is a working property, so you’re reminded that this is truly a full farm-to-shop-to-home experience.   

Make plans to stay at Los Poblanos. The Inn is absolutely lovely, quiet, and intimate; the perfect location for any type of getaway. The guest rooms feature classic New Mexican style with reminders of just how wonderful this area of the southwest really is.  

Can’t spend the night, but want to dine? From breakfast to dinner and a great bar with creative and interesting cocktails in between, restaurant CAMPO is a great choice. Of course, they feature organic ingredients from their own farm harvest, but they also highlight foods indigenous to the Rio Grande River Valley. (And speaking of the river, you shouldn’t miss seeing that either - perhaps in a hot air balloon with Rainbow Ryders!) They even offer a Dining Series, and if you are local, you should seriously check it out.   

Los Poblanos, Albuquerque, the southwest in and of itself - such an amazing destination. While these memories are a part of my heart forever, go make your own. Totally worth it!    

Blame it on Angie - she’s responsible for this moment of relaxation and when life offers the opportunity, I can see us back there again. We should blame the City of Albuquerque, too, filled with so many treasured things to do. Hmmm, this is all just a quick flight from Seattle…

“Heh, David. Can we talk?” <big happy place smile>    

-Kendra 

Of Course You Did

 
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When you finally get up the nerve to tell someone you’ve written a book a few funny things happen. First, you disparage it. My word of choice was “cheesy” for the first twelve months. It upgraded to “silly” and then “sappy” for about four months each, and then finally settled at “it’s a practice book.” Second, you have to say “no” repeatedly. “No, you can’t read it yet, I’m sorry.” “No, you are not in it, I’m sorry.” “No, I can’t go out, I’m behind on word count. I’m sorry.”

Strike that. Amend it. Second, you have to say “no” and “I’m sorry” repeatedly.

The other funny thing that happens is what people say or don’t say. Some just smile and nod, some whole-heartedly congratulate you, some want the juicy details, and some share their dream to write themselves. And then there’s the people who know you well enough to say, “of course you did.” That’s my favorite. Those are the people who knew you had it in you all along—the people who probably could have cured you of your imposter syndrome in a few short words, but knew it had to be part of your journey.

With the help of my OCYD posse, I’ve moved on from cheesy, silly, sappy, and practice book and can confidently say I’m proud of this book. I had a blast writing it and I hope you have a blast reading it someday. And if you don’t, that’s okay. These are the stories I’ll write about in the future. I’ll look back and share the process and the tips and tricks I learned along the way, and take you along on my journey to get it published…which starts this month!

Kendra and I are headed off to a writing conference soon in New York to learn more about the trade, meet more of the people, and sit down for six pitch appointments with agents and publishers. The journey is really just beginning and I am excited to take you along for the highs and the inevitable lows. But I’m not worried. You’ll be there with me. After all, most of you said “of course you did.” Thanks for that.

Write recklessly,

Melissa

London: From the Mouths of Babes and Bollywood

 
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Last summer we travelled to England and France with two kids, ages 10 and 13, and my husband’s parents. We were determined to do things we didn’t do 25 years ago when we were broke college-students on our honeymoon…theatre, fine dining, and take a taxi now and again. I’m game for 10,000 steps, but ready for a ride after that.

The first great restaurant of the trip was Gymkhana, which I am sad to report has closed temporarily due to a fire. The best way to describe it is Indian tapas, if you’ll excuse my mixed cuisine references. The bites were wildly flavorful and the cocktails innovative. My in-laws stayed back that night and only later did we remember the possible reason.

You see, we travelled to London with them once before. On our final night of that trip, we went for Indian food. My father-in-law sat with his back to the door and commented how nice it was to finally have a quiet meal. We had frequented loud pubs up until then. Slowly over the next ten minutes we watched, without his knowledge, a dozen musical instruments being loaded onto a stage, one by one. Maybe if we don’t mention it, we’ll be done eating before the ruckus starts. But just as the food arrived, the band started to play. Not “atmosphere” music. Loud, Indian wedding reception music. A crowd poured out of the private dining room and the party was on. My father-in-law’s face will forever be associated with Indian food. That couple has no idea how often their wedding is recalled…happy 20th anniversary, whoever you are!

The next restaurant was Gordon Ramsay’s Savoy Grill at the Savoy Hotel— just my husband, son and I. The grandparents took my theatre-loving daughter to see Hamilton (lucky girl)! Now, I would love to tell you that two foodies produce foodie children, but for some reason, that is not the case. The dear waiter sensed my son was simply tolerating dinner, so he tried to make it special for him. He invited him back to the kitchen for a tour and to pick out his own ice cream from the freezer drawer. I accompanied him…when else would I get a chance to tour a Gordon Ramsay kitchen? Let’s be honest, my enthusiasm made up for my son’s polite indifference. We finally got to the dessert station and the charming chef pulled open the drawer and went through all the flavors with my son. He had bowl and scoop in hand, ready to meet my son’s wildest desserty dreams. My son’s response?

“Well, it’s not 31 flavors.” Admittedly, he whispered it to me, but it was a small station. Almost everyone chuckled.

The final meal of the trip was, quite honestly, one of the most amazing meals I have ever had, both in fare and atmosphere. It had the quiet peace my father-in-law sought, the country charm my mother-in-law adores, simple fare my kids would eat, but with elevated flavors my husband and I sought. The Oxford Blue in Old Windsor was perfect in every way. Don’t miss out on the beef fat chips if you go.

So as I wrap up, I notice that other than the beef fat chips (seriously, who wouldn’t want those) I mention no particular dishes or cocktails. Why? I guess no matter where I go, the pleasure of spending time with my family and the funny situations we always stumble into outshine the food every time. Sorry, Gordon Ramsay, you’re no match for the Cables.

-Melissa

Two Women Walk Into A Denny's

 
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Kendra and I have the uncanny ability to be doing the same thing at the same time without even knowing it. Case in point. Two years ago we both posted something about Nanorimo (National Novel Writing Month). The conversation on the phone afterwards went something like this.

“Wait, are you writing something?” I asked.

“Maybe, are you writing something?” she replied.

“Could be. What are you writing?”

“Stuff.”

A one word reply. She’s calling my bluff. “Yep, stuff. I’m doing that too.”

So the thing is…we were both writing but hadn’t gotten very far. We both suffer from serious cases of imposter syndrome. We usually treat it with a trip to Starbucks in the AM or happy hour in the PM where we determine we are brilliant at whatever it is we need to be brilliant at that day. But in this case, we decided to go to Denny’s. Yes Denny’s. Pancakes, apparently, would treat our affliction this time. At midnight precisely on November 1st, the local chapter of Nanorimo was kicking off the annual event.

We showed up, clinging to each other out of fear that someone would ask us what we were writing, or even worse, ask us to read what we were writing. We were one of the first to arrive and sat at the far end of a table set for twenty. Okay, twenty people. We could handle that. As people arrived one by one, we noticed three things: 1) they were in pajamas. Damn, they were here for the long haul. 2) They brought rubber duckies. I should have brought teddy. I didn’t know we could bring our emotional support animals! 3) they all had the same exact Macbook Pro. Phew, I finally fit in.

Turns out, the best treatment for imposter syndrome was group therapy. It became clear very quickly that everyone felt the same way we did. We were welcomed to the group, no pressure was on us, and far more food than words were digested. I can’t say I’ve seen any of these people since, but I remember them and their posse of rubber duckies fondly. They didn’t just help me say the words “I am a writer” that day, they helped me believe it.

-Melissa

PS - More about our journey in novel writing to come!

Farm Fresh Cocktails

I’m a fan of a good cocktail and am always on the lookout for something new. My favorite cocktail bar, Canon in Seattle, has trained me to be open to new combinations. Where else can you get a drink called Dragon Breath that has dark rum, apple, pineau des charentes, amaro, cassis foam, powdered dragonfruit, and bitters. It makes me forget for five or ten minutes that Game of Thrones has ended and I need to find another past time.

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