Friday, March 27, 2015

Short Story Contest on Freeditorial

Now I've gone and done it. There's no taking it back. At least I don't think there is...

Yes, I've entered my short story titled Facebook Can Be Fatal in an online contest. The author who gets the most downloads (FREE! Did I mention downloads are FREE?) wins! (There may also be a smidgen of judging by some judges involved, but there's no need to dwell on that.) The contest is sponsored by Freeditorial.com.

The bottom line is: I need your help! First prize is $15,000! Second and third prizes are not too shabby, either.

If you are willing, click here to download!

Simply browse through the entries listed under Long Short Story Contest or enter my name into the SEARCH feature. You can also download an app for your phone or read it on your Kindle or other devices.

As you might have guessed from the title, Facebook Can Be Fatal involves a murder, although I wouldn't exactly call it a mystery. Possibly more of a psychological thriller. If you're a fan of the twisted love story, along the lines of Gone Girl perhaps, then you might enjoy it.
 
And even if you're not a fan of murder mysteries and thrillers, you can always click here to download
anyway to vote for my story and just skip the part where you read it! (Just a little authorly humor!) 

No, seriously, I would very much appreciate your assistance in this matter. Thank you in advance. If I win, party at my house!!!

Thursday, March 19, 2015

Hello, Spring?

Tomorrow is officially the Vernal Equinox, or the first day of spring. The length of the day and night will be equal. Also I hear that we may be receiving some snow. Not exactly the weather I was hoping for...

For a couple of days this past week, the temperatures have soared into the sixties and I have begun to dream of planting. Every spring, I'm hit with a fanatical desire to dig. I can't wait to get my fingers into the dirt, to smell the earth, and to watch tiny seedlings sprout. My favorite thing about gardening is not the harvest. It's the first glimpse of a seed which has sprouted, stretching its delicate stem and unfolding its miniature leaves. It feels like a miracle every single time: a dry, dusty speck of fiber which I stuck in a hole turns into a green and vibrant plant. Magic.

But it is still frozen out there. I know people are sprouting seeds indoors, but I'm not set up for that. I'll wait a bit longer and plant directly into our raised beds.

In the meantime, how shall we celebrate spring?

Spring cleaning is a traditional way to welcome the new season. If you know me well, you know I hate to clean. I wish I loved it, but with two large dogs and a teenager at home, it just seems like my efforts are quickly and thoroughly negated. But I'm considering cleaning some windows to let in more light. I realize those same windows will soon have nose prints and slobber all over them. And the dogs will probably mess them up, too. Oh, well.

Not just cleaning, but simplifying is a great activity for the changing of the seasons. Clearing out the old clutter from the closets can make space for the new. Or just give everything a little more breathing room. I don't know about you, but I possess way too much stuff. Clothing, shoes, handbags, books, magazines, piles of papers, knick knacks, OMG! The list is endless. I plan to gather more of this abundance to give away this spring.

Now is a great time to sort through your winter stuff: coats, sweaters, boots, hats, scarves, sleds, skis, skates, and other seasonal equipment. You might find you have things you haven't used once all winter. Those items can be donated to a thrift store or an appropriate club.

Even if it's too early to dig and plant, spending more time outdoors can lift your spirits. The sun is already at a higher angle and even if the temperature is still low, you can feel the warmth of the rays on your face. I've been taking the dogs out in the garden and just fantasizing about the veggies I'll soon be growing out there. We've all been spending too many hours cooped up indoors this winter. Now is the time to reclaim your outdoor spaces!

Soon the daffodils will be opening their yellow and white faces, along with the crocuses. The buds are almost ready to burst on the mountain rose. The spring peepers have been singing by the pond. Signs of spring are everywhere. We won't have to wait much longer!

Saturday, March 14, 2015

My Mentor: Meriam Rosen

I learned this morning that my mentor for the past thirty-something years passed away on Thursday. I woke up that morning dreaming about her, and I planned to call her, schedule a time to visit, make sure she knew I was thinking of her. I had no idea how close to the end she was. Before I had the chance, she passed.

Mim was the single person on this planet who changed my life, and changed me, more than any other. I know she had this effect on many of her students. She was the mother hen of our improvisational dance company. She selected her company members carefully because she was creating a family. And she nurtured us as if we were her own children. We all respected and admired her for her strength of character. Mim spoke her mind without regard for the toes she stepped on; if you asked her opinion on any subject, you could be assured you would receive the unvarnished, and often painful, truth.

Mim was honest not just with her words, but with her choreography. She inspired her students to dig deeper, to reveal more of themselves through movement, and to avoid anything trite, anything that smacked of cliche. Through her tutelage, we all became more powerful dancers, not physically but emotionally. We became more available, more open, more human. I, personally, found my confidence and my voice thanks to Mim.

Mim was brilliant in every meaning of the word. She was easily one of the brightest people I've ever met. She also shone like a beacon of truth in the often dark and twisted world of modern dance. She saw the inner beauty and the value in her students, not just the superficial beauty of the body. And she taught us to celebrate that inner light, to bring it forth in our dancing. She was the epitome of a positive role model.

Many years ago, I wrote Mim a long letter thanking her for all she had done for me. I wanted to make sure she knew how much I appreciated her confidence in me, and what a huge difference it had made in my life. In the past couple of years, I made sure to visit her every few months. I often brought my daughters along and they played their violins for her. The last time I saw her, an old friend was visiting from California and we brought Mim lunch. She enjoyed the chicken salad with such gusto, it made us laugh.

I can only hope I brought a tiny amount of joy to her, after all she gave to me.

Friday, March 13, 2015

Red Flannel Soup

I was watching Diners, Drive-Ins, and Dives on Food Network and Matthew McConaughey told us that his mother was a terrible cook. It was funny, especially as I have always said this about my own mother. And it's the truth. I became interested in food and cooking from a very young age as I was certain I could at least do a better job than her.

But deep down, I had a tiny whisper of doubt.

So yesterday I asked my 16-year-old daughter, "Am I a good cook?" Being a diplomat, she refused to answer. This made me even more uneasy. "I AM a good cook!" I insisted, trying to drum up some of my former confidence.

Then I scanned my memory for recent meals I've made to reassure myself that they were delicious. This past week, I invented a new dish which I call Red Flannel Soup. It's just a combination of beet borscht with diced corned beef-- a play on red flannel hash, a New England staple. But when I made the soup, I accidentally left out the cabbage. I remembered the following day, chopped up the cabbage and cooked it in some butter and chicken stock, then added it in to the soup. No harm done, right?

Another example: when I baked those Italian Almond Cookies, I did an awesome job with the batter. I didn't leave out a single ingredient! But the day after I baked them, I was making turkey muffins and slid the tin into the oven only to discover a sheet full of cookies from the day before. Yes, I had left a whole sheet of cookies in the oven all night long. I was quite surprised to find them there.

So, can I really call myself a "good" cook when there is so much evidence to the contrary?

Bottom line: those cookies were a tad bit hard, but still yummy dunked in coffee. And the soup tasted delicious with and without the cabbage. I don't know. You can be the judge here.

Ingredients:
2 TB coconut or red palm oil (or butter)
2 sweet onions, chopped
3 rainbow carrots (or regular carrots) sliced
3 stalks of celery, sliced
3 cloves garlic, chopped
5 beets, chopped
4 Yukon Gold potatoes, diced
1/2 head green cabbage, chopped
3 bay leaves
1 quart chicken stock (or more)
14 oz. can diced tomatoes
6 oz. can tomato paste
1 teaspoon salt (or to taste)
1/2 teaspoon black pepper (or to taste)
2 TB Worchestershire sauce
1 pound cooked corned beef, diced

Sour cream
Chopped fresh dill (optional)

In a large sauce pan or stock pot, saute onions in oil. Add the rest of the veggies in the order listed, stirring and cooking for a minute between additions. Then add the rest of the ingredients. Simmer soup for about 45 minutes or until all veggies are soft. Add stock or water along the way if the soup looks too thick. Serve with a dollop of sour cream and a sprinkle of fresh chopped dill on top. Makes plenty! Enjoy!

Monday, March 9, 2015

Have More Fun!

Of course we all have responsibilities: mortgage payments, deadlines, changing the oil, getting dinner on the table, chauffeuring the kids, bathing the dog. Sometimes life can seem like an endless to-do list, a race toward the finish line with hundreds of hurdles in between. But this kind of attitude is not going to make anybody's day. And it's not going to make you healthier, either.

In her latest book, Goddesses Never Age, Dr. Christiane Northrup discusses recent studies which focus on centenarians (people over 100 years old) from all around the world. She zeroes in on the qualities which keep these folks alive, keep them healthy, and make their lives not just long, but happy.

And according to this research, folks who live to be over 100 are having more fun.

Joy and happiness increase the production of DHEA, the life force hormone. This hormone is crucial for helping to keep all the other hormones in balance. If you are low in DHEA, there is a good chance your other hormones will be running amok. And we all know that our hormones affect every facet of our lives, from our moods to our appetite to our cycles of sleep and reproduction.

So if you're feeling stuck in your dreary, day-to-day existence, how can you break out and have more fun?

1) Start by saying NO to everything that pulls you down. You may not be able to quit your job, but maybe there are parts of it you can delegate. Maybe you can negotiate your hours to create some more free time. Maybe you can give up that club or class or group that just doesn't feed your soul anymore. Maybe your spouse or co-worker or neighbor can take on some of the shared tasks that you hate.

2) Then begin to say YES to some new experiences. Say yes to taking a vacation in a sunny, tropical climate. Pick up that instrument you have always wanted to play. Try a drumming circle or a pole dancing class. Don't be afraid of looking or acting silly. The less appropriate, the better!

3) Watch some comedies! Rent funny movies or television shows. Find whatever tickles your funny bone. Spend time with people who make you laugh. Life is too short to take seriously.

4) Get a fresh pair of eyes. (Don't take them from a living person, though.) Try seeing the world through a child's eyes. Cultivate a sense of wonder. Slow down. Watch a spider weave a web or a praying mantis chew on a caterpillar. The world will look more beautiful to you when you are open to seeing and recognizing that beauty.

5) Remember to practice gratitude. I find there is nothing like feeling grateful for all that we have to turn a sour mood on its head. If you are reading this blog right now, you are lucky. (Not to be reading my blog! Because you probably have a computer, smart phone, tablet, or other high-tech device!!!) We tend to forget how amazingly blessed we are.

So don't waste any more time being miserable! Starting today, make time to do at least one fun thing. I'm very lucky because my job is so fun: I get to teach Fit Jam tonight. I will move my body, make people laugh, laugh at myself, and release some DHEA! How about you? What will you do?

Friday, March 6, 2015

Grow Smarter, Not Older

I recently recommended a book by Dr. Christiane Northrup called Goddesses Never Age. In my blog, I discussed ways of staying young even as you grow older. Since then, I've been trying to catch myself before I use "old people speak" and I'm no longer saying things like "senior moment" when I have a memory lapse. (I hate the term "brain fart" but I haven't come up with a better one yet...)

I believe, along with Dr. Northrup, that our minds play a profound role in how we age. Now I have also learned that our bodies can get in on that role. Studies show that aerobic exercise makes a big difference to not only our muscles and heart, but also to the brain. If you are trying to avoid losing your memory, Dr. Northrop prescribes 20 minutes of aerobics daily. Check out this video for specifics: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=P7Mf8qAX3Fk&feature=youtu.be.

I currently teach four classes per week which include aerobic dance. And as I have gotten older, sometimes I've wondered if I'm choosing the correct path. After all, I also teach yoga and Pilates and these mat-based classes seem, on the surface, to be more appropriate for aging bodies. (Pilates is actually quite strenuous and many yoga postures build strength as well as flexibility, so these classes are certainly not easy!) Because my Fit Jam classes are tiring, I've wondered when it might be advisable to give them up.

Well, I now believe giving up aerobics would be a big mistake. We already knew weight-bearing exercise is crucial for building and maintaining strong bones. (Did you already know this?) As we age, we do NOT want to deal with bone loss. And it looks like aerobics benefit us in many other ways as well.

What kinds of activities are aerobic? These are a few I can think of off the top of my head: power walking, jogging, swimming laps, rollerblading, dancing, vigorous hiking, rowing, playing basketball and soccer. Examples of exercise that is NOT aerobic: shopping at the mall, golf, bowling, archery, skeet shooting, and scuba diving. These might be enjoyable activities but they will not consistently put your heart rate into an aerobic range. In order to get the benefits we're discussing, you need to be breathing hard. It should be difficult to hold a conversation, but not impossible to speak.

Now that spring is right around the corner (RIGHT???) it's time to seek out some sunshine, fresh air, and aerobic exercise. I hope to see you out there!

Sunday, February 22, 2015

Grain-free Italian Almond Cookies

Well, after completing a Whole 30 during the month of January, I completely fell off the wagon during February. Not a little slip. A full blown fall in the mud and roll around in it. I'm struggling to get up, but not really. I think I may wallow here a little longer.

First my hubby and I had to celebrate Valentines Day with burgers and beer at Bistro Blanc. If you have yet to taste their local, grassfed beef burgers, you might want to rush right over there. Not to mention the rosemary parmesan fries. Everything is made in house, including the breads and even the pickles! Chef Janny Kim is a stand out.

From there, I was invited to join my friends Michelle, Patti, and Alice for a day of ravioli making. Yes, a full day-- 9am to 6pm including lunch-- and I came home with 4 kinds of fresh ravioli plus fettuccine! So I've had some form of homemade pasta every day since! Last night I made the ultimate in comfort food: fresh fettuccine with tomato vodka sauce and meatballs. And that's not all I made.

Yesterday was my lowest point so far.

Before cooking my comfort food dinner, I baked Italian almond macaroons. I was trying to replicate a delicious cookie Michelle shared with us during our pasta making party. My recipe does not quite match the chewy softness of hers, but these are still yummy.


Ingredients:

3 large egg whites
1 and 1/2 cups white sugar
1/4 teaspoon salt
2 teaspoons almond extract
16 oz. (1 lb.) almond meal (Trader Joe's carries this.)
1/2 cup sliced almonds

In a large bowl, whisk egg whites until foamy. Beat in salt, sugar, and almond extract. Stir in almond meal. You will have a very thick, dense dough. Chill for 2 hours in fridge. Preheat oven to 300F. Roll tablespoonfuls of dough into round balls or crescent shapes. Dip each cookie into sliced almonds. Bake on parchment or silpat sheets for 20-30 minutes. After 20 minutes, cookies will still be soft and chewy in center. After 30 minutes, cookies will be harder and similar to biscotti. Great for dunking in a cup of cappuccino!