A Writer’s Road Trip

Friday Favorites: Road Trip Style

Road Trip Essentials: Notebook and a Clicky Pen

Road Trip Essentials: Notebook and a Clicky Pen

Who doesn’t love a road trip? Singing along with your favorite songs, hanging out with your best friend, and (of course) the snacks. Fresh and dried fruit, nuts, veggies, a mushroom pizza with truffled goat cheese, smoked mozzarella, and brie…I am all about the road trip snacks.

Road trips are a writer’s best friend. While I don’t usually write a ton during a trip, I am always looking out the window and tucking tidbits away for future stories. Writing is all about observing, and the constant change of scenery, people, and new experiences are an inspiration goldmine. Driving through the small towns that are sprinkled along the route often give me ideas for a setting. As cars pass me on the highway, I often wonder where that person is going or what her day has been like. Before I know it, I’ve got the beginnings of a story.

Most of all, road trips take me out of my element. When I’m traveling, my brain relaxes and just takes everything in.

9 hours is a long time, so you might as well make it fun. We do everything we can to make the trip part of the vacation instead of just driving time. Though there is quite a bit of napping, there is plenty of time to talk, laugh, and just enjoy some extra alone time. Some of the best memories of a vacation can come from the drive. Here are some of my favorite things about our road trip through Northern Minnesota and Wisconsin last weekend:


A view from Enger Tower

A view from Enger Tower

I love this city. Shane and I went here on a mini-vacation last September and had a blast. From the lake walk to Enger Tower, this town has some seriously beautiful views. Every time we pass through Duluth, we make pull over at the rest stop just outside the city. Situated on a hill, the rest stop offers a panoramic view of the surrounding area. Gorgeous.

Wisconsin Cheese



I’m a cheesehead in every sense of the word. A road trip simply isn’t a road trip without stopping at one of the many local cheese stores and creameries. This past trip we visited Ehlenbach’s Cheese Chalet in DeForest and sampled dozens of cheeses from Vanilla-Carmel-Coconut Chevre to Bacon Muenster. In the end, we took home a pound of Brick cheese (my favorite), a pound of Smoked Cheddar (Shane’s favorite), and a half-pound of Ginger-Apricot Cheddar. Suffice to say that we’ve been enjoying exquisite grilled cheese sandwiches all week.


The road goes ever on and on...

The road goes ever on and on…

Audiobooks are amazing, especially when you are as busy as I am. Between graduate school, the book release, writing, work, and life, finding time to read for pleasure is tough. With audiobooks, I get to read while I’m driving. They are freaking fantastic! For this trip, we brought along The Lord of the Rings: The Fellowship of the Ring (Tolkien is one of my favorite authors and Shane’s never read him before!) and Dad is Fat by Jim Gaffigan.

What is your favorite part of a road trip?



25 Days and Counting…

25 days until the book release party. All aboard the crazy train.

This past weekend was a fabulous blur of travel, family, and celebrations. Shane and I hopped into our car on Saturday morning and drove 9 hours to celebrate a friend’s wedding. We left at 8:30 in the morning and got to Hartford, Wisconsin just as dinner was being served at the reception. Perfect timing! We ate, danced, ate cake, and danced some more. We called it a night around 9:30 and drove to our hotel where we sunk into the hot tub. That time in the hot tub was worth the trip alone.

The next morning, we were up at 8:00. We ran from the hotel to the Sweet Spot bakehouse in Whitewater to pick up the cake for my nephew Ira’s baptism. When my sister-in-law asked if I’d be willing to pick up the cake, I shouted an enthusiastic “YES!” As I’ve mentioned before, NEVER pass up an opportunity to eat at the Sweet Spot. It was the first time I got to see the new bakehouse, and it was fabulous. There was doughnut wallpaper on the ceiling, whisk light fixtures, and, oh yeah, the FOOD. Date-filled cookies, cakes, breads, red velvet brownies, tiramisu cupcakes, peach chai scones…I could eat there forever and it wouldn’t bother me in the slightest. Though I would have to buy elastic pants.


Besides getting to eat the wonderful chocolate ganache and raspberry cake, I am now the proud godmother of my nephew, Ira Blaine. He is such a little blessing to our family, and I am so happy to have been there for his baptism. We spent the day with family, ate more food and cake, and then left for home on Monday morning (after a breakfast with friends at the Sweet Spot, of course!).

It was a crazy, wonderful weekend. The itinerary did not, however, leave much any time for writing. I spent the week leading up to the trip finishing two grad school projects and reading ahead, so I am pretty good on the homework front. The writing front is looking a little sad. I haven’t written anything in three days! The goal of this week is to get back into my groove and hopefully make up for some lost time with extra writing. Somehow.

In the mean time, I’ve officially been invited to be a part of the Brainerd Public Library’s Brown Bag Author series! My first real author gig! WOOOOOOOOOOOOHOOOOOOOOOOOOOOO! I gladly accepted the invitation and have been obsessively scouring the internet for “speaking tips for authors” and “how to have a successful book signing.” I’ll post when the official time/date for the event are set!

Until next time!

What do you like most about going to author events/book signings?


Friday Favorites

Despite most of the winter being on the warm side of things, the polar vortex has decided to remind Minnesota who reigns supreme this time of year. With the thermometer dipping below -40, I’ve been appreciating all things warm, comforting, and cozy. It’s been a struggle to get out of my warm bed and write in the mornings, but I’ve been doing it. Curled in my overstuffed armchair with my fuzziest blanket, dragon slippers, and a hot beverage, I’ve been scratching out a decent amount of words. I am proud to say that I have succeeded in writing for at least five minutes every day. Though some days it feels like I’ve made only a little progress, but it is progress all the same. Between the long hours of homework, projects, and writing, I have managed to have a bit of fun as well. Here are some of my favorite things from the past week:

Hot Chocolate

Check out the Caretactics blog for more information on the health benefits of coconut oil!

Check out the Caretactics blog for more information on the health benefits of coconut oil!

There’s nothing that can warm me up and make the day better like a frothy mug of hot chocolate. Lately, I’ve been experimenting with different recipes for a homemade mug. I’ve tried everything from melting chocolate chips in milk to trying to make my own cocoa mix, and I must say that all variations are pretty darn delicious. The most recent combination I’ve been sipping is coconut milk, cocoa powder, coconut oil, cinnamon, and stevia to taste. It is creamy, delicious, and, most importantly, full of chocolate goodness! The coconut oil adds healthy fats and is supposed to boost metabolism. On the taste side, it gives the hot chocolate a super creamy texture and a slight nutty taste. The stevia keeps it sugar-free, so it makes a perfect bedtime treat!

Comfort Food

It’s no secret that I love cheese, the more the better. When the temperature dips, I start craving baked Macaroni and Cheese, Pizza (when do I not crave pizza?), Lasagna Soup, and Manicotti. While these dishes are wonderful and staples in our household, it isn’t good to eat them as often as I want to. This week, I’ve been experimenting with vegan dishes in an attempt to incorporate more healthy, veggie-based dinners. The result of all the experiments was a delicious vegetarian feast full of protein and taste. My favorite dishes were a savory lentil-nut loaf with balsamic glaze and mashed cauliflower with mushroom gravy. The lentil-nut loaf is packed with green lentils, veggies, and had a satisfying texture with a tangy-sweet glaze. I got the recipe from my favorite cookbook–the Oh She Glows cookbook–but you can also find it here. If you try the recipe, I recommend doubling the glaze and mixing in half into the loaf because the glaze is just that freakin’ good (and so easy to make!).

Veggie-licious comfort food!

Veggie-licious comfort food!

The mashed cauliflower and mushroom gravy are out of this world. I prefer the taste of this mashed cauliflower to traditional mashed potatoes–and I grew up hating cauliflower. This meal not only made me feel good, it was comforting and satisfying. Whether you are a vegetarian, looking to eat healthier, or perhaps needing some meatless recipes for Lent, give them a try!

agatha-christie-s-poirot-series-13_acorn.tv__2703Hercule Poirot

I am obsessed with all things Poirot. Last week, I mentioned that I picked up the new Poirot mystery, The Monogram Murders. I am happy to say that this book has well exceeded my expectations! I have been devouring the chapters, staying up waaay later than I should because I am hooked on the mystery. Sophie Hannah does a great job with the beloved character of Hercule Poirot, and her story is ingenious. I can’t wait to get to the end to see how it all comes together. If you love murder mysteries, pick this one up from your local library.

When I haven’t been sneaking in a few chapters late at night, I’ve been watching the thirteenth and final season of the Masterpiece Mystery Poirot series. I have seen every episode of this brilliant series, and am sad to think there won’t be any more Poirot after these last five mysteries. However, Shane and I are enjoying them while they last, using the excuse of the cold weather to snuggle under blankets with popcorn and a good mystery.

Think warm thoughts!


Spiced Pear and Hazelnut Baked Oatmeal

pear oatmeal 2

I hope wherever you are reading this from is warm with tropcial breezes and sandy beaches. Where I am,  it is cold. Beyond cold. The kind that literally takes your breath away and makes you think, “HOW CAN ANYTHING BE THIS COLD?”

Welcome to Minnesota.

​Just like last week, I’ve been making more baked breakfast recipes. I need extra motivation to get out of my warm bed in the morning, and this Spiced Pear and Hazelnut Baked Oatmeal does the trick. This week, I had a bag of Bosc pears I’d bought on sale and thought, “I could probably make something with these.” Oh, did I ever! I tossed together my favorite spices (cinnamon, cardamom, and nutmeg), and added some chopped hazelnuts for protein and flavor. Enter, Spiced Pear and Hazelnut Baked Oatmeal. The best oatmeal you will ever eat.

You could say that I am kind of a connoisseur of baked oatmeals. It all began back in 2008, when I was hired at The Sweet Spot during my college days at UW-Whitewater. If you’ve never had the pleasure of eating at The Sweet Spot, it is a cafe/bakery that has some of the best food I’ve ever eaten–no exaggeration. One of the dishes that gets baked prior to opening each morning was baked oatmeal. Layers of spiced fruit, nuts, and oats combine to make a meal that you will actually be happy getting out of bed for. I’ve made this for people who detest oatmeal but shoveled the baked version in because baking the oats keeps them from getting mushy. Give this recipe a try. It is a warm, satisfying way to start your day that’s packed with whole food nutrition.

Pears not your favorite fruit? That’s one of the great things about baked oatmeal: you can swap out virtually any flavor combinations! Apple/Cranberry/Walnut, Blueberry/Almond, Peach, and Strawberry/Rhubarb are some of my favorite standard flavors. If sweet isn’t your thing, try a savory oatmeal. The only limit on flavor possibilities for this wholesome breakfast dish are your palette,  imagination, and the laws of nature! Have fun!

Spiced Pear and Hazelnut Baked Oatmeal

9×13 glass baking pan

Enough Earth Balance to grease the pan (or butter)

6 cups regular rolled oats

2.5 tsp baking powder

1 tsp baking soda

1/2 tsp salt

1 cup hazelnuts, crushed

4 eggs

1/2 cup applesauce

1/2 cup maple syrup

2 cups milk

2 tsp vanilla

1 Tablespoon cinnamon

1/2 Tablespoon cardamom

1/2 Tablespoon nutmeg

Sucanat for sprinkling (optional)

6-8 very ripe pears, chopped

Preheat oven to 350 degrees
1. Cut and core pears (I like to keep the skins on) and put them directly into the prepared glass baking pan. Sprinkle with a few handfuls of Sucanat, to taste. Add cinnamon, cardamom, and nutmeg. Toss everything together and set to the side.

2. Mix dry ingredients together. In a separate bowl, mix the wet ingredients together.

3. Add the crushed hazelnuts to the dry ingredients. Note: The best method I’ve tried is not chopping nuts but “crushing” them with the side of a chef’s knife. Very quick and easy!

4. Add the wet ingredients to the try ingredients and mix well.

5. Pour the oatmeal mixture over the pears and spread with a spatula.

6. Pop the delicious pan of unbaked goodness into the oven for about 25 minutes.

DEVOUR! Cut into squares and serve warm with hot or cold milk poured over the top.

Photo courtesy of the tasty kitchen blog

Photo courtesy of the tasty kitchen blog

Happy Eating!


Writing the Sequel, Word by Word

If someone asks you to write a seqeul, you say YES!

If someone asks you to write a sequel, you say YES!

After almost two years and three rewrites, I finally feel like I have a good handle on the sequel to Seven Stones. I have to admit that when my publishers first asked me about writing a sequel, I wasn’t sure about the idea. At the time (May 2013) I was working on the second book of a futuristic dystopian series (I have since put this and other story ideas on the back burner, but am looking forward to exploring them again someday). In fact, before my publishers brought it up, I hadn’t considered writing a sequel to Seven Stones. However, I have learned that if someone in the publishing business asks you to write a sequel you say, “YES!” So, I did.

I went home from that meeting exhilarated and excited. I just officially was offered a contract and Seven Stones was actually going to be published. I did a happy dance, ate ice cream, and got to work. I soon found out that writing the sequel was going to be a very different experience than the first book. There was a change of scenery, new characters to introduce, old characters to dust off, and–oh yeah–a plot to figure out. The entire manuscript for Seven Stones was written in a year. This manuscript has been written, shredded, rewritten, burned, and rewritten again in its year-and-a-half existence. Writing it has been an incredible learning opportunity. I’ve done more research for this upcoming novel, and have met some truly wonderful people who have shared their stories and their lives with me. I’ve experimented with new writing styles and ways to create inspiration (more on how I break through writer’s block in a future post).

Writing is funny. Usually, you hear about authors going on writing sprees early on in a novel and losing steam about half way through. 100 solid pages into this project, my creativity and motivation are finally at their peak. Thanks to motivation, determination, and a truly amazing support group, the sequel is shaping up into something magical. I love being back in the world of Seven Stones, developing and exploring the characters. Playing with plot. Dabbling with diction. Acing alliteration. There is a lot more work to be done, but I am eager to do what it takes to finish a first draft before the fall. That’s my personal deadline: September 1st. This blog has been and will continue to be a great source of inspiration for me, as well as a tool to keep me accountable for my writing progress. I’ll keep everyone posted and perhaps even tally how many words I write per week. That should keep me humble!

I can’t thank you enough for being here on this writing journey with me. Only a little over a month away from the release of Seven Stones!!!!


Friday Favorites

I will eat an entire pint of these this weekend. Guaranteed.

I will eat an entire pint of these this weekend. Guaranteed.

Another week, another Friday Favorites post! Fortunately, this week was considerably calmer and I had more time to focus on writing and being human. Though it’s been insanely cold up here, we’ve managed to stay cozy and warm inside the hobbit hole. Here are some of my favorite things that keep me going and help me stay focused and motivated. I hope you enjoy, and maybe find something new to love!


Side Crow

Side Crow





Dragonfly Pose

Dragonfly Pose

Yoga is one of my favorite activities. No matter how stressed out or uninspired I am, being on my mat always helps me feel calm and centered. Spending time on something that is just for me is essential during the craziness of these days. Doing something that is healthy is even better! I feel like us writers/readers who are most content in an armchair with a cup of tea need to incorporate some sort of activity into our daily routine, and yoga is a wonderful way to do it.

My favorite part of yoga: arm balances. I’m addicted to them. I love the challenge that each one presents. Working on a new arm balance, figuring out the right position and strengthening my muscles until I get it just right is rewarding and fun. The physical nature of a yoga workout helps my brain relax, and I often find that I can work/write much better afterward.

My favorite yoga teacher is Ali Kamenova. She posts free yoga videos on Youtube at all levels and for all types of flexibility. Her classes are a mix of HIIT (High Intensity Interval Training) and Vinyasa yoga. Here’s my favorite class. It will definitely make you sweat!

Chocolate Covered Strawberries


Phew! Now that you are done working out, why not treat yourself? And what better treat is there than chocolate and strawberries??? Shane and I have a tradition of making chocolate covered strawberries for Valentine’s Day every year. Usually, I make them with melted chocolate chips. This year, I’m going to try to make them from scratch. This recipe I found on Oh She Glows (my favorite cookbook, as it just so happens), has a decadent whole foods recipe for chocolate covered romance! Whether you have a special someone or you just want to show yourself a little care, these chocolate covered strawberries are sure to spread the love.

Valentine’s Day!2858595-cap_vdaycard_clr_final

I know. A lot of people hate on Valentine’s Day, and I respect that. I, however, have always loved it. It’s a nice break in the monotony of winter, and helps bridge the holiday desert between Christmas and Easter. Ever since I was a little kid, I just adored a holiday that was all about showing love and eating chocolate. I would make valentines for my family and friends, and eat way too many chocolate Dove hearts. It was glorious.

Since Shane and my first Valentine’s Day back in 2007, we’ve had a tradition that has me looking forward to the day even more.

Warning: if you have a strong gag reflex to overexposure to cuteness, avert your eyes now. It’s cute. You have been warned.

We don’t go out for Valentine’s or make any grand gestures with jewelry or expensive gifts. Instead, we make handmade valentines and get small presents for each other (which usually includes flowers, but the subzero temperature killed the bouquet I bought for Shane. No lie, it’s that cold here). That night, we make spaghetti and watch Lady and the Tramp. The first year we were dating, I had never seen it. Shane spent most of the time in the kitchen of my dorm while I watched the movie. I wasn’t sure what was going on until, right as the dogs were being served their spaghetti, Shane walked in with plates for us. Yup. He’s adorable. After dinner, we make chocolate covered strawberries and toast the night with sparkling grape juice. It is the perfect evening at home.

I hope whatever you have planned for this weekend is just as perfect. Sending ALL of you love! I wouldn’t be where I am today without each and every one of you.

Happy Friday!


Creativity Inspiring French Toast

apple french toast

I love breakfast. I can’t help it–I wake up starving. Some people don’t eat much in the morning; my stomach, on the other hand, often wakes me up before my alarm demanding food. Yesterday morning, Shane and I woke up to a lovely snowstorm (and I say that without any irony at all. I. love. snow.). As the flakes flew by our window, I popped a pan of cinnamon apple baked French toast in the oven that I prepped the night before and snuggled back under the covers while it baked. The warm, cozy aroma of caramelizing apples soon filled the apartment and reminded me why I love cold weather months.

Mornings were made for this recipe. Warm, gooey, sweet, and wholesome, it is made with a shockingly short list of ingredients. As a bonus, it is also free of refined sugars and oils. Below is the recipe I adapted from the Minimalist Baker. I used a whole wheat French loaf and two Fuji apples because that’s what I had on hand. Almost any kind of bread/apples will work! Have fun and enjoy your morning (no matter how much grad homework awaits)!


What You’ll Need:

9×13 inch glass pan

Enough Earth Balance (or butter) to coat the pan

1 loaf French bread, torn or cubed into bite-sized chunks

2 apples, diced

​2 cups skim milk

6 eggs​

​1/2 cup maple syrup

1/2 tsp salt

2 Tablespoons cinnamon

A few shakes cardamom and nutmeg (optional)

1 cup chopped walnuts (optional)

A Tablespoon or two of Sucanat for sprinkling (optional)

  1. ​Tear up bread directly into the baking pan and press down gently.
  2. In a mixing bowl whisk the eggs, milk, maple syrup, cinnamon​, cardamom, nutmeg, and salt​. Pour over the bread as evenly as you can.​ ​Get in there with your hands and mix it up so all the bread is moist.​ If some pieces look a little dry, I usually just add a little more milk to the pan.
  3. ​Add the diced apples and walnuts, saving a few of each for later. Mix them in well with the bread and egg mixture.​
  4. ​Lay the remaining apples and walnuts on top and sprinkle with Sucanat (optional)​.
  5. ​Cover with aluminum foil and let sit overnight in your refrigerator.

​Next morning:

  1. ​Preheat the over to 375 degrees. Uncover the pan and bake on a center rack for 45 minutes to 1 hour.
  2. ​Crawl back into bed and dream of baked apples frolicking in a field of cinnamon and maple trees.
  3. Wake up to a dream come true! Remove from the oven and serve immediately with pure maple syrup. ​You’ll know when it’s done because the bread and apples will be golden brown and the egg mixture will no longer be wet. When in doubt, jiggle the pan back and forth​. If the mixture wobbles, it needs more time.​
​So good and seriously easy. Baked French Toast makes any weekday special, is a great fancy brunch dish, and would be a romantic Valentine breakfast.

​Suggested Pairing:​

A cup of organic Ethiopian Peace Coffee, snowflakes, and a good book


This week I’m reading The Monogram Murders, A BRAND NEW mystery by Sophie Hannah featuring Agatha Christie’s beloved detective Hercule Poirot. I love Poirot mysteries, and this new story is fully backed by the Christie family. I’m so excited! It is the perfect snowy day read, and I’d like to think Hercule Poirot would be delighted with Baked French Toast.

What’s your favorite cold weather treat?​


Going to Print!


Not going to lie, this past week was insane. Grad school kicked it up a notch, I had projects due, volunteering, trying to stay one step ahead of the dirty laundry so we had something to wear, finding time to workout, and updating all the social media for the book launch. All while attempting to write. And, oh yeah, I work two jobs.

Amid all this crazy, I got an email from my publishers: Seven Stones is going to print THIS WEEK! So, they sent me a final copy of the book to approve on Thursday. And wanted an approved copy by Sunday.


Naturally, everything else took a back seat for a few days. I totally enveloped myself in the world of my first novel and only came out for sustenance and sleep. Thank goodness for Shane, who had breakfast made (I’m talking sweet potato hash with poached eggs. Yup. I’m a bit spoiled) when I woke up in the morning, took care of dishes, folded laundry, and kept me sane (for the most part). By 2 o’clock on Saturday afternoon, I had the whole manuscript read through, filled with a final round of edits, and sent back to the publishers.


Now that there is a minor lull in the insanity, I just want to bask in the realization that my book is going to print this week. MY BOOK IS GOING TO PRINT THIS WEEK!!!!! There aren’t enough exclamation points in the world to express how thrilled I am. I am also hoping that this means I can announce an advanced copy give away very soon so stay tuned!

Happy Monday!

How was your weekend?


Friday Favorites


This Friday Favorites is a bit different than the usual treats, books, and fun odds and ends that make up the post. Today is all about two of my favorite people who just happen to have shared a birthday this week.

The first is my friend, Katie. Katie is one of the best friends anyone could have, and is also a huge reason why my book exists. A writer herself, we would email each other chapters of our respective novels as we finished them and offer immediate critiques and feedback. Katie kept me encouraged, on track, and believed in me even when I did not (which was quite a bit). She also dislikes birthdays, so I won’t say happy birthday. I’ll just say that I am so thankful to have her in my life. I don’t know what I’d do without her.

The second person is my Dad. I guess you could say that my dad is one of the reasons I started writing in the first place. He was never much of a reader, but he always told the BEST bed time stories. My dad pulled out all the stops: voices, sound effects, singing. The best stories were Grandpa Lewis stories where his dad would go on adventures around the world. My grandfather died when my dad was a young boy, but through the stories dad would tell every night, I felt like I still got to know him.

I began writing at a very early age, driven by the desire to tell stories as good as my daddy’s. I hope that I finally have.

Thank you Dad and Katie for being such positive, encouraging people in my life. And thanks to everyone who has supported me along this publishing process. You are all my favorites. 🙂

Happy Friday!


Scottish Shortbread

shortbreadScottish shortbread cookies are probably one of my favorite indulgences. When I think of my perfect morning, it involves a big pot of Irish breakfast tea, a plate of shortbread cookies, a blank page, and no obligations. Ahhh…I can feel myself relax just thinking about it. Shortbread cookies are made of pure heaven. What is heaven made of? Mostly butter, some sugar, a bit of flour, and pinch of salt.

I’ve always been fascinated by all things Scottish. The culminating Celtic experience was when my dad and I took a fantastic trip to Scotland in 2008. Those eight days were some of the most magical I’ve ever had. Between sightseeing the lochs, rolling hills, castles, and glens, my dad and I would stop by the local pubs. At every pub, they would serve me a big pot of tea with warm, buttery cookies. Mmmmm….So. Freaking. Good.

Since it is my Dad’s birthday tomorrow, I’m whipping up a batch of these Scottish shortbread cookies to send home to him. I hope each time he enjoys one, he remembers all the adventures we had across the pond!


My dad in the full Bruce clan regalia

And I hope if you try these cookies that they transport your taste buds to a buttery oasis of relaxation and tranquility filled with kilts.


Shane shaking his McGill tartan

Pairing Suggestion:

A mug of strong, black tea, a warm, snuggly blanket, and a blank page.

Hungry for more Scottish recipes? The ones found here were inspired by writing Seven Stones!