Category: Writing

07
Jan

2017: The Year of the Sequel

Happy New Year! Now that we’re done with holidays, hospitals, and emergency room visits, I have time to write a blog post. December was a doozy. Let’s start with the good:

MLIS!

I GRADUATED!!! I am officially a Master of Library and Information Sciences. You may call me Master Lee. Or Librarian Supreme. I’m not picky. After 3 years of graduate school, it was surreal to walk across the stage and be handed an empty diploma case (it’s coming in the mail, fear not. I just think it’s kind of ironic that you have this big ceremony during which you don’t even get your physical degree). But it was also incredible. And a relief. Afterward, my family, friends, and I celebrated by going to Fuddruckers and watching the Packers beat da Bears. Perfect.

WISCONSIN

December was filled with trips to my favorite state. We made the six-hour trip back-to-back weekends for my graduation and Christmas. The weekend of my graduation, I got to see two of my best friends (one flew in from Maryland for the weekend!) for a night out in Milwaukee (to clarify, a night out means dinner and a play–we saw A Christmas Carol!). My dad was recovery from surgery and Shane was getting ready for his surgery, but we had a marvelous time and I got to see *most* of the people I loved. There were quite a few who were sick with the awful stomach bug, but I will catch you next time!

NOON YEAR’S EVE

I threw a giant New Year’s Eve party for families with kids ages 2-6 at the library. We had crafts, games, a photo booth, and a giant balloon drop right at noon complete with a bubble wrap stomp. It was epic.

500 WORD CHALLENGE

My friend and fellow writer, Katie, challenged me to a 500 word-a-day writing marathon to last the entire year. Though it has been a bit of a rough start (see EMERGENCY ROOM) below, I’m excited to be getting into a routine and have a goal for my writing.

Okay, those were all fabulous things that have happened in the last month. Here are the other things.

SHANE’S SURGERY

In and of itself, the surgery was actually a good thing. We drove straight up from Christmas at his family’s to the Mayo Clinic in Rochester. The surgeon, nurses, and staff were absolutely amazing. He had an abnormal hemangioma (cluster of blood cells like a tumor) in his spinal vertebra. They removed it and everything went well. Until one day…

EMERGENCY ROOM

So, Shane was recovering well and his pain was manageable. Then, earlier this week, he was resting and took a deep breath. Bad idea. He was immediately in SO much pain, he had trouble breathing and got really dizzy. We spent 5 hours in the emergency room that night, and it was one of the worst nights of my entire life. I was terrified that something went wrong in his spine–how do you fix that? Luckily, everything in his spine looks perfect. He doesn’t have a blood clot, and his gallbladder, liver, pancreas, and kidneys are all doing fine if you were wondering. He had a back spasm that popped a rib out of place which made breathing painful. He’s been on pain killers and muscle relaxants since then and hopefully will just continue healing until he is 100% better.

So, with all the time spent in hospitals lately my word count for this year is: 800 words.

First book of the year: (!)

08
May

Celebratory Carrot Cake Pancakes with Homemade Whipped Cream!

Another year in the books!

Schooooooooooooool’s out for SUMMER! Schooooooooooool’s out FOR-EVER…well, really just until September. But right now, three months feels close enough to forever.

That’s right, I’m FREE! I turned in my final research paper…and promptly contracted Strep Throat. *Sigh* *Cough* *Sniffle* Friday I just barely sniffled my way through the day on full Zombie Mode (not realizing how sick I was). Saturday morning, I woke up with lovely white spots dotting the back of my throat. Ewwwwwww. Shane (the wonderful man that he is) got me my antibiotics and I spent the entire day in a blanket nest on my couch. This morning, I feel a bit more energetic, a bit less like a disease-filled zombie. I’d cheer if I had a voice.

Here’s what I do have: a big batch of Italian Wedding Soup (my favorite), the best nurse in the world (Shane believes that ice cream has healing powers–he is wise and good), and BIG plans for the summer!

First of all, this will be my FIRST SUMMER READING PROGRAM! I’ve got some HUGE plans and tons of fun events for the community, so wish me luck! I’m hoping it is the BEST SUMMER EVER!!! I’ll definitely be posting pictures!

I’ve already been invited by TWO book clubs to speak at summer meetings. For anyone wondering, I LOVE going to bookclubs and talking about my book. If you don’t live in the Midwest, I’d be happy to Skype in. If you have a bookclub and you’d like me to come and talk, contact me or my publicist Krista!

I’m lining up some great stops on the book tour front: stay tuned for more information! For now, I can definitely say that I’ll be back at the Minnesota Scottish Fair and Highland Games, as well as the Wisconsin Highland Games.

Lastly (and certainly not least), I’m pumped to take all those hours I was working on homework and spend time WRITING my sequel. I’m on the 4th draft (3rd complete rewrite) and things are finally starting to click. Here’s to hoping I can finish a final draft by the end of 2016. I hope to also update this blog a little bit more regularly throughout the summer. Remember when I was only working part-time at Accidentally Cool Games and as a substitute at the Bemidji Public Library and I posted 3 times a week? While I seriously doubt I’ll have enough time to manage that anymore, I do hope I can update more than once a month now that the blog won’t have school to contend with.

So, how to celebrate all this awesome? Carrot Cake Pancakes sound like a grand idea!! I came up with these on a Sunday morning in April. It was one of those lazy days where breakfast is top priority. We had an excess of carrots and I thought, “I bet I can do something delicious with these.” And so, Carrot Cake Pancakes were born. These are loaded with good stuff: carrots, raisins, coconut, pineapple, and whole wheat four. But, they are also a bit naughty with the homemade coconut whipped cream. The best part: these pancakes, whipped cream and all, are 100% clean and made from whole foods. The end result is a decadent breakfast that doesn’t break the nutrition bank.

Who said you couldn’t have your cake and eat it too? 🙂

Julia’s Carrot Cake Pancakes w/ Homemade Coconut Whipped Cream

pancakes

2 cups whole wheat flour

dash of salt

1 Tablespoon baking powder

2-3 medium carrots

1/2 cup raisins

1/2 cup coconut shreds

1/2 cup pineapple chunks, drained of juice

1 cup milk

1 teaspoon apple cider vinegar

1 egg

1/4 cup maple syrup

2 Tablespoons stevia

Directions

Preheat your griddle to 350 degrees.

Mix the milk and vinegar together in a small bowl and set aside.

Take your handy dandy food processor and shred those carrots. Add the pineapple and coconut. Scoop it out of your processor and squeeze out any excess juice. Okay, you’re ready. Mix in the dry ingredients and set aside.

Now take the milk/vinegar mixture and add the maple syrup, egg, and stevia. Whisk that around. Add this to the dry ingredients. If the mixture seems too dry or gloppy, add more milk until you reach your desired consistency. Looking good.

Ladle out that goodness onto your griddle and make yourself some pancakes!

Now you probably want that homemade whipped cream. I’ve got you covered.

CoconutWhippedCream

Forget that store bought stuff. This is the real deal.

1 can coconut cream

2 Tablespoons sucanat

1/2 teaspoon vanilla

It’s best to keep your coconut cream in the refrigerator, upside down.

coconut-whipped-cream-4564

open it from the bottom and just pour off the liquid. Easy.

When you’re ready to make the whipped cream, grab it from the fridge and open the can. Drain off the liquid (don’t throw it away! Keep that good stuff for smoothies), and plop (that’s exactly what it does) the coconut cream into a bowl. Whisk the sucanat and vanilla in. Whisk. Whisk more. Whisk until the cream turns fluffy and whippy (less than 5 minutes,usually). Scoop onto pancakes and DEVOUR!

*Note: if you use sucanat, your whipped cream will be caramel colored. If you can’t handle tan-colored whipped cream, use a different granulated sweetener*

Happy Mother’s Day, Mom! If I were home, I’d totally make these pancakes for you. 🙂

 

03
Mar

Girl on a Train (Me!)

The first draft

The first draft

PHEW! Life is returning to normal (or as normal as it gets around here!) and I couldn’t be happier. Last week was nothing short of INSANE. Completely insane, but completely fun. To top it off, I had an adventure to Maryland thrown in.

What does insanity look like? Last Monday, I had two storytimes, a meeting at the high school, and Mother-Daughter Book Club at night. Tuesday, I had a storytime for 60 kids (note: if you want to feel like a rock star, become a Children’s Librarian. I was walking through the hallways of the school with my ukulele on my back and my bin of fun – books and whatnot – when the kids saw me from their classrooms as they were lining up. I walked down the hall to a chorus of, “Ms. Julia’s here! I saw her! There she is!” Brangelina’s got nothing on me). Wednesday, I had a Baby Lapsit in the morning and my Art Early Out for 50+ kids from 2-5. Immediately after clean up, I was on the road to Wisconsin to catch a train.

One of our art projects: Library Kadinsky Tree!

One of our art projects: Library Kadinsky Tree!

Thursday, I was on my train to Maryland for my friend’s bridal shower and bachelorette party (guess who was in charge of planning?).When I got in on Friday, Sarah (the best person in the whole world) took me out for frozen yogurt and manicures. You can see why I went all the way to Maryland for this lady.

Allie, Sarah, and Me!

Allie, Sarah, and Me!

The bridal shower was Saturday at an AMAZING tea room in Ellicott City (a tea party?! No one would have guessed I planned that! 🙂 ).

Tea party in the library! Where else?

Tea party in the library! Where else?

Afterward, Sarah (the beautiful bride) and I rushed home to prep pizza crusts and Allie (bridesmaid #1) bought scads, yes SCADS of junk food. Sarah, in her infinite wisdom, requested a Girl’s Night In theme to her party. And I am all about that life. We ate junk food, played games, and watched movies. Perfect.

So. Much. Food!

So. Much. Food!

Sunday, I was back on the train and headed back to Minnesota. Like I said, crazy but FUN!

A lot of people ask why I take the train instead of fly. Well, first of all, I HATE flying. It terrifies me like spiders terrify Ron Weasley. But, more importantly, a train ride to Maryland means 17 hours all to myself. I booked myself a sleeper car (which comes with all meals in the dining car included!), brought my writing notebook, books, and was in HEAVEN. I got more writing done on the train than I have been able to in a long time because it was just me and the words. Train trips are a writer’s dream. I got to eat, sleep, read, write, repeat. And the best part is that I have another train trip in April (the WEDDING) to do it all again. 🙂

That was my crazy, wonderful week! How was yours?

Happy Thursday!

17
Jan

Comfort Food & Cozy Nights: Baked Macaroni and Cheese

As I write this, the temperature outside is dipping 40 degrees below zero. Yup, you read that right: it is -40 with the wind chill. If I tried to go anywhere, my Tauntaun would freeze before I got to the first marker.

Luckily, I do NOT have to go outside. In fact, I am in the middle of enjoying a 3-day weekend in which I plan to write a significant deal. Keyword being PLAN. Sadly, I’ve planned on writing since the last semester ended. Then holiday travel happened, along with a funeral, New Years’, a 3-hour Minecraft party, among other big projects. For one reason or another, life has found excuses for me not to have my butt in my favorite chair and doing what I love to do best: writing.

I’m hoping that this long weekend changes all that, because I have a lot of work to do. One good thing about taking a break from a manuscript is the ability to come back to it with fresh eyes. The bad thing about that is I always find something to change. In this case, I’m going to undertake a major rewrite. Come to think of it, knowing that I have a humungous rewrite is probably one of the reasons why I haven’t started yet. It is intimidating. The sequel is so much more difficult for me to write than the original story was. Plus, I was only working part-time at Caribou back in 2011 (and not in graduate school), so I could devote hours a day to writing.

Enough excuses though, I’m going to get words to the page! Before I go and do that, I want to share one of my favorite winter staples: Baked Mac and Cheese. For those of you who do not know me well, you may not know that I have an cheese obsession rivaled only by chocolate. I’m from Wisconsin, a cheesehead through and through. So, when I tell you this is the BEST Mac and Cheese you’ll ever eat, I know what I’m talking about. Put that box down and back away from that packet of processed dehydrated cheese powder! This is the real deal.

The ingredients are super simple: macaroni, milk, cheese, and mix-ins of your choice. That’s it. If you can boil noodles, you can make this delectable dinner. Meat eater? Add chicken. Want some veggie power? I love diced tomatoes or fresh broccoli in mine. Vegan? Go ahead and break the rules. Eat the cheese. I won’t tell.

One final note: if you are scrolling through the recipe and are distressed to find there are no breadcrumbs, fear not! Feel free to sprinkle some on the top if that’s your thing. I don’t like the crunchy bits on my melty goodness, so I leave them off.

This recipe is the epitome of adjustable. The measurements I’m listing are only the loosest of guidelines, as I’ve made mac and cheese so many times that I just eyeball everything. Personalize it however you want and enjoy an ooey-gooey, homemade bowl of comfort. You’ll never reach for that boxed stuff ever again.

Homemade Baked Mac and Cheese

Mac and Cheese = Happiness

Mac and Cheese = Happiness

1 lb elbow macaroni or rotini (I love to use veggie pasta, but you use whatever floats your macaroni boat)

1 lb mozzarella cheese, grated (I grate my own cheese. It is much tastier than that pre-shredded stuff)

1/2 lb sharp cheddar cheese, grated

A few handfuls of a third cheese to sprinkle on top (this is totally optional. I like to use a sweet maple cheddar or apple jack. Just think about it.)

2 cups broccoli florets, diced (optional)

1 Tbsp garlic salt

A few splashes of milk (probably 1/4 cup)

Pizza Seasoning, to taste (optional)

1. Preheat your oven to 400 degrees and prepare the noodles according to the package.

2. While the macaroni is doing its thing, mix the grated cheeses together with the garlic salt and pizza seasonings. You probably should shove a handful of this mixture in your mouth. You know, just to make sure it tastes good and all that.

3. Once the noodles are drained, slosh them into a large bowl. Mix the cheese with the noodles (saving a bit to sprinkle on later). Getting all melty? Good. Add the milk slowly, until the cheese turns into a velvety smooth glop (thicker than a sauce, but still smooth and delicious. That’s what a glop is).

4. Add the broccoli florets (or whatever other mix-ins you are adding). Mix well and transfer to a large glass baking dish.

5. Smooth the macaroni and cheese into the pan and sprinkle some extra cheese, garlic salt, and herbs on top. Pop in the oven and bake for about 10-12 minutes, or until everything is all bubbly and you just can’t wait to eat it anymore.

6. DEVOUR!

Suggested Pairing

Your favorite fuzzy socks and a good book. Right now, I’m reading Escape from Mr. Lemoncello’s Library--a whimsical, clever book in the vein of Charlie and the Chocolate Factory. It’s giving me all kinds of ideas for future library programs… 🙂

Combines libraries and games - my two favorite things!

Combines libraries and games – my two favorite things!

Happy Sunday!

04
Jan

2015: A Year in the Life of a Writer

HAPPY NEW YEAR!

MLA 2015

With my Laurel at MLA 2015!

We are safe and sound, back from all our holiday travels. Christmas for us meant a few days to enjoy with friends, family, and too much food. It was made bittersweet this year with the passing of Shane’s grandfather, who lost his fight with pancreatic cancer a few days before Christmas. So, right after getting back from festivities, we drove to northern Wisconsin for his memorial service. More time with family, for hugs, and tears, and still lots of laughter through it all. Then, we had three days–three blissful days–off after the new year to celebrate at home together. We celebrated the new year in the nerdiest way possible: at home, with delicious homemade food, while watching Lord of the Rings and playing the card game simultaneously. Yes, we’re that cool. And I absolutely LOVED it.

Out for an autumn stroll in Mankato

Out for an autumn stroll in Mankato

And now 2016. I spent some time this weekend looking back over 2015 as I documented it here on this blog. And I must say: WHAT A YEAR!!! Last January, sitting in my tiny duplex in Bemidji, I could not have imagined the journey that has taken me to this moment in Mankato.

Remember my garden?! I miss it SO much!

Remember my garden?! I miss it SO much!

Here are some of my favorite events from 2015:

My first blog post EVER!

I’m on TV!

The book release party!

My Golden Birthday!

Going on a book tour!

Moving to Mankato!

Being a Children’s Librarian!

The Highland Games!

Nominated for the Minnesota Book Award!

That’s a lot of exclamation points. But, as you can tell, a lot of exciting things happened in 2015. I can’t wait to see what 2016 has in store for us!

Outdoor movie/game night was one of my favorite 2015 memories!

Outdoor movie/game night was one of my favorite 2015 memories!

As I mentioned in my last post, my word of the year for 2016 is GRATITUDE. If I could have chosen a word for 2015, it would have been DREAM. So many dreams came true last year, and I can’t thank everyone enough for your love, support, and constant encouragement.

I love this guy--and this book! ;)

I love this guy–and this book! 😉

And I’ve got plenty more dreams for my writing, my career as a children’s librarian, school, and ready for more adventures with the love of my life.

I’m looking at you, 2016!

Happy Monday!

21
Dec

2016 Word of the Year

Discussion posts are over. My last paper is turned in. Do you know what that means?!

Time to kick back, relax, and enjoy my winter break! A whole month of freedom. And I know just what to do with it.

So, it turns out, I won’t have the sequel to Seven Stones done by the end of the year. Nope. Not even close. Graduate classes took over my life in a BIG way this semester. I would get home from work and then…work some more. Between the projects, papers, readings, and discussion posts, my brain got a little fried. When I would get some free time, I just didn’t have the energy or drive left in me to put pen to paper the last few months. And through it all, there was Shane, making lunches for me, taking care of laundry, grocery shopping, and a million other little things so I had time to work on my homework. So, the little free time I had went to my hobbit man.

But now, I’ve got a month. A month free of any other writing except what I do on this blog and for my next novel.

Getting started TODAY!

Watch out, world! I make no promises that I’ll finish in that time, but I’m going to get as much written as I possibly can. Starting today! Let’s see how many words this girl can tackle onto a page.

And, hey, speaking of words. I like words. They’re kind of my thing. So when I saw my friend Sheila DeChantal’s Book Journey blog post earlier this week, it really struck a chord. Sheila talked about how every year, she picks a new word to symbolize what she wants out of the next 365 days. These words include embrace, emerge, and her newest one, courage. Now, as someone who really doesn’t like New Year’s Resolutions–my resolutions the past few years (and I’m not joking) have been to eat more cheese, eat more nuts, and to play more–this seemed like a fantastic and fun idea.

So, I’ve been thinking a lot about what my 2016 word of the year is going to be. After much reflection, I’ve got the perfect one.

Gratitude.

Gratitude is defined by the Oxford English Dictionary as: “the quality of being thankful; readiness to show appreciation for and to return kindness.” There have been SO many things about 2015 that I’m thankful for: my book release, getting my dream job as a children’s librarian, going on a book tour. But I’m not just talking about being grateful for the big, crazy awesome, show-stopping events in my life. I want to focus on being grateful every damn day for all the wonderful people and moments I am privileged to have in my life. I want to wake up every morning, grateful for the opportunity of a new day. Even in the midst of school papers, the craziness of my first Summer Reading Program, or whatever else life throws at me. Being grateful will not always be easy–there might be moments, days, or even weeks where I will struggle to find it in me to feel gratitude. But I’m going to try. Because I don’t want to take anything in my life for granted. It is far too precious not to be grateful for. 🙂

Thanks for sharing such a great idea, Sheila! That’s my word for 2016! What’s yours?

02
Nov

Fill Your Cup

Look at that terrifying wanted witch!

This past week was wild, wonderful, and completely exhausting. Thank you to everyone who sent good thoughts my way on Wednesday–the Harry Potter party was a HIT! We had 53 kids attend Hogwarts for 3 solid hours at the library, and everyone had an amazing time. Even my volunteers! 🙂

Hogwarts Houses!

When the kids arrived, I had volunteers hand out Hogwarts acceptance letters to each one. Another volunteer stood in an empty picture frame and asked for the password. The kids used clues in their acceptance letter (and the Dewey Decimal System!) to find the password and enter the Great Hall where they were sorted into Houses.

Sorting Hat Ceremony!

From there, Prefects guided each House from class to class: Potions, Defense Against the Dark Arts, Transfiguration, and Quill Writing. Kids got to make projects or play games at each station. After classes, we had a feast in the Great Hall (chocolate covered wands, granola bars, and “rock cakes”) then finished the day with muggle Quidditch outside.

Potions Class!

I couldn’t have pulled off this feat without the help of all my AMAZING volunteers–especially Shane, aka, Professor Lupin. By the time Saturday rolled around, I was a bit rundown and felt a bug coming on. So, instead of going to Brainerd for a writer’s conference, I stayed home and rested. I was really sorry to miss the conference, but I just couldn’t make the 3 hour drive up there and back.

As I was checking through some of my favorite food blogs on Sunday to see what I had missed during the week, I came across this post on Back to Her Roots that made me stop in my metaphorical tracks.

Empty Coffee Cup

backtoherroots.com

In order to “pour” love, passion, and energy into your life, your cup has to be filled on a daily basis. Like Cassie (the author of Back to Her Roots), my cup feels a little dry. There are so many things I am grateful for in my life: an amazing husband, family, friends, career, home. But between moving, graduate school, and daily demands of life, my cup needs a little filling. So, here is what I’m planning to do to “fill up my cup” in the next few weeks:

Walk/Bike More

I love being outside anytime of the year, but fall is my favorite. On Saturday night, Shane and I walked around our neighborhood and took in all the Halloween trick-or-treaters and decorations. On Sunday, we woke up early and rode to the Mineopa Falls. It felt soooo good to be out in the crisp air. We are lucky enough to live in such a beautiful part of Minnesota, and have been taking advantage of the gorgeous parks around Mankato. Getting out and enjoying nature fills up my cup more than any other activity, so I’m hoping we can continue our adventures as long as the temperature stays above freezing (and in Minnesota, that might not be very long).

Yoga

I was so tired this past week that there were a few days where I just skipped doing yoga. The next day, I felt sluggish and yucky. Even if it is only for 15 or 20 minutes a day, I know that my practice will fill up my cup.

Go to Bed Earlier

As grad homework deadlines loom, my bedtime sneaks back a little later. This past week, I felt like I was waking up more tired than when I went to sleep. My goal is to be in bed by 10:30 to get enough rest to stay healthy and energized.

Write

I’m embarrassed to admit how little I’ve been writing these past few weeks. I don’t think I’ve gotten any serious amounts of writing done since the end of September. This lack of creativity drains my cup and makes me feel restless. BUT November is National Novel Writing Month, and to celebrate that I am setting a goal for myself: write every day. I don’t care if I finish the sequel now or in January. But if I write every single day, chances are I’ll see the finish line very soon.

Create Cup-Filling Moments Every Day

It could be talking to my sister on the phone, reading a book for 10 minutes, or drinking a cup of hot chocolate. Even when I’m super busy, taking that little time to enjoy the day and fill up my cup will help me appreciate all the great things that are going on in my life.

Finding a balance is always tricky, but I am excited to be taking the first steps to feeling happier, healthier, and hopefully less crazy. There will always be crazy moments and stressful times in my life, but deliberately making an effort to fill my cup will give me the energy I need to tackle it all.

What fills up your cup?

Happy Monday!

26
Jun

Friday Favorites: Wrapping Up June

This week has been bursting with gorgeous summer weather and beautiful sunshine. I have to admit: summer used to be my least favorite time of the year. I just don’t like being hot, and summers in Southeast Wisconsin are hot, sticky, and humid. Living in northern Minnesota, however, you learn to appreciate warmth. Honestly, you learn to appreciate positive temperatures–however short a time they last. Up here, the summer temperature hangs around the upper seventies and the daylight stretches past 10pm. I’ve been reveling in the sunshine–and so has my garden! Besides the lovely weather, here are a few other things that have made my Friday Favorites list this week!

Thai Crunch Salad

Recipe adapted and picture from Once Upon a Chef

Warm weather makes me crave refreshing foods and cool, fresh produce. This Thai Crunch Salad recipe combines a whole bunch of power veggies with a kickin’ peanut sauce. The result is an amazing salad you can’t stop eating–and one that so good for you that you don’t have to!

The original recipe called for Napa cabbage, but I just substituted with whatever I had on hand. Here’s what I tossed into my salad–mix and match with whatever you have and start munching!

For the Salad

1 green cabbage, diced

1 cucumber, sliced thin

6-7 carrots, diced

A bunch of chives (from my CSA), chopped

1 bell pepper, diced

For protein, I also added Ginger-Sesame baked tofu (recipe from Thug Kitchen cookbook)

For the Thai Peanut Dressing

1/4 cup peanut butter

2 Tablespoons rice vinegar (I had white wine vinegar, so that’s what I used and it worked just fine)

2 Tablespoons fresh lime juice, from one lime

3 Tablespoons olive oil

1 tablespoon soy sauce (I use tamari)

4 Tablespoons honey

2 garlic cloves, roughly chopped

1-inch square piece fresh ginger, peeled and roughly chopped

1 teaspoon salt

A bunch of fresh cilantro (half for the sauce, half to sprinkle on top of the salad)

Blend all ingredients for the dressing in a blender. Then, chop all the veggies. Pour the dressing over the veggies. Add tofu or other protein, if desired. DEVOUR! 🙂

Next Stop: Book World in Baxter!

Book World, here I come!

The Seven Stones Book Tour’s next stop is at Book World in Baxter. I’ll be signing books from 11-2pm on Saturday, and am just so excited! I LOVE touring with my book. It is literally a dream come true and part of me still doesn’t believe it’s real, even though I’ve been at a different book store every weekend in June!

July is going to be even BUSIER! After a short break for the 4th of July holiday, I’ll be traveling almost non-stop. Here’s what’s going on in July:

Thanks to Krista at Blue Cottage Agency for making it happen! I hope to see you all at my author events. 🙂

Reader Photos!

Thanks for taking me on vacation, Jenn!

Thanks for taking Seven Stones on vacation, Jenn!

People have been uploading pictures of their copies of Seven Stones to social media! THANK YOU! I love getting these pictures and messages about how much you are enjoying my story. Social media is a wonderful way to get people interested in and talking about Seven Stones. I can’t tell you how much I appreciate all the pictures, comments, and reviews that have been posted! Want to tell people what you think of Seven Stones? Go to Goodreads, Amazon, or LibraryThing to post your review! I’ll also copy your review on my website for the world to see. You’ll be famous. 🙂

Love it!!!

Love it!!!

Book of the Week: Anne of Avonlea

I did not grow up reading Anne of Green Gables like so many other little girls. I was too busy reading all the Star Wars and Dear America books I could get my grubby mitts on, and I scoffed at poor Anne.

I only picked up a copy for the book club I was leading last year–and instantly fell in love. Anne Shirley is the type of girl I would have loved to be friends with. She is feisty, smart, and has the same luck for getting into trouble that I do. I’ve been hesitant to read the sequels because I figured nothing could compare with Green Gables. So far, Anne of Avonlea has delivered in the same delightful ways the first novel did. If you’ve never picked up one of L.M. Montgomery’s classic books, I highly recommend doing so! Anne is a perfect summertime read.

Word Count

784 words this week. What a stinker. After being sick last week, I found myself running around like crazy trying to do all sorts of catch-up work. When I finally had down time, I was flighty and distracted. I have the ideas in my head, I just couldn’t tackle them on the page this week. My goal for next week remains the same: I WILL hit 3,000 words.

Happy Friday!

10
Jun

Interview with Award-Winning Author Candace Simar!

Candace Simar’s fifth novel!

Recently, I had a chance to talk to Candace Simar (award-winning author of the Abercrombie Trail series). Her newest book, Shelterbelts, was released on May 16th. Shelterbelts has everything you love about Candace’s writing: Minnesota history, Norwegian culture, a gripping story, and characters who steal your heart.

Tia Fiskum, the old maid of Tolga Township, yearns to retain her hold on the family farm after her shell-shocked brother returns from World War II. The neighbor she hopes to marry chooses a town girl for his new wife.The Potato King listens to the radio preacher and prays for a miracle. Eddy Root fears a return to the asylum. A German war bride struggles to find acceptance in this tight-knit Scandinavian community. Woven throughout is the man who walks lizards, a grieving father, a disillusioned pastor, and the neighborhood gossipmonger. Shelterbelts chronicles the life of a community struggling to return to normal after war. This is a story true to history of those difficult times while rich in the complications of the human spirit.

And here to talk about her fifth book, Shelterbelts, is the one and only, Candace Simar! *Applause*

Candace Simar

So, tell me Candace: How was writing Shelterbelts different than your experience writing the Abercrombie Trails series?

Shellterbelts was much more difficult.  For one thing, it is more character driven in the literary genre of writing. Even more so, the choice of writing a linked story cycle made it much harder than I expected.  I was influenced by The Spoon River Anthology and Winesburg, Ohio.  Both were written about a hundred years ago, and told the story from multiple points of view.  I loved the idea of getting “the rest of the story” after reading about the next character.  While this was exhilarating, it was also excruciatingly difficult.  Minor changes in later chapters, made huge revisions in others.  Trying to tell multiple POVs without giving away too much of the other characters about drove me crazy.   Just keeping the timelines somewhat in sequence was a challenge.   But, at the same time I loved doing it, and feel Shelterbelts is a much better work because of the multiple points of view.  I wanted Tolga Township to be the main character of the story, and I think it worked. 

I loved how much emphasis was placed on the town as the focal point of the story. Reading how different characters felt and reacted to the same events either made the community stronger or shook it to its core. Getting to know all the characters was probably my favorite part of reading Shelterbelts, so I have to know: do you have a favorite character?

I started out liking Tia best, but I really grew to love Tillie, the neighborhood gossip, as her story unfolded.  I also have tender feelings toward Eddie Root, who is based on a mentally challenged person in my family, and also on someone I have known in the community.  Norman is a complex character who I still think about from time to time.  Vera is based on my mom, and I loved writing her POV.  You can tell, I have a hard time choosing a favorite.  People ask me if the characters are based on people from my childhood—the answer is both yes and no.  The characters are more composites of people I’ve known, as characters from all my novels have been.  The setting is definitely based on my home territory.  Clyde and Vera’s farm is based on my childhood home, the Fiskum farm is our neighbor’s farm, and Tolga Lutheran is based on Tordenskjold Free Lutheran where I grew up, including their Pentecost Dinners.   The rural school is based on the one-room school I attended for 5 years.  Shelterbelts feels very personal to me.  My editor said that she could see I really loved my characters.  That is perhaps the nicest compliment I have received.

You’ve mentioned that Tolga Township is very similar to the town you grew-up in. How did your upbringing shape the characters and stories of Shelterbelts?

I was born in 1953, and WW2 shadowed much of my childhood, even though my father was not a veteran.  The war was such a monumental event that it impacted U. S. culture for decades.  We knew who had served, who had been imprisoned, who had lost family members, or who had moved, etc. because of the war effort.  My parents married in 1944, and I loved discovering the world where they started.   I knew someone called Big Barn and Potato King.  Everyone who had survived the Great Depression was influenced by their experience.  Farmers shared a common struggle. 

I have always been interested with the relationships of farmers to their neighbors.  Marrying a farmer means spending the rest of your life with his neighbors.  In Shelterbelts, Tia’s rival marries her next door neighbor.  Tia must learn to get along.  There was no other choice.

The title, Shelterbelts, is based on the wind breaks planted around prairie farms to stop drifting snow.  I love the metaphor of shelterbelts sheltering and protecting the entire community.

Norwegian language and culture serves as the backdrop to many of your stories, giving a foundation of identity and faith to your characters. As someone who has very little knowledge of the Norwegian way of life, I learned a lot reading Shelterbelts! Were you raised in a traditional Norwegian home, like many of the characters in the story? Or was your family like Tillie’s, and insisted on speaking only ‘American’?

I grew up sitting under the kitchen table listening to my parents and grandparents gossiping in Norwegian.  My sister, Claudia, always the smartest one,  would listen and translate what was said. When adults slipped into Norwegian,  we kids knew it was getting juicy!  Yes, we celebrated Christmas with lutefisk and lefse.  We mentioned Syttendemai, Norwegian Constitution Day, every May 17.  We learned Norwegian swear words and sang hymns in Norwegian.  We took great pride in our Norwegian heritage.  Almost everyone in our little corner of the world was Scandinavian and Lutheran.  It’s a time gone by, and I loved putting it down on paper in Shelterbelts

Every writer approaches writing differently. What is your favorite part of the novel writing process?

I love loosing the imagination that translates vague thoughts into story on the page.  I love seeing the characters unfold, and the story going forward.  I don’t plot or plan my books in advance.  If I knew too much what will happen, I tend to lose interest.  I like being surprised.  There’s nothing like the feeling that comes with writing the last line of a first draft.  At the same time, the writing process is excruciating.  A million distractions beckon.  The focus needed must be like that of an athlete going for the gold.  Filling the white spaces with meaningful words is mostly painful. And then the revision process.  I thought Shelterbelts was nearly finished in 2010 when I took the first draft to the Taos Master Novel Class.  In reality, it had just begun. 

My actual  writing process is to journal first, where I dump all the worries and clutter of the day on the page, then read Scripture and pray. After this, I go into the story.  I begin by reading what I wrote the previous day, and then hitting the blank page. Other writers have their own processes, but for me it’s always the journaling, scripture and prayer.   I spent a lot of time at a Bismarck, ND monastery to finish Shelterbelts.  It is the ideal writing spot:  quiet, clean and spiritual.  I can’t wait to go back.

Sounds wonderful! And I have to ask: Will you be turning Shelterbelts be a series, like Abercrombie Trails, or a stand-alone novel?

Ever since Shelterbelts came out a couple of weeks ago, I am being bombarded with requests for a sequel.  I’m not saying never, but I have other novels in my brain that need to be written first.  The first time it was mentioned, I was completely horrified!  I worked on Shelterbelts for almost 10 years.  It had only been out a few days and readers were asking for another!  I needed a little breathing time!

Any other novels in the works?

I am mid-way through an historical novel called ESCAPE TO FORT ABERCROMBIE.  This book is in the new adult genre, appropriate for younger readers but still appealing to adults.  An editor from Five Star/Cengage who purchased the large print rights to the Abercrombie Trail Series, asked me to write another book about the Dakota Conflict.  I hope to finish it by the end of the year.  I’m also researching logging camps, bonanza farms and the Benedictine nuns who started  many hospitals in Minnesota and North Dakota.  Solveig, from Abercrombie Trail, will be the main character in my logging book.  I’m anxious to get started on it. 

Awesome! Thank you SO much for the interview, Candace, and good luck with your next writing project! For more information on Candace or to purchase Shelterbelts, please visit candacesimar.com

29
May

Friday Favorites: Wrapping Up the Birthday Week

I love being 27 already! My birthday was absolutely wonderful. I love any excuse to eat good food and hang out with amazing people, and birthdays give me the perfect excuse! Thank you to EVERYONE who sent me messages, called, stopped by, and made me feel so incredibly loved. Here are some of my favorite things from this past week:

Jane Austen Tea Party

My first ever tea party was even better than I imagined! My birthday dawned sunny and bright, and I spent the afternoon prepping tiny sandwiches and eating ALL the crusts (what else are you going to do with them?). The spread was absolutely gorgeous, and I’m kicking myself that I didn’t get pictures–we just started eating right away! I made 12 tomato-fresh basil-balsamic cream cheese sandwiches, 12 avocado egg salad sandwiches, and 12 cucumber-cream cheese sandwiches. All were marvelous, but my favorites were the tomato basil. I adore fresh basil leaves. To me, they taste like summer, cool and refreshing.

We also had pineapple, watermelon, fresh organic veggies, homemade cranberry-orange biscotti, and four types of delicious tea. The favorite of the night was the mocha hazelnut yerba matte–it was like drinking dessert! For actual dessert, I made green tea honey ice cream. So. Freaking. Good. And SO easy! Here’s my super simple recipe for a sublime summer treat:

Julia’s Green Tea Ice Cream

image from choosingraw.com

1 can coconut milk (full fat will be creamier, but lite works as well)

2 tsp. Matcha

1/3 cup honey

Mix everything together and pour into your ice cream maker. Voilà! You are an ice cream genius and everyone will be impressed. You’ll be the talk of the town.

Marrying Mr. Darcy

As we ate our ice cream and nibbled biscotti, we played Marrying Mr. Darcy. This game has it all for Jane Austen fans. You get to become a female character from an Austen novel (I got to be Elizabeth Bennet!), the goal of the game being to get your suitor to propose. The suitors, however, each require different things from their would-be loves (Darcy required his future bride to have a wit of 5 or higher).

Throughout the game, you try to acquire beauty, wit, friendliness, and reputation points by interacting with the cards. However, getting a scandal card makes you lose attributes and make sure you watch out for Mr. Wickham or you’ll be eloped and ruined in before you’re first ball!

The cards are very tongue-and-cheek, and the best part was reading them in our best (or worst?) aristocratic English accents. This game is definitely going on my need to own list! 🙂

 

Second Printing!

Website Cover Art

As an added birthday bonus, the final proof for the second edition of Seven Stones was officially approved and sent off to the printers!!!! HUZZAH!!! I can’t believe we’re actually running a second printing! Thank you, thank you, thank you to everyone who has supported me and spread the word about Seven Stones! Keep telling friends, liking my Facebook page, reading this blog, and just being your amazing selves!

 

Word Count

Here’s to another year of adventures–literary and otherwise. My word count for this week? Unfortunately, I’m giving myself a NEGATIVE word count. I actually finished writing an entire chapter…and it just didn’t fit. I tried reworking it several times, but in the end decided to scrap it. This kind of process is necessary for a good end result; sometimes working through all the “bad” words leads you to the good ones. Let’s hope so, anyway!

 

Happy, happy Friday!

I’m lucky enough to celebrate with another birthday bash on Saturday. We’ll be enjoying the beautiful weather with a bonfire, roasting sausages over the flames, and playing lots of games!