22 Jul

1000 Reviews

I don’t know if those extra reviews came in faster because I mentioned them, but I reached that milestone much more quickly than I expected. Woke up this morning and Ghosts was at 616, and the total for all titles was 1000. I added it up twice to be sure, then — in a ridiculously grade point average motivated spirit of celebration — made a spreadsheet and totaled up the individual ratings. Worked out to 93.5% positive (4 & 5 stars), 4.5% neutral (3), and 2% negative. I hope I can now let go of my numbers obsession for a while.

I’m not sure I can express how guiltily gratified I feel about this — it’s like getting an A when I willfully didn’t follow the instructions. That never happened to me in school, because I always followed the instructions. I would never have dreamed of not doing the assignment exactly as told. The only point was the grade, right? But that wasn’t the point of Tassamara or Fen, not even close, and to have so many people find them and enjoy them … well, it’s a lovely feeling. Thank you so very, very much to all of you who enjoyed the books and wrote reviews (or otherwise told me so) — you’ve brought me much joy and I’m very grateful!

Conveniently enough, today is also B’s anniversary, so we get to celebrate both things at once. I invited my niece over for the weekend, so she’ll get to provide the extra hands helpful for taking two dogs out for ice cream, plus do something fun with me. I’m thinking water, of course — beach, kayaking, inner-tubes? — but she’s not much of an outside sort of kid, so it might be movies instead. I wonder if my son would forgive me if I went to Ant-Man without him?

Today, though, it’s back to Noah. Progress is still ridiculously slow, but at least it’s movement.

20 Jul

Two years

In two days, it will be two years since Bartleby arrived in the backyard. Given that I got to spend $400 last week running liver tests on him because he has some elevated enzymes — liver tests which found basically nothing except, yep, his liver enzymes are too high — the pessimistic vet who predicted that he would be a very expensive dog to own was not wrong.

On the other hand, the ridiculous little dog has brought me joy and snuggles, just the way dogs are supposed to. I’m feeling as if I’d like to celebrate his anniversary with me somehow, but I’m not sure how. He does not need chocolate cake or pizza, my two favorite celebratory foods. Maybe I’ll take him out for dog-friendly ice cream. My only hesitation is that I’d have to bring Zelda, too — no way does B get to come out for ice cream when Z does not — and juggling two dogs and two doggie ice cream cones, while driving the car sounds just a little unsafe. Okay, a lot unsafe. But it’s not until Wednesday so I’m going to figure out a way to accomplish it. It’s a nice plan.

Today’s plan — words, words, words. I took the weekend totally off. Read a lot, swam some, did useful house stuff. I actually felt pretty damn proud of myself yesterday when I’d finally finished dragging all the bougainvillea branches out to the curb. Bougainvillea is such a mean plant. I never manage to cut it back without losing some blood in the process. (Although, as my nephew pointed out last week, if I wasn’t chopping it down, probably it wouldn’t be making me bleed… yeah, point taken. But if it didn’t grow so fast and have such harsh thorns, I wouldn’t have to chop it down!) Anyway, the garbage guys — justifiably — require that it be tied up in neat piles to be disposed of and I’ve gotten satisfyingly good at getting big branches of thorny viciousness out to the curb in neat little bundles. So it wasn’t word count, but I still got to feel accomplished.

Today, though, it’s time to be all about word count. I was looking through past posts, trying to find the exact date B appeared, and then curious about other Julys, and at this point in July 2013, I was 25K words into Time. In 2011, I’d spent months writing the first five chapters of Ghosts, and finally had a first chapter that satisfied me. It was a good reminder that I’ve been stuck before — repeatedly — and still managed to produce a satisfying book in the end. Although I really hope that once I break loose on Grace, I don’t need to agonize quite as much as I did on Time because I remember that autumn as being… difficult.

In entirely random other numerical notices, I added up the number of reviews I have on Amazon.com yesterday because it occurred to me that I was pretty close to a milestone, and my books have received 996 reviews, not including any reviews from the anthology. (The only one of the anthology reviews that mentions Guests, though, described it as “super fun, sassy” which pleased me so, so much – sassy, in particular, is really endearing to me.) Anyway, 1000 reviews also feels like something to celebrate so I’m going to have to think of something nice for me, too, although it probably be another couple of weeks before I get there. Nothing food-related, so maybe I’ll do another kayaking day trip. I bet it’s really damn hot right now, though. Maybe I can steal a kid or two — my niece, maybe? — and go inner-tubing next week. First though, words. Lots of them.

Fingers crossed that Noah is obliging!

15 Jul

Words vs Imagination

Writing today and I got bogged down on the phrase, “opened his eyes a sliver.”

Seriously, bogged down as in staring at the words, wondering what they mean, whether anyone would understand the image in my head, debating other options — peered, peeked, peeped through his eyelashes? Ugh, just stuck in the mud of self-critical English language analysis.

So stuck that I googled and yeah, the phrase has been used 33,000 times so I think probably I’m safe to assume that readers will understand it. But I cannot google every random phrase, because that one line — and not even a very good line — is all I accomplished in my twenty minute writing sprint.

And then I took a deep breath and reminded myself of the author whose books I’ve been obsessed with lately and the reason I’ve been obsessed with her. It’s not because her words are perfect. They are so not. Run-on sentences, sentence fragments, mixed-up which and that, random commas, even the occasional flat-out error. Even the stories–her early plots wander, ideas are introduced and then dropped, characters’ names are too similar and there are way too many of them… But when I’m reading, I don’t care. Because her imagination is incredible.

The words aren’t as important as the story behind them. Noah’s story is great. I love Noah’s story. I love Grace’s role in Noah’s story, I love Rose and Dillon. So it’s time to let go of this crazy perfectionism and just tell the story. I need to trust that the right readers — the ones like me, the ones who are going to love the story — that they’re out there. And if not, that that’s okay, as long as I have fun telling it.

More fun, less perfectionism. My new goal. First draft rule — tell a story that I understand. If it’s missing details, unclear, whatever, trust that beta readers will let me know.

14 Jul

The Unified Theory of Salads

I’m somewhat obsessed with salads at the moment. Some day recently I came home to a close-to-empty refrigerator, or empty by my standards anyway. I think it was after I got home from PA, so I’d been away for a good chunk of the previous two weeks. I had plenty of things that normal people, aka my son, could have eaten — pasta and rice, eggs, even some chips and cookies. But for my needs, it was pretty barren, because there wasn’t much in the way of vegetables or fruit. Some mixed greens still looked edible, though, and I had part of a leftover red onion. I wound up eating greens topped with chopped dates, goat cheese, smoked trout, red onion, and balsamic vinegar. It was crazy delicious.

My previous favorite salad had been arugula, smoked trout, avocado, and strawberries with balsamic. The date salad came close to knocking it out of its place. I’ve also been very big on salads with cucumbers, radishes, and kalamata olives this summer. Also salad with anything as long it also includes a honey salmon from CostCo which is yum, yum, yum. And when I was in PA, I was topping a lot of my salads with blueberries because my brother grows lots of them.

So, yeah, I think I’ve become a salad aficionado over my almost-year with AIP. And I’ve learned a lot, so I’m developing a set of salad rules. A theory of salad, in fact.

First rule, the perfect meal salad — the one that you’re going to eat to sustain you for hours, not a side salad or just a little extra color on a plate — has to include a reasonable amount of protein. Back when I ate grains and legumes, the difference between a meal salad and a side salad was usually whether it contained beans, chickpeas, pasta, quinoa, or some other similar ingredient. But when I’m making mixed green salads my main course, they need to include protein.

My favorites are the fish: smoked trout from Trader Joe’s, flaky smoked salmon from CostCo, leftover sauteed trout or salmon, even canned tuna or salmon. I’ve tried anchovies and sardines, too, but… let’s just say, they aren’t regulars on the meal plan. Leftover chicken from a roast chicken, slices of leftover grilled pork chops, roast beef, all also good options.

Second rule, the ideal salad needs a mix of textures. It wants something creamy. I used to get that from dressing, but now I can’t, so my perfect regular choice for that texture is avocado. Goat cheese is a good runner-up. Salad also wants something with crunch. Radishes are great for crunch. Celery, carrots, nuts (which I can’t use)… all also good for the crunch. Cucumber isn’t either creamy or crunchy, but it’s definitely a texture food. So are artichoke hearts. I’d call them slimy, really, but they add a different texture to the salad.

Third rule, the mix of tastes. A salad where all the ingredients are from the same flavor family is a very boring salad. It’s one of the reasons why I seldom eat a salad with greens, celery & carrots. It’s not like those three things really taste alike, but they fit together. All the bites have a sameness to them. That’s comforting in soup but deadly in salad, in my opinion. And some foods, like avocado, obviously have a flavor, but it’s more bland, less distinctive. I’m happy to eat to avocado for lunch, but generally with added salt or lime juice. I don’t know that I’d call it a flavor as much as a delightful base for different dressings.

So for me, the best mix of flavor options seems to be sweet plus tangy plus … well, I think I want to describe the final flavor as having kick. It can be salty like smoked trout or have the zing of a radish or red onion, maybe even the bitterness of arugula or roasted brussels sprouts, but it’s the surprise flavor, the one that wakes you up when you taste it.

Some options, then. Sweet: dates, pears, mango, strawberries, blueberries, apple, raisins, dried cranberries? Tangy: goat cheese, kalamata olives, pickled anything? Kick (spicy, salty, bitter, umami): radishes, red onion, smoked fish?

And, at last, my theory of salads. The perfect meal salad (based on greens) should include one protein, at least two textures, and at least three distinct flavors. But not necessarily six ingredients, since some foods, like goat cheese, can be both a flavor and a texture. And more has potential too, of course. Our Key West salad had double sweet — both mango and strawberries — which just made it doubly delicious.

Hmm, but maybe the sweetness of the mango made the strawberries seem like the tangy flavor? Because flavors do kind of change in relation to one another. Heavens, I’m finding loopholes in my new theory already. But that’s okay — the only purpose of my theory is to use the base concept to find some new and interesting mixes. Trying to eat ten cups of greens a day means eating an awful lot of salads. That’s fine when the salad is yum, delicious, different, but much less cool when it’s the fourth plate of greens with cucumber, radish, & kalamata olives in two days.

So anyway my quest is to find other foods that fit the characteristics of things I want in my salad (creamy, crunchy, sweet, tangy, kick) but that it hasn’t yet occurred to me to try in salad. I’m pretty much at the stage where I’ve tried most anything in my fridge on greens (sauerkraut, yes, capers, yes, finely-sliced lemon, yes… although note that none of those ingredients are included in any of my favorite salads, ha!) but the unexpected deliciousness of salad with dates has inspired me to look farther afield.

Alas, all the things immediately occurring to me aren’t AIP-friendly. I can’t eat nuts, seeds, legumes, eggs (or, technically, goat cheese, but it’s so good that I’ve been pretending I don’t notice that I’m more congested than I used to be). Still, I’m going to wander my grocery store with my goal in mind and see what else I can discover!

13 Jul

Monday mornings

Walking the dogs this morning, my brain kept cycling obsessively around the question of whether I should sell the house. I’ve answered the question for myself so many times — not now, not yet. But apparently I haven’t convinced myself of the rightness of this answer because the debate keeps coming back. Finally, I forced myself away from the house question and started thinking about A Gift of Grace.

I have been so, so, so stuck for so long. I know that’s part of the reason for the endless house ruminations. Writing can’t just be an endurance contest for me. If it’s not fun, then I should be doing something that is. Life is too short to not spend as much of it as possible in flow states, but I haven’t had a writing flow state in… well, it feels like forever, but obviously, it’s not. At the very least, 2014 held an intense and lovely two months of flow while A Lonely Magic poured out of me. But I’m not there now.

And then, while forcing myself to think about Grace and Noah, I had a moment — a brief, fleeting, glimmering moment — where the pieces started to line up. This thing, followed by this thing, and then this angle to introduce this moment… It was so exciting. I tugged on the dog’s leash to hurry her along. I knew I had to get home and grab the words while they were tickling me.

But by the time we got home, and I fed the dogs and myself, the words had faded away. The tickle was gone. By the time I sat down to the computer — after washing the dishes and doing a little vacuuming, I had that feeling in the pit of my stomach that I’ve been getting about writing lately. I think that feeling is dread.

But how can I dread writing? Why would I dread writing? I dread going to the dentist. It’s going to hurt. Writing, though — it’s not supposed to hurt. I’m trying to convince myself right now that the dread is worse than the reality — nothing to fear except fear itself, right? — but apparently the best I can do for the moment is to write a blog post. At least it’s words.

Talking B to the vet, then going to yoga. I’m going to spend my time at yoga filling myself up with as many “I” power statements as I can to see if I can meditate myself into loving writing again.

10 Jul

36 Hours in Key West

I had a perfect vacation in June. Thirty-six hours where everything fell into place, parking spots opened up like magic, meals were delicious, and the stars aligned.

Okay, the stars part might be hyperbole. But the weather was ideal and the tourist gods were definitely on our side.

So it started when my friend S (mentioned previously in blogs of our Belize trip) flew out from CA. We spent a couple days playing tourist in Orlando. We went out for Korean food, wandered around downtown Winter Park, rode the Orlando Eye (a giant Ferris wheel which would have been a lot more interesting if Orlando during the daytime wasn’t just a sea of parking lots), Sea Life (an aquarium in the same complex), the Skeleton Museum (super-cool, with many, many bones) and Madame Tussaud’s Wax Museum. It was a veritable binge of touristing and really quite fun. And it set the tone for our trip within her trip. We were going to tourist and tourist hard.

We knew from the start that our little trip to Key West was going to be super quick — only two nights there, with a drive of about eight hours each way. Because of my food issues, I wanted a place to stay with a kitchen so we were booked for our two nights at Suite Dreams. We got there and it was perfect — small, cozy, tucked away, lush with flowers. But we dumped our stuff and started exploring immediately, discussing (ha, finally!) what we wanted to do on our island vacation.

All the things? Yep. Or at least all the things that could be packed into 36 hours. So we went straight to the Southernmost point of the continental US. Honestly, on the map, it really did not seem to be the farthest south spot and it turns out it’s not! But close enough. Then we wandered by Hemingway’s house before walking around Duval Street talking about dinner. In my preconceived notions, slight as they were, I had pictured Duval Street as being something like Bourbon Street in New Orleans. Maybe it is sometimes, but not, apparently, at 7PM on a Tuesday in June. It was very mellow and peaceful. Because of my food problems, I’d already spent a while looking at restaurant reviews on TripAdvisor and found one that sounded great, except we needed reservations which we didn’t have. But hey, Tuesday in June, worth a try, right? We tried, got three seats at the bar, and ate incredible tapas at Santiagos.

I took pictures of the menu to remind myself later of the best food, but the easy winner was dates stuffed with goat cheese, wrapped in prosciutto, and grilled. We got it on our first round and liked it so much we had it a second time as a dessert. On our way home on Thursday, we stopped and picked up some goat cheese, and at 9PM, before we’d been home twenty minutes, I was stuffing dates. I’ve made them three times so far and still haven’t mastered them, but I intend to. (And yes, I’m allergic to cheese, but I’m willing to pay the price for these–they’re sweet, tangy, salty perfection.)

Back to Key West — stuffed and replete with delicious food, we headed back to Suite Dreams and Suzanne and I got serious about planning out our one complete day in Key West. One day is not a lot of time. All the things is an awful lot of things. Plus transportation between things, plus appropriate meal breaks… and possibly we shouldn’t have left our planning to the day before? But by the time we turned the lights off, we had a detailed schedule planned, including meals.

Our morning started with a kayaking Eco Tour with Lazy Dog Adventures. Perfect weather for kayaking and a lovely place for it. We got to see a surprising number of sea creatures, from sea cucumbers to jellyfish, plus birds galore. The kayaking was my pick — the thing I most wanted to do — and I loved it. If that had been all we did, it still would have been an amazing trip. But we weren’t even close to done!

Next we headed to Half Shell Raw Bar. R’s thing was oysters so I asked the tour guide on our kayak trip which of the two places we’d found she’d recommend. Half Shell sold local oysters, so we went there. The menu didn’t have a lot to offer a gluten-free eater, but we got 2 dozen oysters on the half shell, shared between us, and then I ate a side of veggies and a side of coleslaw while R and S ate po’boys that looked delicious. The restaurant was right on the water, with a picnic tables & fish nets ambiance, so also a fun environment.

After lunch, we went grocery-shopping. Weird, right? But we’d decided to have dinner in, both because no restaurant was going to top our Santiago’s experience and because our evening plans meant we’d be looking for dinner around 9. At the recommendation of our morning tour guide, we stopped at the Eaton Street Seafood Market. Great people there, plus a gluten-free single serving cheesecake! We wound up buying porgy (a fish I’d never heard of, much less eaten), a bottle of sauvignon blanc, the cheesecake for me and the cutest little tray of cupcakes for the gluten-eaters.

We needed to get our fish back to the hotel fridge, which then gave us a short window of time before heading out for our evening adventure. R thought about trying to find the beach, but we didn’t really have enough time, so he hung out in the room and S and I relaxed in the small hotel pool.

Next up, we strolled across the island to Sebago Water Sports for a sunset sail and snorkel trip. I still couldn’t tell you whether the kayaking or the sailing was the highlight of my trip. Partly it was because it was such perfect weather. I love sailing, but you know, sometimes the sun beats down and you get a headache. Sometimes it’s windy and you spend the whole time eating your hair and wishing you’d remembered your sunglasses. Sometimes it’s just that hint of chilly where you’re not cold enough to complain but you’re not comfortable either. And sometimes, you’re out on the ocean, surrounded by blue and beauty and the expanse of sea and sky, and you remember that the world holds magic. This trip was the latter. At least for me. Poor S gets seasick with incredible discretion — she doesn’t even turn green, just leans over the side, pukes, turns back around and resumes the conversation. And the snorkeling and sunset were seriously so good that it could have been an ad for the experience — big fish, colorful fish, warm water, gorgeous sky, green flash. It was magic, really.

After the sun set and we returned to shore, we wandered back to the hotel. I cooked the fish — sauteed in butter rescued from our lunchtime bread plates and sprinkled with take-out salt & pepper that our lunch waitress had kindly found for me — while Suzanne made the salad. I think I’ll find the picture, because it was ridiculously gorgeous and beyond delicious.

salad and fish dinner

The salad includes mixed greens, mango, strawberries, radishes, and avocado.

The next day, we wandered around a little bit more, then hopped in the car and drove home, stopping at the Key Deer Nature Preserve and taking a short hike (although the only deer we saw was by the side of the road, not in the preserve), checking out one of the sandal outlets that were everywhere, and eating lunch in Key Largo, the highlight of which was grilled shrimp wrapped in basil and prosciutto. We got home around 9, so really it was a 60-hour vacation if you include the drive. But the 36 hours actually in Key West were wonderful. Really just the kind of magic that you always want a vacation to be and that it never, ever, ever is.

Once home, stuff happened, life got a wee bit exciting, and two days later, I hopped on a plane to Pennsylvania, but that’s another story.

23 Jun

Bookmark Winner

Thank you so much to everyone who entered the bookmark giveaway. It’s funny, I didn’t do the typical Rafflecopter because I didn’t want it to be the kind of promotional thing where authors ask people to tweet or like pages on Facebook or have to work to enter — I wanted it to just be for people who already like the books. So instead I got to read so many lovely, lovely compliments — talk about a win for me! It was really nice. I wish I had bookmarks for everybody. Alas, though, I don’t. So the winner, picked by random number generator, is Leanne. I’ve emailed you for your mailing address, Leanne, so if you haven’t gotten the email, please check your spam folder.

16 Jun

Bookmark Giveaway

beaded bookmark

Beaded Bookmark for The Wedding Guests

To celebrate the release of Magical Weddings: 15 Enchanting Romances, I’m giving away a beautiful beaded bookmark, created by the talented Eve Devon. (Check out the beads–one’s a clue to an important character in the story!)

To enter, leave a comment below. You can tell me your favorite character in Tassamara or you can just say hi. Or, if the thought of posting a public comment makes your social anxiety spike and your heart race, enter by sending an email to bookmark@sarahwynde.com. I’ll give every entry a number and use a random number generator to pick a winner on June 23rd.

And meanwhile, if you didn’t pre-order Magical Weddings, it’s available today for the bargain price of .99!

11 Jun

Weird Foods That Worked Anyway

No pictures, but this is another food post, so skip it if you don’t care about recipes. Yes, maintaining four blogs badly started to feel like more effort than using one blog for everything, so I’m posting about cooking and writing here now. Eventually, I’m going to finish working on the Rozelle Press site and then I’ll make it my official author-y news site and let this just be my personal site, but that hasn’t happened yet. So for the moment, everything gets posted here, and today that means food.

Weird food.

Really weird food.

Last night, I had ground beef that needed to be used, and a plan I didn’t have enough energy to pull off (AIP-friendly meatloaf with mashed cauliflower, not going to happen), and a level of tired that meant all I wanted was to efficiently get my protein and vegetables down my throat so I could go to bed and not sleep some more.

I started out thinking I’d just throw what I had in a frying pan and hope for the best, but once I had a couple carrots and a parsnip chopped up and sauteing in some olive oil, I realized I’d be better off cooking the meat separately. So I started a new pan, with onions, garlic, and ground beef. In the ideal world, I would have thrown some sriracha in, but instead I sprinkled in ground cloves — maybe 1/4 tsp, not much, plus 1 tsp or so of cinnamon and 1 tsp or so of turmeric, and mixed thoroughly.

Yes, this was quite random. I just thought those three spices would probably taste good with parsnips and carrots and meat. I let everything cook slowly for a while–fifteen minutes or so?–with the vegetables covered and the meat not covered, because parsnips and carrots take a long time to get soft on the stove. I poured off some of the oil from the ground beef eventually, then added salt, the vegetables, and about half a bag of spinach. I covered it and let the spinach cook down for another couple of minutes, and then added a handful of chopped up cilantro. Mix thoroughly one last time, give the cilantro a minute to warm up but not lose its flavor. Oh, and I had started roasting the cauliflower before I decided I was too exhausted to make meatloaf, so I also added roast cauliflower before serving.

It was surprisingly delicious. The strongest flavor was the cilantro, but the hints of the other spices gave it a warm, autumn-ish flavor. R agreed, really good, but he ate later than me so I don’t know whether he might have jazzed it up with hot sauce. But honestly, for a fairly high-speed, inexpensive, protein plus vegetable meal, it was entirely acceptable. And I’m writing it down, because if I ever have the same lazy impulse, I know I’ll wonder what I included — the parsnips and the cinnamon were, IMO, the key.

Second weird food, this morning’s chicken soup. Classic leftover soup. To my homemade broth, which was perhaps a little heavy on rosemary when I made it, I added leftover chicken & broccoli slaw stir-fry, roast cauliflower, spinach, & cilantro. And salt. It was delicious. And this one I’m writing down as a reminder to myself that everything works with good chicken broth.

09 Jun

House Satisfaction

painting the house

Being a homeowner feels sort of overwhelming most of the time. There is always, always, always another thing. If the whole house is vacuumed and dusted, with clean bathrooms and clean sheets and a clean kitchen, then the insurmountable mess of the garage is always there to make me feel guilty. If the back porch is neatly swept and organized, everything in its proper place, plants trimmed back, then there’s weeding to be done and trees that need work and plants that should be treated for bugs or infection. Even when everything’s working, there’s always an appliance making me nervous — the dishwasher not draining, the dryer not drying, the air-conditioner making a funny noise.

And all of that doesn’t even touch the big stuff, like the fact that the paint is (was!) peeling away on the garage and fading so strongly on the sunny side that it looked patchwork. Or the spot on the front where one of the boards is rotting away.

For months, I’ve been wrestling with indecision. Sell the house or get a job that lets me take better care of the house? Those felt like the only two options. Somehow a couple of months ago, I decided to try a third option — at least for the moment — and deal with the big stuff as best I could. So this past week was the week of painting the house. I started working on it a week ago — scraping paint, pressure-washing, priming, and doing my best to patch the area of wood rot. On Saturday, my family and some friends came and helped me paint. We were done with three sides of the house by noon, at which time we had a barbecue — burgers, hot dogs, fruit salad, potato chips, tortilla chips, and three kinds of dip. And then the kids went swimming.

I’m still tired, with sore muscles that twinge every time I raise my arms, but oh, so satisfied. And yes, that picture is me, sitting on my roof (and making my father very nervous — it’s his hand on the ladder, and I can almost promise that there were worried words coming out of his mouth.) But every time I look up at that wall now — nicely blue, trim bright and white — I get to think, I did that. I took care of that.

It’s a good feeling.

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