Jun 142017

Nail Polish

I have decided that I shall wear glitter nail polish on a regular basis. I very rarely paint my nails, but I am going to start. And I will raid my teenage daughter’s massive polish collection and try ALL of the glitter ones.

Why? Because I like sparkle. My blonde hair has added sparkle now from all of the gray threading through it. So why can’t I add some twinkle to my fingers too?

It looks like magical fairy dust adorning my fingers…which type stories on my laptop. Creating people and places out of thin air, as a writer, is a special kind of magic, don’t you think? So isn’t it fitting that I pretend, just for the fun of it, that my fingernails are sprinkled with a bit of extra magic?

Is glitter nail polish appropriate for a woman who is closer to fifty than forty? Possibly not.

Do I care if the beauty industry might think I’m too old for sparkly nails? Absolutely not.

You see, for many years now, I have been receding into drabness. Neutral clothing colors, little makeup, no jewelry = a very bland look. Why? Because I have become plumper than I’d like. Because the gray hair, that I am determined to embrace, sticks up and corkscrews – making me look like a Dr. Seuss character. Because I have convinced myself that I am a shy introvert, when I’m really not. Because for most of my life I have had a deeply embedded limiting belief that calling attention to myself in any way is bad.

Over the last few years I have done a lot of work to discover who I really am, not who I think I should be. The real me doesn’t want to be a chameleon who disappears into the background. If I pretend to be invisible, I never meet new people and never have conversations that capture my attention. And if I don’t experience new things and meet new people, where do you think I’ll draw inspiration for my writing from? A boring, sedate life is counter-productive for me as a writer.

So…I will wear glitter nail polish (on my finger and toe nails), brightly colored clothes, bold jewelry, and lipstick (something else that I have never been fond of until recently). Why? Because I don’t want to become bland and boring. I don’t want my daughter to have that type of mother. Looking back now, I can see that I let the unpleasant things in my life drag me down to into the mundane muck. But not anymore. Glitter nail polish will be a life preserver – my personal touch of whimsy and a reminder that life is magical if I make an effort to find the magic.


Mar 062017

Sometimes you just need to retreat. As in heading to a wonderful, rejuvenating writer’s retreat! Last weekend I went to Chicago for the Windy City RWA Retreat. I am not a member of the RWA (Romance Writers of America), but I had to go because one of my favorite writers was the featured speaker.

I packed up my bags and journeyed from Michigan to Illinois. There I learned about reclaiming the magic of writing when the words don’t flow easily, and I honed my writing voice, which is as unique as a speaking voice, in a master class. Both workshops were taught by a woman who became one of my favorite authors many years ago when I began reading her women’s fiction books. They’re filled with lush descriptions, fascinating characters, and lots of food. What’s not to love about books like that?

Barbara O’Neal is the writer who I went to see. If you read romances you may know her as Barbara Samuel or Lark O’Neal if you enjoy new adult books. And if you’re a writer, I highly recommend her books The Care and Feeding of The Girls in The Basement and Celebration Book (A Writer’s Guide to Joy). They are some of the brightest gems in my rather massive collection of books about writing.

Whenever I read one of Barbara’s books I am inspired to be a better writer. I was very excited about taking the classes and having the chance to meet her at the retreat. So excited, in fact, that the experience brought out a teen fangirl side of me that hasn’t made an appearance since I got to go backstage to meet my favorite band when I was a teenager. Yes, there was squeeing and selfie taking involved. And yes, my forty-something self is rolling her eyes and asking, “Really??? You had to do that?”.  Despite my awkward geekiness, Barbara was gracious and lovely. The insights on writing and publishing that she shared during the master class still has my mind buzzing. To quote my fangirl self: She was awesome!

Barbara O'Neal and Janel Gradowski

Barbara and me

As you can tell, seeing Barbara was definitely a highlight of the retreat for me, but there’s more. For the first time I was able to meet, in person, several other authors who write for Gemma Halliday Publishing. It was so much fun to chat with my publishing “sisters” and give them a real hug, instead of a virtual one. As a writer, I tend to lead a pretty solitary life. Many of my social interactions are done online. It was a very welcome change to talk with the GHP authors, and many other writers, face-to-face.

Clockwise from top left: Nicole Leiren, Barb Valentin, Wendy Byrne, and me

Clockwise from top left: Nicole Leiren, Barbara Valentin, Wendy Byrne, and me

The past year brought many struggles to my writing life. The theme for this retreat was “Nourishing the Writer’s Soul”. It lived up to the expectations. Thanks to Windy City RWA for hosting the event. It certainly did wonders for my writer’s soul!


Oct 262016

It’s a new school year for my kids–the time of year where many people, including me, are compelled to make fresh starts. And that is what I am doing. This past year I smacked into a mid-life “awakening” (we won’t call it a crisis – even though it has felt like that sometimes).

Do you know what I mean? That feeling that something with life isn’t quite right, but you’re not exactly sure what the problem is. That you need to change, but you don’t know how or even what to change.

I’ve read books and perused websites, even worked with a life coach. One thing that became very clear while I was doing research is that I’m not the only person who feels this way. A lot of people get the urge to move around the puzzle pieces of their life into a different configuration when they reach the middle of their life. The image above is the centerpiece of a vision board I did with my life coach, and it says a lot about how I feel right now.

I’ve been quiet on my website and social media over the summer as I’ve decided what, exactly, I want to do. Okay, I admit, that the plan is more fluid than exact, but you know what? That’s wonderful! When things are moving…they aren’t stuck. And who wants to feel like their life is stuck in a rut?

For quite a few years I have focused my social media and author platform toward my career as a culinary mystery writer. But there’s a lot more in my life than cooking and writing mysteries. So I’m going to start sharing more of my interests in the hope that maybe someone else will enjoy them too. A lot of things will be changing from the look of this website to the style of my newsletters. (Do you subscribe to my newsletter? I hope you do because the new format will be launching soon, and I can’t wait to share it with you!) I’m writing new books, but at a slower pace since I’m also focusing on my family, and uncovering tools to navigate through this mid-life reinvention.

Some of the things that I plan to share are on the new age-y side, or as I say…woo-woo. If that’s not your thing and you no longer want to follow my blog or get my newsletter, no big deal. Feel free to unsubscribe, because life is too short to spend time reading things that you don’t enjoy. If you stick around I hope you find something useful…or that makes you smile…or that gives you an aha moment. I’m taking the scenic route, instead of the freeway, through this part of my life. I can’t wait to share some of the stops with you!




Apr 082014

The last month has been very busy for me, between turning in a manuscript to my publisher, writing and editing a novelette and having some fun while my kids were on Spring Break. Lots of things going on, but I’ve still found the time to poke around the internet and find some things that help refill my creative well. I need lots of wood to keep the writing fire going! Here are some of the things that have caught my attention lately.

365 docobites – 365 documentaries in 365 days. Strangers’ short and shorter stories. Two film makers are traveling around the world, producing mini documentaries featuring interesting people they meet. The link takes you to the docobite about the Tandem Poetry writers, which is my favorite video so far.

Mindfulness Meditation: 8 Quick Exercises That Easily Fit Into Your Day – Getting your mind to slow down is a wonderful thing. These meditations aren’t the kind where you sit cross-legged and chant for an hour. Nope. These are easy ways to give your brain, which is thinking about 1,001 things, a break.

Karen Russell Donates Her Sleep – An interview with author Karen Russell where she talks about her new novella, Sleep Donation. I love seeing authors excited about shorter forms of fiction. Make sure to check out the website that accompanies the novella. What a fabulous way to give readers experiences beyond just reading the words in a book.

Have you found anything lately that stoked your creativity?

 April 8, 2014  Posted by  Inspiration Tags: , ,  1 Response »
Feb 062014

Most of my recent writing has had a definite foodie theme. When fictional characters cook they need fictional kitchens to cook in. So I spend quite a bit of time mentally planning out kitchens for my stories. I have to say, I wish I had the kitchen in the culinary mystery I am currently working on. It’s the big, bright and functional cooking space of my dreams. If I can’t have it, I may as well write about it, right?

All photos by Fawn Deviney for Boston magazine

There is always Pinterest for inspiration, but recently I found a magazine column that made me go “ooh”. Boston Magazine has a column written by Leah Mennies called Kitchen Spy. As you can imagine from the Spy moniker, the posts take a peek into kitchens, poking around refrigerators, pantries and bookshelves. These aren’t spotless, model home kitchens, though. The column lets you look into the kitchens of Boston area chefs.

As expected, chefs have some interesting culinary toys and pantry items. There are photos of everything from antique meat grinders to cheese boxes and muscat jelly. The accompanying interview always has explanations of many of the photographed items and gives a nice glimpse into the life of a chef. I can’t wait to see more entries in this magazine column. Each installment is a luscious bit of culinary eye candy.

This post is part of Weekend Cooking at Beth Fish Reads.

Sep 032013

This is how most dogs search for minnows and other underwater treasures.

This is how Cooper does it.

I always call Cooper my writing companion. Now I’m taking life cues from him. Sometimes you need to take a different approach.

Summer brought about the usual sporadic blogging and social media contact that I’ve come to expect from the season. I’m a mom and a writer, but the scale tips heavily toward the mom side when the kids are home 24/7, as it should. I didn’t write a lot of new material, but I read many books on writing with subjects ranging from how to plot a novel to handling negative reviews. As often happens, all of the new knowledge bits collided and mingled to form something different and exciting.

Today was the first day of school for my kids. My outlook is shiny and new too, just like the school year. I’m going to take Cooper’s lead and do things differently. How can you know what works best if you don’t try new things? Have you decided to try anything new recently?

 September 3, 2013  Posted by  Cooper, General, Writing Life Tags: ,  8 Responses »
Aug 202013

It’s almost that glorious time when my kids go back to school and I can get back to a writing schedule. I have been writing over the summer, but in the expected bits and spurts that come from having a house full of people and no schedules. Word counts haven’t been high, but my creative well is full. I’ve met interesting people, observed some unusual physical characteristics and experienced several spectacular storms. Lots of material is rattling around in my brain, waiting to be reincarnated in a story.

To prepare for the writing rush I always experience when my kids return to school, I’m reading. Topping off those creative reserves and trying to make my life a little easier. Some of the books are new to me, while others I have read before and found them very inspiring. If you’re interested, here are my current “night stand” books. Click on the covers to be taken to Amazon to learn more about each book.

The Care and Feeding Of The Girls In The Basement by Barbara Samuel. Barbara is one of my favorite authors. In this book she talks about life as a writer and gives advice to writers based on her experience.

The Lost Art of Mixing by Erica Bauermeister. This is the follow up to one of my favorite books of 2010, The School of Essential Ingredients. The book is a wonderful example of culinary fiction with an intriguing cast of characters.

Fix, Freeze, Feast by Kati Neville and Lindsay Tkacsik. I can’t count the number of times I’ve written all day and realized when I was picking the kids up from school that I had no idea what I wanted to make for dinner. I’m hoping to have at least a few meals stashed in my freezer by using this book. That should make life easier!

Aug 072013

A very common piece of advice for writers is: Write what you know. Apparently the writing muses are telling me to write about storms. Last month we had a nasty storm pass through that left our yard filled with broken branches, our neighbors’ tree uprooted, the electricity out and similar damage to many other houses in the area.

Last night a line of thunderstorms passed through and the tree in our backyard got struck by lightning!

Around 5:30 a.m. the whole house lit up with white light from the strike while it sounded like something had exploded in the back yard. Of course our lights went out, then came back on. Well, some of them came back on. It took an electrician quite a few hours to sort that out. My family and I are all fine, but all of our phones and the garage door opener are toast.

The tree roots went underneath our dog kennel (Cooper was safely inside!). As you can see, one of the cement paver bricks that make up the kennel floor exploded with chunks ending up at least 20 feet away. There are bits of bark that exploded from the tree all over the yard too. The power from that one bolt of lightning was amazingly scary. So if you hear a thunderstorm approaching please take cover – and not under a tree!

 August 7, 2013  Posted by  General, Updates Tags: ,  6 Responses »
Jul 292013

Last night was the premier of the Food Court Wars episode, on The Food Network, that was filmed in my hometown of Midland, Michigan. For those of you who have never seen the show, each week two teams battle to win a one-year lease for a restaurant space in a mall food court. Of course there are challenges, along with coaching sessions from host Tyler Florence. In the end, the teams open up their concept restaurants in the food court for a day. Whoever makes the most money wins the episode and the coveted lease.

I knew from Facebook posts by a local restaurant that the show was coming to the Midland Mall, but I didn’t realize exactly when. So unfortunately I didn’t make it to the mall on the days the contestants were competing. When the first episode of Food Court Wars aired the Midland Farmer’s Market began posting on Facebook that one of their vendors would be competing on the Midland Mall episode. That vendor was Melania Paser (in the blue skirt above) from The Pie’d Piper. I’ve been buying her delicious pies, treats and hot pepper jelly at local farmer’s markets for several years. I love stopping to talk with her and to see what kind of interesting pie flavors she’s offering like Fuzzy Navel or BlueBarb (blueberry/rhubarb). My husband prefers her spicy pie creations like apple with Red Hots candy and a mixed berry spiced with chile peppers. The tangy, sweet and spicy pepper jelly she offers is fabulous on sandwiches, especially BLTs. By the way, if you watched the show, the Chicken Shawarma prepared without the time constraints and pressure of the show is fabulous and very tasty.

The very first time I met Melania she was wearing a brightly colored dress and a headband with a tiny, Pied Piper style hat on it. As a writer I love observing people, collecting in my mind bits of interesting personalities and physical traits to use as inspiration for my writing. That little hat caught the attention of my writer side, but her warm personality is one of the reasons going to the farmer’s market is so much fun for me. I hope the brush with Food Network fame gives her career a huge boost!

This post is linked to Weekend Cooking at Beth Fish Reads.

Jul 022013

Raise your hand if you’re an Anthony Bourdain fan. If I am channel surfing on the television, it’s a pretty sure bet that I’ll stop on one of his shows if I spot it. No Reservations is his longest running series, but there is also The Layover and now Parts Unknown. By chance I ran across Parts Unknown a few weeks ago and I was instantly hooked. Classic, tell-it-like-it-really-is Bourdain, without all of the explicit language beeps on The Travel Channel shows.

You see, I find Mr. Bourdain inspiring. Yes, he is the poster child of bad boys, handsomely gaunt with a tumultuous past and acerbic wit. I’m sure many fellow writers have used him as inspiration for a character. The thing that draws me to his TV shows, though, is the other people. He has conversations with chefs and that is the key. He interacts. His literary background is apparent in every episode. He doesn’t dance on the pretty surface. He provides backstory and social commentary.

How many shows have you watched that are the equivalent of chef eye candy? The chef is introduced, maybe a few words are said about his/her background and then the show moves on to preparing recipes. Sure, as a writer you can pick up physical details for characters, maybe find some inspiration for recipes if you write books that include recipes like I do. But appearance is only part of a literary character. I actually tend to be quite vague about character descriptions, preferring to let the reader “do the work” and produce their own, unique version of my character in their minds. Bourdain’s shows are a mine of character personality traits. The eccentric chef who puts his restaurant in a hard to reach spot, so only the diners who really want to eat his food come. The community activist who trains impoverished youths to work in restaurants. The matriarch living in a remote village who pulls together a meal from the resources outside her door. Those are the types of stories I like to interweave into my own fictional stories.

Are you a Bourdain fan? What do you find appealing, or unappealing, about him?