Perfectly Plated

I watch a lot of YouTube videos (like the Tasty and BuzzFeed Channels) and Netflix shows (The Great British Baking Show) on cooking. You’d think I would be a culinary expert by now. Naw. I’m still just an average cook.

        

When I was a kid, my parents had insisted that I learn to cook. I don’t mean throwing a frozen dinner into the microwave or oven. I mean baking a chicken, preparing rice, sautéing onions, baking biscuits—that sort of thing.

For my friends in Europe, I mean this type of biscuit.

Not this.

But I’ve never been very innovative in the kitchen. Not like my sister-in-law, who loves to experiment. (I’m going somewhere with this. Don’t worry.)

Anyway, as I mentioned, I watch a lot of videos featuring culinary artists—people who went to school to master the art of food preparation. Other than the taste of a dish, nothing showcases a chef’s artistry like a well-plated meal. What do I mean by that?

According to an article entitled, “A Basic Guide to Food Presentation” at Webstaurantstore.com (click here for it):

People eat with their eyes, and creative and thoughtful plating enhances both the look and taste of your food. Focusing on presentation also allows chefs to showcase their creations and demonstrate to guests that they’re getting their money’s worth.

The article from which that quote came from has great tips on color and contrast, choosing the right plate, etc. That’s why you’ll sometimes see chocolate drizzled on a dessert plate, or your entrée artfully presented with the vegetables tucked up nicely. (Unlike what you see in the photo below.)

My usual idea of plating. Get your grub on, y’all.

  

The real deal done by experts

I love that chefs go the extra mile to make a dining experience special and to make food preparation an art form. While I’m unlikely to drizzle chocolate on a plate anytime soon (I’d much rather drizzle it in my mouth), I am inspired to go the extra mile in what I write.

I’m not sure what the literary equivalent of plating might be. Perhaps it starts with a resolve to write the best piece you can.

Speaking of resolutions, onto the winner of Lyn Miller-Lachmann’s novel Dirt Cheap, which was discussed in this guest post.

        

The winner, according to the lovely random number generator, is . . .

Is . . .

Is . . .

Is . . .

Is . . .

Is . . .

Laura Bruno Lilly!

Congratulations, Laura! Please comment below to confirm!

Henry’s idea of plating—just candy in a bag, baby! (I hear you, Henry!)

Pillsbury biscuits from betterbatter.org. Tea biscuits from clipartkid.com. Tasty YouTube logo from YouTube. BuzzFeed logo from siliconangle.com. Great British Baking Show logo found at thats-normal.com. Plated desserts found on Pinterest. Other photos by L. Marie.

Happy New Year—2019

This represents what I’ll be doing in 2019—crocheting, writing, and sending Henry to terrorize villagers (not necessarily in that order)

Oh who am I kidding? With a face like Henry’s, who would be terrified?

Villagers serenade Henry with songs usually reserved for places like Whoville.

Praying—something else I plan to do a lot in 2019—could not be photographed, so pretend this emoji 🙏 is in the photo.

As I write this post, my email inbox is full of videos, newsletters, and blog posts all about the best or worst of 2018. Some of the above involve people making resolutions to do useful activities (losing weight, reading more, traveling more, writing more, socializing more).

I admire the work these individuals put into reviewing the previous year or writing goals for 2019. But a careful assessment of 2018 is not something you’ll find here. Under my given name (L. Marie is my pen name), I’ve got projects due this week and in the next two weeks. So, I’ll take the easy way out and show a photo that pretty much sums up 2018 for me, only with fewer snacks. (Wish I could’ve included a sound effect like a scream.)

If you’re wondering about the quote on the paper weight next to Kitty, it is this:

In many ways, I feel like I’m in a cocoon/chrysalis. No idea what sort of moth or butterfly may emerge in 2019. But the other day, I was inspired by a quote on the lid of my McDonald’s sweet tea:

The days ahead beckon us to look for moments we can sip for joy—moments where we look toward the possibilities and not just the problems; moments where we sip the sweetness of a sunrise or a child’s laughter.

Like the Skittles wrapper below says, try to look on the . . .

(If you can. I understand that life can be rather difficult sometimes.)

Happy New Year!

The Highlights of Highlights

I recently returned from Honesdale, Pennsylvania, where I’d spent four days at the campus of the Highlights Foundation.

Yes, that Highlights, which produces this magazine.

Why’d I go there? For an unworkshop. What’s that? An unscheduled time without a workshop leader, giving you time to write, write, write; eat excellently prepared meals (the only scheduled aspect to the unworkshop); and enjoy the beautiful scenery. I went with three friends and fellow writers. We each had a little cabin in the woods—the proverbial ideal writer’s retreat. (Well, our little cabins in the woods were on the edge of a clearing. 😁)

  

Three meals a day were served here:

Behind that building was

where I could go for

or when I just needed a good word. (Who doesn’t love cattywampus??? It’s okay if you don’t, but I do.)

   

Very few trips were made to the internet. I spent the time reading books, writing, walking, and having great conversations. I met many other writers, some of whom were on their own unworkshop. Others were on a meditation/revision retreat. Still others had come for a poetry workshop.

The staff at Highlights is friendly and the food is excellent! I loved my little cabin. Throughout my stay, I had that “ahhhhh” sense of being cared for, with snacks provided whenever I wanted them, meals I didn’t have to shop for or provide, a coffee maker and coffee packets if I wanted to brew my own, or hot coffee/tea already prepared at the Barn if I felt like walking over and chatting with whomever was there.

Two writers I met told me they’d been at Highlights six times. One writer returns every few months. Many others request to stay in the same cabin each time. I feel the same way! My friends and I hope to return to Highlights next year.

What’s the most memorable place you’ve been to recently?

Photos by L. Marie.

Branching Out

When I first learned to crochet, all I made were granny squares for afghans and scarfs. They were easy to make.

   

Yes, this is a scarf I made. I have made Granny squares like these from Pinterest.

But I searched for more challenges as the years went by. Recently, I went through an owl phase in my crocheting. The owls below were created by a pattern designed by Sarah at Repeat Crafter Me, which you can find here.

   

But in the last month, I decided to branch out and try something different. I found a pattern online for making small lambs. How small? I placed a red ruler behind the lamb it so you can see how small it is (just under six inches seated; click on the photo to see).

This amigurumi pattern was designed by Stephanie at her All About Ami blog. You can find it here. (Wondering what amigurumi means? Go here for an article.)

I started off making the lambs exactly the way Stephanie instructed, using the yarn she suggested, which was in the usual lamb colors. But after a while, I wanted to branch out yet again:

Not the usual color for a lamb, but the color makes me happy.

Random flower break. Just because.

Speaking of branching out, I can’t help thinking of Spanish surrealist Salvador Dalí (1904–1989). While that might seem like a random remark to you, let me ask you this: What’s the first painting you think of you when you think of him?

I think of this painting:

It’s called The Persistence of Memory. (Instead of The Melting Clocks Painting as I always called it in my head.) What do you think of it? (I think the word you’re searching for is surreal.)

I thought of Dalí as I wrote this post, because of a conversation that took place when I was a grad student. We had a guest speaker one semester—author/illustrator David Macaulay (right). If you don’t know who he is, click here to see a list of his books. Macaulay told us about his years at the Rhode Island School of Design. He didn’t start off doing his own thing. He had to learn how to paint like one of the old Renaissance masters—learning form and color—before branching out.

So that’s why I thought of Dalí. Check out this description from Wikipedia:

Dalí was a skilled draftsman, best known for the striking and bizarre images in his surrealist work. His painterly skills are often attributed to the influence of Renaissance masters. His best-known work, The Persistence of Memory, was completed in August 1931.

So Dalí too learned from the old masters, but took what he learned in a new direction.

Maybe there’s something you’ve learned that you’re now ready to take in a new direction. If so, dish about it in the comments below.

While you consider that, I’ll reveal the winner of one of Lyn Miller-Lachmann’s translated books. Go here for her guest post.

The winner, thanks to the random number thingie, is . . .

Is . . .

Is . . .

Is . . .

Is . . .

Is . . .

Penny of the LifeontheCutoff’s Blog.

Penny, please confirm below. I believe you requested Queen of the Frogs. Do you still want that one? Let me know. I hope you will enjoy it!

Thank you to all who commented.

Granny square found on Pinterest. Dali painting from Wikipedia. Dali photo from wallpapercave.com. David Macaulay photo from Wikipedia.com. Other photos by L. Marie.

Gotta Grab Peace and Hold On

In the last few weeks, my life has been one of frantic haste with new projects due, ongoing projects needing my immediate feedback (“could you respond before tomorrow”; “look at this video ASAP”), meetings to attend, and back pain demanding I take some sort of relief measure.

I so wanted a vacation. The vacation destination of choice would have been Boston. I wished I could have attended my niece’s graduation from Boston University, like others in my family did (including a side trip to Martha’s Vineyard). But not being able to afford airfare or the days off, I could only watch online and look at texted photos (which I will not post here; sorry).

I couldn’t take a vacation, but I could take a walk as a mini “stay cay”—stay-at-home vacation. The other day I headed out around 6:45 a.m., basking in the cooler temperatures, enjoying the twitter of birds. (#Morning gossip) The day was not a picture perfect, sunny day. In fact, I didn’t see the sun all day. But it was peaceful. I was the only human outside. The temperature was around 56. Not bad.

    

I could feel my blood pressure decreasing as I walked, drinking in the solitude, admiring the green leaves now in full force on the trees. Ahhh. Just what the doctor ordered.

But when I returned inside, life intruded as several people texted or posted online, asking the same question: “Did you see the Royal Wedding?”

The sense of frantic haste returned. Oh no! I’d forgotten about that! I quickly clicked on YouTube, only to find Prince Harry and his bride, the Duchess of Sussex, riding in a carriage, waving at people. I immediately thought of the 1995 Pride and Prejudice miniseries with Elizabeth and Mr. Darcy riding in a carriage after their wedding. But alas I’d missed this wedding! You snooze, you lose, I guess. I quickly combed the internet to see what videos I could find that showed the wedding—even a piece of it.

But then I stopped the search, realizing how quickly I’d thrown away the peace of the morning. I clicked off the internet and leaned back in my chair, letting go of what I hadn’t accomplished, and grasping what I had—the sense of peace in a quiet day.

I grabbed my crochet hook and set to work on an owl. Crocheting always relaxes me. On a gray, overcast day, working with colorful, soft yarn was very soothing. (All the colors and textures you see on the owl below, with the exception of the white, come from one bundled ball of yarn. Owl crochet pattern by Sarah at Repeat Crafter Me.)

    

Peace had returned.

When you’ve had a frantic week, what do you do to gain or maintain peace?

Lemony Limes is drowning in leftover yarn. Oh well. I can’t think of a better way to go.

Photos by L. Marie. Lemony Limes Shoppie Doll is a registered trademark of Moose Toys.

The Power of a Plan

I saw Avengers: Infinity War last week. Please. You don’t have to leap at me to slap a hand over my mouth. As if you could reach me from where you are. This is a spoiler-free zone, so don’t worry.

There is so much hype surrounding this movie, that I don’t blame anyone for being a little fatigued. This post is not so much about the movie as it is a high five to Marvel Studios for the ten-year process leading up to the movie.

I’ve never had a ten-year plan for anything! Years ago, both of my brothers tried to get me to make a five-year business plan, but I flubbed it. I barely outlined novels! At the time, the thought of proposing enough novels or other writing projects to fill five years was

But now I see the value of at least coming up with a plan beyond my usual, “I just wanna write lotsa stuff.” I think about Charles Yallowitz and how weekly he discusses his writing plans. If you follow his blog, you know he sometimes he talks about his writing plans for the next year or so!

A good business plan really needs a good vision statement as well. (If you’re still in Marvel mode, you might be thinking of the character Vision. Ha ha!)

According to BusinessDictionary.com, a vision statement (also known as a mission statement) is

An aspirational description of what an organization would like to achieve or accomplish in the mid-term or long-term future. It is intended to serves as a clear guide for choosing current and future courses of action. See also mission statement.

Read more: http://www.businessdictionary.com/definition/vision-statement.html

If you’re curious, here is part of Microsoft’s vision statement:

Microsoft is a technology company whose mission is to empower every person and every organization on the planet to achieve more. We strive to create local opportunity, growth, and impact in every country around the world. Our strategy is to build best-in-class platforms and productivity services for an intelligent cloud and an intelligent edge infused with artificial intelligence (“AI”).

“To empower every person and every organization on the planet to achieve more.” Wow! Talk about a big goal. But that’s the value of a mission statement. It gives you something to work toward. If it’s achievable right now, then it’s probably not a big enough goal.

So, I’m working on a vision statement too. After all, I can’t get anywhere if I don’t have a destination or a plan for getting there. What about you? Got any long-term or short-term plans you’d care to talk about? Do you have a vision statement for what you want to do? While you think about that, I’ll move onto the winner of the birthday giveaway. Wondering what that’s about? Click here to read the post that announced the giveaway.

The winner of the birthday giveaway, thanks to the magic of the random organizer, is . . .

Is . . .

Is . . .

Is . . .

FictionFan!

But since this is my blog, I can have two winners. (Surprise announcement! Oh yeah!) So, the second winner is . . .

Is . . .

Is . . .

Is . . .

Penny!

Please comment below to confirm! FictionFan, I will need to get the email you use with Amazon UK at some point. Penny, if you have a preference for the items mentioned in the birthday post, please comment below to confirm.

Thank you to all who commented.

    

This is what’s great about spring.

Avengers: Infinity War movie poster from comicbook.com. Marvel Studios Ten Year logo from screenrant.com. Vizzini inconceivable image from quotesgram.com. Vision image from wpaperhd.com. Other photo by L. Msarie.

How Do You Know You’re in the Flow?

Ever have a time when you were writing or doing something else creative, and you just couldn’t stop? Words or ideas poured out of you, and you had to implement them. We call this a state of flow. (And yes, I wrote a post about this five years ago. I’m taking a different angle on it this time.)

According to Wikipedia,

[F]low, also known as the zone, is the mental state of operation in which a person performing an activity is fully immersed in a feeling of energized focus, full involvement, and enjoyment in the process of the activity.

Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi, formerly the head of psychology at the University of Chicago and currently the Distinguished Professor of Psychology and Management at Claremont Graduate University, is known for his study on flow. Flow, according to Dr. Csikszentmihalyi, is also known as ecstasy. And no, I’m not talking about drugs here, though in his 2004 TED Talk, Csikszentmihalyi explained that “ecstasy is essentially a stepping into an alternative reality.” You’re so in the zone, it’s like you’re watching yourself create. You don’t notice anything else—hunger, weariness, etc. Csikszentmihalyi added, “[T]his automatic, spontaneous process . . . can only happen to someone who is very well trained and who has developed technique.”

I asked several writers how they know they’re in a state of flow.

Steve Bramucci, author of The Danger Gang and the Pirates of Borneo! (look for his next book this October) and managing editor over at Uproxx, said,

I recognize flow when I start to think, “This is brilliant! Have I accidentally stolen it from someone else? It’s too good of an idea NOT to have been written already! I must’ve stolen it! I’m such a hack!” At which point I google the idea furiously and, when I find it’s not stolen, I get this excited/thrilled buzzy feeling. Something akin to double fisting caffeine and green juice after a 6 am surf. I get tingly and overly emotional and write and write and write—only taking breaks to text my wife things like, “I really think I was destined to be a writer! I believe in my stories! I promise you this project will bring us financial security!” etc. If that all sounds insufferable, I’m sure it is. But it’s my process. It’s not what ends up on the page; insufferable processes can often lead to positive results.

Lyn Miller-Lachmann, author of novels for young adults and adults, said,

It’s when I feel that I’m in the time and place along with my characters, hearing them speak, feeling the same things they do, following them as they move.

Laura Sibson, a young adult and middle grade author (look for her young adult novel debut in 2019), had this to say:

When drafting, I know that I’m in a state of flow when I’m not tempted to look at the clock or check email or social media. My environment drops away in the sense that I’m not super-aware of what’s happening around me. In those moments, I’m fully immersed in my story world and it feels like the real world. I can see it as clearly as I see the scenery outside my window.

S. K. Van Zandt, another middle grade and young adult author, said,

For me, it’s the unstuck feeling. It’s picturing a scene in my mind, the “what happens next,” and the words are just there, as opposed to seeing the scene and staring at the computer. I think the ability to get (and stay) “in the zone” has everything to do with knowing your characters and story well.

Jill Weatherholt, author of Second Chance Romance (look for her next book this July) and romance short stories, said this:

When I feel what’s happening to my characters so deeply that I’m moved emotionally and I become completely oblivious to my surroundings, I know I’m in a state of flow.

Charles Yallowitz, author of Warlord of the Forgotten Age and other books in the Legends of Windemere series, put it this way:

I never really thought about being in a state of flow. I’m usually just writing along until I stop. So it’s almost like a trance.

How do you know you’re going with the flow when you work?

If you want to check out Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi’s TED Talk:

Kirstea, frazzled as always lately, took flow to a whole different level when she allowed her teacup to overflow.

My Little Pony Pinkie Pie and chicken figures by Hasbro. Kirstea Shoppie doll by Moose Toys. Photos by L. Marie.