"Roundheads and Ramblings"
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Every Author Needs a Dead Mule
As a Writer, You Must Know Your Audience
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"Roundheads and Ramblings"

Relaxation

Soup is Better Than Lemonade

You've probably heard the old adage about making lemonade when life hands you a lemon.I admit it has its points, but for me, when I hit a rainy day, I want to make soup.

It's been raining here ever since we had breakfast and is showing no signs of letting up. The little ditch behind our house has turned into Schriber Creek, and the neighbor's soccor ball that landed in our yard yesterday is getting ready to float away. It's cold and damp, and the only thing I want to do this afternoon is make a pot of soup. 

Luckily, the fridge is full of odds and ends--half a bag of mixed vegetables left over from a recipe that turns canned biscuits into little chicken pot pies; a cup or so of diced ham, left over from a cobb salad; half an onion and some minced garlic from last night's been stroganoff recipe. I also have on hand a bag of frozen vegetable soup mix (lots of veggies including potatoes and turnips), a good supply of chicken broth, and some cans of stuff in the pantry.  

There isn't a recipe for this sort of day. It calls for invention. So I'll start with some water and the soup mix, which comes with its own seasonings. Then into the pot will go all the left-overs, along with about a quart of chicken broth. Cans? Maybe some white beans and diced tomatoes. And after a while, a handful of barley to add some starch and pull the broth together. Add that to a couple of other leftovers -- a heel of a French baguette and a half-opened bottle of this week's treasure, the first wine from the 2014 French harvest -- Beaujolais Nouveau.  Then let it rain!


Wine and Cheese, Because Writers Deserve Them




Today I am posting a new board on Pinterest to complement my book, The Second Mouse Gets the Cheese. No, I don't think a book club would be interested in reading this handbook on "How To Avoid the Traps of Self-Publishing," but individuals might do well to check out some of the advice given here.  And writers' groups may want to fortify themselves as they wrestle with the advantages and disadvantages of self-publishing.  I'm available to discuss self-publishing with those who are considering it, and that's as good an excuse to throw a party as not. This new board lists some of The Second Mouse's favorite wines and pairs them with appropriate cheeses and other snacks.

How do you go about setting up a wine and cheese party?  Ideally, you want your guests to enjoy light refreshments, not eat (or drink) themselves silly. You also want to offer them some new experiences -- some unexpected pairings -- a taste of an unfamiliar food or drink. And you want to control what food they eat while drinking a particular wine, so as not to have one overwhelm the other.

With those precautions in mind, you can plan to set up three or maybe four sampling areas.  Let your guests start off with one of the white wines, with their mild cheeses and fresh fruits. If you have a large crowd, you may want them to move next to a rose or zinfandel 
accompanied by a rich pate or some mild cured meat products like a summer sausage.Then they can move on to a more substantial red, with their accompanying hard, sharply flavored cheeses, dried fruits, olives and nuts. The last and finishing wine can be either a powerful red or something like a port or sherry, and your guests may be happily surprised to find chocolates accompanying them.

The board offers some of my favorite wines, although it is not intended to push one winery over another.  For example, there are many versions of pinot gris, including the Italian pinot grigio, which comes from exactly the same grape. Start by choosing the kinds of wine that you enjoy, find ones you can afford, and then look here for suggestions on their pairings.  Be adventurous. Don't like apples? Substitute pears. Not a fan of walnuts? Use pecans for crunch.. Don't want cracker crumbs in the carpet? Offer thin slices of a French baguette, instead.

Now, go throw a party to celebrate something -- a new book, a new pen, or a new idea. It doesn't really matter WHAT you celebrate, so long as you take the time to relax, enjoy the company of lovely people, and explore a new taste or sensation.  Your writing will profit!



Seven Ways You Can Prepare for the Perfect Vacation

My alumni association (University of Colorado) recently sent out an article about how people should prepare themselves mentally for an upcoming vacation.  I found that it touched close to home, so here's an abbreviated version for all of you who have trouble "switching it off."

Start Now
Picture a sedan tearing down the autobahn, its engine redlining. The driver slams the brakes. The car skids, spins, slams into guardrails and finally stops. This is your brain starting a vacation. People are working at historic intensity, ever-connected and consumed by work. So it’s not surprising that even though your body might be comfortably prone on a beach towel, your brain is still scrolling through to-do lists back home. In fact it is unrealistic, experts say, to expect your thoughts to stop on a dime.

Letting go is something “you have to practice on a daily basis.” It can mean turning off your phone an hour before bedtime, or not looking at it first thing in the morning. If you are addicted not to the refresh button on your device but to intensity itself, try stepping away from that, too. Take a walk, or put your feet up on your desk and close your eyes for 10 minutes. Best yet, experts say, practice some kind of exercise or meditation designed to slow the mind.

Leave Your Context at Home
Habits are formed and reinforced by our physical context. Wake up in the same bed, see the clock, plod to the shower, drive to the office. Repeat. But habits aren’t merely physical; they’re emotional, too. Your physical surroundings reinforce your state of mind.
Habits of the mind aren’t easy to break in a few days, especially if you don’t change your context.
Which, it seems perhaps too obvious to point out, is why we go on vacation. But these days we are perhaps unaware of just how much of our everyday life we bring along, too. No, not the office or the commuter train, but the phone — that cubicle in your pocket.
Make a point to change your relationship with your device. Maybe leave it in one place and refuse to tote it around all day. Whatever you decide, see your gadget for what it is — a copper wire straight into the life you’re trying to escape.

Endure the Boredom
There you are, lying on a chaise by the pool, a book at the ready. But instead of sitting back and reading it, you are getting up every five minutes to see whether the adventure hut is open so you can schedule your water-Pilates instruction. Or you are at the lake house, breezes coming up off the water, and instead of enjoying them you are obsessing about a dinner party you’ve just arranged. What grain goes best with barbecued cod?! This is your brain still whirring, hunting and pecking, scanning for stimulus.

First, fight through the withdrawal — not just from your device but also from the constant need to be doing something. (If you find this unpleasant, and chances are you will, it doesn’t mean that your vacation is bad or that you hate your family.)
To help your brain along, researchers have a few thoughts. First, plunge into an absorbing but low-stakes activity — hiking, snorkeling, knitting a two-piece. Novel and unfamiliar tasks help tug our brains out of their ruts. Second, if you are up to a slightly higher level of difficulty, just observe your brain as it moves from thing to thing, hunts and pecks. Make a sport of watching it bounce from one thing to the next, a pinball slowly — you hope — losing momentum.

Get Over Yourself
Your workplace will not implode if you’re not there. Please don’t make me prove it to you using math. And the fact that it can keep running in your absence doesn’t mean you’ll return to a pink slip. Before I go on vacation, even for a week, I prepare as though I’m headed to the coroner. I empty the in-box, clean the piles on the desk, put away all the laundry, dust.
On the face of it I’m just getting my personal effects in order so that, presuming I survive my vacation, I also spend it worry-free, liberated to enjoy things to the fullest. But in the process, experts say, I am also significantly raising the stakes for my impending trip. And if some part of the vacation does not meet my expectations, I forget to enjoy the good parts

Channel the Three-Day Weekend
Sometimes with breaks, less can feel like more. Memorial Day, the Fourth of July, Columbus Day (whenever that is) can seem more relaxing than a full week’s vacation. Why? It helps that on national holidays we are often getting a free day along with a lot of other people we work with. Less guilt. Less anxiety. But we also tend not to prepare for three days off with the same manic intensity as we do when preparing for a week off.
So before you leave, tie up whatever loose ends you can. But no double knots. Your mantra: it’s not a week’s vacation, it’s a series of two three-day weekends, plus a bonus day.

Stop Flirting With Work
Don't ruin your vacations by taking work with you, trying to get stuff done.
People do this for two reasons: we persuade ourselves that we can’t afford to do otherwise, and we actually believe we can be productive in these spurts on vacation.
In reality, working during a break doesn’t just interfere with your vacation; it can also prevent you from fully filling your creative tank before your return.

Don’t Worry About Re-Entry; Most of It’s Spam
“Who wants to come back from vacation to 1,000 e-mails?”  No one wants to feel so buried that they’d wish they’d stayed home.The solution, however, is not keeping up with e-mail on vacation, not wanting to fall behind.
Stop checking e-mail. Really relax. You may return to hundreds of e-mails, but not only will you survive, so will your vacation.