Sunday, December 31, 2017

Writer Resolutions

I've never made a resolution I haven't kept... I almost wrote that with a straight face. Why, I nearly spit out my tea. Let's be honest, shall we? In the past I've fallen short in so many ways whether its resolving to lose weight, pay off debt, or become more organized I always seem to fall short of the initial image in my head. Sometimes by a smidgen, sometimes by a mile. 

 Truth is, resolutions are challenging but that doesn't stop us. Year after year we resolve and fail. Resolve and fail. I love resolutions myself.  For one day we are allowed, nay encouraged, to dream big. We are shown a blank calendar, 365 days of promise, and are told to make something of it. That something can be anything, anything our little hearts can dream up. The prospect is both thrilling and disheartening at the same time. 

It's times like these that I think of Anne Shirley's famous quote, "Tomorrow is a new day with no mistakes in it." How encouraging, yes? Each day, each year we can make our lives what we want of them. But any true Anne fan will remember the reply Anne received from her school teacher, Muriel Stacy who says, "Ah, no mistakes in it yet."  

Was Miss Stacy merely attempting to burst Anne's bubble, to bring her down and make her more sensible and realistic (ie: boring)? In my opinion, no, she wasn't. It's easy to dream big. We can't help ourselves, but often times in dreaming so large we create an almost impossible feat. We set ourselves up for failure by not recognizing the realities of the task and the limitations of our own abilities. Resolutions can be achieved but only if we approach them like we do any other goals in our lives. We need a plan of actionable steps. 

Action plans are the blueprint for success. We start with a mission statement, a goal that is measurable and by measurable I mean, is it something with a tangible finish line. Resolving to lose weight is far too vague, whereas resolving to lose 20 pounds is far more measurable. When thinking of your resolutions think of how you will know you have reached success? What will be your signal to yourself that you accomplished what you set out to do? My mission statement for 2018 is a big one, bigger than anything I have ever done before. 

I am going to finish writing 3 books before December 31, 2018. 

Holy crap, that's huge. I can feel my heart bouncing even as I wrote that, but let's step back a notch. Is this a goal I can reasonably achieve? Well, given that each of my first drafts run approximately 60,000 words, to reach my goal I will need to have written over 180,000 words. If I divide 180,000 by 365 days I get 493 words. That tells me I will need to write a minimum 493 words a day. That's not too bad. Even on my worst days of writing I average 1000 words a day, sometimes I can achieve as many as 3,000 words a day. Given that I am already 18,000 words into the first project (Thanks NaNoWriMo!), I think it's fair to say my goal is achievable. 

The next step when planning out your resolution is to break it down further into smaller chunks. How do you eat an elephant? (Forget the why, OK? Assume you have no choice.) The answer is simple, one bite at a time. I want to take that 180,000 words and break it down by project. I want a measurable goal for each book. A finish line. An end date. A champagne and chocolate kind of day.

For my resolution, I have set one deadline for end of February 2018. The next is set for June 2018 and the last is set for sometime in November. This gives me a nice 4 week buffer in case of any mishaps. Yay! 

So now, instead of trying to keep on track for an entire year, all I need to do is make sure I am on track for each project. Three to four months is a far more immediate time frame than 12. But I never stop there. Each week on my planner I have written down goals. Sometimes it's words written, other times is revision progression but the end game is always the same. I have an action plan to follow. I have measurable goals to gauge my progress. I have the means to get me where I want to go. 

That's not to say I won't have hiccups. I will. I've made allowances for that so hopefully I can make up time if I fall behind and not get too far off track. Once I took my 2018 goal and broke it down into project goals and then monthly or weekly goals my resolution became far more achievable. The real resolution becomes following the blueprint I've laid out. 

In the end, this means a lot of new material coming from me over the next year, new stories, new challenges, new murders. I'll try to keep you up to date but, as you can see, I'm already planning on being very, very busy. 

Happy New Year, Dear Readers! All the best for a happy, healthy, prosperous 2018! 

Monday, December 18, 2017

RECIPE: Gingerbread Not Gingerbread

Let's face it, Christmas is 70% food. We plan food, we buy food, we gift food, we consume food. Christmas Cookies have practically been made into it's very own food group.

Every November I sit down with my recipe book and write out my family's favourites: fudge, whipped shortbread, mini cheesecakes, magic bars, chocolate truffles etc. I write down all the ingredients needed using tally marks to let me know quantities. Then I hit the grocery store in one single shop. I do this so I can just make something whenever I have a hankering and I never need to worry about whether I have everything I need. Sometimes if I am really on the ball, I make everything over a week or two in November/early December and put it all in the freezer. Whenever a child or husband of mine comes home and tells me about a last minute potluck or last minute teacher gift I break out the cookies. I may not be domestically inclined the rest of the year, but damn when it comes to Christmas cookies I am freakin' Martha Stewart.

Today, I am sharing my secret Gingerbread Not Gingerbread Christmas Cookie recipe.

What is Gingerbread Not Gingerbread, you ask? Well, as traditional as I am, the one tradition I don't like at Christmas is gingerbread. I've tried countless recipes and the verdict is always the same. Bleech. However, I do like the look of gingerbread on my cookie plates and baskets. So I came up with a cut out cookie recipe that looks like gingerbread and can be iced like gingerbread but is actually CHOCOLATE. Perfect.

So here it is...


I cup of Butter, softened
1 cup of sugar
1/2 cup of packed brown sugar
1 egg
1 tsp vanilla
2  & 3/4 cups of flour
1/2 cup of cocoa
1 tsp baking soda

icing and sprinkles to decorate

This is how you put it together.

In a large bowl or stand mixer, cream butter and sugars until light and fluffy. Beat in egg and vanilla.

In a separate bowl combine flour, cocoa and baking powder. Slowly add to large/mixer bowl and stir.

It looks like this.  

You can cover and refrigerate or you can use right away.

Roll out on a floured surface and cut into desired shapes. Bake at 375 degrees F for 7-9 minutes.

That's it. It makes a ton of little ones or a number of larger ones. Heehee. No exact numbers as it all depends how thinly you roll them out. This recipe can also be used at Halloween  to make skeleton cookies!! So cool.

Monday, December 11, 2017

The Most Underrated Christmas Movie of All Time

Two weeks until the big day. If you haven't sent out your Christmas cards, bought most of the gifts on your list and watched at least one Christmas movie by the time you read this, you might want to get your butt in gear. For something that happens every year, at the same time on the calendar too, Christmas has a way of sneaking up on people. I've been shoulder deep in writing and revisions for the better part of autumn. Most of our winter preparations here on the farm have been two (sometimes even three) weeks behind but we finally got there. Our Christmas tree and other decorations are up and I even got a head start on my annual holiday baking. (Winner!)

With winter prep taken care of, and a head start on Christmas, I think it's safe to say we've entered the second phase of Christmas. The second phase is the phase that comes after writing out your naughty & nice list, casually hitting the craft shows and the mall, and non-noncommittally eyeing decorations in the store. It's the phase that comes before the packed grocery stores on Christmas Eve-Eve, office potlucks, last minute stocking stuffer purchases. The second phase is essentially the calm before the storm phase, the 'this is so lovely' phase. Twinkling lights. Gently falling snow. The odd Christmas song on the radio. In my opinion this is the phase where panic doesn't live and the Christmas Season is at it's PEAK. Forget Christmas Day. I mean sure, that's fun too, but my favourite time of the entire season is right now.

It's the best time sit down with the family to enjoy a Christmas movie or two. I bet you've seen a ton of blog posts/articles listing the top 10 Christmas movies of all time. There's that repetitive list spanning decades of legendary Christmas classics... White Christmas (meh), It's a Wonderful Life (a fave of mine, for sure), Home Alone (definitely fun) and Elf (candy, candy canes, candy corn & maple syrup). But I'm going to remind you (or perhaps introduce you) to one you may never have thought of as a Christmas movie. In fact, many people I know challenge my assertion that it even qualifies as a Christmas movie.

No, I'm not talking about Die Hard. I'm talking about WHILE YOU WERE SLEEPING with Sandra Bullock and Bill Pullman. If you haven't heard of it here's a link to the trailer:

I think the main mix up regarding WHILE YOU WERE SLEEPING 's status as an official Christmas movie is based on it's marketing. I mean, look at the promo cover, no where is there any Christmas decoration or tree. It looks like any old, ho-hum romantic comedy but if you ask me, it's much more than that.

Since her father's death Lucy has spent her Christmases alone. It's such a sad state of affairs for someone so funny and bright. As a character, Lucy is such a treat (in fact, the child in my fifth book, Prayers for the Dying was named after this Lucy, not Lucy Maud Montgomery, another heroine of mine who preferred the name Maud). From the get go, we know Peter is not her type. Sure he's handsome, and suave but he's not for her. Jack, a down to earth guy next door, is way more Lucy's type and he proves it as the story progresses. We begin rooting for them early on.

But it's not just Jack we love, it's Peter and Jack's family, the Callahan's. Who doesn't wish they had a loving, dotting mother and a cheeky and welcoming grandmother? The family (and neighbour) are just the sweetest which only further emphasizes Peter's short comings because he's never appreciated them. The saddest part isn't that the Callahan's have accepted Lucy into their lives based on little more than a few words said under her breath, it's that they all deserve to be a family together. They deserve Lucy just as much as Lucy deserves them. But they are expecting her to marry Peter when she really should be marrying Jack.

The story of Lucy and Jack's relationship is the main thing, and Christmas appears to be just a backdrop. How exactly does that differ from other romantic comedies like THE HOLIDAY? These are movies about people at a pivotal point in their lives who are alone, people who don't deserve to be alone at a time in the year when no one should be alone.  In WHILE YOU WERE SLEEPING Christmas simply magnifies Lucy's loneliness. It makes us root for her success. We want her to find love, be happy and finally put a stamp in her passport, damn it!

WHILE YOU WERE SLEEPING, in my opinion, is the quintessential Christmas love story about loneliness, family and enduring hope. I watch it every year. I cry when Lucy finally confesses the mix up.  I smile when it all turns out in the end. Honestly,  it's the perfect Christmas movie (and I mean this because I didn't write it though I often wish I had). It should be played regularly on television within the standard rotation right up there alongside Elf, Home Alone and all the others. It should be part of the Holiday Movie displays in department stores. And it should be a regular part of your holiday tradition too.