5 Cooking-at-Home Shortcuts

Heya, I know a lot of you are super stressed right now. (I don’t think that’s going away anytime soon, either.) Since I’ve been spending all my time at home, I’ve been reacquainting myself with what I have on hand and how best to use those items. For example, have a bunch of candles with a tiny bit of wax? Pick up a candle warmer for under $10 and get more mileage out of them.

If you’re cooking at home more often, too, I’m sure you’re also discovering a few awesome ways to cut down on how much time you’re cooking. Here’s a few shortcuts I learned that helps me get back to writing:

1) For cold-brewed tea, I calculate two cups of filtered water per tea bag and let that steep in the fridge for 12 hours.

2) For cold-brewed coffee, I calculate one scoop of coarsely ground coffee beans per two cups of filtered water. The longer you steep the higher the caffeine content. The recommended time is a minimum of 18 hours, but your mileage will vary.

3) Got a bread recipe that calls for buttermilk? One teaspoon vinegar plus any milk–including nut milk–works as a substitute. Just let it curdle for a few minutes and its ready to go!

4) If you’re bored with your diet, check out the recipes on your dry goods. We’ve been experimenting with almond flour, and found a ton of recipes on the bag to try!

5) Out of yeast? Make beer bread instead. We picked up a six-pack of beer just for this purpose! Here’s a good beer bread recipe from King Arthur Flour. (Highly recommend that flour! Woo!)

I’m also upcycling and concentrating on making better use out of my closet. I’ll pop in next time with some highlights! ‘Til then.



My First Quarter 2020 Update

Captain WhinypantsA few months ago, I had planned on sharing a quarterly update with you to highlight news on the proverbial home front. I had no idea I’d be writing this update from quarantine in my office next to a snoring cat. (Not Captain Whinypants. The other one. The orange ball of floofy one.) I don’t want to dwell on COVID-19 related issues other than to say “Yes, I’m affected.” Luckily, no one is sick in my household. Cross all appendages hoping that holds true! At the same time, I know several people who either do have it or lost someone recently. It’s a little surreal summing up the past three months, because I don’t know how the next three will fare. All I can focus on is one day at a time.

With that in mind, here’s a rundown of my year so far. Late December, I started by taking inventory of my 2019 list of publications. I used that exercise to revisit my goals, take stock of what I had, and put together a wish list. I wound up trunking everything I had so I could start fresh. (Zsa Zsa Gabor: “I just hated everything.”) In January, I was also prepping for the Hunter: Vigil Second Edition Kickstarter and had attended Midwinter Gaming Convention for a business meeting. I knew February was going to be busy, because I’d managed and promoted Kickstarters in the past, but I had no idea how swamped I’d be. Most of that month was swallowed up with a lot of news, Kickstarter cheerleading, and new releases. I was thrilled to release Underwater Memories accompanied by a themed soundtrack through Sub-Q Magazine, attend RadCon in Pasco, Washington as a guest of honor, and prepare for the SXSW release of my contributions for Wonder Stories, an app to help kids read.

Following this, I flew to Florida for a Make Art Not War writer’s retreat hosted by Alethea Kontis at the beginning of March. The first week and a half was lovely; we used the time to reset and reconnect. In that first week, I had so much news showing signs of growth and some wonderful experiences–including a SpaceX launch and a writer’s meet-up. Then, COVID-19 hit just a few days later. The launch at SXSW for Wonder Stories was cancelled along with several conferences I’d planned to attend. A spooky anthology I contributed to, called Haunting Shadows, also debuted. On top of this, I fell seriously ill. (Yes, we did check into testing but none was available.) We’re not sure if I had COVID-19 or adenovirus, but we took precautions in any case. During my recovery, I taught an Intro to Game Writing class through the Rambo Academy for Wayward Writers. I also mentioned I’m running for SFWA Director-At-Large as a write-in candidate. My class was lovely and everyone was enthusiastic and talented! (I still feel awful about my voice going in and out, but we made it work!) I didn’t write much, other than morning pages that last stretch of time. I wanted to be well enough to fly home at the beginning of April; there was a solid week or so I don’t remember.

I am now kicking off the second quarter in quarantine at home. Our state’s quarantine is through Friday, April 26th; the national recommendation is April 30th. However, my office quarantine is scheduled until Saturday, April 18th to ensure I’m not presenting any symptoms, especially after flying out of Orlando. I’m also dealing with a few other behind-the-scenes related issues, too, that have popped up because of this crisis. Additionally, I decided to pen a 30-day journal in quarantine for our local historical society. I feel this kind of documentation really matters–especially right now. I’m writing these entries in lieu of morning pages, but also to pay attention to how I’m feeling. I have a few deadlines this month and a lot of spec opportunities to follow up on, both of which should keep me busy.

I wish I could end this quarterly update with a comment about where my career will be by the end of June–but it’s impossible to predict anything. Change and uncertainty are the new “normal”. I jokingly called this era “The Chaos Timeline” before COVID-19 hit. Unfortunately, that description is very apropos of 2020 thus far. I’m still writing, but I’m also proceeding with extra caution–especially since many people I know and love are immunocompromised. To what end? Only time will tell.

Wishing you and yours health, stability, and a lot of luck in this tumultuous time.



Writing in the Chaos Timeline

Morning Pages at the Magical HouseI had a list of personal writing, dietary, and fitness goals I wanted to accomplish when I left for Florida on March 1st. The original plan was to celebrate my birthday here (my friends were going to surprise me with a trip to Disney World), then go to a conference, then home. My next six months were already set—I knew what I’d be working on, what gigs I’d need to look for, and which personal projects I wanted to finish. I had already decided my summer would be taken up with household stuff I’d long put off, because I needed room for growth. Back in January, I had opened myself up to change on a lot of fronts for many different reasons. I just didn’t know COVID-19 would escalate to global and deadly proportions.

Everyone I know is affected by COVID-19 in some fashion. Gigs evaporating, contracts uncertain, convention-centric vendors going out of business, the inspiration to make art evaporating because what’s the point when a catastrophe is going on. I’ve also been affected by COVID-19. Wonder Stories was supposed to debut at SXSW; I’ve also experienced a few lifestyle changes due to my friends and family who are immunocompromised.

I’m not home yet. I travel back this week from Florida where, to be perfectly blunt, a whole lot of people are not taking this seriously despite the panic buying that’s happening right now. I hope/pray/etc. that my trip will be uneventful. I had planned to return earlier, but unfortunately I came down with something that took me out for a week and a half. I wanted to be well (which I am now, thankfully) because I didn’t want to travel being immunocompromised or putting others at risk. Once I do get home, I’m on strict quarantine for two weeks and then for the rest of April.

Despite all the chaos, my “plans” evaporating, and lost gigs, I’m still writing. The words are trickling slowly. My first drafts, which I normally write in my head, are shitty. I don’t feel guilty about it. I put pen to paper, write morning pages, and scribble a few poems. But I am writing, organizing my concepts, and identifying where I want to grow.

Pre-outbreak, I had a plan. Now? It’s far less determinate. Rapid change is simply guaranteed and, unfortunately, that means the only way I can keep writing is to accept the unknown, make the best use out of the time I have now, and remember to have fun. Because without that? It’s going to be a long quarantine and an even longer summer.

I hope you’re doing well. I know this isn’t a fun situation, by any means, for anyone. If you want to connect I’ll be checking into Twitter periodically and am posting pictures on Instagram @booksofm. Other than that? I’ll be blogging again. I miss LiveJournal, and I suppose the only way to tap into that nostalgia is to simply journal.

‘Til next time!

5 Coping Mechanisms to Help you Deal

Ibis Eating Sweet Lemons

Ibis Eating Sweet Lemons

Most people I know are living in a state of uncertainty right now caused by the coronavirus and a downturn in economic indicators. I honestly don’t know how I feel about all of this, because yesterday I felt all the emotions—anger, fear, anxiety-until I accepted that this is the new “normal”.

I recently wrote a nonfiction essay reviewing all that’d happened within the past five years. I reminded myself that the chaos we’ve all been experiencing in gigantic and tiny ways is nowhere near what we’ve dealt with before—at least in my lifetime. We’ve acclimated to every abrupt change, every dogwhistle to attack the Other, and every shitty leader who doesn’t know how to bring people together. The coronavirus is an escalation and many of us worry what’ll happen next. Except, you can’t tell people not to be anxious. Ever try that? They only become more so.

With that in mind, I’d like to share five coping mechanisms that have worked for me in the past.

1. Mental Health Check-Ins

It’s hard to “see” progress you’re making, because unlike physical health there’s no bandage for depression. A mental health check-in is a way of mitigating that, because you “check in” on a semi-regular basis. There’s a lot of different ways to do this. You could use mood journalling and bullet journal graphs so you watch your progress over time. You could decide that you need therapy right now, and go the professional check-in route. Or, you could touch base with friends/lovers/family on a semi-regular basis to share how you’re faring. I’ve used a combination of tactics over the years, and I’ve often found that knowing I am not alone (and not the ONLY person who’s feeling what I’m feeling) is what works for me. Sometimes, that means I check up on people I haven’t heard from in a while, too.

2. Reduce Noise

I’ve mentioned this before, but as a former musician everything translates into a song for me. Every word as a tone, every Tweet is a tiny refrain that carries emotional weight. My head quickly gets “noisy” if I fall into a rabbit hole where I’m constantly watching for updates and I can’t create. There’s too much noise and not enough silence.

I’ve had a love-hate relationship with social media, because I’m never quite sure if I can continue on platforms where people’s mental health and safety is not taken personally. Yes, Twitter (less Facebook these days) is a frenzy of breaking news and unverified facts, but there’s so much misinformation mixed in with personal connections it’s often hard to know if I’m stepping into a minefield or not.

I know now I need to mitigate my usage for my mental health. Being online has its benefits and drawbacks because the websites and platforms we use are tools. Multiple studies have shown these tools have an affect on mental health, and as part of a plan to cope with the Chaos Timeline? It’s really a good idea to figure out your relationship to that.

The other thing I’d mention is that white noise and noise-cancelling headphones have been invaluable to reduce external influences. RainyMood.com and FocusMusic.fm are two, great free sites you can use.

Lastly, the opposite is also true. Sometimes, if you’re feeling stuck exploring YouTube! to find new songs or instrumentals is pretty awesome.

3. Drink More Water than Caffeine

Pretty self-explanatory, right? When you’re stressed or anxious hydration can be the first thing to go, which only exacerbates the potential for terrible mood swings or depression. If you’re like me and you’re also addicted to caffeine (I am never giving this up don’t bother trying), this can also mean you’ll dehydrate more quickly.

With body/diet your mileage will vary, of course, it is easy to forget the basics when you’re stressed out. As I’m sure your doctor/nutritionist will remind you, food does contribute to your overall health and well-being. My situation is going to be ten times different because of my physiology, so I don’t have advice to give here. I do favor citrus—especially lemon—when I’m feeling down, though, and I always feel better when I limit sugar.

4. Reframe Self-Care

Sometimes, chaos and unpredictability exacerbate my feelings of anxiety because I enjoy having a certain amount of stability to manage my expectations and workload. Ah-hah! Who doesn’t?

When life’s great, self-care is something I do once in a while. When I’m super stressed out, I add self-care to my To Do list. If I’m on “lock down” and recognize I’m being overwhelmed by the random and frenetic—I add a touch of whimsy so I don’t feel guilty about engaging in self-care. Sometimes I’ll assign numbers to the list of things I could do and then roll dice. Other times, I’ll write ten things on different notecards, shuffle, and then pick.

If self-care is stressful, here’s an easy art project you can do when you’re not at your limit. Grab a shoebox, use old wrapping paper to decorate the bottom and the top, and label it “My Happy Place”. Then, find some sticky notes or post cards and write down things you can do that you associate with feeling happy. These might include: watching a movie, re-reading a book, listening to your favorite band, baking bread, doing your nails, exercising, etc. After you’ve written these activities down, stick them inside the box. The next time you’re feeling like crap, go to your Happy Place, and pick a random card.

I know there’s a certain amount of guilt associated with self-care, and I can empathize with that. Self-care is part of stress management for me. I hope if you find yourself in a similar position you’ll get the help you need. It’s hard to earnestly focus on your health if you don’t think it’s important.

5. Learn a New Skill

To close this short list of coping mechanisms, I wanted to mention how beneficial learning something new can be for your mental health. When you’re in that terrible headspace, it can be challenging to find your way out of the shadows. Learning a new skill benefits me in a couple of ways. First, it helps me refocus my mental energy on something that’s not related to the source of my anxiety. Second, learning often includes progress-tracking, so I can see how I’m doing over time. That slows me down and helps me focus on the moment. And lastly, the act of learning is also a really good way for me to remember life goes on—even in darkness.

If this doesn’t work for you due to financial or time constraints, the other thing I do is read well-researched non-fiction. The voice is usually very calming and filed under sleep aids for me.

I hope you’re faring better than okay. It’s been an interesting past couple of years, and I’m sure there’s more changes to come. Hopefully, there’ll be good news on the horizon.

On Dragons in Spaaaaaaaaaace

Heya!

I’m on sabbatical from social media right now, because I’m at a writer’s retreat at Little High Hallack in sunny Florida with Alethea Kontis. One of the things I was hoping to do while I’m here is attend a rocket launch. Last night, I was thrilled to watch the SpaceX Dragon rocket lift off in all its glory and also see a return as well. It was chilly but the skies were clear. We saw a colorful nebula when the booster detached; up, up, up it went.

I don’t have the right equipment to take dead of night photos, so here’s a snapshot from NASA along with a description for you. If you click on the picture you’ll see the full-sized version.

SpaceX Dragon

A SpaceX Dragon cargo spacecraft launches on a Falcon 9 rocket from Space Launch Complex 40 at Cape Canaveral Air Force Station in Florida at 11:50 p.m. EST March 6, 2020. Dragon will deliver more than 4,300 pounds of NASA cargo and science investigations to the International Space Station, including a new science facility scheduled to be installed to the outside of the station during a spacewalk this spring. Credit: NASA

I couldn’t help but marvel at the scientific discoveries that led to that moment, and wonder what will happen in the next fifty years given Jeff Bezos is also working on rockets at Blue Origin. Who knows? I’m not sure Mars will be colonized in my lifetime, but at the rate we’re going it is possible there’ll be more groundbreaking discoveries and events that will light the way. Exciting!



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