Posts from the “Books” Category

The Secret Garden

Posted on May 4, 2014

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Murray the Office Dog is a joy, but he also likes to eat things like bricks (pictured above) and rocks and, well, plants. This is why we had to build a fence around our backyard vegetable garden. Our dear Murray just has his own horticultural ideas, and they usually involve pulling plants up by the roots and shaking them for all they’re worth. As you can imagine, this sort of behavior is not conducive to a productive growing season.

Thus the fence…which our clever pup has also figured out how to open…which is why it is now fastened shut with a vise.

Our dear Murray, and all that.

The luxury of this fence (if you can call it that), is that it has given me a way to claim more turf for planting whatever I want. So my daughter and I have been working really hard on filling in the space, when we haven’t been telling Murray to kindly remove his meaty boy paws from the top of the bloody fence. We’ve nicknamed it the Secret Garden, because we have romantic notions of being able to hide in there once we’re done turning it into the lush and productive plot of our dreams.

Here’s a taste of what we’ve been up to…

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This morning’s radish haul.

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 Someday when this little bud grows up, it will be a red bell pepper.

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A pea pod. These normally don’t stick around for long, as my girl eats them straight from the vine.

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I’m pretty excited about these. These little spikes will grow up to be haricots verts someday.

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Blueberries!

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Looking forward to the day when this vine sprouts its first cucumbers.

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Kale. Of course.

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Tomatoes. I would love it if they would hurry up and ripen.

Not pictured: wild garlic, carrots, strawberries, potatoes (for obvious reasons), vidalia onions, leeks, lavender, okra, canteloupe, watermelon, black-eyed peas, butternut squash and various herbs.

I’m really excited that I’ve been able to get my garden back up and running and will be updating here and there with the garden’s progress and how and what I’m cooking with what it yields.  I’ll also be sharing the ups and downs of what it takes to keep this going, through heat and through fierce red ant invasions (we had a massive one two weeks ago) and changing seasons. I hope you enjoy those stories!

In the meantime, if you are looking to start or maintain a vegetable garden of your own, here are two books that should have at the ready:

* Square Foot Gardening by Mel Bartholomew

and

* Carrots Love Tomatoes by Louise Riotte

Do you have any other book recommendations, or gardening resources, etc that you like? Please let me know in comments.

Not-So-Deep, Dark Secrets

Posted on April 23, 2014

I had a long-overdue lunch with my former academic advisor last week. Our conversations tend to be pretty free-flowing, covering everything from Jimmy Buffet lyrics to cheetahs and my maybe not-so-deep, dark secret. My maybe not-so-deep, dark secret is that I want to have my own restaurant someday. My neighbors in Decatur, Ga. knew it. My journalism colleagues have known it at various points in time. One of my graduate school classmates knows it all too well (and we’ve even discussed a Donald Trump-esque plan to develop an entire city block in New Orleans around business ideas like this that we’ve cooked up). My husband also suffers through my occasional fits of resto-reverie. He instantly (I imagine) regretted sending me to Paris for my 40th birthday after I returned to the States, told him I met a restaurant investor during a Paris By Mouth walking tour and felt that it was a sign that I needed to open a restaurant — the one I’ve wanted for as long I’ve been carrying on about it — in the City of Light.

His reply: “Why can’t you just have a food truck…here.”

My reply: “Because I want people to sit. At tables. In Paris, France.”

He sighed.

So, as I was saying, I was talking about this not-so-deep, dark secret with my former academic advisor, who has a long history of suffering through my weird ideas as well. He said I would be good at it, this running-a-restaurant thing.  But being the doom-and-gloom type, he also told me all the challenges I’d face and things that could or would go wrong. All of what he said was legit and came from a place of…let’s just call it…informed hyper-concern. That is precisely why I told him my next plan: The concept, as I envisioned it, would be best tested out in the privacy of my own home. He tried to hide his horror and said “What about health inspectors?” I told him I ran a clean kitchen and that “these things totally work, especially in Havana. There’s a huge underground restaurant scene in Havana.”

He, too, sighed, which must mean I’m on to something.

***

Photo: amazon.com

Photo: amazon.com

When I think about my restaurant, I envision something similar in feel (though not identical, of course) to Jody Williams’ renowned gastrotheque Buvette, which is located in New York and now (ahem) Paris. Williams authored a cookbook of Buvette recipes that came out yesterday and I’ve spent the past 24 hours trying to figure out which simple-but-sophisticated dish to try first. I chose Lentils with Kale and Shallots, mainly because I had lentils on hand (and love them) and plenty of fresh kale growing in my backyard. I substituted onions for shallots though, and it still turned out fine.

To make this, you’ll need:

1/4 cup of extra virgin olive oil

3 diced shallots

5 garlic cloves

1 tsp. red chili flakes (more, if you’re from South Louisiana)

1 bunch of kale, finely chopped

1 cup of lentils (be sure they’re the green French lentils called Lentils du Puy because they are yummy)

coarse salt

4 cups of water

1/2 tsp. nutmeg

Here’s what you do:

1. Heat the oil in a large pot over medium-high heat, add the garlic, shallots (or onions, if you’re me), chili flakes and kale and cook until tender, stirring constantly for about five minutes.

2. Add the lentils, salt and water to the pot, bring to a boil and reduce the heat. Simmer for an hour or two, splashing with water if the liquid dries up too quickly. You want the final product to be soft, but not too brothy. Season with nutmeg and more salt just before serving. It should look something like this:

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Things The French Do Right: Part One

Posted on April 10, 2014

Photo: The Guardian via Sipa Press/Rex Features

Photo: The Guardian via Sipa Press/Rex Features

I’m as guilty as the next person of sending work emails after hours so I can get one thing off of the following day’s to-do list. To wit: The email I sent LSU about the class I’d like to teach in Fall 2014 left my inbox at 9:20 p.m. Monday night. Yes, it probably could have waited until Tuesday morning, but I console myself thinking about how my husband was up far later than I was sending emails that probably could have waited too.

This sets up my latest argument for why our family needs to pack up and move to France.

Yesterday, French employers’ federations and labor unions signed a new, legally binding agreement that requires staffers to turn off their work phones after 6 p.m. The deal affects one million workers in the technology and consultancy sectors, and aims to keep workers from feeling pressured to look at or respond to job-related requests after hours. When I saw this story, I thought “Well, how about that? That’s more proof that the French have some shred of good sense about work-life balance. Vive la France! Let’s move!”

So I took this tale to the mister who said that it sounded really nice (in an exhausted sort of “Oh boy, here we go again. Another argument for moving to France.” way). But he added that he actually didn’t feel the pressure to respond to after-hours emails. He only felt the pressure to send the missives that happen to be the root of the problem. And before I could exclaim, “but we could move to France and reform ourselves (after we bang our heads on the wall sorting through all the requisite residency paperwork),” he actually found a way of tying up all his work-related loose ends by 6 p.m.

Husband: 1, Paige: 0

But the battle rages on…

*****

Photo:DavidLebovitz.com

Photo:DavidLebovitz.com

Blogger, cookbook author and former Chez Panisse pastry chef David Lebovitz has a new book of stories and recipes out called My Paris KitchenWhat I love about the book is that it puts a culinary twist on this centuries-old question the French like to ask themselves: What does it mean to be French? Lebovitz answers this in his own inimitable way, illustrating how global influences from India to North Africa and even his native United States have shaped classic French cuisine. Plus, you get a tantalizing taste of what he might serve with cocktails or for dinner on a given day.

And that’s what makes it so difficult to decide what to cook first. It all looks so good and, better yet, accessible for the average home cook.

Last night I chose to make his chicken with mustard sauce recipe, the dish featured on the cover. It was a tricky choice because my husband and daughter are not big fans of mustard and if I ever want to use it in a dish, I have to sneak it in and refuse to answer them if they ask me what’s in the chicken. When my daughter asked me what I was making last night, I replied “Chicken in Awesome Sauce” because by then I had dipped my spoon into the skillet enough to know that the sauce was, indeed, beyond awesome.

Sometimes I feel like this is my theme song when it comes to tricking those two into eating things that I like:

Anyway, yeah.

Here’s what you need to make this:

1/2 cup and 3 TBS of Dijon mustard

1/4 tsp. of smoked paprika

4 chicken legs and 4 chicken thighs

1 cup diced bacon

1 diced small onion

1 tsp fresh thyme leaves

1 cup of white wine

1 TBS mustard seeds

2-3 TBS heavy cream

chopped fresh parsley to finish

Directions:

1. In a bowl, mix 1/2 cup of the mustard with paprika, pepper and salt. Put the chicken pieces in the mixture and cover them with it, rubbing some of the sauce underneath the skin.

2. Heat a skillet or Dutch oven over medium-high heat and add the bacon, cooking it until brown. Remove the bacon and drain it.

bacon

Mmm…bacon.

3. Leave 1 TBS bacon fat in the pan, then add onion and cook for five minutes until translucent. Stir in thyme, cook for another few minutes and scrape into a bowl big enough to fit the chicken.

4. Put chicken in the pan (adding olive oil, if necessary) and brown it well on both sides on medium-high heat. As Lebovitz advises, good brown color makes for a great tasting sauce.

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Here’s the chicken when it first went into the pan. Please don’t deduct points because I used leg/thigh pieces.

5. When the chicken is well-browned, remove it from the pan and put it in the bowl with the onions. Then add wine to the hot pan and scrape up the fond (a.k.a. really tasty bits that have stuck to the bottom of the pan).

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Scraping up the fond. Loving the smell. Mmm…sauce.

6. Put the chicken, bacon and onions back into the pan, cover and cook on low to medium heat until the chicken is cooked through. This should take about 15 minutes.

7. Then, remove the pan from the stove, stir in the remaining Dijon mustard, mustard seeds and cream. Top with parsley and serve with linguine noodles (you gotta sop up that awesome sauce with something) and haricots verts.finalplatechickenmustardsauce

Et voila!

The husband usually hates mustard, but liked this tremendously. The child was a little less convinced (but she is a work in progress; I tend to take a Karen Le Billon approach to her eating habits, anyway…trying, trying, trying again). Me? I loved this and will absolutely make it again.

And so, the new score:

Husband: 1, Paige: 1

We shall see what the next inning brings…

*****

Lebovitz had a great behind-the-scenes post this week about what went into making his recent book. Aside from all the gorgeous photography and anecdotes about rose wine consumed, I really appreciated the look at the often-agonizing process of seeing a book into print. Few people know that the proposal stage alone can take almost a year in some cases, sometimes requiring total overhauls and reshapings along the way. He writes:

Writing a book is an all-consuming process, at least for me. My Paris Kitchen started out as a non-cookbook proposal that took me nearly eight months to write. People who want to write a book are always astonished when I tell them that it takes that long (at least it takes me that long), to write a proposal. But it’s the most important part of the cookbook process. It’s where you clarify and distill your ideas, and create your vision of the book. And in turn, it allows the publisher to grasp your idea of your book, who you are, and the intended audience…

After I sent the publisher at Ten Speed Press the proposal I had slaved over, he sent me a message: “You should do a book of recipes about how you cook. What is your Paris cooking?”

Grrr, eight months down the drain. But as a writer, sometimes you write and write and write for hours, thinking you came up with something brilliant. Then you go back and reread it the next day, and delete the whole thing. And start all over again.

But the point is, he persevered and has a really gorgeous book to show for it. His account is inspiring to me at a time when I’ve just finished a total overhaul of my own book proposal. So he gave me faith…and great chicken. And sometimes that’s all a girl can ask for.

Merci, Daveed.

 

Monday Reader: 4/7/2014

Posted on April 7, 2014

Photo: The New York Times

Photo: The New York Times

Today marks the first Monday morning in a couple of months that I haven’t been teaching. I had gotten into the ritual of beginning each class with little weird and interesting tidbits about contemporary France, stories about everything from the decline of the noble snail to an experiment with social media among a select group of homeless Frenchmen. I found that these little tidbits got everyone (especially me) loosened up and ready to sit for a deeper dive into a topic like, oh, I don’t know…the French Second Empire. I also realized that by structuring the class this way, I was sort of thinking like a magazine geek — short departments in the front, long reads in the middle, a punchy closing note that set up for the next issue, er, I mean, class.

So I wanted to take a similar approach with my web site, at least for now. My picks won’t necessarily be France-related all the time, but there will be a decent diet of Franco-reads. You’ll also get a taste of the eclectic lifestyle pieces and features that tend to catch my eye. Here’s hoping they give you something fun or interesting to read while you sit with your morning cup of coffee or take a lunch break.

Here we go…

Rwanda: The Art of Remembering and Forgetting (nationalgeographic.com) This is the third story in a series about the Rwandan genocide, which happened 20 years ago today. About 1 million people were murdered by their neighbors over the course of 100 days, an outrage that the international community has struggled to process and respond to even today. Now, “Rwanda bears few obvious scars of its cataclysm. Its rapidly modernizing capital, Kigali, is one of the jewel cities of Africa. A lacework of tree-lined boulevards and greenswards rises and falls over a cradle of verdant hills and valleys. New construction is transforming the city center, with upscale hotels, a grand shopping mall, and a state-of-the-art convention center. The airport bustles with tour operators picking up clients arriving to visit Rwanda’s national parks, which hold the nation’s famous mountain gorillas. Add to that Rwanda’s rising standard of living, steady economic growth, and low incidence of corruption, and you have a country that in many ways is the envy of the continent.” Still, there are the less obvious scars. Rwanda has laid some of the blame for the massacre with France, which, in turn, scaled back its presence at the ceremonies today. And yet there is the French governmental agency which was formed to find perpetrators of the massacre living within France. “Since this group was created, things are moving much faster,” Rwandan activist Dafroza Gauthier told NPR. “They’re moving really quickly. And there’s a judge who is dedicated solely to the cases of the Rwandan genocide. … Prior to this there was no money, there were no resources to focus on this and now there are.”

The Found Art of Thank-You Notes (Nytimes.com) I used to hate writing thank you notes when I was a little kid, but my family stressed the importance of showing gratitude for gifts both large and small. Now I find that I’m trying to fight the ease of dashing off an email or text to show thanks, and instead buying nice stationery so I can stick with this old school — and much more personal — art. The New York Times published a feature recently about thank you notes, saying that “the boring stuff your parents made you do never actually goes out of fashion and that also inadvertently supports recent scientific findings linking gratitude to increased optimism, stress reduction and a better night’s sleep. Few who sit down to write a bread-and-butter note are likely to be aware that by doing so they are not only on trend but also on their way to becoming happier and more sociable people. Apparently, what Emily Post termed good manners (science prefers “gratitude intervention”) has all kinds of unexpected benefits. And as it happens, the handwritten gratitude intervention seems to be experiencing a moment of vogue.” Taking the time to find the special papers, and the right pen and best words shows “gives material evidence that the person really did appreciate something.” Are you a thank you note writer? If so, why do you choose this old school approach? If not, why do you think it’s fuddy-duddy? Do you prefer your thank yous digitally or by snail mail?

Some Thoughts on French Cuisine (DavidLebovitz.com) Lebovitz has a new cookbook that hits bookstores tomorrow. In the meantime, here are his thoughts on this talk about whether French cuisine is losing its je ne sais quoi. His view is neither gloom-and-doom, nor pie-in-the-sky. Rather it’s smart and even-handed, acknowledging globalization’s impact on the present-day attitudes and habits of French chefs and eaters. And yet, he writes “people in France are still making Coq au vin, omelets, crêpes, gratins, mousse au chocolat,tartes Tatin, and eating French cheeses. I think everyone can agree that those are, indeed, examples of French cuisine, with deep roots in the soul of the country. And while many restaurants have dropped the ball on some of those items, and you don’t find them very often on menus nowadays, quite a few people still prepare all those things at home and they’re still popular. There are a number of French restaurants whose food could certainly use rescuing, but no one could argue, after a walk through Paris, that the pastry shops, bakeries, butchers and charcuteries, aren’t doing a pretty good job upholding the standards of la cuisine française. Yes, the single-subject restaurants serving everything from grilled cheese sandwiches to meatballs are un peu trop (a little too much), but they are signaling a new way for a younger generation of cooks to present foods at a lower costs, as it’s cheaper to do one thing and do it well. True, many of these places were started by Americans or Australians, then adopted by the French, but if the result is better “fast” food than fast-food outlets, and better coffee, I’m for them.”

How To Dress Like a French It Girl (elle.com) Merci, Elle Magazine for breaking down French style for the rest of us. The magazine takes 11 icons, breaks down their style, piece by piece (and price by price), ultimately giving you an accessible way to look tres magnifique. Some of my favorite looks: Jean Seberg, Ines de la Fressange, Farida Kelfa and Lou Doillon.

Will Ortiz’s Selfie Be Obama’s Last (boston.com) Where to begin about the Red Sox? After the Orioles (my Orioles) beat them on Opening Day last week, the Bosox emerged true to form and began making mincemeat of the Birds’ pitching staff. In the midst of all this, they took the standard post-championship trip the White House and presented President Obama with a Red Sox jersey. Designated hitter David Ortiz took a selfie with the president, but that caused a stir because Ortiz is on Samsung’s payroll as a “social media insider.” Said White House senior advisor Dan Pfeiffer: “In general, whenever someone tries to use the president’s likeness to promote a product, that’s a problem with the White House Counsel.” Ortiz said the picture had nothing to do with any deals. He was just caught up in the moment and wanted to take a shot while he had the chance.

Paul Stanley dishes on KISS feuds and painful secrets (cbsnews.com) KISS guitarist Paul Stanley has a new memoir out and I think I need to get it for my hair band-loving sister. His band just got into the Rock ‘n’ Roll Hall of Fame, which he feels is more of a slap in the face than an honor. “The Rock N’ Roll Hall of Fame is fluff,” he told CBS. “It’s a farce. It’s like an Addams Family bar mitzvah. I’m gonna go, but let’s not kid ourselves, you know. That’s not the Rock n’ Roll Hall of Fame. The Rock n’ Roll Hall of Fame is walking the streets…We are the bitter pill that they ultimately had to swallow. Because they don’t like us. And the only reason they’re inducting us is because they begin to look foolish at some point for not having us in.” Rock on, man. And read on, y’all.

 

Chocolate Yogurt Snack Cakes

Posted on April 3, 2014

snackcakes

 

I have a good friend who bakes Duff Goldman-style cakes. She does this for fun when she’s not teaching flamenco.

One year this friend made a hula monkey birthday cake for my daughter. I mean, this monkey had it all: a flower fondant lei, bold red lips and a sassy grass skirt. The detail was one thing. The flavor was out of this world. I have never been able to replicate the almond-flavored buttercream she made that day. Nor have I ever been able to bake a cake that moist and gently sweet. Kids fought over this cake in a way that was far beyond “I want the piece with balloons on it.”

So I bow down to anyone who can bake cakes with that level of artistry and flavor.

The one cake I can bake successfully (knock wood) is a yogurt cake. These cakes are a popular snack item in France for two reasons, a. because they’re really easy for kids to make (which means that even I can’t mess it up) and b. because the cakes turn out moist with a hint of sweetness. Everyone from Clotilde to Molly to Dorie has got a memory of or twist on this treat and it’s little wonder. There’s something about them that makes your household smell like comfort and warmth.

Although I like the classic recipe, there’s really nothing like goosing the simple batter with ribbons of melted dark chocolate, I’ve found. That’s what food blogger and cookbook author David Lebovitz did in his memoir The Sweet Life in ParisI used his recipe yesterday to bake an afterschool snack for my little one. It was such a hit that snack became dessert and breakfast too. When I asked my daughter which version of this cake she preferred, she got this dreamy look in her eye and said “I don’t know…they’re both pretty awesome.”

Indeed they are.

Lebovitz’s latest cookbook comes out next week and I’m looking forward to checking it out. I’m also looking forward to Alexander Lobrano‘s latest, Hungry for France, which came out Tuesday.

What cookbooks are you enjoying right now and why? Are there any recipes that bring back good memories for you? If so, what are they and what is the memory?

Tomorrow: I’ll be featuring an interview with Karen Pery, who has been featured in this space before. I’ll be catching up with her and sharing how she uses things like racecars and surfboards to help people tap into their hidden potential. It’s a pretty cool story and she’s a pretty cool lady, so I hope you’ll stop by tomorrow and see what she has to say!

Monuments Men

Posted on February 6, 2014

Pissarro

 

I’ve been working on an item about art restitution that’s tied to the recent release of “The Monuments Men,” the real-life story of international art experts sent to recover and return artworks stolen by the Nazis during World War II. The piece is also tied to the recent sale of Camille Pissarro’s impressionist masterpiece, Boulevard Montmartre, matinee de printemps (pictured above). Impressionist paintings have an enduring allure, but this one sold yesterday for $32.1 million in London in part because of its restitution backstory. It was once owned by Max Silberberg, a Jewish industrialist who was forced by the Nazis to sell his collection of 19th and 20th century art. Silberberg later died in the Holocaust and it took his family decades to find his prized Pissarro.

Governments are among the organizations dedicated to unearthing pilfered pieces such as these. Auction houses such as Sotheby’s also have their own restitution groups dedicated to researching all works consigned to them that were created prior to 1945 and working with a variety of interest groups to broker deals on this art.

Often there are really two victims: the person from whom it was stolen and the institution or person who bought it in good faith,” Sotheby’s specialist Philip Hook told The Wall Street Journal recently.

I’m looking forward to seeing Monuments Men soon. What about you?

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For more on this topic:

*Here’s a feature about why restitution had such cinematic appeal.

*Here’s a story about how Robert Edsel, author of The Monuments Men, turned his obsession into a movie.

*Here’s TIME Magazine’s review of that movie.

*Here’s an item a recent auction involving sales of restituted artwork unearthed by the actual Monuments Men.

*Here’s an interesting read about how a slice of Edward, Prince of Wales and Wallis Simpson’s wedding cake was auctioned off for $29,000.

 

 

On Faith and Writing

Posted on February 4, 2014

A couple of weeks ago I spoke to a third grade class about writing. My talk was about 50 minutes long and as I spoke I realized that I wasn’t really talking about writing, per se, but about following your heart, never giving up and being eager to learn from everyone you meet, both inside and out of the classroom.

I originally told them that I became a writer because I was a bad math student, and, come to think of it, a pretty bad science student and economics student too. But then I noticed I wound up writing stories that involved budgets, or scientific research, or economic trends, and so I had to learn how to ask all the questions I was too timid to ask in third grade and beyond so that I could understand these subjects in a way that would allow me to write well and convincingly about them.

This admission brought me to a story about a very confusing interview that I did with a nanoscientist. No one in the class knew what nanoscience was, and I told them I didn’t either, especially as the interview with this man progressed. So I found the nicest and most professional way of asking this very smart man to explain his work to me the way he might explain it to his five-year-old niece. He did, I finally understood the very cool work he was doing, and I wrote a story about it, and then several other stories about nanoscience, which I was convinced was a very cool thing that people needed to know about.

After having relayed that to the class, I told them that I began to understand that I really became a writer because it gave me the opportunity to learn something new all the time and to share that knowledge and those stories with readers.

Near the end of my talk, I told them about Charles Garnier, architect of the Paris Opera House. I’ve spent some time researching his life and reading about his times, in hopes of writing a book about him. The kids were engaged with the Phantom of the Opera tie-in (Garnier’s opera is the backdrop for Phantom) and had a lot of questions about whether there were ghosts in the opera, for real. I told them there weren’t. But it did take everything I had not to tell them that I’ve been somewhat haunted (for lack of a better word) by Garnier’s rags-to-riches story and interested in the way it provides a different look at a Paris that was undergoing massive physical, political and social change. I told that Garnier was a cool guy who didn’t let his background or insecurities get in the way of building one of Europe’s most beautiful buildings.

And that should serve as an inspiration to them to beat the fourth grade in their reading challenge…or not be shy about any other pursuit that fills their heart.

One of the kids came up to me after the talk and asked what you do if you write something sort of personal and then turn it in and no one likes it, or gets mad, or you realize that you’ve written something totally embarrassing and you wish you’d never turned it in. I sat there knowing that I had a book proposal on Garnier out on submission that was fairly personal to me and that rejections could be trickling in as I was standing there. I told her that people who pour their hearts out realize the risks they’re taking when they write and understand that not everyone will like what they do all the time.

But that’s never any reason to quit.

For all those who may not feel like your work is for them, there will be those who love it. Have faith in your story and yourself and your agent and your work will find its way into the right, loving hands.

The French

Posted on January 17, 2014

Pictured above: A framed franc note from 1944. I got it in the mail yesterday from my mother, who sent it to me as a belated birthday present. Now it’s among the really French-y stuff that surrounds me in my office as I write or work on the very first class I’ll teach in a couple of weeks.

Yes: teaching. I’ll be teaching a class called “The French” for LSU Continuing Education. The class begins February 17 and it will explore French history through the lives of the people who shaped it and were shaped by it. As a profile writer, this is an ideal way for me to approach it because each class will have a theme (i.e. Saints and Saviors) and consist of a series of related profiles about prominent French people from all walks of life.

Getting this class down on paper has been one thing. The ideas have been flowing. Things have been fitting together like perfect little puzzle pieces. It’s all making sense and (most importantly) feeling like it’s going to be a lot of fun.

Delivering the class to a crowd may be something else. Last week, I wrote about my need to work on my public speaking skills. I did that, knowing that I would be speaking this morning to a room full of potential students, and, after that, presumably a class full of people I’d convince to listen to me speak for six more weeks. I’ve been getting a little whipped up about this and when I got my first class list earlier this week, I have to say I was a little nervous to see those first names there.

I got some good redirection from people who suggested I view this not as public speaking, but as talking about something I like and being myself when I do it.

So that’s what I did this morning. I behaved like myself, which is a very dangerous thing, indeed. Why? Because after explaining what the class was be about, I told a packed house that there would be no better way to spend Monday mornings than with a weird magazine writer lady who talks about French people behind their backs. A friend of mine quipped: “With lines like that, you could go into marketing.”

By next week, I should have an updated class list that indicates just how effective this more Paige-like approach was. In the meantime, the morning was good fun and for once I felt at ease speaking in front of a large group. Perhaps there’s hope for me yet. We shall see. All I know is that I met some wonderful people this morning and can’t wait to captivate them with stories about a country and people who have so thoroughly captivated me!

New Year, New Goal

Posted on January 10, 2014

A dose of sweetness at Pierre Herme.

A dose of sweetness at Pierre Herme.

This time last year I was returning from a research trip in Paris. I spent two weeks there by myself, both sifting through archival material about an architect who captured my imagination and indulging in goodies like the ones pictured above. In my waning moments in the City of Light, I told myself that if I did one thing in 2013, it would be to turn this research interest of mine into a book proposal that would capture a literary agent’s imagination too. By September 11 of last year, I did just that and I am beyond grateful to be represented by Jane Dystel of Dystel and Goderich Literary Management. I spent the latter part of last year refining my book proposal to her and her fabulous business partner Miriam Goderich’s standards. Now that I’ve completed that milestone, I have a new goal: If I do one thing in 2014, it’s to become a published author.

Yes, I did say “goal” and not “resolution.”  Jane wrote about resolution-setting this week on DGLM’s blog, and like her I tend to set goals, rather than resolutions that seem made to be broken. It’s because I prefer to work toward something in my own little imperfect way, rather than resolve to do something, fall short of my resolve and then feel like I’ve bungled everything in my efforts to get from point A to point B.

All the same, it’s the beginning of the year, and beginnings are a good time to reflect on what you’ve done before and tweak where necessary. This article that Jane shared has a great list of things worth working towards, for better or for worse. Better sleep and less smartphone are my favorites on this list, along with supporting local businesses and donating to charity (my pick: The National Multiple Sclerosis Society because my sister was diagnosed with this a year ago).

I’d like to add the following to my own personal list:

1. Reacquainting myself with my yoga practice. My mat spent more time in the closet than under my feet at the end of 2013 and I need to change that for my own sake. Shame on me.

2. Improving my public speaking skills. I probably won’t be the first (or last) writer to say that I get a little nervous speaking in front of people. But I’m steadily working toward changing that. Last fall I spoke to an elementary school class about writing, and this spring I’ll teach my first class at LSU. Other speaking engagements are on the horizon and it is my hope that after each one I’ll get better and more confident in front of crowds.

3. Cultivating patience. I have a history of not waiting well, but I’m working on that. Although I made some strides in 2013, we can always stand to improve ourselves, non?

4. Sharing more here about writing, publishing, entrepreneurship and the latest and greatest reads. Plus, keeping up the eclectic and random stuff. Blogs and social media always seem to be a work in progress, something that shifts shape depending on a writer’s interests. This year, I’d like to open things up to readers who have questions about writing or publishing, share interviews with interesting folks and bring activity from my Goodreads feed into longer, more thought-out posts. If there’s something you’d like to see covered here, please don’t hesitate to drop me a line via my contact page, or shoot me a tweet on Twitter. You can follow me @paigebowers.

What goals have you set for 2014? Please share them in comments and let me know how you’re doing with those goals. And, if you’re not setting goals or resolutions, let me know why you don’t.

Here’s to a fruitful 2014!

 

 

 

Yogalosophy

Posted on November 13, 2013

Photo: Seal Press

Photo: Seal Press

My yoga practice has fallen apart over the past couple of months, in part because of various work projects that have kept me busy, but also because of a back injury that has been flaring up off and on during this time. With the holidays right around the corner, there is no time like now to get back on the mat (once I can move painlessly), because the breathing, twists, turns and stretches have a way of helping anyone (not just me) stay calm and focused when things get hectic.

ModernWomanThat’s my Yogalosophy, but in the recent issue of USA Today’s Modern Woman, I talked to celebrity yoga and fitness expert Mandy Ingber about hers. Ingber, a former actress, believes we already have the perfect body. It just may be hiding behind layers of fat, or (in my case) compressed spinal discs. What you have to do is love the body you have in order to get the body you want.

Ingber speaks from experience. After being “all over the map” with her own body, she overcame her own eating disorders and body image issues through the self-love she preaches. “I started making better choices as a result of loving myself,” she told me in an interview. “I used to think that if I did something wrong (like gain weight) that I ruined everything. Now I don’t have that black-and-white thinking about myself anymore.”

Now she’s known as the yoga and fitness guru behind some of Hollywood’s hottest bodies, among them, the actresses Jennifer Aniston and Helen Hunt. Her latest book, Yogalosophy: 28 Days to the Ultimate Mind-Body Makeover provides readers with an easy-to-use wellness overhaul that includes traditional yoga poses, toning and cardio exercises, recipes, music playlists, journal exercises and other action items that support physical and mental wellness throughout the day.

“This is really a ‘Start where you are, take what you like and leave the rest’ type of book,” she says. And it’s one I’ll have to reacquaint myself with very soon.

If you practice yoga, what is your favorite type of class to take and why? Or, if you’ve read Ingber’s book, what did you think of it and what sort of results did you get from following her program? And finally, what sort of fitness or wellness ideas do you have for making it through the holidays? What is your holiday-related health or wellness downfall? Please leave your insights in the comments section below.