Posts from the “Parenting” Category

Friday Interview: Peter Shankman, Adventurist and Entrepreneur

Posted on May 2, 2014




Typical Peter Shankman tweet: “For the love of all that is good…Stop telling people to ‘like’ you. Do REAL THINGS that make them LIKE YOU.” Shankman has made a name for himself for doing real (and sometimes totally wacky) things and inspiring people all over the globe to look at their brands and businesses in radically new ways. He’s started companies, written books and basically inspired people to be nicer, better and braver in their pursuits. I caught up with him briefly by phone this week, while he was waiting to hop a flight to Atlanta for one of his typically busy weeks. Here some excerpts from our conversation:

You’ve built an interesting career for yourself with four simple words: How can I help? Case in point: Your start-up Help a Reporter Out (HARO), which connected reporters like me with sources from all walks of life. Why is it difficult for brands and businesses to see the power of just helping someone to the best of their ability? And how are you helping them reconnect with the lost art of customer service with your new consultancy Shankman/Honig?

I think the key here is that some companies don’t realize that customers will give them more money if they don’t feel like they’re being sold to and if they feel helped. When people go out of their way to do little things for someone else, that’s huge…You have to think of the little things you can do to be decent. They’re so simple and the simple act of a smile can do a lot. I mean, think about how you’d like to be treated, or how you’d like your mother to be treated.

I have four rules for success with customers. They are:

1. Be transparent. If you screw up, own it and move on.

2. Be relevant. Give your customers what they want, how they want it and they will become invested.

3. Be brief. We don’t have tons of time in this world.

4. Stay connected. When you’re connected with customers, you’re front of mind, so they’ll go straight to you.

You started your first business poking fun at the movie “Titanic.” Your “It Sank. Get Over It” t-shirts made enough money to start your first company.  You’ve masterminded or advised several other companies since then. How are you using that experience to help other entrepreneurs grow their businesses in your ShankMinds series? What sort of wisdom or guidance do entrepreneurs need most right now?

Entrepreneurs need to understand that the end customer needs to be the result.  When you do all of these great things, like focusing on what the customer wants and what are they looking for and how you can make their life better, then everything falls into place.

You know, people came to this country looking for a better life and they wanted to have the freedom to build what they wanted in the way they wanted. When customers come to your store looking for something that can better their lives, giving it to them guarantees that they’ll stay.

With Shankminds, CEOs, entrepreneurs and small business owners spend a day looking at new ways they can take their businesses to the next level. They network with other people like them, who face the same challenges they face and who can help them come up with new ways to communicate, chat and do business. Because the thing is they can often be too busy to see what’s coming up ahead. Talking to other people can help you do that.

You’re a big skydiver, marathon runner and jack of all daredevil trades. How have these pursuits made you a better businessman? And why is it so important for entrepreneurs to eat their fears when they’re following their passion?

I believe that in a given day, I’m three bad mistakes in a row away from being a junkie in the streets. Doing things like starting a business give me the focus to do the right things. When we get afraid to do things we look toward things to satisfy us and those things aren’t always good. So it’s good to eat your fear, with things like starting a business or skydiving, for example.

You’re working on your fourth book now. Can you tell me a little bit about what it’s about?

It’s called Zombie Loyalists and it’s about having such amazing customer service that you’re able to turn your customers into zombies that will bring more customers to your store again and again and again. It’ll come out in Spring of 2015 with Palgrave Macmillan.

Now that you’re a new parent, how do you balance your business concerns with family life? What has been the most exciting or surprising thing for you about becoming a dad?

It’s family first, really. I still travel as much as I used to do, but I make sure that I do what I can to get home sooner. I’m more focused on how I can be home and present for my family.

One of the most surprising things about being a parent is watching how this kid reacts to me. I remember screaming at someone on the phone one day and to her I was just some loud guy with a red face. She thought it was funny. So it was a good reminder for me that there are some things that you just have to let go.

What else do you have on tap for 2014 and beyond?

It’s really all about having fun. I’m having fun right now.



Friday Interview: Julie Galle Baggenstoss, Flamenco Performer and Educator

Posted on April 11, 2014

Photo: Julie Galle Baggenstoss

Photo: Julie Galle Baggenstoss


Julie Galle Baggenstoss worked as a journalist before she took the plunge and followed her passion. Now she’s bringing flamenco to a wide variety of audiences in the United States. She has performed and choreographed Flamenco with the Atlanta Opera, Georgia State University’s School of Music, The Latin American Association, Coves Darden P.R.E., and at universities and museums from the Southeast to the Midwest. She also teaches flamenco for Emory University’s dance program and for organizations such as the American Association of Teachers of Spanish and Portuguese, the Foreign Language Association of Georgia, and Georgia Public Libraries. She spoke with me recently about her work, flamenco’s rich history and about following your passion. Here are excerpts from that conversation:

How do you explain flamenco – real flamenco – to a general audience?

I tell people that Flamenco is an improvised art form based on poetry that was most likely first composed extemporaneously during a gathering of family and friends during late-night hours.  That usually stops people in their tracks and gives them pause, because they normally envision a wild-haired woman in a low-cut, polka-dotted dress doing this animal-like dance with castanets.  The setting straight goes on from there with a quick history lesson about how immigrating Gypsies covered the old Spanish ‘romances’ (sung poems) to begin forming a musical expression in Andalucía that eventually gave way to Flamenco.  Along the way, the Gypsies as a group faced discrimination, prejudice, persecution, and this gave them much to sing about.  When their lifestyle was finally embraced during the period of romanticism in the 1800s, poets and impresarios brought Flamenco to the limelight to be celebrated in literate and on stages around the world.  What we have seen on stage since then is the expression of those same poems through song, music, and dance.  Sometimes the expression veers far from its original form, such as a line of topless men clicking their feet in unison.  Sometimes the expression is very much in line, when we see a solo singer, a solo guitarist, and a solo dancer conversing non-verbally while the people around them clap their hands rhythmically and shout cheers of encouragement.  That is the expression that brings the goose bumps, and that is when you know you are seeing the real thing.

In what ways has your background in journalism aided you in your ability to share flamenco’s story with a variety of audiences?

My journalism background helps in three ways.  First, I am fortunate to know how to conduct research, including interviews.  I primarily work as a teaching artist, meaning I use Flamenco as a vehicle to teach toward curriculum goals, such as Spanish language, geography, history, team building, problem solving, and communication.  My shows are based on literature and real people who became legends in Flamenco.  I routinely dig way beyond the stage to get information that reveals the Gypsy culture and Spanish history that makes Flamenco what it is and has been.

My role as television and Web producer gave me experience in coordinating live bodies, production equipment, managers and talent. The same rules apply to live theater production, except there are no live signals to route – yet!

Finally, years in the newsroom taught me what matters to the media.  I know how to write a press release, because I know which ones I ignored when I was on the receiving end of them.  I know how to build a database of qualified contacts for public relations, publicity, promotion, and sales, and I know the difference between those roles.

Why did you make the leap from journalism to flamenco and what were the biggest challenges you faced in making that leap? How did you overcome those challenges?

I leapt at a time when work as a freelance writer was not fulfilling and the phone was ringing off the hook for a Flamenco dancer.  The jobs for Flamenco were exciting, and I began to work with interesting musicians. I thought I would cross the two pursuits. That eventually happened, but not as I expected.  And, that was frustrating at first.  I thought I would sell stories about the back roads of Spain or the unknown treasures of the big Spanish cities to which I traveled to study Flamenco.  At first it was a setback that I was not selling work this way.  But, later I realized that I could tell stories about Flamenco, Spain, and the wonderful real-life characters whom I encountered.  And, with this, I became a teaching artist going to work in schools, lecture halls, and universities.  I kept up the dance training to stay employed in the typical dance setting, as well.

A major challenge was figuring out the markets for Flamenco, because at the time that I began working, there was not much shape to Flamenco arts where I lived in Atlanta. There was not much precedent for programming, pricing, market segmentation, quality, etc., specific to Flamenco, because so few people had taken the path previously.  I received guidance from some professional musicians, dancers, and talent agents, and then applied the rules of their industries to Flamenco.  I shaped the market for myself and just didn’t look back.  I created a number of products to leverage Flamenco to serve markets, such as schools and social organizations, rather than the traditional American Flamenco employers, such as restaurants in need of live entertainment.

In what ways has your life as a flamenco teacher and performer changed since you first began?

I am now deeply interested in the history and cultural significance of Flamenco and how the past influences the present.  I came into Flamenco as a dancer, wanting to learn to move in a new form. Along the way, I took classes from a teacher who taught me about the music.  I discovered how  the dancers are musicians, right along with the guitarists and singers.  I traveled to Spain to study, where I met some of the icons, descendants of legends, authors whose work I had studied, artists whom I adored on stage.  Their support through friendship and teaching, led me to want to explain the human stories that created – and today sustain – Flamenco. So, that is part of the work that I do in education and performance.

Also, as a business owner, I have learned to be headstrong and well-prepared in pursuits that seem like unreachable dreams.  Business strategies aside, I have learned to look up, because that is direction of faith and success.

How have you built a community of people and groups that are as interested in and passionate about flamenco as you are?

I formed a grass-roots marketing company called jaleolé in 2004, with a partner and a team of very dedicated, passionate volunteers.  Now that I look back, I will boast that we shaped the Flamenco scene in Atlanta for nearly 10 years. The company promoted Flamenco events to Flamenco aficionados, as well as the general public.  We motivated some big players  to talk about and present Flamenco in Atlanta.  As a result, there are now teachers and performers in Atlanta working on the base that we put in place.  I lectured, wrote, published, produced,  placed performers in all kinds of performances from sidewalks to theater stages, and put students on stage annually as part of my role as co-founder of the company.  The energy of that work is still circulating, and the evidence is everywhere.

Since 2009, I have facilitated a ‘cuadro’ class that provides education and a weekly jam session for students of Flamenco guitar, singing, and dance.  Prior to this concept, Atlanta was a city of dancers without accompanists.  To know Flamenco is to know that dancers and guitarists exist in the art form to accompany the singing. So, a silo of dancers – without live music – was unfulfilling.  Five years after the first workshop, the students of the program are playing guitar and singing in classes and performances in groups across Atlanta. It is satisfying to know that Flamenco is taking shape in such a holistic way.

How have you engaged Spanish artists in your mission to build interest in flamenco? What have you learned from them in your efforts to teach, perform and lecture about the art?

The answer to this question is unending.

I have presented some of the top Flamenco artists in Spain in performance and education.  I have asked them to lecture and spend time in fiestas with local aficionados to break the wall of artist and fan.  These gracious artists  have created electricity, tears, inspiration, awe.  But the best moments have been when they have interacted one-on-one with local aficionados, in a casual manner, to shed light on what it means to be a Flamenco, rather than a super star.

I believe Flamenco is like coffee.  If you can get it in Spain, or from Spanish Flamenco artists, then it’s a shot of espresso.  Outside of that, it’s café au lait: tastes great, but it’s just coffee with chicory and steamed milk.  And, chicory as my grandfather used to tell me in New Orleans, is ersatz.  The audiences and the students know the difference.

The more I learn about the art of Flamenco, the less I want to teach, perform, or lecture about it.  Instead, I just want to put the Spanish artists out there to do it.  I am continually humbled by the people whom I meet through research and study.  They are incredible artists, but that’s not what stops me.  It is that their families created this, and they carry with them the spirits of the generations before them, a cultural legacy that includes oppression, perseverance, pride, creativity, innovation, controversy, and misunderstandings of all sorts.  The more I know, the more I want to tell these stories, accurately.

What’s a typical day for you like?

My schedule is completely random. At the moment, it looks a little like a jack-o-lantern. Three days a week, I rehearse in the mornings before heading to teach at Emory University, where I instruct students who are earning credit for their dance degrees or to fulfill an elective requirement.  Right after class, I crack my latest Flamenco read for about an hour.  Then, I am off to class where I am a student of Spanish culture and literature, a base for a graduate degree down the road.  I pick up my kids from school; we tackle their homework; we play a game or craft a bit; we cook and eat dinner; I run out the door. Evening classes or rehearsals last about 2 hours in a dance studio, and then it is home for some creative time: a novel, a favorite blog, on a rare occasion a movie.  On the other two days (of a 5-day workweek), I am in the studio for 4-6 hours working on technique and repertoire, and I take about 2 hours to handle the “business of Flamenco” for myself.  I update my website. order flyers, book shows, write contracts, follow-up with potential clients, apologize for late responses, and of course put out dramatic  fires of all kinds.  Saturdays and Sundays often turn into workdays, as well, depending on bookings.  Several times a month, this schedule is interrupted by arts-in-education performances.  I leave home for those at 6:30 a.m., after loading my car with sound and stage equipment.  I drive for 30-90 minutes to a school, and then I set up my show.  I perform for 1-2 hours, break down, and then return to my neighborhood just in time to pick up my lovely children from school. More than once, I have walked through my children’s after-school scene in full Flamenco regalia because my commute butted up against carpool.  My kids just are not aware of it anymore.  It’s always a juggling act with the schedule.

I remember one time, I had to do a performance during the last 30 minutes of one of those Spanish culture classes at the university, where I attend class as a student.  I walked into the class with all of the stage make-up, hair in a bun, huge earrings, and a ruffled shirt.  When the moment struck, I stood up and walked out of the class in the middle of the lecture.  I closed the door, and in the hallway swapped my street skirt for my performance skirt.  I glided down the stairwell and got into a waiting car outside of the building. The driver took me around the corner while I changed into my Flamenco dance shoes.  I got on stage 15 minutes later inside the ballroom at the Georgia Aquarium and performed for a dazzling (I hope) 5 minutes.

Unfortunately, I spend a lot less time on my art that I would like, and I am working the phone and e-mail a lot more than I would like!

What sort of plans do you have for 2014?

I am reaching into markets outside of Atlanta.  I am taking my arts-in-ed on the road in Louisiana, Florida, and Alabama.  I hope to also perform for adult audiences in those markets, with strong Spanish and U.S.-based Flamenco artists on stage with me.

I am forming participants of my cuadro class into a semi-professional performing group.  There’s a very dedicated and talented core of aficionados who are playing guitar, singing, and dancing well.  They are ready to go on stage in excellent, very exciting venues.

I will spend more time researching a few interesting characters in Flamenco, including a dancer who caught the eye of Thomas Edison, a homeless man-turned Grammy winner, and the neighborhood of Triana in Seville.

As someone who has pursued her passion for one of the most passionate dance forms there is, what advice do you have for people grappling with whether to pursue their own passions?

A life built on passion is much different than a life built on someone else’s passion.  Living for your passion can lead to funny decisions.  To that end, I advise the following.  Get a good business plan and revise it often.  Get a network of honest critics from a variety of backgrounds, and remember that your loved ones should not be part of that because they will always only be positive.  Hire an accountant, and realize that $30 in the bank is not $0 or -$30 in the bank. Balance your worlds: work, personal, ambition, family, romance, health.   Balance is important.  It is difficult to be the navigator and the pilot in the giant ship of entrepreneurship.  One feels like everything has to be done now.  To address that, create a project management plan, phase product releases, and schedule time for breaks.  Take a walk to solve a problem.  Have a beer at lunch.  Take a day off! Most of all, you must believe always in what you are doing.  If you lose your mojo, then you are done.

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…


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


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.



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.



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).


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.


Chocolate Yogurt Snack Cakes

Posted on April 3, 2014



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!

Southern Snow Days

Posted on January 31, 2014



As everyone knows by now, the South had a winter storm that, among other things, dumped a menacing (and I say that in the sarcasm font) 1-3 inches of snow on Atlanta and brought the city to its knees. Children were stranded at school, cars were abandoned on the interstate, commuters were forced to hole up in the aisles of pharmacies and supermarkets because they couldn’t make the soul-punishing commute home. By soul-punishing, I mean it took some people more than 24 hours to do what normally takes about 30 minutes. Much has been written and said this week about that brand of snowmageddon (and the lack of political accountability), so I’m afraid all I have to add is that I still can’t wrap my head around what happened in my old hometown.

My husband was in Atlanta for business, so unfortunately he got caught in the middle of that mess. We were grateful to have him back home yesterday afternoon, so he could enjoy the balmy 50 degree weather and some roast beef po-boys for dinner. Where he had ice and snow and mayhem, we had sleet and cold and dangerously icy streets. School was closed here for three days. Our Yellow Lab Murray didn’t want to be cooped up, but didn’t want to brave the 20-degree weather either. So there was a lot of indoor fetch this week, which was fine because our Murray still hasn’t grown into his meaty boy paws.

Granted, this week’s snow days were not at all like the ones I had when I grew up in the Greater Baltimore area. Those days off involved knee-high snow, epic snowball fights and piping-hot cocoa after hours of outdoor play. This week, the most precipitation I saw was yesterday, when my daughter and her best friend unleashed a blizzard of glitter on my kitchen countertops. Nevertheless, the spirit of snow days — and all days involving inclement weather — remained: You accept the situation and make the most of things until the sun comes out.


The sun came out.

The roads are no longer slick.

Murray only has a little bit of glitter behind his ears now.

School is back in session.

This weekend, the weather should be spring-like, with temperatures in the 70s.

Go figure.


Speaking of making the most of things: I roasted a chicken one night this week and turned the leftovers into a homemade chicken noodle soup, which was perfect for the weather. You’ll need:

* Roasted chicken, cut into bite-sized pieces

* Diced onions and sliced carrots and celery

* Two boxes of chicken stock

* Whatever small pasta noodles you have on hand. I used a mix of elbow macaroni and shells.

* salt and black pepper to taste.

* A few hits of parsley

* Red pepper and celery salt  (optional, but the celery salt really gives it a nice flavor)

Directions: Cook the pasta as directed on the package and drain it. Put the chicken, vegetables and stock together in a pan, before adding about three cups of pasta. Season to taste, then simmer for 30 minutes and serve.

Here is the end result:


Speaking to Children About Writing

Posted on October 4, 2013

This morning I had the pleasure of speaking to two fourth grade classes about writing.

I agonized for two days over what to say and how to say it.

I agonized once I realized that Blessing of the Animals happened right before those two talks and I had promised my daughter that she could have her pet fish blessed. I agonized about having to bring the fish to my talks, and about whether I’d trip and fall or mess the fish up once I left.

I’m clumsy like that. But the good news is that I only have a little bit of fish water on my pants.

I choose not to think about what could be in that water.

But back to writing…

This morning, my plan was to give both classes a good recipe for writing. The recipe began with ingredients (the research that gives writing its authority), then moved on to well-structured sentences full of CUPS (or Capitalization, Usage, Punctuation and Spelling). Then, I advised them to sprinkle their work with detail to make it pop, before revising, revising, revising and turning it in.

We talked about things they struggle with during assignments, and I hope that I was able to help them with advice on working through those problems. I didn’t answer everything as well as I would have liked, but I volunteer in the school library once a week and offered to help them if they had questions about their work while I was there.

Both classes wanted to see my web site because I think they actually wanted proof that I do this for a living. Now that they know how to find it, I can only hope that they either forget the domain name, or don’t click on anything I’ve written on this blog about “Mad Men.”

I’m begging you, kids. I don’t want to be getting in trouble with any parents.

Other than that, both classes had a tremendous number of questions about the writing life, how to revise, why I have so many pictures of Paris on my web site (I like to go there from time to time so I can look at old things), whether I draw pictures for the stories I submit (I don’t, but maybe I should), and why I’ve only written for TIME for grownups instead of TIME for Kids (I have nothing against kids, sir. It’s just how it worked out). One student even gave me a story idea to pitch: “Did you know there’s a tropical storm headed this way and I might not be able to play in my soccer tournament?”

It was a good, lively discussion and before I knew it, I was carefully navigating the sidewalks of downtown Baton Rouge with a pet fish. A big thank you to St. James Episcopal Day School for inviting me this morning and to all the wonderful and curious students who made the experience such a delight!



It Happened in Paris

Posted on September 13, 2013

The universe works in mysterious ways.

This story begins four years ago in a Parisian playground. My daughter was riding a weathered merry-go-round, and as I sat there watching her happy little freckled face, I quietly worried that maybe I wasn’t really good enough to make it as a writer. The market was just plain hard and I had begun to consider other things I could do.

I decided to go to graduate school and last fall I got my M.A. in Modern European History. During this period of much reading and footnoting, I rebuilt my self-confidence as I delved into the colorful life story of a nineteenth-century Parisian man. My goal was to take the work I had done in class and in dusty archives and turn it into a book.

This spring, I spent eight weeks working with the editor Jill Rothenberg on a proposal for this book that has consumed my brain for the past four years. I originally thought that this should be straight history/biography, but Jill encouraged me to infuse it with a little bit of memoir, because my journey toward this subject was obviously very personal and life-altering. I hemmed and hawed about this until I thought back to my thesis defense, which began with my advisor asking me to explain to my committee why I became interested in this subject. Jill said, “If you tell us why you fell in love with this person, we’ll fall in love with him too.”

Point made.

So I wrote a brand-spanking new first chapter, and when I was done it made me believe in myself and this book just a little bit more. It also made me grateful to have people in my life — like Jill and the aforementioned advisor — who can point me in the right direction.

I spent the summer revising my book proposal and quietly hoping that it would be good enough to attract an agent’s interest. When I was done revising and felt good about the work I had done, I went to Mignon Faget and bought myself a silver wishbone pendant.

And then I made a wish.

Late Monday night, I sent a query letter to a well-regarded agent and figured that would be the end of it. First thing Tuesday morning, this agent sent me an email asking for my proposal. Midday Wednesday she emailed again, saying she wanted to talk to me about representing me. After I peeled myself off the ceiling, after I scoured the house looking for the film crew from “Candid Camera,” after I realized that this was no joke, I realized that everything that has happened since I sat watching my daughter ride that merry-go-round in Paris four years ago was meant to be.

I am grateful for every last bit of it. And now I am going to do every single solitary thing my agent asks me to do, so I can make this dream of becoming a published author a reality. I hope you’ll join me on this journey. It has been a wonderful ride so far!


Happy Halloween

Posted on October 31, 2012


There will probably be a few vampires cruising for candy tonight. That’s fine with me as long as they don’t pull any of that “I want to suck your blood” business. Blood sucking threats are creepy, after all.

For the ghoulish among you, here are a few Halloween-related links: “The Truth About Nepal’s Blood-Drinking Festivals

Los Angeles Times: “Sandy Takes Toll on Halloween Events, Could Disrupt Candy Sales “Halloween Pumpkin Art: Carving the Zombie Apocalypse

Baltimore Sun’s Darkroom: “Retro Halloween Photos Taken in Maryland Through The Years “Too Scary, Too Sexy: Adults Are Hijacking Halloween “Killing Sexy Halloween: The Ethical and Practical Complications “Halloween Costume Trends for 2012