A race isn't just about the finish line.

Whatever Happened to that New Year’s Resolution?

Remember that week between Christmas and New Year’s? Loaded down with gifts, parties and sweets, you were looking forward to getting back into the normal swing of things. Thus, you made a New Year’s resolution (or maybe two or three).

The question is, did you keep it?

The statistics for New Year’s resolutions are pretty grim. According to Statistic Brain, of the 45% of Americans who typically make New Year’s resolutions, only 8% are successful in keeping them. A larger group of 49% have infrequent success.

I fall into that 49%. At the beginning of 2016, my resolution was to spend 3 hours per week writing. I’m not talking about the writing I do at work—as a magazine editor, I spend plenty of time writing and editing during the day. But when you write for a living, it’s hard to come home and write some more. So like many resolution makers, I started out strong, but quickly grew apathetic.

I’ve always been an achiever. Especially in school, I considered anything below an A to be failure. So when it comes to keeping resolutions and goals, my natural response is to either excel or fail—there’s nothing in between, no gray area.

That way of thinking just isn’t realistic. There’s always a gray area, a compromise between doing something to perfection and not doing it at all. This is true for any goal or resolution, whether it’s losing weight, getting good grades or spending time with family.

In my own struggle to stay in the 49% this year, I’ve come to realize that it’s in this struggle that I grow. No, I haven’t spent 3 hours each week working on my writing, but in the last month, I’ve spent about 2 hours per week working on it. That’s 8 hours more than if I hadn’t made the goal, or struggled to keep it.

I’m learning that part of the resolution isn’t just achieving the end result. If you’re running a marathon, yes, you want to reach the finish line, but you have to run that 26.2 miles to get there. Riding in the support van doesn’t count. The discipline of achieving a goal or maintaining a good habit isn’t easy, but that’s why it’s called discipline.

So if you’re trying to reach a goal or keep a resolution this year, don’t just zero in on the finish line. Look around, and even when you stumble, you’ll be able to see how far you’ve come.

Question: Did you make a New Year’s resolution for 2016? How’s it going? Post a comment!

Bon Appetit, Part 2

How does one combine a love for literature and a love for cooking? In my last post, I shared part one of my attempt to cook an authentic 18th-century French meal for my family. I had to fiddle with the entree and bread recipes to “translate” the instructions into modern English, even though an editor had already translated the recipe from the French. I have one more recipe to share from that night, the epitome of French cooking: dessert.

Here is the original recipe, with my notes.

Recipe #3: Fried Cream

Take about a pint of milk, boil it on the fire, and mix in four egg yolks with a little flour. Once it is well mixed, stir it all together on the stove until the cream is formed: put in a little salt, a little butter and some chopped lemon peel. Once it is cooked, flour your table and pour your Cream, so that it spreads out by itself: once it has cooled, it should look like a cooked omelette. Cut it into pieces, depending on the size you want, and fry them in good hot lard, being careful not to ruin them in the pan. Once it is browned, take it off; put powdered sugar and orange flower water on it. Lay it out in its dish, and having glazed it, if you wish, with a heated oven peel, serve it hot. You can also, when this sort of cream is spread out on the table, have hot butter in your frying pan, and fry it like an omelette. When it is browned on one side, pour it into its dish, and move it gently around in the pan, to brown it on all sides. Sugar it, glaze it and serve it hot once again, all as an Entremets.

Of the three recipes, I was most worried about this one. First of all, I am deathly allergic to milk, so using regular cow’s milk would keep me from trying my own dessert. I wanted in on the fun, so I used coconut milk instead. But I had no idea if the coconut milk would work—after all, in 18th-century France, they would be using whole milk fresh from the cow.

I also ran into the same problem as the bread recipe: no instructions for how much to use for each ingredient. How much is “a little” flour? I ended up using a cup and a half of it, and three cups of milk, which was more than the pint it called for.

The instructions sound bizarre: stir milk, eggs, and flour together to make cream? But it worked, even with the coconut milk. One minute I had a lumpy mixture of solids and liquid, and suddenly it congealed into a cream-like mixture. It was still a little lumpy, but considering the fact that I had used coconut milk, I took what I could get.

I decided not to pour out the cream directly onto the table, but instead lined a Pyrex pan with  wax paper and poured it in there, hoping that the wax paper would keep it from sticking to the sides.IMG_1124

Because I was worried the dessert would be a flop, I tried the cream part the night before everyone came over, and when it worked, I stored it in the refrigerator until I needed it. I was encouraged by the fact that it was supposed to look like an omelet—lumpy and yellow.

When I went to cut it into individual pieces for frying, the wax paper started to fall apart. I ended up dumping the whole slab out of the wax paper and then cutting it, which worked much better.


“Fry them in good hot lard.” This took a lot of work. Somehow they didn’t fry as quickly as I thought they would—or should. I ended up getting one piece about every ten minutes, and when six people like your food and are clambering for seconds—and then thirds—this makes for a long time in front of the stove.IMG_6026


But it was worth it—everyone loved it! For the glaze on top, I used orange juice instead of orange water (whatever that is), and the result was a delicious, very high calorie treat.

IMG_6030Overall, the night was a total success. Everyone enjoyed themselves, the food, and the company!



Bon Appetit! Part 1

Annibale_Carracci_The_BeaneaterHaving consumed two lengthy 19th-century French novels recently, I thought it would be interesting to not only read about the French in the 1800s, but eat like them too. I decided to find a French recipe from the time period and cook it.

Easier said than done.

I don’t read French, so I needed a recipe that was already translated. I found an online newsletter called Sundries that focused on the 18th century, and had translated some French recipes from the period. It took me a while to sort through them—I passed over unsavory ones such as the pigeon tart, which calls for whole pigeons the cook must pluck and “truss”—but finally found some that looked reasonable. I decided to make three: an entrée, a bread, and a dessert.

The most difficult part of the process was figuring out how much of each ingredient to use, and the length of cook time. The instructions were so well-known that the authors often left these details out. I had to do a lot of translating myself, even though the words were already in English.

Having picked the recipes, I invited my family, grandma, and fiancé to join me, figuring that even if the meal was a flop, the flop would be more grand with a group of people. I was amazed (and pleased) with the result; I actually managed to make a successful 18th-century French meal.

Below are the original recipes, accompanied by my own notes. And pictures, of course.

Recipe #1: Napoleon’s Breakfast

The author who translated this recipe from the French made an interesting note. The recipe is named after Napoleon, who ate this dish for either breakfast or lunch—the records are unclear. But the recipe is missing from many post-Napoleon cookbooks. Why? Napoleon lost the war, and after the king returned to the throne, it was dangerous to be known as a Bonapartist. People were shunned and sometimes even thrown in prison for their political standing. No wonder his favorite meals disappeared from the cookbooks.

Put salt, pepper and a good lump of butter in a pot. Heat it, then put in your chicken cut up in pieces, brown it over a brisk flame, stirring well.

Then let it simmer to finish cooking. When the chicken is almost done, add a glass of white wine, spring onions and parsley chopped up fine, pieces of mushroom, salt and pepper. Let it boil a quarter of an hour, adding a little wine if the sauce boils away too much. This done, lay your pieces of chicken out on a dish, and cover them with the sauce. You can also add a little lemon juice.

See what I mean? No directions for how much to use of any of the ingredients. Even so, the entrée was the easiest of the three dishes I tried. The instructions are fairly straight-forward and easy to follow.


I figured “a good lump” of butter would be about three or four tablespoons, so I started with that and added the other ingredients. I also didn’t know how much a “glass” of white wine would be, so I used one cup. From the recipe, it sounds as if the sauce should be thick, but it’s really just the wine, so it ended up very watery. But the mushrooms and parsley worked well with the chicken and the white wine, and the dish tasted good.

Recipe #2: French Bread

Take half a peck of fine flour, the yolks of six eggs and four whites, a little salt, a pint of ale yeast, and as much new milk made warm as will make it a thin light paste, stir it about with your hand, but be sure you don’t knead them; have ready six wooden quarts or pint dishes, fill them with the paste, (not over full) let them stand a quarter of an hour to rise, then turn them out into the oven, and when they are baked rasp them. The oven must be quick.

This recipe required quite a bit of research (what’s a peck?), and then some modifications. I did cheat a little and looked up several modern French bread recipes to reference the amount of certain ingredients.

A peck happens to be 37 US cups, which means the recipe calls for 18 and a half cups of flour. I thought maybe the translator had made a mistake, but the rest of the ingredients seemed to match these proportions. Six eggs? And there was no way I was going to use two and a half cups of yeast. The result would look like Lucy Ricardo’s attempt at baking.

In those days, each family had to make everything themselves. There were no grocery stores they could visit to pick up a loaf of bread. This recipe reflects the practice of baking large batches all at once so they would have enough bread to last them a week or more.

I didn’t need enough bread for two weeks; I only needed enough for one night. So I used only one sixth of the recipe. This translated into three cups of flour, one egg, etc., which was more reasonable. Using a sixth of the yeast called for would have been half a US cup, so I modified that further and used only one teaspoon.

I also had to guess at how much “a little” salt was, and how much warm milk to add to make a light paste. After adding two cups of milk, my paste wasn’t very light or thin, but I didn’t want to add too much, so I stopped there and hoped for the best. This is how it looked pre-oven:


The only instructions for how long to cook the bread are “when they are baked rasp them. The oven must be quick.” I looked up “rasping” and discovered it means scraping. This is the part when the baker scores the bread to keep it from breaking or cracking at a weak spot. But this usually takes place before baking, not after. And I had no idea how long a “quick” oven was.

I kept a careful eye on the oven while the bread was inside, and after 42 minutes at 350 degrees, the bread was done!

IMG_6018It was surprisingly light—not a dense bread. Everyone seemed to like it; we ate almost the whole loaf.

I still have one more recipe: the desert. But that one’s a doozy, so I’ll save it for the next post. Stay tuned!

Monthly Reads: July

Montly Reads infograph

August already—that means the 4th of July was almost a month ago. Time is racing away. As for the reading I did in July, there were some major highs and lows. Thankfully, the highs outweighed the lows, which made the whole experience worthwhile.


Written in Red by Anne Bishop

Genre: Fantasy, Young Adult

My favorite part about fantasy novels is participating in the world the author creates, and the world of Written in Red is well worth the read. It’s similar to our own, but is ruled instead by the Others, shape shifters who were the original inhabitants of the world. When a human with her own unique powers comes to live with a group of the Others, suddenly the strict lines between humans and Others blur as both sides realize goodness in the other. I just downloaded next installment of this trilogy onto my Kindle, and it will be the next book I read.

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By Darkness Hid and To Darkness Fled by Jill Williamson

Genre: Fantasy, Christian

A young boy has grown up as the nobody servant of a minor noble, but his situation changes rapidly when he discovers that he can speak to others with his mind. I didn’t realize this was a Christian series until I was about halfway through the first book. Very sneaky. Not that I mind Christian fiction, but too often, it’s poorly written. Thankfully, this author is a good writer, which makes the series worth reading. Her world isn’t the most original—it’s classic medieval-styled fantasy—but still entertaining. I’m looking forward to reading the conclusion.


Cold Case Christianity by Jim Wallace

Genre: Christian apologetics

Jim Wallace is a cold case homicide detective, which means that he solves old murders the police department has been unable to resolve for years. He has to use inductive reasoning, logic, and good sleuthing skills to sniff out the murderer. He takes these same skills and applies them to Christianity—would the claims of the religion hold up as a cold case? A fantastic read.


The Gathering, The Calling, and The Rising by Kelley Armstrong

Genre: Fantasy, Young Adult

This trilogy was a quick read for middle school or high school age readers. A girl discovers she can shape-shift into a cougar, and that her other friends are starting to exhibit strange  abilities too. Entertaining, but doesn’t have a ton of depth.  I probably wouldn’t recommend the series.


Lost Voices by Sarah Porter

Genre: Young Adult, Fantasy

I don’t often see mermaid books on the market, so I thought I’d give this one a try. Wrong choice. Not much happened with the plot, and the writing was very poor. The author was trying to make the characters sound like middle school students, so she inserted a boat-load of “likes,” “totallys,” and “ums” into her dialog, which drove me crazy. The main character had some good depth, but that was the book’s only redeeming quality. I definitely won’t be continuing on with this series.

No literature books this month, but that doesn’t mean I haven’t been reading it. I’m about 1,000 pages into Les Miserables, and will hopefully finish it before the end of August! As for my favorite book this month, I’d have to go with Written in Red. It’s one of the best fantasy novels I’ve read in a while.

Question: Have you finished any books this month? If so, which ones? Post a comment!

Ten Facts You Didn’t Know About Les Miserables

29Victor Hugo’s epic has captured and wrung the hearts of millions since its publication in the 1860s. The time period during which the story takes place was a political roller coaster for France, and Hugo is a master at exploring the implications for every level of society. (See this post.)

In honor of Les Misérables, here are ten interesting facts you probably didn’t know:

1. The unabridged book is 1,900 pages in French, and approximately 1,500 pages in English.

2. There have been over 60 film adaptations of the story.

3. Jean Valjean saves Cosette from the Thenardiers on Christmas Eve.

4. Hugo started writing Les Misérables in 1829 and it wasn’t published until 1862—that’s 33 years to write a masterpiece.

5. When the book was first published in France, Victor Hugo was in exile in England.

6. The musical production has been translated into 22 different languages, including Hebrew, Hungarian, Icelandic, Czech, Castillian, Finnish, Argentinian, Estonian, and Korean.

7. Remember Gavroche, the little boy who helps with the revolution? Bet you’ll never guess who he is—Eponine’s brother! Madame Thenardier apparently had little love for her son, les_miserables_ver11_xlgwhich is why he ends up living on the streets.

8. The book quickly became a hit in America, because of the relevancy of the themes and political upheaval to the Civil War. Confederate soldiers who read the novel called themselves “Lee’s Miserables.”

9. In the recent 2012 film adaptation of the musical, all the singing was done live on set. The cast was forbidden to drink alcohol because of the strenuous demands of singing daily.

10. Victor Hugo’s other famous piece of literature? Notre-Dame de Paris, or The Hunchback of Notre Dame.







Your Ancestors Could Have Met Jean Valjean

29043I’m currently on a French literature binge. Having recently finished The Count of Monte Cristo, I started Les Misérables a few weeks ago. While both these stories are worth reading (and re-reading), they’re both very long. I read an abridged version of Les Misérables in high school without realizing it was abridged. Who would expect the abridged version to be 500 pages?

And that’s less than half the full book. That Victor Hugo is a rambler.

Reading the two books back to back has taught me quite a bit about France in the nineteenth century, most of which I didn’t know, or had forgotten.

The French Revolution began with the storming of the Bastille, the medieval prison in Paris, on July 14, 1789. This day was followed by the years known as the Reign of Terror.

This part I was familiar with. The guillotine, the mass genocide, and the execution of King Louis XVI and Marie Antoinette are dramatic and bloody.

But I wasn’t as familiar with the period after this, which was rocky for France as well.


By 1804, Napoleon Bonaparte had taken over and declared himself the Emperor—so much for democracy. His reign lasted ten years. In 1814, he was exiled to the Island of Elba, but escaped a year later to make a final attempt at power. He lost the Battle of Waterloo on June 18, 1815, at which point King Louis XVIII permanently resumed the throne.

Please excuse the history lesson. All this interested me because The Count of Monte Cristo and Les Misérables both take place in the years after the king has regained the throne. Even though the monarch isn’t going anywhere, France is still reeling from the political upheaval of the last thirty years, elements which play heavily into the plots of both novels.

This similar time frame interested me so much that I decided to investigate the book timelines more closely. If the fiction world existed, both Jean Valjean and Edmond Dantès would be living out their adventures at the same time. I found this amusing, so I included a few other books in my research as well. Here’s how that timeline would look, if these fictional heroes walked in our world:

In 1769, Jean Valjean of Les Misérables is born. While he is a child, the American colonists are fighting for freedom in the 1770s.

Somewhere around 1780, Mr. Darnay and Lucie Manette of A Tale of Two Cities give birth to their daughter.

guillotine3 Benjamin Franklin dies in 1790. Two years later, during the Reign of Terror, Mr. Darnay comes to France to free a faithful servant. He is imprisoned himself. While he is in prison, Sir Percy Blakeney of The Scarlet Pimpernel is secretly smuggling French nobility out of the city to escape the guillotine. Apparently, he misses Mr. Darnay.

In 1795, Jean Valjean steals a loaf of bread to keep his sister’s children from starving, and goes to prison for it. A year later, in 1796, Edmond Dantès of The Count of Monte Cristo is born.

Over in America, George Washington dies in 1799. By this time, Darnay and Lucie’s daughter is probably married, and Lucie has grown old.

When Abraham Lincoln is a two-year-old toddler, in 1811, Miss Elizabeth Bennett of Pride and Prejudice meets Mr. Darcy. They are married in 1812, while their county is at war with the Americans.

Jean_ValjeanThree years later, Jean Valjean has just been released from 19 years’ worth of prison, and has his fateful encounter with the Bishop Myriel. Meanwhile, Edmond Dantès is sailing into port as a young 19-year-old, ready to become a ship’s captain and the husband of the beautiful Mercedes.

As Jean Valjean’s good fortune rises, Edmond Dantès’ sinks. By the time Dantès emerges from prison in 1829, Jean Valjean and Cosette are safely tucked away at a convent in Paris, and young Marius Pontmercy is learning to become revolutionary.

In 1832, Marius helps with the short-lived revolution in Paris, Jean Valjean saves him from death, and dies himself. Dantès, meanwhile, is biding his time before he takes his vengeance against his enemies in 1838.

In 1845, just seven years later, Scarlett O’Hara of Gone with the Wind is born.

Of course, I could go on an on. There are so many wonderful books from the nineteenth century, and I’ve hardly touched on some of my favorite British characters. Fun to imagine, right?

Question: Who is your favorite character from these books? Why? Leave a comment!

Monthly Reads: June

Monthly Reads

July already. Wow; time flies. Here’s to the month of June and its reading, full of sunshine and good books.



The Count of Monte Cristo by Alexandre Dumas

Genre: French Literature

Talk about a long book! I loved it, but it took me over a month to listen to it on audiobook. Adventure, romance, questions of justice, vengeance, and mercy. The main character, Edmond Dantes, is worth getting to know.


18249280Blackveil and Mirror Sight by Kristen Britain

Genre: Young Adult, Fantasy

The fourth and fifth novels in the Green Rider series, which I have enjoyed over the last two months. I’m not sure what I think about the fifth and newest installation. The author makes the plot go in an unexpected direction, and the genre of her work becomes steam punk fantasy instead of the traditional fantasy in the rest of the series. The jury is still out—we’ll see what the sixth book brings.

4671The Great Gatsby by F. Scott Fitzgerald

Genre: American Literature

One of my reading rules is that I won’t watch a movie before I’ve read the book. So The Great Gatsby has been on my reading list lately, especially since the recent film. I didn’t read it in high school because I was reading other books (Alexis de Tocqueville, Thomas Aquinas, etc.) I liked it. It’s very classically American, and Fitzgerald makes his readers think.


Pearl in the Sand by Tessa Afshar

Genre: Historical fiction

This is a retelling of Rahab’s story, the prostitute from Jericho who saves herself and her family by choosing to follow the Hebrew God instead of the idol Baal. I liked Tessa’s book; it’s pretty accurate both to the historical setting, and to the Bible’s account of the events. She tells the story well and makes it entertaining and moving.


Phantastes by George MacDonald

Genre: Fantasy, Literature

I’ve wanted to read some George MacDonald for a while now, because he influenced both C.S. Lewis and J.R.R. Tolkien. All three writers share the same philosophy of fairy tales. This book was well worth the time. It’s a fairy tale for grown-ups, and also acts as an allegory for the Christian walk. A very impressive little book.


Midwife of the Blue Ridge by Christine Blevins

Genre: Historical fiction

This book was unique because it’s an American colonial book, but it doesn’t take place where all the Revolutionary action was happening at the time—Boston, Philadelphia, New York, etc. Instead, it takes place on the frontier of Virginia, and the main character is an immigrant from Scotland who has to deal with the hostility of the Native Americans. I enjoyed entering the world of the book.

My favorite book from June? It’s a toss-up between Phantastes and The Count of Monte Cristo. Both contain thought-provoking plots, but are also entertaining as fiction.

Question: Did you finish any books in June? If so, which ones? Leave a comment!