Tuesday, May 29, 2012

Such a Deal!

Just for today, Skinner House Books/UUA is offering 20% off The Pen and the Bell. Here's the skinny:
Today's daily deal at the UUA Bookstore - take 20% off the brand new "The Pen and the Bell: Mindful Writing in a Busy World" when you enter "write12" in the discount code box at checkout! Hurry - this offer is only valid today!
Since Amazon is being slow in getting the books (they say they won't ship until September!), and since the distributor is also making it difficult for bookstores to get the book before September, here's your chance to get the book right now for $12, and support independent publishers while you're at it. 

Hope you're having a superb and mindful day,

Tuesday, May 22, 2012

Eating Mindfully, Eating Well

As most of my friends will tell you, I'm a little in love with food. This is a very good thing for my friends—I love nothing more than to throw a good dinner party. And usually it's a good thing for me too, except when I emerge from the winter darkness and can barely squeeze into my summer clothes.

So, it's back to Weight Watchers for me. Actually, I kind of love being "on plan" as they say, for it gives me an opportunity to use cooking as a hobby. The key to success is planning, so I've been reading cookbooks, and my latest favorite is Serve Yourself by Joe Yonan.

He's funny, and he's very into making your own condiments: citrus-pickled onions; parsley-garlic dressing; salsa verde, etc. He likes eggs, and tacos, and sweet potatoes (he puts sweet potato in places you would never expect....) He's also quite clever. Tonight I made his Mahi Mahi with Kiwi-Avocado Salsa and Coconut Rice, and there were several things about this meal that made it memorable:

1. He uses coconut WATER instead of coconut milk, to infuse both the rice and fish with a subtle coconut essence (and of course reduces both fat and calories).
2. He cooks the fish in the same pot as the rice. Easier clean-up!
3. It was SO easy and SO delicious!

Here is the recipe, but I adapted a bit. I used brown jasmine rice instead (tripled cooking time, and added fish about 2/3 of the way through),  and I cut the amount of avocado in half. I also didn't have scallion so I used shallot, and I left out the jalapeno, because for me that overwhelms the flavor.

Mahi Mahi with Kiwi-Avocado Salsa and Coconut Rice
(serves one; I doubled the recipe to have leftovers)

1 (6-ounce) mahi mahi fillet
Kosher or sea salt
Freshly ground black pepper
3/4 cup coconut water (pure coconut water, unsweetened)
1/3 cup jasmine or other long-grain white rice
1 kiwi, peeled and cut into 1/2-inch cubes
1/2 ripe avocado, cut into 1/2-inch cubes
1 scallion, white and green parts, cut into 1/4-inch slices
1/2 fresh jalapeno chile, seeded, and finely chopped (optional)
Juice of 1 lime
Leaves from 3 or 4 sprigs cilantro, chopped
1/2 teaspoon honey, or more to taste (optional)

Pat dry the mahi mahi with a paper towel and sprinkle with salt and pepper.

In a small skillet or saucepan fitted with a lid, combine the coconut water, rice, and 1/4 teaspoon of salt over medium-high heat. Bring to a boil, then decrease the heat until the liquid is barely bubbling.

Place the mahi mahi fillet on top of the rice, cover, and cook for about 15 minutes, or until all the coconut water is absorbed. Turn off the heat and let the rice and fish stand, covered, for another 5 minutes.

While the rice and fish are cooking, make the salsa. In a small bowl, stir together the kiwi, avocado, scallion, jalapeƱo, lime juice, and cilantro. Taste and add a touch of salt if necessary and a drizzle of honey if it’s too tart.


Another key to success is to remember mindfulness in my eating: to become aware of different kinds of hunger that send out signals in my body and respond calmly, thoughtfully, and with love.

A great ally in this has been the book Mindful Eating: A Guide to Rediscovering a Healthy and Joyful Relationship with Food, by Dr. Jan Chozen Bays

 What drew me to this book is the way she articulates "The Seven Kinds of Hunger." They are:

1. Eye Hunger
2. Nose Hunger
3. Mouth Hunger
4. Stomach Hunger
5. Cellular Hunger
6. Mind Hunger
7. Heart Hunger
I've only made it to Cellular hunger, but already I can feel myself differentiating a bit, able to wait and assess before eating. I'm able to sit with my meal: before diving face first into the gorgeous Mahi-Mahi, I took the time to really admire all the colors and brightness of the dish (eye hunger) and smelled it thoroughly (nose hunger) and chewed slowly to absorb the textures (mouth hunger). I felt how this food satisfied all those hungers before even getting to where we normally think our hunger lies.

Food is so elemental, in every sense of the word. May you have a week of mindful eating that brings you great satisfaction.


Monday, May 14, 2012

And the winner is....

The winner of a free, hot-off-the-press copy of The Pen and the Bell is.....

Nan Macy!

Congratulations Nan! I'll get the book to you as soon as I can.

And THANK YOU to ALL of you who helped spread the word! You're all winners. May your day be full of reciprocal good will.


Friday, May 11, 2012

The Yoga of Jigsaw Puzzles

This is what I've been doing with my evenings lately. Staring at a bunch of shapes and trying to make them behave. Trying to help them find where they belong. Trying to discern the exact point of shading from yellow to gold to brown to green.

Concentrating hard. Sinking closer and closer to the table until my head swims with jigsaw-shaped patterns. Following the slightest clue: a shade of gray here; a line of black there. Fitting one piece, then another, and then finally leaning back—always surprised to see a picture emerge from this chaos.

I blame Judith Kitchen. She gave away jigsaw puzzles a couple of years ago, with the challenge that if we finished them, she'd donate money to cancer research. So I diligently put together a puzzle of a Klimt painting; it took me weeks and a little help from my friends, but I did it and felt such a rush of accomplishment, I immediately went out to get another.

It's a little addicting: this putting back together of what's been deliberately broken.


I confess that last night I stayed up past midnight doing this darn puzzle. I kept meaning to stop, but then I'd get one piece into place, which gave me a tiny little adrenaline rush that kept me searching for just one more. 

But the law of diminishing returns took over, and in the last hour I simply stared at the pieces, which refused to budge.

And then, this morning, I walked by the table on my way outside to get the paper. I glanced at the jumble of pieces and instantly fit four more into place. Just. like. that. 

It reminded me that often our minds do, literally, get worn out. As do our spirits. We are not inexhaustible beings. We really do need to rest—and in that rest, often the most intractable problems can be solved. Just like that.


Writing, to me, is often like working a jigsaw puzzle (but, unfortunately, without the box top to guide me!). I know there's a whole picture out there—I can sense it—but at the beginning it's just a jumble of incomplete (and sometimes jagged) parts.

Sometimes, I start with the border, the frame. I figure out the shape, the form, this picture will take, and then carefully start building from the border inward. But other times I do the opposite: I just start right in the middle, clustering some bits together to see if they fit, then build outward toward the shape this picture needs to contain it.

Maybe this metaphor has already gone too far. Maybe I've already stared too long at this post and it's no longer making any sense. But there's one more thing: When it's happening, when you're in the thick of it, you feel that little adrenaline rush when the pieces start to fit. When you've discerned the pattern. When your brain has aligned with the logic of the puzzle and you can start seeing your way clear.

That's what keeps us in the writing chair. That's what keeps us up past our bedtimes.


And now, just a little Pen and the Bell news. I still have a giveaway going on in my previous post: you have until this Monday, May 14, to participate and perhaps win your very own, hot off the press, FREE copy of The Pen and the Bell.

And if you haven't checked out our website yet, please do. You'll find a "Writing Practice" section that is a collaborative blog, with stories, news, and writing prompts. You can sign up to receive "Letters from Brenda and Holly" on a regular basis.

And Fiona Robyns, over at Writing Our Way Home has published a "creativity interview" with Holly and me, where we talk about what motivates and supports us in our creative lives. It was fun to have a chance to correspond in this way with Holly again.

I hope your day is filled with fun puzzles to solve, and may the solutions arrive to you easily. Get some rest, even if it's just a few minutes between one piece of your life and the next.


Friday, May 4, 2012

The Pen and the Bell Give-Away!

I came home from work last Monday, tired (as always--I can't seem to make it past 4:00 nowadays without feeling like I need a long nap....). And peeking from my mailbox was a small, padded manila envelope, a sight that always perks me up. And this one had a Boston return address. Hmmm.....could it be?

And yes, there it was: the long-awaited first copy of The Pen and the Bell: Mindful Writing in a Busy World, co-authored with my friend Holly J. Hughes.

I don't know why, but every time I hold a new book in my hands, it comes as a surprise. Sure, I knew it would be coming, but the book had existed so long (over four years) in the abstract, that to hold the actual artifact in my hands feels a little unreal.

It's a beautiful book (if I do say so myself). It's square and small and fits in the hand like a tool kit. Which is what we hope it will be for many, many people.

We also have a wonderful new website for the The Pen and The Bell, where you can find out all about the book, and receive letters from Holly and me with additional stories, reflections, and writing prompts. We hope you'll join us there, and send your friends!

To encourage you, I'll be giving away a FREE COPY of The Pen and the Bell! To enter the Give-Away, here's all you have to do:
  • Spread the word about The Pen and the Bell. You can do this by posting a link to our website on your own blog or website or Facebook page; or tweeting about it; or sending some emails; or simply telling a friend.
  • Tell me how you've participated, either in the comments here, or on my Facebook page, or in the comments of the "Writing Practice" section of The Pen and The Bell website
    That's it! I'll be posting more about the book in the next few days. In the meantime: thank you, thank you, thank you for being here to share in the news!