Tuesday, January 19, 2016

Taking Stock

So far the new year is starting like the old one finished: at world-record speed! Which means I need to figure out how to start keeping up.

I don't do resolutions (do you?), but I do try to take stock at the turn of the year and decide what I want from the year ahead.

2015 in review: I quit my day job, started a freelance business, and finished what I think is my best book yet. I started meditating. I took some yoga but didn't stick with it. I rediscovered a trainer and a gym, and dabbled a little. I really rested for the first time in eight years. I realized I wanted to talk with friends and family again. I returned to being the nicer person I used to be.

That sounds dramatic, but the year felt that way!

Ahead for 2016, personally: I'm going to keep up with the meditation and develop a real gym habit (watch out for kettlebell and unconventional fitness workout posts; also, some complaining). I'm going to make a living with my freelance writing business (I do technical and marketing writing, if you know anyone!). I'm going to appreciate every day that I get to work at home and not go to a day job.

On the 2016 book front:  I'm going to write the next Kate book set at the Indy 500 and make it the best book I've written. I'm going to start another book on a totally different topic and see where it takes me.... AND, I'm going to tell everyone as much as I can about my new book, Red Flags.

Stay tuned!

Tuesday, December 22, 2015

Out With the Old, In With the New

It's that time of year—yes, I mean frantic wrapping of presents and eating way too many sweets. But I also mean taking stock of what the old year yielded and what the new year promises.

Except that sounds WAY too passive. So let's make that what I made out of 2015 and how I'm going to rock 2016 even harder.

Out with the old:

  • Stress. For the past 8 years, December and January were the most stressful times of year, due to employee performance reviews and an annual conference at the day job. I quit the job in February, and I haven't missed it for a second...
  • Recovery. I slept more in 2015 than in any year in recent memory. I also read more books, sat around the house in a daze for more hours, and felt more generally lazy than I can ever remember feeling. A lot of people tell me this is what it's like to retire. I'm not exactly doing that, but I've had the time to recover from working too hard and caring too much the past few years. I was wrung out spiritually.
  • Mental deadness. It's been a long time since I've cared to engage in conversations about world events, interesting ideas, or funny questions. But I'm finally coming back to life.
  • Low spirits. I'm finally starting to mean it when people ask me how I am and I reply, "I'm good." Scratch that, I'm starting to respond with, "I'm great."


In with the new:

  • New business. I've been slowly building up a good clientele of freelance customers, and I've been working with great people and interesting products. I'm going to keep building that business in 2016.
  • New books. Kate #4 (Red Flags, set in Los Angeles, Beverly Hills, and at the Grand Prix of Long Beach) will be released in April, and I'm going to promote that. But I've also got some writing to do on Kate #5 (going to the Indy 500!) and a different project I've been tossing around in my head...nothing to talk about yet, but more when I have it.
  • Find my focus. In both the business world and the mystery world, I know I have unique skills to offer...but I haven't figured out exactly what my message or offerings are. I won't call this a mid-life crisis by any means, but it's probably a mid-life reconsideration—or as Dolly says, I want to do it on purpose. I want to pull together what I'm good at, what makes me happy, and what I can do that fulfills a need in the world. Then I'll aim at that target... 
  • Good habits. Regular exercise (hello, crossfit and kettlebells), regular meditation, and being grateful for the luxury of time. That's what 2016 will mean to me.
How about you? What are you happy to jettison with the old year and embrace in the new?

Tuesday, December 15, 2015

Travel Report 3: Buenos Aires

Last month, I snuck away for an 11-day trip to South America…this is part 3, the final part of my report (catch up on part 1: Rio deJaneiro and part 2: Iguazu Falls).
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Our last stop on the tour was Buenos Aires, and it was definitely a more cosmopolitan city than Rio. Once known as “the Paris of South America,” it’s got lots of familiarly European buildings, as well as a booming live theater tradition.

What Buenos Aires offers over Paris and other similar cities is a mix of the traditional city look with the more colorful and sensual. And by “sensual,” I don’t mean sexual so much as appealing to the senses. Like the tango. Like colors and textures and quality food. Like the colorful houses in La Boca (second photo), the rose color of the government house (where Evita gave her famous speech and Madonna sang the song), like the gorgeous leather goods for sale everywhere, and like the good Argentinean beef.

And about that beef… Brazilians and Argentineans both love their beef and they love enormous portions. HUGE. I’ll be honest, by Buenos Aires, it was too much of a good thing. Now, I don’t eat beef, personally, but the rest of my family group did, and they continued to pack it away at every offering.

Some was better than others—they all agreed that the best beef empanadas were found at the Santa Susana Estancia, and the best beef was had at Chiquilin restaurant in Buenos Aires. But enough beef was enough, by the end of the 11-day trip. They’ve all sworn off until at least 2016.

The interesting culinary note was the complete lack of sauces. Meal after meal, the beef was served plain, maybe with onions on the side. Not even any salt and pepper on the table, and certainly no salsa or any other sauce. We returned home and made straight for the salsa, thanking M
exico fervently for pico de gallo. Chet decided Buenos Aires was like Paris in the middle of Texas—because right outside the cosmopolitan city were open fields. And beef.

As for the typical sights: the government house (“don’t cry for me…”), La Boca neighborhood, La Recoleta cemetary (where Evita is entombed), games by the gauchos at the estancia, tango, and a city view. And at the bottom of the post, us at the waterfront on our last night.

  

Final verdict? The most amazing sights were the topography and scenery of Rio and Iguazu Falls. But we don’t feel like we need to go back there. We’d happily return to Buenos Aires and other points in Argentina (like Patagonia) for more exploration. Overall, a great trip!

Tuesday, December 8, 2015

Travel Report 2: Iguazu Falls

Last month, I snuck away for an 11-day trip to South America…this is part 2 of my report (catch up on part 1: Rio de Janeiro).
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The theme of Iguazu was WATER. From all directions. To explain…

First, the before shot, as we donned our thin rain ponchos ($1 each!).

Iguazu Falls is a series of waterfalls (anywhere from 150-300, depending on the year) in the Iguazu river, which runs along the
border of Brazil and Argentina. Consequently, you can view the falls from both sides, and we did.

Iguazu literally means “big water” in Guarani (one of the most widely spoken indigenous languages of South America, and one of the official languages of Paraguay), and they’re not kidding. This is a year with plenty of water flowing in the river, so the estimated number of cataracts (waterfalls) was about 285. More or less, because really, there was so much water it was coming out everywhere.

Lots of water. Something like 464,000 gallons per second flowing over the falls. WATER.

With all of that flow, it won’t surprise anyone that it rained for at least half of the two days we were there. Including in the middle of the night. When we had the sliding-glass door of our hotel room open. I woke up at 2:30 a.m., listened to the storm a while, and decided on a trip to the bathroom. I got up and stepped in a puddle. Half our room was flooded…. WATER. (It mopped up just fine.)

We wore wet shoes for two and a half days because if we weren’t being rained on, we were soaked from the spray of the falls—particularly from the spray of Devil’s Throat (a 269 foot drop; seen from the top in the second photo to the right).

On the second day, the sun came out and we dried off. We saw monkeys and a toucan, as well as dozens of coati, a greedy member of the raccoon family (above). Then Chet and I decided to go for one last close-up of a set of falls. We got wetter than we’d ever been, and it was hilarious. The after shots:
 

More of my favorite photos:
 

 

 Stay tuned for photos and stories about Buenos Aires next.

Tuesday, December 1, 2015

Travel Report 1: Rio de Janeiro

Last month, I snuck away for an 11-day trip to South America, a continent I’d never been to. I was with my husband, my mother, and her travel buddy, and we all joined a tour group that guided us through the highlights: Rio de Janeiro, Iguazu Falls, and Buenos Aires. I’ll report on them one at a time…

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Rio is a city of incredible topography, from granite peaks to beautiful beaches. If the city was speaking to me, it would be saying, “Relax! Enjoy!” So it had a somnolent vibe, but beneath that ran an undercurrent of activity and a hint of danger. At least, that was true for the heavily touristed areas, which we were in—those being the Copacabana and Impanema beach areas and Corcovado and Sugarloaf mountains.

I’d say that I worried more than was necessary, but having read all the warnings about not wearing any jewelry at all and being very careful with your money and phone, I was on my guard the whole time and didn’t have any issues. Someone else in our tour group wasn’t so lucky: she had a small gold chain yanked from her neck as she walked on the beach (by a guy bicycling past). We all saw the scratches left behind. So while I never had a problem, there were times I didn’t get a photo I wanted because we were in a location where I didn’t want to pull my iPhone 6 out of my purse and make myself a target.

All that aside, the people we interacted with couldn’t have been nicer, from hotel and restaurant staff, to shopkeepers, to the old woman at the cafĂ© who was sure I understood what she was saying (I didn’t).

The best story we heard: Sao Paulo and Rio have a healthy rivalry, and apparently SP residents think residents of Rio don’t do anything, so the joke runs that Christ the Redeemer is up on the mountaintop waiting, arms open, to applaud when Rio’s residents actually do some work. The story was told to us by our local (Rio native) tour guide, who didn’t seem to care about SP’s perception and thought it a good joke—which reminds me of Southern Californians shrugging off the disdain of Northern Californians….

What I don’t have photos of: the jam-packed beaches on a Saturday (not a spare inch of sand) filled with rental umbrellas and chairs; the favelas (slums) that climb up hillsides, meaning the poorest neighborhoods have some of the best views of the city; and the never-ending supply of meat offered at the churrascaria for dinner.

The sights we saw were the basics (top to bottom): Impanema beach, Corcovado mountain with Christ the Redeemer on top, the view down to Sugarloaf mountain and Copacabana beach from Corcovado, Christ the Redeemer himself, a typical stand selling fresh coconut juice, street scenes, and the Selaron stairs.

Stay tuned for photos and stories about Iguazu Falls next. Hint: the theme was WATER.

Wednesday, November 4, 2015

Earworms

We all get them. Songs, even just three-note progressions, that play in your head like an iPod on repeat.

My typical earworms fall into two categories:
  1. Music I know well and have loved (and overplayed) for years.
  2. Brand-new songs I know two lines (or three words or three notes) of.
In the first category, I have "All I Ask of You" from Phantom of the Opera. I just saw a link to the new video of Josh Groban and Kelly Clarkson singing it in someone's Facebook feed...and without watching it, the song is now stuck in my head. Thanks for that.

But you know what's even worse for me? The music I have to totally, completely avoid all playing of? The music I have to come up with another song to sing in defense to try (usually ineffectively) to keep from becoming an earworm? "One Day More" (or really anything) from Les Miserables. There it goes again...

That one has especially been an issue because of all the parodies and tributes, like my favorite, about eating gluten free:



Those are the earworms that stick. The second category don't last as long for me, thankfully, given that I only know a couple words. That doesn't mean I don't get excruciatingly bored of "no one hears the silent tears collecting" (from Kelly Clarkson's "Invincible") or "hello from the other side / I must have called a thousand times" (from Adele's new song "Hello").

So here's what I want to know: what are your earworms? Are there any that stick with you more often, or is it random?

Sunday, November 1, 2015

Newsletter ARC Giveaway

All you newsletter subscribers, here's your chance to win an advance reader copy (ARC) of Red Flags, a Kate Reilly Racing Mystery. 

All you have to do is comment below by Friday, February 5 at 11:59 p.m. That's it! One lucky commenter will win! Good luck!