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Monday Musings ~ March 14

March 14, 2016

Happy Monday! Did you set your clocks ahead? I wonder when the term “set your clocks” will stop being used? It’s kind of already obsolete since phones, computers and DVRs set themselves. I manually changed the clock on my oven and in my car, but that was it. Well anyway, the fact still remains that we “lost” an hour of sleep.

butterfly jungle

1. I’m starting out this week’s Musings with a few writing-related things about me. First off, I finished my novel-writing class that I started in January and I’m so excited that I actually wrote the first and last chapter of my novel. This is huge for me since before the class, all I had was an idea. Now I have completed chapters, a story arc and the motivation to write.

Second, I interviewed a Disney animator and wrote a Huffington Post story about his career and work on the new movie, “Zootopia.” I had no idea the intricacies that go into creating these animated movies – fascinating stuff!

Finally, I’m co-presenting a Writer’s Salon: Pitching, Publishing and Platform Building on April 9 here in San Diego. If you’re in SoCal, you should check it out!

2. Speaking of writing, I mentioned earlier that I wrote the last chapter to my novel. That exercise made me really appreciate this article on the best last lines and paragraphs of books. My favorite last line is – and always will be – the ending of Charlotte’s Web:

It is not often that someone comes along who is a true friend and a good writer. Charlotte was both.

I even wrote an entire post about those words.What is your favorite last line/paragraph from a book?

3. Have you ever thought about all the different types of salt that exists? Kosher, table, sea, iodized, coarse … Did you even realize there are so many varieties? Well now you can learn all about salt and where and why they should be used in this “Salt 101” article on A Beautiful Plate. It’s fascinating. I promise.

4. I’m always taking those personality tests to determine what type of person I am. I already know I’m an ISTJ in Myers-Briggs. I had a field day with these 14 different personality tests, which includes a test to determine which Hogwarts house the Sorting Hat places you. I got Slytherin.

5. Let’s finish with what we’re all watching on television. We finished season four of “House of Cards.” I won’t say too much to risk spoilers, but I do think it was a great season. So much better than season three! I feel like they’re trying to come full circle and I’m wondering if season five will be the last. I had a hard time taking Holder (“The Killing”) seriously as a clean-shaven Conservative without a hoodie though.

We’re still loving “Billions.” This show does a great job of ratcheting up the tension level simply through the dialogue and actors. The fact is nobody is getting killed and lives don’t hang in the balance (like other shows). But it’s a great illustration that good writing and acting can still create incredible tension. 

And speaking of those shows, I posted to Facebook that you think your work life is messed up, and then you watch “Billions” and “House of Cards” and think your life is a cake walk.

What’s going on in your life? What is your favorite last line/paragraph from a book? What are you watching?

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Savannah Smiles Lemon Cheesecake

March 4, 2016

I may have mentioned before that Sophie is now a Girl Scout and is selling cookies for the first time. While she did reach her sales goal, we still have several boxes of cookies that need to find a good home. I’ve nearly had my fill of Girl Scout cookies. So instead of consuming the remaining cookies by themselves, I decided t0 use them in recipes. The Savannah Smiles were the first cookies to be used. If you’re not familiar with this variety, these cookies are a lemon shortbread dusted in powdered sugar.

By the way, I cannot say that name or consume one of the cookies without thinking about that 1980s movie, Savannah Smiles, about the little girl who runs away with two criminals because she’s ignored at home. Am I the only one who thinks that movie was kind of depressing? I just emerged from a Google rabbit hole where I realized the young actress died in 1997 from a drug overdose. But I digress (clearly!). …

I decided to make a lemon cheesecake using the Savannah Smiles cookies as the crust. I was pleasantly surprised at how well it turned out. So if you like lemon and are craving an easy dessert, support a Girl Scout by buying a box of cookies, and then make this delicious cake. If you like lemon, this cheesecake will not disappoint!

Savannah Smiles Lemon Cheesecake

Savannah Smiles Lemon Cheesecake

1 package Savannah Smiles cookies

1/4 c. melted butter

2 packages (8 oz.) cream cheese, softened

1/2 c. granulated sugar

1 tsp. vanilla

1 dash lemon extract (if you have it on hand)

1 small container (6 oz.) Greek lemon yogurt

2 Tbsp. lemon curd + 1/4 cup lemon curd

2 eggs

1. Preheat over to 350 degrees.

2. Blend the Savannah Smiles cookies in a food processes until they’re crumbled. Add the melted butter to the cookies. Press the mixture into a greased 8″ or 9″ spring-form  pan. Bake for about 5 minutes.

3. In a mixer, blend the cream cheese, sugar, vanilla, yogurt, lemon extract and 2 Tbsp. lemon curd. Mix until combined. Add the eggs and blend together.

4. Spread the remaining lemon curd over the crust so it covers the top. Pour the cheesecake batter over the top of the crust and curd.

5. Bake for approximately 40 minutes or until the center is nearly set. I used a cake tester and baked until the tester came out clean. Let the cake cool before serving. Add some whipped cream to the top if you’d like.

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Monday Musings ~ February 29

February 29, 2016

It’s Monday. And Leap Day!

Torrey Pines Reserve

1. It was a banner weekend for us, seeing two movies before the Academy Awards aired: Spotlight and Steve Jobs. I loved Spotlight and was thrilled it won Best Picture and Best Original Screenplay. I remember reading about the the scandal back in 2002 when the story broke in The Boston Globe. But seeing the movie opened my eyes to this reality. I felt completely overwhelmed by the end, thinking about how pervasive the cover up was and the sheer multitude of victims. Yet even though it left me in tears, I think evoking that kind of emotion is a sign of a good story, and the writing did its job.

Steve Jobs, on the other hand, was just okay. I’m a huge Aaron Sorkin fan and always impressed with his ability to write strong dialogue that moves the plot forward (great article from Writer Unboxed about this very subject). But I felt like the magic was lacking in this movie. It was … different. Which maybe is the point considering Jobs and Apple are about the “think different” idea?

2. On the subject of computers, I found this New York Times article fascinating about how the movie War Games influenced national policy. Interesting to know one of my favorite movies also impacted more than just my own experience with computers.

3. Yesterday I posted on Facebook that it’s been 19 years since I graduated college and I still have anxiety-riddled dreams that it’s the end of the semester and I’m failing a math or science class. And the thing is, now that I’ve been out of school, worked in several jobs and hired employees, I realize that failing one class doesn’t even have a huge impact in the big picture. But of course this perspective never comes through in the dream itself. It was fascinating how many other people commented on my Facebook post that they also have these dreams. I wonder if everyone has these types of dreams, or only certain types of individuals? Related: It’s been 19 years since I was in college. How the heck is that possible?!

4. Speaking of college, I love teaching marketing and communication to my students at FIDM. And there’s nothing that makes me happier than seeing the students understand the concepts and put them to use. One of my classes involves teaching the students about a press kit, how to write a press release, and pitching to reporters and bloggers. Several of my former students created a group called Cre-8, and is working with Banding Together, a San Diego non-profit organization with a mission to provide music therapy scholarships, mentorships and instruments to youth with special needs like autism and Down syndrome.

Using the skills they learned in my class and other marketing courses, my students are putting on a fundraising event for Banding Together. I love that they put together a website, obtained sponsors, wrote up a media kit, and pitched me to promote the event on my blog. I’m mentioning this here because I want to support their awesome work and give a plug to this fundraising event that supports a great cause. I also think it’s a great example of how teaching skills based in practice (as opposed to just theory) gives students real-life experience they can use in their careers.

5. And finally, I once had an employee who told me she always appreciated the fact that I told her “thank you” when she presented me with work or accomplished a project. In all honesty, I didn’t even realize I was doing this. But clearly those two, tiny words had an impact on her. I was thinking about that when I read this great article about saying “thank you” in seven life situations. It’s funny how the simple act of uttering that phrase can change your own outlook and other people’s perceptions.

Did you watch the Academy Awards? Seen any good movies lately? What’s going on in your life?

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Let’s Go to the Movies

February 25, 2016

The first time I watched the Academy Awards was 1984 and Terms of Endearment was nominated for Best Picture. I hadn’t seen any of the movies at the time, but I loved watching the clips, trying to predict the winners and hearing the acceptance speeches. My mom and I always admired all the beautiful dresses and commented on the ones that should have been left at home.

I soon became a huge movie fan, always wanting to see the latest releases and summer blockbusters and I always looked forward to tuning in to the Oscars. As I got older, I made it a point to see every Best Picture nominee. The year Titanic swept the categories, I’d seen everything nominated and won the office Oscar pool.

Over the years I’ve watched fewer movies in the theater; a result of less free time and expensive ticket prices. And the cliche about parents only seeing the movies nominated in “Best Animated Picture” category does ring true for me. But I still love tuning in to the Academy Awards. It’s a tradition that started when I was 8 years old, and one that will continue when the Oscars are on this Sunday.

When I think about my favorite movie, there’s just no way I can pick one. There are so many that I love for different reasons. (Although after reflecting on my choices, I can see themes and commonalities among all the movies and why they resonate with me.) So in celebration of the Academy Awards, here are my favorite movies that I will watch anytime, over and over again.

movies collage

All The President’s Men – All reporters or journalism majors (including me) wished, at one time, they were Woodward and Bernstein. I love the true investigative journalism in this movie; how these young reporters changed history through their honest research, writing, and hard work. This movie always keeps me on the edge of my seat, which says a lot considering it’s a true story about politics.

Almost Famous – Cameron Crowe’s semi-autobiography resonates with me so much. I love Crowe’s tribute to his favorite music bands (The Eagles and Glenn Frey are so much present) and his journey to be a journalist. I’ve always identified with William Miller, trying to be the writer he knows he can become. And no matter how much he wanted to be cool, as Lester Bangs said, “Guys like us … we’re not cool.” Such great performances in that movie, especially by Philip Seymour Hoffman and Frances McDormand.

Saving Mr. Banks – This story of Disney’s making of Mary Poppins has become one of my new favorites. Emma Thompson as P.L. Travers and Tom Hanks as Walt Disney give such great performances. I love seeing the magic of the Sherman Brothers and how they create all those memorable Disney songs we still sing today. And while this movie is certainly entertaining, it’s also a somber story of how very sad circumstances can truly inspire greatness in writing.

War Games – My Dad showed me this movie the day we bought our first Apple IIE home computer. I loved War Games then, and I still love it today. It’s now more than 30 years old, and the themes of man versus machine – and who really knows best – still hit home.

Reality Bites – This movie is my Generation X’s anthem movie. I remember seeing this movie (for the first of many times) my freshmen year of college and I was blown away thinking this movie was written for me. It was exactly what I was going through at that moment in my life.

The Departed – Hands down, my favorite Martin Scorsese movie. Tragic, compelling, thrilling … all the makings of a classic Scorsese story. Brilliant acting by Jack Nicholson, Leonardo DiCaprio and Matt Damon. While there’s not a happy ending, you do finish the film feeling satisfied there’s justice.

The English Patient – This goes up there with my love of World War II movies. The story is amazing. The writing is like poetry (a compliment to Michael Ondaatje who wrote the novel). And the scenery, cinematography and music are beautiful. You feel as if you’re watching art.

Zodiac – This movie is masterful in the way the story is written. I loved how it takes the work of the police, a journalist and a cartoonist to try to make sense of a situation that just doesn’t make sense. And how the theme of “obsession” runs through all the main characters. I also love how this movie was filmed. The authenticity of the 1970s set-up isn’t hokey or gimmicky; you feel like you’re actually watching the events taking place during the time.

Broadcast News – The characters and dialogue, and James Brooks’ writing, are incredible. My favorite line is when Albert Brooks’ character says, “I feel like I’m slipping. But do people who are actually slipping feel that way? Or is it only the really good people who are moving up who invariably think they’re slipping because their standards are so high?” Brilliance!

The Sound of Music – Who doesn’t love the von Trapp family? The scenery. The story. The music. The children. The Captain and Maria. What an amazing musical. And Julie Andrews voice is just magical. Anytime I feel down, I listen to the soundtrack.

Terms of Endearment – I’ve seen this movie dozens of times and it never resonated with me until after I became a mother to a daughter. Shirley McLaine and Deborah Winger are brilliant at portraying the struggles, the tension, the expectations and disappointments, and the love that can only go with the mother-daughter relationship. And I cry every single time.

Perks of Being a Wallflower – I watched Perks only a few years ago, and I was blown away by how much I could relate to Charlie as a wallflower, always watching life from the sidelines. I felt so much like that during high school in the early 1990s, never knowing where I fit in or if I’d ever find true friends. This is such a beautiful story of struggling to fit in, loneliness, happiness and growing up.

Your turn! What are your favorite movies? What will you watch hundreds of times?

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From My Bookshelf: Favorite Books About Writing

February 22, 2016

If you look inside my house, there’s one thing you will consistently see throughout the home: books.

This really shouldn’t come as a surprise. I’ve made no secret of the fact that I have a love affair with books, reading and writing. Bryan and I share that trait, and Sophie has become quite the reader and collector of books as well. Aside from my “to read” stack next to my bed, I also have several bookshelves in my office filled with novels, non-fiction, memoir, Judaism, history, and my growing collection of writing books.

I’ve been spending a lot of time perusing my writing books lately while I work on my novel-writing project. As I looked at each of the books on my shelf, I realized they were not only great books about the craft of writing. But each one carries with it a story that’s personal to me.

So with that, I’d like to share with you my favorite books about writing and words. I’ve not only included the title and author, but also a sentence about what makes the book unique and why it’s meaningful to me. Maybe you’ll recognize a few titles, or be inspired to pick up a new read. Enjoy the (long) list!

writing books_Leah's Thoughts

Bird by Bird: Some Instructions on Writing and Life, Anne Lamott — I’d venture to guess most wordsmiths own a copy of Anne Lamott’s classic, often considered the writer’s “bible.” One of my first supervisors and mentors from my career at KPBS gave this to me along with a blank journal. It was the first writing book I received.

The Artist’s Way, Julia Cameron — Another writing classic by the inventor of Morning Pages. I had the pleasure of hearing Cameron speak at a writer’s workshop in Santa Fe, New Mexico a few years ago. She said that she has an entire storage unit filled with all of her Morning Pages. Wouldn’t you love to see that storage room?!

The Right to Write: An Invitation and Initiation into the Writing Life, Julia Cameron — I also love this book by Cameron, which I bought in preparation for my trip to Santa Fe. I am incredibly fortunate that she signed both copies of my books.

Writing Is My Drink: A Writer’s Story of Finding Her Voice (and a Guide to How You Can Too), Theo Pauline Nestor — This book is part memoir and part writing practice. I love her honest personal narrative stories, information about the craft, and the “Try This” sections that give exercises to put the book into practice.

A Writer’s Book of Days: A Spirited Companion and Lively Muse for the Writing Life, Judy Reeves — I’ve taken writing classes from Reeves, who lives here in San Diego. I love how this book is broken down by month, and teaches the craft using a different subject and prompts for each week.

The Lively Muse Daily Appointment Calendar For Writers, Judy Reeves — This guide is a book of writing prompts with a perpetual calendar, which means you can start it any time. The book also includes quotes to inspire and inform, writing tips and ideas, literary facts and features, notes on special literary celebrations, and a place for notes.

Writing Tools: 50 Essential Strategies for Every Writer, Roy Peter Clark — I can relate to his journalism-style approach to writing since that is how I was originally trained to write. I love how this book is organized into sections with more than 200 examples from both journalism and literature.

Writing Down the Bones: Freeing the Writer Within, Natalie Goldberg — Another classic book for writers. One of my best friends from college was a wonderful writer, and she gave me Goldberg’s book as a gift. Although we are no longer close friends, I still treasure the book and all the memories we shared together.

The True Secret of Writing: Connecting Life with Language, Natalie Goldberg — I learned Goldberg is a practicing Buddhist when I participated in “slow walking” with her, as part of the Santa Fe writing workshop with Julia Cameron and Theo Pauline Nestor. This book encapsulates Goldberg’s teachings, which focuses on walking, sitting and writing.

No One Cares What You Had for Lunch: 100 Ideas for Your Blog, Margaret Mason — Bryan gave me this book when I started blogging. It’s full of great blog post ideas if you ever need inspiration.

Writing Life Stories: How To Make Memories Into Memoirs, Ideas Into Essays And Life Into Literature, Bill Roorbach — A great book if you’re thinking of writing a memoir, or want to practice the art of personal narratives and essay.

Still Writing: The Perils and Pleasures of a Creative Life, Dani Shapiro — She is becoming one of my favorite writers these days. I love her memoirist take on the art of storytelling, and how writing has shaped her entire life.

The First Five Pages: A Writer’s Guide To Staying Out of the Rejection Pile, Noah Lukeman — Lukeman writes from his perspective of a literary agent. The sections are short, focused and contain practical exercises to practice the craft. I’ve been reading sections of this book for my writing class and it’s been incredibly helpful as I write with a goal to publish a novel.

The Miracle of Language, Richard Lederer — I met this self-proclaimed “verbivore” when I worked at KPBS and he co-hosted the radio show, A Way With Words. He was the nicest man, and loved nothing more than to talk with people about words. He has written many books, but this one is essentially a love letter to the English language.

Spunk & Bite: A Writer’s Guide to Bold, Contemporary Style, Arthur Plotnik — Bryan also gave me this book when I started writing frequently. It’s a classic book that really teaches you how to be a better writer and use the craft really well.

The Write Start: A Guide to Nurturing Writing at Every Stage, from Scribbling to Forming Letters and Writing Stories, Jennifer Hallissy — This book is less about teaching me writing skills, but how to help kids develop their writing skills from toddler to teen. I’ve toyed with the idea of teaching writing to kids, and this book has great insight into the process and techniques to help children become writers.

Lend Me Your Ears: Great Speeches in History, William Safire — Before I become a full-time entrepreneur, I was a speechwriter to two college presidents at San Diego State University. It was in that job that I really honed my ability to write in other people’s voices. This book is so inspiring, especially when you think about how words and speeches have made history.

I’m always looking for more writing books to add to my shelf. What books inspire you to write?

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This post contains affiliate links. That means I may receive a small commission (at no cost to you) if you purchase a book through the links provided. This is essentially a way for me to support my obsessive book-buying habits.

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