Friday, April 30, 2010

Sometimes Size Does Matter

Take a quick look at these two plates. Which plate has around 450 calories?

Surprise! Both plates have exactly the same amount of food. Okay, maybe it’s not a surprise, maybe you’re well aware that plate size influences how much we eat, but did you know that plate sizes are slowly increasing? The two plates above are my ‘good china.’ The plate on the left is a salad plate, something that used to be called a luncheon plate back when people thought you should eat less at lunch. It measures eight inches across, about the same size as my grandmother’s dinner plates. Today’s dinner plates are between eleven and twelve inches. As plate size slowly creeps up, so do portion sizes.

As writers we know the actual size of something doesn’t matter much compared to how it is perceived. An object can loom large or shrink into nothing when our hero fears it or needs to find it respectively. Unfortunately, your dinner plate uses the same magic trick on your feeling of fullness after a meal. Visual cues help us to gauge how full we are; if you eat off a larger plate you’ll eat more before you feel full.

A study published in Obesity Research asked subjects to rate how satisfied they were and estimate how much they had eaten after consuming a bowl of soup. However, some subjects were given ‘bottomless’ soup bowls that refilled via a pump hidden under the table. It turned out that if a subject’s bowl never emptied they ate 73% more soup. More importantly, after eating they didn’t rate themselves as more satisfied nor did they believe they had eaten more than subjects with a normal bowl.

How can a healthy writer cope? First, try eating off of smaller plates and bowls. You’re likely to eat less without even realizing it. I’ve found using bowls and serving dishes marked with the size to be helpful as well. I know I’ve eaten half a cup when half of the one cup container is empty, instead of just guessing. I have cheap Ziploc containers and durable Pyrex, both do a great job.
Second, stop and look at your food. When all the right words are flowing from my finger tips, I often eat with my eyes on the monitor and one hand typing. It’s great for my daily word count but it means I’m not visually processing how much I’m eating. Similarly, take your food out of its bag or package. It’s a lot easier to know you’ve had ten M&Ms if you counted them out and put them in glass dish instead of snatching a handful or two from the bag as you stand over the sink.

How big are your plates? Do you think plate size matters? Do you eat while typing too? Let me know in the comments below.

Curious to read that study? It’s here: Bottomless Bowls: Why Visual Cues of Portion Size May Influence Intake

Want to make the dish you see pictured above? It’s here: Balsamic Glazed Pork Chops with Red Pepper Grits


When she’s not cooking, buying, or dreaming about food, Rachel Kleinsorge writes steamy paranormal mystery romances. She is currently waiting for the call from her agent, the amazing Carolyn Grayson, while working on her next novel.
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Thursday, April 29, 2010

But I'm So Busy!

April was insane for me. By the 30th, I had the partial for my March '11 Blaze due. I had the galley edits for my Sept. '10 Blaze due. And I had revisions and an epilogue for my Dec. '10 Blaze novella due. Just typing both exhausts me and makes me feel a little like I'm bragging, which I definitely don't mean to be! Don't get me wrong, this is a major dream come true. I'm ecstatic to have my contracts and the deadlines!

But when they hit like this, all at the same time, I stress hugely. And while I've got a solid handle on the stress eating (avoid it, ignore it, pretend strawberries are a wonderful substitute for chocolate), I don't have a good handle on the time factor.

And when I stress, I cocoon. Some people get a little manic. They clean, exercise, do tons of stuff. Me? I want to nap. I stare at the computer screen. I write words over and over and over, then delete them and wish I hadn't. I refuse to cut back on commitments to my kids or husband or house, because stress always brings out my inner SuperWoman urges. I write endless to-do lists.

What I don't do? I don't want to exercise. I seem to go into automatic "but I don't have enough time" mode and think of a million and twelve reasons to blow off exercising.

Exercise. You know, that stuff that releases stress. That energizes both the mind and body. That makes all those really cool hormones and endorphins and nifty things that would be soooo good for me. Those things that would, of course, make me stress less and help me achieve all my goals.

Nifty, huh? And my mind keeps trying to talk me into avoiding it. I, of course am doing my best to ignore my mind. So far, I'm doing pretty well. I've managed to keep my workouts to at least 5 days a week, even in high stress (6 is my norm). I'll admit, I'm exercising with a bit less intensity about half those days since I end up running at 9pm instead of 2pm like I'd prefer, but I'm still getting the run in, right? And I haven't given in to take a week off. All good.

So here's my question. When you get overwhelmed, is exercise --or writing-- the first thing to go on your to-do list? How often do you tell yourself you just don't have time? How often do you find yourself making excuses that you know are flimsy, to get out of exercising --or writing?

Tawny Weber writes hot, spicy stories for Harlequin Blaze. In January 2010, her novella, YOU HAVE TO KISS A LOT OF FROGS, was out in the Blazing Bedtime Story anthology and her next full length Blaze,, RIDING THE WAVES, will be out in September 2010. Come by and visit her on the web at
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Wednesday, April 28, 2010

Everything's Bigger in Texas

This week, the contestants on The Biggest Loser went on another of their special trips to inspire people just like us. This time, they headed to Texas, famous for everything being bigger than everywhere else. But Texas could benefit from being a bit smaller in one statistic -- five of the 10 fattest cities in the country are in Texas. So the contestants took their stories to radio stations and invited people to come run a 5K with them at the Cotton Bowl. Before the 5K, Alison shared some more startling statistics:

* Soon, 75% of Texans will be overweight or obese.
* Texans pay out $10 billion a year to treat obesity-related health issues. Just think of what good that $10 billion could do elsewhere if everyone was a healthy weight.

One of the things Ashley said while on the radio is a motto I think we should live by and share anytime we can: "You have to start somewhere."

I found the 5K inspiring. There was the 35-year-old gal sharing her family's history of diabetes with O'Neal. Koli talking to the man who'd been inspired by the show to start losing weight on his own. Koli and Sam going back to finish the race with CJ, the woman with the two bad knees -- it took her more than 2 hours to finish, but she was so determined. I think what she said when she finished will resonate with a lot of Americans: "I can't even walk through Walmart. I have to take a cart. And I just walked a 5K!" Michael telling his white team that the high of losing weight is addictive and that "it's the littlest things that make the biggest difference."

During these weeks when they're not at the ranch, the contestants have to find time and unique ways of getting in exercise. Ashley, Daris and Michael -- the three contestants who don't have team members left to push them -- walked many, many flights of stairs in their hotel. It honestly made me wish I had a high-rise hotel next door so I could go see how many flights I could walk. :)

I got a lot of good laughs out of the immunity challenge in which the contestants had to herd calves into their shoots. I was betting on Daris because I think he's from Oklahoma and seemed like maybe he'd been around ranches more than anyone. He came close, but with other teams working together, he came in a little short. Had to crack up at Sam's and Michael's reactions -- such city boys. LOL! With Sam's help, Koli won immunity (which he really needed since he only lost one pound this week).

Abby from last season invited Jillian to speak at a high school, and I worried that the open Q&A forum wasn't going to go over well. After all, this is high school and teens typically don't want to do anything that makes them stand out as different in an uncool way. But one overweight girl was brave enough to stand up in front of her peers and admit she wasn't happy and had always been told she couldn't accomplish things like weight loss and feeling good about herself. My heart broke for her. Jillian took her aside afterward and spoke to her, gave her a bit of inspiration from someone who'd been there. Hard to believe Jillian was ever anything but incredibly fit, but evidently she was. Jillian shared with the students a truly scary fact -- today's teens are the first generation in history to have a lower life expectancy than their parents.

We saw fairly low numbers at the weigh-in this week (1, 4, 5, 5, 6) with the exception of Michael's 15-pound loss. He thanked Daris for making him walk the stairs and said, "I love going on vacation." Not only has Michael lost a lot of weight, uncovering the guy he is physically underneath, but he's finding more and more of his happy, funny guy each week. As the weigh-in came to a close, a lot of tears were shed since both members of the yellow team, O'Neal and Sunshine, fell below the yellow line. As expected, O'Neal asked everyone to vote for him, and as far as we saw everyone respected that wish. I loved the transformation moment for O'Neal. He's lost a total of 139 pounds and is looking great, can do so many things he couldn't before going on The Biggest Loser. He's really a neat guy, and I'm happy for him and his family and all the people he's going to touch with his story.

Next week is makeover week. I love makeover week!

What did you like/not like about this week's episode? And are you a fan of makeover week?

Oh, and I read a spoiler a couple of weeks ago. I know which two of the contestants are dating, but I won't spoil it here.
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Tuesday, April 27, 2010

Health News Roundup

Every so often, I like to do news searches to see what is being reported in the world of health. Today, I came across an article that stated that more U.S. women may be obese than previously thought. Okay, that's not good news. The discrepancy stems from different obesity standards used by the World Health Organization and the U.S. federal guidelines. Some experts suggest the BMI basis used in the federal guidelines is not right for everyone. See the full article here.

Another article focused on childhood obesity and how the risk for this increases 12 times if a child has two obese parents. It's just another way children learn from and take after their parents. See the full article on the UK study yielding these stats here.

And do you need another reason to make healthier choices? How about eating more veggies and fruits, getting more exercise, quitting smoking and cutting alcohol consumption equaling 12 additional years on your lifespan? That's the result of a recent British study you can read about here. It reminds me of those conversations that Dr. Huizenga has with the Biggest Loser contestants when they arrive at the ranch. Seeing actual years added to our lives is a very powerful motivator.

Have you seen any health or fitness news lately that made you rededicate yourself to your healthy endeavors? And does anyone have that Fit TV channel? I wish I had that on my cable package.
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Monday, April 26, 2010

What is a healthy approach to dating?

The question what is a healthy approach to dating and courtship has been on my mind in the last year and a half more than at any other time except perhaps the first couple years of college. Alas, I'm not sure I have any more wisdom today than I did as a freshman or sophomore at Dartmouth. Who has all the answers that seem to elude me?

As I've mentioned before, I spent most of my 20s and a good start on my 30s obese. I'm sure there are obese people who have very active, romantic, social lives, but I don't know any of them. I did have an active social life, but I feel like I'm coming back to the dating world after a long break. Honestly, I do not know what I'm doing, and it's driving me crazy. I often feel like I'm on an emotional roller coaster, and there is nobody in the seat next to me. I'm doing it to myself.

Is this just normal? I've attacked these questions in the same way I attack all questions - I research. I've read advice articles (and even books) on dating and talked to many friends and my sister about it. There is a lot of conflicting advice out there, but my feelings do seem to fall under the broad umbrella of "normal". I do hate how adversarial or uncertain it all can feel and how the typical advice feels like game playing. What has helped the most is applying some of the same lessons I learned in my attempts to lose weight: be Zen like and have no expectations while still being aware of what I'm doing and how it effects me. I even reread the chapters in The Zen of Eating on "Attachment to Desire Causes Suffering" and "Suffering Ends By Letting Go of Attachment to Desire."

So, it's probably apparent I don't feel like I have much wisdom to share on this topic. Do any of you have good advice? What are your thoughts on dating and courtship today in real life (as opposed to in novels or in comparison to romance novels if that's what you are the most interested in)? What is important to be aware of and to do?

Michelle Butler has made becoming a healthy writer a priority. She lives, works and writes in the Washington, DC, area. You can follow her on twitter at
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Sunday, April 25, 2010

Inspiration Sunday

There is a quote by Henry Ford that I liked so much I wrote it on a slip of index card and put it on the corkboard above my desk. When I did it, I was thinking of it in terms of my writing. But when I looked up at it recently, I realized it could apply to any journey in life, including weight loss and fitness.

"Obstacles are those frightful things you see when you take your eyes off your goal."

What is your goal for this week, in your writing and in your personal health and fitness journey? Mine are:

1. Finish judging contest entries for an RWA chapter.
2. Start revisions on one of my YA books and return to writing new material on another.
3. At least one hour of exercise every day, more if at all possible.
4. Lose enough weight to get to the 15 pounds lost mark.
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Saturday, April 24, 2010

Tofu Shirataki Noodles in Beef Lo Mein

I’m a firm believer in real food. Thanks to a medical condition I can’t have artificial sweeteners, and I tend to avoid other artificial things like flavor or color. That eliminates a lot of dieting staples from my life: no sugar free soda, no sugar free pudding snacks, and almost no diet versions of regular foods. From time to time I’ll find a substitution that works for me, like swapping creamed cauliflower for mashed potatoes, but usually swaps don’t work for me.

Tofu Shirataki noodles are a swap that does work for me in a lot of ways. With only 20 calories per 4 ounce serving (that’s zero Weight Watchers points) these noodles satisfy a craving for pasta without the calories and carbs. Although a staple in Japan, at one point the Atkins diet made them easy find here in the US. They were stocked by Safeway and Costco. Now you’ll have to check with an Asian supermarket to find their guilt free goodness.

Because Tofu Shirataki noodles are made from tofu and yam flour they come packaged in water. The water tends to have a slightly unpleasant smell. To begin cooking, rinse the noodles thoroughly, then microwave in fresh water for two minutes. (If you don’t have a microwave, parboil in boiling water on the stove.) Drain and dry before cooking. They taste best when cooked in a flavorful sauce such as the recipe below.

Beef Lo Mein with Tofu Shirataki noodles

4 ounces per person of very lean Beef (in these photos I used top round beef)
1 bag (8 oz.) Tofu Shirataki, rinsed, parboiled, and dried
1 cup snow peas
1 cup green peas

Marinade for the beef:
3 tablespoons orange juice
3 tablespoons water
3 tablespoons soy sauce
1 tablespoons brown sugar
1 tablespoon Mirin (Japanese Rice Wine)
1 tablespoon Japanese Rice Wine vinegar
1 tablespoon Sesame seeds
1 teaspoon garlic powder
1 teaspoon honey
1/2 teaspoon cornstarch

Slice the beef thin, on the bias. Combine the first 9 ingredients for the marinade, altering to your taste. When it’s perfect, add the beef and refrigerate for at least two hours.

In a hot nonstick pan begin to cook the beef, pouring the marinade into a pot for later use. Steam or microwave the vegetables.

Place the marinade over medium heat. When it reaches a boil add the rinsed, microwaved, and dried Shirataki noodles. After five minutes remove the noodles from the sauce and arrange on the plate. Add the cornstarch to the remaining marinade, whisking to combine.

Arrange the beef and vegetables on the plates. When the marinade has thickened pour over the plates and serve immediately.

A complex recipe, but well worth it for the calorie savings. While Shirataki noodles have a bit of a strange mouth-feel, they taste like whatever you cooked them in. I’ll take a slightly rubbery or slippery bite to save roughly 160 calories per serving. What about you? Fake foods or no? Would you rather go without than try a substitute?


When she’s not cooking, buying, or dreaming about food Rachel Kleinsorge writes steamy paranormal mystery romances. She is currently waiting for the call from her agent, the amazing Carolyn Grayson, while working on her next novel.

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Friday, April 23, 2010

The Skinny Girl in the Elevator

Last year at DragonCon I stepped onto the crowded elevator to a scent worth drooling for: bar-be-queue sauce sweet and tangy followed by a hint of fresh French Fries. My mind filled in the rest of the meal hiding in the Styrofoam container: crumbly, buttery cornbread and cool, creamy coleslaw. Having just come from a not-nearly-as-enticing grilled chicken salad, I sighed and announced how jealous I was. A woman not far from me reminded me to think of the calories. I replied that you couldn’t always count calories. And then she said…

“Skinny girls always say things like that.”

After I picked my jaw up from the elevator floor I told her my weight and thanked her for calling me a skinny girl. She told me I wore it well and walked out of my life. That would be the first, and only, time I’ve ever been the skinny girl.

There are a few lessons here: that we’re all the skinny girl compared to someone else, that it only takes a minute to make someone’s day, and that good bar-be-que is worth a taste or two. But the most important one is this: it’s not about how other people see you, it’s about how you see you.

The girl riding the elevator with me saw skinny. Great! But I can’t take that compliment and use it to ignore the facts: my BMI registers as obese, given my family medical history sugary meals and simple carbs are dangerous, and someone with my health background needs to be better. It’s not about getting compliments, it’s not about fitting into a size 10, it’s about staying alive and being healthy.

I want to be able to live without a daily injection of insulin. I want to be able to enjoy my old age without taking several daily prescriptions. I want to walk along the beach without worrying about how far it is. I want know the only thing stopping me is good sense, not poor health.

It’s hard when you get close to your goals and other people begin to see you as skinny. Friends will say you’re doing so well, skip tonight’s run and come have a beer. Partners will pick up sugary treats, offering them to you as a reward. It’s harder still when it isn’t going well, when nothing seems to work or you just don’t want to think about it anymore. People will tell you you’re being silly, you look great. The world will make excuses for you: you’ve had a bad day, there’s some reason to celebrate, or it’s too cold or hot to be healthy.

But you’re worth the work. Your health is worth fighting this battle. Having a set back or reaching a milestone isn’t a reason to stop. You have to remain vigilant, even when it feels like you’re almost finished or feel you never will be. So bask in the glow of compliments (I still think about being the skinny girl in the elevator) but remember to stay on course. Appreciate the intentions behind the excuses, but ignore their siren’s song. Stay in control and don’t let anyone make your choices for you.

What compliments have you gotten lately? Where have you been derailed? Can you use one to fight the other? Let me know if you think I’m crazy in the comments below.


When she’s not cooking, buying, or dreaming about food Rachel Kleinsorge writes steamy paranormal mystery romances. She is currently waiting for the call from her agent, the amazing Carolyn Grayson, while working on her next novel.

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Thursday, April 22, 2010


Why do you want to lose weight?

Why do you want to write a book?

I think the answer to those questions are the key to sticking with it when things get rough. When the rejections start rolling in or the scale won't budge. When watching that TV show sounds so much better than working through that plot problem and the chocolate chip cookie smells soooo good your mouth waters.

Just like in crafting a solid character in our writing, we have to have a strong enough motivation to push us to face the things we don't want to face -and one strong enough to keep us on track (or haul us back on track) when we veer off. After all, when faced with the struggles and the roadblocks, knowing your motivation is often the only way through, isn't it?

So what's your motivation? How strong is it?

At one point, my motivation was the yearly National Writer's Conference so I could wear cute clothes when I saw my friends. Somewhere around May, after the workshop schedule was released, the loops would start buzzing about conference fun. Before I'd sold my first book, conference always became this looming deadline. I had to sell by conference. I had find an agent by conference. I had to lose weight by conference. To this day, I have no idea what I thought was going to happen if I didn't achieve those goals -and you know what? I never did achieve them in the way I planned. I never reached that "perfect weight". The first time I'd sent the agent goal, I fired her right before conference. And my first sale? I wasn't even planning on attending conference that year!

No, that particular motivation obviously wasn't compelling enough, was it.

I had to really think about what losing weight, what being healthy, what writing, all meant to me. Why did I want them. Why were they worth the hours of time, the tons of energy, the vast amount of emotional stress they'd require to accomplish? The answers were a lot deeper than I'd though they'd be - although I do admit, being able to wear really cute clothes that show off my fabulous shoe collection did stay on the list!

How about you? Have you ever tried to figure out what your motivation is? Is it big enough, strong enough, to push you through the roadblocks you might encounter along the way?

Tawny Weber writes hot, spicy stories for Harlequin Blaze. In January 2010, her novella, YOU HAVE TO KISS A LOT OF FROGS, was out in the Blazing Bedtime Story anthology and her next full length Blaze,, RIDING THE WAVES, will be out in September 2010. Come by and visit her on the web at
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Wednesday, April 21, 2010

Ups and Downs on The Biggest Loser

Things got off to a bang on this week's The Biggest Loser when the contestants found out they would have to endure an all-day temptation in the form of a room filled with food where they would have to eat all their meals. They could choose to try to eat the most calories and thus win the ability to cast the only vote during the elimination, or they could stick with their healthy eating habits and just hope to stay above the yellow line. Most everyone stuck to the healthy eating, a few gave in a little, but Koli purposely ate as much as he could (making himself feel sick in the process) to get that vote for fear Sam would need saving if he fell below the yellow line this week. He did, indeed, "win" the challenge by consuming 4,164 calories. Of course, then he had to work them off, and Sam, being a very appreciative cousin, put him through an extra, sweat-inducing workout.

Dr. Huizenga made a return appearance and talked to the contestants about how they were progressing. Michael has added 12 years back to his life, and Ashley no longer has diabetes. It just shows how huge the advantages can be when we take our eating and fitness firmly in hand.

At the final challenge, the contestants had to use blocks to build a platform up to a tower, which they then had to climb to reach a flag. The winner won a 1-pound advantage at the weigh-in, and the person who came in last would have a 1-pounds disadvantage. Daris won, and because O'Neal took a nasty fall and had to be carted away in the ambulance he automatically got the disadvantage because he couldn't finish the challenge. And as if that wasn't bad enough, after he returned to the ranch, he got a call that his brother had died from cancer. Understandably, he was very distraught because he wasn't there to say goodbye to his big brother. He channeled his anger and pain into his workouts, but he finally broke down and Jillian held him as he cried. I had fat tears in my own eyes at this point.

The contestants got a surprise trip to the beach, where they got to work out with professional volleyball player Gabrielle Reese -- and have a little fun in the surf.

The weigh-in brought smaller numbers this week with only Koli posting a double-digit loss with 10. And in a very nice moment, O'Neal lost 8 pounds. Sunshine and Victoria both lost only 1 pound and fell below the yellow line. I hate how the editing always makes me doubt what I think is going to happen, but in the end what my gut told me came true -- Koli voted out Victoria. I don't think I could go back to that house and face O'Neal, someone Koli admittedly admires a great deal, if he'd voted out Sunshine. I was nervous for Michael and Ashley, who both had much lower than normal numbers this week, but thankfully they were safely above the yellow line.

Victoria got a bit of extra spark after Koli told her that she needed to pick it up. Well, she did. She and her mom, Cherita, who never got to spend a single night on the ranch, re-did the bike marathon that sent them home on Day 1, and this time they finished it together. Cherita has lost 77 pounds, all at home. Victoria has gone from a size 26 jeans to size 12. That boggled my mind a bit because I weigh less than she does and still can't fit into my size 12 pants. Some of the size 14 pants are still snug. I guess my weight loss isn't coming in the hip and lower abdomen areas, something I need to work on.

What did you think of this week's episode?
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Tuesday, April 20, 2010

When pollen derailed the fitness train

Things have been going really well lately in my fitness endeavors. I was getting at least one hour of exercise every day, some days more, and I was doing well with my calorie counts and seeing results on the scales. Then all that yard work I've been doing came back to haunt me. I've been very careful because I have icky seasonal allergies. When I work in the yard, I wear a mask and when I come back inside afterward I immediately discard the clothes into the laundry and take a shower. Alas, some of the nasty pollen found my respiratory system anyway. The pollen counts are very high right now, and last Wednesday evening I started to cough a little. By Thursday, I was having asthma symptoms -- coughing, constricted breathing, fatigue, the whole shebang. My asthma very rarely presents symptoms, so I tried to go to the doctor on Friday only to find him out of the office. So I toughed it out through the weekend, but I felt so bad that I've gotten no exercise and haven't been counting calories since last Wednesday. But, hey, maybe coughing actually burns off calories because when I stepped on the scales yesterday morning, I'd still lost two pounds since last Monday.

Now, I won't be surprised if I see a temporary tick up on Tuesday or Wednesday (I'm writing this around 11 p.m. Monday night) when all the non-fitness regimen days catch up to me. But I made it to the doctor yesterday, got some meds and am beginning to feel better. And I got back my voice, which had taken a temporary vacation. I plan to ease back into some exercise today, whatever my lungs can handle, and start tracking my calories again. I'm tantalizingly close to hitting the 15 pounds lost mark.

I could feel bad about the temporary setback, but I don't. I'll deal with any weight gain I might see as a result of the five off days, but I did what I had to do to heal -- rest, drink lots of water, and rest some more.

If any of you are allergy or asthma sufferers, take precautions. The pollen is particularly nasty this year. Good health to all!
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Sunday, April 18, 2010

It Is Better to Be in the Game

This past weekend, I went to WRW's annual retreat In the Company of Writers. It is one of my favorite events of the whole year and features a raucous game of Romance Jeopardy on Saturday night. The three hostesses Glinda the Good Witch (Karen Smith), the Scarecrow (Cathy Maxwell), and the Cowardly Lion (Kathleen Gilles Seidel) skipped into the ballroom singing We're Off to See the Wizard, and the fun began.

The number one rule of Romance Jeopardy is "This Game Is Not Fair!" But, as we all cry, "We like it that way." The retreat attendees break up into separate teams with at least one first-time retreat attendee, and the competition heats up with each question. I was on the Munchkins team with (back row) Naomie Hackenberg, Danielle Meitiv, Louise Fury, Barbara Vey, Tim Bentler-Jungr, Elaine English, and Elise Hayes (front row - right, I'm on the left). We're pictured with our serious game faces on! We came in second place, but we went down swinging.

Romance Jeopardy is such a good time that many retreat attendees sit and watch the competition. My roommate, critique partner and dear friend Elise asked, "Why would anyone choose to sit and watch rather than play?" We both agreed it was better to be in the game.

This is a lesson that I sometimes have to relearn especially when it comes to my writing. As I've blogged about before, I just finished my first draft last year even though I've been hanging around RWA since 1996. I've learned tons along the way, made many friends (all my best ones!) and spun lots of stories, but I've yet to submit anywhere. I've been content to sit on the sidelines and observe, but I don't want to do that anymore. I want to be in the game. I'm diving in, and this year is all about me finally submitting. I joke it may happen on Dec. 31st, but it will happen.

For the first time ever, I signed up for literary agent appointments and pitched to three Saturday morning. I was ridiculously nervous about that and wanted to cancel all my appointments, but I'm so tired of retiring from the field before the game begins and feeling like a fake. I skipped out on much of the socializing Friday night to return to my room and work on what I wanted to say and ask when I sat across a table from three leading agents. I did go through some worst-case scenarios and decided if all three told me I was the dumbest writer they had ever met and they never wanted to see a thing I'd produced, I would survive.

Naturally, they did not say that. They were very kind and willing to share their deep knowledge and insights on the publishing world and what they would suggest for my writing projects. This does not mean they said I was the smartest writer they had ever met and they wanted to see everything I'd produced, but they did request the fiction project I was pitching. I also pitched to two of them a nonfiction project based on what I'm doing on my journey to become a healthy woman and lose weight. I really wanted their insights on the health, fitness and self-help markets. One agent said that editors would not buy a prescriptive book on weight loss in the voice of someone who had succeeded at it. You needed a different platform such as some kind of medical expertise. That made me sad, but I think I handled it well.

I was able to take that input and use it to help me frame my questions for the last agent I met to find out how I could sell a book on this journey. If I want to get it published, my choices are to write a memoir and tell the whole story or build a platform, which could be a pretty challenging and time-consuming undertaking. It gave me a lot to think about. I will still work on this project and plan to write a narrative memoir. This may be written for an audience of one or two as Elise will read it. I'm not certain I'll ever submit a memoir because there are parts of the story I may not want to share or parts that family members will not want told, but I'll still work on it. Writing about this has helped me tremendously, and I plan to continue to write and think about my journey until I reach that healthy BMI for my weight. I may need to continue thinking and writing about this until I die because it is one of the most effective ways I have to battle my emotional eating.

So, my pitches were not a slam dunk, but I am so happy that I am in the game. While I was nervous, I felt like I could hold my head up higher as I waited with my fellow WRW members for our appointments and through the rest of the retreat. I am getting over the ways I have sabotaged my best efforts in the past and perhaps even my fear of success. I'm going to stop holding myself back so much. I've never sat on the sidelines of Romance Jeopardy, and I need to stop doing that elsewhere. It is better to be in the game.

I left the retreat Sunday on a complete writers' high. As I drove home, I developed revised writing goals and plans for the rest of the year and am feeling empowered to meet them. Just in case I might let any doubts creep in about getting in the game, the world reinforced the lesson for me. I was welcomed home by a voice message from VFRW. My manuscript Honor's Redemption is a finalist in the historical category of The Sheila Contest. What a way to end a weekend devoted to nurturing the writer's soul and giving her the tools to take the next step in her career!

Are you in the game? Are there times when you would rather observe than play? If you went to the WRW Retreat, what were some of your favorite moments?

Michelle Butler has made becoming a healthy writer a priority. She lives, works and writes in the Washington, DC, area. You can follow her on twitter at
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Saturday, April 17, 2010

It's All Greek To Me...

We have a couple of fabulous Greek Restaurants in our city and it’s fast becoming one of my favorite foods. My vegetarian daughter introduced me to Greek Pizza and I loved it but realized I could have all the goodness of those black olives and feta cheese without the guilt by making a salad instead.

So here’s a really tasty Greek Pasta Salad. And I often use a purchased low fat salad dressing to make it an even quicker meal for those warm evenings when I don’t want to spend too much time in the kitchen.

Greek Pasta Salad

Serves 8
WW Points - 7
• Salad:
• 12 ozs (375 g) bow-tie pasta
• 2 2/4 cups (675 ml) diced tomatoes
• 1 cup (250 ml) diced cucumbers
• 1 cup (250 ml) diced sweet green peppers
• 3/4 cup (175 ml) sliced red onions
• 3 1/2 ozs (90 g) crumbled feta cheese
• 1/3 cup (75 ml) sliced black olives
• 1/2 cup (125 ml) chopped fresh oregano (or 1 tbsp (15 ml) dried)
• Dressing:
• 1/4 cup (50 ml) olive oil
• 3 tbsp (45 ml) lemon juice
• 2 tbsp (25 ml) water
• 2 tbsp (25 ml) balsamic vinegar
• 2 tsp (10 ml) crushed garlic

1. Cook pasta according to package instructions or until firm to the bite. Rinse in cold water. Drain and place in a serving bowl.
2. Add tomatoes, cucumbers, green peppers, onions, feta cheese, olives and oregano.
3. Make the dressing: In a small bowl, combine oil, lemon juice, water, vinegar and garlic until mixed. Pour over pasta and toss.
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Friday, April 16, 2010

What do you really want?

By Dr. Laura F. Shwaluk

I was sitting in a seminar when the speaker said the following quote:

“Most people fail instead of succeed because they give up what they really want for what they want at the moment.”

That made sense to me. I thought it refers to long-range goals like retirement plans, saving for a house or car, or getting out of debt. However, it also applies to my health as well. It really made me think of my health goals and my commitment to them. Such as exercising 4-5 times per week, cutting back on sugar and maintaining my weight.

Where my commitment most often gets challenged is around family members who do not have the same or similar commitments. For example, my husband often encourages me to have dessert or a glass of wine or port. Sometimes he even suggests that I have two desserts! Or a big bag of salty potato chips. GRRR! Clearly not in line with my commitment of having a lean, muscular, healthy body. He tempts me to have a slice of sweet, delicious Italian Cream Cake or a small glass of port, which I call the “Devil Brew” because it leads me straight to the desserts.

Reminding myself of the above quote strengthens my resolve to stick with my plan. It works, because I am more committed to my health and well-being than to the brief moment of pleasure of eating the dessert or having the port. The long-term pleasure of having a healthy, flexible body I enjoy, way outweighs giving in to a momentary pleasure.

Another way that my commitment is often tested is with exercise. To me, exercise is like housework; it never seems to end, and I don’t always feel like doing it. Unlike housework, however, I can’t hire someone to take care of my body like I can my house. I am still the only one responsible for doing the exercise when I said I would. My sister put the above quote on her desk at work, and she reads it every day. Reading it reminds her of her goals and helps her get to the gym on those days when she is tempted to not go.

This way of thinking of success applies to all goals, including business and relationships. In business, especially in sales, people give up making that last call of the day so they can leave early or have an easier day. In relationships, people settle for what currently have rather than putting forth the effort to make it better.

You might think that the hardest part is having the resolve to continually go after what you want. More often than not the issue is knowing what you really want. In the moment of temptation I must be truthful with myself about what I really want deep inside long term. When that is clear then it is easier for me to stick with my plan to attain my goals.

My question to you is two-fold. One, do you know what you really want? Really? And two, can you use the above quote to help you keep on track? Let me know your thoughts.

Dr. Laura F. Shwaluk has a general chiropractic practice in Plano, specializing in applied kinesiology. She is the author of Take Charge, Steps To Prevent Breast Cancer.
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Wednesday, April 14, 2010

How Hard Are We Working?

I've spent the last two weeks gaining and losing the same pound. Up a pound one day, two days later, the pound is gone. A few days later, its up. Then, thankfully, down. And so on... I felt like a very angry yo-yo.

My first impulse was to throw the scale through the wall. I mean, it was obviously defective, right?

My second impulse was to throw my hands in the air, say to heck with the exercising (actually my words were a little stronger, but this is a public blog LOL) and go sit in my comfy chair and read for that hour instead of sweating.

My third impulse was to slap my arms over my chest, stick out my lower lip and pout like a pro.

I went with the third impulse. For about an hour. Then I sucked it up and asked myself a few questions.

Have I lost weight in this journey? Yes.

Have I lost more inches than the scale represents? Most definitely.

Have I been sick and could that affect my weight, since I had many days where I hardly ate anything and others that I walked instead of ran? Yep. For sure.

Did I make any bad eating choices in that week? Well, sure, if we want to be really honest. Eating out once a week isn't a bad thing, but eating out twice in one day was probably stupid.

And once I was feeling better, had I been working out at my maximum? Hmmm, this was the real question. This was the one that hit me in the gut, made me cringe a little, hem and haw and try to wiggle out of answering.

Since January 31 of this year, I've kept my 6 day a week, 1 hour a day exercise schedule. I've dutifully logged my calories via my heart rate monitor. I had a range, and I shot to keep my workouts in that range.

And that, I realized, was a major problem. The more I exercise, the more conditioned I become. Yes, I have to work a lot harder to burn 500 calories now than I did in February, because my heart's becoming healthier and my body is working more efficiently. But... I wasn't pushing past that. I wasn't stretching the envelope.

I wasn't working hard enough.

I was proud of myself for exercising. I stuck with the workouts, I kept my schedule. But once it became comfortable, I quit pushing. I quit trying hard enough.

So yesterday I pushed. I didn't watch a TV show while I ran, I listened to music instead. I kept the distractions to a minimum and kept my focus on pushing. And I burned an extra 100 calories in the same amount of exercise time.

How about you? When you workout, are you pushing or just showing up?

Tawny Weber writes hot, spicy stories for Harlequin Blaze. In January 2010, her novella, YOU HAVE TO KISS A LOT OF FROGS, was out in the Blazing Bedtime Story anthology and her next full length Blaze,, RIDING THE WAVES, will be out in September 2010. Come by and visit her on the web at
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The votes, they're getting harder on The Biggest Loser

When I turned on my TV to watch last night's The Biggest Loser, I discovered that it wasn't recording on my TiVo. After a little investigation, I realized that since Deadliest Catch's new season premiered last night and it's higher in my season pass queue, TBL got bumped until its second showing on Saturday nights. So, I'll be having to watch it live from now until the end of the season. But for this week, I missed the first 50 minutes of the episode. I turned it on right as O'Neal was screaming about winning a car for Sunshine. I'm not sure what he (and I later found out, Drea) did to win cars, but they seemed excited.

Evidently earlier in the show, Victoria had had a bit of a meltdown too because Jillian was suddenly forcing her to do a lot of sprints and confronting her about why she got to the weight she is. That's the question for all of us, isn't it? How and why did we get to the point where we realized we were overweight? I'm still digging for the deepest, truest answer to that.

In probably one of the funniest moments I've ever seen on The Biggest Loser, several of the contestants dumped Bob and Jillian in the mud and got them absolutely filthy. Watching Jillian try to outrun the group was hysterical. They all paid for it during the last chance workout, but I think it was worth it. Plus, is it just me, or does it seem like this group is particularly close with the trainers? Granted, this is only the second season I've seen, so maybe other seasons' contestants have been as well.

And how about Michael with the running on the treadmill? Hard to believe he's the same guy who came to the ranch weighing more than 500 pounds. Now he's running five miles on a treadmill. I can't do that. I can't even run one.

Last night's weigh-in was super emotional, particularly for Sunshine, who had to weigh in first, see a loss of only 3 pounds and then have to wait until the very end to realize she'd squeaked by just above the yellow line. Drea and Sam weren't as lucky, posting 3- and 0-pound losses respectively. Once again, Sam's ability to keep others motivated in their workouts kept him on the ranch and Drea was voted out. I felt so bad for her. Her body seems to work against her, allowing her to lose only small amounts despite very hard workouts. In fact, losses were down across the board this week. No one got in the double digits. Michael was the closest with 9, followed by Daris with 7.
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Tuesday, April 13, 2010

Goodbye to another pound

I'm happy to report that despite a couple of slips in my willpower last week, the scale is still going the right direction overall. I got down to 162 at one point last week, but then I had a really bad calorie day and two more less-than-stellar ones. The lesson learned -- I can eat out once in a day and manage my calories, but twice makes it near impossible. Yesterday morning, I was sitting at 163.6, but at least that's a pound less than last Monday.

Someone asked last week what I'm eating to stay in my calorie count of 1,200 per day. Here's a sample from last Monday, one of the days when I stayed in the ballpark of 1,200:

1 English muffin (120 calories)
1 T strawberry jam (50)

1/2 cold cut combo sandwich from Subway (440) -- You can't beat $5 for a foot-long sub that can feed you for two meals.

Apple (100)

1/2 cup sloppy joe (200)
1 wheat sandwich thin (100)
1 cup vegetable pasta (189)
1/2 slice American cheese (35)

I drink only water, which has no calories. So the total calorie count for the day was 1,234, and I spent 2 hours working in the yard (mowing, constructing a rock garden around my mailbox, and trimming limbs off trees).

Some of the things I've learned:

1. I don't have to have a full slice of cheese on a sandwich. 1/2 to 3/4 of a slice is plenty, and an easy way to cut a few calories.

2. I love using the sandwich thins. I'm a big fan of sandwiches, and with these I can have the bread for only 100 calories.

3. Risotto is good, but horrible in the calorie department. Same with the oh-so-delicious rolls at Logan's Roadhouse. OMG, they're like 275 calories each.

4. Having a piece of fruit as a snack between lunch and dinner helps to satisfy my cravings for sweets and helps me not get so hungry before dinner, tempting me to overeat.

5. It's awesome that we're going into fresh produce season. Things like tomatoes and cucumbers and green beans have so few calories that they're good things to help fill me up without packing on a lot of calories (or pounds).

6. I've observed that I can have one higher-than-normal calorie day without seeing too much of an uptick in the scale numbers, but it's when that day becomes two or three that things start going the wrong direction.

7. Things I need to steer clear of: white bread, white rice, corn.

8. Sometimes fate seems to be steering me right when I veer off the path. Last week, I caved and went through the DQ drive-through to get a small Blizzard. When I took the first bite, it was filled with nuts even though a Chocolate Extreme Blizzard isn't supposed to contain nuts. In fact, the whole thing was filled with so many nuts that I couldn't eat it. I hate nuts! 600-calorie catastrophe averted.

What lessons have you learned on your fitness/weight loss journey? Has fate ever given you a helping hand?
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Monday, April 12, 2010

Why Can I Still Get So Upset When I Gain Weight?

This past Tuesday night, I had a bad weigh in at Weight Watchers as I gained 2.4 pounds. While I try to approach the scale with zero expectations to prevent some kind of emotional boomerang, I do not always succeed. As I wait in line for my turn to get weighed, I can always come up with arguments as to why I might lose weight that week and why I might gain. I honestly could tell the Weight Watchers group leader that my gaining weight wasn't entirely a surprise, but I could not stop the total funk it sent me into that night.

Sitting through the meeting did not turn around my emotional downward spiral. All the way home, I tried to figure out why I had eaten so much the past week that I gained nearly two and a half pounds. My sister and parents had visited about a week for Easter. Did I just fall back into old, bad habits around them? Did I treat the holiday and visit as an excuse to eat more than I should and a break from my healthy eating lifestyle? I know my portion control was not as good as it could be, and I definitely ate a decent amount of "treat" foods several days in a row. Heck, one day I had the Baskin-Robbins equivalent of a Dairy Queen Heath Bar Blizzard for lunch. That was really going to help me lose weight.

My original plan for the week had been to not keep a food diary on Easter Sunday but to do so all the other days. Ha! I stopped writing down what I was eating the second my parents and sister arrived and did not restart until they left. I was not on my best "healthy writer" behavior.

I asked even tougher questions. Was I stressed out by sharing my one-bedroom apartment with 3 other adults for 6 days and that made me do some stress eating? Was the visit making me feel emotions I was unwilling to face? I know that unacknowledged emotions can make me overeat to try to avoid them. I also know people joke about how they revert back to old roles when they visit their family, and I do sometimes feel like I'm a different person around my parents and sister than I am in other environments. Did I not like the role I played in my family at times? Was I upset by other family dynamics?

Honestly, all of the above questions were possible, and I never really could come up with a definitive answer as to why I overate during their visit. I tried to throw off my gloom enough to enjoy the last night with my parents in town, but I was back in funk mode when I went to bed. Now, I could add feeling bad about not being in the best mood that night. It got to the point that my bad feelings from one area - the weight gain - seemed to bleed into other areas of my life until I was not happy about anything.

Luckily, Wednesday was such a busy day at work I could not waste time nurturing a funk about gaining weight. I made it a priority to go to a Zumba class that night, and it was the best hour of my day. I danced my bad mood away. I also realized that I had not tried to comfort or soothe my funk away with emotional eating and was very proud of that. In previous Weight Watchers attempts, a 2.4 pound gain would have sent me straight to a restaurant to get a burger, fries and soda or some other equally beloved but unhealthy meal and to start thinking about how impossible it was for me to lose weight. Why should I even bother? Soon, I could talk myself into quitting, but that old, bad road to self-sabotage has been pretty much destroyed by the power of promising myself I'd give it my all for a year to lose weight no matter what.

When I returned home from another Zumba class Thursday night, I started to wonder why I could still get so upset when I gain weight. I know better. (Yes, I have been accused of thinking too much several times, and I think analysis paralysis is a brilliant description of a state I know well.) In fact if I eliminated the weigh-in results, I could construct a triumphant narrative of the past week. My original intention for my April 12 blog post was to talk a bit about another bonus of spring - the change over of fall/winter clothes to spring/summer clothes and how that can be another wonderful way to show how much smaller you are getting.

We've had stretches of warm to very warm weather in the DC area in the past month, so I'd already started the clothing changeover. I had a lot of gaps in my wardrobe as most of the new clothes I bought last summer were too big and given away. My sister had informed me in late February when she had to make an unscheduled, last-minute business trip to DC that I had no cute tops. We were going through my clothes trying to find something she could wear to a business appointment the next day. She had not had the time to go back to her apartment to get some clean clothes before she had to hop on the train for DC. I'm finally reaching the size that I can lend her some of my clothes to wear, and that's another tangible sign of progress.

When my sister and I hit the outlet mall the Saturday before Easter, she reminded me I needed cute tops, and I knew I had other clothing items I needed to look for. I spent a couple of hours at the Ann Taylor outlet (yes, I realize I'm almost obsessed with all things Ann Taylor and can even explain why) and was absolutely thrilled to fit into a bunch of very cute medium or size 10 tops, jackets, pants, skirts and dresses. I even got into a couple of size 8 a-line skirts. This was more, very tangible proof that I'm continuing to get smaller, and I happily walked out of that store with several bags. I pretty much have a kick-butt spring/summer wardrobe now.

So, I had a lot of reasons to feel good about myself at Weight Watchers Tuesday night. I always dress up for the meeting, so I know I look good (even if I gain weight), and last week was no exception. I was wearing a wonderful Ann Taylor wrap-around dress that had been too small when I ordered it online last summer but fits beautifully now and a pair of sexy, hot, blue sandals. (I chose "sexy" and "hot" on purpose as those are two words people have started to use in reference to me to my surprise.) I'd gotten several compliments at work that day, and I was feeling darn good about myself until I read in my book how much I had gained. My group leader who had weighed me in had (wisely) not told me exactly how big of a gain it was. I shouldn't have looked to see how much it was until later that week when I was back practicing my healthy eating and exercise habits and more removed from the moment. But, I looked, I knew I had gained 2.4 pounds, and I wallowed.

Now, I have gained 24 times at my 61 Weight Watchers weigh ins since the beginning of 2009. My worst gain on this journey was 3.4 pounds on August 20, 2009, (business trip) followed by a gain of 3.2 pounds on Oct. 15, 2009, (also known as the night all hope was lost) after a visit to my parents. Five times my gain was in the two pound range (2 - 2.6). On six separate occasions, I gained for two weeks in a row. Gaining weight is no stranger to me on my journey to become and stay a healthy writer, and I've worked hard to learn how to take these temporary set backs in stride.

I know that these gains are eventually followed by losses if I just keep at it. The Aug. 20th gain was followed by weekly losses of 1.6, 1.4, 1.4 and 4.6. My Oct. 15th gain of 3.2 pounds was wiped out by a 3.2 pound loss on Oct. 21. I remember staring at the Weight Watchers receptionist as she gushed over the loss and I said that's exactly what I gained last week. The slate was wiped clean, and all that drama and emotional turmoil I went through on the 15th was a tempest in a teapot. It was a waste of energy.

The most important thing is that I've not allowed any of these gains to convince me to quit. Yes, some of them have been very tough to take emotionally (and hormones may have played a role in that at least twice), but I have tried to be patient and persevere. No matter what, I will keep working at it and not give up. I have lost more than 30 pounds that way and know that if I continue to do that, I will eventually reach a healthy weight and stay there.

How do you handle it when you gain weight? Do you have any advice for me for my next (inevitable) weight gain? How do you keep going? What's the secret to being patient and persevering?

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Sunday, April 11, 2010

Inspiration Sunday

Inspiration Sunday is a series at the Healthy Writer blog. Every Sunday, we post a quote, anecdote, fact or other item that will inspire you to keep moving forward on your journey to becoming and staying a healthy writer.

"Every day do something that will inch you closer to a better tomorrow." -- Doug Firebaugh

Again, this urges us to make small steps toward our ultimate goals, toward making our lives a little bit better each day. This can apply to our weight/fitness goals, our writing goals, our relationships with family and friends, pretty much every aspect of our lives. Change and improvement are much more manageable if tackled a small piece at at a time.

Trish Milburn writes romance for Harlequin American under her own name and young adult for Razorbill under the name Tricia Mills. Her latest release is The Family Man from Harlequin American (March 2010).
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Saturday, April 10, 2010

Creating My Own Delicious Pasta Sauce

One of my favorite restaurants in the Washington, DC, area is Filomena Ristorante in Georgetown. I love how it is able to feel like a fancy, family-style Italian restaurant. It always decorates over-the-top for upcoming holidays, but it still feels tasteful and sophisticated. You see a lot of the D.C. social and political scene there. While the food is expensive, it is delicious. I've had many a wonderful dinner there with lots of friends.

I have several favorite dishes there. One is Penne con Salsicce. The description is:

When U2’s Bono ate this pasta dish here, he wanted seconds!
Penne Pasta tossed with roasted & ground Italian Sweet Sausage, sautéed Mushrooms, Onions, Herbs and Chianti Wine in a Abruzzi Country Style hearty Tomato Sauce with sautéed Link Sausage Pieces. $23.95

After I had this dish a few times, I challenged myself to try to recreate the sauce. While it may not be the same recipe, I have come up with a sauce that I absolutely love and I also think is healthy and doesn't challenge my diet. I will warn you that it's not a simple operation. I've only made it when I'm doing a marathon cooking session and already have committed to making the Cooking Light Marinara Sauce that I use in it. The Marinara Sauce makes 12 cups. 5 of them go into a lasagna recipe, 3 into a Chicken, Chickpea and Pasta Stew recipe, and the remaining 4 (or whatever is left - I never measure it) are added to the delicious sausage and veggie pasta sauce I created.

My Own Fabulous Sausage and Veggie Pasta Sauce


Onions (3-5 - usually yellow)
Garlic (lots)
Combination of bell peppers - as many colors as possible based on what looks good at the grocery store (4-6)
Mushrooms (1-2 containers)
Italian Sausage (2 containers, see note below)
Large Cans of Tomato Puree (2-3)
Spices: Italian spice mix, basil, oregano, parsley, salt and pepper (about a teaspoon each of the first 4, less of the last two. If I want more of a kick, I'll add red pepper flakes.)
Cooking Light Marinara Sauce
Whole Wheat Pasta

I start the sausage and veggie pasta sauce by sauteing vegetables in olive oil (either sprayed on the pan or a little poured in.) First, the chopped onions. Then I add garlic. Followed by a combination of different color bell peppers based on what looks good at the grocery store. I like the color combination it adds and try to have at least three of the following types: green, red, yellow, orange. I then add chopped mushrooms.

If I'm going for a rustic feel for the sauce, I hand chop all the veggies in different sizes. Other times, I use the food processor and chop them so finely that you're almost not aware when you look at the sauce how many different veggies are in it. Both ways are delicious, but the texture and feel can be different.

After sauteing the veggies for a while (at least 5-10 minutes), I then add the sausage and saute it. I use two containers (usually a container has 7 links now - used to be 8) of Italian Sausage - sometimes sweet, sometimes hot, sometimes both, sometimes all turkey, sometimes half turkey and half regular Italian sausage. Again it depends on my mood.

After the sausage is browned, I add 2 - 3 cans of 28 oz. tomato puree (start with 2). I stir it and add my spices. Again this can vary. I'll add an Italian spice mix. Sometimes additional oregano, basil, salt and pepper. If I have fresh herbs (usually basil, parsley and/or rosemary), I add it at this point too. I stir it and then add a cup of red wine - usually an Italian one. I sometimes forget the wine, and the sauce is still good. The wine does add a boldness, depth or robustness to the sauce that I really like. I let the flavors "steep" while it simmers for at least 15 minutes. I Finally, I add whatever is remaining of the Cooking Light Marinara Sauce.

I stir it up and taste it. If it's missing anything (such as a spice or flavor from the wine or even another can of tomato puree), I add more of it. If I want to give it more of a kick, I'll add some red pepper flakes. I'll then simmer it a little longer. I serve the sauce over whole-wheat penne, rigatoni or other pasta. It's a hearty sauce, so I like to use bigger noodles than spaghetti.

Like any sauce, it's better the next day. It also freezes well. I freeze a big container of the sauce and individual servings of the sauce covered by a cup of whole wheat pasta. I've served this sauce to many people and it's always a big hit.

Do you create your own dishes? Do you have any that you'd like to brag about or share the recipe?

Michelle Butler has made becoming a healthy writer a priority. She lives, works and writes in the Washington, DC, area. You can follow her on twitter at
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Friday, April 9, 2010

Push Back: Walk or Run and Improve Your Writing

Keri Mikulski

When someone asks me, "What do you do when you’re suffering from a block or stuck?", my answer is and always has been, "Take off for a run." But, what happens when a writer’s method for inspiration goes kaput?

We’ve all been there. A point in our lives where we can decide to either throw in the towel or push back. Two years ago, it happened to me. During the toughest two years personally of my life, every time I went out for a run a feeling of heaviness crept over me like a suffocating shadow, exhausting me until I stopped. And for the first time in my life, I quit running.

Eventually, the storm in my life settled and the athlete inside me spoke up. And after some major physical, emotional, and mental soul searching, the day came when I pushed back. I signed up for my first 5K in over two years, strapped on my sneaks and took off again, vowing not to stop for twenty minutes. I didn’t. And ironically, my first run was one of the strongest I’ve had in a long time, even stronger and better than two years ago.

Now I’m back. And whenever I’m stuck with my writing or feeling ‘blah’, I take off for my run and brainstorm. Something about the warm sun, fresh salt air, taking a life break, the rhythm of my feet hitting the pavement, and the feeling afterward always gets me going.

In fact, running isn’t the only way one can receive the same benefits. A brisk walk can provide the same amazing advantages like decreased body fat, reduced blood pressure, decreased risk of breast cancer, improved circulation, and much, much more.

I cannot control my genetics or what happens, but I can control what I do. And I can control how I keep myself fresh and inspired. So, take off with me. Grab the dog’s leash, find a walking partner, and/or drive to a track near you. And have fun feeling inspired.

Thanks for having me, Healthy Writer!

Before the writing bug bit her, Keri Mikulski coached high school soccer and softball, taught seventh grade, worked as a personal trainer, and a pediatric registered nurse. Today, Keri is the author of HEAD GAMES (Razorbill/Penguin, 2011), teaches writing at Rowan University, and resides at the Jersey Shore with her family.
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Wednesday, April 7, 2010

Journey or Destination

Years ago, my parents went to listen to a Zig Ziglar motivational workshop and came home all jazzed up and enthused. My step-mom proceeded to give everyone on the office (they own a modeling and talent agency - which is a whole 'nother post on body image issues, btw), as well as my father and I a test generated by the workshop. Among the many questions, there was one in particular that stood out.

Do you see life as a journey? Or a destination?

I answered that I saw life as a book (this was about 15 years before I started writing), with various chapters that all build on each other. My father had a similar answer that was outside the box. We drove her nuts because she couldn't 'grade' us *g*

But this is a question that I've been thinking a lot about lately.

It's so applicable to life. To writing. To a healthy lifestyle.

Do you love the process of writing? The actual sitting down to the keyboard to pour out the words. Or do you love having written? The reading back over the words, the story, you created.

Do you love living a healthy lifestyle? Eating whole, low-fat, calorie aware foods. Exercising at a rate that either maintains or releases weight. Monitoring your thoughts and attitudes to ensure a healthy emotional state of mind. Or do you live a healthy lifestyle to achieve a goal? Eat, exercise and attitude are all focused on a result, either reaching a goal weight, or maintaining an ideal weight?

I'd love your input. Trish, Michelle and I are giving a Healthy Writer workshop at the RWA conference this summer and I'd like to include some stats from writers on this exact question. So... do me a favor - comment here, for sure! But because Blogger doesn't support (or really, I don't know how to do it here) a poll feature, can you pop over to my blog and cast your vote. Thanks!!!

Tawny Weber writes hot, spicy stories for Harlequin Blaze. In January 2010, her novella, YOU HAVE TO KISS A LOT OF FROGS, was out in the Blazing Bedtime Story anthology and her next full length Blaze,, RIDING THE WAVES, will be out in September 2010. Come by and visit her on the web at
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Big Week for the Yellow Team

This week's The Biggest Loser started off with the revelation that whoever lost 2 percent of their body weight first would get immunity. The catch was that you had to time it right before you hit the big button that sounded the siren that you were going to way in. Do it too early and you might not have hit the goal. Wait too long and someone else might beat you to it. I got a chuckle early on when Daris commented on the noise the siren made. "In Oklahoma, you hear a siren like that, it's time to grab a mattress and jump in the bathtub because a tornado's coming." Okay, so maybe I didn't need to hear that since we're officially in tornado season now.

Dr. Huizenga also paid a visit to the house to tell the contestants to be smart about their weight loss so that they were losing fat and not muscle, bone or water.

Victoria, hoping to ensure herself another week and still a bit gun shy about getting sent home, hit the button too early on Day 2. She'd only lost 3 of the needed 6 pounds.

On Day 3, there was a swimming challenge where the contestants had to swim 100 pounds, 2 pounds at a time, to their bin. When they finished, they were allowed to help other contestants if they wanted. Sam and Sunshine were neck and neck, but it was Sunshine, a good swimmer, who was victorious and won a two-week trip for two to Fitness Ridge. She, then Sam started helping O'Neal, who was sitting in last place. As others finished, they started helping Michael. The only person who didn't get any help was Melissa, who came in last and thus was saddled with the 1-pound penalty at the weigh in. This sent a clear message about how everyone felt about her being back in the game.

Early in Day 4, Sam pushed the button and stepped onto the scale. As the pounds slowly ticked up, everyone held their breath. He needed to have lost 6, but when the scale paused on 5, I got a little worried. But then it ticked up to 6...and kept going! In only three days, he'd lost 10 pounds, winning immunity. This was a big deal considering he was below the yellow line last week.

I really liked the trainer tips they did before commercials this week. Bob's was to eat bigger meals earlier in the day and downsize them as the day goes along. Jillian's was to give your body mixed signals by being strict on your calories two days a week, moderate three days a week and to relax a little on the weekends. This keeps your body from going into that survival, hold onto the fat mode.

Okay, on to the weigh in. The big numbers went to Victoria with 11 pounds (she seems so genuinely happy to be given the opportunity to be there), Michael with 9 (and hamming it up a bit), and O'Neal with 8. It was a big night on the scales for the yellow team (or I guess they're a former team now that we're into individual mode). O'Neal's loss pushed him past the 100 pounds lost mark, and Sunshine's 7-pound loss got her below 200 pounds. She's looking great. Personally, I think she and Sam would make a cute couple. Hey, what can I say? I write romance. :)

Falling below the yellow line this week, despite really hard workouts, were Drea with a 2-pound loss and Melissa with 3. Somehow I missed that Melissa was a lawyer, but it all makes sense now. She's trained to make arguments to get people to come to her way of thinking, and she tried it again tonight. But the rest of the contestants weren't having it, sticking to their "no game play" ideals, and voted her out. Now, honestly, I think game play will have to come into the picture at some point. I think they just didn't like how overt she was about it.

Even so, I think Melissa has benefited greatly from being on The Biggest Loser. She and Lance both say that their marriage has improved, and that's a huge deal. I liked seeing them running the half marathon together in New Orleans during Mardi Gras. It was also nice to hear her say that when she came to the Biggest Loser ranch, she was lost, sad, etc. -- and that she's not that girl anymore. That's so much more important than winning a big money prize. What good is money if you're unhealthy and hating life?

What were your favorite moments of the episode? What messages really hit home for you?
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Tuesday, April 6, 2010

Progress So Far

Last Thursday, I really renewed my efforts to keep my calorie count in the 1,200 range and to up my exercise. I've discovered that on most days it's not going to be realistic to get in the ambitious four hours of exercise. That doesn't mean I won't shoot for that as often as possible, but I'm not going to berate myself unless I don't exercise at least for an hour every day. I've already lost more than a pound. At one point, I'd lost two but I had one day where the calorie count was closer to the 1,500 range and I wonder if that extra pound of loss was water that I later replenished.

Here's a look at the past few days:

Thursday, April 1:

Weighed in at 165.8
I got in my 4 hours of exercise with 1 hour of walking, 1 hour of house cleaning, 30 minutes of yard work, 30 minutes of stretching/weight lifting, and one hour of mowing.
1,079 calories (should have had around 100 more)

Friday, April 2:

1,242 calories
3 1/2 hours exercise (mowing, raking, house cleaning, biking, walking, using the stretch band, and step aerobics)

Saturday, April 3:

This was my off day with 1,495 calories and only one hour of walking. I did make myself walk though even though all the exercise of the past couple of days had me aching.

Sunday, April 4:

I got my calories back in the right range with 1,153. I could have had a bit more, but I didn't want to eat too late. Only 40 minutes of walking though. The writer part of me took priority since I had some copy edits and an article due. I spent most the day in front of the computer.

Monday, April 5:

Weighed in at 164.6 pounds.

This was another big day in front of the computer. It'll be a challenge the next couple of weeks as I try to meet a deadline, but I'm committed to getting in at least 2 hours of exercise each weekday and one hour each weekend day, if not more.

1,234 calories
2.25 hours yard work (raking, constructing a rock garden and trimming limbs)

How are the rest of you doing on your April goals? Needing some inspiration? Tune in to The Biggest Loser tonight.
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Monday, April 5, 2010

Spring Is Here!

Spring is here! It's a time of renewal, rebirth, and even redemption. It's a great time to determine where you are on your journey to become a healthy writer and decide if you are happy with your progress. Are you doing your best? Can you do more? Do you want to increase your efforts?

I do want to step it up. I have lost a little more than 7 pounds since the beginning of 2010. I'm happy to see a loss and can feel a difference for it, but I don't think I've been doing my best this winter. I know I've been struggling a little with backsliding the past couple of months, and I really don't think I've done enough in the area of exercise.

I've only averaged two trips to the gym per week over the winter months. Now, this is something. I also walk about 30 - 40 minutes a day for my commute, but my winter weekly gym attendance is nothing compared to what I was doing in the summer and fall when I averaged 4-5 visits to the gym a week.

I felt better when I worked out that often. I also find that one of the many benefits of exercise is that it makes the food stuff, making healthy eating choices in terms of what I eat and how much I eat, a lot easier. I'm not sure why that is, but there is a clear connection. When I'm working out a lot, I am doing better in almost all areas of my life.

I also think part of my journey to becoming a healthy writer is learning to love my body and appreciate what it can do. Exercise helps a lot with that. One of the slogans everywhere at my gym is Know Your Own Strength. When I attended the body pump weight lifting class 2-3 times a week, I was learning how to love how strong I could get and what I could do physically. It felt so empowering. Furthermore, nothing made me smaller as quickly as strength training.

Yes, some of this need to learn to love my body is typical female hangups with body image. Another part of it comes from the fact that since my sister had a stroke at the age of 5, she has had physical disabilities. I spent a good part of my life feeling guilty for being able bodied, so learning to love what my body can do has been a very hard lesson that is still in progress.

In many ways, I've missed working out hard at least 4-5 times a week, and I hope to get back into that pattern this spring. It's something I've started working towards already. Daylight Savings Time has really helped. It's so much easier for me to go to the gym when it's still light out, and there are fewer clothes I have to put on to go outside.

This spring fever need to increase your exercise is also influencing my Weight Watchers buddies. Several have signed up for running races. A bunch of them were talking about it after a meeting a couple of weeks ago, and they inspired me to finally purchase some kick butt sports bras. This has been on my list of things to do for awhile. I am well-endowed in the chest area and hover in the D to DD range. I need a super supportive athletic bra. I've asked around for recommendations, and several friends mentioned the bar system that the Title IX Web site has for rating sports bras - the more bars the better the support. Given how expensive these super duper sports bras can run, I wanted to try some on first.

Walking home from the metro one day, I passed a lululemon athletic store. I went in to see what they could do for me, and I walked out with 8 killer sports bras. I can vouch that the ta ta tamer (someone has a sense of humor as that is the real name) is amazing. There's almost no movement at all. It's actually made a difference in my workouts. I no longer hold myself back on certain moves in my classes that previously had been very uncomfortable due to the size of my chest. These bras will also make it easier for me to contemplate the idea of adding running to my exercise repertoire. I plan to go for a run with my friend Elise Hayes at the WRW retreat in a couple of weeks as a kind of experiment. It'll be interesting to see how it goes.

I have done my best to set myself up for a successful spring in terms of exercising more. I went to the gym 3 times this past week, and I'll get back to that 4-5 times a week range soon.

Does the arrival of spring make you evaluate your current efforts to become a healthy writer? Are you doing your best? Can you do more? Do you want to increase your efforts?
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Sunday, April 4, 2010

Inspiration Sunday

Inspiration Sunday is a series at the Healthy Writer blog. Every Sunday, we post a quote, anecdote, fact or other item that will inspire you to keep moving forward on your journey to becoming and staying a healthy writer.

"Success is the sum of small efforts, repeated day in and day out." -- Robert Collier

I like this reminder that in order to effect change in our lives, we don't have to do one or two big things. It can be lots of small things, added together, that helps us achieve what at the outset might have seemed an impossible goal.

Trish Milburn writes romance for Harlequin American under her own name and young adult for Razorbill under the name Tricia Mills. Her latest release is The Family Man from Harlequin American (March 2010).
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Saturday, April 3, 2010

Sock it to me cake

Not every day can be a good day. Some days you get rejected and it hurts. Someone criticizes your work and it’s like they’re criticizing you. While I don’t condone emotional eating, I’ve never objected to comfort food. My comfort foods are exactly the ones I try to avoid on a day to day basis: baked goods, cakes, and cookies.

This cake is perfect for a night when you want to curl and cry a little. If you’re smarting from a failure, whether it’s writing related or not, rest assured that you don’t suffer alone. We all have stories of times when everything we did felt wrong, when nothing went our way, and then things got really tough. Part of being healthy is dealing with those hard times in ways that don’t hurt you like a favorite movie, a reasonable amount of comfort food, and the laughter of good friends. Keeping the amount of comfort food reasonable is easier when you share it with someone. So make your cake, but then invite a friend or two over to enjoy it, packing up the leftovers for them to take home or let yourself have one slice and then give the rest away to your neighbor.

An old favorite from the 70s, Sock-it-to-me Cake appears in my memories at thousand bake sales. It’s perfect for writers’ group get togethers and goes great with a cup of coffee. To make it just a little bit healthier, I make it with less than usual amount of eggs and omit the usual glaze. Even then it comes out decadent and rich. It’s one of only two things that I make from a box (Kraft Macaroni & Cheese, another great comfort food, is the other).

Sock-it-to-me Cake
(Based on the Duncan Hines recipe)

1 box butter recipe yellow cake mix
3 eggs
1 cup sour cream
1/3 cup oil
1/4 cup water
1/4 cup sugar
1 tablespoon ground cinnamon
1 tablespoon. brown sugar

Combine the 2 tablespoons of the cake mix with the cinnamon and brown sugar; set aside. (If you’re a chocoholic, or you just want to get rid of that left over chocolate bunny, you can replace the cinnamon filling layer with chocolate shavings.)

In large bowl, blend the remaining cake mix, eggs, sour cream, oil, water, and sugar. Beat on high speed for 2 minutes. Pour 2/3 of batter into greased and floured Bundt or tube pan. Cover the batter with the cinnamon sugar, then pour in the remaining batter, being sure to seal the edges.

Bake at 375° for 45-55 minutes or until a toothpick inserted into the center comes out clean.
Feeling really decadent? Add a glaze. Blend ½ cup powdered sugar and ½ to 1 tablespoon milk.

What comfort foods do you indulge in? How do you stop yourself from going overboard with them? How can you make your comfort foods healthier?


When she’s not cooking, buying, or dreaming about food Rachel Kleinsorge writes steamy paranormal mystery romances. She is currently waiting for the call from her agent, the amazing Carolyn Grayson, while working on her next novel.
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