Holiday Blues

-1

Our last trip to Asheville.

What do you do when you aren’t going home for the holidays?

I’m sure a lot of you have dealt with this before. Flights are far too expensive around Christmas time. I only have two days of vacation left because I took a trip to Paris back in April. Jacob and I can’t get our days off to line up. And so we are staying in Greenville for Christmas.

It’s weird. I’ve spent some holidays away from family, like New Years or Christmas one year, but I always saw them at one point or another, and this year, I won’t. I am part-relieved and part-disappointed. The relief comes from the stress of booking a ticket and trying to see everyone I know and love in only a few days. The disappointment is, of course, because I love my family and will miss them over the holidays.

It’s just going to be Jacob (a man who doesn’t much care for traditions) and I. I have some time off, but (obviously) not enough for a real out-of-town vacation. And so I ask you—if you weren’t with family for the holidays, what would you do?

I have a few plans. One is a day trip to Asheville, a neat city only an hour away (a trip that will include used bookstores, chocolate, and beer). Another is making some cool Asian dish on Christmas (because why the fuck not). I might even try my hand at a fancy, four-course meal, which will undoubtedly include duck and cocktails. There will be present exchanging, most likely (although that also stresses me out. Gift buying when it is expected and you don’t know who it’s expected from—I mean, why is that a thing?! Can’t I just get people stuff for birthdays, which are usually pretty spread out throughout the year?).

How do you deal with holiday blues? Other than eating all the food and drinking all the eggnog, because let me tell you, that will definitely also be a Thing.

Vanessa is a digital media coordinator by day and a writer, novelist, and badass cook by night. In her spare time she haunts used bookstores, gets serious about tea, and loves a good stout (Russian Imperial, please). Follow her on twitter and instagram if you wanna be buddies, and maybe check out her writing blog.
Advertisements

Best Fall Recipes

IT’S FALL, GUYZ. YOU KNOW WHAT THAT MEANS. Pumpkin. Squash. Cinnamon. Spices. Hot tea and coffee. Soups. Stews. Deliciousness.

Fall cuisine is my favorite. Probably because I love the heartiness of stews, the comfort of a hot dish, and all of the different things I can do with soup. The leaves are turning and it’s getting cold outside and slaving over a hot stove is not nearly so terrible as it is in the summer.

So, without further adieu, here are a few of my favorite fall recipes!

untitled-8-3-620x775Caramelized onion and stout mac ‘n cheese
Seriously, how can you go wrong with this? The rich undertones of the stout (a bourbon barrel aged stout is my personal favorite with this dish) combine with the sweetness of the caramelized onions and creamy provolone cheese. Bake with bread crumbs on top to add the perfect crunch. Get the recipe.
12599306425_ed4bac5b06Dijon and cognac beef stew
A little more work, this baby is worth every last minute. It seems like a lot of mustard, but it really just adds the perfect flavor and tang, while you can’t help but bite all the round little mustard seeds. The beef falls apart in your mouth. Serve it over egg noodles—you won’t regret a single bite. Get the recipe.
french-onion-andmushroom-soup-recipe-mountain-mama-cooksFrench onion and mushroom soup
We all know that French onion soup is kickass. Now, add some mushrooms and barley. Now you have a kickass soup that’s a touch more filling. Tip: if you make slow-cooker beef at any point, SAVE ALL THE LIQUID. It can turn this soup from good into something your coworkers will moan over when you heat it up in the break room. Get the recipe.
158Butternut squash and leek soup
Easy, delicious, and comforting. The recipe says to swirl with sour cream, but I like some Greek yogurt on top. Don’t forget the cracked pepper! Get the recipe.
Chicken-Pumpkin-Soup-aboveChicken and pumpkin soup
You knew the pumpkin was coming. This one is hearty, easy, fairly cheap, and it has the addition of chipotle peppers in adobo sauce, adding the perfect amount of kick. Don’t miss out on this soup. Get the recipe.
roasted-pumpkin-shallot-sage-soup-1Roasted pumpkin and sage soup
All right, all right, another pumpkin one. This is another favorite (it actually calls for A REAL PUMPKIN). Roast that pumpkin and then include  the delicious, fall-y flavor of fresh sage, one of my all-time favorite herbs. To be extra freaking cool, serve your pumpkin soup IN AN ACTUAL PUMPKIN (I won’t judge if you serve it in a plain ole bowl). Get the recipe.

What are your favorite fall recipes? I’m always looking for new, delicious things to cook.

Vanessa is a digital media coordinator by day and a writer, novelist, and badass cook by night. In her spare time she haunts used bookstores, gets serious about tea, and loves a good stout (Russian Imperial, please). Follow her on twitter and instagram if you wanna be buddies, and maybe check out her writing blog.

What I’ve Learned From Reviewing Books

If you know anything about me at all (and if you don’t, that’s cool too, you’re about to learn), you know that I’m a writer. Poems and short stories, yes, but also novels. I someday want to sell these novels and, if I am very lucky, make a living off of that.

So I write. I attend a writing group. I have a personal blog. I participate in NaNoWriMo. And I also write book reviews. And, as it turns out, writing book reviews has been great for more than just getting my name out there. My writing is improving, I’m reading self-published works and books I wouldn’t pick up on my own, and I’m storing away valuable information for future use.

Future and current novelists will, at some point, have to email people and ask them to kindly review their book in exchange for a copy of the book. There are  ways to find people to review your books (users on Goodreads, reviewers on specific websites, etc., I’ll let you do the research). Users find me because I’m listed as a reviewer on SFBook.com.

Here are some things to take note of when asking someone to review your book:

Be Personable But Quick
Take the time to craft me a personal email. Say, “Hi Vanessa.” Tell me your name and what you want. Don’t ramble and tell me too many personal facts about yourself, don’t put yourself down (“I am but a humble self-publisher…”). I want you to get straight to the point. I have a lot of these emails to go through, and I would rather you didn’t waste my time.

Watch Your Grammar
If you have grammar mistakes in your email, you likely will in your book. I’m not interested in reading your novel if I’m stumbling through your email.

Include Synopsis and Information in the Email
I really don’t want to download the synopsis you’ve attached in a Word doc. I don’t want to have to search Goodreads to find your novel. Give me links. Include the synopsis right there. The more work I have to do, the less inclined I am to do it.

Don’t Bug Me
If I politely say no thank you to your novel, do not ask again. Do not say, “Are you sure? I’d really appreciate it.” I will delete your email and never respond to you again because you’ve clearly disrespected my response (and annoyed the crap out of me). However, if I say “no thanks” to your email, there’s no harm in responding and thanking me for my time. A rejection doesn’t mean I’m not open to future requests, just that I can’t review the novel at this time or it isn’t my kind of book.

Your First Chapter Best Be Good Great
I can read the first chapter of most books on Amazon. If your email piques my interest enough, I’m heading to Amazon. If I read the first chapter and I am sufficiently intrigued and your writing is good, I might write a review. The first chapter of your book needs to make me want to read more. It needs to have a solid concept, interesting and realistic characters, and writing that is neither cliché nor redundant.

Here’s an example (details ommitted) of a book I recently decided to review:

Hi! My name is John Doe, and I’m the author of A Really Cool Book, a fantasy novel recently released by Publisher. I would very much like to send you a copy to review for SF Book Reviews, if you’re interested.

SHORT, INTERESTING SYNOPSIS HERE

Any other information you wish to include here. Some include links to Goodreads/Amazon (helpful), others include a link to the book’s page on their publisher’s website, and others include a note about the content (whether it is violent, contains profanity, etc.).

Please let me know if you are interested in getting a review copy or if there’s any more information I can provide.

Thank you for your time!

Any other questions? Leave me a comment, I’m happy to chat.

Vanessa is a digital media coordinator by day and a writer, novelist, and badass cook by night. In her spare time she haunts used bookstores, gets serious about tea, and loves a good stout (Russian Imperial, please). Follow her on twitter and instagram if you wanna be buddies, and maybe check out her writing blog.

On Finding Time

I have too many hobbies. I know this. I’ve been told, many times, that I need to stop spreading myself so thin and freaking focus.

It’s a problem—a real problem. There are too many things that interest me. Let’s talk about a few: I write novels, poetry, and short stories, and I want to someday make this my living. I love to cook delicious food and bake new recipes. I love and am very passionate about tea and how it relates to culture and society. I adore the French language. I really want to garden. I READ. I want to do more yoga. I’m super interested in herbs and natural remedies. I love craft beer.

Now, let’s talk about the things I have to do: work a 40 hour work week, make time for Jacob (and friends), freelance (2 – 5 hours a week doesn’t sound like much, but it is), and write book reviews (for sfbook.com).

This does not include the much needed time to relax, scroll through Tumblr, and maybe watch a few (or 10) episodes of Buffy.

I have a lot of interests that I really wish I had the time to delve into more deeply.

So, how on earth do I find time to do what I do?

giphy

It’s pretty simple, really. Prioritize. I obviously have to work, so I work. But in the mornings, if I have time (and I do about 3x a week), I write a 10 minute writing prompt. I make editing and writing and reading a priority. I freelance. I cook. I get to see/talk to friends a few times a week.

I don’t do much else. So many people say, “I don’t know how you do it! You do so much!” I mean, sure, I do a lot. But I spread it out.

That’s the thing—I want to focus a lot of my time all of particular things, but I just don’t have the energy or time. By spreading myself out (and making sure not to spread myself too thin), I am able to find time to enjoy all of my favorite things.

Still not sure how I find time? Let me break it down. My main hobbies include writing/reading, cooking/baking, tea, yoga. Here’s how I fit them into my life (as an example).

Monday: writing/reading & cooking
Because it’s the first day back at work, Monday is usually no-freelance day. I come home, cook myself dinner, scroll through Tumblr, and then I write. I write and I edit. I catch up on bills. I usually stay at my computer. Sometimes I watch 2 – 4 episodes of Buffy before crawling into bed.

Tuesday: cooking & yoga & tea
I do yoga IMMEDIATELY when I get home (or else I lose motivation). After yoga, I cook, and then once I’ve eaten I make myself a cup of tea. I usually get a lot of freelance work done.

Wednesday: craft beer & writing/reading
I pick up my CSA (community supported agriculture) at The Community Tap, a local beer store. Sometimes, my old roomie is working and I will try a new beer, sit down with my journal, and do some writing or read.

Thursday: yoga & friends & reading
Yoga right when I get back from work, unless I am meeting a friend—in that case, probably no yoga. But definitely some reading before bed (or Netflix…). Freelance work, of course.

Friday: writing & writing & writing
Because of writing group, Friday is usually ALL about the writing. Plus it’s the weekend, so I go to writing group, work hard, come home and watch Netflix. Or else go out with some friends. Depends on my mood, of course.

Saturday: what am I lacking?
Saturday is usually a “what did I not do this week that I really want to do?” Let’s be real, sometimes the answer to that is DRINK. Sometimes it’s read, sometimes I really want to meet up with some friends. Sometimes Jacob and I go out for bike rides, sometimes we try a new restaurant (or an old fav). Saturday is my DO WHAT YOU WISH day.

giphy-1

Sunday: food & reading
Ahhh, grocery shopping day. We like to hit up Whole Foods to feed my inner foodie. I love it. We buy little fancy cheeses, gourmet hummus, delicious macadamia nuts. Lemme tell you—this is when I really get my fix. That and preparing much of the food throughout the week. In the evening, there’s a lot of prepping food for the week to come.

So, there you have it. I am not miraculous. I am not amazing at getting a million things done. I prioritize. It all comes down to being organized and to knowing what I need and want to get done. Sometimes I take it moment by moment—what do I really want to do right now(could be Netflix, could be writing, could be those dishes I want to get done)? Sometimes I look at my whole week—will I have time to freelance tomorrow? If not, I better get it done today. Will I be able to write tomorrow? No? Work on some stuff today.

As I get older, I get better at knowing myself and accepting myself. I am better at predicting my moods (I rarely freelance on Monday because it is MONDAY). I accept that I do not need to force myself into doing anything—I do what I crave when I have free time. I read when I am dying to finish a book. I sleep when I want a nap. I make myself a cup of tea when I am feeling sad.

The more I know myself, the more I can do and the happier I am. Funny how that works, huh?

So—do tell. How do you find time for your hobbies? What are your hobbies? Any gems to share?

giphy-2

Vanessa is a digital media coordinator by day and a writer, novelist, and badass cook by night. She loves used bookstores, is way too serious about tea, and doesn’t give a damn if she wears the same outfit 2 days in a row. She totally wants to be your friend, so you should follow her on twitter & maybe check out her writing blog.

Why I went to community college first

Baby Vanessa (& baby Jacob) in 2009

Baby Vanessa (& baby Jacob) in 2009

I got into MSU as a senior in high school, but I didn’t want to go there. I had a plan. Thanks to my high school grades, I got a $2,000 scholarship to Oakland Community College. It would nearly cover my entire first year. I would go to OCC for two years and then transfer to MSU as a junior, successfully graduating in four years and paying less for the piece of paper. But I felt some push to go to a four-year university.

“You’ll miss out on the dorms and the experience!”

“You’ll regret it.”

“It’s important to get out on your own.”

Whatever. I ignored those sons-of-bitches and went to community college. It was a great solution for me, and I still met great people and made great friends. I had some incredible professors. I learned just as much as I did at MSU. It was the absolute perfect experience for me and I do not regret a thing (in fact, I often miss OCC more than I miss MSU, no matter how much I dig my PW buddies). It was a great bridge from high school to college. I didn’t feel pushed out of my house and stranded in a big college all on my own. It let me slowly build up my independence, so by the time I was moving out of my mom’s house I felt ready.

But let’s go over some pros and cons of attending a community college before transferring to a four-year.

Pros

  • Save money
  • Live at home (this was a pro for me. I got to stay close to some of my close friends and live with my mother, whom I have a great relationship with. I also got to stay in the lives of my brothers longer, which I am grateful for)
  • Missing out on the dorms (I like cooking my own food, thank you very much)
  • Community college has some GREAT courses. I learned much more in my general classes at OCC than I did at MSU and at a fraction of the price
  • Smaller classes and a greater variety of students—I became friends with several people a lot older than me who were back for an education or taking classes for fun
  • Smaller campus—easier to navigate and easier to get a job on (I worked as an English Literacy Tutor for a year and a half, plus as a French Study Instructor)
  • If you take a bad class, at least you aren’t paying thousands of dollars for it

Cons

  • Live at home (this might be a con for you even though it was a pro for me)
  • By starting at a four-year college as a junior, it’s harder to make friends as most people have already formed their friend groups (regardless, I made great friends—it just took two semesters)
  • You miss the experience of the dorms (pro for me, might be a con if you reeeeally wanna do that)
  • Less FinAid once you do get to a four-year university (however, that didn’t matter for me because OCC saved me so much money)
  • If you don’t know where you’re going to transfer to, many of the classes you take at a community college might not transfer—and that means wasted time and money. Knowing if your classes transfer and having a plan is super important

So, what do you think? Did you do community college first or a full four years in one place? Do you wish you’d done it differently?

Vanessa is a digital media coordinator by day and a writer, novelist, and badass cook by night. She loves used bookstores, is way too serious about tea, and doesn’t give a damn if she wears the same outfit 2 days in a row. She totally wants to be your friend, so you should follow her on twitter & maybe check out her writing blog.

What I wish PW had taught me

Professional Writing taught me a lot. I am forever in gratitude to an incredible program, wonderful professors and fellow students, and internships that (mostly) prepared me for the workforce.

Regardless of how awesome PW is, there are a few things that I wish they had taught me. Some of them are related to the program, some would make good Writers’ Bloc workshops, and others simply I wish I had known beforehand.

Better technical writing
This might just relate to me—but the technical writing class I took was crap. I brushed it off and didn’t think it would affect me. But then I was given a writing project at work (back in January, you can read all about how I failed here). If I had had a better, more competent technical writing professor, I truly think that I would have done better with this project (though I still would have struggled). Technical writing is more important than I ever realized and students need to recognize the impact it might have on their future careers.

Analytics workshop/class
I am not the only one who has come across analytics in the workplace and been faced with a pretty big learning curve. We never spent time learning about analytics (the various tools, best practices, etc) in school, and now it’s something that just comes with the territory of my position. I’ve had to learn a lot about Google Analytics in a very short time (Facebook Insights and others included), and a workshop or at least practice compiling a social media analytics report would have been great as a student.

How age, privilege, and class affects us in the workplace
I truly did not realize how much my age would affect me in the workplace. I am young (24). When I started I was really young (22). I couldn’t understand why no one liked my ideas unless they came from someone else or why people seemed to brush me off as a silly little girl until my boyfriend said, with a shrug, “Well, you’re young.”

A heads up would have been nice. Some advice on how to deal with age discrimination and even class discrimination in the workplace would have been helpful. It’s something that I’ve struggled with navigating, especially as a—I hate this word—Millennial. I have grown up calling professors by their first name and chatting with bosses as if they were friends, but not all businesses work like that. I didn’t know that I need to tread lightly. I suppose that relates back to office etiquette, however—a potential workshop idea.

lightly

How to negotiate bonuses and raises
I learned how to negotiate salaries (sort of, and I have never actually done it IRL), but I definitely never learned about bonuses and raises. One of the most helpful things that PW did to prepare me for interviewing for jobs was to have a mock interview session. Something like that would be equally helpful for learning how to negotiate bonuses, raises, and all of that stuff. Something else to note here is that PW is largely made up of women. Negotiating can be especially hard for us ladies (which is bullshit, but it’s still true), so learning how to navigate that would have been really helpful. I still don’t have a grasp on negotiation and I probably won’t for a long time.

Being asked to do things that aren’t in your job description
How does one handle being asked to do things that aren’t in their job description? Do we just do it without complaint? Do we bring it up? Do we refuse? How do we tread lightly in this situation?

Social media workshop
Social media is ever changing, so a class might be difficult or even a little much. Regardless, some help in the social media area would have been appreciated. Workshops on best practices and strategy, and especially analytics, proving the value of a solid strategy (or ROI). Social media etiquette is also a good one.

Email etiquette
PLEASE—do not be that person who replies all to everyone in every email. I know this but not everyone does—something to consider when it comes to workshops? It would also be a good place to include discerning when to be formal/casual and more little nitpicky things about email. Do I say, “Hey Ali,” when I’m opening an email, or do I say, “Hi there,” or do I say, “Good afternoon”?

How to deal with colleagues who aren’t so nice
Group work fails in this capacity because at the end of the day the group is over and you can leave those suckers. Coworkers are forever (or until you quit/leave). And, let’s face it, there will always be crazies. You will always have to deal with people who do not like you, or who you do not like, or who try to make your life a little harder at your job. But—let’s say a coworker is harassing you and basically being an all out bitch—how do you handle it? Talk to her directly? Go to HR? Talk to your boss?

And I don’t mean the employee handbook way. I mean the stop-harassment, deal-with-the-problem way. I mean in the real-life way. Because life is not by the employee handbook.

giphy

Office politics
This is not really something that PW can teach us—but workshops can. Professors can. Internship advisers can. Bosses can. I never really got an introduction to office politics until I was out in the workplace and I was making mistakes left and right—of course, every office is different. But it’s something to consider.

BE A LITTLE HARSH WITH US
No one was really harsh with me about my writing in school. Okay, so harsh might be a little much, but no one was really nitpicky with my writing. Now I am a big girl in the real world and people are not always nice about the failings in my writing. Expectations are high in the workplace and no one likes to be surprised with that shit—I definitely didn’t feel prepared for how much more difficult things can be in the workplace compared to how I was treated/graded in college.

To sum up this blog post, let me just say—a lot of what I felt blindsided by in the workplace is stuff that you just have to learn on your own. Professional Writing did a fantastic job training me for a full-time job and teaching me how to be a top notch employee.

MSUPW: What would you add the above list?

Vanessa is a digital media coordinator by day and a writer, novelist, and badass cook by night. She loves used bookstores, is way too serious about tea, and doesn’t give a damn if she wears the same outfit 2 days in a row. She totally wants to be your friend, so you should follow her on twitter & maybe check out her writing blog.

On Failure and Optimism

I don’t know about you, but I generally do pretty okay at life. I got straight As (usually) throughout school, I worked and never had a boss complain about my work ethic or my work (not to say I wasn’t gently corrected from time to time).

So it’s a little strange to not do something well. If it was Calculus, that’d be one thing. But this is different. This is something I’m supposed to be good at.

You’re probably sitting there like, jeez, this girl has never failed at anything in her life.

FALSE. I have failed at many things. But I overcame them. Risen above, keep a positive attitude and faith in myself, and eventually understood or gotten better. I have also never failed at something that I have always prided myself on being good at—writing.

Writing is the one thing I have always been good at. And now, it seems, we are at a standstill.

Let’s be clear—I was given a project at work. It involves writing. And it is one of the most difficult and frustrating and disheartening things I’ve taken on in a while. Reflecting on it, I think lack of experience and not understanding the subject well enough are two of the many problems I have. But the problems are my own.

And it sucks to be bad at something. But I think what’s worse than being bad at something is trying your damnedest to do better and work harder and do a good job and failing. The ultimate “I have done everything I feel I should have done and I fail again and again.”

optimismThere is no doubt that this is a learning experience for me, both personally and professionally (I think my writing on the project is getting better? I think? I’ve certainly tried hard enough and stressed enough).

Moral of the story: it’s easy to get complacent. It’s easy for me to say that I am a good writer and that maybe someday I will be a great writer. It’s also easy to sit back and stop reading about writing and stop practicing and start watching a little too much TV. It’s easy to give up. But life is not about taking the easy way out—it’s about persevering through the good, the bad, the ugly, and the incredibly sucky.

Stay on top of your craft. Setbacks are okay. They’re just little reminders to stay humble.

And optimistic. Stay that way, too.

Vanessa is a digital media coordinator by day and a writer, novelist, and badass cook by night. She loves used bookstores, is way too serious about tea, and doesn’t give a damn if she wears the same outfit 2 days in a row. She totally wants to be your friend, so you should follow her on twitter & maybe check out her writing blog.