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Beans and Writing Overwhelm- Is There a Connection?

I just brought in a handful of beans for dinner tonight. I live in a smallish apartment, on the second floor, so all my ‘gardening’ is done on my small balcony. Instead of having rows of beans, I have to plant each plant in its own pot, starting with good organic dirt mixed with my worm castings which provides wonderful organic fertilizer.

I get the worm castings from my box of worms I have up on the balcony as well, which I feed with all my food scraps, cardboard, and various other organic material. Although gardening on a small scale, I am able to get my hands into dirt, plant either a seed or seedling, and the soul-enriching chance to watch what I started grow into a plant that provides me with food whose trimmings then go back to feeding my worms. A truly life satisfying cycle. 

Someone said to me that all that seemed to be a whole lot of work for such a little reward, picking just a handful of beans maybe only 3-4 times a season. While others are bringing bags of extra zucchini and tomatoes to share with their friends (a VERY good thing, I might add as I was one of those people when I owned my home with a huge organic garden!), I am happily content with what I produce given the space/time available. The difference is just size. I still get to play in the dirt. I still get to see my plants grow and I still get to produce wonderful food. I just do it on a smaller scale, and I don’t get overwhelmed as I used to keeping track of my previous large garden. 

The same can be said for writing. People look at writing as a huge task, expecting huge results. This can create what I call writing overwhelm, which then can result in just doing nothing! When I lived in my house with my huge garden, there were times when all the necessary digging, weeding, planting, watering and general tending created garden overwhelm where I ended up getting nothing done. But when I broke it down to weeding or watering one section, then doing another section the next day, it became completely manageable.

Think of writing as a small, balcony garden. Do a little at a time and keep at it. Slow and steady is what is going to bring big results. Set up a time to write, every day, even if only for 10 minutes. But keep at it. Plant your writing seed. If you can’t think of anything to write about, write about not being able to think of anything to write about. Or think of how beans and writing go together! Who would have thought that there was a connection. It is all there in your head. Just nurture it and allow it to come out in small, little bursts rather than getting into writing overwhelm. Keep at it and your ideas will grow into beautiful successes!


For those of you who would like more tips on how to deal with writing overwhelm, or how to work with me 1 on 1 to get your ideas down on paper, I am doing a free online webinar on August 5th, 2014, and I will discuss my four step process.


Guest Post Wednesday - How to Teach Special Needs Children to Read and Write

We are very pleased to have for Our Little Books Guest Post Wednesday, a post from author Tara Health. Tara is a journalist who writes about parents, children and education. Enjoy the post!


How To Teach Special Needs Children How to Read and Write

Teaching at any level, to any type of student, is not without its challenges. At times, teachers must modify their instructional strategies to make the material more understandable, more enjoyable or more accommodating. This can be particularly applicable when it comes to teaching special needs children to read and write.

With more and more schools incorporating the practice of inclusion, it is falling to a growing number of teachers to instruct special needs children. Fortunately, many are up to the task. Are you?


Roadblocks on the Path to Teaching Special Needs Children

While it can be challenging to instruct any student if they are bored or easily distracted, these challenges are magnified when it comes to special needs children. In many cases, these children are more easily frustrated and distracted. They might be given to emotional outbursts. They may lack coordination or memory skills.

Special needs children might also:

  • Be demanding
  • Have low self-esteem
  • Struggle with following directions
  • Have difficulties staying on one task for a long period of time

Learning to read and write can be difficult enough; to do so when faced with these types of obstacles can make the teaching and learning of these subjects more demanding. Try and come up with different strategies to help motivate the children you are working with and be sure to have fun.

Tricks of the Trade

Teaching special needs children how to read and write may take a different approach than what you're used to. But if you're like the vast majority of teachers, you simply want to see your students succeed, no matter what it takes.

With some creativity, patience and perseverance, your special needs students can learn how to read and write. Maybe not in the manner in which your other students will learn, and most likely not in a manner you even envisioned. But it will happen.

Here are some ideas you might consider when teaching special needs children how to read and write:

  • Use visual learning aids, such as flashcards or overhead projector displays
  • Break down material into smaller increments
  • Use speech-recognition software; it is helpful for children to see words spelled out as they speak
  • Encourage group work, as children can learn from their peers

It is also helpful to be repetitious. Going over and over the same material for a few minutes each day generally yields better results than teaching the material once or twice a week. Also, provide frequent progress reports. Special needs children can relate better between the material and their performance if they have more immediate feedback.

The Thrill of Victory

If it seems the deck is stacked against you, remember that there are several factors working in your favor when it comes to special needs children.

Many of these students tend to be curious, imaginative and often excited about learning. Of course, each student is different. But once you find the right approach for your particular student (or approaches for your particular students, as the case may be), you'll be amazed at the results.

In the end, you'll have your special needs children mastering two of the "three R's" of education: reading and writing. You, and they, will have overcome the challenges. Perhaps few other experiences can as adequately illustrate the joys of your chosen profession.


Tara Heath is a journalist who lives in Southern California. She has a passion for writing on topics such as parenting and education. In her earlier years she used to work in a special education classroom as an aid and learned so much from being in that atmosphere, the most important was to smile and have fun.



Being Mindful in Your Writing or How to Win in Tennis

photo by Didier SibourgNowadays, you hear many people talking about being mindful or being in a state of mindfulness. But what does that actually mean? The concept of being mindful finds its origins in Buddhist mindfulness (one of the seven factors of enlightenment) but mindfulness has been also used in many other religions. More recently, Jon Kabat-Zinn made the concept popular in the West when he combined Buddhist mindfulness concepts with Western Medicine in his Stress Reduction Clinic and Center for Mindfulness at the UMass Medical Center.

To me, without getting into the religious or psychological aspects of mindfulness, being mindful means being conscious or aware of things with a present, immediate awareness of your thoughts or actions. For example, I play tennis. When I play well, I realize that I am conscious of my every shot, how I want to hit it and where I want it to go. But that stems not from over thinking or over analyzing, but just being in the moment, being present, being aware of what is going on everywhere on the court. When I am present in my mind and in my body, I find that I make the shots that are the ones that need to be made.

When I am not being mindful, I find that all I am doing is hitting the ball back without any conscious thought to where, when or how. You certainly can still be successful and win with just getting the ball back, but there is a distinct difference in the play and how it feels. There is a different sense of the flow of the game when not being present, more like being in chunks as opposed to flowing effortlessly from one point, one shot to another. And I can tell you that I enjoy the feeling of being in every point as opposed to the feeling of watching from the side-lines (even though I am the one playing on the court)!

Mindfulness can also be applied to writing, of knowing where you want to go with your words, the message you want to convey, how you want to say it and the feeling your want your readers to have. Certainly, like in tennis, there will be times when you sit down and can’t think of what to write, or don’t have a flow so, in a sense, you are ‘just getting the ball back’. And again, like in tennis, you can still end up with some decent writing even without being mindful of what you are writing. But that is not the optimum way to write.

Being in a state of effortless flow, being present and in the moment, not worrying about spelling or grammar or is this the perfect word or should this sentence go next or how should I say this, is where I believe inspiration happens. For most writers, it is not easy. It will take practice to get into the mindfulness of writing. You will find yourself getting caught up into worrying about this or that. But if you can practice being mindful, being present, being in the moment, letting go of over thinking and just writing, you will change your writing from watching on the side-lines to being in every point. Get in the habit of letting go and being mindful when you write.


When authors work with Our Little Books to publish their book, part of the publishing package includes having a writing coach and being mentored along the way. One of the coaching exercises is practicing being mindful while writing. If you would like to work with Our Little Books in getting your book out, please contact us!


Musings of a Cruise Virgin - Shop Till You Drop

After our ‘tour’ of St. Thomas via taxi, we got off to look around in downtown Charlotte Amalie, the capitol of the US Virgin Islands. Both Harriet and I were immediately turned off by what we saw…jewelry after jewelry store front. In just one block, there were at least 40 jewelry stores and it went on for several blocks! Each store had a barker out front to entice you into their store. I finally picked one store at random and stopped to talk with the barker. He, (like an excellent front man) got me into the store to talk to the owner who, of course, just happened to want to show me all his wares while he answered my questions.

Picture courtesy of Travel World NewsMy main question was how could any one store make a living since there were so many identical stores. What I gathered (without the owner saying this exactly) was that he would discount any piece in the shop up to 90%. So basically, all the prices in all the stores were highly inflated and it was up to your power of negotiation to get the best deal. But that same 'deal' on the same piece of jewelry could be different depending on which shop you went to.

I asked if he was successful and he said he just opened two more jewelry stores this year. I guess the answer was a resounding yes! Their patrons were 100% from the cruise ships as they would not even open if there wasn’t a ship in port. (We were the only ship in port and several places were closed, so apparently, it didn’t pay for them to open unless there was MORE than one cruise ship in port!)

The main street clearly put me on jewelry overload! So, unless you really wanted to shop at all the duty free jewelry shops, you had to go down secret side streets to find cool stores that had other things than jewelry. We found a store called SOS Antiques- which stood for Shipwrecker's Ocean Salvage. Now this was a REALLY cool store; a fascinating antique maritime gallery which specialized in nautical items. There were all manner of maps and charts, maritime prints, instruments such as sextants and barometers, cannons, swords, flintlock pistols and daggers, most of which dated from around the 16th century. Either the owners or other people would find the items from diving or washed up on the shores of the island and bring them in to be turned into cool pieces.

There were collections of treasure coins both local and from other shipwrecks around the world. I began to imagine the stories behind the items--- real-life pirates who once walked the streets and sailed the seas of St. Thomas, complete with wooden legs and eye patches. (Did you know that there was a real reason for the eye patches, and not just because all those pirates had lost their eyes? When they boarded a ship and went below where it was dark and gloomy, they’d switch the eye patch to the other eye so they could immediately see and not be beheaded while waiting for their eyes to adjust, and vice versa so they would not be blinded when they went back up on deck!) What was also fun to see in the store was that even the broken pieces of nautical antiques were creatively used. For example, I saw a broken piece of pottery that they had turned into a really cool looking lamp!

And here I succumbed to the lure of treasure when I found a piece of jewelry that sang to me. It was a delicate bracelet made of silver and Larimar. It had a broken clasp and the saleswoman took it into the back room to get fixed. Shortly thereafter, out of the back room came my now fixed bracelet carried by this little old jeweler complete with lamp/magnifier head gear, so I knew that this was not a cheap piece from China. Of course, never having heard of Larimar before I had to learn all about it and the sales woman was very accommodating in telling me Larimar’s history.

In 1916, a Father Miguel Domingo Fuertes Loren found some blue gems along the beach in the Dominican Republic and requested permission to mine the stone. He was denied his permit and nothing more was heard about these gems until 1974 when a Dominican and a Peace Corps volunteer found a piece of this blue stone on the shoreline. As I’ve discussed from the history posts of the other islands, the indigenous people of the Dominican Republic were the Taino. The Taino called the gems, Blue Stone, because they believed the stone came from the beautiful blue sea. Based on this, the Dominican then named the stone for his daughter, Larissa, and the Spanish word for sea, ‘mar’ based on the beautiful, clear blue Caribbean waters and thus, Larimar was named.

Larimar has many healing attributes associated with it. It represents peace and clarity and Healers use it as a calming stone for Earth healing, as well as an aid in communication and the expression of emotions. Larimar picks up our needs and quickly aligns with our own energy field. It is associated with the crown, heart, third eye and throat chakras, which cleanse emotional blocks resulting in peaceful and positive emotions while facilitating inner wisdom and outer manifestation. Finally it teaches respect, love and nurturing, soothing and uplifting hurt, fear, and depression with love.

Larimar also has a direct connection to the lost island of Atlantis. Edgar Cayce predicted that on one of the Caribbean islands, (being what he believed was left of Atlantis), a blue stone of Atlantean origin would be found with extraordinary healing attributes. So not only is Larimar used in healings but also to access the lost knowledge of Atlantis. Finally, Larimar is often times called the Dolphin Stone. Dolphins are frequently associated with Atlantis and Larimar was used as a tool to enhance communication with them. What’s fascinating is that Larimar often shows patterns with dolphins, angels, and Greek columns, although my stones in my bracelets are small enough that I can only pick out a Dolphin eye here and there.

So I am very happy with my shopping! I have a beautiful Larimar bracelet. I learned about a brand new gem. I am being soothed by this gem and I’m connected to the lost city of Atlantis! Now, how cool is that?


Musings of a Cruise Virgin - Love Me Some Paella

As you can tell by several of my posts, I enjoy all aspects of food, including of course eating but also cooking. On each ship in the Holland America line there is a Culinary Arts Center, presented by Food & Wine Magazine. Basically, it is a “world class show kitchen at sea” featuring a theater-style venue with two large video screens and a large cooking display counter. It looks like those elaborate show kitchens used by celebrity chefs on television cooking programs. Of all the on-board daily activities, I probably attended more cooking shows than any other type of activity.

When you show up at the theater, you get a recipe card which has the dish being cooked that day and the recipe, so not only can you follow along, but also take it home so you can try what you watched. Like most chefs, they don't always follow their recipes exactly, so my recipe cards are filled with notes! The cooking demonstrations I attended focused on our sailing region so the shows brought the local Caribbean flavors on board.

Dave, one of the ship's chefs, did a couple of shows. He looked about 13, but you could clearly tell he knew what he was doing and he said one thing which I totally agree with: you 'eat with your eyes first'! So many people don't realize that presentation is so important. He also wore one of those tall chef hats that was almost as tall as he was. From Dave, I learned how to make Caribbean type foods: Jamaican Jerk Pork Tenderloin with Gingered BBQ Drizzle; Caribbean Jerk Grouper; Sautéed Scallops with Mango Salsa; and Spicy Pineapple Salsa and Cinnamon-Sugar Tortilla Triangles.

The ship also had guest chefs who come aboard on all the cruises to give classes. On our cruise our guest chefs were Bruce Weinstein and Mark Scarbrough who were an absolute kick. Not only were they business partners but life partners as well, so there was a lot of teasing and joking going on during the cooking. Bruce is the chef and Mark is the writer.

They are contributing Editors to Eating Well Magazine, creators of the Ultimate Cookbook Series and are one of the most published food writing teams in North America. Some of their titles include Ham: An Obsession with the Hind Quarter, a James Beard Award nominee in 2011, and The Ultimate Ice Cream Book, plus ten more popular titles. They are also featured monthly columnists on, and regular contributors to Cooking Light, Fine Cooking, The Washington Post, Relish, and many other national publications.

After listening to Bruce and Mark have fun while teaching us how to cook Buckwheat and Cashew Burgers, Quinoa and Black Bean Burgers, and Falafel Burgers with Almond Harissa, I jumped at the chance to be part of a hands-on cooking class with them. So one day, myself and 14 other wanna-be chefs met to make Paella.

Now, Paella is from Spain and is not necessarily Caribbean. However I bet you anything that you could put in Caribbean ingredients and still call it Paella. Traditionally, there are 3 different types: meat (chicken, rabbit, duck, snails, sausage), white rice, green vegetables, beans and seasoning; seafood (clams, mussels, crab, shrimp, lobster) white rice, peas, seasoning; and mixed (meat and seafood), white rice, vegetables and seasonings. But my sense was that Paella could be made with anything you wanted to put in there, and actually that's what we did.

We all broke up into 3 teams of 5 people each. In the picture, you can see Dave with his white hat in the back ground. Bruce is the chef on the left with the light halo, and Mark is in the middle. The kitchen was pretty neat, with 3 cooking stations. The ship supplied all the ingredients, so we could choose any veggies, meats, seafood or spices that, as a team, we wanted to work with.

As it turned out, each team chose something different and it ended up that we did all 3 different styles of Paella (with some cross over), so it worked out perfectly. Ours was a dark, rich meat base with bacon, duck, sausage and scallops. Another one was seafood based with lobster, clams, shrimp and mussels. The third was sort of a mixture of both meat and seafood. Bruce and Mark would wander between the teams and throw out suggestions, often times just the opposite of what the other had just said! Here's how we made our Paella:

Step 1: Heat 4 cups broth, 1/2 teaspoon salt, and 1/2 teaspoon saffron in a covered, medium saucepan just until warm, not boiling;

Step 2: Brown the duck, sausage and bacon in 2 Tbs olive oil in a 13-inch Paella pan or 14-inch cast-iron skillet; transfer to a plate and pour off all but 2 Tbs fat.

Step 3: Add about 1 1/2 chopped aromatics and cook, stirring often, until softened, about 3 minutes. We used celery, onions, and carrots.

Step 4: Pour in 1 cup wine, raise the heat to medium-high, and boil until the amount of liquid in the pan has been reduced by half, perhaps 3 or 4 minutes.

Step 5: Add up to 2 Tbs minced herbs, dried spices, as well as 2 tsp smoked paprika, minced garlic cloves and shallots. We used rosemary, thyme, smoked paprika (more than 2 tsp- probably 2 Tbs) and the garlic and shallots.

Step 6: Pour 1 3/4 cups canned diced tomatoes and 1/2 cup fresh shelled or frozen peas or other quick-cooking vegetable before bring to a simmer. (We omitted the peas but the two other teams used them).

Step 7: Stir in 2 cups Arborio or Valencia medium-grain rice until translucent and most of the liquid has been absorbed and the grains have turned translucent except for a little white kernel at one end.





Step 8: Pour in the warm broth mixture, reduce the heat to medium-low, and simmer very slowly for 10 minutes.

Step 9: Tuck the browned meat, up to 2 lbs thick-fleshed fish or shellfish, and up to 2 lbs clams or mussels into the simmering rice. We decorated with red bell pepper, rosemary and garlic cloves. Place in the oven and bake until the meat is the proper internal temperature, the mollusks are open, and the rice is tender, about 15 minutes.

Because of time (we were going to get to eat our food, so we couldn't take the 15-20 minutes to cook in a regular oven), the 3 Paellas were taken into the main kitchen rather than being in the Culinary Arts Center ovens. The main kitchen ovens were able to bake at 650 degrees, so it got cooked in a flash!

Unfortunately, we didn't get to make the 'treat' of Paella. The treat is the socarrat, which is a layer of crusty, toasted rice at the bottom of the pan. With the oven method we used, (normal Paella would be cooked over an open fire outside), you don't get the socarrat, and again, because of time, we couldn't bring the pans back and use the stove to cook it until the rice on the pan's bottom starts to pop and sizzle and forms the socarrat.

However, we did get to eat it! We all went to Pinnacle Grill, one of the fancy dining rooms. We sat drinking wine and chatting until our 3 pots arrived. Wow, did they smell good! Of course, ours was the best... deep rich brown color and smoky taste from the paprica, sausage and duck. However, the much lighter color and taste of the seafood Paella was also excellent, and the mixed one combined the best of the both of ours. I definitely ate too much tasting all 3. We were eventually kicked out of the dining room since they were expecting dinner diners to show any minute.

Definitely, a fun way to spend a couple of hours!