Monday, May 23, 2016

Cuban Inspired Slow Cooker Ropa Vieja

Almost every Sunday for the last year, my oldest has come over for dinner and a movie night.  He's been out of the house for a long time now, so his decision to spend this time with us is very special.

 My husband, my son and I rotate through choosing the movie to watch from Netflix or iTunes offerings. Every once and awhile we head out to the cinema for one that needs the big screen and sound system.

What to cook each time is always a puzzle. I want to use this time to try new things and to create a true family dinner. I also don't want to spend a lot of time in the kitchen once he arrives - so it needs to be prepped ahead or cooked in the slow cooker. Usually the extras such as bread and dessert are purchased, but I like the main dish to be homemade.

This week I decided it was time to find a new slow cooker recipe. The three of us were struggling to decide whether to watch a movie here or head out to the cinema for a mid-afternoon show, so I needed the flexibility of food that would be ready when we walked in the door.  This recipe from FoodandWine.com caught my eye.  

It's inspired by a Cuban dish called Ropa Vieja. The 2 pounds of flank steak proved to be expensive, but there were a decent amount of leftovers even though 3 or the 4 eating were men. The picture shows it with rice, but as the recipe says you can serve it instead with warm tortillas and this is the option I took.  I bought the smallest size and heated them in the oven wrapped in foil. I am also not a fan of green bell peppers. So instead of a red and green pepper, used a red and yellow one. Up to you.

The meat mixture was very wet, so next time I'll be draining the diced tomatoes and skipping the 1/2 cup water.  I placed the meat mixture in small bowls that I placed on larger dinner plates along with the tortillas and side dishes. We all assembled our own little wraps as we ate.

I love this style of serving where you get to dive in and create.  This isn't spicy, so if you want more zip I would increase the number of jalapenos or add a dash of your favourite hot sauce. There are tons of varied recipes for Ropa Vieja. I may just have to try a few others and compare.

= = = = 

1            2-pound flank steak, halved lengthwise and cut crosswise into 4 pieces
Kosher Salt and Freshly Ground Pepper
1            28-ounce can diced tomatoes (next time I'm going to drain before adding)
1/2 C     Water (also skipping this next time as the meat mixture was too wet)
1            Red bell pepper, thinly sliced or cubed
1            Yellow bell pepper, thinly sliced or cubed (green pepper in original recipe)
1            Medium onion, cut into 1/4-inch dice
2            Cloves garlic, minced (original says thinly sliced)
1            Jalapeño, seeded and minced (original says thinly sliced)
1/2 tsp    Dried oregano
1/2 tsp    Ground cumin
1             Bay leaf
1/2 C      Sliced green olives (with or without the pimento)
2 T         Capers, drained
3 T         Coarsely chopped cilantro
Small tortillas warmed. Can serve with rice if you prefer.

Season the flank steak with salt and pepper. In a slow cooker, combine the diced tomatoes and their juices with the water, bell peppers, onion, garlic, jalapeño, oregano, cumin and bay leaf. Add the flank steak, cover and cook on high for 5 hours, until the meat is very tender.

Transfer the meat to a cutting board and let rest for 10 minutes. Discard the bay leaf. Stir the olives, capers and 1 tablespoon of the cilantro into the sauce.

Using 2 forks, shred the meat. Return the meat to the sauce to warm through. Season the sauce with salt and pepper. Spoon the meat and sauce into bowls, sprinkle with the remaining 2 tablespoons of cilantro and serve with warm tortillas (or on rice).

Sunday, May 22, 2016

It's Okay To Do Nothing.

I have struggled the last few months with just not being able to put pen to paper on my larger projects. As a life-long procrastinator and someone who really struggled to get that first book out, I have been working towards writing from joy during this time. I love what I do, so want the process to reflect that. And yet the words are just not coming. It was time to take stock of what that meant.

Interestingly enough, during this time my Ujamaa tribe which usually says "Go for it" and "You can do it" have had a much different response. Their words are a different kind of encouragement - "Trust your instincts"  and "There is a reason it's not coming together in this moment." Perhaps the books are not quite ready to become a reality - a new interview that needs to be included, a journey I already have on paper that is going to have a change, personal growth to be addressed first or even the right timing for release.

It is difficult to let go of the idea that sometimes our intuition is guiding us to do nothing on a project we hold dear.  That concept is against the way our culture tells us things should happen. We should set goals and always be moving forward. Each moment should count. Tricks are offered such as working with a timer and a list. There is even a writing site where you are berated if your typing falls below a certain number of words per minute. The term writer's block looms in countless articles.

Only recently did the idea come into my world that doing nothing is sometimes the right choice. I remember my mentor Sue Dumais of Heart Led Living sharing during a guided meditation session that she was struggling to work one day. She decided to explore what her heart was telling her and was guided to stretch out for two hours of relaxation and personal time.  When she arose and sat down again at her computer, the experience was totally different and she made several hundred dollars almost immediately. Whoa!

This idea was one I had to explore and honestly, my societal training immediately went into serious revolt.  It insisted there really could be no excuse for lack of production except my own personal failing - procrastination. It was time to let that old message see the light of day, acknowledge it no longer served me and release it to the universe. The pressure came off my shoulders and in it's place, anticipation began to slowly build.

My intellectual desire is to zoom through the three plus books waiting to be written. They are still calling me and I know they are meant to be birthed.  At the same time I am stepping back from blame and opening myself up to wherever my heart is leading me first. I am open and ready to embrace this journey.

Is this easy? Not yet. Daily I have to start each morning with a few quiet minutes of embracing and accepting that nesting and quiet time feels right in this moment.  And if it feels right, the universe is in charge. All will come together.



Friday, May 20, 2016

Interview With Carey Nachenberg, Author of The Florentine Deception

Note - Author Carey Nachenberg is donating proceeds from The Florentine Deception to charities that assist underprivileged and low-income students - $8,173.00 as of December 31st with another $3000+ to be donated due to recent salesTo see a list of charities that will benefit go to - http://florentinedeception.weebly.com/charities.html 

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Can you share a bit about your journey to becoming a writer/published author?

My path to being published was typical of most first-time authors - seven years of plotting and re-plotting, writing and rewriting, and endless bouts of writer’s block. After completing and editing my first draft, I went on the hunt for a literary agent. Ultimately, the very first agent I pitched to ended up accepting me as a client, a year, two hundred other agent rejections, and six rewrites after my first pitch.

My agent tried to sell my novel to about ten different publishers with no success, so dejected, I decided to go the self-publishing route and let readers decide. I spent every free minute promoting the novel, giving book talks, advertising on Google and Facebook (a complete waste of money), and sending the novel to bloggers and reviewers. Ultimately, the book sold and was reviewed well. Well enough, in fact, that my current publisher – Open Road - picked it up as an official title, and, shortly after, Audible produced the audiobook.

Ultimately, I gleaned three key lessons from the experience. First, it’s critical to learn to accept rejection when hunting for an agent/publisher – it’s inevitable. Second, it’s important to take agent feedback (however scant) and use it to improve your story. And finally, grit conquers all – never give up!

As an author - what do you enjoy most about writing process? What feels like a chore?

It’s fun to just sit down and write and see where the story goes. I love watching how the characters take on a life of their own, get themselves into trouble, and often pull the story into completely unanticipated and exciting directions.

The biggest chore was slogging through major rewrites. Often what seems like a small change, for example adding some dialog between two characters, causes major ripple effects throughout the rest of the novel. The change might result in a different emotional state for the characters, might inadvertently foreshadow some scene later in the novel, and so on. So even small changes require you to carefully reread and potentially edit large parts of the story to ensure consistency. While rewrites are a critical part of the writing process, they’re a huge drag.

How do your organize your time when working on a new book? Research? Working on Manuscript? Pre-marketing?

While I wrote the first draft of my novel, I didn’t bother organizing my time. When I felt like writing, I sat down at my desk with a glass of red wine and wrote. That took most of the pressure off, and made the experience far more enjoyable. That said, once I began pitching to agents and doing rewrites, I stuck to a very organized schedule, dedicating every free weekend and evening to finishing the changes.

While you do have 2 other published books, they are both non-fiction works on internet security. What challenges did you face switching genres and writing a fictional cyber-security thriller - The Florentine Deception?

Review HERE!
The biggest challenge in transitioning from non-fiction to fiction was character development. Constructing a character from scratch, really getting into their head, and making sure their behaviors were consistent with their personality and challenges they were facing was really difficult. To address this challenge, as with many new authors, I initially modeled my main characters after people I knew well. Over time, I became more empathetic with my characters and this became much less of a problem – in fact, it was really a lot of fun to develop and watch my characters grow.

Where did the inspiration for this story come from? The characters? Are any characters based on people you know?

I wish I could say that my story was inspired by some idea or event, but I’d be lying if I did. If anything, my initial motivation was to expose everyday folks to the fascinating world of cyber-security. So, if you listen the audiobook, in addition to enjoying an exciting adventure, you’ll also gain a very realistic understanding of how fragile our digital world is, and how easily it could be disrupted by folks with evil intent.
That said… some of my characters were inspired by friends and family members. My Papa character, for example, was directly modeled after my wily paternal grandfather. He gives the adventure a comic angle, and I’ve had many readers tell me that he was their favorite character. I think if Papa were still around, he’d be happy to know that.

What inspired your decision to donate 100% of the proceeds from sales of The Florentine Deception to charities supporting under served students and veterans and who are some of the charities/people that will benefit?

My feeling is that we need to help people as early as possible to get them on the right trajectory in life, so that’s why I decided to donate all of my proceeds to children’s/young adult charities. I’ve selected five charities to support; all of them are focused on helping underserved students. Several of the charities enable inner-city students to attend free charter schools; one charity helps students get professional training and then places them in internships in high-tech companies.

How much has been raised to date and how much do you hope to raise?


My pledge was to donate $5 per book for the first 2,000 copies of my novel sold, up to $10,000, then donate 100% of my proceeds per book (probably $1-$1.50 per copy sold) thereafter. So far I’ve donated over $8,000 from sales of about 1,600 novels, and I’m about to donate another $3000+ based on a recent spike in sales!

What's next for you in terms of writing? Will you be releasing any more books in this genre to further raise money for these charities?

I’m noodling over several new projects, but so far I haven’t settled on anything. Frankly, writing the novel was such a massive undertaking – both in terms of time and emotional ups and downs – that I’m not quite ready to jump into a new project. But if and when I do, I'll definitely want to use it to help less fortunate folks.

Connect with the author: Website Twitter Facebook

The Florentine Deception by Carey Nachenberg

Note - Author Carey Nachenberg is donating proceeds from The Florentine Deception to charities that assist underprivileged and low-income students - $8,173.00 as of December 31st with another $3000+ to be donated due to recent sales! To see a list of charities that will benefit go to - http://florentinedeception.weebly.com/charities.html



A seemingly mundane computer clean-up leads to 
an electrifying quest for an enigmatic—and deadly
—treasure in this gripping techno-thriller.

Synopsis - 

After selling his dorm-room startup for millions and effectively retiring at the age of twenty-five, Alex Fife is eager for a new challenge. When he agrees to clean up an old PC as a favor, he never expects to find the adventure of a lifetime waiting for him inside the machine. But as he rummages through old emails, Alex stumbles upon a startling discovery: The previous owner, a shady antiques smuggler, had been trying to unload a mysterious object known as the Florentine on the black market. And with the dealer’s untimely passing, the Florentine is now unaccounted for and ripe for the taking. Alex dives headfirst into a hunt for the priceless object.

​What starts out as a seemingly innocuous pursuit quickly devolves into a nightmare when Alex discovers the true technological nature of the Florentine. Not just a lost treasure, it’s something far more insidious: a weapon that could bring the developed world to its knees. Alex races through subterranean grottos, freezing morgues, and hidden cellars in the dark underbelly of Los Angeles, desperate to find the Florentine before it falls into the wrong hands. Because if nefarious forces find it first, there’ll be nothing Alex—or anyone else—can do to prevent a catastrophic attack.

Review - 

I checked out the categories listed for The Florentine Deception and they were bang on - Mystery, Techno-thriller, Amateur Sleuth. You could add in a little unrequited love, but that really was a very small side plot.

The forward by Eugene H Spafford, PhD - an expert in security and cyber crime - was an eye opener for me. The scenario created by author Carey Nachenberg - also an expert incyber-security field - was one Spafford had long been concerned about. He even presented a paper on it to senior personnel from from several government agencies and commercial firms over two decades ago. No one believed it could happen. Now here was another expert who independently came to the same conclusion. So while this is a great read with lots of excitement, just remember there is a core of possibility here. It could happen.

As I have a son working as a programmer with a start-up company, the character of Alex Fife in particular really hit home to me. Creating that new program that will sell for huge dollars still happens and the individuals who pull it off, especially if they can do it without bringing in investors, end up very wealthy at a very young age.  While the other two from his company seemed to find their rhythm, Alex found himself at a loss and distracted.  

Rock climbing and caving were the only thing he seemed to enjoy. That is until the day he grudgingly started to fix up old garage sale computer his dad wanted to give to a needy family.  Something was odd here. His interest piqued, he started to explore a mystery not understanding the water he was dipping his toe into was shark-infested.

The mystery continues to grow as he and his friends start to search for the mysterious Florentine through a hidden safe, a long forgotten cave and a university lab.  As they continue to come closer to the truth, hidden codes are discovered, people are injured and lives are lost. The truth is shocking and the timing short. With no time to turn it over to the NSA, Alex reaches out to an old mentor to help him find a solution.  Will they finish in time?

​Buy the audiobook: Amazon ~ Audible
Buy the book: Amazon ~
Barnes & Noble

Watch the trailer:


Meet The Author - 

Behind the scene author interview HERE! 

Carey Nachenberg is Symantec Corporation's Chief Engineer and is considered one of the inventors of Norton AntiVirus. As Chief Engineer, Carey drives the technical strategy for all of Symantec's core security technologies and security content. He has led the design and development of Symantec's core antivirus, intrusion prevention and reputation-based security technologies; his work in these areas have garnered over eighty-five United States patents.

In addition to his work in the cyber-security field, Carey has also recently published his first novel, a cyber-security thriller entitled “The Florentine Deception,” and is donating all proceeds from sales of the novel to charities supporting underserved students and veterans. Carey holds BS and MS degrees in Computer Science and Engineering from University of California at Los Angeles, where he continues to serve as Adjunct Professor of Computer Science.

Connect with the author: Website Twitter Facebook


Friday, May 13, 2016

The Berlin Package by Peter Riva


A film producer, a handsome star, and an African 
safari guide must race to protect themselves and the 
world from a terrorist nuclear trade.

Synopsis - 

Film producer Pero Baltazar thought he was taking a Berlin filming assignment. He needed the work, needed to get back in the saddle after fighting off a life-threatening experience in East Africa—alShabaab had attacked his crew, intent on a much larger terrorist attack. Suddenly he finds himself under orders from his part-time employers at the State Department and the CIA when he is handed a mysterious package. It’s an assignment he doesn't want. The problem is, it’s a job contracted by mysterious patrons who are prepared to kill him if he doesn't deliver.

Pero—now in far too deep—turns to friends, old and new, to help him unravel the mystery of the package, uncover connections to Nazi concentration camp gold recently sold by the US Treasury, and thwart the ex–Stasi chief, now head of a powerful banking group.

In this fast-paced sequel to Murder on Safari, Pero calls on Mbuno, his friend and East African safari guide, to anticipate the moves of his enemies as if they were animals—dangerous vermin—who have kidnapped both the film star and director. Mbuno’s tracking skills may keep them from getting killed—provided Pero can rope in more help and keep the CIA at bay.

Exhilarating and expertly crafted, The Berlin Package (Yucca Publishing; April 2016) is a gripping, page-turning thriller set in post–German reunification Europe.

Review - 

Peter Riva is an established author who produces both SciFi/Cyberpunk and Action/Adventure novels.  Of the two genres, I personally love his Action/Adventure stories the best.  The Berlin Package is no exception.

Here we again meet film producer Pero Baltazar who occasionally takes assignments as a CIA courier. Unfortunately his last CIA assignment drew him into a frightening terrorist plot that he and his friends had to thwart as best they could. Now finally recovered from the overwhelming demands placed upon him in the previous book - and ready to dip his toe back into work - he reaches out to both his Hollywood agent and CIA contact. A film project in Berlin is offered. The CIA says not now.

When he arrives in Berlin, however, he approached at the airport by a CIA operative who gives him an unexpected package.  Frustrated, he calls his contact at headquarters and is disturbed to find all in disarray. No one seems to know what is going on. Quickly he discovers holding this package has made him a target of the dreaded Stazi. Staying just ahead of his pursuers, Pero has to quickly discover why the package is so important, free his kidnapped friends and thwart a world nuclear threat.

It's obvious there is a mole within the CIA, so Pero has to find a solution on his own with just the support of a few trusted individuals.  Fortunately one is African tracker and long time friend Mbuno. Together they must find not only the answer, but a solution. The clock is ticking.

This is one fabulous thriller to dive into - escapism at it's best.  Trust me, you won't be able to put it down.


Meet the Author - 


Peter Riva has spent many months over 30 years travelling throughout Africa and Europe. Much of this time was spent with the legendary guides for East African hunters and adventurers. He created a TV series in 1995 called Wild Things for Paramount. Passing on the fables, true tales, and insider knowledge of these last reserves of true wildlife is his passion. 

Nonetheless, his job for over forty years has been working as a literary agent. In his spare time, Riva writes science fiction and African adventure books. He lives in Gila, New Mexico.




Friday, May 6, 2016

KATHRYN KELLY: The Moll Behind "Machine Gun" Kelly by Barbara Casey


Kathryn Kelly: The Moll Behind "Machine Gun" Kelly

 is the first book ever written about a woman who
 chose to follow a life of crime during the Prohibition era.

Synopsis - 

Kathryn Kelly: The Moll Behind "Machine Gun" Kelly is a biography of the woman who made a career of crime. With a lust for danger, she masterminded the crimes that took her and her husband, and others who included her own mother and stepfather, on a spree across Minnesota, Tennessee, Oklahoma, and Texas. Starting with smaller crimes that included bootlegging, smuggling liquor onto an Oklahoma Indian reservation, and other petty crimes, she encouraged her husband, George Barnes aka George Kelly, toward a life of more serious criminal activity that eventually escalated into bank robberies, kidnapping and extortion.

Many believe that it was Kathryn, after giving him a machine gun, who developed George's feared persona and the name of Machine Gun Kelly. FBI Director J. Edgar Hoover was even convinced that the two were somehow connected in the Lindbergh kidnapping. Kathryn and Machine Gun Kelly were eventually captured after kidnapping Charles Urschel, a wealthy Oklahoma City oilman, and collecting a $200,000 ransom the largest ransom ever paid at that time.

​Eventually, the two were captured in Memphis, where Kelly had grown up as a boy. During their trial in Oklahoma City, movie cameras were allowed into the courtroom for the first time as curious spectators across the nation watched. Kathryn, while claiming to be an innocent victim in a bad marriage, remained unrepentant, smiling and primping for the cameras, and writing threatening letters to the judge and attorneys assigned to the case as well as her victims.

Convicted in 1933, Kathryn served twenty-five years of her life sentence at FPC Alderson, West Virginia, when in 1958 she was finally released into obscurity. Although much has been written about Machine Gun Kelly, there is very little known about Kathryn.

Through narrative, FBI files, rare quotes from George Kelly's son and other relatives and associates, extensive research, and several photographs, Kathryn Kelly ¬The Moll behind Machine Gun Kelly is the first book ever written about a woman who chose to follow a life of crime during the Prohibition era.

Review - 

As I interview and write the stories of others, I am always drawn to a biography of any kind.  Author Barbara Casey is an established award winning author who works mostly in fiction.  This book is a rare journey for her into the non-fiction arena.

The Moll Behind "Machine Gun" Kelly takes the reader behind the scenes and tries to shed light on this historical couple - separating fact from fiction where possible.  It's a fairly short read and surprisingly - given her background writing fiction - is told in a journalistic style.  Time lines are honoured, the facts as they are known are shared and sources are quoted throughout.

If you're interested in reading this story from a historical, newspaper-style perspective, this is the treatment for you. One note - I did find the formatting a bit unusual. The table of contents had an unexpected look and the font size was overly large. When you read and review a lot of books, these things pop.

Buy the book: Amazon Barnes & Noble

Meet the author - 

Read a behind the scenes interview with the author HERE!

Barbara Casey is a partner in Strategic Media Books, and president of the Barbara Casey Agency, representing authors throughout the United States, Great Britain, Canada, and Japan. She is also a manuscript consultant and the author of numerous articles, poems, and short stories.

Her award-winning novels have received national recognition, including the Independent Publishers Book Award. Her novel, The House of Kane, was considered for a Pulitzer nomination, and The Gospel According to Prissy, also a contemporary adult novel received several awards including the prestigious IPPY Award for Best Regional Fiction. Her most recent young adult novel, The Cadence of Gypsies, received the Independent Publishers Living Now Award and was reviewed by the Smithsonian for its list of Best Books.

Ms. Casey makes her home on the top of a mountain in northwest Georgia with her husband and three dogs who adopted her: Benton, a hound-mix, Fitz, a miniature dachshund, and Gert, a Jack Russel terrier of sorts.

​Connect with the author: Website


a Rafflecopter giveaway


Interview with Barbara Casey, author of KATHRYN KELLY: The Moll Behind "Machine Gun" Kelly

Can you share a bit about your journey to becoming a writer/published author?

When I was the director of public relations at NC Wesleyan College, I also did freelance editing – mostly book manuscripts written by the professors. It was then that I decided to try to write my own book, and I had an idea for a middle grade novel. I gave myself a year to write it and try to find a publisher.Ten months later, I had a publishing contract. I immediately started my second book – another middle grade novel—and continued freelance editing.

Eventually I left NC Wesleyan in order to focus on my writing and also work with other writers who were asking me to help them find a publisher. In 1995, I opened the Barbara Casey Agency. By then I had several books, and numerous articles, poems, and short stories published. I had a good feel for the industry and had made a lot of contacts in publishing, so the percentage of placements I was able to make for the authors I represented was quite high and has continued to be over the years. And I have been able to continue with my own writing.

With 10 books under your belt, how do you find new, fresh storylines and characters?

I think it must have to do with my “ear.” Most writers are observers – they watch and mentally record everything around them. I do that, but I also listen. It isn’t something I do consciously, but invariably I will overhear an unusual phrase, or a particular dialect, and I will start building a character or situation in my mind. I also write poetry, and often a simple line from a poem will trigger all sorts of ideas.

Read a review HERE!
Most of your books have been in the fiction category. What led you to write a true life recount of the life of Katherine Kelly?

The publisher of my adult novel, The Gospel According to Prissy, as well as some books I had submitted to them on behalf of clients, invited me to write a nonfiction book. It interested me because I had published nonfiction articles, but never a book-length nonfiction work. Out of that came Kathryn Kelly: The Moll behind Machine Gun Kelly. The publisher also invited me to become a partner in the company. I feel I have come full circle, and have experienced all of the various aspects in the publishing industry—an industry that I love. Of course, my main passion continues to be writing.

In this latest book you choose to offer her story in a journalistic writing style.What was the reason behind this your choice to handle the story this way?

Kathryn is such an interesting subject, but one which very little has been written about until my book. Research was difficult, since there are no other books about her. Therefore, I had to depend on old court records, newspaper stories from that time period, interviews with people who are still alive or who had an expert knowledge of that period in time, and the FBI “Vault.” There were a lot of “firsts” involved in her trial, one of which they allowed video cameras into the courtroom; so I was able to actually watch the trial from the old recording. The style of my writing was also dictated somewhat by the other nonfiction books that the publisher has published.

Please share something about the difference between approaching writing fiction and writing a true life book.

The main difference, of course, is the depth and amount of research required for nonfiction. In my novels, I also do a lot of research because I want everything surrounding my characters to be accurate. But then I can rely on my imagination to carry the storyline. In nonfiction, nothing is made up or left to the imagination. I did all of my research before I even started writing the book.

When I write my novels, I usually know how I want to start the story and how I want to end it. I also have a few guideposts stuck in the middle that I aim for. But other than that, my books tend to be character-driven and I am just the instrument in recording it.


As an author - what do you enjoy most about writing process? What feels like a chore?

I truly enjoy the journey; sitting down each morning and seeing how the story is going to develop. I get involved with my characters to the point that they live with me – their problems and joys become my problems and joys. I am working on the third book in a young adult mystery series right now – The F.I.G. Mystery Series. Even though it is the third book, I still go back to the first and second books in the series and cry over things that happened to the three orphaned girls who are all geniuses. The chore comes in with marketing after the book is published. I know it is all part of being a writer—the book signings and speaking engagements and interviews—but I have so little free time that it does become a chore.

You also represent other authors and are a partner in Strategic Media Books. How has seeing the industry from both sides affected you as a writer?

I’m not sure it has changed me one way or the other as a writer. I have my own style of writing and that won’t change. I don’t believe in trying to follow trends or mimicking other writers. It does give me an advantage, however, in helping the writers I work with. By being involved in the industry in so many areas, I pretty much know the problems and pitfalls and can help navigate my clients through those things.


What would you most like readers to know about you.

I would say this only to encourage other writers: I am a very private person, but have worked hard to reach the level of success I have. Even though getting published is wonderful, and I always feel the exhilaration that comes with a new publishing contract, and I feel so honored—and humble--when someone likes one of my books, for me it is that journey we talked about previously. If you start with the passion for writing, everything else will eventually fall into place.

​Connect with the author: Website



Tuesday, May 3, 2016

2016 The Show - Cherry Lu, IMPERFECT

Portfolio images - photography by Cherry Lu,  model Shi Shi

Every April, fashion design students from the Kwantlen Polytechnic University's Chip and Shannon Wilson School of Design showcase the culmination of their four years of studies. On one special night they offer their portfolio and lookbook as well as a three look collection on the runway.

36 talented students were a part of 2016 The Show, presented by Tamoda Apparel Inc. and I want to offer my personal kudos to each and every one on a job well done.

While I write a show recap for Metro-Living-Zine (read HERE), I always choose a few students to feature in a solo Q and A. It's always several things that come together when I select a student. Cherry Lu caught my attention in several ways.

First I was intrigued by her runway collection. Then she approached me in the lobby after the show and introduced herself. I noticed the amazing skirt she was wearing (in main image) and was intrigued. When I asked about it, her answer piqued my attention as she also hinted at the versatility of her collection. When I returned home, I checked out her press release more fully -

"IMPERFECT is a lifestyle brand for individual women, featuring distinguished leisure wear that is multi-wearable. The philosophy behind IMPERFECT brings sentimental value to apparel. It is not only a clothing line, but also a silent revolution for celebrating differences and reflecting individuality."

A few days later we connected at a student showcase in Gastown. What I discovered was this collection is formed around eight pieces that can be combined to create 32 different looks. I also loved the fact they weren't the standard classic shirt, pants, skirt jacket offerings. The garments were stylish and unique, with a touch of international influence. I quickly pulled my friend - travel agent Randi Winter - over and she declared it the perfect travel wardrobe.

In addition to runway images and illustrations, four photo strips showcasing the 32 looks are included. Enjoy!
























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Where were you born, where did you grow up?

I was born and raised in Foshan, Guangdong Province in southern China. I left China to study in Vancouver six years ago.

What you like when you were young?

I really like hand-crafting, as well as collecting when I was young. My parents were busy and I was raised by my grandparents most of the time. I used to spend my own time on folding paper, coloring glasses, and making pencil boxes etc.. These hobbies developed my spatial thinking, analytical, and problem solving skills.












What were your interests in High School?

I wasn’t given the option to take electives when I was studying in China. All the students lived in the dorms, so we didn’t have much leisure time except for studying. However, I was in love with math, and I think this developed my dimensional thinking. Also, I realized that I was interested in different forms of fine art, so I joined student association for graphic design and pictorial.

Looking back, can you remember any signs that you would end up in fashion? A personal story would be great here.

My hometown is well-known for apparel manufacturing and sourcing. What’s more, my parents are owners of a kid's apparel manufacturer, and my grandma had been a sewer for more than 20 years before she retired. While being raised in a family that works closely in the fashion industry, I was never forced to follow the same path. My family even joked with me about not wanting me to go in the same path as they did because they know how tough it is. But as a kid, I have always loved playing dress ups and different styles and I think it was only natural for me to go in the fashion industry.

All these lead me onto a path which guides to a fashion career. Nevertheless, my family never push me to follow their path, and they even joked with me about not going in this industry because they know how tough it is.

Noncommittally, I didn’t think too much when I was young, but I knew how much I love playing with styles and dressing. When I look back, it is no doubt that these are the signs for me ending up in fashion.

Talk about when and how you decided to study fashion design. Was you family supportive?

As I mentioned above, even though I was working closely with the apparel industry because of my parents, I never thought about going for the fashion path until I studied in Canada. When I decided to leave home and studied abroad, I realized the freedom for me to pursuit what I really want to learn. I followed my heart and gave it a try. I convinced my family and earned their support. Although they are shy to express themselves, I know they are very proud of me.




































Why did you choose to study at Kwantlen Polytechnic University?

One of the main reasons was my agent, who helped me with settling down in Canada, recommended Kwantlen to me before I came to Canada. By the time I needed to apply for a school, I did some research online and made comparison. I liked studying at Kwantlen for the intimate class size and the four years fashion bachelor degree they offer. After learning about all the professional skills at Kwantlen, I was even more convinced that all the effort I’ve put in to come to Canada until this day was all worth it.

Talk about your time studying Fashion Design. What was hard for you, what was easy for you? Are there any high, low or funny moments you can share?

I can’t exactly remember any difficult time studying fashion design. I consider all of the experiences are part of my life, and I can always learn from those failures and be stronger. Since I am good at math, I am in love with the art of solving design and pattern puzzles. I also like to self-explore softwares like Adobe and Microsoft, as well as pattern drafting tools -- Gerber Accumark Technology. There is no doubt that being in this fashion program requires strong commitment. I still remember four years ago, the excitement and tears after I picked up the phone for being accepted in the fashion program. I also remember my hands shaking when my design suprised the instructors.





































What was the inspiration for your grad collection? Share anything you'd like readers to know?

This lifestyle brand is called IMPERFECT, inspired by the background of cross-culturalism, which is brought up from the dynamic of globalization. This circumstance triggers people to search for their own cultural roots and their own identity. IMPERFECT wants to spread out the value of appreciating difference through sentimental philosophy in innovative and asymmetrical designs. By using fashion as a silent revolution, IMPERFECT presents the attitude of breaking default norms and social perception. Therefore, IMPERFECT is more than a versatile clothing line, but the philosophy behind the product brings the true value.

Describe your collection?

The theme IMPERFECT Fall 2016 is “Falling, drowning, suffocating … maybe a moment you suffer. Yet it is not an end. Touch ground and rebounce back for another breath of life.” There are always ups and downs throughout our lives. I want to embrace not only the ups, but also the downs as we could always learn something from it. IMPERFECT’s customers are independent strong individuals who have their own stories. They are 25 to 60 years old sophisticated women who value individual choice and freedom, as well as make connections to seek meaning of life.

My collection is distinguished leisure wear, featuring innovative design and multi-wearable function. The thesis collection includes eight pieces of garment which can be mixed and matched for over thirty different looks. They are: wrap coat, reversible jacket, shirt dress, dynamit dress, multi-drape shirt, slit top, skirt pants, and detachable fitted pants.




































What is the palette? What fabrics did you use?

Inspired from the theme, color palette for this season is in cool tone, assimilating different forms of water. From surf to waterspout, and back to still deep end, Fall 2016 palette represents ups and downs over time.

Fabrics that I chose have properties like drapability, durability, resiliency, soft hand, and some stain/water resistant. They are warp knit, jersey knit, coal leather, tencel twill, and stretch woven. Some highlighted fiber content is viscose or bamboo blends for comfort and breathability.

Do you have a favourite look?


I don’t have an exact favourite look as they can be paired up easily to have different edge appealing. They are also easily mixed and matched with other products in your wardrobe. Each piece has unique style and comfortable to wear. Not to mention that most of them have multiple ways of wearing, and you will never have enough fun with them.



































What do you think you can bring to the fashion world that is new?

I am bringing some new concepts to the fashion world. As “buy less, wear more” is my design philosophy for slow fashion, I have create multiple ways of wearing for garments. For example, some of them can be worn as front or back (180 degree), skirt can be worn all the way around (360 degree), and some are reversible, detachable, and multi-wearable. These designs not only offer sentimental value to the product, but also expand customer’s wardrobe.

Where do you go from here – are you going to work for others for awhile, launch your own line, take a break and travel?

I am applying for post graduate work permit at the moment and I am planning to apply for local companies in order to stay in Canada. At the same time, I would like to start taking some orders for my own line, but my first priority is still getting immigration identity.

Please share a quote on what fashion design means to you if possible?

One of my own quotes: “Fashion is a silent revolution to make statement of your own.”

Links -
Website: http://cherryloga.wix.com/17cherrylu
LinkedIn: ca.linkedin.com/in/17cherrylu

For information on the fashion design program at KPU go to www.kpu.ca/fashion


Friday, April 29, 2016

Daughter of Mine by Laura Fabiani

When her mother falls seriously ill and the relationship
between her parents becomes suddenly strained, a carefully hidden family secret is revealed and Tiziana's seemingly idealistic world is turned upside down. 

Synopsis -

Tiziana Manoretti is an only child in her late twenties blessed with loving parents, a promising career, and a best friend who fiercely protects her. When her mother falls seriously ill and the relationship between her parents becomes suddenly strained, a carefully hidden family secret is revealed and Tiziana's seemingly idealistic world is turned upside down. After discovering she was born in a Naples orphanage and subsequently given up for adoption, Tiziana sets out for the small town of Gaeta in an attempt to find her birth parents. Meanwhile, her best friend Christopher is sending her mixed messages, causing her to wonder if there is more to their relationship than just companionship.

As she becomes intertwined with a handful of interesting characters who help her uncover her past, Tiziana needs to decide whether her feelings for Christopher are deeper than she realizes. She discovers herself and others all while her family's resilience and love for one another is tested when confronted with a shocking truth. The answers lie in a box found in a closet in Italy, and Tiziana must determine if she wants to embrace the heartache and the pain from her past in order to learn forgiveness and find peace in the future.

Review - 

I love escaping into a great novel, especially when it features a strong, intelligent, educated female character in the lead role. Daughter of Mine by Laura Fabiani offers just that in the role of 27 year old Tiziana Manoretti - a Canadian/Italian mechanical engineer living in Montreal. Add in a splash of unrequited love, family discord, a long held secret, international travel and good food, well you get the idea.

Tiziana had just successfully finished a project when she was blindsided by her mother's sudden health challenge. As it could have a hereditary basis, the doctor recommended she be tested.  That lead to a confrontation between her mother and father on whether to share a secret - dad on one side, mom on the other. The secret was devastating. She was adopted. It didn't take long before she was on a plane to Naples to visit the orphanage where she was born and hopefully connect with her birth parents. Unfortunately, someone behind the scenes was putting up roadblocks at every turn. 

There were several things I loved about this book. The characters were well developed. After a few pages of walking in their shoes, I felt I could picture each in my head and understand why they acted the way they did. Then there was the attention to the surroundings. I can only assume the author has visited the area as the detailed descriptions of both the buildings, the countryside, the food and the people brought them to life for me. Well done.

Buy The Book  Amazon  Amazon.ca  Barnes & Nobles Books-a-Million  IndieBound

Meet the Author - 
In 2008, Laura began blogging about books shortly after she published her first book. She started Library of Clean Reads, a book review blog, and discovered the joy of reviewing a variety of genres. Her children have joined her in this venture and they spend many happy hours reading books together. A Special Care Counselor by profession, Laura has co-led and developed programs for seniors with dementia, including Alzheimer's Disease. She has a passion for the topic of neuroscience and wellness.

Throughout the years she has met and worked with wonderful publishers, both traditional and indie, as well as publicists and authors. Best of all, she discovered the world of book bloggers--a community of special people who spend their precious time sharing their love of books and all things related to books.

Taking part in book tours has always made Laura feel more connected to authors and the publishing field. She organized her own virtual tour when her book was published and she learned several things. As an author, it exposed her to actual reader views and social media. As a book blogger and book tour organizer, it taught her the amount of work it entailed. And she loves it!

You can find Laura blogging at Library of Clean Reads and Essentially Italian. She is also the owner of Italy Book Tours, Je Lis Blog Tours and Il Mio Libro Blog Tours.


Wednesday, April 27, 2016

2016 The Show - Samantha Stringer, VESUVIUS

Runway Images by Christopher Pike Photography and Thomas Gould Photography
Editorial Images by Samantha Stringer

Every April, fashion design students from the Kwantlen Polytechnic University's Chip and Shannon Wilson School of Design showcase the culmination of their four years of studies. On one special night they offer their portfolio and lookbook as well as a three look collection on the runway.

36 talented students were a part of 2016 The Show, presented by Tamoda Apparel Inc. and I want to offer my personal kudos to each and every one on a job well done.

While I write a show recap for Metro-Living-Zine (read it HERE), I always choose a few students to feature in a solo Q and A. It's always several things that come together when selecting a student.  I met Sam Stringer originally at Vancouver Fashion Week where she was plying her talents as a photographer and was extremely impressed with her eye. Her backstage captures in particular were striking.

It's always a little unnerving when I actually know a student in a show. What if I'm not impressed with their work? What will I say?  No worries - Stringer offered a beautiful collection of hand-detailed, couture gowns that are both editorial and runway ready. Well done.  A note on her line - Vesuvius - from the media kit:

'Vesuvius, the premier collection from Sam Stringer, showcases luxurious evening gowns for black tie events. By providing the creative, motivated entrepreneur with an artistic extension of her brand, Vesuvius gowns combine traditional mastery with modern aesthetic. Vesuvius features a signature dress, Joan, created in collaboration with local artist Jack Wass, reinventing his original painting “Come Home” into a unique gown."


















= = = =

Where were you born, where did you grow up?

I was born in Victoria, BC, and I lived there until I was 18 when I moved to Vancouver to attend KPU.

What were you like when you were young? 

I think it is safe to say I was an over achiever. I liked to take on a lot at once, I loved learning so school was very exciting to me. I was pretty outgoing and social and always had a million things on the go (I guess things haven’t changed much!)

What were your interests in High School?

I had a few main loves in high school, mostly artistic. But I was also very into academics, so I became very interested in philosophy. Coming from the Challenge Program at Esquimalt High really helped me realize my passion for academics, something that I continued through my design schooling. I was also very taken with the music scene in Victoria. I was in about 10 different musical ensembles in high school and fell in love with Jazz through the program. Most of my time in high school was spent in the music room. 


























And of course I was also interested in fashion and photography. I was always running off on my lunch hours to take photos with friends and putting together shoots in our spare blocks. I always loved sewing, but it wasn’t until my high school sewing teacher came along that I really became inspired to do this for a career. She knew I was passionate about sewing and I wanted to go a million miles an hour and start making dresses, but she made me sit down and learn the basics and the techniques I needed to move forward. I completed all of my electives early in high school so I could spend more time sewing. In my final year I was in the sewing room ¾ of the day. It was heaven.

Looking back, can you remember any signs that you would end up in fashion? A personal story would be great here.

My interest in fashion started so early that it is hard for me to remember what age, but my mom always tells me it was from the moment I was capable, I would put together my own outfits every day and wouldn’t let them change my mind. I wore a tiara and a pink tutu on my first day of preschool. There was no convincing me otherwise. The first moment I can remember that I realized this was something I wanted to pursue was when I was 8 and my Nana signed me up for a weekend sewing class at a small store in Victoria. There were a few domestic machines set up and some fabric and I remember that when we asked the instructor how to do something, she would come over and just finish the piece for me, and it made me so angry because I wanted to do it myself so badly. So after the class finished, I went home and borrowed my grandma’s machine and started learning from there.

Check out the intricate couture draping on both front and back.
Talk about when and how you decided to study fashion design. Was you family supportive?

My family was extremely supportive of my fashion career. Aside from the fact that it was pretty obvious that was what I was going to end up doing, I came from a family of artists so pursuing this kind of career wasn’t just approved of, it was expected. Some of my friends in high school were pressured to become scientists or mathematicians or something in academics, while I grew up with my mom who is a painter, my dad who is a photographer, and my brother who is a musician. Art came naturally to us. Being able to pursue something in this field made my parents happy, and when I started pursuing photography I was able to connect with my dad’s teachings.

Why did you choose to study at Kwantlen Polytechnic University?

Choosing a fashion program is very tricky because it is a craft we don’t tend to learn much about in high school. I had dreams of living in New York or London, so in my early years in high school I checked out FIT, Parsons, Pratt, and Central Saint Martin’s (reach for the stars right!). And while I fell in love with the lifestyle and the cities, I felt like there was something missing from the schooling. At a university fair in grade 11 I got brochure from Kwantlen, a school I had never heard of, and I started doing some research. At that point I was also looking into Ryerson and other Canadian programs, but something about KPU stood out. What really pulled me in was the fact that they taught not only the artistic side of fashion, but the technical side.

This program puts a lot of emphasis on production and saleability of garments, something I was very interested in. A lot of other programs do a fantastic job of teaching the creative side of fashion with illustrations, colour theory, etc, but KPU also taught us how to produce factory quality pieces and how to work with production overseas. I ended up having to choose between the London College of Fashion and KPU, both of whom had offered me a place. But it was the technical knowledge and marketability aspects that really drew me to KPU in the end.




















Talk about your time studying Fashion Design. What was hard for you, what was easy for you? Are there any high, low or funny moments you can share?

The last four years have been the most insane times of my life. I had spent years being told “this year is going to get hard, you are going to have so much homework.” All through school and every year I was underwhelmed, I wasn’t challenged, and then I came to KPU. On the first day of school some older years told us that we would have dozens of hours of homework a night and we would be living at school. Of course I just laughed because people had been telling me for years, but they were absolutely right. We ate slept and breathed fashion in this program. 




I was so enthralled by being in a city with an actual fashion industry that any spare moment I had I was attending countless events and networking. The classes inspired me to look into different parts of the industry that I didn’t even know existed. By the time 4th year rolled around, I was spending 15 hours day sewing and producing my collection. In the final weeks leading up to my photoshoot, I was sleeping an average of two hours a night and eating 1 meal a day. But the best part was, I was LOVING it. This program felt tailor made for me, I have always had such an appetite for learning and so finally being in a place where I was learning about my passion was the best thing that could have happened to me.

My classmates really made the program special for me as well. Working with these women inspired me to be a better designer and gave me the best safety net I could ask for. We all had ups and downs through the program. We are a graduating class of overachievers so we tended to drive ourselves into insanity every once in a while. But we had some incredible moments too. Plus with the lack of sleep we ended up having some hilarious moments. Toward the end of 4th year I was madly hand sewing one of my gowns. It was crunch time and I was sewing with my piece on a dress form. I had been hand sewing for about 11 hours. I was delirious and I confused myself with the dress form and literally stuck a needle a good inch into my thigh when I finished my stitch as if to say “there, done!” I was so tired I just burst out laughing. I couldn’t even feel the pain.

What was the inspiration for your grad collection? Share anything you'd like readers to know?

Vesuvius was inspired by a few different things. Fabric has always inspired my design and hand sewing techniques inspired many of the looks. But the overall theme of the collection had a different inspiration. I had always known that I wanted my collection to feature evening gowns, but I wanted them to have a purpose. The main inspiration behind the collection was art. I wanted to use fashion as a foundation to celebrate local art. I collaborated with Jack Wass, using one of his paintings as inspiration for one of my gowns “Joan”, where we used his art as a print on my fabric. Combining art with fashion is very important to me and being able to celebrate local talent really relates to my personal values.


Some other looks from her portfolio
Describe your collection.

Vesuvius is an exclusive collection of black tie evening gowns that fuse art with fashion, made for the entrepreneurial, self-made woman as an artistic extension of her brand.

What is the palette? What fabrics did you use?

Luxurious fabrics were key in creating the looks for the Vesuvius collection. I used a lot of silk in my pieces because of the gorgeous drape and weight of the fabrics - mixing these with novelty fabrics like baroque applique’s and molten tulle. The colours of Vesuvius are scarlet, gold, blush, and black, all showcasing the rich and elegant theme inspired by trend forecasting and baroque looks.

Do you have a favorite look?

I really fell in love with each of the three looks I produced for The Show. Joan, the black printed dress made in collaboration with Jack Wass, has a special place in my heart because of the fusion of art. Amelia, the scarlet silk draped dress has my heart because of the amount of draping involved and the mixture of cowls and pleats. Jeanette, the gold strapless gowns with baroque overlay, is definitely the dress that I gave the most of myself to. This dress required so much attention to detail. Each section of the applique was hand cut and hand stitched to the delicate tulle, a painstaking process but the result was stunning. I have never been to proud of a piece as I am of that one.


What do you think you can bring to the fashion world that is new?

This is the question I am asked most as a designer. The fashion industry has become so over saturated with the introduction of fast fashion that it is very had to justify what we do, What makes my work different is my investment in art and the celebration of collaboration. I would not be where I am today without the help of some incredibly talented artists; painters, photographers, models and beyond. Being able to celebrate those connections and put value back into clothing is really what my brand represents. Fashion has always meant more than just clothes to me because it is my passion, but it is my goal to give others that expression by fusing their values and their passions with mine. 

Where do you go from here – are you going to work for others for a while, launch your own line, take a break and travel? 

I had grand plans of taking a break from fashion and working in other fields this summer, but that just doesn’t happen when you launch yourself at a show like the KPU grad show. I have had some incredible opportunities come along and have accepted an offer to produce my full collection, so I have decided to dedicate my time to sewing full time this summer in order to do so. My collection will be launched this September and I am hoping from there to start taking on some custom clients and making individual pieces for local women. 

Please share a quote on what fashion design means to you if possible?

“Fashion is the armor to survive the reality of everyday life” – Bill Cunningham. This quote has inspired me in so many ways since I began designing. It is something I always keep in mind in my work, because fashion means something different to everyone. I think this can be applied to so many different sets of values.

Anything else I didn't ask you want mentioned?

Collaboration is something I value more than most things in my life/ I love the chance to work with new people! Send me a message or follow my work for more updates!

Links - 
Website: wwwsamstringer.net
Facebook: Sam Stringer Designs
Instagram: sammyjay666
Twitter @StringerDesigns
Email - sam@samstringer.net

For information on the fashion design program at KPU go to www.kpu.ca/fashion

Tuesday, April 26, 2016

The Five Truths About Work-Life Balance by Jae Ellard


Our current habits and perceptions often get us stuck 
and prevent us from creating the life we desire.



Get unstuck, learn the truths about work-life balance.

Synopsis -

Work-life balance has nothing to do with work. Really. It also doesn't matter what words you use to describe it. The fact is, most people share a similar desire to create easy joy and meaningful engagement across the roles, relationships and responsibilities that make up life.

Our current habits and perceptions often get us stuck and prevent us from creating the life we desire. Get unstuck, learn the truths about work-life balance.

Review - 

I was personally very drawn to the title of this book - The Five Truths About Work-Life Balance. As a full time writer that does freelance work, maintains a very active blog, has a column in a local magazine and a whopping three books waiting to be written, balance comes hard for me.  So many times at the end of the day I feel I'm not managing those two elements very successfully. I needed some serious insight on how to work towards a better outcome. When the book arrived I immediately brewed a cuppa and found a quiet space to dive in.

What I found inside wasn't content in the traditional sense.  The five truths are listed, and there are some supporting comments, but the book really is laid out as a series of graphic poster pages with a few words on each. The best way I can describe it is a quote - a nugget of thought - per page.  The truths and ideas shared on those pages are strong, but what I feel is missing is deeper insight and support for those struggling to find that balance.

In the end this book is super easy to read, short and inspirational. It has nice graphics with important truths shared, but the content was too limited for anyone wanting serious insight.  I would love to see the author take the strong ideas contained here, take the exploration of this subject to a much deeper level and offer a more comprehensive book on this important topic. Hopefully she'll consider doing this in the future.

​Buy the book: Amazon

Meet the author: 

After years in senior communication roles crafting content for executives, Jae collapsed from stress-related adrenal fatigue. This life-altering experience propelled her to research human behavior, neuroscience, mindfulness, and organizational relationship systems.

In 2008, Jae founded Simple Intentions and developed the Mindful Life™ Program, which includes four group coaching workshops to generate reflection, awareness and action at the organizational and individual levels. Jae has taught the skill of awareness to thousands of employees at multinational corporations in more than 50 countries including China, Russia, India, Japan, Brazil, United Arab Emirates, Germany, United Kingdom, Norway, and the United States.

Jae contributes to the Awareness at Work column for Mindful Magazine, the Healthy Living section on Huffington Post as well as the Simple Intentions blog. Jae has a master’s degree in Communication Management from Colorado State University and a bachelor’s degree in Broadcast Communication from Metropolitan State College of Denver. She holds certificates in co-active coaching and organizational relationship systems coaching and is the author of seven books.

Connect with the author: Website Twitter Facebook



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