Top 5 Travel Tips

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As summer soon approaches, so do summer travel plans. Whether you are travelling stateside or planning to travel abroad, these tips will help you be prepared for your vacation.

Tip 1: For domestic flights, the best time to buy a ticket is six to eight weeks before the desired date of travel. And the best day to buy a ticket is on Tuesdays at 3pm. The reason for this, is airlines release their flight rates on a weekly basis on Mondays, so Tuesday is when airlines see each other’s prices and reduce their prices to be competitive. And if you are traveling internationally, then the best prices will be eight to ten weeks out from the desired date of travel. Just make sure to check that your travel dates don’t align with any domestic or foreign holidays, as this will increase the price of the ticket as well as the pricing and availability for hotels.

Tip 2: Subscribe to airline/train/coach buses newsletters. However you plan on travelling, subscribe to these newsletters as they are always competing to give you the best offered price and deals on tickets. I like to fly with Alaska Airlines domestically, and once a month they send me a newsletter for very cheap flights which require me to pick dates up to two months in advance. When I lived in Europe, I subscribed to Eurostar which also offered a similar newsletter deal for cheap train tickets to certain destinations.

Tip 3: Buy tickets in advance. This may seem obvious, but if you can buy a ticket online in advance then do that. Otherwise, you’ll end up paying more on the day of. I made the mistake of buying a train ticket from London to Paris the day of and it cost me 4x the normal price. But since the train was already full, the only ticket option available was first class. And this applies to all types of tickets. For example, if you are planning to go to Disneyland/Disneyworld, then buy the tickets online since they will be the same price in person and then you get to skip waiting in another line.

Tip 4: Research what you want to do/see and where you want to eat. I use Pinterest to look up free activities to do in cities I travel to, as well as where to find vegan restaurants. What’s great about Pinterest is that there are a lot of blogs linked to the site, and if you are searching for cities then a lot of these blogs are written by locals, which means you can make the most of your travels by visiting the city like a local and less like a tourist. And I’ve used this for everything, from finding vegan food to getting step-by-step directions using the metro in Paris.

Tip 5: Try to plan to do 1 or 2 things a day, but nothing more. Whether this be sightseeing at two spots or visiting a museum followed by dinner, this minimal planning will make your vacation feel less stressful and more enjoyable. To plan on doing one or two things allows time for traffic and travelling from spot to spot without any rush. It also allows you to feel accomplished if you get to do everything you set out to do. If you plan to do 5 or 6 things a day, you’ll find it harder to fit everything into your schedule and end up feeling rushed or you’ll feel disappointed that you didn’t get to do everything.

I hope these tips will help your vacation be more affordable and less stressful. And Bonus tip, make sure to pack a capsule wardrobe to make the most of your suitcase. You can read a step-by-step guideline on how to create a capsule wardrobe for your suitcase here. Make sure to check it out and to follow these tips to make your next vacation a relaxing, stress-free holiday.

Travel_Planning

All-Natural DIY Cleaning Products + Easy Cleaning Hacks

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With every spring comes a wonderful sense of renewal, a new beginning from the drab of winter. And with each spring I like to do some very much needed cleaning. A few years ago, I watched a documentary called Chemerical, which goes into detail on the toxins used in commercial cleaning products. What I discovered from this was how unsafe many of these chemicals can be for the environment and bad for your health, your skin, your children, and your pets if they should be exposed to them. Not only can some of these chemicals be toxic, they can also have high risks such as causing cancer. So, if making all-natural, eco and budget friendly cleaning products sounds like the best way to refresh, clean, disinfectant, and deodorize your home this spring, then keep reading to find out how to make them. Plus, stay tuned to the end to discover cleaning tips and tricks to get out those stubborn, tricky stains.

These next three items are going to be your new best friends. The first item is vinegar. Distilled white vinegar kills micro-organisms, works as an effective disinfectant and deodorizer, plus it’s safe and non-toxic for you and the environment. It also works as a natural bug repellent. And don’t worry about that vinegar smell since it becomes odorless once it is dry. A huge gallon of this only costs a few dollars and lasts for about six months to a year. The second item is Melaleuca oil otherwise known as tea tree oil. This essential oil is very effective as an anti-bacterial, anti-infectious, anti-viral, anti-fungal, and anti-microbial. And the third item that’s an excellent natural cleaner is baking soda. It is anti-bacterial and works well as a deodorizer and mild abrasive.

Now that you know of these natural products, here is a recipe to make your own natural cleaners to use around your house.

All Purpose Cleaner

In a bowl add:

¼ – ½ cup of distilled white vinegar

15-20 drops of tea tree oil

Enough water to fill a spray bottle

Pour cleaner into a spray bottle (you can find a cheap one at the Dollar Store or Target). For long term storage you will ideally want to use a glass or aluminum bottle due to the acid content of the vinegar. This cleaner works great to clean surfaces, clean messes, or for dusting surfaces. However, do not use this cleaner on granite or marble since the vinegar will erode the stone’s finish.

If you have a small child with plenty of toys, or a dog or two with toys that easily become dirty, a great thing to use after a simple rinse is a disinfectant to kill all microbials and germs lingering on the surface.

Natural Disinfecting Spray

In a small spray bottle (can be found at Dollar Store or Target), add 20 drops of tea tree oil to water. Feel free to add any other essential oil drops like lemon or lavender to leave a nice smell behind.

Here are a few tips and tricks to clean pesky appliances using these magical, natural ingredients.

Tip 1: To clean hard water buildup in your coffee maker, make a solution of ½ water and ½ vinegar and run that through your coffee maker. Then after that has ran through, run your coffee machine with just water twice to rinse out the vinegar. This will help your coffee taste richer and fuller as well clean out an appliance often neglected.

Tip 2: To clean dirt and food buildup inside your microwave put ½ cup of vinegar into a bowl of water. Place bowl inside microwave and run it for three minutes. This will create a steam that will loosen caked on food and allow you to easily wipe off with a sponge.

Tip 3: To unclog and freshen your drain, fill your sink (or tub) with water about halfway (about ¼ way for a tub) and use ½ cup of baking soda and a cup of vinegar (2 cups baking soda and 4 cups of vinegar for a tub) into the sink. Let this soak for a few minutes, then unplug the sink (or tub) and let the solution drain. This will remove the buildup that accumulates on your pipes and it will also leave your disposal smelling fresh.

Tip 4: To remove caked on food buildup in your oven, combine ¼ cup of baking soda with 2 cups of water. Apply mixture on tough spots and let it sit for 20-40 minutes. For cleaning the oven door, leave the door open so the mixture can stay put on it. Then, wipe clean with little scrubbing effort.

I hope these all-natural products and cleaning tricks and tips help you this spring and will be of further use to you in the future. If you are further interested in natural cleaners, essential oils as cleaners, and the toxins in commercial cleaning products, I’ve provided links below.

Documentary on chemicals in cleaning products Chemerical (streaming on netflix) http://www.chemicalnation.com/content/

More information on chemicals in cleaning products and your health http://www.greencleancertified.com/gr…

Vinegar as a cleaning agent http://greencleaning.about.com/od/Gre…

Research on effectiveness of Melaleuca aka tea tree oil http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/artic…

Antibacterial properties of essential oils http://www.sustainablebabysteps.com/a…

7 Vegan Side Dishes for Easter Brunch

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With Easter right around the corner, there is easily a maddening rush to get to the grocery store and cook some homemade dishes. But if you don’t have a lot of time to make Easter dinner then no worries because I’ll show you readily available options that you can most likely pick up at your local grocery store. Whether you’re making Easter dinner and you want to try to include vegan sides for your vegan guests or you are vegan and will be attending as a guest to an Easter dinner then keep reading to find seven vegan side dishes for your Easter brunch or dinner. Try one, two, three dishes or try them all, I guarantee you’ll be very happy and satisfied this Easter.

Deli Options

At your local grocery store there is usually a deli that offers fresh options such as salads. Here are three recommendations that you can most likely find at your local grocery store (specifically in the deli/fresh-made section).

Three-Bean-Salad

  1. 3 Bean Salad – This salad is very hearty and full of protein and most of the time is made vegan. But do be careful because some variations include mayo or adds bacon bits into it, so if you aren’t sure about the ingredients just ask the deli counter. A 3-bean salad typically comprises of three different types of beans, celery, onion, parsley, rosemary, vinegar, sugar, olive oil, salt, and pepper. So simple, yet so delicious.

Kale-Cranberry-Salad

2. Kale and Cranberry Salad – This delicious salad is in a lot of delis now thanks to the popularity of kale. The only thing to look out for in this dish is the addition of cheese. Some, not all, do include goat cheese, however the last few times I’ve seen this salad in the deli they didn’t include the cheese, but instead offered it after you ordered, so the batch is made vegan with the option of adding cheese. This tasty salad is made of kale, dried cranberries, toasted almonds, vinegar, orange juice, mustard, shallot, and garlic dressing.

tabboulehSalad

3. Tabbouleh Salad – This Mediterranean dish is a vegetarian salad made of tomatoes, finely chopped parsley, mint, bulgur, and onion, and seasoned with olive oil, lemon juice, and salt. This is simple enough to make at home, but I often find it in the deli sections in most grocery stores. So, it can be one less thing you have to make on Easter day.

Frozen Options

This next section covers options that are available in the frozen aisle in your local grocery store. My suggestions cover frozen foods available at Trader Joe’s, however you can find similar frozen food options at other grocery stores.

zucchinifries

  1. Zucchini Fries – Trader Joe’s offers a lightly battered zucchini in their frozen aisle. Luckily, its batter doesn’t include any dairy, making these bad boys completely vegan. You can have these as a side or serve them as an appetizer. These are great for making at home (it takes a short time with no fuss) and bring over to a lunch gathering.

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5. Vegetable Pakoras – This isn’t the typical side dish you’ll see at Easter brunch, but it’s a fun option to offer a different flavor to the meal. These vegetables ae delectable and if you don’t have a Trader Joe’s near you, alternative versions of these can easily be found in your local grocery store.

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6. Aloo Chaat – This is a potato snack originating as street food from northern India. It’s typically made of potatoes, spices, and oil served with chutney. Again, this dish isn’t a traditional Easter dish, but it will provide a hearty yet delicious palette to your meal.

Homemade Recipe

If you want to try making a simple side dish at home, then let me introduce you to my vegan Macaroni salad recipe. It’s simple enough to not take too much time, yet it’s so delicious that I often have my friends praising it.

macaroni-salad

7. Macaroni Salad

Ingredients

1 Bag of Macaroni Pasta

1 Large pot of Water

1 Red Bell Pepper

¼ Large Red Onion

2-3 Stalks of Celery (If you don’t like celery, then just replace this with carrots)

1 Large Pickle

6-8 Tablespoons of Vegan Mayo

4-6 Tablespoons of White Vinegar

2-3 Tablespoons of Yellow Mustard

Directions

  1. Bring a large pot of water to boil. Once water is boiling, add the bag of macaroni pasta. This will cook for about 10-12 minutes, make sure to continuously stir to avoid the pasta sticking to each other and the bottom of the pot.
  2. While pasta is boiling in pot, chop up red bell pepper, red onion, celery (or carrots), and pickle. Place all chopped vegetables in a large mixing bowl.
  3. After pasta is cooked, drain the macaroni into a colander. Rinse with cold water, and after pasta is fully drained add pasta to the large mixing bowl with the vegetables.
  4. Mix in Mayo, Vinegar, and Mustard and stir until everything is evenly mixed in. Feel free to add more of anything you want to get desired taste and/or texture. I usually skip seasoning with salt and pepper but feel free to add those if you want.

I hope these great vegan finds will make your Easter brunch or dinner taste even more delicious. And I wish you a wonderful Easter filled with family, friends, and delicious vegan food.

EasterLamb

Here is a cute little Easter lamb just for you for reading until the very end 🙂

How to Pack for Spring Break

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For Spring Break most people travel to celebrate and welcome the warm spring weather. If you are planning on travelling this month or next month for Spring Break, then keep reading to check out how to pack the easiest and best suitcase to help make your travels hassle-free.

The best method I’ve found for packing a suitcase is the 5,4,3,2,1 Packing Guide. Thanks to apairandasparediy.com for introducing me to this method because it has helped me travel throughout Europe while I live there. And once you use this method, you’ll never go back. This method is essentially creating a time capsule wardrobe for your vacation. I find that this wardrobe lasts about one week without washing, but if you bring laundry pods/laundry detergent packets then this suitcase can last you for weeks. For your suitcase, you pack 5 tops (make sure to include one jacket), 4 bottoms of your choice (shorts, pants, jeans, skirts, etc.), 3 dresses and/or rompers, 3 shoes, 2 swimsuits, 2 bags, 1 hat, 1 watch, and 1 pair of sunglasses. This packing guide just makes it so direct and easy to pinpoint exactly what you need. But also, one last thing to make sure to pack are 7 pairs of underwear and 7 pairs of socks.

54321_packingguide

Now that you have a list of your essentials, here’s a few more tips on how to pack everything so it fits perfectly in your suitcase.

The first thing you should pack are your shoes. Place shoes foot-to-toe in the bottom of your suitcase to save some space and to ensure that your suitcase is balanced. Two ways to cover your shoes and avoid the dirt from the bottom of them getting everywhere is to 1) lay a towel over the shoes to serve as a barrier (plus, if you are staying at a hostel remember to bring a towel since most hostels don’t provide them) or 2) if you have a plastic bag you can place them in there.

The next thing to pack are your socks. Put rolled up socks inside your shoes to help save space and preserve the shape of the shoe while inside the suitcase.

Next, you will pack your clothes. Roll clothing up and then se are compression bags to squeeze air out of the clothes. If you don’t have air compression bags, then use large gallon size plastic bags instead. These are just as helpful. When choosing which clothes to bring invest in wrinkle-free, light-weight clothing that you can layer. Pack clothes with a similar color palette so you can mix and match outfits.

For toiletries, pack travel-sized toiletries that are 3 ounces are less. The best and cheapest place to find these are at the Dollar Store. Also, make sure to double-bag toiletries to prevent spills. If you bring a razor with you but you don’t have a protective case for it, just use a binder clip over your razor blade to preserve it and prevent you from getting nicked.

For all your wires, chargers, and cable cords, use a pencil case or sunglasses case to store cables in your carry-on or suitcase. If you’re travelling internationally, don’t forget to bring an adapter (a multi-plug universal adapter is one of the best options).

And don’t forget your bags/totes/purses. Even if you think you won’t need two bags, it’s a good idea to still pack a couple of totes so you can put your toiletries, wire cables, accessories, souvenirs, etc. inside your bags to keep everything organized and stored safely in a conserved space.

One last thing I like to do is place dryer sheets inside my suitcase to ensure that my clean clothes don’t take on the odor of the dirty clothes. And this packing list will last you for about a week, but if you want/need it to last 2-3 weeks, then bring individual packets of laundry detergent (or laundry pods), so you can wash your clothes on the go.

I hope this packing guide and these packing tips will help make your travels a little easier, so you can focus on a fun and relaxing vacation this spring break.

Photos courtesy of @michelletakeaim and apairandasparediy.com

Easy Vegan Easter Dinner

SugarCookies

Easter is a holiday spent in the comfort of your home with friends and family. A big component of this holiday is the Easter brunch or Easter dinner. I remember as a kid the excitement of finding Easter eggs followed by a delicious lunch with some of my favorite foods. This Easter I hope to recreate my childhood Easter dinner but with vegan options instead. If you are planning on making your own Easter dinner, then keep reading to see how easy it can be to pull off a vegan Easter dinner.

TofurkyHam

When I think of Easter, I think of the traditional Easter ham. I don’t know how I would make a a vegan ham from scratch, but luckily, I won’t have to. Tofurky makes a delicious Vegetarian Ham Style Roast. It comes with a delicious beer glaze that adds a nice sweetness on top. The great thing about this ham is how super easy it is, you just pop it in the oven and about 15 minutes before it’s done cooking you add the glaze on top. And for about $10, it’s a great buy that can easily 4-5 people. If ham isn’t your thing, then I recommend trying Tofurky’s Holiday Roast, which is another great option to affordably feed about 4-6 people.

tofurky-holiday-roast-gravy-package

A great side dish to go with the vegan ham or vegan roast is gravy. Finding vegan gravy can be difficult, but I found a couple of options that can make your ham or mashed potatoes even more delectable. The easiest one to find in a grocery store near will be Campbell’s Mushroom Gravy. If you prefer organic, then I recommend Simply Organic Vegetarian Brown Gravy, or Imagine’s Vegetarian Wild Mushroom Gravy or, Pacific’s Vegan Mushroom Gravy.

And one of my favorite childhood foods that was always made with our Easter dinner are Pillsbury’s Crescent Rolls. Believe it or not, these crescent rolls are accidently vegan with no dairy, butter, or milk in them, yet they are still amazingly delicious. So, make sure to get your hands on these delicious dinner rolls for your table this Easter.

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Now that you have your main staples for dinner, here are a few of my favorite side dishes that are easy to pick up from the store and add to your dinner. I absolutely love the Zucchini fries from Trader Joe’s. You can either serve them as an appetizer or they make a great side dish to your meal.

zucchinifries

Another one of my favorite side dishes that you can find at Trader Joe’s or at your local grocery store is Tabbouleh Salad. This Mediterranean dish is a vegetarian salad made of tomatoes, finely chopped parsley, mint, bulgur, and onion, and seasoned with olive oil, lemon juice, and salt. This is simple enough to make at home, but I often find it in the deli sections in most grocery stores. So, it can be one less thing you have to make on Easter day.

tabboulehSalad

If you want to whip up a side dish, then I recommend trying this vegan potato salad.

VeganPotatoSalad

Ingredients

5 to 6 red, white or Russet potatoes

1/2 cup vegan mayonnaise (I like the Trader Joe’s brand best)

3 tbsp. vinegar

1 medium redonion, diced

2 stalks celery, diced

1/3 cup dried cranberries (optional)

Top and mix in 2 teaspoons of paprika for a smoky taste addition

Add 1/2 cup of yellow mustard to add some extra tang to the dish

Salt and pepper to taste

Directions:

  1. Bring a large pot of salted water to a boil. Add potatoes and cook until tender but still firm, about 15 minutes.
  2. Drain the water from the pot and cool the potatoes completely, about 15 minutes.
  3. Peel the potatoes completely and chop into bite-sized pieces. Set aside (Alternatively, you can leave the peels on some potatoes for more texture)
  4. Gently toss together all the remaining ingredients in a large bowl, add the potatoes gradually and cover with the ingredients until evenly distributed.
  5. Season with salt and pepper to taste.
  6. Chill for at least one hour before serving, if you have enough time. The flavors would be best after an overnight refrigeration.

And to make your easy vegan Easter dinner complete, don’t forget about dessert! When I was a kid, it was my favorite thing to frost the sugar cookies at Easter. My mom would bake sugar cookies in the shapes of Easter eggs and us kids would get to decorate them with icing and sprinkles. For this easy Easter dessert, I recommend using Annie’s Sugar Cookie Box Mix. The mix calls for milk and eggs, but you can simply replace these. For milk, you can use soy, almond, or coconut milk. And for every egg you need you can replace it with 2 tablespoons of vegetable oil. This dessert will be fun for both adults and kids alike.

AnniesSugarCookieMix

If you are attending an Easter dinner this year, make sure to stay tuned for my next article where I’ll share some easy vegan side dishes you can bring to dinner.

This Easter, you won’t have to fret or worry about compiling a vegan meal. Instead, you will see that there are many options available to you to make this Easter dinner your easiest one yet.

EasterBunny

Here is a cute little Easter bunny just for you for reading until the very end 🙂

Making the Impossible Possible: Creating the Rules of Magical and Futuristic Worlds

ECCC2018

This past weekend I had the opportunity to attend Emerald City Comic Con in Seattle. I attended last year and had so much fun, but this year I was pleasantly surprised to see many panels for writers (comic/graphic novel panels, and fantasy/sci-fi panels) as well as a big turnout for literary guests. I was lucky enough to meet Patrick Rothfuss (The Kingkiller Chronicles), Kendare Blake (Three Dark Crowns series, Anna Dressed in Blood series), and Marko Kloos (Frontlines series) and get them to autograph their books for me. But while there, I attended the Making the Impossible Possible panel which focused on writing and worldbuilding for authors of fantasy and sci-fi.

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The following authors participated in the panel and gave great advice to aspiring fantasy and sci-fi authors: Charlie N. Holmberg (The Paper Magician series), Emily R. King (The Hundredth Queen series), Marko Kloos (Frontlines series), J.D. Horn (Witching Savannah series), and Jeff Wheeler (Legends of Muirwood series).

The format of the panel was the moderator, editor Jason Kirk, posed a total of six questions to the panel of authors. Keep reading to find out what was asked of these fantasy and sci-fi writers as well as to see what their responses were. I found their responses to offer great advice and writing techniques to better improve my own fantasy and sci-fi writing.

Question 1

Each author in this panel writes their own rules to govern the worlds they create. How does this work when the same rules don’t apply, even though you may be writing within a similar genre?

  • “You need to choose your main character as a one in a million type of person. You need to write your characters as the person who brings the magic to the world and not necessarily have been the chosen one.”
  • The general discussion around this question discussed how it’s important to have governing rules within your world, but to not let them overshadow your characters. Let your characters shine through in the world they surround themselves in.

Question 2

In Fantasy or Sci-fi we often find that the main character always tends to be exceptional. So, if no one is exceptional is there no story?

  • “In Sci-fi, you play within the confines of that structured society. Nobody is different from each other since they all have the same governing laws of physics and biology applying to them. So, the characters in this genre work within their existing system to prove their abilities or skills.”
  • The authors on the panel discussed how it would be even more interested to see more work of fiction in fantasy and sci-fi who fall out of the “exceptional” phase and are characters that work harder to prove themselves versus having everything be naturally gifted to them. It even makes the character more relatable to the reader, no more what fantastic setting the character may be placed in.

Question 3

Every author has their own writing process. Do you start with world-building or do you start with the character or the plot or themes?

  • “Start with the character, then the world becomes a crucible for them.”
  • “Your characters act depending on what the world is and the action or reaction they do becomes the plot.”
  • “Look for the tension, the drama. Ask yourself, why do we follow these characters? Why tell this story in the first place? First find the drama that the character will face.”
  • “If the world is complex enough, all these conflicts come up naturally and then the character, character’s motivation, etc. will follow.”

Question 4

Does your world need to be completely believable to make it work?

  • “As long as you don’t break the suspension of disbelief.”
  • “I can excuse sloppy physics [in Sci-fi] if the story, the plot, and the characters are absolutely believable.”
  • “It doesn’t have to be so much as believable as it has to be intoxicating enough to completely pull you in.”
  • “Don’t overdo the details to try to make it as ‘realistic’ and ‘believable’ as possible. Too much in the details can cause a big learning curve for your reader and can prevent them staying with your story.”
  • “Build the world and characters quickly so you hook the reader in. The strength of your story are your characters who provide the real emotions, real reactions the reader can connect to despite them being in an impossible world.”

Question 5

How do you solve your mistakes?

  • “Take a slice of humble pie from your critique partners.”
  • “Incomplete or sloppy world-building will lead to mistakes. If you ask, what does my character do now? Then you didn’t do enough world-building to throw enough cool things at your characters.”
  • The panel then gave examples from their own work where edits and proofreading provided great feedback for their novels in which they had to go back and rewrite certain parts to make the story turn out better.

Question 6

What tip do you have for aspiring writers?

  • “Think outside the box. It’s all about originality. Do something that’s less expected.”
  • “Don’t try to chase trends. Don’t write to market it. If the book is good, it’ll have its own market.”
  • “Just tell your story. Keep going.”
  • “The world around you can create something different. You don’t have to create something new, you just need to write it in a new way.”
  • “Read what you like to write. It keeps you immersed in your world. Steal little pieces of what you like and make them into your own.”

The panel was then opened to take questions from the audience. Here are a few of the questions that I found to have really good advice in their answers.

  • How do you build a society in your stories? This was answered in 4 parts.
  1. “Ask yourself, what type of government do you want? The kind of government you create governs the rules and freedoms your characters are subject to.”
  2. “What weird customs or traditions do your characters partake in? Create a history for each tradition.”
  3. “Everything is a result of what has come before. Make sure your society has a history.”
  4. “Do real research of Earth’s own history, then tweak it and make it your own for your story.”
  • How do you organize everything when you are working on a current novel?
  1. “You need a story Bible! It’s just 1 document where everything is stored and you can do a quick search.”
  2. “Use Scrivener. This allows you to keep you draft, research, notes, and edits all in one document.”
  • How do you write mundane tasks to make them see fantastic?

“Write characters’ reactions to that task. Like in Harry Potter, Harry thinks the dishes washing themselves in the Weasley’s house is magical and fantastic, but Ron just thinks it’s completely normal.”

This was such an amazing panel to sit on and I hope you found their advice to be inspiring and helpful to your own work. Below you can find the Goodreads page for each author named here so you can check out their work and get hooked onto some fun new series.

Kendare Blake

Charlie N. Holmberg

J.D. Horn

Emily R. King

Marko Kloos

Patrick Rothfuss

Jeff Wheeler

Book of the Month: A Gentlemen’s Guide to Vice and Virtue by Mackenzi Lee

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February is known as the month of love since Valentine’s Day falls in it. And what better book to pick for this special month than an LGBTQ, historical-fiction The Gentlemen’s Guide to Vice and Virtue by Mackenzi Lee. This glamorous book manages to fit the first-love of a young gay boy set in Europe in the 1700’s into an action-adventure story.

As the book jacket explains, “Henry “Monty” Montague was born and bred to be a gentleman, but he was never one to be tamed. The finest boarding schools in England and the constant disapproval of his father haven’t been able to curb any of his roguish passions—not for gambling halls, late nights spent with a bottle of spirits, or waking up in the arms of women or men.

But as Monty embarks on his Grand Tour of Europe, his quest for a life filled with pleasure and vice is in danger of coming to an end. Not only does his father expect him to take over the family’s estate upon his return, but Monty is also nursing an impossible crush on his best friend and traveling companion, Percy.

Still it isn’t in Monty’s nature to give up. Even with his younger sister, Felicity, in tow, he vows to make this yearlong escapade one last hedonistic hurrah and flirt with Percy from Paris to Rome. But when one of Monty’s reckless decisions turns their trip abroad into a harrowing manhunt that spans across Europe, it calls into question everything he knows, including his relationship with the boy he adores.”

ViceVirtueBookCover

Set in the 1700’s, this novel somehow explores many modern-day themes and issues. In fact, I like the comparison of Monty’s grand tour year as the equivalent of the modern-day gap year young adults take after high school before embarking on their studies in college. This book also uses the historical setting to present modern-day themes that today’s YA genre would want to read in a book. These include child abuse (Monty’s relationship to his father, Lord Montague), alcoholism and gambling (Monty’s prolific lifestyle), racism (demonstrated through Percy being high-born yet also being a black character), disabilities (as seen in Percy’s epilepsy and the stigma that comes with his illness), sexism (Monty’s sister Felicity faces sexism as her gender undermines her intelligence and skills in medicine), and LGBTQ (which is illustrated in Monty’s sexuality and his crush on Percy).

I think what impressed me most about this book was how modern it felt within the constraints of the historical narrative structure. I really enjoyed the setting, it gave a fresh take on the similes used in the novel. Sometimes, after reading page after page of YA, you can come across a lot of the same metaphors and similes, but due to this novel’s setting I felt like I was coming across new comparisons that showed off Lee’s writing skills yet perfectly tied into the world-building of this story. It adds this charming, glitzy, old-world glamour feel into it.

The other great thing about this book is how it feels like it’s a little bit of everything – romance, comedy, action, adventure, murder-mystery, historical-fiction, and gay/LGBTQ. And if you like books that travel to other countries, then I highly recommend getting the audio book version of this novel. I listened to this book as an audio book and the voice actor did such a fantastic job at creating these authentic accents for all the various characters ranging from British to French to Spanish accents was just amazing and delightful to hear.

If you are a fun of captivating characters, then Monty is the right guy for you. Lee created such a strong, unique voice in the character of Monty. She manages to capture this entitled, sassy teenage voice right from the beginning while simultaneously making you like it. But this only makes it so much more wonderful for the reader to see Monty’s transformation from the exploits and troubles he endures along the way.

If there is one thing I would critique, it happens to be something that also ends up working in favor for the novel’s plot. I thought the grand tour would be more of this glamorous trip but ended up being a fleeing escape since they are on the run and less of a tour. I felt disappointed because it wasn’t what I had expected, however it also worked in favor of the reader because there was no guessing where this story was going. I had absolutely no idea what was going to happen next and I couldn’t ever guess the next thing that would happen. It felt truly unpredictable in the adventure/action portion of the plot, yet the romance side of it however was plenty predictable but in a good, happy-ending kind of way.

If you are in need of some good humor, some witty banter, and fun all-around then this book should definitely be on your To Be Read list.

Vegan Eats: Las Vegas

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You would think in a city nicknamed “Sin City” that your odds of finding vegan food would be as low as your odds of beating the house. When I think of Vegas, the last thing I think of is vegan food. But my assumptions were wrong because it turned out that this devilish city found a way to make vegan food delectably sinful.

Las Vegas is a very accommodating place to people from different backgrounds, including dietary backgrounds. People from all over the world come to Vegas, so it makes sense that this city would be accommodating to all sorts of customs. But one custom that Vegas is known for is their buffets. That’s right, Vegas even has a buffet with vegan food.

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My first recommendation is The Buffet at Wynn Las Vegas. This buffet is known for being very luxurious with only the best and freshest food. This buffet has captured the attention of many meat-lovers, but the reason it has captured my attention is because it’s the only buffet with a vegan menu. As you enter The Buffet, you are immediately transported in a colorful, playful room where flowers float from the ceiling and tea kettles and other kitchen objects are ornately arranged with flowers in bouquets. It feels a lot like stepping into the Mad Hatter’s tea party in Alice in Wonderland. And after being seating, your server will take you to the buffet, which spans over 4 rooms, where you will be introduced to the head chef. The head chef will then give you a personal guided tour of the buffet pointing out what is vegan, since many items that are vegan have to be requested at stations since they are not displayed. My favorite thing was the vegan cranberry muffins, which had these airy, delicious rice-Krispy-like cereal bits in it. I also had the vegan blueberry pancakes, which were amazing. But, you can customize the pancakes to be whatever you wish, I just happened to order blueberries in mine. I tried the vegan matcha chia pudding which was very interesting and different from anything I had before. And if you are a juice or smoothie enthusiast, then you’ll love all the concoctions they make here. I think I must’ve had four of them. This buffet has any and everything you could possibly ask for.

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So, for my second plate back at the buffet, I had the vegan sushi which I customized with cucumbers, carrots, avocado, and pickled cabbage with a side of veggie spring rolls. And for dessert I had the chocolate and raspberry sorbet with a vegan chocolate chip cookie. As you can see, I made sure to get my money’s worth out of this dining experience. Eating here for breakfast will set you back at about $25 per person, but if you are a big eater like me, then you’ll get a lot of tasty food to fill you up for the day.

Vegas Fun Fact: Steve Wynn (owner of the Wynn and Encore Las Vegas) is a vegan, which is why all the restaurants in his hotels have a vegan menu in addition to their regular menus. All you have to do is tell the hostess that you would like a vegan menu. Make sure to check out these restaurants menus online to see what might interest you. I’ve heard the steakhouse at the Wynn has an amazing truffle risotto and a delicious Portobello “steak.”

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My next recommendation is a place that is more suitable if you are with a group that might not eat vegan, but you do. In the Grand Canals at The Venetian, there is a great restaurant called Black Tap Burgers. It’s a great spot to grab a good burger and beer, but what’s surprising is that they offer a lot of vegan options as well. I ordered the Vegan Burger which comes with a black bean patty, vegan mayo, pickled onions, salsa verde, and cilantro with a side of fries. And, if you are gluten-intolerant, then you can also order your burger with a gluten-free bun. This burger was surprisingly juicy for a black bean patty and the salsa added a fun twist to an old classic. Although fries are a classic side to the burger, I decided to try some of their other snacks and sides that also happened to be vegan. I shared the teriyaki broccoli which is seasoned with ginger, garlic, sesame, and scallion. And, because I couldn’t resist one more side, I also had the crispy brussels sprouts which came with a sesame-tahini dipping sauce. These sides were just as amazing as the burger, so make sure not to skip these extras. They also have other vegan options like their burger bowl served with quinoa and a black bean patty, but I think I had some of their best vegan options here. The really nice thing about this place, is I could comfortably get what I wanted while my non-vegan husband ordered a regular burger. And since it’s in the Grand Canals, you get to see one of the coolest and unique place in Las Vegas.

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My trip to Vegas was short and sweet, so I didn’t get a chance to try every vegan restaurant, however, listed below is a list of other restaurants in Las Vegas that have vegan menus that I’ll definitely be trying next time I visit.

  1. Fine Dining Vegan Restaurants at the Wynn Las Vegas include: Costa Di Mare (Seafood), Lakeside (Seafood), Mizumi (Japanese/Sushi), Tableau (American), SW Steakhouse, Wing Lei (Chinese/Michelin Star Restaurant)
  2. Fine Dining Vegan Restaurants at the Encore Las Vegas include: Andrea’s (Asian-inspired cuisine), Sinatra (Italian)
  3. Casual Dining Vegan Restaurants at the Wynn Las Vegas include: Allegro (American-Italian), The Buffet, Charlie’s Bar + Grill (Sports Bar), Le Cave (wine pairings with food), Red 8 (Chinese/Thai/Korean/Vietnamese), Terrace Pointe Cafe (Breakfast/Brunch)
  4. Casual Dining Vegan Restaurants at the Encore Las Vegas include: Jardin (American cuisine), Wazuzu (Pan-Asian)
  5. VegeNation – Located downtown Las Vegas, this place offers a wide-ranging variety of vegan options from Vietnamese Pho to African Yam Stew to veggie burgers all at an affordable price.
  6. Yard House – Located on The Strip, this American burger joint offers vegan options with Gardein meat-substitutes in their burgers and street tacos at a cheap price.
  7. Pancho’s Vegan Tacos – Located on the Eastside, this place offers up vegan tacos for all those taco lovers out there.
  8. Panevino – This Italian restaurant offers a plant-based menu for both lunch and dinner. Located in Southeast Las Vegas, the restaurant offers cool views of the Vegas skyline.

4 Ways Audio Books Can Transform Your Day

 

audioBook1Saying audio books are better than printed hardbacks/paperbacks can easily be damning in certain circles. But before you click away, just hear me out. Do you ever find yourself not having any spare time? Let alone, time to sit down and enjoy a good book? When I’m having a busy work week it’s nearly impossible to fit in an hour or so to open up a book.

My New Year’s goal is to read at least one chapter a day. But by the third day in January, I was failing to fit in my chapter a day. Then I discovered the audio book section in my local library. Normally, these can be pretty pricey, especially if you get the CD format instead of the MP3 drive version, but both of these beauties are completely free with a library card. And I was pleasantly surprised to find a varied mix ranging from current bestsellers to the classics.

There are many ways to use audio books if you think you don’t have enough time to fit reading into your schedule. And whatever genre you are interested in, there’s an audio book for that. Need self-help or motivation books. Check. Want to read a suspenseful thriller? Check. Or, need something with a little romance? Check, check check.

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One great use of an audio book is to listen to it on your daily commute to work. A 20-30 minute drive can turn into 40-60 minutes of reading (or listening to) a book a day. And with the right book, your daily commute will become more enjoyable.

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My second favorite way to listen to an audio book is to download it onto my phone and plug in my headphones and listen to it while I walk my dog. My library has MP3 digital audio books available to download, but you can also try Amazon or Audible to find any book you want to listen to in a digital download format. I try to walk my dog everyday for 20-30 minutes, so this is just another way I squeeze in more reading.

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Also, another great thing about the digital download of an audio book on your phone is that wherever you go your book will be right there with you. For example, if you have to go to appointments where you have to wait, like a doctor’s office, then this is just another way to squeeze in more reading and pass the time.

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A fourth way to incorporate an audio book into your daily life is to listen to it while doing chores or errands. I think I can say that no one looks forward to doing chores, however listening to an audio book helps me get them done with less complaint. I simply download the book on my phone, plug in my headphone, and I’m off to wash dishes or vacuum.

While I love having the feel of a paperback in my hands, right now with my schedule, audio books are a life saver and they help e enjoy many parts of my day.

The Perfect Book and the Perfect Night in on Valentine’s Day

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This Valentine’s Day, my husband and I will be taking a break from the hoopla that is Valentine’s Day. So, instead of putting pressure on each other with gifts and dinner reservations, we’ll be staying in and hanging out at home. And if you find yourself at home too, then I have the perfect book to keep you company, because who needs a Valentine when you have the perfect book.

Tucker Shaw’s Oh Yeah, Audrey! is a well-written easy read that pairs Audrey Hepburn’s most infamous character Holly Golightly from Breakfast at Tiffany’s with your inner fangirl in this sparky and delightful novel.

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Just as the book jacket states, 16-year-old Gemma Beasley runs away to New York City for 24 hours to meet up with other Holly/Audrey fans to see a special anniversary screening of Breakfast at Tiffany’s. But best laid plans can and do go awry when Gemma gets swooned off her feet by a real-life Paul Varkjak. Gemma lives her New York minute life by following the mantra of “What would Audrey do?” but ends up in situations closely similar to Holly, where she ends up around suspicious people with questionable motives.

I absolutely loved Gemma and her reactions to the things going on around her. It felt completely authentic and very relatable. I was a little disappointed in the fact that it’s set in only 24 hours. This led to little character development, especially all of Gemma’s friends and Gemma’s love interest. Because of this, some characters felt like clichés, like the fabulous gay best friend and the entitled rich-boy who thinks he can buy a girl. Actually, that last character bothered me a lot because the novel shows him genuinely pursuing Gemma. I mean, why bother having him spend month after month having hour long phone calls if all he wanted was sex? This character just didn’t add up to me.

But, nonetheless, this novel successfully delivers a story about friendship and about Gemma finding herself while paying tribute to Audrey Hepburn’s Holly Golightly.

Like I said before, this is a fast read and can easily be read in a day. So, I recommend watching Breakfast at Tiffany’s (available on Netflix) to better understand all the book’s references. For Valentine’s, all you need is a fabulous evening. Whether you inhibit your inner Holly Golightly by wearing a black dress, black opera gloves, pearls, with a coffee and croissant in your hand, or you stay home in pajamas cuddled up with a book on the couch with a glass of wine, just remember that this Valentine’s Day can still be fabulous darling.

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And if you stay in and find yourself reading this book, just remember Holly Golightly’s advice, “A girl doesn’t read this sort of thing without her lipstick.”