Gluten Free Globe Trotting – Three Lessons Learned

My “Food” posts usually appear on Fridays. Since that got Kiboshed this past Friday, I’m sharing it today. Hopefully, I’ll be back on my normal schedule by this Friday.

Big Ben - Copyright Karen Bristow
Big Ben

While I love to travel, I haven’t had occasion in my life to actually be much of a traveler.

Then I married a British man and a month later, we’re spending the Christmas holidays in England with his family.

It was great. Beautiful. Fun. And most impressive, tasty. The British have it down pat when it comes to gluten free goodies. I enjoyed some actual dessert for the first time since October while visiting my extended family.

Now, if only I’d planned ahead a bit for the trip itself, I could have enjoyed getting there and back almost as much. We did the right thing in alerting the airline of my dietary restrictions, but I totally dropped the ball on keeping myself fed on the journey to the airport.

In an effort to spare other Gluten Free Globe Trotting Newbies, here are three of the lessons I learned.

Snack Up!

We had a four hour drive from our home to the airport (and then another 4 hour wait once we got to the airport). I discovered that there’s no guarantee that you’ll be able to find suitable snacks en-route. I didn’t think about packing my own until we were barreling down Interstate 10.

We stopped at rest stations but I wasn’t able to reach in (obviously) and read the ingredients before purchasing. Gas stations weren’t much better though I did find some “Apple Chips” and a banana.

Also, even if you alert the airline, there’s no guarantee that your gluten free meal is … good. You could end up with anything from half cooked rice and a stale rice cake to a totally delectable Indian Curry. It just depends on the caterer that flight is using.

So, Lesson 1 is: Pack your snacks. Make sure you’re prepared for your road trip and any waiting you may do. Thanks to my mother-in-law, I had plenty of gluten free snacks to get me through the journey home.

Restaurant Reconn

You’re in a foreign city and you’re itchin’ to act like a total tourist. You grab your camera, your money, your kids and run out the door to spend the morning doing touristy stuff.

Then it’s time for lunch. Where are you going to eat?

If I were stateside, I could whip out my phone and look up area restaurant gluten free menus while I stood on a street corner. Unfortunately, the cell phone didn’t work over there (unless I happened to hitch an Internet ride on Starbuck’s free wireless).

Lesson 2 is: Don’t leave home (or hotel) without hitting Google first. Do a search for gluten free friendly restaurants and check out their menus before you do the tourist thing. Have a list of suitable restaurants with you as you tour.

X Marks the Spot

Take lesson 2 one step further and know exactly where those restaurants are located. Or at least have a general idea. There’s nothing like coming out of the Tower of London, starving, and not knowing quite where your gluten safe eating place is.

Lesson 3 is: If you know what attractions you’ll be touring that day, take a moment to scope out the area on Google and note the address(es) on your restaurant list.

A few extra minutes of preparation could have prevented a few hungry moments on my part. Live, learn and share those lessons!

I’d love to hear from other savvy (or even not so savvy) travelers. Whether gluten free or not, what kind of tips do you have to share with us globe trotting newbies?

Outline This!

I have K.M Weiland and her book, “Outlining Your Novel: Map Your Way to Success,” to thank for my new found love of outlining, brainstorming and plotting in general.

I bought the digital version of this book a few months ago, after suddenly taking an interest in plotting, and finally cracked it open while on vacation over the holidays. In it, Ms. Weiland covers not only the benefits of her outlining process, such as preventing dead-end ideas, but also:

  • Different brainstorming and outlining methods
  • Developing your story’s premise
  • Developing your setting, characters, and conflict
  • How to develop and use backstory
  • Extended outlining
  • Reverse outlining
  • How to turn all of that into a story road-map

At the end of every chapter she includes interviews with established authors such as Larry Brooks, Jody Hedlund, and Dan L. Hays. In these interviews, the authors share their own methods for outlining and story preparation as well as the their thoughts on “pantsing” and when each technique comes in handy.

What I liked the most about the book was the fact that Ms. Weiland includes a tremendous amount of examples from her own work. This way you can see her process in action. Since I’m a “Learn by Example” sort of student (show me how to do something once or twice and I’ve got it down), her examples were probably the most helpful out of anything else in the book.

After reading only a few chapters, I opened up a brand new notebook, dusted off my work in progress, and started trying out the techniques taught in the book. Within a short period of time, I busted open another notebook because I’d filled up the first.

I finally solidified my premise, grasped the concept of “Character Arc” (my main character now has one) and created a villain that has more at stake than just “I want what the protagonist has because he has it and I don’t!” I also have a Theme! Something I’d never concerned myself with before.

Now that I’ve read through my digital copy of “Outlining Your Novel” a few times and filled my kindle with bookmarks, I plan on buying the hard copy to plant on my desk as well.

Feel free to share your favorite writing books below. I’m always looking for new books to add to my ever-growing library!

Think First

I recently offended a coworker. Not on purpose, by any means. I just didn’t think about how my reaction to something would affect him. Since he didn’t say anything to me about it, I figured I’d just go on like nothing happened. After all, it’s not like we’re close friends. I like my coworker, but at the end of the day, he’s just the person in the next office, right?

Wrong. The more I thought about it that day, the more ashamed of myself I became. “Karen,” I said to myself. “You’re a jerk.”

Because it hit me. He and I may not be close friends, but he’s still a person. A person I like. A person who deserves to have his feelings acknowledged. And, when I’ve hurt those feelings, I should own up to it. This is what I tell my kids to do when they’ve offended someone. I should walk the talk.

The incident with my coworker made me think about what I see in my daily travels online. There are a lot of perfectly decent people not thinking about the effect their words and actions have on the people they interact with.

Look at the comments of almost any news article. You see a lot of name calling, rudeness and general disrespect. The more controversial the subject (like politics), the more the gloves come off.

It’s easier, I guess, to throw down online. You don’t know the person on the other end of that comment. Chances are, you’re never going to see them or even interact with them again. Not to mention you’re hidden behind an avatar and a couple of firewalls. So who cares if you call them a disrespectful name, right?

Wrong. That person you just called a disparaging name in your comment is a person with feelings. And while some may think it’s stupid for someone to have their feelings hurt online by a faceless commenter, it can still happen. If you’re purposely throwing out offensive comments, it stands to reason that your aim is to offend.

But I do believe (I have to believe) that people aren’t that disrespectful in their day-to-day lives. That they’re only caught up in the moment or the argument. Not that being caught up in the moment is an excuse. But it’s more palatable than thinking the human race is rapidly flushing decency down the toilet.

I have to believe that if these people arguing over their chosen topic were arguing face-to-face, they’d be a bit more polite; respectful.

That they’d realize that the person standing in front of them is indeed a person with feelings. And they wouldn’t purposely hurt those feelings. And that if they did hurt them, they’d man up and apologize.

I also have to believe that the respect and decency we (should) show each other in face-to-face interactions will eventually make it into our screen-to-screen ones. That we’ll remember there’s a living, breathing, feeling person on the other side of the ‘net and act like our parents taught us to act.

Speaking of acting like my parents taught me to and apologies. The day after my offensive behavior, I put on my big girl panties and apologized to my coworker for being completely thoughtless. I also vowed, to myself, that whether I am dealing with people in person or online, I’ll make a conscious effort to respect their feelings.

And to remember to think before I speak, write or act.

New Goals for the New Year

Okay, so my New Year’s resolution post is a few days late. But since I just got back from a two week trip to England, I’ll give myself a pass. Just this once.

Before I dive into my list though, I have to issue a small disclaimer.

I don’t make actual resolutions anymore. My ability to keep them goes beyond sucktastic. I set goals instead. I find goals easier to meet.

Now, without further ado, I present:

My Goals for 2012!

Become More Fearless with My Writing

I’ve been a writing wimp until recently. Too timid to share my scribblings. Too scared to try new forms of writing. That’s not very smart for someone who’s dreamed of making a living via the written word. I’ve read, studied and even practiced many forms of writing. It’s time to buckle down now and put aside my worry of not being good enough. The more you write, the better you get.

Starting this blog back in November was Step One toward fearlessness. When my harsh critic of an inner editor said “See. That wasn’t so bad, was it?” I found myself encouraged and eager to try other, new forms of writing.

So, out with my old writing fears for 2012.

Health and Fitness

I believe I’ve mentioned a few times that, due to health reasons, I’ve recently switched to a gluten free diet. Well, it’s time for me to quit thinking of it as a “diet change” and start thinking of it in terms of a “lifestyle change”. I don’t do diets well. Mostly because I start to think about all of the stuff I can no longer have and depress myself. And then go off the diet.

While I haven’t blown my diet (on purpose) in the past two months, I need to refocus. I don’t want to just replace the gluteny junk I used to eat with its gluten free counterpart (which, in some cases, is even more unhealthy).

So, I’m re-thinking my food habits entirely and find myself excited by the prospect of trying to incorporate more whole, unprocessed foods and lean proteins rather than just substituting rice bread for wheat bread. (However, all bets are off if someone finally starts making a tasty gluten free Pop-Tart… What? We’ve all got our vices.)

It’s also time to reboot my fitness program again. Part of a healthy lifestyle is movement, right? While I’ve had to cancel my gym membership (see goal “Pay off Debt“), I still have my awesome P90x and my running shoes. Both of which are getting dusted off and used. It’s time to get, and stay, healthy.

Family Time

When they were younger, the kiddos and I used to pop in a movie or go out for dinner every other Friday night. It was great, though I did sit through many a snoozer of a kid’s movie. But as they got older they started getting involved with school activities, activities with friends, and so on and the every other Friday night Family Night fell by the wayside.

One of my goals this year is to bring that back. At least once a month. I know that teenagers have friends they want to see on Friday nights and they see me every night. But one Friday a month, we’re getting some quality time in whether it’s watching a movie, going out, or letting my kids laugh their backsides off as they school me and the Hubs on some first person shooter X-Box game.

Expand My Brain

I love learning. I could easily be a professional student for the rest of my life. This year there are a few things I plan on cracking open some books on.

  • Continue to study the craft of writing (that sort of goes without saying, but I felt like saying it anyway)
  • PHP
  • HTML5
  • CSS3

The HTML and CSS are two things that I want to improve my skills in. The PHP is a brand new language for me. I’m excited and can’t wait to get my hands on some books.

Pay off Debt

For the longest time, I was completely debt-free (except my mortgage). And that, my friends is a beautiful feeling. But, good or bad, nothing lasts forever and I had a few emergencies come up. Like my 15 year old air conditioner dying in the middle of a Florida Summer. Car engines going kerplunk.

While my debt isn’t atrocious by any standard, it still sucks and it’s my goal this year to take a huge chunk out of it. In order to make this happen, I’ve had to cut some fat out of my budget, like my gym membership. But I’m looking forward to the day when I can give myself the money I’m giving to some corporation every month.

Create a Fulfilling Life

In essence, that’s exactly what the goals above are working toward. Creating a balanced and fulfilling life for myself and my family. I want us to enjoy every minute we have with each other. I think that, right there, is the most important goal of all.

So there you have it. My short list of goals for 2012. What goals to you have? Feel free to share them with me in the comments.

And have a safe and happy 2012!

Be on the look out. I’ll be posting pictures of the family trip overseas soon!

Not a-Mused Anymore

My Muse can bite me.

If she wants to run off and join the Muse circus instead of sit down and write, I’m OK with that now. I can put pen to paper, fingers to keyboard just fine without her.

The writing I do when she runs off and leaves me on my own may not be my best prose. And I may have to bludgeon every word and nail it to the sentence before it regains consciousness and runs away.

But I don’t need her fickle inspiration any more.

Don’t get me wrong. I love it when she grabs my hand and yanks me down some barely perceptible rabbit trail in my imagination. I’ve found all sorts of beautiful, dark or just completely whacked out, mental gardens under her (mis)guidance.

But I’ve also found that sort of inspiration on my own by taking a machete to the weeds of my mind and hacking my own path to those enchanted forests of ideas. It just takes a little longer and I tend to leave a pile of kindling and uprooted trees behind me.

I admit that writing tends to go a little faster, smoother, when she’s around. I seem to know exactly what to say and how to say it. But now when she takes off for parts unknown, leaving my word-well high and dry, I pull out her clunky cousins; Dictionary and Thesaurus.

Between the three of us, we can usually find a suitable turn of phrase. And if we can’t, I step away for a few minutes and sharpen my mental machete on some logic problems. When I return to the work-in-progress, the Muse is either back or I’m capable of plodding along well enough on my own.

Though I’ll always welcome my Muse on my creative adventures, she’s no longer in charge of the journey. We’re sharing the reins now.

So get on the horse, honey, or get out of the way. There’s writing to be done.