Monthly Archives: May 2008

Dessert: Not Ice Cream

Even I get tired of ice cream for dessert every night. This afternoon, while grocery shopping, I came across Burro bananas. There are many kinds of bananas, the one we eat most often in the US is the Cavendish.

Burro bananas are about 3 inches long, have squared-off sides and are tangy, even when ripe. I passed up the blue-skinned Ice Cream banana, and the Macabu, which were black–exactly what they should be when ripe. Only then does the Macabu develop a sweet taste and creamy texture. I almost bought the red-skinned bananas because I love the sticky orange insides. I chose the burro bananas.red_bananas

Back home, I put a small pat of butter in a skillet (choose one with a lid), and dropped a flour tortilla on the hot butter. I sliced the banana on top of the tortilla, added a sliced nectarine, and sprinkled raisins and 2 teaspoons of sugar over the now-bubbling tortilla. I added a bit of coriander and cinnamon.  I then dropped another tortilla on top and using a plate, turned out the pan, which turned the tortilla upside down. I slid the dessert back into the pan, with the uncooked tortilla on the bottom.

Using the lid to keep in the heat, I let the banana melt into the nectarine and the sugar and spices blend. When the top tortilla was solid and crisp, I slid the dessert onto a plate, cut it in half and enjoyed every bite. The other half? Breakfast isn’t that far off, and topped with a little yogurt, it should be spectacular.

–Quinn McDonald is a writer who likes to eat. While she’ll never be a size 6 again, she loves grocery shopping, preparing a meal out of whatever happens to be in the fridge, and inventing desserts based on what’s fresh in the produce aisle. See her workshops at QuinnCreative.com

Popping the Dream Bubble

It’s time to take up some of our favorite myths and dispel them. (That’s DIS-pel, not misspell, although I’ve done that, too.) We believe things we hear, and then are disappointed when they don’t come true for us. The bright side is that while these myths won’t work for you, other wonderful things are just behind them, waiting to delight you.

kid in a dunce cap1. You cannot have it all. And you don’t want it all because you will need a place to keep it and you’ll have to dust it regularly. Having it all causes financial, time, and relationship strain. Pick what you really want and go after it with all your effort.

2. Even in America, you cannot be anything you want. I will never be a voice soloist. I’m tone deaf, and I can’t find the right notes, and if you play me two notes, I cannot tell you which is higher. So that solo career will not happen for me. Even if I practice seven hours a day. I’d love to be able to sing “Happy Birthday,” but the last time I sang with a song, three people left the table. Here’s the good news: half of being smart is knowing what you are dumb at and not doing it. Then take the extra time and get better at something you are already good at.

3. Change happens whether you want it to or not. Practice flexibility. Figure out how to negotiate your waysoap bubbles when the ground shifts under you. This is as true in jobs as in personal relationships. You can’t live in your comfort zone all your life. Get out there and be uncomfortable. It’s good for you.

4. Being a loner does not turn you into the Unibomber or a freak. Not to put too fine a point on it, but there are an alarming number of my high school classmates that are no longer with us. If you are a woman you will probably outlive your mate. Practice being alone and happy. You’ll be happy you figured it out when you need it. Finding yourself alone and having no idea how to handle it is a double shock.

5. Danger is not lurking at every corner. Making decisions out of fear creates an ugly life, not a safe one. Fear leads to wrinkles, paranoia, hating Rachel Ray’s scarf, and other emotions that constipate your life. Fear is a way people use to manipulate you into their tight little views. Give up fear and watch the sun come out, brighten your life, warm your soul. But don’t forget to put on sunblock.

–Image: http://www.thebanned.net

–Quinn McDonald is a certified creativity coach and writer. She is also an artist, speaker and workshop leader. She is not, and never will be, a singer, ballerina, theoretical mathematician, or CIA operative. And she’s OK with that. See her work at QuinnCreative.com

Why Write? Why Teach?

One of my students asked, “Why do you teach writing? You must have better things to do than teach this course over and over. Is it worth it?”

handwritten letterThe answer is yes, certainly. But it’s a good question. Why do writers write or teach? Because everyone who wants to write is worth the effort. A person struggling with writing who crosses my path is, for me, a “spark of light” I am required (by my beliefs) to foster and encourage.

I was given the gift of being a writer, but it comes with the knowledge that I stand in a long line of writers who catalog, comment on and witness the world, throughout time.

The same gift was given to a caveman in Lascaux, and she drew horses running to express herself. That was writing before words. Thousands of writers stand in that line, past and present and into the future. Standing in that line is a comfort, but it requires me to add to the line. That’s why I teach writing and that’s why it brings me so much satisfaction. I actually know my purpose in life. Writing makes meaning for my life. And, as I’ve said so often, we don’t find meaning in life, we make meaning. For me, writing makes meaning out of emptiness, confusion, beauty, anger.

How can I not invite another writer into the line and offer comfort and assurance that writing is a way to make sense of your inner journey, which is so hard and steep? I would not honor my talent if I ignored another writer.

And I do believe that writers are born that way. I am tone deaf, but my son is a gifted musician. I took piano lessons for seven dreadful years and never got past The Happy Farmer. No one could teach me to be a musician that anyone wanted to listen to. I can help a non-writer express themselves clearly, and I can help a good writer become a better writer. But I can do little for those who hate writing and don’t want to express themselves. But there are so many who do want to write, and just need a different viewpoint to get started.

–Quinn McDonald is a writer and certified creativity coach who designs and teaches workshops in writing and journal-keeping. See her work at QuinnCreative.com

Collage: Sampling Art

Collage is a flexible, satisfying art form. It’s particularly gratifying for artists who are not illustrators. Using the vast palette of magazines, journals, books, graphic novels, and newspapers, we create stories, convey emotions and display ideas.

dreamleaf, collage by quinn mcdonaldThe issue of copyright lurks in the background. Those images might be someone else’s. Early photographers faced similar issues– photographers who took pictures that included buildings were told they needed to get permission first. And before we shrug that away as ancient art history, it was not too many years ago that the first camera phones caused concern because people were secretly taking pictures in bars without permission. Now the pictures arrive on YouTube for the world to see, no permission needed. In our culture, sampling is part of creating music. Open source information gave us Wikipedia. The collaging of experience, ideas and words, gives us new songs and books. But sometimes time and contents aren’t in balance. In 1916 Heinz von Lichberg wrote about a traveler who rents a room as a lodger and is smitten with the young daughter of the homeowner. “Young” is the operative word here; she is not yet a teenager. A child molester? A story worth tipping off Dateline NBC? Not quite. The young girl’s name was Lolita, and so was the title of the book. Surprised? I was, too. It was published a full 40 years before Vladimir Nabokov’s novel made the name Lolita famous–and vice versa. Johnathan Lethem, in an article in Harper’s, says, “Inspiration could be called inhaling the memory of an act never experienced. Invention, it must be humbly admitted, does not consist in creating out of void but out of chaos. . .” So life imitates collage. We hear and see snippets of information and they become the wallpaper of our lives. In May of 1996 folksinger/songwriter Bob Dylan wrote “Absolutely Sweet Marie,” which contained the much-discussed line, “To live outside the law you must be honest.” Oddly enough, it caused no raised eyebrows at all eight years earlier, when Stirling Silliphant wrote almost the same words for Don Siegel’s film noir, The Lineup.

So the collage artist stands in the middle of a loud, chaotic life with scissors and glue. We make sense of it by cutting it apart and reassembling it so that others can recognize it and make meaning of it. Maybe we need to give up the idea of exclusive ownership based on lawsuits.

Maybe it’s time to take another look at copyright. Creative Commons seems like a good alternative worth exploration.

–Quinn McDonald is a collage artist and certified creativity coach who is thinking through a sharing system based on honesty instead of lawsuits. She did the collage above.  See her work at QuinnCreative.

Adjusting to a New Location the Artist’s Way

You move someplace new. How do you make yourself feel at home? What does it take to get used to athin seen pod location that is different in many ways to the home you left behind? If you work, you meet new people right away, and they will point out their favorites stores, theaters, restaurants, activities. You work with new people, you adjust.

color pencil aloe seedpodYou’ll notice the differences first. The things that are the same don’t stand out, but the differences do. So when I landed in a place 2,500 miles from my starting location, I had the same experience, but through the eyes of an artist. One of the first things I did was buy a handful of different colored pencils–I had plenty of greens from the East Coast landscape, but I needed purples, grays, tans, and yellows for the desert.

Looking around, I noticed that the trees were different. A lot different. Most of them didn’t have big leaves, there was one that had a green trunk and no leaves. I discovered it was the Palo Verde, a tree that sheds its leaves in summer to protect itself from the heat. The green trunk does the work of photosynthesis.

What fascinated me was the seed pods. Trees in a searing climate protect their seeds in hard-cased podspalo_verde_seed_pod that twist open in the rain, or look delicious to birds, who carry the seeds away and plant them with a dollop of fertilizer. I’d gather up seed pods during walks, put them on the drawing table, only to discover that the next morning, they had twisted open enough to shoot seeds across the room. Some of them have thorns to hitch a ride. I discovered those as I walked barefoot across the carpet. Others have sails on them to carry them on the wind.

The desert is an amazing place of great beauty and amazing variety. If you visit it, bring a camera. It changes every day, and everything is worth photographing.

–Images: color pencil on 100-lb Bristol board by Quinn McDonald

–Quinn McDonald is an artist who is endlessly fascinated at how plants, animals and people adjust to their environments. She is a certified creativity coach and a life coach specializing in transitions. See more at QuinnCreative.com

Time-Saver: Avoid Ping-Pong Email

A sure way to chomp up time is to wade into your email list. After pruning out the pharmaceutical ads, promises of money and rewards for laundering funds, it comes down to mail. Before you answer anything, try this–check to see how many are replies to your replies. You get an email, you reply, and you get another email. You open it, and some odd chemistry happens. You must reply. You must have the last word. You must control the email. You send off your clever note, and sure enough, you get another reply. You read it and your fingers uncontrollably click out an answer. It is the ping-pong effect of emails. It never ends. It eats up your time and your brain.

ping pong playersYou don’t have to succumb to it ever again. It takes a bit of willpower, but the reward is lots of extra time to spend in activities you like. Here is how to end Ping-Pong email, step by step.

1. Read the email slowly, and see what needs to be answered. What is the question here? What response is needed–a date, a fact, agreement to a meeting?

2. Once you hit ‘reply’, immediately create a list of keywords for your answers. For example if the email asked if you wanted to attend the meeting to decide on the new product’s marketing plan, you would type ‘meeting’ and ‘marketing plan.’

3. Use the keywords to create sentences that answer questions. Try for one sentence per question, with as little opinion as possible. For example, using the keyword ‘meeting,’ you might write, “Yes, send me a meeting invitation, what should I bring?” That is a lot shorter than “I can come to the meeting if it is Monday between 2 and 3, but not after 4, and on Wednesday I have to leave early to take Haley to soccer. . .” Asking for a meeting invitation indicates you want to come without committing to a time; asking what you need to bring indicates that you want to come prepared, and for more information.ping pong paddles

4. Read through the email again, did you answer all the questions? Check your reply to make sure you are brief and clear. Then hit “send.”

5. The next email should be an invitation, which you can accept or deny. If the reply to “what should I bring?” is “coffee” or “nothing,” you will have to ask, “can you send me an agenda by [date or time]?” Nothing else is necessary.

6. If the reply is “there isn’t an agenda, and there may not be one at all,” you have all the information you need from that person. You may not have enough information to go to the meeting, but your next step is to pick up the phone to the person who is running the meeting. Another email is just ping-pong.

7. Avoid adding opinions, shifting to an unrelated topic, or asking too many questions at once. People will read through an email and answer your last question. It’s not productive to ask five questions in an email. You’ll get the answer to the last one, or a long email going into too much detail and not moving forward. If you have five questions to ask, pick up the phone. For one or two questions, create a bulleted list at the very end of your email.

8. When you get a complete answer, nothing more is necessary. A “thank you” email will generate a ‘you’re welcome” email, and the game of ping-pong is on again. The exception to this is an acknowledgment that you have received an attachment or complicated research.

9. Most of us hit reply right after we’ve read an email. Try closing the email instead. You’ll find you don’t re-open many of those, stopping ping-pong email before it starts.

10. If you detect an argument coming on, stop the emails. “He said/she said” emails, defensive explanations and other invitations to continue a debate are time sucks not worth pursuing. A few days ago, I expressed disappointment to someone who sent me what I interpreted as a business phishing email. The writer told me I “had no right to be disappointed,” and went on to explain why I should use accept the proposal. A very smart boss once told me, “If you don’t want to cultivate a pen-pal, stop writing.” And I did. Expressing my disappointment made my case; the other person defended the proposal. If I’d answered it, we’d have a ping-pong match. I didn’t reply and the discussion ended.

The best way to save time is by closing the email right after you’ve read it. That gives you time to decide whether or not it needs a reply. Clicking on “reply” right after reading sends the ping-pong email into the other person’s court.

Images: http://www.pixelsumo.com

–Quinn McDonald writes and leads workshop on effective communication. See her work at QuinnCreative.com (c) 2008 All rights reserved.

Artichokes, Size: Large

Sprouts (a grocery store native to Phoenix, a great competitor for Whole Foods) carries the best produce for the price. I love going into the store. My eyes nearly popped out of my head today. They had huge artichokes, $3 for 2 chokes. I couldn’t believe their size. So I grabbed a head of cabbage and plopped it among the leaves. Artichoke hearts are fine, but I favor the leaves dipped in drawn butter with lemon and pepper

artichokes

—Quinn McDonald is a certified creativity coach who loves artichokes. She took the picture, and can’t imagine anyone would want to take it without asking. Even if it is on the Web. (c) 2008 All rights reserved.

Boundaries: Deadlines, “No,” and Speaking Up for Yourself

Over the last few days, I’ve been inundated with requests for help from friends, almost-family, and colleagues. All of them needed a fast turnaround. All of them have gotten quick responses from me before. And none of them knew that I was in the middle of a project that was sucking up time faster than a Shop-Vac sucks up dust bunnies, on a project that demanded focus and came with a tight deadline.

NoI begged off two projects only to get hurt emails back, insisting I help and pointing to some guilt lurking off-stage that got me wincing.

Several years ago I accepted too much paying and non-paying work and paid the price of humiliation and unfinished, promised work. Not wanting to do that again, I gathered up my coaching stamina and skills. . .and stayed up till 3 a.m. for three nights doing everything so people would like me. Damn. Personal growth can be a bitch.

Here’s what I learned. (I hate learning while it’s going on; afterwards, it’s always worthwhile. But when i see a learning experience coming on, I cringe.)

–When people ask me to re-write something,  they think it will take 10 minutes. It doesn’t. It takes 3 hours. When I sweat over it for 3 hours and they tell me I missed the deadline, so they just spiked my email, I stuff down rage. When I open the email request, I send back an email that says, “This will take me 3 hours, and I can get to it next week. Is that all right?” When I get back an email that says, “I thought it would take 10 minutes, I just want you to glance at it and give me advice,” I reply, “Nope, that’s 3 hours. Next week OK?” The key is to stick to the time it will take you and when you can get to it. Let the requester decide if that fits their deadline. If they tell you they need it sooner, you can honestly say you are booked. That’s the point where you started.

–In an ideal world, people get their work done before the deadline. In my world, I get requests to look at this “right away.” If I’m jammed up myself, I make up bad pictures of them thinking I have nothing to do and how inconsiderate is that? In reality, they aren’t thinking of me at all, they are trying to get something done. Back goes an email, “I’m jammed up right now, I can get to this in three days.” You have to stand up for yourself. Without making up ugly stuff about your colleagues. Just stick to the facts.

If you don’t want to do it, simply say “I can’t take this on right now.” You don’t have to offer more explanation. That’s hard, because we want people to like us and tell us it’s all right. But people are not concerned about what we want, they are concerned about what they want. Which is why they don’t care once you’ve said “no.” It’s amazing how well it works

If only I could follow my own advice. Meanwhile, you are free to try it out.

–Quinn McDonald is a certified creativity coach who is still learning, and plans on making a life out of learning. You can see her work at QuinnCreative.com

Phone Messages: If you don’t leave one, I won’t call

Maybe it’s the latest trend, or maybe I’m slow on the uptake, but after all the trouble IT put into inventing voice mail, why aren’t people using it? Am I really expected to check my recent-calls list and return all those calls?

Precisely. My friends tell me, “I didn’t leave a message, didn’t you see my name on your list?” It’s a way of checking to see if I have their name on my ‘favorites’ list, which then shows their name and picture on my phone. Except I didn’t turn that on, so all people who don’t leave a message just show up as phone numbers.

If you don’t have time to leave a message, it must not have been important. If you want me to recognize your phone number, you have to get another dream. Web 2.0 was not meant to invent ways to guilt-trip me, manipulate me, or intimidate me. And if it was, it’s not working. My phone is my business tool. I like talking to my friends. But not if they are trying to find out how much I like them.

–Quinn McDonald is a certified creativity coach who helps people build reasonable boundaries in their lives. See her work at QuinnCreative.com

Nopales: I’m Gonna Eat CACTUS?

The prickly pear cactus is nothing to laugh at. It has both long and small spines, and the small ones hurt just as much as the long ones. In some areas around Phoenix, the cactus serves as a natural fence–better than razor wire–to protect road-building equipment.prickly pear cactus

And then I read that people eat this stuff. “Right,” I muttered, “and they wash it down with nice broken glass. Prickly Pear, when prepared, creates something wonderful called “Nopales” (which means cactus in Spanish), or more often, Nopalitos, a great snack food.

The broad flat leaves of the prickly pear cactus and the stems are edible. So is the fruit, which is often turned into jelly and a gum-drop like candy.

The leaves are cut and the spines pulled out. Then the eyes of spines are removed. After that, the cactus is cut into small, regular pieces. Most people cook them. Ugh. Not me. There is a strong okra-reactions when cooked. When left raw, they taste almost exactly like raw green beans sprinkled with lemon juice. Much better. No slime. You can also grill them, which avoids the problem and adds a nice smoky taste.

nopales in panThe best news is that nopales are sold in Mexican markets, cut up, cleaned and ready to use.

Yesterday, I experimented with some preparation ideas. I found the best way to prepare them raw was to marinate them. Use any of the marinates below, soak them for about an hour, drain the marinade (don’t rinse) and serve with toothpicks for stabbing and eating.

Marinades for Nopales

  • The easiest (though not the best) is bottled Italian dressing. Cover, soak for an hour or 2, drain, serve.
  • Mix dark sesame oil and rice wine vinegar (twice as much vinegar) to make a tart marinate. Cover, etc.
  • Drain a jar of pickles, use the juice as a marinade. Cover, etc.
  • Pour a jar of sweet pickle relish (hot dog relish) over the nopales. Cover, etc.
  • Mix a cup of raspberry vinegar with a tablespoon of olive oil. Add a dollop of raspberry jam, and a shot of hot pepper sauce or a few grinds of tellicherry pepper.
  • Pour a bottle of salsa (Spicy is good) over the nopales and marinate. Do not drain. Eat with chips.

Don’t miss this great treat. Enjoy!

Imagees: prickly pear cactus: http://www.moplants.com nopales in pan:http://www.ranchogordo.com,

–Quinn McDonald is a writer who likes to cook. She’s married to a personal chef, and together they make great calories together. Quinn is also a writer and artist. See her work at QuinnCreative.com